Matthew Bova- History and Computer Programming at the Library of Congress

A few hours before Professor McMillan’s Summer field school was cancelled due to COVID-19, I received an email from the Library of Congress, accepting me into their Junior Fellows Program. I excitedly accepted it, later finding out the initial offer to work in VR and artifacts had to be shelved in favor of a project that could be done remotely. Instead I was accepting into the Hispanic Division’s project on Visualization and Mapping. After making sure they knew that my Spanish skills were extremely limited, I found I would be working on creating visualizations to represent the presence of Luso-Hispanic (referring to Spanish and Portuguese speaking peoples) culture in the library.

I started working June 1st, beginning by meeting the other fellows and my Project Mentor. After a few days of introductions and writing up proposals, I was given free rein to work on my project. I quickly discovered the LOC’s API or Application Programming Interface, which is a tool a programmer can use to easily draw data from a server. From there, I wrote Python scripts that allow me to automatically draw, count and display data with the push of a button. The charts I made compared materials with Hispanic Division related metadata to the rest of the digitized archive, allowing the Division to see areas in which they are underrepresented. In presenting my work, I wrote a blog article and created a video that can both be found on the Library of Congress’s website.

The data showed huge differences between the Hispanic Metadata and Non-Hispanic Metadata items that are part of the digitized collection. Luso-Hispanic culture appears to be vastly under-represented in the Photography, Manuscripts, and Newspapers that are available to the public through the website. With this, the Hispanic Division can find where they can focus their resources in the digitizing and collection process.

This internship taught me so much in just two short months. In completing this project, I taught myself about computer programming and data visualization. I had weekly meetings with the entire Hispanic Division, and got to attend presentations from several different departments within the LOC. I even received coaching on job interviews and resume building during career development sessions on Fridays. I’d highly recommend the Library of Congress for students looking for an internship. They have several programs for all sorts of academic disciplines, and they are often looking to train future employees through the program.

I hope to be able to bring my programming and data science knowledge and apply it to archaeology and geography. My project entered data into a table similarly to an archaeologist in Excel but automated the process in order to record a few million item records. Understanding basic principles of programming and data science are useful in any profession that involves collecting and displaying data.

I am extremely grateful that the Library of Congress gave me this opportunity. I was able to develop and complete a project of my own design while also receiving support from professionals in the field. As much as I would have enjoyed commuting to DC, this was a fantastic opportunity to gain experience working for the biggest library on earth from the comfort of my own home.

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