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MLIS students earn while they learn

Posted Sept. 17, 2014
By University Libraries
Excerpts from  Reflections, Summer 2014, University Libraries


Sarah Funk and Charlsye Preston-Briegel have perfected what could be the Aerial Map Boogie: under, over, around, then back under. The two master's of library and information science  students have been working with large aerial maps for months now, and that requires a delicate, studied approach.

"We are digitizing an immense aerial photography collection," Funk said. "We're picking up good technical skills, learning exactly how items are digitized. Besides the chance to work with these maps, I've discovered that one of the biggest advantages to working here is learning how the Digital Collections office operates, seeing people at every level, learning how meetings work and how to collaborate on projects."

No matter what their major or career interests are — library science, history, even medicine — students who work in the University Libraries learn by doing and they develop highly marketable skills.

"The skills our student employees learn here are amazingly transferrable," said Beki Gettys, Associate Dean of the Libraries and Director of Thomas Cooper Library. "We attract students from all different academic areas. Some of our students learn skills that directly complement their degrees, and some are just following their interests. Either way, they often develop skill sets that they can take to any job."

Student employees who are pursuing degrees in library and information science could not find a better training ground than the USC Libraries.

"Many of the library and information science majors are scanning items from our collections and developing metadata as part of their student jobs," said Associate Dean Gettys. "They learn not only how to use the technology and organize the information, but they also learn the bigger picture of what goes into a digital collection. Students working in SCPC learn about the legislative process. Students working at South Caroliniana Library learn about the state's history."

The Cooper-Davis Fellowship for Under-Represented Groups in Librarianship gives recipients the opportunity to gain practical experience in many facets of librarianship.

MLIS alumni on their experiences working at University Libraries:

Clanitra Stewart

During her time as the 2012-13 Cooper-Davis Fellow, Clanitra Stewart received training and mentoring to serve as an active participant in departments throughout the Libraries. She rotated on a semester basis through public services, technical services and collection development.

Stewart, who completed an MLIS at USC in 2013, is now Reference and Instructional Services Librarian and Assistant Professor at the Northern Illinois University College of Law Library.

"The Cooper-Davis Fellowship really enhanced my academic experience by providing a practical component to what I learned in my classes," Stewart said. "That hands-on experience was vital to my educational experience."

Carolyn Runyon

Carolyn Runyon worked at South Caroliniana Library for two years on a William Davis Melton University Archives Graduate Assistantship.

"I worked for University Archivist Elizabeth West on processing the papers of Harold Brunton, a former USC Dean of Administration, and getting his papers available for researchers," said Runyon, who graduated in 2008 and is now a Digital Archivist at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. "As that project closed, I worked on digitizing covers of old USC football programs, and that's where I really cut my teeth on digital collection building. I also worked with Digital Collections' Kate Boyd. I built a couple of web exhibits and worked on more traditional exhibits.

"Elizabeth was really good about tailoring my assistantship to cover a broad spectrum of tasks that you might have to have to supervise in an archive, so I know I learned the basics but I also learned a lot about digitization and doing some of these larger scale digitization projects," she said. "In my current job, I supervise students and check over their digitization work, so I set up a lot of standards and plans, such as how to digitize things, how to name files, the basic process, all of which I got from Elizabeth and Kate."

Students like Runyon play a large role in the Libraries' Digital Collections area.

"Students working in Digital Collections are invaluable because they are doing the day-to-day laborious heavy lifting for our department," said Digital Collections Librarian Kate Boyd. "They are the ones scanning and adding lots of descriptive information about the collections they are working on. Without our students, it would be a very small office, staffed with two librarians, who would get a lot less scanning done, which would make very little of the Libraries' special collections available online. With the students' help, we are usually working on about a dozen projects of all sizes for about three or four libraries on campus at a time.

"Our students come in wanting to learn about digital collections, which we happily teach them, and they share their knowledge of new technologies," Boyd said. "Most of them who graduate from our department leave with good jobs, so we know that this is a valuable experience for them, and we really appreciate the fresh ideas they bring."

Kevin Gilbertson

Kevin Gilbertson worked on several digitization projects while he was an MLIS student at USC.

"I worked on The Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps, The Development of the Printed Page, and The Bonneville Collection, among others," said Gilbertson, who graduated in 2005 and is now the Web Services Librarian at Wake Forest University's Reynolds Library.

"I learned about the strategic importance of digitizing and sharing our unique materials online," he said. "I also learned about the importance of building a strong, universal web presence to ensure access, of pursuing detailed metadata to ensure discoverability, and of working collaboratively in the library and across the university to ensure success for the program. All of that is knowledge that I continue to use and build on today."

Deborah Green

Deborah Green appreciates the time she worked in Digital Collections.

"I got the best opportunities while I was working there," said Green, who graduated in 2007 with an MLIS and is now the Digital Collections Librarian for Fort Hays State University in Kansas. "I worked on the digital project for a medieval manuscripts grant which was a collaborative project with other institutions in the state. I digitized and did metadata for the Isaiah DeQuincey Newman papers and the Rev. Joseph A. De Laine papers. I did a special project where I scanned images for the illustrated edition of "Origin of the Species."

"I learned the importance of professional and archival metadata standards and database management. I helped with loading objects into and collecting statistics of access through CONTENTdm. That system had been out for only a year or two when I began to use it and I have used it regularly since then," said Green, who graduated in 2008.

"I am a one-person department in my current position. Fort Hays has about 10,000 students, most of them are virtual. So you can imagine how I much value I place on my time in USC's libraries and my experience with digital and archives there."

One project Green worked on — the digitization of the De Laine Papers held by the Manuscripts Division in South Caroliniana Library — made the items available to many more people.

"Rev. Joseph A. De Laine (1898-1974) was an African Methodist Episcopal minister, public school teacher and civil rights activist of Clarendon County, S.C.," said Manuscripts Librarian Brian Cuthrell, who oversaw Green's work on the project. "Since we acquired it in 2001, this collection has remained in high demand by students, faculty, members of the community and researchers creating documentaries and museum exhibits. Digitization allowed multiple users simultaneous access and reduced wear-and-tear on the materials. We are grateful for the continuing contributions made by our student workers."

Rachel Zitzman

A 2013 MLIS graduate, Rachel Zitzman began working in the Reference Department at Thomas Cooper Library her first semester of graduate school and worked there throughout her two-year program.

"I answered research questions in person, on the phone and via chat, and I helped students learn to use the printers and copiers," she said. "I was also encouraged to work on special projects, such as creating LibGuides, and assisting with and teaching library instruction classes for UNIV 101 and ENGL 102."

She is now a Reference Librarian at Midlands Technical College's Beltline Campus in Columbia.

"I had very different plans for myself when I began the graduate program in library science, but working at TCL helped me realize that academic libraries and reference/instruction positions were a good fit for me," she said. "I learned the thrill of the hunt for answers to difficult research questions and the satisfaction of knowing that I have been able to teach someone something that can help them with their school assignments.

"Working at Thomas Cooper taught me what it means to be a librarian — to help patrons," she said. "I watched time and again as librarians and library staff went out of their way and beyond their job descriptions to assist students, faculty and guests as much as they possibly could. This attitude of service is astounding, and I learned to strive to match it."