Computing Cultural Heritage in the Cloud: An Interview with Victoria Scheppele
We are delighted to introduce Victoria (Tori) Scheppele, a Library Technician in the Prints & Photographs Division who has joined us temporarily to work on the Computing Cultural Heritage in the Cloud (CCHC) initiative.
The CCHC initiative is supported by a generous grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Centered in LC Labs, the project aims to explore how the Library can deliver its digital collections at scale, using a cloud computing environment. For decades, the Library has collected and digitized images, audio and video recordings, web sites, texts, and structured metadata. With CCHC, Tori will help us to explore the service models and technical infrastructure that would support researchers’ connection with this digital content in novel ways.
I interviewed Tori about her background, experience, and interests, and what she’ll be doing to help the Library provide enhanced access to digital collections as data.
Welcome! We’re so excited you’ve joined the Computing Cultural Heritage in the Cloud team. What is your role with CCHC?
Thank you, I am excited to be here! So far, I have been assisting in creating documentation and tracking progress for the initiative. For example, I have been documenting cloud services workflows and how the researchers have tested access to collections data, including via cloud-based access and storage. I’ve also been developing example user stories for the kinds of patrons who would be looking to work with Library data in the cloud. Of course, I also help with logistical things for the initiative like recording meeting minutes, tracking progress of tasks in our JIRA board, and keeping our collaboration pages up to date.
Could you tell us a bit about your professional background?
My permanent position in the Library is as a processing technician in the Prints & Photographs Division. I came to the Library in the summer of 2019. Before that I was a graduate student at the University of Michigan, getting my master’s degree in the Science of Information. I also have an undergraduate degree in Art History. During my studies, I worked as an art handler at U of M’s art museum, and had internships in the curatorial department at the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History and the Toledo Museum of Art Library. I’ve always been passionate about cultural heritage and love working with collections and making them more accessible and discoverable to wide audiences.
What did you find interesting about the CCHC initiative?
I was excited about the opportunity to work on an initiative aimed at making Library collections digitally accessible in new ways. The Library’s digital material is so vast and offers so much potential for computational research, so I was interested in how this initiative is exploring frameworks for more easily facilitating that kind of engagement with our collections.
What sorts of opportunities do you think technology offers that you’re most excited about in this context?
I’m most excited by the new kinds of research and use of collections that are possible when using technology in this way. When you can access really large amounts of cultural heritage data in a relatively easy way (like cloud environments allows), there are endless possibilities for new insights, explorations, and analysis of that material that can be unlocked. I can’t wait to see what could be developed when users have access to Library collections in this way.
Are there particular challenges, technical or otherwise, that you think this project could help to overcome?
Definitely! The Library has so much collections information and data, and it’s available in a wide range of formats. That’s incredible, but it can also be challenging for researchers who have really specific questions they want to answer or analysis they want to do on collections. Depending on what they are trying to do, accessing large quantities of data can be hard because of computing bandwidth required, or they have trouble getting data in a consistent, structured format that works for their particular need. The cloud computing environment could make it comparatively easy to create subsets of data available according to a researcher’s need, and give them access to it in a way that doesn’t take a lot of computing power.
What are you hoping to learn, or what skills are you hoping to develop, in your work with us here?
Well, I was drawn to this detail, in part, because of the opportunity to work on something that focuses on digital access to Library Collections. In my permanent role I work very hands on with collections – and don’t get me wrong, I love getting to work so up close with cultural heritage material! However, I’m hoping that this work allows me to learn more about managing cultural heritage material from the digital side – and already it has! I’ve been developing my knowledge of cloud service providers for example, and how they can be leveraged for storing and making collections available. I’m also learning a lot about how users experience the Library’s collections digitally, whether that’s just through browsing our digital collections, using tools like the loc.gov and Chronicling America APIs, or engaging with other tools that have come out of LC Labs experiments like Citizen DJ and Newspaper Navigator. To me, that’s a super valuable understanding to develop because it allows me to have a strong awareness of how the Library is fulfilling its mission to engage all Americans, and it informs how I think about my work of preparing, describing, and making Library collections available in general.
What else are you passionate about? Do you have other hobbies or interests that you’d be willing to share here?
A lot of my time outside of work revolves around dogs! My partner and I have one dog we adopted three years ago and we foster for a rescue organization when we can. Other than that, I love adventuring and being outdoors. I’m not originally from the DC area, so it’s been great to travel around here, go hiking, camping, and explore the national and local parks in the area. Also, lately I’ve been getting into rock climbing (just indoors at gyms for now, but maybe I’ll venture into climbing actual rocks eventually!)
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