Staff Profile: Nancy Solla


Enabling access, with a moving target.


Who she is: Nancy Solla, metadata assistant

What she does: I work in Library Technical Services, and there are three different parts of my job. I analyze, edit and maintain large batches of data, some of which I manipulate myself, and sometimes I have to work with a programmer. Say we gain access to a new collection of ebooks, and the records are sent to us by a vendor. We have to look at them and see if they understood the proper way to catalog those records. It’s not unusual for me to work on 10,000 records at a time. You have to analyze and fix them without breaking something else. It’s like a lot of logic problems – it’s a big puzzle.

I also do medium-level cataloguing for art and architecture, and I do non-book cataloging, things like image collections and web archives.

Why it’s important: The library environment is changing so much now in this era that our needs change all the time. We have to find ways of manipulating and editing the data to keep up with new practices. We enable access, working with a constantly moving target.

Where you come from: I was born in Corning, N.Y.

Education: I went to Wells College, with a degree in Art History.

Background: I landed here in Ithaca after graduation and I’ve been here ever since. I was a manager of a leather-goods shop on the Commons for a decade. After several years of working customer service jobs, I started shelving at the Library, and through the years I moved through the units until I got where I am.

Everything I’ve done so far has prepared me for where I am now. Sometimes the guys I’m writing scripts for are the guys who work in the stacks – I worked in the stacks, so I know what their concerns are. Sometimes it’s for someone in circulation, and I worked in circulation for a year and a half, so I understand what’s important to them.

How long at Cornell: 18 years.

Most memorable experience on the job: Working on the Billie Jean Isbell Andean Collection. She was a professor who taught anthropology here, she studied in the Andes in Peru, and she came to us with boxes of old-fashioned slides mounted on paper with scribbled notes on the margin. We had to digitize and catalog them. We’d say, “This is a picture of a man and a donkey and he’s wearing a serape, what is the anthropological significance of this picture?” and she would look at it and say, “I know from the design of his serape that this is the Procession of the Feast of St. So and So.” We worked with her for months to develop enough of an understanding of her subject matter that we could establish subject headings. We basically had to learn her research: place names, organizations, and traditions and customs.

It was fascinating. I actually feel like I took a class. So it was really fun to take it from this nightmare of slides that literally came out of her barn with dust on the boxes, and dust them off and pull them out and say, “What is this?” That’s where I was really bitten by the cataloging bug.

In her spare time: My husband has a portrait photography business, so I’m usually helping him with that in various ways, everything from schlepping gear to devising marketing strategies. I also sew, and I make my own jewelry, and lately a lot of time has been taken up by our 4-year-old labradoodle.

Dream job: I would love to be cataloging full-time, special collections and artifacts.