PERSON explores local archival culture through interviews with professionals active in the field. This edition features Gloria Gonzalez in conversation with Mary Haberle.
Name: Gloria Gonzalez
Education: MLIS, 2013 (UCLA)
Current Work: Library Strategist at Zepheira since November, 2014
Previous Work: Digital Archivist, UCLA Library Special Collections
How do you describe what you do to people who aren’t familiar with archival work?
As a digital archivist, I’d often tell people “I work to save things for the sake of knowledge. I work to provide users with things like e-mail, photographs, text documents, data sets, and other computer files for research purposes.”
In my current role, I usually say “I help make libraries and archives visible on the Web to increase knowledge. Believe it or not, most products are easier to find and access online compared to resources from libraries and archives because the descriptions aren’t interoperable. My colleagues and I help libraries migrate their catalogs to a new description format. This process publicly exposes their data and allows library books and other stuff pop up in your Web search results along with resources from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other companies.”
Meeting people who aren’t familiar with archival work or Linked Data is always fun for me. It gives me a chance to see if what I’m saying makes sense to them or catches their interest. The interactions let me rethink how I explain technical concepts and methods when I talk to people who don’t use libraries and archives.
What are your primary responsibilities in your current position?
I provide my archival and library expertise to a small team of Web and software as a service (SaaS) developers, change management specialists, information architects, product and project managers, and library systems specialists. We focus on helping libraries embrace Linked Data and Resource Description Framework (RDF) publishing models.
My primary responsibilities fall into the following categories:
- Assessment and Planning
I assess the systems, service providers, and data of libraries eager to expose their catalog metadata online for anyone to use—including search engines—so that their resources appear in search results. To realize these goals, I help libraries plan to migrate their MARC records to BIBFRAME, a developing Linked Data standard created for the Semantic Web. I also perform data audits of library catalogs. I look at large samples of MARC records with our data analytics tools to check encoding standards, data transformation, local use of fields, and the number of interconnected access points. I also teach the partners and service providers of Linked Data early adopters about what their customers are doing and why it's important.
- Exploration and Action
I support larger experimental projects. Linked Data adoption in libraries and archives is still in its infancy, and much of what we're doing is new. After assessment and planning is complete, we migrate entire catalogs of descriptive metadata with our open-source MARCXML to BIBFRAME transformation pipeline. Right now, I work with public libraries of all sizes (catalogs ranging from 350,000 to 1,000,000+ MARC records). The Denver Public Library was recently the first to finish the Linked Data publishing process and search engines are presently crawling their data. Soon I'll begin pilots with academic libraries, special collections, and rare book libraries. I also develop an experimental version of the BIBFRAME vocabulary with a core team of professionals from UC Davis, the National Library of Medicine, George Washington University Libraries, and a few of my co-workers. This lets us continue research and development while the Library of Congress version of the vocabulary is frozen for their experimentation. Most recently, we’ve mapped the vocabulary to other frameworks including the PCC’s Core Resource Description and Access (RDA) terms and Dublin Core. BIBFRAME was created to do much more than replace MARC and soon I will begin mapping to Encoded Archival Description.
- Awareness and Education
I help with our self-paced online Linked Data and BIBFRAME training course and provide primary support for the Alumni Group, a growing community of people who finished the curriculum. The group has about 250 members from academic, public, and special libraries that share their work, use our Linked Data tool suite, and discuss future development needs. Recently, library vendor customers and staff have started taking the courses, so I look forward to increasing the group's diversity.
How does your current work relate to your prior experiences?
Previously, I focused on making obsolescent digital materials accessible. My work as a digital archivist made digital files available to researchers in the reading room at UCLA Library Special Collections for the first time.
Now, I focus on preventing libraries and archives from becoming obsolete. My work as a Library Strategist turns millions of MARC catalog records into five to six times that many interconnected Web pages (Linked Data) available to anyone who uses the Internet.
For a long time, my focus on digital archives was so intense and fruitful that I managed to ignore the facts around me. The majority of my peers are precariously or under-employed in libraries and archives. I think that these economic conditions directly correlate to the fact that most people in our communities do not actively use libraries and archives.
