Meet the Staff is a Q&A series on Cultural Compass that highlights the work, experience, and lives of staff at the Harry Ransom Center. Liz Gushee has been the digital collections librarian at the Ransom Center since January 2011. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in History from Earlham College and a Master of Library and Information Science from Catholic University of America. Gushee is responsible for launching and managing the platform for the Ransom Center’s digital collections, which includes more than 43,000 items and continues to grow as newly digitized materials are added on a regular basis.
What is a digital collections librarian?
In this case, a digital collections librarian is someone who is responsible for establishing, managing, and promoting the Ransom Center’s digital collections program in harmony with the Center’s mission to advance the study of the arts and humanities. Day-to-day work involves setting goals and priorities for the digital collections program, working collaboratively with archivists, curators, and librarians to plan and develop digital projects and initiatives, and overseeing and managing the development of the Center’s CONTENTdm installation, which is the primary access platform for the Center’s digitized collection material. I enjoy my job because it necessitates working with many of my colleagues at the Center and because there’s always something new to think about, plan for, or create.
What does an average day at work entail for you?
My job is a lot of fun because I get a nice combination of working online, working with collections, and working with various people in the building. I get to work with curators and archivists to determine what metadata is going to be the most useful for users, I work with colleagues to try and ensure our user interfaces are as user-friendly as possible, and I assess collection material for digitization.
What is a recent project relating to digital collections?
We recently launched Project REVEAL (Read & View English and American Literature). The goals of this project were threefold: to digitize entire literature collections that are in the public domain and make them available online (we selected 25 collections including writers such as Thomas Hardy, Dante Gabriel and Christina Rossetti, Oscar Wilde, Joseph Conrad, Katherine Mansfield, O. Henry, and Jack London); develop an open-access policy for the Ransom Center in support of our mission to advance research and scholarship; and to create digitization workflows for other future large-scale digitization and access efforts for the Center.
Is there a favorite collection that you’ve worked with?
Generally, the visual collections are my favorites. I have some background in the visual arts from experience with photography and from having worked in a print studio, so those two are my preferred mediums.
What do you enjoy about working at the Ransom Center?
I love the collection material. I think that’s what probably draws the majority of people here. My colleagues here are smart, creative, easy to work with, and they believe in what they’re doing. I also get to work with graduate students, which I enjoy.
Any favorite digital sites?
Archives of American Art Digital Collections. Why? Because of the content—entire archival collections online! The subject is artists and their work. The interface is simple and easy and provides a strong connection between the finding aid and the digitized content.
Content, Context, and Capacity: A Collaborative Large-Scale Digitization Project on the Long Civil Rights Movement in North Carolina. Why? It’s an interesting project with the goal of making a significant portion of civil rights materials available online. It’s timely given that 2013 and 2014 mark the 50th anniversary of many civil rights milestones, such as the March on Washington in 1963 and passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964. Also, from a librarian and project manager’s perspective, I appreciate that the site shares the project’s methodology and provides digitization statistics.
Ransom Center’s Tumblr site. Why? I always learn things about our collections on the site, and I love the variety of content and imagery.
What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
When it’s warm, I like Deep Eddy, a spring-fed swimming pool here in Austin. I live near there, so it’s convenient to go there and swim. On the weekends I tend to be on the tennis court. I played tennis throughout last summer, so I’m really proud of myself because we had some matches when it was over 100 degrees. I enjoy hiking, birding, and kayaking; I went to Big Bend recently and loved it.
What are some of your favorite books?
One of the favorite books that I’ve read over the past few years is called The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli. It’s a novel about a woman who goes to Vietnam to investigate her brother’s death. It’s set back in the war years. We have so many contemporary authors’ archives here at the Center. One of my favorite authors here is Tim O’Brien, and he went to Vietnam too, and his collection of short stories, The Things They Carried, is a remarkable book. I also love books that cover Arctic and Antarctic exploration, like that of Ernest Shackleton’s voyage on the Endurance. I just learned that the Center has a collection of photographs by Frank Hurley from that voyage in 1914–15; his photographs of the surroundings and the voyage are astounding.
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