As I mentioned in my introductory post last week I’ve been working for JSTOR ever since finishing library school about two years ago. The organization started in 1995 with the aim of reducing the shelf space needed by libraries housing the back runs of academic journals. From a tiny handful of journals the archive has grown by leaps and bounds with fully digitized backruns of over 1600 peer-reviewed journals spanning more than 50 disciplines and 20 collections. JSTOR licenses access to this content to libraries and other types of institutions. Our parent organization, ITHAKA, offers other services such as Portico, a dark archive dedicated to digital preservation.
Though I’m one of only two people on a 9-person team with a library degree, many of my colleagues in the rest of the organization have an MLIS (some are former classmates from Pratt SILS). The majority of these folks work in the Institutional Outreach and Participation unit, as Metadata Librarians, and in the Licensing and Fulfillment department. My non-MLIS colleagues have varied backgrounds in business, publishing, humanities, human-computer interaction and software development.
So what do I do? As a Content Development Assistant, I support a small team that builds collections for JSTOR. My teammates research academic disciplines to grow within the framework of multidisciplinary collections and spend much of their time negotiating with the publishers of journals they invite to join the archive. My position is roughly half back-end administrative work and half data-wrangling. One of my primary responsibilities is acting as keeper of the Content Management system CATS (stands for Content Acquisition and Tracking System), which we use to track all of our publisher agreements, title relationships, and titles we’re in the process of inviting.
From the NYPL Digital Image Gallery. Sadly, the CATS database I use at work has nothing to do with real kitties.
I’ve found that having a library background is helpful for this aspect of my job because I am familiar with metadata and serials cataloging. The Metadata librarians research each title invited to the JSTOR archive, and use OCLC and other resources to gather this data. This information lives in CATS. As the CATS Master (yes, that’s a self-appointed title) for my team, I build out the records to include detailed information such as the disciplines and collection assigned to each title, the publisher licensing details, and the length of the moving wall (the lag time between the most recent issue JSTOR has permission to digitize and the current issue of a title, which usually runs between 2-5 years).
Another large part of my job involves gathering metrics to track the progress and direct the growth of the archive. In library school, I learned a lot about structuring and organizing data, and I pull from this knowledge on a daily basis. Whether I’m helping my colleagues identify areas of overlap between JSTOR collections and disciplines or researching the number of titles with Spanish and Portuguese content to provide to the Institutional Outreach and Participation team, I’m constantly using that part of my brain that likes taking a big messy pile of data and establishing order.
While I do much of the back-end process stuff I just described, I also get to do a fair amount of research. A couple of months ago I assisted our in-house User Experience team on a project related to e-books and Digital Rights Management. The UX team wanted to better understand how institutions who offer e-books to the public through lending or purchasing handle DRM-related issues. I studied several different e-book websites to understand different mental models for handling and communicating about the limitations on use resulting from DRM. The project was fascinating from a web design perspective. Some of the sites I visited were seamless in their handling of restricted content, while others appeared to struggle somewhat with the messaging. When the project concluded I felt like I had a better understanding of DRM, and how it impacts the way we interact with content online.
Another research-heavy aspect of my position involves researching titles from publishers who approach us to add their content to JSTOR. The lion’s share of the archive was not built this way. Rather, most titles are invited to join instead of the other way around. That said, we have signed a bunch of cool things that came in as publisher requests, such as the recently signed title New York History, which dates back to 1901. For these I comb through OCLC, Proquest’s Ulrich’s Web, and other resources to gather information such as the number of library holdings and publishing life of each title and report back to my group. They decide whether or not the titles sound like potential archive material.
My hands-down favorite work activity though is writing my department’s internal Content Development Dispatch (a bi-monthly blog post). For this I comb through the archive looking for unusual articles. Recent examples include an examination on the compositional effects of word balloons in Roy Lichtenstein’s comic-inspired art from Art Journal, and an article from the journal Leonardo about the impact the rare neurological disorder Synesthesia* has had on the art world.
That’s it for this week! I’ll be back next Wednesday with a post about the ups and downs of freelance cataloguing for businesses.
*For those unfamiliar with Synesthesia, it’s an interesting disorder that causes a unique scramble of the senses. People who have it might experience music as shapes and colors, or taste pistachios at the site of a stop sign, for example. Vladamir Nabokov, Duke Ellington and Nicola Tesla all allegedly shared this ailment.
Duke Ellington, a notable Synesthete. From the NYPL Digital Image Gallery.