Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Professional Development Call: Gretchen Gueguen

Professional Development Call: Ms. Gretchen Gueguen

Professional Development Call: April 25, 2013
Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library (University of Virginia) – Charlottesville, VA

Ms. Gueguen earned her bachelor’s degree in English with a minor in Anthropology from Pennsylvania State University.  After graduation, she worked at an engineering consulting firm. She did not have any library experience until her job as a graduate assistant at the University of Maryland, in their Digital Humanities department. This experience led to her first professional appointment as a Digital Collections Librarian at the University of Maryland.

University of Maryland
Gueguen’s main tasks at the University of Maryland included coordinating projects across multiple departments, building the digital repository and digitizing pieces from the Special Collections. Other skills that she picked up involved project management, coordinating people, and communicating across departments. One challenge that she encountered was managing expectations, for example, what the Special Collections thought should be digitized did not always mesh with the digitization work flows.

East Carolina University
In 2008, Gueguen accepted a position as the Digital Initiatives Librarian at East Carolina University. This position was more about organizing born digital records and integrating the department with other units on campus than building a digital library. Gueguen published and encoded finding aids while working at ECU. She also worked on their institutional repository, searching across platform capabilities and the 300,000 pages of government documents that came through the library each year.

University of Virginia
Since 2011, Ms. Gueguen has worked in Charlottesville, Virginia as the Digital Archivist at the Albert Shirley Small Special Collection Library at the University of Virginia. She works with exclusively digital collections as well as hybrid (paper and digital materials) collections. Gueguen strives to use sound archival principals and look at digital materials in a broader perspective. She is a part of an international team that is working on a white paper which will discuss how archivists can use burgeoning software to arrange, describe, and provide access to born digital material.

Career Advice
Ms. Gueguen was very generous in sharing the wisdom of her experience in the field of archives. She encouraged us to think of digital archives as a continuum of analog archives, as opposed to something completely foreign. Archivists will need to become familiar with all kinds of metadata standards, such as MARC, EAD, METS, and MODS. Regardless of how archivists feel about digital collections, the reality is that the amount of digital materials is going to dwarf the amount of paper materials very soon, and archivists are going to need to know how to speak intelligently to technologists. We should also consider our users in this move toward digitization; having materials available online has become the norm.

Staying Competitive
The good news about all of these technological advances is that archivists have ample opportunities to increase our knowledge base. There are webinars that explain how web harvesting and web archiving work, or the basis of computer scripts. Ms. Gueguen encouraged us to learn what computational synching is, and become familiar with XSLT, ArchiveSpace, and Archivist Toolkit. Social media is still a critical skill set, especially website design and blogging. There is no better way to get familiar with these technologies than to practice and get involved in the professional communities. She recommended taking an introduction to Computer Science class, checking out free coursework from Harvard University, learning through the Code Academy (CSS, Python, Java, and Ruby) or building a dynamic website for your own branding.

Ms. Gueguen expressed that there are plenty of challenges in her current position. She stressed the importance of communication and collaboration while working on a team, many of her projects have diverse stakeholders that need to have their perspectives considered. In terms of the digital environment, there are challenges related to storage, data migration and antiquated technologies. She has to do some cost benefit analysis when approaching certain collections because the time and monetary costs of accessing the information could outweigh the collection’s value to the institution. In some cases, her institution has asked the donor for additional funds for the staff to get through those materials. 

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