Working With Digital File Formats: A Dream Job

This is a guest post by Kate Murray, Audio-Visual Specialist with the Office of Strategic Initiatives.

I suppose I’ve always loved puzzles. There are the standard jigsaw and board game varieties – who doesn’t love a good game of Carcassonne?  – but I see puzzles in many different environments. I see them in patterns for knitting and sewing, in recipes, in dance routines, even in language. As a Medieval Literature major in college, my favorite course was one in which we did nothing but translate the epic poem Beowulf from Old English to Modern English. I fondly remember sitting in the library with my translation dictionary in hand, poring over the highly structured vocabulary and grammar. There’s just something about figuring out how individual pieces logically fit together to create a larger entity that I find fascinating.

It is perhaps this love of challenging puzzles that draws me to working with digital file formats. They can be incredibly complex and intricate, especially moving image formats that bring together picture and sound data as well as metadata and other elements in such a way that the complete package plays in the correct sequence and at the right speed. Digital file formats are the ultimate puzzles, and I’m thrilled to work on them in my new job at The Library of Congress.

A few weeks ago, I started work as the Information Technology Specialist (Audio-Visual Specialist) in the Office of Strategic Initiatives. My major responsibilities will be supporting the Federal Agencies Digitization Guidelines Initiative Audio-Visual Working Group and contributing to the Sustainability of Digital Formats website, as well as exploring other issues related to digital file formats and digital preservation. I’ve been an active participant in the FADGI group for several years, most notably on the Broadcast Wave Metadata Embedding Guidelines, so I’m excited to expand my involvement. I’m also looking forward to investigating and documenting new format categories for the sustainability website and to whatever else comes my way. This is my dream job, and I plan to make the most of the opportunity.

Before coming to the Library, I worked on digitization and digital format issues for almost five years at the National Archives and Records Administration as a Digitization Process Development Specialist. In a nutshell, my job was to help coordinate digitization in support of NARA’s goals of preserving and making available collections. In that capacity, I looked at processes and workflows related to increased automation and standardization, including format identification and documentation, migration and transformation strategies, tool identification and testing, and quality assurance and control. One of my most significant projects at NARA was the Products and Services web portal, which outlines the technical specifications for all the products made by the Digitization Division.

Before entering government service, I was the Audiovisual Archivist at the University of Maryland Libraries from 2006-2008 and the Audio and Video Collections Conservator at Emory University Libraries from 2003-2006. I started my library career in the 1990s as the Collections Conservator at NYU Libraries after working in the book conservation lab at Columbia University Libraries as a student employee. I’m a native New Yorker, but I completed my Masters in Library Science at the University of Cape Town in South Africa where I also worked in the Manuscripts and Archives Department on image digitization projects.