There are more libraries in the United States than Starbucks, but I'd bet big money that statistics comparing active Starbucks users to active Library users would make us all cry.
My prior and current work aims toward the same goal. We need to change social and technical systems in libraries and archives to unlock new ways for users to discover and learn. I'm willing to learn, experiment, sometimes fail, and keep trying again endlessly as long as my efforts help libraries and archives become more relevant.
You recently moved from working on campus at UCLA to a position based out of a home office. How do you like the change and what do you think it takes to work successfully outside a traditional environment?
The most common question I get asked by archivists is, "Don’t you miss the collections?!?"
I've had the opportunity to work at libraries with some of the most incredible collections in the world. However, I gladly gave up this privilege to do what I do now. I care deeply about archival and library resources but to me they are a means to an end, not an end in themselves. There's no doubt I miss the collections and the people I used to work with every day. However, I do not miss working in a basement cubicle with no windows.
I've enjoyed the transition to working from home. I wouldn't say the change was easy. For the first month and a half, I worked at a table in the living room of an apartment I shared with three roommates. That didn't go well, so I moved into a duplex with my partner to give me space for a home office (which I call "the library," of course). Now things are much, much better!
Self-monitoring and analysis tools are what helped me start working successfully outside a traditional environment. Right now, I use a customized time management method based on the Pomodoro Technique and an application called Focus Time. I also use the Timing application for Mac, which tracks all of my computer activity. I call this the panopticon technique. Monitoring helps me avoid procrastination, keep track of how much time I spend on each project, and make sure I'm not working an insane amount of hours per week. It puts a leash on my workaholic tendencies.
In the past, you have said that you'd like the archival community to move away from using the term "born-digital." Do you still feel this way?
Yes. I still don't use it often, but I'll admit it doesn't get on my nerves as much as it did a few years ago.
Practically, I feel like “born-digital” is unnecessary jargon. Using it distances us from our users and donors. Instead, we should just say digital. Logically, the false distinction irks me: everything digital is born-digital, some of it is digitized material. The word "digitized" provides all the distinction of content needed.
Digitized files are born-digital too! So are MARC records, EAD XML files, etc. There are tons of digital formats and we create a few of them via digitization. The content may not be originally produced in a digital format (for example, the words in a scanned book). However, the container—the file itself—is 100% born-digital and will face the same issues of file format and system obsolescence.
I strongly believe that the coining of "born-digital" stems from habitual black-and-white thinking, the result of which is a model that inhibits our ability to create holistic, systematic approaches to digital sustainability. We can't ignore the existing complexity of digital systems and library products while developing infrastructure for new formats.
However, I also realize that fighting to remove "born-digital" from our professional vocabulary isn't a fruitful use of my time. I have problems to solve that are bigger than semantics. It's proved to be useful to archivists speaking to other archivists in these pioneering years of digital archives. I look forward to being able to look back and laugh at how outdated it will sound once we've moved on.
You had a great job already lined up when you graduated. What advice can you offer students and new archivists who are trying to position themselves for the job market?
I had a great job lined up when I graduated because I began cultivating my career long before grad school. I already focused on helping our profession embrace change and new technologies and knew what I wanted to do with my degree.
Everyone's career path and situation are unique so I can't say this will work for anyone else, but here's what worked for me:
- Building a strong support network of innovators, mentors, and forward-thinking individuals in libraries and archives.
- Developing a habit of seeking mentorship and asking supervisors for professional guidance.
- Working multiple part-time jobs in graduate school to gain as much practical library experience as possible.
- Seeking out a wide range of experiences in libraries and archives beyond my narrow interests in digital archival materials. I cataloged archives and rare books, processed collections, worked with accessions and collection development, and helped researchers on campus curate their data.
What makes Los Angeles an exciting place to work in this field?
The diverse professionals, collections, and communities make Los Angeles an exciting location to work. I moved to LA to get my graduate degree, but decided to stay after falling in love with the expansive, beautiful city I found. Working in LA gives me the chance to meet people with a wide variety of interests in a ton of different industries. I appreciate how, like the earth it sits upon, LA is constantly shifting, growing, and changing.
