University of Wisconsin–Madison

Alumni Profile: Lotus Norton-Wisla

 

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Lotus Norton-Wisla (MA ’14; left)

What is your current job?

I work as the Tribal Digital Archives Curriculum Coordinator at the Washington State University Libraries’ Center for Digital Scholarship and Curation (CDSC). This position is funded by a 3 year IMLS cooperative agreement. The duties of my position include coordinating the Tribal Stewardship Cohort Program (TSCP) (https://www.imls.gov/news-events/upnext-blog/2015/09/tribal-cohort-program-provides-resources-digital-heritage-management), providing Mukurtu CMS training and support, assisting with the Sustainable Heritage Network, managing workshops, digitization projects, and collaborations in the CDSC, and travel for most of these projects.

Please tell us about what a day of work may look like for you.

My work at the CDSC is very exciting and unpredictable because I work on a number of projects simultaneously – this can get overwhelming, but it is never boring! This summer, I will be traveling to tribal archives, libraries, museums, cultural centers about every other week to do site visits or workshops and training. When I am on campus, I might be working on creating tailored instruction materials for the TSCP, creating a resource or tutorial for the Sustainable Heritage Network, helping with a digital storytelling workshop in the CDSC, attending a department or faculty meeting, or managing projects that our undergraduate digitization assistants work on for the Nez Perce and Coeur d’Alene tribes currently. One of the challenges of my current position is project and time management. Multitasking with multiple classes and jobs while in school is helpful, but I think managing your time is a skill that you constantly work on – nothing can prepare you except actually doing it.

What is the most rewarding aspect of your current position?

Working with communities to accomplish their goals is the best part of my job. The general rewarding feeling is using my strengths and knowledge to empower others in their projects. The Tribal Stewardship Cohort Program lets me gather resources and create training materials, connect people to learn together, work individually with people towards their specific priorities, and share my own technical skills. Traveling and doing workshops with Mukurtu CMS and digital project training lets me meet people from all over the country and share skills and resources with them. I think my work would be pretty meaningless without the personal connections. I also like the parts of my job that allow me to figure out solutions to problems – whether that is helping someone with an issue on their Mukurtu CMS site, fixing workflow problems with one of our digitization projects, or finding the perfect resource for someone on the SHN website.

You work closely with Mukurtu. For those who don’t know what Mukurtu is, can you describe it?

Mukurtu CMS is a free and open source sharing platform and content management system with a focus on access. It is a platform built with the specific needs of indigenous communities in mind for sharing and managing digital cultural heritage materials. Community involvement is key to Mukurtu, so the platform is flexible and customizable for each community that uses it. Some things that Mukurtu does differently from other online platforms are: differential levels of access based on needs and values in the community, metadata fields that allow for flexible information and narration combined with more standard Dublin Core fields, and multiple records to show institutional and community records together (great for digital return projects). Mukurtu also has a companion app that pairs with an existing Mukurtu site – Mukurtu Mobile. You can see more on all of this at mukurtu.org. We have “office hours” a couple times a month where you can sit in on a webinar and ask questions!

How did SLIS influence your career?

The biggest influences on my career academically, professionally, and personally were the experiences I had in the TLAM class, student group, summer internship, and Convening Great Lake Culture Keepers conferences and regional institutes as a student, and continuing after I graduated. The service learning that I did through the TLAM class gave me work experience at the Oneida Nation Museum, working with their photo archives, as well as the Culture and Heritage Department archives, working with a collection of film reels. These were both projects that I was just one part of, but they showed me the priorities and issues that professionals at tribal archives, museums, libraries, and cultural centers are working with. The experiences taught me so much about work outside of a traditional university, state, federal, or even corporate archives that I had been taught about previously. In addition, the TLAM class created a safe space for learning about the sovereign nations in Wisconsin, confronting our own ignorance and assumptions about tribal communities, and learning the qualities necessary for working in and with diverse communities (being open, humble, respectful, and approaching situations as a learner for a few). The Convening Great Lakes Culture Keepers gatherings taught me a lot about the needs of those working in tribal institutions today. I learned so much from the discussions about the common issues in their tribes, workshops tailored to the needs of the group, and the way all the Culture Keepers help each other.

Do you have any advice for current or future students?

My general advice is to try lots of different subject areas within LIS (and other departments), and get as much practical, real-world experience as possible. Take advantage of opportunities in SLIS – through classes, student groups, conferences, and work/internship opportunities. When you find your passion/niche/interest (by exploring all the opportunities you can!), listen to lots of advice and be prudent, but also believe in yourself and be persistent if you are committed to a certain area of work or study. Find mentors that care about you and build strong relationships with your classmates, instructors, and colleagues.

More specifically, I can look at a few things that made a big difference for me. Since I owe so much of the best parts of my education, work experience, and professional development to the Tribal Libraries, Archives, and Museums – I would recommend not only taking the class, but getting involved as much as possible with Omar Poler and the TLAM group. The dedication and effort that you commit to the learning opportunities in TLAM will pay off with the understanding, relationships, and skills that you gain. I was also involved with the Society of American Archivists Student group, and going to conferences like the Midwest Archivists Conference and SAA were very helpful. TLAM and other community-oriented service learning groups are an invaluable asset at SLIS, that all students should be taking advantage of – these are unique opportunities not available in other programs.