Reviewing Inconsistencies, Inaccuracies, and Issues in Digital Journal Files: An Interview with Junior Fellow Natalie Coté

Image 1. Natalie Coté, DCMS Junior Fellows 2022

Natalie Coté and Amy Snyder 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?

This summer, my fellow Junior Fellow, Amy Snyder, and I conducted a comprehensive review of the DIRSA collection’s item-level metadata. All of the electronic resource collection’s 200 titles had been previously processed and uploaded to Stacks (the Library’s platform for onsite viewing of rights-restricted content, which you can learn more about here), but early on many discrepancies between the title- and issue-level data available on Stacks and DIRSA’s original access platform (BiVir) were identified. However, the full extent of inconsistencies across the collection were unknown. That’s where Amy and I came in!

As part of the Junior Fellows project “Ensuring Access to Rights Restricted Digital Collections,” we were tasked with documenting the state of available metadata for a majority of the collection’s 18,000 PDFs. To make things more manageable, Amy and I split the project workload right down the middle. While I investigated journal metadata for titles on BiVir, Amy tackled a metadata review of the journals on Stacks.

The goals for my portion of the data review were threefold:

  1. Manually examine a majority of individual journal issues on BiVir to better understand the scope of metadata inconsistencies across the DISRA collection.
  2. Accurately record data for each journal to document the current state of item-level metadata for DISRA titles on BiVir.
  3. Organize data in a standard way that is consistent and comprehensible to facilitate ease of future use.

As part of the review, I examined each journal and documented bibliographic data (title, years of coverage, publication rate), display-related information (types of enumeration, PDF operability, variations in date language), and noted any and all instances of metadata-related inconsistency amidst the issues of each title. Coming in at a grand total of 3,111 fields, I’m proud to say that my BiVir data review is by far the largest spreadsheet I’ve ever created.

Once Amy and I completed the data reviews for our respective platforms, we compared the data sets for each individual journal (see Figure 2). In doing so, the differences between metadata as originally presented and currently displayed on Stacks have become more apparent. Ultimately, with the data we collected and comparisons we created, DCMS staff members can begin correcting a DIRSA title’s metadata on Stacks to enhance discoverability for library patrons. Additionally, our project can provide justification for future standardization of best practices when acquiring and processing electronic resource collections from vendors.

Image 2. BiVir and Stacks data comparison

What are some of the main things you have learned from participating in the Junior Fellows program and as part of the Digital Content Management Section?

As a DCMS junior fellow, I gained a first-hand understanding of the important role metadata plays in documenting and disseminating digital assets. Previously, I don’t think I truly understood the impact that accurate or inaccurate metadata can have on the accessibility of digital materials. Inconsistent journal titles, mislabeled issue enumeration, and missing or inoperable PDFs can make it incredibly difficult for users to find and utilize a collection’s resources. Identifying all the ways in which DIRSA’s metadata was inconsistently presented on BiVir really opened my eyes to how something as seemingly innocuous as a poorly named file can create ripples across an entire collection.

This was also my first experience conducting a large scale data review. During the first few weeks I experimented with several different data collection workflows and made a lot of adjustments to how I went about organizing the data I collected. Overall, it was a really great learning experience – one that I will definitely use to optimize my future data reviews if given the chance.

Lastly, I learned that DCMS is an incredible department, comprised of a lot of incredible people. I was amazed hear about all of the different projects everyone tackles at once and was inspired by the levels of comradery that I observed among staff members. If this small slice of the institution is any indication, the Library of Congress seems like it would be an amazing place to work long-term.

Could you tell us a bit about how the work you have been doing connects with your career goals?

I am currently halfway through a Masters in Museum Studies at George Washington University. There, I am specializing in Museum Collections Management. So far, all of my internships and professional experiences have focused on the care of tangible objects. I’ve worked out of leather-bound accession catalogs and physically handled a variety of historic materials, but have had very little exposure to the ever-growing world of digital assets.

Digital collections are the future of cultural heritage practice and preservation, so becoming a well-rounded collections management practitioner requires that I become comfortable and confident working in digital spaces and with digital assets. To that end, getting a backstage look at the collection and maintenance of digital materials at the largest library in the world over the last 10 weeks has been absolutely amazing and deeply informative.

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?

While I am still ultimately hoping to work with museum collections one day, this internship has shown that I could very happily work in a library as well. It has also illuminated certain paths of interest that I’m excited to pursue in the near future. For instance, I spoke with several staff members working on digitization projects and am positively fascinated by the creation and maintenance of digitized materials. We’ve seen more and more museums embracing digitization projects in the last decade, and digital renderings of physical materials are already becoming an everyday staple of the 21st century museum – which is a process I would love to be a part of.

