Interactive Maps, Oral Histories, LC for Robots, and More! 2020 Library of Congress Junior Fellows Explored the Library’s Collections, Data, and Access

Each summer, the Library of Congress welcomes a cohort of Junior Fellows to its Summer Intern Program.  The 10-week paid fellowship allows undergraduate and graduate students to embark on special projects with in Library collections and services, while learning about work in a large cultural heritage organization.  This year, in response to the COVID-19 crisis, LC Labs and Digital Strategy Directorate staff worked with our Office of Fellowships and Programs and Junior Fellowship awardees to move the program to a digital format.

We are delighted to showcase the work of five Junior Fellows who worked with us this summer.  Their projects explore data curation, mapping, visualization, and design work aimed at ensuring that “all Americans are connected with the Library of Congress.”  Thanks to colleagues across the Library who met with the students and helped move their projects forward!

Two Junior Fellows, Hibba Khan and Tyler Youngman, embarked on projects designed prior to the COVID-19 crisis, working with Library staff to accomplish their proposed work remotely.  The genuine interest of staff around the Library and general willingness to assist was instrumental in transitioning to a remote fellowship, noted Khan, characterizing this enthusiasm as “nice and reassuring, especially because working from home under these circumstances was new to most, if not all, of us.”

Khan, a rising senior at George Mason University studying history and post-colonial studies, came to the Library this summer to create a “biography of a data set.”  In order to explore issues in data creation from the perspective of both digitized and born digital collections, she selected the Political Islam Web Archive (a born digital collection), and Puerto Rico at the Dawn of the Modern Age (which was digitized from its original analog formats).  Using the Story Map platform, Khan displays the histories and processes behind the two collections, enabling her “to tell the stories in a much more captivating and creative way.”

Khan’s work brings to the fore information about how the Library creates a data set, the process of archival work and selection, possible gaps, ethical uses, and other facets of digital collections.  The project, rooted in Khan’s interest in democratizing institutionalized data centers and reimagining possibilities for archives, will be useful researchers, students, and academics interested in data-intensive projects and machine learning.  According to Khan, it also changed her own perspective on cultural heritage work.  “I learned,” she says, “that there are a lot more people and divisions involved in the process of creating collections than I had originally thought.”  She also proclaimed the number of things going on in digital at the Library—including LC for Robots, various digitization proposals, crowdsourcing—to be “mind-blowing.”

Anatomy of a data set: Political Islam Web Archive. Image provided by Hibba Khan.

Political Islam Web Archive. Image provided by Hibba Khan.

Biography of a data set: Puerto Rico at the Dawn of the Modern Age. Image provided by Hibba Khan.

Puerto Rico at the Dawn of the Modern Age. Image provided by Hibba Khan.

Tyler Youngman, who recently graduated from Syracuse University with a degree in Information Management & Technology and Music History & Cultures, will return there to earn his master’s degree in Library & Information Science.  Youngman is interested in using digital tools to make history and culture accessible.  He spent the summer researching user-centered outreach strategies for our LC for Robots page, where we share the Library’s APIs, data sets, and other digital resources.  This summer, Youngman considered the site from the user’s perspective: who might want to access the Library’s digital resources, and how should we present this information to be most accessible?

"Library of Congress (LC) for Robots" Website Redesign & Rebranding. Image provided by Tyler Youngman.

“Library of Congress (LC) for Robots” Website Redesign & Rebranding. Image provided by Tyler Youngman.

His report, based on current research in user centered design and website redesign, incorporates user personas, journey maps, wireframes, and mockups to outline his recommendations. In addition to helping LC Labs share Library collections as data and other computational resources, Youngman says, he learned about different types of scholarship at the Library, user centered design, digital outreach, and data analysis.  “As an aspiring librarian,” Youngman observes, “my junior fellow experience has really opened my eyes to the type of digital work that can be done within libraries, as well as the wider technical applications of collection data.”

