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In the Spotlight with… Heidi Frank
In the Spotlight with… Heidi Frank
Lisa Romano, Column Editor
In this spotlight, we feature Heidi Frank, the most recent Nancy B. Olson award winner. Heidi has worked at New York University (NYU) Division of Libraries for nearly 11 years and was successfully able to obtain tenure in 2015. Currently, she is responsible for batch processing, automating workflows, and data cleanup or analysis within their Aleph library system. Her work involves a lot of scripting, primarily using Python and PyMARC, plus MarcEdit to manipulate MARC data. These projects include extracting MARC data out of the Aleph library system, running reports for cleanup projects, performing statistics, and making global changes on item or holdings settings. Additionally, Heidi is working on the Arabic Collections Online (ACO) digitization project, where Arabic language materials from NYU and other partner institutions are being digitized and hosted on the ACO website. And what does Heidi enjoy most about her job?
My favorite part of my job is the ability to write code and develop scripting to perform various metadata analyses and create reports. I still get amazed at how powerful a few lines of code can be to quickly answer a question or solve a problem that would be nearly impossible to consider on a manual level.
Heidi’s path into librarianship was accidental. Her first library job was as a part-time student-worker in the Stacks/Shelving Department when she was an undergraduate student at the University of Southern Mississippi. Her position involved re-shelving returned books, and keeping her assigned call number sections shelved and in order. Because of her attention to detail, she found call number labels that just didn’t look right and notified her supervisor. This got the attention of the Head of Cataloging, Ann Branton, who then recruited her into the Cataloging Department where she began to work with MARC records, cleaning up series headings and other various cataloging projects. Ann Branton became Heidi’s mentor and encouraged her to apply for a grant to attend the University of Oklahoma’s library program. Heidi remembers:
My undergraduate degree was in chemistry, and not really knowing what I was going to do with that, I was considering entering graduate school for polymer science. However, once I was recruited into the Cataloging Department, I found that I truly loved working on computers and with metadata. I enjoyed analyzing patterns in headings, cleaning up data entries, and generally working with databases. Once I found out about, and was awarded, a grant to attend library school, that resolved my decision of what to “do next” in life.
One of the first organizations Heidi joined as a new librarian was OLAC. Her position included cataloging e-resources and non-print formats (primarily electronic theses/dissertations and web sites). Over the years, OLAC has served as Heidi’s prime source of reference on standards and general guidelines for non-traditional cataloging. Initially, Heidi began her involvement with OLAC by attending conferences and networking. Then she volunteered on OLAC task groups or projects. The two main task forces Heidi worked on under CAPC were the Playaways Task Force and the AV Glossary. Heidi next served on CAPC, and eventually was elected to serve the four-year Presidency term on the OLAC Executive Board.
Personally, the biggest positive for me was the experience working with other OLAC members and gaining more exposure and insight into the OLAC organization – which eventually led to more involvement on CAPC and then the Executive Board.
And what is the most interesting item Heidi has worked on? While cataloging the DVD “Ghana project” and creating a name authority record for MaPó Kinnord-Payton, Heidi found her web site which mentioned a trip to Ghana, West Africa to the northern area of Bolgatanga, the following year to build sculptural mud-huts out of red earth. Since ceramic pottery is one of Heidi’s hobbies, she decided to contact MaPó Kinnord-Payton directly to inquire about the trip. It turned out that MaPó Kinnord-Payton is a professor of ceramics at Xavier University in New Orleans, Louisiana (near Heidi’s hometown in Gulfport, Mississippi). With the trip open to anyone, Heidi joined her for a 2.5 week trip across Ghana.It was one of the most interesting and fun trips I’ve taken, and all due to authority control!
With her analytical mindset and strong mathematical background, Heidi has been able to pursue the more technical side of technical services. In fact for her second master’s degree (a requirement for tenure at NYU), Heidi chose the Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP), which furthered her knowledge of general programming concepts and various programming languages! During her library career, she has looked for opportunities to learn more programming skills. She expressed her interest in programming and back-end processes, and would get assigned projects or tasks in these areas. Plus, Heidi has taken courses and attended conference sessions that were geared towards systems librarianship.
It’s often difficult to really absorb new skills without a means to apply them, so one piece of advice might be to first find practical examples of things you want to do, or problems you want to solve, so that you can actually use the tools you’re learning for something relevant to things you’re already working on.
Currently, Heidi is interested in finding opportunities and projects related to Linked Data and BibFrame. When asked what advice she had for new librarians, Heidi responded:
“Have fun! If at all possible, try to cater your career towards the things that you really love to do. There are so many aspects of libraries – from circulation and public services to IT, systems and web development – that there is usually a path that can be pursued to get into your own niche!”