Today’s blog post is an interview between Andrew Cassidy-Amstutz and Amaobi Otiji, both of the Digital Content Management Section (DCM) here at the Library of Congress. You can read other interviews with DCM staff here.
Andrew: Could you tell us a bit about what you do as a Digital Collections Technician in DCM? What do you like most about your job?
Amaobi: I work on the Data Processing and Quality Assurance Team within the Digital Content Management Section which is responsible for processing and quality checking large amounts of content for the section’s various teams and projects. As one of the new technicians within the section, one of our priorities is to fill in the gaps for data review where automation isn’t yet practical. My main project right now is assisting with processing e-books for the Library’s Open Access Books collection. I also regularly quality review content in Stacks which is the software platform used to render and enable access to materials at Library of Congress reading room terminals.
What I like most about my work is that it serves a dual purpose both providing equitable access to information and preserving digital content for posterity. Like many people who work at the Library, I’m both a big advocate for the democratization of knowledge as well as a lover of history. Digital collections work feels like the perfect balance of both for me.
Andrew: 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?
Amaobi: I graduated from Howard University in 2018 with a bachelor’s degree in History concentrating in United States History and African History. During my senior year, I got the opportunity to intern with the Division of Military History at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History where I had the chance to catalog and create finding aids for their collection of materials donated by Captain Philip Van Horn Weems. After graduating, I started working with a digitization vendor on projects modernizing records systems for government organizations. While there, I had the opportunity to lead a small team of imaging technicians doing an onsite digitization project for the U.S. Copyright Office Licensing Division. Working with the Copyright Office was my first exposure to the Library of Congress and when I figured out that it was someplace that I might love to work at.
In April of 2020, I began working as a Digital Assets Contractor for the Digital Programs Office at the National Museum of American History. Their office is responsible for maintaining digital content and metadata in the museum’s digital systems as well as guiding internal digitization projects related to records management. In that role, I mostly worked on processing and ingesting content generated from a large-scale digitization project meant to provide access to the museum’s physical records during the pandemic. I also worked on discoverability enhancements for records and served as a technical point of contact with the digitization vendor which was a great first lesson in vendor management.
In May of 2022, I started my first position here as a Digital Conversion Technician within the Digitization Services Section. While there I got to experiment with one of the Library’s autonomous book scanning robots (the DL-mini) to assist with the digitization of general collections material. However, since working with the Smithsonian as a contractor my eyes had been set on working with digital collections which led me to apply for my current position as a Digital Collections Technician. I started this role in November of 2022 and it’s been a fantastic experience so far. Working with DCM has solidified my interest in working with digital content and convinced me to take the leap into a library school program. I’m currently a part-time student at Rutgers University working towards earning my Master of Information degree.
Andrew: You’ve been working on the team for a while now, are there any things about the work that surprised you?
Amaobi: I think the biggest surprise for me was just how much manual work is involved in digital collections work. Before I was working with the Library, I envisioned lots of shiny and automated systems that whisked content from point to point with little human input. In reality, it’s largely real people behind the scenes shepherding this content through its various stages. There’s a seemingly never-ending list of issues and outliers that pop up which make the work both challenging and interesting. Even though the section is making great strides in automating a lot of its processes there’s still a lot of manual digital work that needs to be done!
Andrew: What do you think is the biggest thing you’ve learned so far in working on the team?
Amaobi: The biggest takeaway that I’ve gotten from working with DCM is how important it is to have a diverse set of backgrounds, skills, and disciplines for a team like ours to be successful. Everyone in DCM has such an interesting background and perspective on the work which helps produce a variety of useful approaches to the challenges we face every day. On the DPQA team, all of our members come from different backgrounds related to the information sciences and cultural heritage. We all approach problems a little differently and it’s always helpful to have viewpoints that you wouldn’t have thought of otherwise.
Andrew: In 2019, the team work 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?
Amaobi: The two values that resonate most with me are collaboration and learning. I love working with others at the Library and learning about their work. I feel like every conversation unlocks some new tidbit of knowledge that was unknown to me before and helps me approach my work better prepared. One of the best parts about working within the Digital Content Management section is that our work, in some ways, touches many other parts of the Library. It’s a great opportunity to gain exposure to all the different types of work that go on here.
Andrew: 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?
Amaobi: My best advice would be to get any experience you can with the digital humanities as soon as possible. My first experience working with digital collections came in the form of digitization work. I never would have discovered my interest for digital collections without working as a digitization contractor first. To add to that, talking to as many people as you possibly can about their careers and professional paths will help you create a clearer vision of where you want your career to go. Those conversations were vital in helping me find a path that works best for my interests and needs. There are so many interesting paths in the digital humanities that all have their quirks and benefits.
When it comes to core competencies, I would really emphasize the importance of familiarizing yourself with the software and workflows that are often used in digital preservation. A lot of the programs I became familiar with as a contractor played a big part in helping me learn the tools we use here in DCM. There are some great resources online right now that can point you in the right direction.
Andrew: 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?
Amaobi: I’ve been making or playing music in some form since I was young. I love to sing and used to be in a high school choir that would perform around Prince George’s County where I grew up. I’ve also been playing guitar and ukulele for a little over a decade. When the pandemic started, I got really focused on becoming a great baritone ukulele player. I enjoy playing anything from traditional island music, to classical pieces, older R&B and more modern songs. Aside from music, I also love gaming and visiting museums around DC.