This project also reaffirmed my love for research. This year, a paper I wrote on the emergency practices of small, Midwestern museums was published in the Journal of Museum Management and Curatorship, but it’s been over two years since I conducted my original research study on which the paper is based. I forgot how much I loved the process of collecting data, analyzing patterns in that data, and drawing conclusions based on those findings. In a way, identifying missing or inconsistent metadata has felt a bit like being a cultural heritage detective. Through this detective work, I’ve been reminded how much I enjoy research and I fervently hope that I can help solve other collections-related mysteries in future positions.

Finally, after hearing several DCMS staff members speak to how beneficial an understanding of scripting has been in their jobs, I’m interested in gaining some basic scripting knowledge. I will be the first to say that I know next to nothing about Python, or scripting, but after this summer, I would very much like to change that. Especially considering my interest in digital collections management, taking a class or two on how Python can be used to automate certain digital collections processes will likely be very beneficial.

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?

I think I was most surprised by the Library’s size and scope of collections. It was initially difficult to grasp the sheer enormity of the Library’s holdings and various initiatives, especially while teleworking. However, as we met more people and virtually toured different library departments, it became apparent that I had vastly underestimated how grand the Library and its efforts really are. I have previously worked in small Midwest museums, and have only ever worked alongside a handful of colleagues in those institutions. So it was more than a little mind-blowing to discover that this summer I was one of approximately 3,000 people working towards making the Library’s resources and material more accessible for users.

I also was amazed to see firsthand the differences between librarianship and museum work. They operate in similar spaces, can share overlapping materials, and maintain many of the same public-centered goals, but it was interesting to discover some of their functional and operational differences. For example, many museums focus solely on maintaining historic materials. Yet, I spent the entire summer working on a collection of journals from this century – some published as recently as a year ago. Also, I’ve done some museum cataloging work in the past, and was shocked to see how different the cataloging process can be in library settings. It was a completely different beast! It’s been fun to get a taste of library work and discover that I enjoy it almost as much as working in museums.

What of your graduate coursework has been the most directly useful for your work on the team?

As part of my Museum Studies MA, I took an Archival Practice course in the fall of 2021 and a Digitization and Digital Asset Management course this past spring. These classes in particular provided me with some great introductory knowledge that really set the stage for this internship.

For example, as a final project in my Archival Practice class I analyzed the usability of a large-scale digital archive. As part of that analysis, I discussed how the site’s lack of descriptive metadata made it somewhat difficult, as a user, to search for and find digital materials. That’s actually one of the reasons I was drawn to this project in the first place. Through that paper, I saw firsthand how difficult it can be to navigate a digital collection that has missing metadata. As such, I was really interested in helping play a part in enhancing the Library’s metadata and, by extension, the discoverability of digital materials.

Also, many of my Digital Asset Management course’s topics included resources like the lifecycle of digital assets, digital preservation practices, and how to create and maintain metadata. Those lectures really came in handy this summer. Ultimately, the solid theoretical foundation these courses provided made my practical experience working with metadata and digital assets this summer all the more rewarding.

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

As cheesy as it sounds, this internship has really impressed upon me the importance of appreciating professional experiences while they last. Much like with school, it is easy to get swept up in projects, deadlines, and deliverables – so much so that you forget to look up and smell the proverbial roses. I have immensely enjoyed my time as a Junior Fellow and this summer has gone by in the blink of an eye. Something tells me that my last year of graduate school will fly by just as quickly, so hopefully this added perspective will make my last year as a student even more enjoyable.

On the flip side, working full time this summer also has me really excited to officially enter the cultural heritage workforce. I’ve met so many amazing people here at the Library, and hearing about all their interesting work has given me a glimpse into what I have to look forward to in my future career. It will definitely be a bit strange to transition back to “student mode” in the fall, but I am excited to bring some of my newfound library knowledge into the classroom to help inform the remainder of my studies.

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

For future Junior Fellows, my best piece of advice would be to ask as many questions as you possibly can; about things you don’t understand, about staff members’ careers, about anything you can think of – ask questions! The people that work at the Library are amazingly kind and generous with their time. Everyone truly wants you to have the best possible experience at the Library, and I think making the most of this experience requires you to pick the brains of the people who are doing the work.

Also, don’t be ashamed of the things you don’t know yet. At the end of the day, this is one giant learning experience and by no means does anyone expect you to know everything. So, if you don’t understand something about librarianship, that’s great! You’re working alongside the people best equipped to help you grow as a steward of information and cultural heritage.

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