We are happy to share this interview with Margaret Gentry. Margaret is serving as a Presidential Management Fellow with the Digital Strategy Directorate. In this interview, we learn a bit about Margaret’s interests and work with us at the Library.
Welcome! We’re so excited you’ve joined the Digital Strategy Directorate as a Presidential Management Fellow. What is your role here at the Library?
I’m so excited to be here! Simply put, my role is aiding the Director and the Directorate in the planning and formulation of the Digital Strategy for the Library in relation to the Library’s Strategic Plan. This includes analyzing and uncovering different ways to approach implementing digital goals and objectives that are relevant to the Library’s work and mission. What I am currently working on is researching similar institutions’ approaches to digital strategy and strategic planning, as well as identifying overlapping themes or challenges between institutions. I am also researching what, if any, digital strategy frameworks exist for cultural heritage institutions, and how such institutions are using these frameworks to guide their work. Understanding how other institutions are tackling challenges similar to those the Library faces will be helpful as we go forward with planning, as well as understanding where the Library differs in its own unique challenges.
Tell us a bit about your professional background and journey. What professional or educational experiences made you want to work in digital strategy at the Library of Congress?
My professional background is rooted in archives, records management, and historical research. My education in history definitely played a role in my desire to work at the Library of Congress, as the Library is a fantastic resource for digital collections. One particular passion of mine is understanding how to make history accessible to all, especially when considering who has the ability to access resources digitally and physically. Although I never anticipated working in digital strategy, I love work that challenges me intellectually and creatively. Additionally, I have experience in digital humanities, using digital skills such as data mining or text analysis to interrogate a specific text or idea. Digital skills such as qualitative analysis and research are all becoming more relevant and important in our modern lives.
What sorts of opportunities do you think digital strategy offers that you’re most excited about in this context? Are there particular challenges, technical or social, that you think this work can help to overcome?
I think some of the most exciting opportunities are in collaboration and partnerships, accessibility, and the ethical use of new technology such as AI. Digital accessibility is important in order to better reach communities and individuals, especially historically marginalized communities. Digital strategy can help guide efforts to make resources and collections more accessible. This is also true when it comes to combatting misinformation – I think digital strategy work can be helpful because institutions can use it to guide their efforts to provide resources and tools for individuals to improve their digital literacy. In terms of AI, this work can enable institutions to identify where AI can be ethically and responsibly used, such as in identifying digital formats. Digital strategy can more broadly aid cultural heritage institutions in understanding how to create new opportunities to expand new ways for users to interact with digital resources and tools in unique ways.
You hold a Master of Arts in History and have worked in public history and archives. How does your approach to and interests in history, and your experience in archives, influence your work?
My interests and approach in history is rooted in social and cultural history, the former the study of the lived experience of the past, and the latter the study of the ideas and beliefs in those experiences. I have had the pleasure of working in an archive dedicated to war experience of both veterans and civilians, focused on oral history. Working in an archive dedicated to these experiences allowed me to better appreciate the wide constellation of experiences that people had in wartime and in peace, which are unique perspectives. Additionally, my own identity as a queer person has played a role in my approach to history – in some ways, I can understand more deeply the archival silence that many groups have experienced, as well as seeing little historical representation. This all has influenced my work to try and understand how to better reach historically marginalized groups or provide better representation of available resources to communities. My research has led me to a museum in New Zealand that prioritizes the voices of the Māori and other Indigenous peoples, for example. More generally, my approach is human-centered; I am interested in understanding the real impacts that digital strategy can have on strategic planning and goals of cultural heritage institutions.
What are you hoping to learn, or what skills are you hoping to develop, in your work here with us?
I’m hoping to learn more about what strategic planning and digital strategy planning looks like at a high level, as well as what this type of planning looks like for a cultural heritage institution. I’m also hoping to learn more about the Library and the ongoing projects, as well as just about anything that I can learn about! In terms of skills, I’m hoping to develop a better understanding of the digital skills that will be needed for cultural heritage institutions in the coming years, such as data management or data literacy. I hope to further develop my own understanding of how I can apply skills that I developed while pursuing my Master’s that are beneficial to my work. I greatly enjoy learning, so I try to be open about what skills I could learn or develop as I know that some skills can be difficult to quantify or name.
Do you have any advice for people interested in working with digital strategy? What skills or competencies do you think are important in this area?
I think the skills and competencies that are important in this area are not necessarily solely digital or computer-based. I think skills in research, collaboration, and analysis are also important, as well as being curious and willing to learn. Part of digital strategy and strategic planning is translating both technical and non-technical information and initiatives into easily understood language. I think in some ways, those with humanities backgrounds are uniquely equipped to work within such an environment. Technology and digital fields can greatly benefit from those with humanities backgrounds, as those with humanities backgrounds are well-equipped to understand the impact of technology. Ultimately, if you are interested in working with digital strategy, I think it is important to be curious, have a willingness to learn, and be willing to step outside of your comfort zone.