Alumna Mattie Taormina Builds Virtual Archive

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San José State University School of Information alumnus Mattie Taormina helped Stanford University build its Virtual Archives in Second Life as part of the university’s effort to increase patron access and discovery of the library’s primary sources.

Taormina, who graduated from iSchool in 2005, is quick to point out that creating Stanford’s Virtual Archives was a team effort of the library system’s volunteer Second Life team. While the library has maintained a presence in Second Life since 2006, the team wanted to add a small sampling of the archive’s real life holdings.

The concept offers “direct and unmediated access to primary source materials, without a curatorial overlay,” Taormina said. “It also circumnavigates the real life concerns of material damage, theft, and fluctuating climate conditions, while providing a new way for scholars to collaborate in real time.”

Taormina participates on the library’s Second Life team in addition to her full-time job as Head of Public Services and Processing Manuscripts Librarian at Stanford’s Department of Special Collections. As head of public services, Taormina saw the Second Life experiment as particularly intriguing because it offers “a way to replicate the richness of the real life reading room experience in order to promote archival literacy and familiarity.”

For inexperienced researchers, the ability to see manuscript boxes and folders in the Virtual Archives is intended to make the process of primary source research “less intimidating,” Taormina said. And at the same time, experienced scholars can use the site to quickly survey the contents of a collection in order to decide whether they need to make a trip to campus or order photocopies.

The Virtual Archives offers 20 boxes from 14 collections. It virtually replicates boxes in Stanford’s remote deep storage facility so that scholars can for the first time browse the library’s closed manuscript stacks.

Taormina earned a master’s degree in Public History from Sacramento State University and then worked for several years as special assistant to Dr. Kevin Starr, California’s State Librarian from 1994 and author of a multi-volume series on the history of the state.

She decided to earn her MLIS from an ALA-accredited school in order to gain greater career flexibility. The very month she graduated from San José State University School of Information, Taormina landed her Stanford post, which she calls “my dream job.” According to Taormina, “It pulls together everything I learned as an historian and studying archives.”