UMD iSchool MLS Alumna Partners with iConsultancy to Provide Experiential Learning Opportunities in Digital Curation and Web Design

iSchool News - August 7, 2020

At Historic Takoma, Marilyn Abbott exceeded the call of duty by connecting iSchool students with the organization to revamp their website.

hands show on top of a laptop keyboard with a screen that reads "archive files"

From small town upstate New York to the historic metropolitan mecca of D.C., Marilyn Abbott, MLS ‘71, began pursuing her degree which, unbeknownst to her at the time, would enable her to explore the vast array of opportunities in library and information science and help her to better understand the many uses and value of information.

After graduating with her Master of Library Science (MLS) degree from the University of Maryland College of Information Studies (UMD iSchool), Marilyn spent the early years of her career helping develop an automated system to transition physical documents to electronic records. She was heavily involved with the Microwave Communications of America (MCI) and its early development of an automated litigation support system to help organize the company’s millions of documents during an antitrust case MCI filed against telecommunications giant, AT&T. Utilizing her knowledge gained through the MLS program, Marilyn understood that “getting something from paper to automation is not just a straight transfer – it was thinking about how people are going to access it and what is something people are going to need to be able to pull up and see.” These experiences helped Marilyn became a critical asset in records management and project development and implementation.

During the time leading up to her retirement, Marilyn reflected on the skills and experiences gained through the MLS program which enabled her to explore areas in the industry and have a successful and varied career. While spending time with relatives back in her home state of New York, she witnessed local libraries and historical institutions needing support from the community. From this first-hand experience, she felt compelled to brainstorm ideas that would foster learning opportunities for those interested in pursuing library science while helping to benefit these institutions.

Marilyn currently volunteers as Treasurer for Historic Takoma Inc., based in Takoma Park, MD, a position which had been vacant for months. In this role, she has exceeded the call of duty by expanding and rearranging Historic Takoma’s collections for easier access and became an expert in the organization’s content management system, which had not been effectively used in years. Marilyn later met with Dan Christopher, Director of Development at the iSchool, who put her in contact with the iConsultancy program to connect iSchool students with local clients for experiential learning projects. During this time, the leadership at Historic Takoma were planning to revamp the website to better reflect the work being done.

“We had to do a lot of work which I think surprised a lot of us,” Marilyn said. “We had to think about how we wanted to present ourselves, how can the website help present us better, and how do we organize this multitude of information to make it reasonable to an outside person.”

Over the course of a semester, iSchool students partnered with Historic Takoma to revitalize its website as part of their senior capstone experience. After the success of the website redesign project, two follow-up initiatives were executed with new groups of iSchool students. The projects included the implementation of the new website redesign and researching alternatives for a new database system. The students who identified a more user friendly database system developed a full-fledged migration plan and user manual for Historic Takoma’s leadership, despite the impacts of COVID-19.

Francis Ogbennah, an iSchool student who graduated with his Bachelor’s of Science in Information Science in May 2020, worked on the website implementation project as both the team’s Project Lead and as a developer. Before this, he felt that projects were simply grades without any meaningful impact to anybody, but “this meant a lot to the Takoma Park team since it would be the face of their website in the near future.”

“I learned about true teamwork and cooperation for a real cause, client etiquette, and project management,” Francis said.

Marilyn referred to the students as a “breath of fresh air,” praising the energy and knowledge brought with them.

Historic Takoma is currently brainstorming ways to host additional initiatives for students to participate in, as well as looking to develop an internship program in the future to help process the mass amounts of paper collections donated to the organization. One of these projects includes working on a Geographic Information Science (GIS) initiative to map out development of the City dating back to the late 1700s. Another one is development of a cloud based indexing system.

To learn more about Historic Takoma Inc. visit their website by clicking the link here.