Alumna Erin Hawkins is Metadata Specialist at World Digital Library

Community Profile

As a metadata specialist at the World Digital Library at the Library of Congress, iSchool alumna Erin Hawkins has worked on items ranging from early explorers’ maps of the Americas to manuscripts of Arabic poetry on mathematics.

“What I like best about my job is that I get an opportunity to engage my curiosity and learn something new every single day,” said Hawkins, who graduated from iSchool in 2009 and has worked at the World Digital Library for nearly a year.

The World Digital Library (WDL) is a multi-lingual site of cultural treasures from more than 100 partner institutions all over the world, including WDL-supported digitization centers in Uganda and Iraq. Once the WDL receives images and metadata and places the items into its custom web-based cataloguing application, Hawkins then creates intellectual access through descriptive metadata.

Hawkins’ interest in libraries started in her youth, when she spent summers volunteering at her local library in Modesto, California. While an undergrad at the University of California at Berkeley, Hawkins worked at the campus’ Art History/Classics Graduate Library and the Folklore Archives. She took one semester off to move to Washington D.C. and intern at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, where she worked on digitizing the negatives of the first African-American portrait photographer.

After graduating with her BA in American Studies, she enrolled in our school’s MLIS program and took courses focused on organization and description. Among the classes she cites as useful today were INFO 284 Digital Asset Management, INFO 281 Metadata, INFO 248 Cataloging and Classification, INFO 259 Preservation Management, and INFO 284 Digitization.

“I’ve been interested in metadata since college,” said Hawkins, who wrote an undergraduate paper about how the removal of the card catalogue and conversion to OPAC at Berkeley’s undergraduate library changed the way patrons and librarians used the space. “I’ve always liked to think about how information is represented, whether physically or intellectually.”

Hawkins interned and worked in various other library settings while earning her MLIS, including the National Park Archives and Record Center in San Francisco, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the UC Berkeley Environmental Design Library. She also volunteered at the Berkeley Public Library to help with their adult computer literacy class.

“While metadata schema, standards, and digital libraries all allow me to nerd out, I truly see it as participating in a type of fundamental public service,” she said. “My part in resource description attempts to make the world just a little more knowable by revealing relationships between people, places, and things. Ultimately, I think good metadata and organization helps us all feel just a little less alone in a big world.”