Snapshot: Kate Thornhill '13LS

March 17, 2014

Kate Thornhill

An award-winning graduate of Simmons GSLIS, Kate Thornhill '13LS was recently hired as the Visual Resource Curator at Lesley University College of Art & Design. Thornhill tells us how her academic and work experience helped her land her ideal job.

Why did you decide to attend Simmons GSLIS? What motivated you to concentrate in digital curation?
Since I have bachelor's degrees in art history and photography, I was looking to combine my interests after completing my undergraduate degrees at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth and working in a Visual Resources Center. The emerging field of digital curation offered that opportunity.

When I was a senior digital assistant at the UMass Dartmouth's Visual Resource Center, my mentor said, "You are interested in libraries," and suggested that I focus on digital libraries. I began to investigate archives and library generalist tracks. I wanted to balance the two tracks in a way that would be meaningful for the work I wanted to do.

When I was applying to graduate school in 2009, a program did not exist for digital curation but a digital libraries and digital preservation course did. I was drawn by Simmons GSLIS's excellent faculty reputation, and the opportunity to tailor a program to fit my career goals. I was also working at Tufts University Hirsh Health Sciences library full time and identified a need for librarians with data and repository management skills. Working at Tufts in collections management helped me to strategize what courses and projects would further my career. The combination of courses, such as LIS 469 XML, LIS 488 Digital Stewardship, LIS 462 Digital Libraries, LIS 467 Web Development and Information Architecture, and LIS 532G Scientific Research Data Management, provided me with the framework to launch my career.

What do you perceive to be challenges for digital curators today? What do you perceive to be opportunities for digital curators?
Since digital curation is a new and growing field, it's not clear what types of education and credentials are needed. In addition, the field still needs to define "digital curation." What do digital curators do? What skills do they need? While I believe digital curation involves adding value to research data through a lifecycle, what does digital curation mean in the context of museums, social media sites like Pinterest, and institutional repositories? As the field evolves, the challenges facing digital curators today will become opportunities. Open access developments will continue to inform the field. Opportunities to become embedded in the research process will increase awareness of our value. In the future, I will pursue a computer science degree to stay marketable and increase the flexibility of the systems that I create.

What skills and experiences did you find to be marketable to employers? What courses do you recommend for Simmons GSLIS students?
I approached my academic career with a strategic plan. From the beginning, I participated in courses and had experiences that would enhance my marketability in an academic workplace. For example, my work at the University of Massachusetts, Tufts University Hirsh Health Sciences Library, and an eScience internship at UMass Medical School's Lamar Soutter Library provided skills that could be translated across the humanities and science disciplines. In addition, I took LIS 532G Scientific Research Data Management, which covered how to conduct a data interview, I developed skills that could be applied to any academic environment.

I think that entry level jobs no longer exist. Instead, they are internships and paraprofessional positions. It's vital that students get practical library experience while they are in school to qualify for today's positions after they graduate.

When I asked prospective employers why they had selected me for an interview, they said my previous work experience, the projects I completed in my graduate courses, and the way I marketed myself appealed to them. Providing concrete examples demonstrating leadership, innovation, project management skills, the ability to work with faculty and navigate administrative politics, as well as my experience conducting community outreach to secure funding were also valuable. I also was able to share my teaching experiences at Simmons GSLIS. In the GSLIS Tech Lab, I offered technology workshops, such as Twitter 101 where I discussed how to use leading library related hashtags, such as those for conferences, #askacurator, #medlibs, #libraryschool and #libchat to stay updated about the latest developments in the field.

Soft skills, such as displaying confidence in an interview, indicated to the employer that I was interviewing them as well. At the end of the day, people could spend more time with their co-workers than their families. It's important to make sure there is a good fit in personalities, interests, and goals.

What was the job search like? What job searching tips do you have for GSLIS students?
When I started at Simmons GSLIS, I began looking at job descriptions to chart a path of coursework and experiences that I needed to be marketable. The strategy worked.

Mentors and colleagues suggested that I talk about how my internship and work experiences could be applied to jobs of interest. They encouraged me to apply to jobs in which I was interested in and met most, but not all, of the requirements. Attending GSLIS's Special Library Association's resume review session helped me tailor my resume for the positions I wanted because I received practical advice and recommendations from seasoned librarians from all library areas.

I was fortunate in my job search since I was limited to the Massachusetts area, which is a highly saturated market. Within weeks, I had two offers and made it to the final rounds with prospective employers. While salaries may be somewhat fixed, you can negotiate other things, such as deadlines for when prospective employers need to give their offer decision or flex time. The hiring process requires endurance and stamina as it can take months to find a job.

While you were at GSLIS, your award-winning poster presentation "Understanding the Depositing and Accessing of Dental Electronic Health Records for a Consortia Data Repository" received the best paper at the April 2013 University of Massachusetts and New England Area Librarian e-Science Symposium and an honorable mention at the ASIS&T 2013 annual conference. Your latest published paper, "Utilizing Facebook Insights Data to Determine Posting Best Practices in an Academic Health Sciences Library," was published in the Journal of Web Librarianship. How did publication increase your marketability?
Although the paper has taken a year to get published, the rewards have been worth the effort. Publishing a peer-reviewed article and presenting papers was essential to secure a job in academia. Written with a colleague from Tufts University Hirsh Health Science Library, the manuscript was the result of my work on the library's public relations committee. We wanted to see how we could leverage Facebook's Insights to learn about the frequency of postings and user engagement. We also wanted to determine if there were times of the year, such as summer, when the frequency of postings decreased, among other issues. We discovered users engage with multimedia content, as well as faculty and student achievement news. From our results, we highlighted how libraries could use Facebook Insights to create community engagement best practices for health science libraries.

Please describe your new position as a Visual Resource Curator at Lesley University College of Art and Design. Why did you decide to take this position?
I've always wanted to be a Visual Resource Curator because it combines my interests and background. As manager of Lesley University's College of Art and Design Library's Visual Resources Center, I will be managing the library's digital image collection used by faculty and students, digitizing materials for visual arts instruction, conducting outreach, working on library committees, and instructing people in digital image research. My job is a blend of collection development and management, instruction, and research services.

Currently the library is undergoing a transformation, which includes a relocation from Kenmore Square to Porter Square. This year I look forward to preparing the library and getting to know the students and faculty.

Although your free time is in short supply, what interests or hobbies do you have outside of work?
I've strategized about how to apply my art history and photography interests to my professional career. While I've been able to adapt personal interests to work, I also enjoy gardening, crafting, photography and film, baking, and building websites. Now that I'm not a student, I look forward to having the time to explore new areas and interests, such as cooking with beer.

By Dean's Editorial Fellow Jennifer Moyer