Janey Thompson works at the Alaska State Library Historical Collections as a Librarian and Project Coordinator for the National Digital Newspaper Program, sponsored by the Library of Congress and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Despite living in Southern California for the majority of her life, Janey earned her MLIS at the University of Washington, Seattle, and has been living in Juneau for the past year. Depending on the season, she enjoys berry picking and wildlife viewing.
Describe yourself in three words.
Curious, quirky, resourceful.
What’s an average day at your library?
I check Chronicling America’s website first thing every morning at the Alaska State Library Historical Collections to see whether any new Alaska historical newspapers have been posted. So far, there are 18 newspapers published between 1899-1923, and we anticipate many more to be added. I input newspaper metadata at a page level for each issue to be incorporated online. I frequently visit our cold storage to retrieve microfilm reels to be duplicated and mailed to our vendor to preform OCR (optical character recognition). I also compose weekly social media outreach posts on Instagram and WordPress, usually based on a theme relevant to a given week or holiday. On occasion, I will fill in on the Reference Desk in the Research Center for a fellow Historical Collections coworker. Lately I’ve been researching and writing essays on newspaper titles featured on Chronicling America. Each time seems like a juggling act and I enjoy wearing many hats!
What was the first job you ever had?
In high school, I was lucky to have a volunteer opportunity with the Santa Barbara Museum of Art as a member of their teenage outreach committee, which led to my participation in the Museum’s annual teen mural project. To help promote a retrospective exhibit of Mexican painter Rufino Tamayo, myself and other local high school students painted a mural inspired by his artwork that was then displayed at the back entrance throughout the next year.
What was your first position in the library or information field?
I worked in the Special Collections at the A.K. Smiley Public Library Heritage Archive in Redlands, California for the first two years of undergrad. My work primarily involved inputting data from the 1910 census into a spreadsheet. Redlands is a small town, so I was able to recognize many of the addresses listed. I also worked on the reference desk, copy-edited newsletters written by the curator, and added items to the internal database. My favorite item from the collection was the thousands of citrus crate labels, as Redlands was once the foremost producer of Washington navel oranges.
How do you stay up to date in your field?
I’ve found that social media is the most immediate way to keep up to date with other institutions and developments in the library and information field. Attending conferences are helpful in that I get to see similar projects and learn from my colleagues in the field.
What is your favourite part of library, archive, or information services work?
I love the ability to learn new things through helping patrons with their research. Based on reference questions I’ve received, I’ve been able to research a supposedly haunted hotel in Seward, the beginnings of the Iditarod Sled Dog Race, a child born on the Inside Passage ferry, the Exxon Valdez oil spill, the Gold Medal Basketball Tournament, a sea serpent sighting, and the implementation of the Permanent Fund Dividend (PFD) – all within Alaska historical newspapers. It’s hugely rewarding to be able to find information and resources, both for the patron and myself.
What are you reading or watching right now?
I enjoy reading nonfiction, and lately I’ve been reading a great deal of Lawrence Wright’s works. He’s most famous for The Looming Tower, his Pulitzer-prize winning chronicle of Al-Qaeda, but I’ve also read Going Clear, and I’ve especially enjoyed one of his earlier works, Saints and Sinners. Juneau is very fortunate to have a small theatre, the Goldtown Nickelodeon, that features off-the-grid movies, and I try to frequent it as much as possible. I’ve been able to watch a number of indie films and it’s great to be able to support a local business. At home, I’ve been enjoying The Great British Baking Show on Netflix and Sharp Objects on HBO. I’ve read all of Gillian Flynn’s works and I love seeing them adapted to film and television.
If you didn’t work in information services, what do you think you’d be doing?
I love graphic design and theatre, and a great deal of my undergraduate courses revolved around costume design. I still make sketches and sew clothes, but mainly as a hobby. I think in another life I would have liked to be a sign painter, based on my love of typography.
What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received?
Get to know your coworkers and learn from them! Each day I learn from my colleagues and the areas of study in which they specialize, and have sometimes been able to collaborate with them on projects.
What is the coolest thing in your office or on your desk?
I attended the Alaska Historical Society’s annual conference in Nome this past September and had the once-in-a-lifetime experience of visiting the original offices of the Nome Nugget, the oldest newspaper still in operation in Alaska. Antique letterpresses, woodblocks, and drafting tables, as well as bound volumes of the paper are still in the original building. I bought a t-shirt from their office with its masthead printed across the front. It’s currently pinned to my cubicle and it’s a great conversation piece.
What aspect of library work are you most passionate about?
Film history is a major interest of mine, and I seriously considered enrolling in a program dedicated to moving image preservation. Working with newspapers on microfilm has magnified the importance of preservation, given the rapid deterioration of newsprint, and the poor microfilm quality. It’s really a race against time to reformat analog materials and media, and to maintain access to original copies.
Why do you think library work is important?
There is a major misconception that everything is available online, but that’s not true. And, especially in the case of newspapers, if online access exists, there are so many paywalls that block or limit access. That’s where libraries come in: projects like Chronicling America help those who seek newspapers that can be accessed anywhere online, free of charge. I’m proud to be able to help make these valuable primary sources. Newspapers directly reflect the values of a community, and we are learning new things everyday based on what we’ve been able to find in papers that have finally been indexed and text-searchable.