Every collection and project is its own unique journey: An Interview with Marcus Nappier

Photo of Marcus Nappier, Digital Collections Specialist

Marcus Nappier, Digital Collections Specialist

I’m excited to share this interview with Marcus Nappier, 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 Marcus, Could you tell us a bit about what you do as a 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?

Marcus: I’ve probably tried to explain my job at least 10 times and I’m positive I’ve used 10 different explanations. The way I think about it, when a digital file is created, it undergoes a long process from creation to adequately preserved and/or accessible online with numerous steps in between. As a Digital Collections Specialist, our work is focused on the numerous steps in between, utilizing library systems and tools to support the management of digital collections such as creating files for public access, creating and applying metadata, structuring content in the Library’s repository, among other things. In addition to digital content lifecycle management, I also work on maintaining the Library of Congress’ Sustainability of Digital Formats website which provides detailed technical information, analysis, and resources on a variety of digital file formats. This site aids the Library in preservation planning initiatives and policies as well as serving as a critical resource for external stakeholders interested in formats research.

There are two aspects about my job that are incredibly satisfying. The first is the collaborative nature of my work with my DCM colleagues as well as with the other divisions around the Library. In DCM, everyone has their own special niche where there is an aspect of our work where they really excel or like to do. Working with so many different great team members on a project, you really get to learn so many different things from each other and that knowledge sharing is what makes the collaborative work so satisfying. The other aspect of our work that is satisfying is seeing all of the amazing digital collections added to loc.gov. Every collection and project is its own unique journey, some of which have been worked on for years. Seeing the fruits of all of the team’s labor published online makes all of the technical headaches worth it.

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?

Marcus: Interestingly enough, I’ve actually only worked here at a LC. I worked as an intern in the Serial and Government Publications Division after undergrad, helping to process NDNP digital newspaper content. I was fortunate enough to stick around as an NTE working in Serial and Government Publications (SGP) division, expanding knowledge about digital content processing and writing web content about newspapers in the NDNP collection. I’m forever appreciative of my time working in SGP and my colleagues there. That experience definitely awakened a curiosity in me to learn more about digital collections in the Library/Museum community and the work required to make them accessible.

After working as an NTE in SGP, I took a job in the now Digitization Services Section as a Digital Conversion Technician. I worked there for over 2 years, rotating periodically around the Library to assist division staff (Prints and Photographs, Geography and Maps, and SGP among others) with various digitization projects. For someone who was curious about the process of creating and building digital collections, this was the perfect job for me. For one, I was able to appreciate the physical collections at LC, especially some of the Prints and Photograph collections and map collections. I remember scanning a collection of Richard Morris Hunt drawings (he designed many of the Vanderbilt homes) and a letter from former First Lady Kennedy thanking I.M. Pei for his design of the JFK presidential library while thinking how lucky I was to work with such cool collection materials. Secondly, I also developed important skills regarding digitization and scanner operations. Learning about post-processing workflows and developing an understanding of image file formats for preservation certainly created a solid foundation for my future work with DCM.

One of the things that struck me when I applied to work in DCM is that this position would shed light on the work required post processing to make content accessible which would fill a major knowledge gap for me. It was an exciting opportunity to keep learning and exploring the amazing digital collections here at LC.

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

Marcus: The breadth of the formats work has been surprising for me. It’s funny to think about how I (and I’m sure most people) take for granted the formats that are available to us or why some formats are better than others. Up until a few years ago when working on digitization projects, the specificity of formats never crossed my mind. Working with Kate on the Recommended Formats Statement as well as contributing Format Description Documents (FDDs) has been really eye opening for me regarding the extensiveness of the research required and complexities that differentiate formats or versions of formats. Who knew there were so many versions of a PDF?!

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

Marcus: I’ve learned so much in my 2 years so far in DCM that it’s hard to pinpoint what’s been the “biggest” or most important. Beyond the formats work I’ve done, one of the things that has been imprinted on me is the importance of the connectivity of various systems in the ongoing process of digital collection accessibility and digital preservation. The process of getting digital collections to loc.gov is reliant on different systems “talking” to each other to collectively provide access to digital files and pertinent metadata. Understanding these systems and applications as separate entities are necessary to perform their requisite functions but recognizing how these systems and applications are linked as part of a “bigger picture” is critical.

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?

Marcus: I think “Care” has been one of the most important values to me, especially when I joined the team. To be completely honest, there were definitely times in the beginning where I thought that I might’ve been the wrong hire for the job and didn’t know how to do certain things even though I had been working at the Library for a while. The “Care” value really provided a space where it felt safe to ask questions and simply admit that I didn’t know how to do a certain thing and everyone was incredibly supportive and accommodating in answering those questions. I’ll be coming up on 2 years on the team later this summer and that feeling of support and kindness hasn’t dissipated in the slightest and is something that will stick with me for a long time.

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?

Marcus: One of the things I mentioned earlier about DCM is that everyone has a niche that they really enjoy as part of our work and because of that I’ve learned that there are so many important skills involved in digital collections work. Scripting, metadata work, format and file processing, are just some of the skills and competencies that have been crucial for our work. I certainly didn’t learn any of these skills overnight but gradually came to understand their nuances and implement them effectively in our work.

I’ve always thought adaptability is a key part of our work and something anyone interested in the field should embrace. Technologies and workflows change so rapidly and we are constantly looking to improve how we do our work whether that means implementing more comprehensive strategies or to simply do things faster. Being able to adapt to shifting workflows and tools (or shifting priorities in a project management sense) is, I think, a key component of digital collections work.

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?

Marcus: I love being outside. I’m a huge soccer fan so I play soccer whenever I can but I really enjoy hiking and camping. The one relief from the monotony of quarantine is that I’ve done more hiking in the past year than I ever have. There’s something about being in the woods and the mountains that puts me at peace. I’ve set my sights on hiking some of the highest mountains on the east coast like Mount Washington (NH), Mount Mitchell (NC), and Mount Katahdin (ME). I’ve knocked off Mount Rogers in Virginia and Mount Mansfield in Vermont, but still have a ways to go.

When I’m not on a mountaintop, art has been a hobby of mine since I was a kid. I like to draw and paint (watercolors) in my spare time. Unlike other paints, I like watercolor because even when things aren’t quite how you want them, you can easily make adjustments. You have much more freedom to do what you want.

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