#AskAnArchivist: An interview with FIT’s Samantha Levin

October is American Archives Month and so I sat down with Samantha Levin, a New York-based digital archivist to ask her some questions about her job at the Fashion Institute of Technology for #AskAnArchivist Day.
Samantha Levin

Levin is the curator of digital and audiovisual assets and a special collections associate in the Special Collections and College Archives unit at FIT’s Gladys Marcus Library in New York, New York. In addition to their duties at FIT, Levin is also a freelance and private archivist, a workshop leader at the Pratt Institute, and the chair of the Greater New York Chapter of the Visual Resources Association. Levin studied sculpture at the School of Visual Art and worked in the art field before attending Pratt to study library and information science with a focus on digital asset management and digital curation. 

AML: How did you become interested in archivy?

SL: My interest in archival work stems from a fascination with how older objects and documents reflect histories from eras past. I certainly romanticize old documents and objects created long ago, but I also perceive a great significance to preserving whatever truths old documents hold, and have a passion and compulsion for preserving them. I became interested in digital archives when artists I know, who rely upon digital media to make their living, lost digital content, either because their social media accounts were shut down, or because their hard drives failed. I realized that our culture’s wider historical record was subject to these same challenges, and I joined the archival profession to help solve that issue in my own small way.

AML: What does the Curator of Digital and Audiovisual Assets do at FIT?

SL: I am responsible for all the digital and time-based media that the Fashion Institute of Technology’s Special Collections and College Archives unit holds. There is quite a lot of material that falls under that umbrella, and so it’s a busy position with several long-term projects constantly progressing. At the moment, I am cleaning up metadata for a collection of around 80,000 digital assets digitized from our physical collection, and preparing them for ingest into a new digital repository that uses Archivematica and Omeka S. I’m also responsible for getting data from our older finding aids into software called Access to Memory. I run a web archiving program that works to preserve the Fashion Institute’s website as it changes over time. I accession new digital media as various departments from the college donate it to the College Archive, and ensure that it gets inventoried properly. I am working on processing and publishing a small oral history collection of a little over 400 interviews that go back to the 1970s, and I’m also supervising a volunteer who is carefully inventorying our video collection of about 4000 magnetic media cassettes.

Lucile Fashion Photograph c. 1917. Image courtesy of Fashion Institute of Technology|SUNY FIT Library Unit of Special Collections and College Archives.

AML: Who are you curating digital and audiovisual assets for; who are your designated communities?

SL: We primarily serve FIT students who are largely interested in all things fashion including design, history, science, and business. But we also support a lot of students who study art, illustration, and a wide variety of design fields including toy, jewelry, interior, graphic and more. FIT is part of the State University of New York, which means we serve the public, so we also meet many researchers from around the world who are studying various aspects of fashion history, preparing for museum exhibitions, researching aspects of costume design for television and film, researching for book or magazine articles, or even seeking information about their relatives.

A very large portion of our collection is related to the fashion industry, so most of our patrons come to us with fashion research subjects in mind. We don’t yet have a large portion of holdings that are born-digital. The web archive certainly falls into that category, and is part of the college archives, which additionally serves to fulfil our legal requirements for records retention as a New York State school. Most of our digital holdings are digitized and meant for eventual online publication to make our holdings more discoverable to a wider audience. We also digitize to support preservation efforts, but we lack the human resources to do that in a comprehensive way.

AML: How do digital archives support fashion, textile and costume studies?

SL: Our holdings support fashion, textile and costume studies, as well as students of other disciplines since fashion is one of the world’s largest industries that impacts our economy, culture, and ecosystem. As one could imagine, any portion of our collection that can be published online will become available to scholars worldwide. This is especially important for rare materials that only exist at FIT SPARC. 

Collections that have been split between different archives can also be merged digitally, expanding any understanding that a collection’s wider context might provide. For example, our project with the New York Public Library to digitize sketches created by the New York firm André Fashion Studios in the 1930s and early 1940s helped merge the two institution’s collections together for viewing online. It’s slow and careful work to digitize and describe our holdings, but we are diligently working towards that end, and have attracted researchers from around the world via our online platforms SPARC Digital, and Archive on Demand

Coat with Sideways Button Closure and Brown Accessories. Image courtesy of Fashion Institute of Technology|SUNY FIT Library Unit of Special Collections and College Archives.

