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Improving Metadata for Digital Journals Access: An Interview with Junior Fellow Amy Snyder

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Image 1. Amy Snyder and Natalie Coté, DCMS Junior Fellows 2022

Amy Snyder and Natalie Coté are 2022 Junior Fellows in the Digital Collections Management and Services Division (DCMS) working under the mentorship of Digital Collections Specialist, Marcus Nappier. DIRSA (Distribuidora Internacional De Revistas S.A.) is a collection of Latin American journals purchased by the Library that DCM has made accessible in Stacks.

Could you share out a bit about the project you have been working on?

Junior Fellow Natalie Coté and I worked on the “Ensuring Access to Rights Restricted Digital Collections” project this summer. Prior to this internship, DCMS received a hard drive containing over 200 journals and 18,000 distinct issues from a magazine distributor called DIRSA. They own an access platform called BiVir that allows these journals to be viewed and downloaded, and the DCMS team uploaded PDFs from the hard drive into the Library’s restricted access platform, Stacks, that patrons can only access onsite. Our project this summer was to identify inconsistencies in display data in each system and compare the data, with the ultimate goal to identify the extent of the problems in the Stacks display. Natalie created a spreadsheet containing metadata such as journal names, years of publication, and missing PDFs for BiVir’s content, while I noted corresponding metadata for the journals in Stacks. We then linked the data to compare how the journals were displayed in the two platforms and to make notes on changes that need to be made in order to have a complete and accurate record in Stacks. The metadata displayed in Stacks is dependent on the delivered PDF filenames and the goal is to help standardize the file naming and structure process, so our report suggested changes to help expedite the upload process for future DIRSA deliveries.

Could you tell us a bit about how the work you have been doing connects with your career goals? Along with that, has this experience helped you further develop or refine your career goals? Has this experience made you want to choose a different path entirely?

My career goal is to become a rare book cataloger at the Library of Congress, and this has remained unchanged since my undergraduate studies at the University Of Virginia (UVA). I worked at both the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library and the Rare Book School while I was a full-time student, and both of these positions solidified my future ambitions. I now attend the University of Tennessee – Knoxville (UTK) pursuing my master’s in Information Sciences, and I am a two-year intern at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory Research Library (ORNL). Though this specific project does not involve any part of the phrase “rare book cataloging” (we are collecting and comparing metadata of contemporary journals), it has helped me to learn more about the important metadata elements of cataloging and think about theoretical opportunities to improve systems I will work with in the future. All libraries have to make hard choices and compromises on their information retrieval and organization systems, and this internship has given me my first taste of being in the room where those decisions are made. Prior to this summer, I have not been in a position to dictate how information should be presented online nor given the opportunity to suggest sweeping changes to an established entity. I am thankful for my education for giving me the much-needed foundation to make these difficult decisions, but this experience has helped me to determine my thoughts on such matters in a way that coursework could not.  Learning about theory and putting it into practice are two different things, and both are important to become a truly knowledgeable and well-rounded librarian.

Speaking of theory, what of your graduate coursework has been the most useful for your work on the team? Has your practical experience this summer challenged your previous studies?

One of the required courses for my master’s degree is Information Organization and Retrieval, and I took that Fall 2021 with Dr. Awa Zhu. It was my favorite of the required courses, and she has been one of my favorite professors in this program! I learned different theories about how to categorize and think about handling various forms of information, and I definitely used various aspects of what I learned for this project. I also took a course on metadata in the Spring 2022 semester, and I cannot imagine tackling this project without that background knowledge. I am thankful for Dr. Brian Dobreski and his course for helping me understand how to look at a project and determine the important metadata that needs to be collected before starting the task. We also learned how to link data successfully across differing schemas in that course, and that has been instrumental knowledge for the final phase of this internship.

I have worked at a number of libraries as a student assistant, and each new role I take has changed my views of librarianship in some way. I have only ever had to catalog materials exactly as they are written. For the past ten weeks, I have wrestled with the debate between cataloging as I have for every other position versus standardizing it in the display for easier retrieval. Both have merits and detriments, and it will always be a hotly contested subject in the information science field. I personally still believe that it is more important to catalog items as they denote themselves, but there are instances when it benefits the user to homogenize records, such as the ever-changing journals in this project. I distinctly remember the night we discussed this debate in my Information Organization and Retrieval course and I could not fathom instances where it would be beneficial to create records based on implied enumeration versus explicit notation. Working with Stacks and BiVir proved me wrong. The application of both of these ideas for this project is something that I will take with me on my next journey to become a better cataloger.

Now that you have been working with the team over the course of the summer, are there things about working as part of the Digital Content Management Section or Library of Congress that you found unexpected?

As I previously stated, I want to be a cataloger. I assumed that DCMS does not do any cataloging at The Library of Congress… or so I thought. Andrew Cassidy-Amstutz (one of our Project Mentors) helped me to get in touch with some of the staff who work on Cataloging in Publication since I wanted to learn more, and I was surprised to learn that the digital books they process are mostly facilitated by DCMS. DCMS staff are given some cataloging training for non-catalogers when they start at the Library. Some also had cataloging positions in their career prior to joining the Section.

