CU Erasmus students as the National Library interns

pátek, 03 leden 2014 15:06

23. 7. 2012; by: Erasmus students; Photo: Loreta Abidini and Marion Fay; Section: English Digest

The Charles University has been fortunate to host some very active Erasmus students, who has – next to the obligatory attending classes, socializing with their Erasmus peers and exploring Prague and the Czech Republic – found also the time for an internship or voluntary project while studying in the Czech Republic. One of the most favourite institutions for a short-term internship accompanying the Erasmus study stay in Prague has for a number of students, especially those studying Information Science, Literature, History or Archive Science, become the National Library of the Czech Republic, namely its department working on preparing the digital text editions for the international virtual library Manuscriptorium.

We asked Mr. Tomáš Klimek from this department to share his experience with the Erasmus students with us. He explains: “The National Library of the Czech Republic (more precisely its Department of Manuscriptorium Digital Library) has been cooperating with Erasmus students studying at Charles University in Prague since summer semester 2010/11. There are about 10 students interning at National Library each semester which means that we have employed about 30 students for the internship till now. The students who are cooperating with us prepare digital full text editions of the historical texts to be published in the Manuscriptorium Digital Library.

Their work consists of learning the basic facts about the XML mark up languages and familiarizing with an XML editor. Then, the students can already transfer the texts of an old book or other material (provided to them in its modern text edition) into XML format by adding the structural tags using a pre-prepared structure. Consequently, they correlate the text to the images of the original document (e.g. to a scanned page from an old book).

Students can choose the text they will work with according to their paleographical skills and knowledge of the language of the original document (mostly Latin). This means that students without any further knowledge of the historical script can work on preparing texts which would be boring for the more advanced workers and, vice versa, the most experienced students can prepare editions of worse readable documents what can help them by improving editorial or language skills.

This type of work is perfectly convenient for the cooperation with interning students and the cooperation is fruitful for both sides. Most of the students are pleased by concreteness of the assigned work and real visible results help to increase their motivation. Connecting humanities and IT sphere of knowledge is also something what often attracts attention.

On the other hand, such work demands plenty of working hours even from the experienced employees and would not be thinkable without the possibility of using external and fresh working force. The results of our as well as the interning students’ work is very useful for scholars dealing with manuscripts and early printed books like historians, art historians, linguists, musicologists, geographers, as well as students of paleography, etc. In the same time the gained material can be a good base for research in the area of automation of transferring images into texts.

There are also some other works connected with creating our digital library of historical written documents which would be suitable for interning students. In the next months, we plan to cooperate also with several full-time interning students staying in Prague for a longer period of time on an Erasmus Practical Placement directly in our institution, so we hope that we will enlarge our experience with Erasmus students in a very positively way.”

One of these full-time interning students will be Katarzyna Sycz, Erasmus student at the Faculty of Arts of Charles University during the academic year 2011/12, originally from the University of Poznan. We have asked her several questions concerning her experience in the National Library so far (Katarzyna was one of the students working for the National Library in winter semester 2011/12).

Katarzyna, I really liked your reasons for joining the Charles University in Prague. In your application you said that “I am applying for a place in the Erasmus exchange programme, so that I can finish my studies with the feeling, I have used all the possibilities that the university offered to me, so that my education was the best.“ This is actually one of the best motivations, I have seen so far – and it says a big deal about you being a well-motivated student. Your wish to make the best from your study stay abroad led you also to the application for the internship in the National Library.

What was your main task during the internship, how was the cooperation with the National Library staff and what do you think you have gained from the experience so far? Was the internship complementary to your studies?

Thank you. It's very nice that you quoted my motivation. During my internship at the National Library, I worked for the Manuscriptorium Digital Library and my duties centred on preparation of electronic editions of historical documents. The work consisted of both the structuring of the texts and correlating their parts to images of original documents.

The purpose of this task was to enable access to historical documents to the public, and to facilitate search of particular passages. Texts on which I worked, were written in Latin. This may sound a little complicated, but basically the work was not difficult; only some parts of the Latin texts were more complicated to read, but I could always count on getting help if necessary.

Cooperation with the National Library was very enjoyable. Mr. Tomáš Klimek, who supervised my work, patiently explained what I had to do; he also always willingly and with a smile answered all my questions. I think it was a very interesting experience. The best proof is that I am applying to do an internship in this institution again, this time for a longer period of time. In my opinion this type of work is very necessary and I would like to broaden my knowledge in this field.

Last year, back at my home university in Poland, I studied Linguistics and Information Science. Working in the National Library is closely connected to these study fields of mine. I'm not planning to continue my studies in Poland at the moment, but maybe I will go on in another country in the future.