Digital archives also support scholarly work by preserving content through digitization, description and application of digital preservation best practices. Just as we preserve physical materials, we must collect born-digital materials in step with the fashion industry to preserve its history. Right now, the most prominent born-digital collection is the web archive, which has a scope that is limited to the college’s own website and affiliated web pages. This will serve to support our alumni, although our web development team has expressed a need for it as well. We hope to expand this archive to the wider fashion industry to collect websites at risk of deletion.

AML: What is the most interesting resource that you have come across in the collection?

SL: It’s difficult for me to choose just one item, but amongst my favorite of our holdings include photographs taken of the designs of Lucile’s costume designs from the early 1900s. They are softly lit black and white depictions of models (or mannequins), wearing flowing fabrics. I’m not a fashion historian, but I’m told that Lucile was one of the first fashion designers to photograph women wearing her designs instead of or in addition to sketching her designs. I also really enjoy some of the oral history interviews I’ve processed including one with Fred Pomerantz who talks about his childhood working in Manhattan’s garment district starting at age 11, and how he eventually opened his own dress company. The FIT Pomerantz building is named after him. Fred’s bruiser personality really comes through in the interview, and it completely belies the stereotype that I’ve always had of garment workers and fashion businesspeople being staid and fashionable. His experiences were quite extraordinary, and it’s clear he lived through some difficult times. 

FIT Oral History: Fred Pomerantz. Video courtesy of Fashion Institute of Technology|SUNY FIT Library Unit of Special Collections and College Archives

AML: What are you currently working on?

SL: This week I’m working on a grant application, getting additional oral history recordings published online with closed captions, and as the college website is about to get completely overhauled in November, I’ll be continuing to perform quality assurance that all its pages have been captured in our web archive. I also have two amazing volunteers who are helping me out with getting an inventory of our video collection and rehousing documents related to the oral history collection.

AML: What are you reading about professionally?

SL: I try to keep up with developments from the Internet Archive, new developments in digital preservation, and am reading up on uses of Linked Open Data so we can apply it to the digital repository my colleague Joseph Anderson is developing. I’ve begun reading about shared stewardship of collections as established by the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, and on a personal level I’m about to start reading a book called Everybody’s Scene: The Story of Connecticut’s Anthrax Club, which is related to my interest in preserving the history of subcultures in the United States. No idea how good it will be, but cross your fingers for me.

AML: What sort of training or knowledge would you recommend for library and information science students or professionals interested in digital archivy?

SL: The needs of digital archival work changes frequently and are complicated. The basics of general archival preservation are key, but digital behaves differently than analog and physical media, and it’s important to keep that in mind. Figuring out what you might be interested in might help guide you in your studies. My interest in preserving and managing visual digital media for the arts led me towards studying visual resource management and digital curation. I also studied digital asset management and database management. Another track might involve diving into metadata or linked open data, or if you’re super tech-savvy, emulation is an important arena to explore, as is the conservation of time-based media. 

Digitization is a whole world unto itself, and different digital formats behave in completely different ways. Digital preservation doesn’t require programming skills, although it’s very helpful to understand how scripting, command line, or SQL can help in digital preservation. It is very important to be comfortable with software and hardware, and understand that you will need tech support for various processes that you may not be able to do yourself. Rights management for digital media is a very complex arena to study. Also, while digital archiving is not new, it’s not very old either. Many digital archivists learn as we go. The field is still growing, discovering, and getting its best practices established. The best way to learn about it may be to keep abreast of what the wider profession is learning as it goes along, and as new digital tools get created.

AML: Thank you for speaking with me and providing a glimpse into the practice of digital archivy within fashion, textile and costume studies!

Job Posting -Continuations Librarian, Fashion Institute of Technology- New York City, NY

Continuations Librarian, Fashion Institute of Technology- New York City, NY

About Fashion Institute of Technology:
The Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), an internationally renowned college of art and design, business and technology, part of the State University of New York (SUNY) located in Chelsea New York City, invites applications for a Part Time Continuations Librarian the Gladys Marcus Library at FIT.

