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A Momentous Decision

May 17, 2012
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Big news! You may already have an inkling of this from some of my tweets, or you may be one of the wonderful people who generously offered me advice about this decision . . .

This month I am beginning the MLIS program at Syracuse University – also on the track for a CAS in Digital Libraries.

This is a huge step for me, and yet not as huge a change as you might think. I have weighed this decision so very carefully, and it feels so momentous, and yet in most ways life will go on as normal. I will continue to work part-time at Vassar, in the costume shop and with the historic clothing collection. I will continue to live at home in Saugerties with my husband and daughter. All that is possible because I’ll be pursuing the degree as a distance student, taking asynchronous classes part-time around the rest of my life. But now, instead of spending all my non-work, non-family time working on digital projects as a “hobby,” I’ll be working on digital projects as coursework toward the MLIS degree.

For those of you who know me as a costumer, this may seem like a big career switch. Of course it is, but it doesn’t really feel that way to me. My interest in digital libraries (digital cultural heritage, really) has grown very organically from my work with costumes. For ten years I’ve been working to create digital access to Vassar’s collection of historic clothing. This has been a slow moving project: with limited funding or institutional support, it’s been me and a few students building it in our “free time” outside of other commitments. You can see it at http://vcomeka.com/vccc/ – but remember, it’s still a work in progress!

With all the work I’ve put into this and all I’ve learned along the way, I’ve realized that it is not just in the context of historic clothing that this work interests me. There are some broader themes in my work that I’m ready to explore in a more formal way. My mission is to give artifacts the respect they deserve in their representations online, helping them to tell their own story rather than just serving as illustrations. As everyone talks about the intersection of libraries, archives, and museums, I want to make sure that education is a priority at that intersection, and that material culture is a valued resource for a diverse community.

I’ve had a wonderful, albeit informal, education in this area over the last ten years, and I’m very grateful to everyone who’s helped me on this journey. Many who have helped are librarians, and it is my great respect for them that has inspired me to want to join their ranks. My informal education continues, but now a more formal part also begins . . .

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