Empowering Communities through Digital Library Services with Kristen Chua

Community Profile

“A lot of my projects involve thinking about how systems and technologies can be designed or improved to better connect people to the information they need. The Informatics program has made me a better analyst, information professional, and researcher through courses focusing on human-centered design, data management, project management, and computer networking. These classes have helped me think about what solutions are not only helpful but also possible.”

Kristen Chua
Informatics MS, Spring ‘23

Before Kristen Chua knew she wanted to study informatics, she went to the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, for her Bachelor of Science and majored in Applied Computational Mathematics and Statistics. During her time there, she worked at the Hesburgh Libraries and began to develop a more holistic view of Library and Information Science (LIS). 

“I really love the investigative, analytical problem-solving aspects and the helping-people side of the information services professions. The librarians and my mentors opened me up to technology that helps people find information and use it in a way that makes their disciplines a better place, and maybe the world too.”

Entering Informatics 

After earning her undergraduate degree, Kristen moved back to her home state of California and found a position first at the UCLA Library, working with library acquisition and electronic resources. 

“I went into the library profession curious about the technology behind digital libraries — especially the technologies and algorithms that create, connect, store, and secure all this amazing digital information. I was really interested in how all that worked, and how to maybe make these systems a bit better in the future.”

And that interest is what drew Kristen to study Informatics at SJSU’s School of Information, starting in the Fall of 2021.

Kristen’s two favorite courses she has taken thus far include Dr. Tucker’s Human-Centered Design and Dr. Benoit’s Informatics Technology Foundations.

“A lot of my projects involve thinking about how systems and technologies can be designed or improved to better connect people to the information they need. The MS in Informatics program has made me a better analyst, information professional, and researcher through courses focusing on human-centered design, data management, project management, and computer networking. These classes have helped me think about what solutions are not only helpful but also possible.”

Building a community in a fully online program can be challenging, and Kristen admits that she was concerned about how this online format might be isolating at times, but some courses will inevitably have group projects which can help connect students with classmates.  

“For me, that was my Human Centered Design Class. I really loved my teammates. They’re just amazing. We got to do a heuristic analysis on a bunch of websites, and it gave us a chance to chat and laugh about our research and analyses, which was pretty fun. We stay in touch.”

Research and Experience 

Since starting her time at the iSchool, Kristen has also met some friends and lab colleagues while pursuing her interest in information science and informatics research. 

Kristen’s research with the iSchool began at the ICANN Lab led by Dr. Souvick Ghosh, a 100% online research lab for any iSchool students interested in researching information and data science problems from a socio-technical viewpoint. 

“I had always thought that things like neural networks and conversational agent technologies were interesting and challenging topics  — I didn’t think that I would be able to jump into it quite so quickly. But when I first joined the lab, I immediately got to contribute to a research project by conducting literature reviews, investigating research methods, and using my data analysis, and visualization skills to help my research team better understand the information gathered from an API.”

Kristen remembers her time at the ICANN Lab as a great opportunity for self-directed learning and growth as a researcher, and she recommends it to anyone interested in exploring their own research at the iSchool.

Not long after that experience, Kristen was hired on as an Information Services Analyst at the California Digital Library (CDL) which serves the University of California system libraries. 

She feels lucky to find a role and team that really was a good fit for her interests and skills. 

“It’s a wonderful place to work with really fabulous people. The projects people are working on at the CDL are so amazing – and I feel grateful to be among colleagues that are pioneering so many innovative technologies and services in the library field and collaborating with different organizations throughout the whole nation to enhance teaching, learning, and research.”

Thanks to a combination of her experience at the CDL and her academic experience, Kristen feels that a focus on leading-edge technology and applications for librarians and information providers is necessary for the future of both informatics and libraries. 

“What I’m really seeing is just the importance of designing information technologies and new approaches to information stewardship in a way that really serves the public and their needs. Designing user-friendly and intuitive interfaces that deliver credible information, I think, is a really big part of the future of libraries. I especially see that now that I’m at the California Digital Library (which is hiring, by the way) because I can see first-hand the way that digital libraries work to accommodate an ever-widening array of digital information types, sources, and uses.” 

Advice for the Future 

When offering advice to current or prospective students hoping to start their Master’s in Informatics, Kristen has three pieces of advice:

“Before starting the program, I would really recommend considering the scope of your interests to see if informatics is a good match. For example, I was really interested in data management, UX design, and computing, and felt that these were all going to be a really important part of my future career and so I felt that this program here would be a great fit. I would advise someone who’s looking at the Informatics program to look at the classes in the Informatics required courses list and see if most of them, hopefully, all of them, are relevant to what they want to do in the future.”

She also recommends future students take some free online classes (like IBM’s Cognitive Class) before their Master’s coursework begins. 

Kristen offers further advice: “Time and energy management is of the essence. The M.S. Informatics program at SJSU is an accelerated program, so each class is completed in about 7 to 8 weeks from start to finish. In one of my courses, my professor described it as a boot camp, and I think that’s an accurate description of the pace.”

With just one more quarter to go after the winter, Kristen looks forward to graduating soon, though she hopes to go back to school one day to earn a Ph.D., continuing her research and even teaching as part of her long-term goals to share her skills and love of information services with the community.

For now, she is happy working at the CDL, and she feels lucky to have found a job that she loves.

Check This Out!

Kristen recommends the website LibraryCarpentry.org for any iSchool student or library professional interested in building a technical programming foundation. 

For fun, Kristen also recommends the book The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi.

“This was a beautifully written novel about a young woman’s quest to overcome barriers she faces in traditional society to achieve self-sufficiency, independence, and a better life for her loved ones. I’m always trying to broaden my horizons and develop a more nuanced understanding of social issues, so it’s helped me see into a different world.”