I’m excited to share this interview with Grace Bicho, a Senior Digital Collections Specialist in the Web Archiving Section at the Library. This interview, and others like it on The Signal, are created to generate insight into the background, experience, and interests of the people that support the Library of Congress.
Tracee: Hi Grace, could you tell us a bit about what you do in the Digital Services Directorate? How would you explain your job to someone outside the Library of Congress? What do you like most about your job?
Grace: I am a Senior Digital Collections Specialist in the directorate, but, most importantly, I specialize in all things web archiving! I’ve worked in web archiving at the Library for over seven years now, so I guess I’m an expert, although with the nature of the ever-changing web, the definition of an “expert” in web archiving is constantly in flux. On the team, I am responsible for managing projects, coordinating the team’s extensive quality assurance efforts, working with the other senior staff to prioritize the team’s work, building fun visualizations in Tableau to better understand our archive, and managing the program’s web harvesting contract. I love streamlining workflows and figuring out smarter ways to do things! Our small, mighty team is in charge of over four petabytes of data, so there are endless ways to manage ourselves and the data, and it’s such a joy to help put new ideas into practice.
The Library offers the opportunity to do “details” which are temporary reassignments to other parts of the Library. I am currently detailed to the Collections Discovery and Metadata Service as a Product Owner for the new Library Collections Access Platform and learning very quickly! I’m excited to be immersed in another Library unit and get some experience as an official Product Owner.
Tracee: Can you tell us a bit about your professional background and journey? In particular, what professional or educational experiences prepared you for your role?
Grace: My undergraduate degree is in English Literature with a minor in Computer Science from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL). UNL has a brilliant Center for Digital Research in the Humanities, where I worked on original research projects, took Digital Humanities courses ranging from archives to text analysis, and learned to code. Through my experience working at the Walt Whitman Archive, I met Dr. Elizabeth Lorang who became an immensely important mentor for me, inspiring and shaping what has become my career path. As such, I ended up at Indiana University Bloomington, where I completed the dual-masters degree program in Library Science and Information Science, with a specialization in Digital Libraries.
During my time in Library school, I prioritized practical work experiences over coursework. My excellent advisor, Dr. John Walsh, provided me with the unique opportunity to build an archive of comic book readership data from scratch, where I learned how to design, build, and administer MySQL databases and PHP web forms. While in graduate school, I interned at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Los Angeles, where I created a metadata schema and archived 17 terabytes of experimental film material. I wish I could say learning how to use the Panavision motion film camera that shot the original Star Wars prepared me for my current role, but I have a feeling it was the scale of my project.
After graduating, I started working in web archiving at the Library of Congress, and the rest is history! Looking back, there isn’t a single experience that prepared me for this role. The best preparation for working in web archiving and at the Library has been remaining open and adaptable to new experiences, learning new things, and running toward new challenges.
Tracee: What part of your work do you find most meaningful or engaging?
Grace: The community of dedicated practitioners working in web archives is small and geographically disparate. Some of my most meaningful and engaging moments have come from attending International Internet Preservation Consortium (IIPC) events and learning that we all face similar issues. I’ve come to treasure that solidarity, as well as the kindness and generosity of the community.
Tracee: Could you tell us about any specific project or activity you have been able to work on that you are particularly proud of?
Grace: All of them! If I had to choose one, it would be the reconciliation project to standardize the web archiving MODS descriptive records on loc.gov. It was very complex, but fun to work through with colleagues and ultimately succeed in clearing the bottleneck. Completing the project allowed the team to expand in a whole new direction with releasing content to the public on loc.gov monthly and the ability to enhance records with various linked data vocabularies.
Tracee: What do you think is the biggest thing you’ve learned so far in working at the Library of Congress?
Grace: During my first year at the Library, I received the advice to “leave the Library a little better than you found it” during a moment of over-eager systems planning. The advice immediately became my life mantra, but I’ve truly learned what it means more recently as the program has run into complex challenges. When working at a place like the Library of Congress, one that has existed long before us and will continue to exist long after we are gone, it’s important to remember our delicate task of caring for the collection and passing on the institutional memory. That work can only happen day-by-day, step-by-step.
Tracee: Do you have any advice for people interested in getting into the kind of work you do? Are there any skills or competencies that you think are really important for folks that want to get into this field to develop?
Grace: Don’t be afraid to learn some coding! It is certainly not a prerequisite to working in digital archives or web archives, but having some coding knowledge gives you the power to build and automate workflows yourself, which often comes in handy. The other big one is communication and collaboration. Digital archives, and particularly web archives, touch many different parts of an organization, and the ability to communicate kindly and effectively will get you further than any certification or technical skill.
Tracee: Aside from work, what sorts of things are you passionate about? Do you have any hobbies or interests that you’re up for sharing out with folks?
Grace: I am a Pilates enthusiast and love walking around Rock Creek Park in DC! I’ve always been interested in photography, but my mother recently gifted me her 35mm Canon camera from the 1970s, so I’ve been enjoying slowing down, learning how to use it, and experiencing the sheer anticipation of waiting for my film to be developed. I also love traveling, preferably by train, reading fiction, attending live shows (concerts, ballet, theater, any of the above!), and putting jigsaw puzzles together. Puzzle swap, anyone?