Monday, April 23, 2012

Interview Series: Awesome Alumni

This post introduces our  interview series with Drexel iSchool's 'awesome alumni'! Through this series, we hope to show current students what they can do after graduation with their MLIS. We also want to show students what it takes to get that elusive full-time job, and what that job looks like on a daily basis. For our first entry, we spoke with Doreva Belfiore,  who graduated from Drexel with her MLIS in 2011.

Doreva attended the iSchool as a part-time student from 2008-2011, and was a co-chair of SCALA from 2009-2010. Throughout her program, Doreva had four internships: digital collections management internship at the Internet Public Library (ipl2), a general library internship at Philadelphia Yearly Meeting Library of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), a digital libraries and circulation internship at the Rutgers Camden Law Library, and an electronic resources licensing and cataloging internship at the University of Pennsylvania.

What is your current job?
Dorevea: I work as a bibliographic assistant in the Digital Library Initiatives Department of Temple University Libraries. This is a relatively new department that is charged with digitizing materials from the Special Collections Research Center and other specialized collections at Temple Libraries.

Temple University Digital Collections website:

How did you find your job?
Doreva: I found my current job via a combination of networking and tracking job ads. I had been an intern at the University of Pennsylvania in the Information Processing Center (technical services department) for slightly over one year. I had met my current supervisor while she was working at Penn, and I knew that she had moved to Temple University to be the head of digital projects. After graduation from the iSchool, I saw that a position had come open at Temple University. I contacted her for more information about the position, and subsequently applied for it.

What does your typical day look like? Is this what you expected when you took the job?
Doreva: My typical day involves managing up to four students in various projects related to digitization: scanning print materials, organizing scanned materials for cataloging and upload into our digital management system (OCLC’s ContentDM), or editing metadata for cataloged materials.  I generally attend anywhere from 1 to 3 departmental or project meetings per day that are related to the management of specific digital projects going on throughout the library. At other times, I may be found testing and troubleshooting software for our future upgrade to a new version of ContentDM, or I may be reviewing and editing metadata for sets of digital objects. Currently, I am learning Drupal to manage websites and import data from external systems using XML.

Overall, this is pretty much exactly what I expected to be doing. One thing that surprised me is the amount of planning and team effort that is required for large scale digitization projects. Much of digitization is entirely dependent upon a robust hardware, software, and support personnel infrastructure in order to be successful. Also, in a large system, metadata choices can have long-term implications, so you generally want to get it right the first time.

What do you enjoy most about your job?
Doreva: Primarily, I enjoy being able to work on multiple projects that have a diverse variety of subjects and materials. I love the fact that in this field I get to learn new things every day on and off the job. It’s very satisfying to be able to show a digital collection or a thematic exhibition website as the final product of many hours of effort and teamwork.

What are some of the most common misconceptions about your job or your area of librarianship? 
Doreva: I often wonder if other people think of me as “one of those people in the basement (archives) who run the scanners”.  Of course, I do work with scanning materials, but our work is much more than that: we are actively involved in cataloging digital materials, maintaining and configuring the software which supports our projects, and ensuring the long-term access to our digital materials by configuring a robust server hardware infrastructure that will support large-scale storage with future format migration over time. I believe that digital librarians and archivists are really members of an institution’s collection development team. As academic libraries in particular move away from collecting tons and tons of print materials, and instead focus more on specialized collections, people working in the realm of digitization are important partners in the efforts to develop, maintain, and promote such special collections.

I think that members of the general public may wonder why librarians are needed when one can just Google anything on the internet.  Well, if your website and your digital collections do not have specific metadata and specific data structures, Google might not be able to find your digital objects. It’s important to have knowledgeable people behind digitization projects who can manage these types of details so that digital collections are actually discoverable. You cannot use what you cannot see.

What was the most valuable thing that you did or learned while in library school?
Doreva: I think the most valuable thing that I did during my time at Drexel was to seek out a variety of internships related to digital libraries. In particular, I took an internship in which I had to work an inconvenient schedule that involved evenings and weekends. While the schedule could occasionally be frustrating, that experience gave me direct experience in computer programming and digital library infrastructure. It enabled me to complete relevant, real-life projects and then publish a paper about my work in an online professional journal, Code4Lib Journal.  I would argue that there is no “perfect” internship, and that you get out of the internship what you put into it.

In terms of classes, the most important things that I learned came from areas related to my concentration – Digital Libraries.  Every week I utilize skills that I learned in various classes, including HTML editing, MARC cataloging, Dublin Core metadata, and XML and XSLT transformations. In a greater context, I also am called upon to have knowledge and appreciation of database architecture, archival processing, archival materials preservation, copyright, and professional ethics.

What inspired you to choose this career?
Dorevva: For many years I worked in information technology in technical support, network administration and project management. I enjoyed that work but I knew that I had a longstanding interest in digital preservation, especially film and media preservation. When exploring changing careers, I decided upon digital librarianship as the perfect combination of librarianship (materials access, public service), archives (materials preservation and access), and technology (hardware, software, and computer programming).

What do you wish you had learned more about?
Doreva: I wish that I could have taken more Archives classes beyond Archives I and II, and I plan to go back and take more classes online as continuing professional education. I would have loved to have learned more about content representation, instructional design, teaching methodologies, and XML.

I have found that an important component of my work has been HTML, web design, and computer graphics. Knowledge of a scripting language like perl, python, php, cgi, or javascript is also highly useful.

I highly encourage any iSchool student to take the Introduction to Web Design class, or some type of web design class, if you do not have direct experience in creating and maintaining websites.  Before attending Drexel, I took some local classes in Adobe Photoshop, InDesign, and Illustrator, and this knowledge has proved to be directly relevant to my everyday work.

To supplement my knowledge of perl programming, I have been studying javascript programming free online as part of the CodeYear project sponsored by Codeacademy. For those in the Delaware Valley area, I also highly recommend the free classes in python scripting offered for women and their friends from Pystar Philly.

Any tips for current students?
Doreva: I highly recommend that current students try to find at least one internship or volunteer experience in the area of librarianship that interests you. It’s not always possible to obtain a paid internship, but even unpaid or volunteer experiences can be highly valuable for building skills. During my time at the iSchool, I was a part-time student by choice, so I was able to get a total of 4 internships (2 paid and 2 unpaid) over 3 years. In your internship, whenever possible, document a list of the skills that you acquire or the projects that you have worked on, and add that to your future portfolio.  If you internship is located at an academic or public library, take advantage of any opportunities for professional development that you can, which might include software training classes, lectures, and training webcasts.

One of the things I do that I recommend to any students is to identify job descriptions for positions that interest you, even if you are not qualified for them. Keep those descriptions in your own personal database (PDF, word, text files, whatever works for you). Use those descriptions to identify the experience, skills, and traits that are sought for that type of position and think about ways that you can get that experience and develop those skills and traits.

Consider joining either a student chapter or a local chapter of a professional library or information organization.  You never know what valuable information you might find in a speaker’s presentation or what connections you might make at a networking mixer. I enjoy hearing presentations on a variety of topics related to library science even if they are not related to my specialty, because I get to experience other aspects of librarianship that broaden my perspective of the profession.

Connect with Doreva at:
Twitter: @dorevabelfiore

1 comment:

  1. I second the recommendation to save job postings! Start doing this early, and you will be less surprised by the requirements when it's time to apply (and have more time to make sure you are qualified for the jobs you really want).