Kam Wies helps BHL “Moving Walls” Move On

When I learned of the amazing opportunity to intern at the Smithsonian Libraries, I instantly knew I wanted to be a part of it. I was lucky enough to be chosen to be the Biodiversity Heritage Library In-Copyright Collection Management Intern. I knew the BHL was a digital library but, having no previous experience with a purely digital collection, I couldn’t begin to start making a guess. What I ended up doing was so much cooler than anything I could have anticipated. I got to spend the whole week pushing my attention to detail and love of consistency to the limits. Now that may sound boring to some but this is the kind of thing I do at home for fun.

Because BHL is a digital library, copyright plays a huge role in their work. Some of the materials being digitized are still under copyright, which means that the BHL has to get permission, in writing, for the materials to be added to their collection.

Getting permission is just step one. Some copyright holders ask that there be what’s called a “moving wall” (or embargo). In academic publishing, access is sometimes only allowed to paid subscribers so publishers may not want their most current materials to be made accessible for free (see Wikipedia for more information). This can be a one year moving wall or even a fourteen year moving wall. It all depends on the wishes of the publisher.

BHL wants to make sure they can provide as much access as possible and having the option for a moving wall available to a publisher allows for that. The issue with having a bunch of publications that all have different moving walls is you then have to keep track of and keep up with them every year.

BHL manages this process by using an issue tracking system (again, see Wikipedia for more information). They create ‘issues’ for each publication title that has a moving wall in order to make sure it is being updated every year as appropriate. My first task was to make sure all of the permissions titles that had moving walls (about 60 of them), had open and up to date issues in the tracking system. I also had to make sure that there was an issue for each title because some publications had multiple titles and each title needed an issue created for it. I really loved this. Making sure information is accurate across multiple platforms (issue tracker, BHL website, permissions titles spreadsheet) and consistently formatted means that work can run easier, no matter who in the world is using the system.

Once I completed that introductory task, I moved on to the process of ‘reconciling moving walls’. I had to review each moving wall issue in the tracking system to make sure they were up to date. For example, if a title had a 3 year moving wall, 2013 should now be in BHL. I checked BHL to make sure the title was in the collection. Then reviewed the title for any gaps in the journal run or if we were missing the new year allowed due to the moving wall. If there were any missing materials, I had to find out which of the Contributor libraries had the missing materials and ask them to digitize it. There were so many little steps and details to pay attention to and I had fun delving into each issue.

This was a project that may have been created to help the BHL keep on point with their digitization of new materials but it was built with me in mind: someone who can easily work across multiple platforms and screens, has an acute attention to detail and strong desire to achieve consistency. This week was so interesting and informative. I had so much fun not only doing the project for the BHL but meeting all the different people who make the Smithsonian Libraries run smoothly. We did tours of multiple libraries and learned so much about the collections and how the librarians help the researchers. I can only hope that when I graduate I find a job that is as much as fun as this internship has been.

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Kam Wies served as a Collections Management intern at Smithsonian Libraries and the Biodiversity Heritage Library in 2016.