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One person crouching to record information at the base of the stacks.
The author in the stacks surveying the quality of the stacks. Photograph Lauren Quackenbush (2023)

Reflections of a Librarian-in-Residence in Preservation

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The following is a guest post by Lauren Quackenbush, Librarian-in-Residence, Preservation Division. The Librarian-in-Residence (LIR) program was created in 2018 for newly graduated librarian students to gain invaluable experience at the Library of Congress. LIRs are assigned throughout the Library, this year’s 2023 cohort consisted of 5 recent graduates. As the LIR in Preservation, I was the sixth generation to be appointed into this Directorate.

Front of Adams, the one of the Library of Congress buildings on Capitol Hill.
Front of the Adams building, where the author works. Photograph Lauren Quackenbush (2023)

 

I want to stress that I never imagined I could end up at the Library of Congress after graduate school. Through great fortune I found a solid foundation of people who provided guidance, encouragement, and professional opportunities during my time in library school. So, when I saw this position pop-up, I was more comfortable applying because of this network that supported me. I was still realistic enough to not expect anything would evolve past submitting my application, but to my pleasant surprise, I not only interviewed, but I was ultimately selected to work as the LIR for Preservation! A few weeks after graduating from Syracuse University’s Library and Information Science program in the iSchool, my dog and I were headed down to Washington, DC.

A brown and white dog poses in front of three buildings on Capitol Hill
The author of this post visiting the three buildings of the Library of Congress in Capitol Hill with her dog. Photograph Lauren Quackenbush (2023)

 

The first couple of months were a whirlwind of information overload and being consistently lost across the three buildings (Jefferson, Adams, and Madison) that the Library has on Capitol Hill. Fortunately, the buildings are all connected via an underground tunnel, so I was able to ask for help whenever I was turned around. A huge asset to the LIR program is the program manager, Donna Sokol. In addition to her many responsibilities, she was great at onboarding us and explaining the ins-and-out of the Library and how best to navigate such a vast institution (get to know the organizational chart and bookmark the directory!) A pleasant first day encounter to this program was getting to meet the Librarian of Congress Dr. Carla Hayden when she accompanied the Deputy Librarian, Mark Sweeney, to welcome our cohort.

Seven people pose between the American flag and Library of Congress Flag.
From left to right: Librarian of Congress Dr. Carla Hayden, Lauren Quackenbush, Rebecca Barabas, Sarah DeHaan, James Santos, Andrea Decker, and Deputy Librarian Mark Sweeney. Photograph Kimberly Powell (2023)

 

Being a LIR isn’t all just chance encounters and fun times, well it is fun times, but I also have tasks to complete. My duties all fall under the overarching Preservation Directorate. Think of the directorate as one tree consisting of 4 main branches. The first branch I was assigned to is the Preservation Services Division (PSD). Tasks within PSD began by being trained on the workflow of several of the projects occurring throughout that division. I devoted the early part of my time digital reformatting in which I performed a quality review of items in the general collections that had been digitized. In the first 3 months, I processed 2,373 newspapers, 77 books, and 53 reels of microfilm. This is only a tiny blip of what the section accomplishes, if you’d like to learn more, check out this blog post.

At the halfway mark of my time at the Library, I was able to devote more time to the Business Operation Support Section (BOSS) which, among many other tasks, inventories reels of master negative microfilm. For this endeavor, I am processing microfilm reels that don’t have much of a paper trail so we aren’t sure where the item should live. These reels need to be returned to a specific location, or a decision is made to not add the item to the collection. There are many reasons why we do not add an item to our collection, but that is not tantamount to it being thrown away. The microfilm reels for this project are in a state of limbo due to their poor quality, minimal documentation, little to no catalog information, or issues in identifying the content of the item due to language constraints. The result of this is that an item may never be put on the shelf because no one knows what is on the film. That is why I have been involved in creating a workflow and establishing contacts across the Library to determine best practices for the scope of this project.