Your previous internships in Poland were from a different field – journalism. If you compare these two fields, what is interesting for you in either of them?

First of all, I should say that the fields of work are not that different. In the publishing houses where I had worked previously I focused mainly on the work of standard text editing, the tasks that corresponded to the knowledge and experience gained under the editorial specialization. Typical journalistic work, as e.g. writing articles and interviews was only a small part of my tasks.

I am actually also more interested in the work on creating a book, from the initial proof-reading to the printing. This last phase is especially very interesting for me. Within the practice at the University of Poznan, I had the opportunity to work in a traditional printing house for a short period of time, where everything was done manually.

But the biggest part of the work I was doing in the publishing houses, was proof-reading and wording. This was the thing that gave me personally the greatest pleasure and satisfaction.

Working in the National Library in Prague was another chance to see how we can work with a book, and in the case of my internship, how to make the most valuable works available to a wide range of readers. I think that this type of work these days, when most people can not imagine working without a computer, is extremely important and forward-looking.

After finishing the short-term internship in the National Library this winter (an internship that can be attended during a full-time study stay), you have approached the library to arrange a long-term internship after the end of your study stay at Charles University. Are you using the Erasmus programme for this exchange again? If yes, what are the differences between the Erasmus Study Stay and the Erasmus Practical Placement for the students of the University of Poznan? What are your expectations of this long-term cooperation with the National Library?

Yes, I would again benefit from the Erasmus program. I’m just in the process of applying for the Practical Placement; I'm not yet sure if I can get the nomination from my home university in Poznan, so please keep your fingers crossed for me!

The main difference between applying for the Erasmus Study Stay and the Erasmus Practical Placement program at my university is that in the second case, the students must find a company or establishment which would want to hire them on their own. The recruitment process is open only until the limit of places for this activity is reached. Of course, recruitment committee will consider the requests based on the compliance of the planned Practical Placement with your field of study. Students may apply for the Erasmus Practical Placement for a period of 3 to 6 months, during which they will receive a scholarship.

In the case of the Erasmus Study Stay, the procedure centres more on the academic matters; one of the additional steps is e.g. a conversation with the language teacher, who checks the student's level of foreign language knowledge.

Linguists and Information Science students are however not the only ones who profit from the short-term internships accompanying the Erasmus study stays in the National Library. The offered internship is interesting also for Historians, Art Historians and students of Archive Science. We have approached Marion Fay, originally from Université Paris 12 - Val De Marne a History student who joined the Faculty of Arts of Charles University in the academic year 2010/11 to share her opinion on the opportunity with us.

Marion, you are a student of History. When you joined the National Library for an internship last year, you tried how one of the possible careers for historians nowadays could look like. Did you like the experience? How was it for you to work with the electronic versions of the old books and manuscripts?

I was really glad when I received the advert for this internship because I was in the third year of my Bachelor studies back then and I was seriously thinking what I wanted to do after I completed my studies.

The first time I went to Klementinum, the seat of the National Library, I was amazed by the place. Also Mr. Tomáš Klimek, my supervisor, was really very nice. I liked to work with the old manuscripts, even in the electronic version. I hadn't had the opportunity to work with that kind of documents before.

What were your tasks in the National Library and how was the cooperation with the staff there for you? Has the internship influenced your wish of the future career?

Initially, it was a little complicated for me to get the grip of the software (jEdit) we were using, but after some days it was okay. My task was to search certain words from the modern text (Word) version of a document in the original manuscript version of it and join both the documents by links then.

The atmosphere in the office was good, and Mr. Klimek was very patient and supportive.

At present, I plan to work in the field of protection of historical heritage. The internship in the National Library helped me to find out that this path was my desired career.

As French student of History you have most likely attended the classes offered by Assoc. Prof. Martin Nejedlý from the Institute of Czech History. How was your experience with his subjects? Was it interesting for you to meet many French as well as Czech historians? Was there any topic that you particularly liked?

Yes, I followed Mr. Nejedlý’s classes, and I really enjoyed them. They were both very interesting. The topics were very diverse and sometimes, really original, too! I particularly appreciated the lecture of Laurent Vissiere, about aliens. The only thing I would possibly change, if I can suggest something, would be to include more topics from the Czech history.

You had a nice opportunity to compare the traditional job of historians (teaching and research) in Mr. Nejedlý’s classes and the modern way of the historian’s work in the National Library last year. Do you consider either of the careers?

I'm currently doing a Master in medieval History of Art, so first of all I have to write my thesis. I can say that I really like research, but I don't want to do it all my life. As I have already mentioned, I would like to work in the field of protection of historical heritage, and work on the spot.

Thank you for your answers.

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