Snapshots: Mary Bennett & Kimberly Hula
By Katharine Dunn, Dean's Editorial Fellow
Last June, GSLIS was awarded a three-year, $455,000 grant from the government-run Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). In partnership with other universities and cultural institutions, GSLIS will use the grant to build a curriculum that prepares students to manage digital resources in museums, libraries, and archives. The program will provide classes and internships and will be supported by a digital curriculum laboratory, a virtual teaching and learning environment equipped with content management systems, digital repository software, and search tools.
As part of the grant, two assistants were hired to work on the project. Mary Bennett, who began in December, is the part-time technology assistant for the digital curriculum lab. Bennett has a master’s degree in computer science from UMass, Boston, and more than seven years experience as a computer consultant and software engineer. She will provide technology support to faculty and students when the grantsupported classes begin next fall. Kimberly Hula, the project assistant on the grant, is a GSLIS student in the dual archives and history program who moved to Boston from Chicago via Missouri, Japan, and Colorado. She began working on the project in September. InfoLink writer Katharine Dunn sat down with Bennett and Hula to learn more about them.
The classes associated with the IMLS grant haven’t started yet. What are your job duties now?
I’m familiarizing myself with the software, installing servers, and letting faculty take a look at the applications to see how they fit into their curriculum. The software is all open source — we
don’t need enterprise versions because open source ones are well tested. But they may not fit exactly into our curriculum, so we may need to make changes to them. We may want to add new features.
What appealed to you about this job?
It’s interesting that I can use my programming skills to help people learn. I also like to learn software and I like to make changes to it.
Have you worked with any of the software before?
One of the software programs called Alfresco is for document management. I’ve worked with it before, using it for Fox Broadcasting. They used Alfresco for their shows.
I can use my programming skills to help people learn.
How did they use it?
For their website. It was my last job before I came to Simmons. Our company consulted for them. I did “The Simpsons,” “Family Guy,” “The Osbornes.” What you see on the website for Fox for the TV show are sections with show information, descriptions, biographies of each actor. I took content and worked with it: I created templates from Alfresco and then the templates transformed the files into html. So what you see on the web is the html version. Fox did the design, we did the transformation.
I often think of programmers as solitary workers, alone in front of a computer. Do you ever find programming to be lonely work?
I always have to interact with people. And here [at Simmons], I’m on a team with four or five other people. As programmers we have to do everything: write the program, talk to the user, get feedback, and debug. I’m always talking to the end user, so I don’t feel lonely because interaction is an everyday thing. I understand software from the code point of view, but I also need to know how
to use it to understand what the user wants. That means I work behind the scene and in front of it with people.
You grew up in China. How did you end up in Boston?
I married my husband and he came over here for work.
Did you have digital archiving or library experience before coming to Simmons?
I have some library experience, volunteering at my daughter’s elementary school library with shelving.
What is your job for the project?
I primarily assist [project director] Martha Mahard, doing administrative tasks, writing the press release for the grant, and doing research as to how to best draft and establish case studies of the partner museums and archives that will be used by students. I’m also Grand Central Station for our eight partner affiliates. I’ve been working
with them to procure information or establish site visits.
Did you have library or archives experience before coming here?
Not really. While abroad [teaching English in Japan] I decided I wanted to do libraries because I realized that I not only wanted to work with information dissemination but I was interested in the technical elements of the field.
In Japan, their libraries are super primitive. I found that there’s not much reference. You really have to know what you’re looking for, and people don’t really defer to the library. Also, there are so many rich and fantastic folklore stories in Japan, and they’re not written or preserved anywhere. So that broke my heart. Everything is oral. I thought, Oh maybe I’ll save the day and
write everything down.
What appealed to you about moving to Japan?
I’ve always been enamored of Japanese culture. There seems to be a lot of attention to scholastic discipline and a reverence for knowledge. I found the Japanese to be overworked and selfdeprecating, so I kind of fit in.
Are you overworked and self-deprecating? -Yes, mostly.
Are you overworked and self-deprecating?
Yes, mostly. Everybody there is really humble. It was beautiful. The only problem is people don’t often speak of their troubles; everything is really hushed. Everybody is grateful, everybody assumes responsibility. Teaching there, aside from some of the corporate elements, was a joy. I was called “Sensei,” and it’s the highest honor. It’s equivalent to doctor. Sensei means “teacher,” but in Japanese words like that mean so much more, so it gets
lost in translation. So it’s “high teacher” or “knowledge steward.”
You were recently interviewed by, among others, the Chicago Tribune about the project you started, The Year of 52 Adventures (http://yearof52adventures.com/). How did it begin?
It began a couple of years ago when I was in Japan. I had the opportunity to do some wild and crazy things. Most notably, I was going to jump off a 20-foot stone embankment into a river. I stood at the top for about an hour and 20 minutes, and I wasn’t going to come down. I was terrified. And then I jumped. It
helped me realize that there are opportunities I often pass up. I thought, wouldn’t it be great if I started this year committing myself to an opportunity every day or something similar.
I launched the blog on December 13 to get it started to let people know the premise. Something happened that I didn’t expect: Tons and tons of people signed on, and they all had lists, which was really endearing. I send out emails of encouragement to the group twice a week. I like to give virtual pats on the back.
What are some of the adventures you’ve had so far?
I jumped into Lake Michigan when it was 10 degrees for the Polar Bear Plunge. I read my poetry at a gallery in Cambridge. I took off my pants on the T [in celebration of the annual No Pants Subway Ride]. I went to see a psychic. She told me I’m never going to be happy until I reconcile with someone from the past. It was really unnerving.
Interviews by Katharine Dunn