The following is a guest post by Patrick Rourke, an Information Technology Specialist and the newest member of the Library’s Viewshare team.
I made my first forays into computing on days when it was too cold, wet or snowy to walk in the woods behind our house, in a room filled with novels, atlases and other books. Usually those first programming projects had something to do with books, or writing, or language – trying to generate sentences from word lists, or altering the glyphs the computer used for text to represent different alphabets.
After a traumatic high school exposure to the COBOL programming language (Edsger Dijkstra once wrote that “its teaching should be regarded as a criminal offense” (pdf)), in college I became fascinated with the study of classical Greek and Roman history and literature. I was particularly drawn to the surviving fragments of lost books from antiquity – works that were not preserved, but of which traces remain in small pieces of papyrus, in palimpsests, and through quotations in other works. I spent a lot of my free time in the computer room, using GML, BASIC and ftp on the university’s time sharing system.
My first job after graduation was on the staff of a classics journal, researching potential contributors, proofreading, checking references. At that time, online academic journals and electronic texts were being distributed via email and the now almost-forgotten medium of Gopher. It was an exciting time, as people experimented with ways to leverage these new tools to work with books, then images, then the whole panoply of cultural content.
This editorial experience led to a job in the technical publications department of a research company, and my interest in computing to a role as the company webmaster, and then as an IT specialist, working with applications, servers and networking. In my spare time, I stayed engaged with the humanities, doing testing, web design and social media engagement for the Suda On Line project, who publish a collaborative translation and annotation of the 10th century Byzantine lexicon in which many of those fragments of lost books are found.
My work on corporate intranets and my engagement with SOL motivated me to work harder on extending my programming skills, so before long I was developing web applications to visualize project management data and pursuing a master’s degree in computer science. In the ten years I’ve been working as a developer, I’ve learned a lot about software development in multiple languages, frameworks and platforms, worked with some great teams and been inspired by great mentors.
I join the National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program as an Information Technology Specialist, uniting my interests in culture and computing. My primary project is Viewshare, a platform the Library makes available to cultural institutions for generating customized visualizations – including timelines, maps, and charts – of digital collections data. We will be rolling out a new version of Viewshare in the near future, and then I will be working with the NDIIPP team and the Viewshare user community on enhancing the platform by developing new features and new ways to view and share digital collections data. I’m looking forward to learning from and working with my new colleagues at the Library of Congress and everyone in the digital preservation community.