Job Description:
The FIT Library cultivates user-centered physical and virtual spaces that support and strengthen academic and creative pursuits. Our library creates a foundation for lifelong learning by teaching research and critical thinking skills that students carry beyond the classroom into careers. We build, organize, and preserve materials that support our curriculum, enhance our unique collections, and document the college’s history. We investigate, assess and implement innovative services and programs that measurably facilitate and enrich the learning experience.

Periodicals and Electronic Resource Services supports FIT’s students, faculty, and visiting researchers by providing access to magazines and databases, along with an evolving collection of unique materials such as fashion and trend forecasting services, runway look books, and commercial catalogs. Our distinctive collections, publicized to the FIT community and beyond, foster the education and imagination of the College’s scholars, artists, designers, and innovators.

PURPOSE & DESCRIPTION OF JOB
The dynamic and service-oriented Continuations Librarian is responsible for providing various levels of support in managing the electronic resource lifecycle, which includes discovery services, access to continuing library resources, and routine assessment. The continuations librarian will conduct outreach and teach instruction sessions.

Serving a key role within the library, this part-time tenure track position reports to the Head of Periodicals and Electronic Resource Services.

DUTIES AND RESPONSIBILITIES

  • Manage aspects of the electronic resources lifecycle; maintain the electronic resources management system and discovery services index
  • Create, import, and/or update bibliographic records in the catalog
  • Serve as a serials resource expert and serials cataloging specialist; create and update serial control records; advise on periodicals processing
  • Serve as a backup administrator for electronic resource management system
  • Map serials discovery tool to holdings (including Journal Finder full-text access to print journals, e-books, microfilm, Special Collections and College Archive holdings)
  • Manage e-journals collection, including holdings maintenance and data mapping and loading
  • Process new orders for electronic resources; assist with licensing, management of electronic journal, e-book, streaming video, and database subscriptions; activate online access for electronic resources
  • Troubleshoot electronic resources access issues
  • Collect and analyze usage statistics for the electronic resources
  • Maintain policies and procedures related to electronic resources, subscriptions, renewals, cancellations, trials, and vendor licenses; create and maintain electronic resource management records

StyleCat and Related Systems

  • Responsible for supporting daily operation of print and electronic continuations; assist in all aspects of electronic serials and databases and other tasks related to the College’s use of electronic resources
  • Catalog serials and electronic resources including title changes and holdings records
  • Work within the integrated library system including cataloging of periodicals and electronic resources, authority control, and create reports for Acquisitions and Serials modules
  • Upload individual and batch electronic records for MARC records
  • Generate reports from the library management and bindery systems
  • Guide problem solving and resolution for problematic check-ins, claims (involving direct contact with vendor or publisher), and complex processing issues.

Research and Instructional Services

  • Provide daily reference and research service at Periodicals service desk
  • Provide weekly reference and research service at Research Services desk
  • Teach instruction sessions for specialized periodicals materials

Unit/Compliance Responsibilities

  • Manage unit opening workflow, verify and update desk schedule if needed
  • Train and delegate tasks to employees as needed
  • Supervises morning PERS staff and manages unit in the absence of Head of Electronic and Serials Resources Librarian

CROSS-UNIT WORK AND SPECIAL ASSIGNMENTS

In addition to a regular assignment at the Research Services Desk, the Continuations Librarian may be requested to serve at any library service desk for coverage as needed.
Special assignments shift regularly and include projects such as website migration, web content development and information architecture, integrated library systems migration and grant proposals.