Natalie and I also asked our colleagues in DCMS what their most instrumental piece of advice was for young professionals, and they all said to master the skill of project management. That was something neither of us expected them to say in the first place, let alone the fact that they all touted its importance. I had never heard anyone discuss this skill in any way, let alone describing it as the mark of a successful employee. This answer has really changed my views on working full time and how to stand out in a crowd of applicants.

Has this experience shaped your ideas about the remainder of your graduate program?

The Internship and Fellowship Programs (IFP) held some helpful tutorials and discussions like how to build your resume and apply to government jobs. I have had few, if any, instructional workshops like these in my past and the lessons I’ve learned from them will help me to succeed in my career. I am the president of the American Libraries Association (ALA) and Special Libraries Association (SLA) at my graduate school’s chapters, and we invite guest speakers to discuss topics they are passionate about throughout the year. I have been inspired by these weekly meetings to have one or two of our own to help soon-to-be graduates learn these skills as well.

On a more personal level, this has been the most intense long-form team project I have ever been on, and I am very proud of the work Natalie and I accomplished. I usually work on shorter term projects by myself so I will miss collaborating to achieve a long-term goal. As arduous as it was to write and produce presentations about our project, it was also a lot of fun to be able to share my video presentation with friends and family who are interested in my work. This project has made me begin to workshop a long-term project with UTK and possibly present or publish my findings. That was never something that I was interested in pursuing when I started graduate school last year, so this project has radically changed my perspective and goals for my remaining year. Hopefully I can make it come to fruition, so stay tuned!

Most internships are in-person, so what has the experience been like to work remotely? Has it been difficult to make relationships solely over Zoom?

All of my previous jobs in libraries were pre-COVID so we obviously worked in the buildings. When COVID started, I was working in retail so we had to continue going into the store. Even my internship at ORNL requires me to work on campus. The only telecommuting experience I had prior to this internship was attending graduate courses online in the evenings one night a week. This was the first ever experience I had working from home, and I now understand that it is a very difficult process to figure out how to do it. It is not as easy as I thought it would be, and I learned a lot about myself in these ten weeks.

The cohort of 46 Junior Fellows have really bonded in less than three months. We’ve had weekly social hours and an active discord group chat where we talk about our projects, support each other, and also have fun. A number of us were able to meet each other during the American Libraries Association conference in D.C. at the end of June, which was so cool considering we are working remotely. We all want to do vastly different things in our careers and are in diverse life situations, but it is cool to be part of a single group working in the same organization. We missed the opportunities and meaningful relationships that occurred when this internship was in-person, so it has been a lot of fun recreating that and actively working to foster such a great sense of community when we are all across the country.

The entire DCMS team has that tangible sense of comradery as well. I have had many jobs in the past where it does not feel like everyone is working together for a common goal, but I cannot say that about DCMS. Marcus Nappier (our other Project Mentor) organized meet and greets with everyone in DCMS; all of them talked about having a team-oriented mindset, the DCM values, and how critical their work was to making other projects run smoothly. They also preached the importance of learning project management, which was instrumental to group success for a variety of projects. Everyone in DCMS clearly works with a team mindset which is exciting for a young professional to now go out into the world and find my own group of people who I can work with to that caliber.

What has been the best experience you’ve had this summer working at the Library?

I attended the ALA conference in Washington, D.C., and I was able to visit the Library the Friday before the conference. Junior Fellow Dan Hockstein and I were given a tour of all three buildings by Kate Murray (Dan’s DCMS Project Mentor) before she took us out for lunch; thank you again, Kate! I then met with colleagues from both the Rare Books Division and Manuscripts Division who were kind enough to discuss cataloging with me. I met up with a fellow UVA alumna to hear about her various roles at the Library since we graduated. Natalie and I met after ALA and it was so much fun to see each other in person after working remotely for so long. I grew up in Richmond, VA, so my family went to Washington, D.C., numerous times each year, but we somehow never went to the Library. It was an incredible experience to tour these buildings with employees and meet with people that I had only spoken with over Zoom. I also had a fantastic time at ALA and really enjoyed seeing other Junior Fellows working at the Library’s exhibit there!

What is one piece of advice you would share with future Junior Fellows or those looking to become a Junior Fellow?

Don’t give up! I applied for the program in 2017 when I was still in the middle of my UVA undergraduate career and had no library experience other than starting at the Small Special Collections Library two months prior. I got pretty far in the application process but was ultimately cut. I continued at the Special Collections library and started working at the Rare Book School to continue learning how to catalog. After graduating, I took a year off before starting graduate school at UTK and getting an internship at ORNL. I’ve taken classes on information science theory and gotten experience doing reference work, cataloging, synthesizing information for presentations, and taking initiative for creating new programs for patrons. I decided to apply again for the program in 2022 because I felt like I had a stronger application after years of working in different libraries and gaining new skills. This is a difficult program to get into, and it is one that I have worked very hard at other organizations to reach. Keep applying and if you do not make it the first time, find other places that will help you learn skills that will help you later in your career. You will be able to take something from every job and apply it to your current position in some way.

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