In your opinion, what is the most important skill for an archivist to possess?
The most important skill for an archivist to possess is the will to learn new things.
Does your answer to the last question change for the digital archivist?
How worried are you about the archival community's capacity to preserve our digital past? What do you think it will take to get the job done?
Collectively, archivists have the power and understanding needed to make up for lost time and operate as repositories for data of all kinds. We are well suited to take on the challenge.
Over the past six years or so, I've seen the field come a long way. The hard work and development put into open-source services* is lowering the barrier to entry into digital archives for organizations who aren't early adopters. The actions of early adopters will continue to influence more conservative organizations that will eventually become open to new workflows for digital archives. Together our actions will influence all of the laggards.
When it comes to what it will take to get the job done, the National Digital Stewardship Alliance (NDSA) knows best. If together we focus on the points laid out in their 2015 National Agenda, we can scale digital stewardship.
My main concerns relate to efficiency, transparency, and open-access education.
To be successful, archivists need to think less about particular systems and formats and more about collaborative transparent ways to share information. This way we can analyze practices together to better leverage the skills and resources that individual organizations and institutions bring to the profession.
Archivists must improve inefficient workflows to get human time and effort to focus on contributing to strategic needs and digital innovation. I'm talking about more than More Product, Less Process: we need to implement Accessioning as Processing and have documented systematic project management for digital projects. We can't waste time reinventing each other's workflows.
Archivists also can't waste their time and money on digital archivist certification classes focused on closed, sometimes outdated content and little hands-on experience. To reach the critical mass of industry adoption that we need for digital archiving to be sustainable, we must only support open-access continuing education.** It would be better to spend time learning and experimenting locally then sharing results with others for feedback, teaching, and more learning.
If successful, future archivists won't hold biases against digital materials and will work to archive information of all types regardless of format. The title of "digital archivist" will be a thing of the past and most archivists will know how to work with hybrid and digital collections.
What other professional advice can you offer your fellow archivists?
Archivists and librarians all learn S. R. Ranganathan's five laws of library science in grad school. In our day-to-day activities, we often forget these core principles of operating a library system and don't realize they directly apply to operating archival systems too.
Here's my spin on the five laws:
- Resources are for use.
- Every user her (or his or zher) resource.
- Every resource its user.
- Save the time of the user.
- Libraries and Archives are growing organisms.
These principles remind me that we need to focus on use, which is the point of storage and preservation. Every member of our communities should be able to get the resources they need and don't realize they need yet. We must meet the needs of all potential users and not just users with direct influence. We need to leverage technology to serve users as efficiently as possible. And most of all, we need to achieve internal change and growth to survive in our environments.
Here are the best books I’ve read in 2015:
- Dataclysm: Who We Are (When We Think No One is Looking)
- Data and Goliath: The Hidden Battles to Collect Your Data and Control Your World
*Stanford's work with ePADD
*Yale University Library’s research pilot of the bwFLA Emulation as a Service software framework
*Internet Archive’s JSMESS emulator
*George Washington Libraries' Social Feed Manager
**Digital POWRR Project Blog
**Library of Congress' Digital Preservation Outreach and Education Train-the-trainer program
**Chris Prom’s Practical e-Records
Early results of published BIBFRAME from Denver Public Library’s data pilot:
- I, digital personal collections in the digital era edited by Christopher A. Lee
- Preserving our digital heritage plan for the National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program : a collaborative initiative of the Library of Congress
- Your digital afterlife when Facebook, Flickr and Twitter are your estate, what's your legacy? [Evan Carroll and John Romano ; foreword by Omar L. Gallaga]
- Preserving.exe toward a national strategy for software preservation
Find Gloria Online:
This interview is a part of LAAC's new blog series, PERSON/PLACE/THING, designed to explore an aspect of local archival culture whether through an interview with a professional active in the field, exploring a local repository, or highlighting an item from an archival collection. If you have suggestions and/or would like to contribute to PERSON/PLACE/THING, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Published by: Los Angeles Archivist Collective in Person · Place · Thing