Celebrating Careers in Libraries and Museum Day Live!

This Saturday, 12 March, the Smithsonian is coordinating a special edition of its signature Museum Day Live! event in a nationwide effort with museums and cultural institutions around the country to reach women and girls in underserved communities. Museum Day Live! will encourage all people, and particularly women and girls of color, to explore their nation’s museums, cultural institutions, zoos, aquariums, parks and libraries—which will offer free admission for the day.

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The event is also intended to encourage people, especially young women, to think about careers in museums, libraries, and research. To this end, there will be a special career-focused event on March 12 in the Smithsonian Castle Commons in Washington, DC, consisting of lightning round discussions with museum professionals about careers in museums, a mix and mingle, and information tables. The discussions will be at 11:30am and 2:30pm EST; the mix and mingle will be from 1-2:30pm EST; the tables will be open from 12:30-3pm EST.

The Biodiversity Heritage Library is partnering with the Smithsonian Libraries, one of its founding Members, to host one of the information tables at the Museum Day Live! career event. The purpose of the tables is to expose people, especially students, to the wide range of careers within museums and museum libraries and highlight opportunities for participation.

In anticipation of the event, we wanted to take this opportunity to highlight some of the different staff who work on BHL at our partner institutions in order to give an idea of the many different types of jobs involved in making a digital library project a success. We also asked them to share any advice they can offer to someone interested in pursuing a career in that field.

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Alison Harding. 
Librarian, Ornithology and Rothschild Libraries. Natural History Museum, London.

I work for the Natural History Museum at the Tring site (about 35 miles North of London) in Hertfordshire. The site is based at what was the Zoological Museum of Tring founded by Lionel Walter, the 2nd Lord Rothschild, as the Museum of his personal collection and a research facility for his peers. It is now a Victorian style museum open to the public and the repository for the Ornithological collection of the NHM.

As a one man band but part of a larger organization, I have a mixed post and can be asked to do just about anything. I curate the modern ornithological book and journal collections, the Victorian Rothschild Library (books dating back to the 16th century) and the ornithological manuscript collection. I select materials to purchase, care for the collections on a day to day basis, answer enquiries, look after visitors, assist in management of the NHM repository, supply loans and copies, do cataloguing and manage the NHM BHL scanning workflow. The BHL workflow involves administering our rota and scan list, answering queries, editing our records and generally being the ‘go to’ BHL person in the NHM.

My advice for people interested in becoming a librarian? Get some library work before studying for a professional qualification. Also be flexible. I am an ‘Information Scientist’ and worked in that field for several years but then took on a local part time ‘Library’ post to find I really loved it and am still here 15 years later. I think it is great to take on new tasks and volunteer for new things as this can change your job immensely, as when I said yes to BHL!

Katie Wagner
Book Conservator. Smithsonian Libraries.

I am a book conservator for Smithsonian Libraries focusing on the conservation treatment of our rare books found throughout the branches of our library system.

In support of BHL, I review all rare material to determine if it is stable enough to undergo scanning. We scan either with a copystand set up, that is gentler on the material but more time consuming, or in a book cradle style scanner. If a book is not stable enough to scan I determine whether conservation treatment can stabilize the material sufficiently to undergo scanning. I then execute the conservation treatment which can be as simple as paper repair or as difficult as re-sewing and re-binding a book.

Book conservation is a field that requires a combination of excellent hand and analytical skills. Many conservators come from artistic or scientific backgrounds. My advice, if you are interested in the field, is to start by taking a hand bookbinding class. Many institutions offer pre-program internships that can help you decide if this is a career path you would like to pursue.

Diana Shih
Assistant Director for Bibliographic Records Management. American Museum of Natural History.

As the senior cataloging librarian at the American Museum of Natural History Research Library, I catalog all of our materials, including serials, art and memorabilia, manuscripts and archives, videos, etc. (with the exception of new books, which are cataloged by my part-time colleague) and fix bibliographic problems from older catalog records. This does not sound very exciting, but I’ve loved every single day of working at the museum. My work often requires me to do research on obscure and esoteric matters, and I can say that I learn something new every day. I’m also gratified to be able to contribute to creating better records for the benefit of other catalogers and users at large. As the BHL coordinator here, I am responsible for most steps related to contributing AMNH materials to BHL: selecting the materials to be scanned, getting them from the stacks, barcoding them, verifying the bibliographic records, counting pages, and filling out the administrative documents required for digitization.

