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In partnership with ALA, ProQuest is committed to ensuring that Master’s degrees in library and information science become more accessible and affordable for talented individuals and since 2001, has funded 142 Spectrum Scholars. When it comes to awarding the Spectrum Scholarships, ALA and ProQuest seek broad participation of diverse librarians in order to provide the next generation of leadership in the transformation of libraries and library services.

This interview features one of eight recipients of the Spectrum Scholarship 2014/2015. Karen Chen is a Spectrum Scholar and promising future librarian from the University of Washington.

Congratulations on receiving the Spectrum Scholarship! Can you share how the support will help you in your pursuit of a graduate degree in library and information science?
Thanks!  The scholarship is a great vote of confidence that the work I’m doing at UW is vital both academically and within the practicing field of library and information science. By far the most rewarding part of the Spectrum Scholarship is meeting the other scholars.  There’s a whole constellation of us spread across the states, all working towards different concentrations within the field.  It’s so great to hear about projects they are a part of, and I’m so pleased to be able to contribute to this dialogue.  

Tell us a little about your concentration in the program?
I am interested in how museums and other visual repositories are moving their collections online—not only on the front end with their public facing interface, but also how to manage and organize the information in the backend.  The entire digitization experience brings up so many fascinating points to me, such as knowledge organization, controlled vocabularies, metadata, etc.

What inspired you to pursue a career in library and information science?
Prior to attending UW, I worked as an archivist for an artist well-known for using gunpowder on canvas and his pyrotechnic “explosion events.”  I had studied his work when I was in art school so I was familiar with his work but I never knew it was possible to organize and catalog his form of art, especially given the uniqueness of the mediums he used.  It opened me up to so many possibilities of managing information and metadata, and that led me to going back to school.  

Describe the organizations you’re involved in and your career experience in the library information field so far.
I’ve been extremely fortunate in my experience!  Currently I work for the city of Seattle in their Office of Arts & Culture.  I’m helping to push their public art collection online, both onto their mobile app STQRY and the Public Art Archives website.
In between my first and second year at UW, I also worked in the corporate library at a large architecture firm headquartered in Seattle.  I learned so much about the architecture and design world, and of course, how special libraries function.    

What did you intend to do after you complete the MLIS program?
Head into the heart of wine country here in Washington State, and spend the weekend on the best vineyards.  

What do you hope to do in your career?
I would love to stay active in the art world and intersect my background in the arts with information science. I see myself working in museums managing their collections, especially helping to digitize and making them more visible to the public.  Art museums have such great collections, but there’s no real point of stewardship if the public is unable to access them.
What do you find most exciting about the future of library and information work?
We’re at such an interesting crossroads right now and the technology is changing so quickly; I’m constantly learning about new integrated library systems, databases, or other collection management systems.  I feel so lucky to be learning all this and can’t even imagine how much the landscape will change five years from now.

What do you see as the main issues facing librarians and library staff today?

Funding, or the lack thereof, is such a harsh reality.  I see so many amazing products out there, but institutions are unable to afford them.  

What is the best piece of career advice you have received thus far?

“Be uncomfortable.”  I have had incredible mentors throughout my academic and professional life, all of whom encouraged me to learn as much as possible.  Once things start getting too comfortable and complacent, it is a sign that I needed to learn things outside my comfort level.  Fun fact, I learned how to weld taking this advice.  

Finally, what can you tell us about yourself that we might never guess?
I’m an avid rock climber.  In between school sessions or on long weekends, you can often find me in Bishop, California or Red Rock Canyon in Nevada.  Sometimes I bring my homework out onto the crags, and there was definitely a period where I sat there and tried to ingest Ranganathan in between climbs.


Interview by Tara Baliat, Public Relations Specialist

01 Dec 2014

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