First Library Job: Historic Maryland Newspapers Project

Coming into my first semester of library school last fall, I had almost no work experience in a library. Outside of my time interning in a government archive during undergrad, my library experiences mainly occurred while actually reading, writing, and studying for classes. For being a library school student, I made it a goal to find a part-time job or internship in a library for at least one semester of my MLIS at the University of Maryland. Low and behold, I was incredibly fortunate to apply for and accept a position at the start of my program; over a year later, I’m still in my first library job!

My first library job is at UMD Library as a Student Assistant on the Historic Maryland Newspapers Project (HMNP). A grant funded by project by the National Endowment for the Humanities’ National Digital Newspaper Program, the goal of the Project is “to digitize Maryland’s newspapers and make them accessible for free on the Library of Congress’s Chronicling America website.” Since the Project received its first grant cycle in 2012, just under 330,000 pages from 47 newspapers have been digitized and made accessible on Chronicling America for all to freely access and use. Currently, Maryland’s newspaper collection includes issues published anywhere between 1844 and 1946. Maryland’s newspaper collection aims to cover as much of the state as possible in terms of geographic location, language, ethnicity, and diverse communities. To date, some features of the Maryland newspaper collection include 3 non-English newspapers (Polish, German, and Czech), a newspaper specifically for women’s suffrage, and another specifically for labor unions. Many of these newspapers are no longer print; so by digitizing them, the Project also preserves local Maryland history at the town and county level.

My role with the project varies depending on what takes priority at the time. During the first few months of the job, I was pretty focused on metadata collation for another newspaper issue (think putting volume and issue numbers, publication dates, and any publication errors in a Google Sheet). Afterwards, my focus shifted towards quality control review of digitized batches coming back from the vendor. When this portion of project is going on, quality control becomes almost my sole focus. Once the batch is reviewed and given the clear, it is sent to the Library of Congress to be added to Chronicling America. Finally, I work with my fellow student assistants to create social media posts on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram using uploaded materials from the Maryland collection on Chronicling America. This semester, I am also taking on some blog posts and preparing articles and images for future K-12 presentations. Due to my classes and graduate assistantship, my time on the HMNP is limited to 10 hours per week.

So, it may seem a bit random, but why do I bring up my library job in my post this month?

Encourage students to get a jump start on their library career

Like I mentioned, I had almost no work experience in a library before starting my MLIS. When I interviewed for this position, I convinced myself I had no chance of getting the job due to my lack of experience. Now that I have been on the Project for over a year, I can reflect on how much I have learned about digitization, what it means to work in an academic library (both in-person and remotely during a pandemic), and some best practices to get folks interested in the project. Obviously, I learned a lot in my classes, but I believe that the HMNP has been one of my most valuable experiences thus far.

Be open to new learning experiences

Working on the Historic Maryland Newspapers Project introduced me to academic libraries, digitization, outreach and social media, copyright research, working with metadata and historical documents, what it is like to work on a grant project, and how to collaborate with stakeholders. On top of all of that, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced the Project to a remote setting, meaning that I collaborate with my fellow student assistants and the project librarian virtually to complete our assignments. Although my hours are capped at 10 per week, I try to make the most of them by dipping my toes wherever I can and learning as many angles of the Project as possible.

Fine-tune my research to teach others

I’ve completed numerous research projects over the years; so I consider myself to be fairly fluent in the research process. But, this is not the case for all. Thanks to my classes and the HMNP, I’ve been able to evaluate my research strategies and begin to teach others about the process. Primary source research is tricky; researching newspapers as far back as the 1850s is tricky; and trying to read a newspaper article in some fancy font is tricky. With my time on the HMNP, I’ve come to learn what it means to conduct research and assist others with the process. As I am taking a class of legal information literacy this fall, I’m realizing how useful my research evaluations have become!

Making primary sources accessible

Primary source accessibility was one of my main motivations to apply to library school. In my own experiences, I realized how valuable it is to access primary sources online and why many populations need to access these materials. Especially with COVID-19 and the uncertainty surrounding in-person classes at school districts and universities around the United States, making sure educators, researchers, and students can access primary sources is more critical than ever. With Chronicling America, these populations (and many others!) have free access to over 17 million newspaper pages from 1789 through 1963.

Basically, the point of this month’s post is for new or incoming library school students: you may not have much experience working in a library. That’s okay! If an exciting opportunity occurs, don’t be afraid to go for it. Besides, you never know where it could possibly take you in the library and information science world.

Image Citation: The midland journal. (Rising Sun, Md.), 17 Jan. 1919. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn89060136/1919-01-17/ed-1/seq-7/>

Image obtained by author through Chronicling America

Sarah McKenna is a second year MLIS student at the University of Maryland. She is one of three Student Assistants working on the Historic Maryland Newspapers Project. Be sure to check out the Project out on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram and find your own state’s newspapers on Chronicling America!

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