Student employees make up an essential part of LTS operations, holding positions in areas such as technology support, lending services, Special Collections, information security, and more. When the COVID-19 pandemic sent students off-campus in the spring of 2020, many of the student employees were able to continue working remotely miles away from Bethlehem. We asked students working for the Lehigh Libraries’ Special Collections to share their experiences on the challenges and benefits of working for Lehigh away from Lehigh.
Shaenna Ameer, ‘22, a native of the Bronx, NY, began working for Special Collections in August of 2018, and is currently engaged in an independent research project using digitized Lehigh historical resources. Ameer’s project focuses on the history of race, ethnicity, and underrepresented people at Lehigh, and especially significant events such as the first women or Black students to attend Lehigh. The intent is to create a timeline or library guide consolidating available information in one place. Before the pandemic, her first assignments involved scanning documents and books, then moved on to processing and describing archival collections and writing social media posts.
Much of Special Collections work is inherently tactile, with students working directly with historical documents and other materials. Since moving remote, Ameer lost access to physical resources in Linderman Library and has had to adjust to a new way of working through assignments, despite the shift to hands-off work. She’s also had to manage her work hours independently. “Now it is difficult to do the work because time merges together and it's easy to get lost in finishing all my schoolwork and [then] not doing my project. I just started setting alarms so that I could strictly work. Being able to work in person kept me accountable and I genuinely enjoyed going to the office and seeing everyone,” Ameer said.
Though the transition required adjustment, Ameer jokes that remote work saved her the energy from having to make the hike up to Linderman. As she is still able to delve into Lehigh’s unique history and examine its changes, Ameer said she loves how Special Collections offers a wide variety of interesting information, and encourages everyone to visit the Bayer Galleria to experience it firsthand.
Senior Andrew Donnachie’s main work involves digitizing physical books and documents of historical significance in Lehigh’s collection, photographing each page using a sophisticated overhead camera, then recording them in the university’s historical archives. A Reading, PA native, Donnachie has worked on numerous projects since taking the position in his freshman year, including keeping digital archives up-to-date, and confirming the accuracy of metadata. He has also written blog posts about unique items in Special Collections.
Donnachie was unable to continue digitizing after moving remote, but luckily, had already scanned thousands of Bethlehem police record entries from the early 1900s before the pandemic hit, leaving him plenty of material suitable for remote work that includes transcribing each handwritten police record entry into a computer database. He and his colleagues plan to take all of the data acquired and analyze it for potential insights into arrests made in early 20th century Bethlehem, Donnachie said.
Donnachie not only appreciates that he can still work on projects remotely, but adds that the remote arrangement granted him more freedom to work the hours that best fit his day-to-day schedule. Along with the interesting nature of his work, such as being able to gape at odd crime reports that pop up, Donnachie says he finds his project work purposeful. He believes that he and his colleagues will be able to uncover significant trends that may provide a look into the police activities in the early 20th century.
Though Caitlyn Somma, ‘23, has been involved in multiple projects since starting at Special Collections in the fall of 2019, her current focus is on creating metadata for South Bethlehem police reports from 1919. The majority of her on-campus work was done on a computer, so shifting to remote work did not change drastically, other than being unable to scan or digitize material. A project that Somma was not able to continue from last year was digitizing a 1950s Beta Chi House photo album that was donated to Special Collections.
Going into the library to work feels a lot different than working from home, Somma said, as it was difficult to stay focused and maintain her concentration. However, she was able to easily combat this by finding a quiet place to work without interruption. Distractions nothwithstanding, Somma likes that she’s not limited to 9-to-5 hours on weekdays to work, and appreciates the more flexible hours that allow her to work weekends if she prefers. Yet even while working outside of Lehigh’s campus, Somma is able to immerse herself in her favorite part about working in Special Collections, learning new things about the University and the Bethlehem community.
Ben Brindle, ‘21, of Wilmington, DE, began his work study position with Special Collections as a first-year student, where his tasks are comprised of doing archival and historical research. His first year involved scanning a lot of material, which made it possible for Brindle to work remotely since the 2019-20 academic year, and allowed him to continue to do so when the pandemic forced Lehigh students, faculty, and staff off-campus. His current project consists of collecting digitized images of campus facilities, researching the construction and renovation history of campus buildings, and synthesizing this information into a digital exhibit and timeline.
Although he’s glad he can fully work remotely, some aspects of working on campus are irreplaceable. Brindle said that his biggest challenge was not being able to discuss his work with his supervisors live as he completes his tasks. He enjoys working in person much more, as he prefers the structure, but is grateful to still have a job that he can do during the pandemic. As most students do not know a lot of historical facts about Lehigh, Brindle said it is exciting for him to be able to learn little tidbits about the University history and to see how it came to be what we see today.
Curator of Special Collections Lois Black says student workers have contributed tremendously to Special Collections' digitization efforts and metadata creation over the years. “Their support of our work to expand the digitized corpus of Lehigh history collections benefits the entire Lehigh community,” she said. "I'm inspired by our valued student assistants every day - they enable me to see Lehigh's collections with new eyes. Student workers offer a fresh perspective on historical collections that better positions us to promote Special Collections to their peers and other new users."
LTS offers students a wide variety of job opportunities in areas such as Library Services, Special Collections, Information Security, LTS Help Desk and Computing Consulting and Computer Repair, Digital Production and Graphic Design. Visit the LTS Student Employment Opportunities website for more information.
Story by Sharon Jo ‘23