Recollections from a Lab Aide

Written by Digital Archiving Lab student aide, Francesca Maisano ’21.

As the spring semester ends, and graduation nears, I would like to share some thoughts on my experience working at the Digital Archiving Lab (DAL). I have thoroughly enjoyed my time working as a student lab aide at the DAL for what will be two school years at the end of this semester. While in this position, I have worked alongside wonderful people and used a variety of software and equipment, all of which I had never used before. I also learned valuable archival, technological, and interpersonal skills, even during the pandemic, something that has impacted three-quarters of my time as a lab aide. There has still been plenty of work to be done, such as scanning and the captioning of COVID-related videos, even if some of this work is done remotely. My personal favorite piece of equipment was the Cobra book scanner that is used to scan items such as rare books, magazines, yearbooks and scrapbooks. While I greatly enjoyed scanning these archival materials with the Cobra, sometimes scanning was slightly terrifying, since many of these materials are old and quite fragile!

Through the work I have done and the archival materials I have worked with, like old Mary Washington scrapbooks and photographs, I feel so much closer to Mary Washington and its history and community. It was always fun scanning archival materials for fellow students, as well as for professors and classes, and seeing the varied topics people at this school were researching and learning about and the projects they were doing!  

This was also a very rewarding job, knowing that my work was helping not only the UMW Archives but also those who have disabilities, ensuring that our archival materials are accessible for everyone. I captioned videos and made PDFs full-text searchable. My major video-captioning project last year was captioning thirteen James Farmer lectures (and I captioned a few more this year as well). These videos are so powerful, and I am so glad that others will be able to watch and learn from James Farmer’s incredible, impactful stories on his time in the Civil Rights Movement. You can read about how I captioned those videos and more of my thoughts here.

A screen capture of the captioning process in Adobe Premiere software. A small box displaying the video is in the top right corner, and the bottom includes the caption text and timings.

A screenshot of what Adobe Premiere Pro looks like when I am editing the captions of one of James Farmer’s lectures. This was one of the videos I captioned earlier this semester.

While I’ll be graduating this spring, I know that I’ll cherish my time working in the DAL and use the skills and knowledge I have gained in graduate school and my future career. To all current students at Mary Washington, if you have an opportunity and desire to work at the Digital Archiving Lab, do so. You won’t regret it!   

May 7, 2021