I’m excited to share this interview with Madeline Goebel, one of my colleagues who works in the Digital Content Management Section (DCM). My hope with this interview, and the others that we publish here, is to spread awareness about the background, experience, and interests of the people that support the Library of Congress in providing enduring access to digital collections. Along with that, I think it’s really valuable to hear from members of the team about how their thoughts on the work have changed and developed over time.
Trevor: Hi Madeline, could you tell us a bit about what you do as a Digital Collections Specialist in DCM? How would you explain your job to someone outside the Library of Congress? What do you like most about your job?
Madeline: As a Digital Collections Specialist I am simultaneously working on a number of projects involving digital content. This variety is something I really enjoy about my job, but it also can make it difficult to describe what I do on an average day. At the most basic level, I would say that my job is to help content along its journey from acquisition to access. I process digital content, ensure that it is properly inventoried and stored within our systems, and work with Library colleagues from different departments to best present that content to our users. What I like most about my job is the end result of making our materials accessible. It is gratifying to know that the work I do helps connect people with items from our collections.
Trevor: Can you tell us a bit about your professional background and journey. In particular, what professional or educational experiences prepared you to work with digital collections?
Madeline: My experience in libraries began as a high school student shelving books as a volunteer at my local public library. As an undergraduate history major, I became interested in archives, and I interned in the processing department of an archival repository on my university’s campus. That experience was really the catalyst for my decision to pursue a graduate degree in library and information science, which I began after working as an English teaching assistant in Normandy, France, and completing a year of AmeriCorps service as a literary tutor for primary school students in Austin, Texas.
Going into my graduate program, I was interested in continuing my work with physical archival collections. However, I quickly shifted my attention to digital content. Learning about the challenges of preserving and providing access to digital materials really interested me, so I focused on finding opportunities inside and outside the classroom that would allow me to gain experience working with them. In terms of preparing me for my current position, I would say that my work as an intern at the Texas After Violence Project (TAVP), a Graduate Research Assistant for University of Texas Libraries, and a Junior Fellow at the Library of Congress were most helpful. Elements of these roles align with my current responsibilities. At TAVP this took the form of a content migration. For my position with University of Texas Libraries I designed and launched a crowdsourced metadata creation campaign, which helped prepare me for my work supporting By the People. Finally, though I was a Junior Fellow in a different part of the Library, and my project was not directly focused on digital content, this experience was a great introduction to the operations of the Library, which was especially beneficial when I first started in my current position.
Trevor: You’ve been working on the team for a while now, are there any things about the work that surprised you?
Madeline: I have been consistently surprised by how much DCM collaborates with colleagues from other parts of the Library. It truly takes a village to make digital content accessible to our users. This was a bit of a change from projects I worked on while in graduate school, where I was often operating independently or with just a few other people.
Trevor: In 2019 the team worked up a set of nine values that guide our work on Digital Content Management. Do any of those values resonate with you? If so which ones and why?
Madeline: Care really resonates with me. Though I am now back onsite, I started my position remotely and worked entirely from home for the better part of my first year. That lack of face-to-face interaction could have made it hard to get to know everyone and feel like part of the team, but I can gladly say that I have felt so welcomed by my colleagues in DCM, and in the Library more broadly. On a professional level, I greatly appreciate the degree to which my DCM colleagues incorporated generosity and patience into the onboarding process. There has been so much to learn (and I’m still learning!), and it is reassuring to know that I have their support.
Trevor: Do you have any advice for people interested in getting into work with digital collections? Are there any skills or competencies that you think are really important for folks that want to get into this field to develop?
Madeline: Problem solving has been a significant part of my work so far, so I would first say that someone wanting to work with digital collections needs to be interested in and/or prepared for that. Every project is unique and can pose its own challenges. I like working through these puzzles, and I think that is helpful for this type of work. In terms of skills and competencies, I would recommend getting comfortable with Python, which is the programming language we mostly use. With digital content, you are often working on a large scale, so you need to be able to automate. Having the ability to write and run scripts makes your work much more efficient.
Trevor: Aside from working with digital collections, what sorts of things are you passionate about? Do you have any hobbies or interests that you’re up for sharing out with folks?
Madeline: I like cooking and baking, and I’m always looking for new recipes to try. I love to read, mostly contemporary fiction, but I try to read broadly across genres and from authors from around the world. I am also still relatively new to DC, and exploring the area – restaurants, cultural heritage institutions, parks and other outdoor spaces – has been a lot of fun.