[This post is shared on behalf of Jaclyn DeGasperin, who completed her UofT iSchool practicum at the Digital Scholarship Unit this winter term.]
I knew going into the Practicum course that it would be a challenge for me, I had never worked in a traditional library so this would be a lot of firsts for me (it's a good thing I decided to pick a project that would have me working in a non-traditional library, smart choice on my part) . But when on the list of projects was one called "Building and Assessing Digital Collections in Islandora: 15th century manuscripts" I figured I would give it a shot. With a name like that it was hard to say no; rare books? Yes, please. Digital Humanities? Exactly what I'm looking for. Islandora? I'm sure I can figure it out (this may have been a bad idea, overestimating my abilities to work with technology, but my overeager desire to challenge and prove myself as a competent librarian won out over my other sensibilities)
But here's the thing, I managed, and I can even say that I have the confidence to work with repositories; in a few short months I my knowledge digital repository software went from basically nothing to fairly developed (of course I still have room to grow, hopefully a job will come along that will allow me to meet this challenge, but that's for the future). You see, with supervisors like Lydia and Kim, who genuinely want you to succeed and understand and excel in the field that they themselves love, it's impossible to just coast by and not learn. The environment at the DSU is open and friendly, there was not a day that I came in and wasn't greeted with a smile by one of the wonderful women who worked in the office.
It turns out I like digital librarianship. My work at the DSU started with the Scarborough Oral History Project -- Stories of UTSC:1964-2014, which we started working on in February. The goal of the project was to draw attention to the voices within the UTSC community that are often ignored or overlooked; this project tells the untold and unofficial stories of the University of Toronto Scarborough Campus. It's finished and lives in a tiny corner of UTSC.
As we moved into working with the Gunda Gunde manuscripts our focus shifted from working with the surface of a repository to digging into how a collection is put together, pulling at the guts of Islandora and seeing what makes it ticks (and how to talk to it nicely so it does what you want it to do). For this project we were provided with digital photographs of manuscripts from the Gunda Gunde monastery in Ethiopia; they already had an Islandora collection and had been turned into what can only be called a digital book. It was our job to check that the metadata attached to the images was accurate and that the pages followed in the proper order to match the original artifacts.
While this quality checking was monotonous it provided me with access to wonderfully rare books that I enjoyed flipping through. More importantly though it was a chance to see how a digital repository worked in so far as it is a preservation platform.
Overall my experience with the DSU was positive; it gave me the chance to do work that I would not have otherwise been able to do and experience personal and professional growth. Also, the DSU now has a collection of photogenic animals in its virtual box - you're welcome (I think?).