LIAISON, OUTREACH, ASSESSMENT, AND COLLECTION CULTIVATION

  • Serve as the point of contact for assigned subject areas and academic department liaisons with regard to information and Library services referrals
  • Review and assess current library resources
  • Participate in the Library Liaison program by promoting services and resources with a special focus on digital initiatives; cultivate relationships and foster connections with classroom faculty
  • Review and use data and assessment techniques to support evidence-based changes to services or programs

FACULTY RESPONSIBILITIES AND PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT

  • Serve and participate in library-wide, team-driven, and working group meetings, library governance and campus-wide initiatives and committees
  • Participate in the Library’s Strategic Planning process and implement policies and procedures that support the Strategic Plan
  • Participate in curricular and pedagogical discussions by attending college-wide, school, and departmental meetings and share with Library colleagues
  • Maintain active membership in local, state, and national professional organizations and currency in the field
  • Cultivate collaborative relationships with other institutions
  • Participate in the mentoring program for new librarians in other areas of the Library
  • Participate in professional development activities to maintain currency in professional competencies

Requirements:

Minimum Qualifications

  • MLS or MLIS from an ALA-accredited institution
  • Minimum of two (2) years of library experience
  • Demonstrated experience using an integrated library system, collection management systems, and working knowledge of MARC
  • Experience with principles of authority control, including selection and application of controlled vocabularies and ontologies to local collections
  • Demonstrated knowledge of discovery tools and metadata practices supporting discovery, specifically in a library context
  • Familiarity with subscription e-resources
  • Excellent organizational skills and demonstrated ability to generate complex, analytical and precise work
  • Ability to prioritize, plan, and multi-task projects; demonstrated flexibility and ability to work in changing conditions; resourceful in problem solving and resolution
  • Demonstrated ability to work independently and in a collegial, teamwork-oriented environment
  • Strong written, verbal communication and interpersonal skills
  • Commitment to providing outstanding customer service to library patrons
  • Commitment to fostering a culturally diverse educational and work environment

Preferred Qualification

  • Experience with providing instruction for the use of the online catalog, library databases and print materials
  • Knowledge of current library technologies and standards for data collection, analysis, and reporting
  • Demonstrated experience in and/or exposure to the use of current serials and electronic resource best practices and trends
  • Experience liaising with vendors and license agreement negotiations
  • Experience using staff interface of an integrated library or next generation system (e.g. Aleph, Alma, or OCLC WorldShare)
  • Experience with a discovery service (e.g. Ex Libris’ Primo or Ebsco’s Discovery Service)
  • Experience with statistical data management and reporting
  • Experience in troubleshooting e-resources
  • Knowledge of electronic resources management systems, link resolver software, e-resource knowledge base systems, and proxy configurations
  • Experience with cross-departmental projects and team collaborations
  • Diversity and inclusion are core values of Fashion Institute of Technology. We strive to create a truly diverse and inclusive environment where the richness of ideas, backgrounds, and perspectives of our community is harnessed to create value for our community to include students, faculty, and staff, today and in the future.

Additional Information:
Supervisor: Prof. Lana Bittman, Head of Periodicals & Electronic Resource Svcs
Sr. Admin: Prof. Greta Earnest Associate Library Director
Department: Library
Schedule: 8:30am-3:30pm, Mon-Thur, 22 hours per week Subject to change based on the needs of the department
FIT offers part time employees generous hourly pay, sick days and tuition exemption.

Application Instructions:

In order to be considered for the position, you must submit the following documents online at: https://www.interviewexchange.com/jobofferdetails.jsp?JOBID=106177

* Resume
* Cover letter

Please note that due to the high volume of applications we receive, we are unable to contact each applicant individually regarding their application status.

For more information about FIT, please visit FIT’s website at: http://www.fitnyc.edu
FIT is firmly committed to creating an environment that will attract and retain people of diverse racial and cultural backgrounds. By providing a learning and working environment that encourages, utilizes, respects, and appreciates the full expression of every individual’s ability, the FIT community fosters its mission and grows because of its rich, pluralistic experience. FIT is committed to prohibiting discrimination, whether based on race, color, national origin, sex, gender, gender identity, religion, ethnic background, age, disability, marital status, sexual orientation, military service status, genetic information, pregnancy, familial status, citizenship status (except as required to comply with law), or any other criterion prohibited by applicable federal, state, or local laws. FIT is committed to providing equal opportunity in employment, including the opportunity for upward mobility for all qualified individuals. Applications from minorities, women, veterans, and persons with disabilities are encouraged. Inquiries regarding FIT’s non-discrimination policies may be directed to the Affirmative Action Officer/Title IX Coordinator, 212 217.3360, titleix@fitnyc.edu.

Thank you for considering Fashion Institute of Technology in your search.