A Success Story: An Interview with Margaret Huang, Digital Archivist at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Can you tell us a little bit about your background, your current position, and how you got into the field of (art) librarianship?
I received an MLIS from the University Pittsburgh in the Archives, Preservation, and Records Management track. I am currently the Digital Archivist at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. I have been interested in working with and around art ever since I got a job in high school in the gift shop of a museum. During undergrad, I was an art history minor and also happened to get a work study position in my college library’s digitization lab. This is when I started to piece together my career path. I considered pursuing a Masters in Museum Studies but ultimately decided that an MLIS could be a more flexible degree.

What does a typical day at work look like for you?
My position recently pivoted to focus on one specific project so my typical work day right now involves a lot of noodling around in XML/JSON and Excel spreadsheets since I am deep into the metadata creation phase of the project. It is broken up by some of my other responsibilities as issues arise, such as maintaining our ArchivesSpace and Preservica instances, developing digital preservation policies and procedures, answering reference questions, participating in discussions surrounding our time-based media art (I am currently the mentor for our NDSR Art resident on our project: Planning for Time-Based Media Artwork Preservation), and whatever else may come up!

Do you have any advice for current students and/or those on the job market?
My advice to current students and/or those on the job market is to hustle. I was juggling freelance jobs, part-time jobs, and volunteering until I finally got a full time permanent library/archives job. Try to get as much hands on experience and technical skills as possible. Apply to as many jobs that interest you as possible, even if you feel unqualified. It never hurts to give it a shot. Meet and talk with people who have the jobs you want to see how they got there. Again and again, I have found that people tend to want to help and give advice. Also, your first job out of school doesn’t have to be your exact dream job but you can use what you learn to build towards it. At the same time, it’s also ok to not settle if you know what you want. I do honestly believe that hard work pays off so keep hustling.

What were/are some challenges for you as a librarian? Are these related to larger challenges in art librarianship or the field in general?
Currently, my biggest work related challenge is copyright issues. There are so many legal complications, risk tolerances, and stakeholders to consider. This is definitely a common challenge in the field, especially when embarking on digital projects and it becomes even more overwhelming if you’re dealing with entire archival collections, like me, that comprise of hundreds of possible copyright holders. Moving forward, I would like to see libraries, archives, museums, and other cultural heritage institutions collectively push Fair Use as far as possible.

My biggest personal challenge is feeling confident in my technical chops aka imposter syndrome. I think this is felt by many people and while I do not know the cure for these feelings, I can at least say: If you feel this way, you are not alone — let’s empower each other!

Tell us something fun about yourself! What do you do in your spare time? If you could take a trip to visit any library in the world, which would it be?
I love to ride my bike, hike, and travel when I can. Recently, I’ve been reading a lot of true crime books. I think I would be most curious to see the personal libraries of people I admire or am intrigued by – for example, what’s on Iggy Pop’s or Amy Goodman’s bookshelves?

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