Sumitra Duncan

Web Archiving Coordinator, NYARC | March 7, 2016:

16e233c.jpgAs an undergraduate English literature major at Virginia Commonwealth University, Sumitra found employment at the research library known for its great art collection. Despite earning a degree in English, it was her art history classes and work at a public library in Richmond where she discovered an interest in Art Librarianship — taking her to New York City where she worked in both museums (Solomon R. Guggenheim and the American Museum of Natural History) as well as film and television. 

To leverage her prior work experience into a more meaningful position, she went back to school to pursue a MSLIS, choosing  Pratt over other library schools in the area because of its strong connections to museums in the city. She further developed her library skill set interning and then working at the MoMA library. Following MoMA, she held a Mellon grant funded position with the Frick Art Reference Library working on the implementation of the ARCADE catalog. She then worked a knowledge specialist position doing market research, managing a digital library and related metadata. When NYARC was awarded the Mellon Foundation grant to set up the Web Archiving Program, Sumitra was drawn to the idea of working at the Frick again as well as working on such a forward thinking project. Her prior experience would aid her in the duties of the NYARC Web Archiving Coordinator (now a permanent position).

In reflecting on changes in the field, she shared how much she has seen a digital shift including a greater emphasis on programming, user experience, and digital humanities. She predicts things will continue to change and move in this direction as more and more people are born digital natives. Sumitra has been continuing to learn technology as things progress. We asked her about print, particularly after our art librarianship class with Ken Soehner where we had spent a considerable amount of time talking about the somewhat slow shift in the art world to digital. Sumitra said she doesn’t foresee print ever going away, but definitely feels the future will continue to grow digitally- especially with digital humanities and research becoming more interdisciplinary. She does not see cataloging and reference librarians going away, but the library space moving more towards a workshop style space for projects (Ralph shared a similar vision as well).

This could be a real challenge for museums and Sumitra emphasized the importance of collaboration in getting things done — having partners can help when exploring new tools and new challenges. It’s exciting, but can also be stressful.

She shared how grateful she is that Debbie is so supportive of continuing education. Sumitra feels this has helped the institution and offered new opportunities for learning and discovering more. While the Frick has been thought of as being a very traditional institution, the Frick and NYARC maintain a real commitment to doing the work to move things forward, to test and tweak things.

We asked her to share a little more about NYARC at which point she stated it is truly a collaborative effort between three very different institutions. People work well across departments where size, mission, and functions all differ to some degree. She feels there is solid strategic thinking about the future and how to prepare- NYARC is visionary in that way- looking to see what the next challenge may be.

Lastly, we asked Sumitra about web archiving. We were both super curious to hear if there was an increased usage by researchers in the NYARC libraries of WARC files. They have been incorporated into NYARC Discovery – a new research tool that enables users to simultaneously search the NYARC libraries’ local, electronic, and digital collections, as well as scholarly resources. In addition, WARC files are full text searchable. Based on user surveys that have been done, it seems researchers are confused on how to access the content and what to do with it once they have located it. NYARC will continue to survey, research and collect information on usage of Discovery and WARC files.

Sumitra has been active in aiding awareness of web archiving to users and institutions, highlighting its long-term importance. She serves on the board of ARLIS, is a co-convener of the Metro Web Archiving SIG, and is one of the founders of the Archive-it New York users group. She has spoken about web archiving at several institutions and symposiums, including A.R.T., Columbia, and Pratt Institute.

We are both so grateful to Sumitra for taking the time to speak with us and to help further our professional development by allowing us to attend webinars on web archiving, the SIG meeting at Metro, and much more. She has been very supportive of us gaining knowledge and furthering our skill sets as future library and information specialists.


Above: Julie Mehretu, Dispersion, 2002