Working and Learning Together: An Interview with Lauren Seroka

Picture of Lauren Seroka

Lauren Seroka, Senior Digital Collections Specialist in the Digital Content Management Section.

I’m excited to share this interview with Lauren Seroka, one of my colleagues in the Digital Content Management Section. My hope with this interview, and the others that we publish here, help spread awareness about the background, experience, and interests of the people that support the Library of Congress in providing enduring access to digital collections. Along with that, I think it’s really valuable to hear from members of the team about how their thoughts on the work have changed and developed over time.

Trevor: Hi Lauren, Could you tell us a bit about what you do as a Senior Digital Collections Specialist in DCM? How would you explain your job to someone outside the Library of Congress? What do you like most about your job?

Lauren: As a Senior Digital Collections Specialist, I support the management of digital content, both digitized and born-digital, in a myriad of formats. This includes managing content at all stages in the life cycle of the digital content and can entail anything from working with stakeholders to develop workflows to routinely acquire digital content when they are gifts, purchases, and openly available to migrating legacy content so that it is properly inventoried, managed, and made available on the Library’s website or our rights-restricted online access platform, Stacks. A lot of this work includes writing and running scripts to automate our work as much as possible and troubleshooting when technology inevitably goes awry or content doesn’t behave as expected.

At any given time, I am balancing multiple projects, some of which are pilots, but we have implemented Scrum, an Agile framework for project management, that helps ensure that we are not only iterating and constantly improving our work but also setting goals for what we think we can reasonably accomplish in a sprint, which is a two or three week period.

We do not work in a silo in DCM; I routinely work with digital content managers and stakeholders from across the Library. I have specifically worked with the Law Library and Manuscript Division to support their migrations and other digital content work. I have also collaborated with the By the People team to develop workflows to ensure that the transcriptions created by volunteers are preserved and made available in loc.gov, which enhance searching and discoverability of items in our collections.

Although I enjoy working with the digital collections and the satisfaction that comes when your scripts actually work, I think my favorite aspect of the job is the people on the team and the environment that we’ve cultivated. The team is filled with supportive, smart, and kind people who I’m lucky I get to collaborate (and laugh) with daily.

Trevor: Can you tell us a bit about your professional background and journey. In particular, what professional or educational experiences prepared you to work with digital collections?

Lauren: In undergrad, I studied History and knew that I wanted to find a career that involved history in some aspect. After I graduated, I took a 10-week internship-turned-3-year-position with a local family to learn about archival processing. I was hooked on archives. I then attended the University of Michigan School of Information and received my Master of Science in Information (MSI) where I focused on archives and digital curation.

During my time in graduate school, I had various jobs and internships that helped guide me in a digital direction. I interned with the Digital Strategy and Innovation team at Harvard Library where I learned about the processes of building a digital collections platform, the implementation of Scrum in library settings, and how to conduct usability tests. I also had internships with the Bentley Historical Library and the University of Michigan’s Digital Preservation Lab where I worked with external media using a variety of digital forensics tools, researched and designed ingest and preservation workflows, and learned about legacy formats and their challenges.

A few months after graduating with my MSI, I accepted a position as a Digital Collections Specialist with the Digital Content Management Section which I held until being promoted to Senior Digital Collections Specialist in November 2021.

Trevor: You’ve been working on the team for a while now, are there any things about the work that surprised you?

Lauren: I always knew that the Library of Congress was a big place and would undoubtedly have a massive collection of digital content, but I guess I didn’t anticipate the scale that we work at. In the past whenever I was automating content at library jobs, it was maybe for 100 items or files at a time. Here, we consistently work with very large batches of content. For example, we are analyzing terabytes of eDeposit files in support of the Library’s Digital Collection Strategy to identify content that could possibly be added to the Library’s collection. This just further reveals the need to automate our work as much as possible in methodical and sustainable ways. Because of the scale, we also try to pilot new tools and workflows on small batches of content before scaling out our work.

Trevor: What do you think is the biggest thing you’ve learned so far in working on the team?

Lauren: I have learned so much since joining DCM in September 2019, and it’s hard to pinpoint the “biggest”. I think I am also considered “new” at the Library, so I am still constantly learning. But if I had to pick one thing, it would be metadata. When I came out of grad school, I had the basic knowledge of different metadata schemas and had generated metadata at a simple level. It wasn’t until I came to DCM that I really learned about the complexities and challenges of working with metadata, especially at a large scale. In DCM, we don’t do any original cataloging, but we do bulk update existing records, clone print records to create e-book records, and transform non-marc metadata into MARC records. These processes couldn’t happen without collaboration with our colleagues in Integrated Library System and Program Office (ILSPO) and Acquisitions & Bibliographic Access Directorate (ABA) who have taken the time to help us better explain the intricacies of MARC and our metadata systems. I never thought that I would be writing scripts looking at the Leader/07 field and 906$a to determine if I could clone a record. I also have no shame in admitting that I bookmarked the MARC 21 Format for Bibliographic Data page and reference it frequently. There is still a lot to learn!

Trevor: In 2019 the team worked up a set of nine values that guide our work on Digital Content Management. Do any of those values resonate with you? If so which ones and why?

Lauren: I’m guessing I can’t reply with “all of these values resonate with me” so I’ll just talk about a few of them. Collaboration is huge in this role. You are hardly ever working on a project alone, which is great because there is always someone to bounce ideas off of and help you through any sticking points (and Python troubleshooting). We work with so many smart people with varying experiences and expertise, both within DCM and across the Library, that allows us to practice ingenuity with our work, which is another DCM value. We are encouraged to continuously find new ways to do things or improve our existing workflows, and this generally happens when we learn of a new tool, process, global pandemic, or even a MARC field. For some projects that I’ve been working on for years, like preserving and providing access to open access books identified in the Directory of Open Access Books (DOAB), it’s impressive to see how much our workflows have changed over the years because of the aforementioned values.

Trevor: Do you have any advice for people interested in getting into work with digital collections? Are there any skills or competencies that you think are really important for folks that want to get into this field to develop?

Lauren: One thing I was nervous to learn was Python. Prior to graduate school, I had never learned a programming language and knew that this would be completely different skillset than what I developed as a History major. Looking back, I am so glad that I pushed myself out of my comfort zone because knowing Python has really allowed me to develop and refine workflows for automating our work. I won’t claim I’m an expert, but it doesn’t stop me from figuring out a programmatic solution. So if you’re hesitant to learn a programming language, you aren’t the first to feel this way, but it will be a very valuable skill set when working with digital content. Related to that, whenever we had the freedom in a graduate project to choose a dataset or API to work with to practice our skills, I chose to work with GLAM data. This was a way for me to better conceptualize how these skills were applicable to working with digital content in a GLAM setting.

Trevor: Aside from working with digital collections, what sorts of things are you passionate about? Do you have any hobbies or interests that you’re up for sharing out with folks?

Lauren: I was a swimmer for 16 years, so I’ve always been used to being active. I don’t touch the water much these days, but I do enjoy hiking, learning how to play pickleball, and long walks around the city. Also, a few years ago after writing a thesis on the memory of George Washington, I got into collecting glass flasks and bottles with George Washington’s face on them from antique stores. My collection is up to around a dozen, and if you are ever in a Zoom call with me while I’m working from home, you’ll be able to spot them.

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