Three other fellows switched gears once their original projects became impossible due to the pandemic.  Selena Qian, Emily Sienkiewicz, and Nina Kostic helped demonstrate new ways that the Library might connect its collections with users online.  Their perspectives and questions will Library staff understand how our systems enable engagement with the Library’s digital collections—and where opportunities lie for further connection with students and scholars.

Selena Qian is a rising senior at Duke University, where she studies Visual & Media Studies and Computer Science.  Beginning with an interest in making interaction with historic maps more intuitive, this summer Qian delved into the Library’s digital collection of Sanborn Maps and the Newspaper Navigator project.  Using Jupyter notebooks, Python code, HTML, CSS, and the D3 JavaScript library, as well as photographs gleaned from the pages of historic newspapers, she created a GitHub site which allows users to create narratives about places through changes in their mapped appearances over time.

Qian’s project is geared toward a public audience, allowing users to travel back in time to explore their hometowns or places they’ve only heard about.  The project fits with her interest in using visual design and new technologies to allow people to explore information on their own.  “My goals here,” she says, “are to use coding languages and frameworks that are common in the respective fields so that people can be inspired by my work and create further projects using the Library’s digital collections.”  Since her project used so much data (around 32,000 records), Qian’s experience at the Library taught her about data collection, cleaning, and processing, as well as the process of creating catalog records and the challenges of preserving different digital formats.  Her work, Qian says, “expanded my understanding of what libraries are and what they do—they’re more than places that have books.  [They] are repositories for knowledge and in many cases have a responsibility to connect to a wide audience and expand access to that information.”

Sanborn Maps Navigator. Image provided by Selena Qian.

Sanborn Maps Navigator. Image provided by Selena Qian.

Emily Sienkiewicz is a rising senior at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, where she is studying public relations and corporate communications.  Because of her interest in learning about preservation of First World War focused collections, Sienkiewicz came to the Library to explore ways of making these collections more accessible.  This summer, using the Story Map platform and focusing on the Veterans Oral History Project digitized collection of World War I audio interviews, she created a web site incorporating photographs and audio interviews with veterans.  She then made a focused Story Map of one veteran, Frank Woodruff Buckles.  Sienkiewicz used Story Map, she explains, “because it allowed me to take the audio I had and make it into a really immense narrative to bring some more depth to the interviews in the collection” by adding photos, maps, videos, audio and text.

Sienkiewicz also sought to make the collection more accessible, transcribing over thirteen hours of interviews and, in the process, gleaning descriptive metadata to help enrich the collection and make it “more engaging and accessible to the public.”  The project, Sienkiewicz says, helped solidify her interest in memory work and ensuring “that a wide scope of users can access the collections.”  In the future, she plans to continue her work on accessibility features such as alternative text, transcriptions, and descriptive metadata.  Sienkiewicz’s work will also walk users through the VHP Field Kit for collecting oral histories, in the hope that providing a different pathway to access audio interviews encourages veterans and their families to add their own.

The Veterans History Project WWI Digital Audio Collection. Image provided by Emily Sienkiewicz.

The Veterans History Project WWI Digital Audio Collection. Image provided by Emily Sienkiewicz.

Nina Kostic came to the Library this summer with an interest in learning about different modes of access to collections about immigration.  After graduating from the University of Minnesota in history and Russian in 2019, Nina recently completed her first year at the University of Rhode Island’s cooperative history MA/MLIS program.  This summer, she explored the Library’s immigration collections.  Drawing on her interest in her own Serbian heritage, she created a digital space that charts the history of Serbian immigrants to the United States.  The tool includes an interactive map where users can click on cities or states and be taken to stories of Serbian immigration to that particular place.  The project is intended to allow users a new experience interacting with collections and to provide new pathways into information about immigration in the United States.  Nina is interested in learning more about history and libraries, with the goal of providing wider access to information using digital technologies.

We invite you to explore all of the materials Junior Fellows created for their display day on July 22.  And if you’re interested in applying to be a Junior Fellow yourself, you can learn more about the program and all of the Library’s internship and fellowship opportunities at loc.gov/ifp/.

One Comment

  1. john lockwood
    August 23, 2020 at 8:42 pm

    keep up the good work!

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