MLIS Alumna Uses Concepts Learned in MLIS Program to Make Metadata More Valuable to her Work at NASA

Morgan Adle Caroline Drogin - March 13, 2019

Interview with Adrienne Hieb, Metadata Librarian at NASA Goddard and MLIS Program Graduate

headshot of Adrienne Hieb

Adrienne Hieb is a Metadata Librarian at NASA Goddard (contracted through SelectFederal Services) in Greenbelt, MD, just miles from the University of Maryland where she completed her MLS degree in 2015. Adrienne was one of the first students to specialize in Digital Curation. She currently manages metadata and holdings for the library at Goddard and provides guidance to the new NASA Goddard Archives. The NASA Goddard Institutional Repository Adrienne works with can be viewed here.

Adrienne uses metadata to add value to NASA Goddard’s holdings and the institution as a whole. She often draws on a concept she learned as a graduate student in the digital curation program: “We often talked about how to add value to existing data. So I really try to focus on taking metadata, that seems basic on one level, and making it more valuable to a user in new and interesting ways.”

She says working with metadata feels like solving puzzles. “If you like solving puzzles, metadata work is for you. Some days it’s routine, and then some days it’s figuring out how to get from one format to another, or something goes awry in the data and you have to troubleshoot and find a way to fix the problem.”

As an MLIS student, Adrienne did her field study with the Gordon W. Prange Collection in UMD Special Collections. She helped them create a database for their collection, transitioning their metadata away from spreadsheets.

Metadata work is sometimes thought of as solitary, but Adrienne often works closely with colleagues. “I’m collaborating with team members constantly, especially on bigger picture projects. We also have a lot of stakeholders who receive reports using our metadata and there is a lot of interaction with them. I never feel like it is solitary work, a lot of library work is teamwork.

Over the years, the NASA Goddard Library has been a valuable host for UMD students completing their field study. Student internships can turn into long-term positions – one of the undergraduate interns now has a full-time position as a web developer.

An internship at the NASA Goddard Library is a great way for students with an interest in science (not necessarily an educational background in it) to work in the field. According to Adrienne, a lack of scientific background doesn’t hinder the job whatsoever. “We often hire interns and just ask that they have enthusiasm and excitement for space.”

Internships at the NASA Goddard Library can be viewed here.

For anyone unfamiliar with the role of a metadata librarian, can you give me a description or overview of your job?
“I manage holdings through traditional cataloging processes – physical material, audio-visual holdings, etc. But a bigger part of what I do is managing institutional repository metadata. This includes importing new data and doing regular cleanup, but also doing bigger picture planning and overhead work, such as data modeling, workflow creation, ensuring that data meets certain standards, and looking at data in unique ways to see what kinds of stories we can tell. Lately I’ve been working on special projects to try to integrate data better through linked data.”

What is the material for which you manage metadata?
Adrienne manages Goddard’s library holdings, archival-type holdings, audio-visual material, and scientist’s publications. “A large part of what I do is go out and find all of the publications that researchers have produced and get them into one searchable database that links to author records where we show a big picture description of what departments and scientists on center have done. Our scientists publish material across different databases, publishers, and journals so we have one unified system that is searchable to get an idea of the knowledge and research output of Goddard as a whole.”

Who are the users of this database you manage?
“This information is open to the public, not just people at Goddard. We actually get a lot of usage from around the world. It’s pretty impressive.”

Have you always been interested in Metadata? What led you to this position?
As an MLS student, Adrienne took LBSC631: Achieving Organizational Excellence. A project that stuck with her was one which the professor had the students choose a collection and cataloguing standard to work with during each unit. “My instinct was to choose MARC, the most complicated option, so I knew this is what I wanted to do. I’ve always loved organizing things. I also met Bria Parker, the Metadata Librarian at UMD during my Field Study. She used to be in my position at Goddard. I remember hearing that she was a ‘Metadata Librarian’ and thinking, ‘That’s a position someone can have?! How can I get that job?’”

“While I was getting my degree I worked on campus in an environmental science office full-time, but I wasn’t doing things related to the degree. Luckily my office was flexible and encouraged me to apply what I was learning to the position. So I was able to revamp a lot of their information management tools and got into metadata that way as well. I also took the database design course [INST733] and that cemented that I enjoyed database work and metadata. The database course has been the most valuable to me in terms of my career so far.”

What do you like about working at NASA?
“I have no science background, but I worked for 4 years at environmental science office at UMD and got exposure to a certain level of science there. I’ve gotten a lot of exposure here as well by being around publications that scientists are producing and working on major projects of the NASA missions. It’s very fascinating and has made me aware of things happening in the space science field. I’ve learned enough from project exposure and I have a very good appreciation for it.”

What advice, if any, would you give to students interested in becoming metadata librarians?
“Learning about databases is key; ultimately every system has a database at its core, and understanding how they are structured can help you a lot. You should also have a good handle on (or at least familiarity with) SQL, XML, and RDF. A lot of institutions are moving toward RDF (resource description format), a format that works with linked data. It’s always helpful as well to learn about cataloging formats (such as MARC).

I found that trying to learn all the ins and outs of technology and every data format in class was difficult, but ultimately having some understanding before you get into a position is important. Once you need to work with it, you’ll realize how much you do know.” She says that knowing where to look for answers and having exposure to many different technologies and is key, because different institutions and companies use different formats.

Any other advice for current MLS students? How can they make the most of their degrees?
“Remember that even if you aren’t using theories and concepts you learn right away, you will draw from that knowledge later when you are working in the field. Look for opportunities to apply what you learned in any way that you can, even if it’s not in a library setting. Every institution, organization, and company needs help with managing information.”