BHL hosts our 1st UMich Alt. Spring Break Intern: Irina Zeylikovich

I knew I was going to have a good University of Michigan School of Information Alternative Spring Break when my project mentor, Bianca Crowley, told me to meet at the Easter Island head. But that’s just how the Biodiversity Heritage Library rolls.

Part of BHL is currently housed in the Smithsonian’s National Museum in Natural History, so on Monday March 4, I purposefully strode through it’s grand doors to begin my weeklong project on creating social media campaigns that would cast a wider net and draw more people to the amazing content that the Biodiversity Heritage Library has online.

My project involved a dual approach – I would work on both a sustainable workflow that made sense for the BHL staff to actively utilize and continue after my departure, as well as a list of topics that had the potential to pique the interest of lots of people and also had relevant content in BHL. I began with an environmental scan to understand how other peer institutions were engaging audiences on social media, as well as locating storytelling best practices and effective marketing tools for BHL’s ready reference later. Then came the bulk of the project: establishing the workflow and generating campaign ideas.

After looking at several options, my project mentors and I decided on two types of shared documents: a high-level list of campaign ideas that included additional information such as date dependencies (for example, if the campaign was tied to a commemorative month, such as the recent Women’s History Month campaign). Each of the campaigns listed in that document would also link to a much more detailed campaign file that would hold resources – factoids, links to BHL images, peer organizations, hashtags, relevant Facebook pages, etc. – to assist in creating content for the campaign itself. The remainder of my time was spent fleshing out one of the campaigns, but I won’t spoil the surprise – you’ll just have to wait to read it!

Bianca also treated me to a phenomenal last day fit for every (future) librarian: a visit to the Library of Congress for a lecture by the director of the Bibliotheca Alexandria, Ismail Serageldin – a truly gifted speaker and inspiration to all librarians (and in my opinion, all educators in general). We followed this with a visit to the US Copyright Office to doublecheck the copyright status of a work that was likely going to be digitized and added to the BHL online collection. This was truly a revelation for me since the copyright claims before 1978 have not been digitized yet, so we sought our claimants amidst rooms of card catalogs.

I learned quite a bit in my brief (even a little briefer than normal thanks to Wednesday’s “Snowquester”) week with BHL. I manage a blog as my role at the Taubman Health Sciences Library, but am far less involved on other social media, so this was a great addition to my professional experience, and I hope that my efforts help a truly wonderful organization with incredibly dedicated staff. I know I’m in the right field when I hear colleagues discussing the amazing power of metadata and when I can witness the discovery of hidden collections. I was also able to see the amount of labor required to make this process a reality. Having so much of the content users normally interact with being born digital, I think we forget that for every page of a hand-printed/illustrated work that goes online, someone had to find the work, check its copyright status, scan it carefully page by page, tag as much with metadata (otherwise how would you have found that there is a gorgeous illustration of a lemur on that page?) as is feasible, create a platform to keep all of these pages online, and lastly get you to actually see it.

The most rewarding aspect of my time at BHL is undoubtedly seeing how people far and wide use these collections in ways the original creators could never have anticipated: in art, historical analysis, biodiversity research, and climate change tracking. If my efforts over Alternative Spring Break can lead even one additional person to BHL’s content where they may not have known about it before, that’ll make for a pretty thrilled (future) librarian.

-Irina Zeylikovich @sfobound