A Summer at the DSU

Working at the Digitial Scholarship Unit this summer has been amazing. I can’t believe how complementary it has been for my education. I have learned so much in a practical sense but also in a much broader sense of real workplace experience in a library with digital initiatives. It’s hard to list all the skills and knowledge I have acquired from such an immersive experience but let me talk a bit about the highlights of this summer.

Right out of the gate I was given the daunting task of preparing metadata for 7000 plus photographs in UTSC’s Photographic Services Collection, one of the archival collections currently housed at the DSU. The end goal of the item level description was to create detailed metadata to be used in an online collection that intended to be representative of the collection and to compliment UTSC’s 50th Anniversary celebrations in 2015.

My first task was to design a workflow and a selection criteria for the series. I was assisted by two excellent work-study students, Vrishti Dutta and Mary-Ellen Brown, who took on the very exciting work of individually numbering each image. This was extremely time consuming but very necessary as it allows us to easily find and process specific images. The numbering, measuring and meta-data creation took approximately one month.

During this time I was also selecting images for the future online collection. Though, as my eyes started to hurt and my brain was sluggish I inexplicably stopped this practice halfway through. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise. By the time I finished processing everything I was able to look at the collection differently. Having seen every image, I had gathered a better understanding of what would best represent the collection and was able to create five sub-series. The sub-series or subjects are Student Life, Academic Life, Campus, Faculty and Staff, and Community. It was very exciting when we finally reached the last box and I realised that I had written metadata for over 7000 images. My feelings of brain-melting and elation are preserved via Twitter and reproduced here for future generations.

But even through all the brain hurt I could tell that this project was so useful. Here I was able create and execute a curation and digitization workflow. This provided me with a better understanding of what it means to work with digital initiatives. After the meta-data was finished, we used OpenRefine and exported the MODS spreadsheet lines as .XML files. I had assigned each image a digital identifier so we used that identifier to name both the .XML files and the .TIF’s of the images, creating neat little packages of images and their metadata. These packages were then ingested into Islandora over the course of a week and make available online.

In addition to processing the series I was also able to assist with archival reference questions. Some people were interested in finding interested photographs for the 50th Anniversary celebration projects. One user was interested in discovering why Pierre Eliot Trudeau had visited UTSC between 1979 and 1980, we were able to find a photograph and a newspaper article, though, no reason was given. Another user was hoping to find a photograph of her sister performing in UTSC’s student theatre for her upcoming 50th birthday party. When we were able to find a previously unseen photograph she was so happy there were tears and hugs. My previous experience with Archives had been as a researcher so it was exciting to be given the chance to be on the other side of the exchange.

To round out the experience I had the opportunity to attend workshops, camps and conferences. First, a workshop on AtoM and Archivematica see earlier blog post. A couple weeks back I volunteered to help out at Islandora Camp GTA. In between coffee breaks I was able to sit in on the admin track sessions. The sessions were expertly run and were very useful whether you were just starting out or building on foundation. I’ve already been working with the Islandora system for some time now but with the help of the sessions I was able to better understand what I had been working with all this time. I look forward to continuing to learn about all the customizable options in Islandora’s offerings.

Lastly, I was able to attend many of the sessions offered at the Digital Pedagogy Institute put on by the Digital Scholarship Unit at UTSC. There I learned about all the incredible educators, librarians, and faculty members that were making use of digital tools in their classrooms. So many of the presenters were embroiled in the most engaging projects and it was refreshing to see such novel uses for technology in the interest of learning and teaching. One great take away was how lucky we seem to be at the University of Toronto to have administrators and librarians dedicated to digital initiatives and how this kind of openness will only become more important as we continue to move in that direction. One attendee of the DPI told me that her takeaway was TTYL (Talk To Your Librarian). I’m constantly blown away by the expertise and commitment of people working in the fields where libraries, archives and technology intersect.

Some final points I’ve gleaned from my time here are a general but nonetheless important for someone starting in this field.

1) Professionalism, attention to detail and the ability to communicate well are key.

2) Staying connected to colleagues via social media is extremely useful, there are many interesting discussions and helpful tips that go down on twitter on a daily basis.

3) Whatever you don’t know, you can learn.

4) If you have a question, Google it first. Chances are someone else has already answered it.

5) Volunteer at conferences. They are excellent opportunities to learn and meet people. I can’t believe I made it this far without volunteering.

6) The archivist/librarian divide is often arbitrary in a digital context and the rivalry is dumb

I am so happy to have been given the opportunity to work at the DSU this summer. I feel as though my experiences here have taught me new skills and given me the confidence to pursue fields where I may have been uncomfortable before. I feel privileged to have worked with so many incredible people here, that they have let me to pick their brains and that they have offered me excellent advice for the future. Thanks to them, I have now secured part-time employment as the Digital Curation Intern at Information Technology Services (ITS) at Robarts Library this school year. I am confident that my time at the DSU has prepared me for new challenges both at ITS and after graduation. I am so very thankful for everything they have done for me this summer.

Rachelann Pisani