These are exciting times for museum libraries because they contain a wealth of materials not readily accessible elsewhere, and technology is now allowing us to not only make them widely available but also to link related information across a wide spectrum of disciplines for the benefit of researchers worldwide. Being part of this effort is a big motivation for getting a degree in librarianship, which teaches also how to create and manipulate data in a coherent and efficient manner.

I would advise people interested in jobs like mine to do cataloging/metadata internships in various institutions to determine if they would enjoy such a field of work.

Lesley Parilla
Cataloging Coordinator. The Field Book Project.

The Field Book Project (a joint initiative at the Smithsonian Institution Archives, Smithsonian Libraries, and the National Museum of Natural History to increase accessibility to field book content that documents natural history), I manage cataloging and metadata, including contribution of digitized content to the Biodiversity Heritage Library. This has meant working closely with BHL staff to develop a workflow that addresses the unique metadata needs of archival materials. It is exciting to work with the primary resources of scientists and explorers and make the rich content available to users around the world through BHL.
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In my work it has been invaluable to have a background in paper conservation as well as experience with archives and special collections. It might surprise many to know that several of the people (including myself) who work on the project don’t have a background in the natural sciences. Often it is a strong sense of curiosity, ability to work with a team, and an understanding of information management that makes all the difference in the job.

Constance Rinaldo
Librarian of the Ernst Mayr Library Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University 

I manage staff, work with faculty, students, and curatorial staff by providing research and learning assistance, develop policy for the Ernst Mayr Library at the Museum of Comparative Zoology, and work with Harvard Library on policy, strategy and change issues that affect the Harvard Library. As a librarian with a science background, being embedded in a natural history museum that is part of a university community is a delightfully fortuitous combination. Part of my job is bridging the worlds of museum specimens/sciences and library literature and recommending and using technological advancements—like the Biodiversity Heritage Library. The Ernst Mayr Library is a founding member of the BHL. As Vice-Chair of the BHL members Executive Committee, I have many opportunities to work with members, affiliates, and particularly the global participants as they make digitization decisions and review content. It is exciting to understand how natural history libraries around the world function and thrive.

The Ernst Mayr Library supports the BHL by participating in and leading grant opportunities, providing day-to-day metadata enhancement, digitizing collections, and participating in outreach through social media and direct interactions with potential members or contributors.

My advice: Pursue your passions with an eye to what is practical. Keep up in your chosen interests. Stay ahead of the curve and embrace opportunities for change. Look for the change opportunities.

Thanks to our BHL Family, and we hope to see you on Saturday!

We extend a special thanks to our colleagues for taking the time to share more about their careers and involvement in BHL. This post is only a tiny snapshot of all of the incredible people who collaborate to make BHL a success. Thank you so much to every member of the BHL Family. We would not exist without the dedication of so many individuals at so many amazing institutions!

If you’re in the Washington, DC area on March 12, we encourage you to stop by the Smithsonian Castle Commons (1000 Jefferson Drive, SW Washington, DC 20560) anytime between 12:30-3pm EST to talk with staff from both BHL and the Smithsonian Libraries about careers in libraries and ways that you can get involved with our organizations today. If you can’t make it in person, we encourage you to find out how you can get involved in BHL no matter where you live.

The Smithsonian Libraries is also hosting another fun event during the day called “Explore the Four,” which encourages visitors to explore all four of the Libraries’ current exhibits. Finally, we’ll be sharing highlights from the day through BHL’s (@BioDivLibrary) and Smithsonian Libraries’ (@SILibraries) social media accounts with the hashtag #MuseumDay. Follow along to join in the fun!

Avatar for Grace Costantino
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Grace Costantino served as the Outreach and Communication Manager for the Biodiversity Heritage Library from 2014 to 2021. In this capacity, she developed and managed BHL's communication strategy, oversaw social media initiatives, and engaged with the public to excite audiences about the wealth of biodiversity heritage available in BHL. Prior to her role as Outreach and Communication Manager, Grace served as the Digital Collections Librarian for Smithsonian Libraries and as the Program Manager for BHL.