Ever since I discovered the New York Public Library’s Digital Collections, I’ve been interested in digital collections. The thought of those free and publicly available historical images filled me with joy. I was a kid in a candy store and thought it would be the best job in the world to be able to work with such collections.
Fast forward a handful of years, and I found myself interning at the University of Oregon Digital Scholarship Services Department for the last few credits of my MLIS program. At the beginning of the internship, I knew I wanted to work with digital collections; but had little clue as to what all that involved on a day-to-day basis. I felt like a dry sponge and was anxious to absorb as much knowledge and experience in those four weeks as possible.
While I had completed coursework on digital libraries and metadata, and curated and published my own digital collection and exhibit, I had little notion what went into curating and creating digital collections and digital exhibits from an institutional perspective. My learning was isolated from the entire lifecycle of digital objects. My internship focused on the lifecycle of a digital object from digitization through the publishing of a digital exhibit, and conversationally went into depth regarding other factors such as policy and digitization standards in early stages and maintenance in later stages.
I attended the Northwest Samvera Meetup at Oregon State University. Samvera is an open source digital collections platform that allows institutions to build and maintain their own digital collections. Representatives from University of Oregon, Oregon State University, Linn-Benton Community College, and Oregon Health and Science University where there. During the meet up, they talked about how each institution hosted their digital collections and how those digital collections are searched for and interacted with by their faculty, students, and the public.
I met with Randy Sullivan, the digital production manager, who works with objects at the beginning of their digital lifecycle. When digitization requests come in, the physical objects get sent to him, where he and his team digitize them. Whenever an item from one folder is requested, the entire folder gets digitized. This prevents the objects from being handled too many times.
If copyright and licensing allows, the digitized items are put on OregonDigital, a collaborative repository managed by Oregon State Libraries and the Digital Scholarship Center at the University of Oregon Libraries. Sarah Seymore, the Digital Collections Metadata Librarian, and her team create metadata for these items. I met with Sarah Seymore and Julia Simic, Assistant Head of Digital Scholarship Services, Digital Production and Preservation, a couple times and talked about what metadata schemas and standards are used in OregonDigital. I had taken courses on metadata, but these conversations filled in the little gaps in my knowledge. For instance, I knew about triples from my coursework, but with Sarah and Julia, I was able to see how they are formatted within a CSV file to create the metadata we see in OregonDigital. They showed me OpaqueNamespace, a linked data service created and maintained by the University of Oregon Libraries and Oregon State University Libraries for “name authority data via persistent URIs.” OpaqueNamespace was the solution to name authority in OregonDigital, as many local creators had no name authority URIs elsewhere.
While I got exposure to the entire digital curation and preservation lifecycle, my main focus was on digital exhibits. Digital exhibits use digital collections to tell a story using primary sources (think of a physical exhibit in a museum, only digital). I wanted to focus on digital exhibits for two reasons: to gain knowledge and experience to round out my education, and to help in telling the story of my family’s farm. Rastovich Family Farm is Deschutes County’s first Century Farm and has been owned and operated by our family since 1919.
My first project at the University of Oregon was to learn Spotlight, a digital exhibit platform, and turn around and create documentation for it. The end product was a user manual complete with screenshots. A user unfamiliar with the platform could open the document and create a digital exhibit, just from the steps outlined in the documentation I wrote. They say the best way to learn something is to teach it, and that adage certainly rang true in this experience. I then turned the documentation into a LibGuide.
After I created documentation and a LibGuide for Spotlight, I sat down and wrote a lesson plan for teaching the platform to library staff with the goal of giving them the tools and knowledge to create their own digital exhibits. With staff from Digital Scholarship Services and Research and Instruction, I gave a 2-hour training session on Spotlight with lecture, click-through instruction, and time throughout the session for participants to begin building their own exhibit. I drew on my experience teaching middle schoolers technology tools by taking a step-by-step approach with time for questions and trial and error, assuming little prior knowledge regarding digital exhibit platforms. Throughout the session, participants asked questions and brought up issues and suggestions that I used to polish the LibGuide and lesson plan for the next training session.
This was a rare opportunity to get instruction experience in the context of a library while in library school. This kind of instruction experience is something many employers look for in this field and I was grateful to have it.
My time at the University of Oregon proved to be one of the most valuable components of my MLIS program. While I had the option to complete my degree through coursework, I am so happy that I opted to do an internship. The experience itself was, of course, valuable, but I never anticipated being able to walk away from it with so many tangible things. I have a Spotlight User Manual to which I can point and say, “I wrote that;” I have a Spotlight LibGuide to which I can point and say, “I made that from scratch;” I have an entire lesson plan for a training session which could easily be translated into any other platform. I’ve come away from my internship not only with invaluable experience, but tangible work samples that I can take with me into my career after graduation.
Emily Rastovich is a recent graduate of the University of Alabama’s Bama by Distance MLIS program. She currently resides in Oregon and can be found on Twitter at @MLISellaneous.