ILS Innovators: Grace Thomas, ILS Student

Grace Thomas

Growing up in Minnesota, Grace Thomas never thought she would end up in Hollywood—or be surrounded by super heroes.

Thomas, who is pursuing her Masters in Information Science and Library Science at the School of Informatics and Computing, has found herself in both of those situations, and she couldn’t be happier about it. She fell in love with digital archives and digital libraries while she was pursuing an undergraduate degree at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Then, prior to her senior year at Nebraska, Thomas met John Walsh, an associate professor of information and library science at SoIC, while attending the 2013 Digital Humanities Conference.

“I talked to him about the program, and I ended up visiting that October,” Thomas says. “We talked about the program and different opportunities, and I ended up getting part of my graduate assistantship to go to Indiana.”

In the fall of 2014, Walsh was awarded a New Frontiers grant to establish the Comic Book Readership Archive (CoBRA), a digital archive of primary source material and related data sets to document American comic book readership and fandom. Thomas had been working for Walsh for a semester, and she was offered the opportunity to work as a graduate assistant on the CoBRA project.

Thomas wasn’t really a comic book fan, but she quickly took to the work.

“It’s very challenging,” Thomas says. “What I think is really cool about it is it’s a niche interest, but it will be able to be accessed by so many people. There isn’t anything like it available right now. Users will be able to learn about comic book readership, which is so important to comic studies. I love building the database. I like seeing how the information will be organized and making it fit for humanities data rather than just using numbers or something like that.”

Thomas and her group had to come up with a system to organize the database, which includes everything from fan club publications to contests sponsored by publishers and fan clubs to fanzines. They’re creating a standard from scratch, and just coming up with a system has been a challenge.

Then again, Thomas has never been one to shy away from a new experience. For instance, in the spring of 2015 she enjoyed a manuscript class at the Lily Library, and she had the opportunity to learn about film preservation when a moving images archives representative from IU came to speak to her class. Thomas loved the talk, and she decided to pursue an internship with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

She sent her application on the last day before the deadline to apply, and a few weeks later she was offered the internship to work on a digital archiving project with the Academy.

“It was incredible,” Thomas says. “There were two parts to it. It was an internship program, so they did a lot of things with the interns as a group. We met a lot of the Academy members, and we did a lot of events. We enjoyed a few tour days where we visited Dreamworks, Paramount, and Dolby Labs, and all of that was amazing. My project was the digital archiving of some test materials they had created and needed to store somewhere. It was awesome on both fronts.”

Her experiences with CoBRA and the Academy have her convinced she’s on the right career path. Thomas says she’s focused on working with humanities data and isn’t interested in building a numbers-based program might be found in the banking industry.

“I like data that tells a story,” Thomas says.

Thomas is scheduled to graduate with her MIS and MLS in 2016. After that, her future is wide open.

“I really want to optimize the skills that I’ve been building,” Thomas says. “I’m looking at digital humanities and digital libraries at the university level, but on the other side of the spectrum, I’m also doing the MIS, which opens up industry to me. I have a lot of options, and I hope I can find the right fit at the right time.”

Also see other stories in the ILS Innovators Newsletter.

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Ken Bikoff
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