Images of microfilm, reel to reel audiotapes, and the playback machine.
Examples of the items the LIR works with. From top left and clockwise: Microfilm reels in numbered boxes, Positive microfilm reel of Albanian periodical, the author at a reel-to-reel playback machine, machine from above, microfilm reel of image with man kneeling to face a boy, negative microfilm stating: End of Reel, reel of audiotape, the box it was housed in. Photograph Lauren Quackenbush (2023)

 

The second branch of preservation I have climbed out onto is Conservation, more specifically General Collections Conservation Section (GCCS). For two days a week I was trained on the treatment and housing practices of general and reference collections. Once a week I accompanied the Preservation Specialist to the Rare Book and Special Collections Division where we measured items by hand; these measurements are then input into the automated box-making system. Boxes are made to house and protect these fragile or vulnerable items in the collections, you can learn more about this process from this blog post. In addition to being trained in the care and conservation of the national collection, I’ve had the opportunity to work on projects that integrate various aspects of treatment and surrogate workflows. By working with the I have familiarized myself with recognizing and assessing water and mold damaged on library materials, locating surrogate items when a digitized format is available, bindery preparation, and reformatting select audio-visual materials. This introduction to general collection processing has exposed me to antiquated technologies and in mastering key workflows that have been developed here at the Library of Congress.

One person at a wooden measuring device finding the measurements of a book.
The author measuring rare books in the Rare Book reading room as she accompanies the Preservation Specialist. Photograph Leslie Long (2023)
Six images in sequence of the repair completed.
A repair to a book the author finished in which the item was repaired via recase/line original case. Photograph Lauren Quackenbush (2023)

 

The third branch I worked with was the Collections Management Division (CMD), specifically their Stacks Survey project (learn more about this project from another blog post). I was involved in miscellaneous responsibilities to sustain this project, which concerns completing a survey that gathers high-level data about the General Collections which will serve as a reference for what preservation actions are needed. The greatest percentage of my time has been in the stacks (the area where the bookshelves are that house the books in the collection) where I was conducting the stacks survey, performing quality control for the stacks, and collecting statistical information to support data from the survey. During this short time, I assessed over 1,000 sections in the stacks which are in the Jefferson and Adams buildings (for reference there are about 95,000 sections in these two buildings). This was an enjoyable assignment as I was able view a side of the Library not open to the public, and even rarely visited by many employees. With over 800 miles of shelving throughout the three Library of Congress buildings and off-site storage facilities, it’s beyond exciting that I can comfortably maneuver around a decent portion of that space.

One person crouching to record information at the base of the stacks.
The author in the stacks surveying the quality of the stacks. Photograph Lauren Quackenbush (2023)

 

Finally, the Directorate’s office (the main trunk of the tree) was where I supported its mission to advance the practice of librarianship and serving our users by creating content in the form of preservation education and outreach activities. I supported researcher engagement through my work on the website and via answering questions submitted via out Ask a Librarian service, and was also involved in the administrative side by reviewing and providing feedback on documents pertinent to the directorate. Additionally, I was involved in outreach events to promote the work being done in preservation such as a booth at the National Book Festival, tours of sections within the directorate, and creating an activity to be used for Preservation Week. There are an assortment of projects that pop-up that I get to be looped in on that have helped me gain experience on the organizational level and I am very grateful to the Directorate office for including me in these endeavors.

With a four-month extension granted, I’ve been able to enjoy the holiday celebrations throughout the Library. I plan to stay the course of completing the activities I’ve been assigned, but will remain open and eager to learn and take on new projects and opportunities as they reveal themselves.

 

Six images showing the holiday festivities at the Library of Congress.
Examples of the holiday season at the Library of Congress. From top left and clockwise: wreath with origami food and a maneki-neko figurine in the center, holiday and winter cookbooks on display, the Mummer’s play, entrance to a workspace decorated with presents and a faux fireplace display. Photograph Lauren Quackenbush (2023)

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Comments

  1. OMGoodness, Lauren! I am so proud of you! What an amazing opportunity! I am so glad you love reading! Love of reading and books was my goal in teaching. Well, that, and math, writing, science, and history. If you love to read you can always learn! Keep up the good work, and keep me informed. Mrs. Reed

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