Happy news! I was invited to be a panelist at the South by Southwest Interactive conference next month, as part of their ScreenBurn track. I’m on a panel called “Funologists live and in person: Guerilla Game Research.”
I’ll share my experience starting some low-budget user research cycles for Second Life, and my work translating those frustrating observations into shippable engineering requirements.
There will be pretty pictures, and possibly cake.
The cake is a lie, but you should stop by anyway. There could be cake.
There certainly won’t be cake and not cake. Not at the same time, I can assure you.
I have an information science degree. I’ve been working for fourteen years, my entire adult life. Most of my jobs have been in libraries.
I am a librarian. I am not a librarian.
As a student at Michigan State University, I learned Library of Congress serials cataloging.
I walked through secluded aisles surrounded by rare books, incunabulum, alternative newspapers, and gay pornography.
I cataloged comic books in the world’s largest archive of comic art, radicalism, and popular culture.
In the course of my work, I learned that Spiderman serials change their volume as often as many Spiderman readers change their underwear. By graduation, I could walk into any comic shop in the country and pick a fight about whether X-Men film adaptations should be considered canon.
When I went to graduate school (Michigan ’03), my program had recently transitioned from “Library Science” to “Information Science.” In the process, they picked up a bunch of renegade computer science professors and expanded to include information architecture, information economics, archival theory, and a bunch of crazyass dot com bubble refugees like myself.
We discovered that the term Digital Library can be used to describe an entire array of cool shit, including the Internet itself.
One of my professors, Sue Davidson, tells the story of how Yahoo cofounder Jerry Yang called to ask about the subject guide to the web she had created for the Michigan Electronic Library. Sue answered: “that’s what librarians do, we organize information.”
Librarianship, defined as the act of organizing information, is a broad and inclusive field. Librarianship as a profession, is not. There are strict professional guidelines determining who is and is not technically a “Librarian,” but there is also a strong case to be made for the authenticity of self-identification.
There are librarians who work in libraries, and there are librarians who just Are.
It’s the difference between being a Jew by Religion, and being a Jew by Ethnicity. Both groups contribute to the cultural whole.
While a Librarian by Profession is inherently a Librarian by Ethnicity, the opposite may not be true. A trained librarian can sport a different job title, but her clarity and understanding will still contribute to her work.
I’m a librarian by ethnicity.
Right now, I work as a user experience designer on a software team. I wrestle with ship dates, dependencies, conflicting user requirements, and engineering constraints. I design interfaces and help identify how the software should behave.
But somewhere, deep in my soul, I am doing the work of the Library.
I’m a librarian by ethnicity, regardless of the job I take. I don’t make my living as an ALA going, patron-helping organizer of resources, but I’ll be damned if I don’t use Librarian skills to battle confusing groupings of information.
Librarians bring order to chaos, and so, with a little luck, do I.
I was crawling through my archives this morning and came across this little rant that I wrote years ago, during my first, horrible, post-grad school job at the Cornell University Library. I know several of you Gentle Readers are in school right now, and I thought you might enjoy the sentiment:
First of all, and lets just get this out of the way: a full-time job is actually a pretty shoddy reward for 2.5 years of graduate school stress.
Yes, I’m grateful and all, glad to be here, nice to meet ya, etc. but frankly, I think I was looking for something along the lines of “congratulations on your degree, here’s your houseboat, now get out of here you scamp.”
I suppose having a stable schedule and slightly-more-realistic paychecks is reward enough, but lately I’ve had to face what seems to happen any time you put enormous effort into something. Which is, a rather slow transition into something different that requires enormous effort.
Like learning not to scream when someone suggests you attend the Metadata Working Group Meeting.
Gus, housemate, and Erica, me, were having a discussion on the airplane to Michigan.
Gus is getting her PhD in something nifty, like Education and Video Gaming, or MMORPG Search Behavior. Or something. I dunno. I kinda tune out a bit. Ever asked a social scientist about her thesis? Don’t. At least not before 10am on a Sunday.
Gus was bewailing the lack of Practical Research available in her chosen field of SomethingorOther, and how the interdisciplinary nature of the subject made finding Solid Evidence difficult…something something…did I mention it was early?
I tuned back in once I put together what she was talking about.
“Wait a minute…” I said, blearily. “A PhD in something Practical?”
I got a call about 20 minutes ago from a friend telling me that my website, this website, the website I HAVEN’T UPDATED IN WEEKS was mentioned in the NY Times. So, um. Hi. I’m updating! This is me. Updating. Just for you. La de da.
If you are interested in becoming a librarian, you might want to take this quiz.
If you know some librarians that you want to get gifts, I sell some cool t-shirts and mugs here.
Here’s a quick summary of this website:
I’m Erica Olsen. I am a librarian (religion) and interface designer (profession). I just moved to San Francisco two weeks ago. I work doing User Experience at Second Life. I’ve been blogging since 1998, but in those days of yore we just called it “having a web page.”
If you wanna write to me and say hi, I’m ericaolsen (AT) gmail (DOT) com.
I’m in the Bay Area this week, interviewing and exploring the city for possible relocation potential.
I rented a convertible yesterday and had a great drive down to Silicon Valley. I haven’t had a chance in a long time to be the blonde-in-the-convertible, and I gotta say, it felt good.
I’ve got sand under my fingernails, the beginnings of a distinctly non-librarian looking tan, and I’ve burned off at least a few sad winters’ worth of Midwestern Ennui in the past two days. In other words, I’m having a good time. Wish you were here.
Science Magazine is publishing a blurb about our library of animal sounds on Thursday. We got an award for second-best “educational interactive”. Yay.
Unfortunately, this means that a huge group of people are going to visit our site.
And our site was, up to a few weeks ago, still half-baked. We’ve got one of those higher education software teams, consisting of five underpaid geeks and a couple of CS students. Ebay, we are not.
These last few weeks have been a blur. Everyone on my team is pulling dot com hours, working for twelve hours on Sundays, and generally being foolish with work-life balance.
Tonight we ate dinner at the mall food court.
The weird part is, I love this.
I love the focus.
I love the commiseration.
I love the feeling of doing something good for the world that I get working at a nonprofit.
But right now, I would really love a beer and some sleep.
It’s official now, and I can finally talk about it here. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, yes, yes, yes, I’m buying a house. Well, it’s a theoretical house at this point, just a glimmer in the mortgage-lender’s eye, but someday soon, around the end of June hopefully, I will be an actual homeowner. It’s a big deal, but I think I’m handling it well. I’ve limited my panic attacks to one a day, and am reading this very helpful book called The 106 common mistakes homebuyers make, which is totally helping my anxiety.
Oh, and I’m changing jobs.
Starting February 23, I’ll be a web developer at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Yup. Leaving librarianship for I.T. Not a huge surprise to those who know me, but possibly controversial considering I run a website called Librarian Avengers. The good news is, I’ll still be working in a library. The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds holds the largest collection of bird recordings in the world. As their web developer, I get to create an interface for the stadium-sized database holding their digitized collection. It’s a big fat moose of a challenge, and I’m looking forward to getting started. Among other things, it means that this weblog is getting archived along with the one I wrote in grad school, and will be replaced with something new and appropriate.
I was kind of nervous about announcing this job change here, because I didn’t want to deal with any “say it ain’t so, Joe” emails in my spam-riddled inbox from hardcore librarians who think I’ve betrayed the profession by jumping ship for a mostly interface design position. To you, I say: Buck up. There are still plenty of good, stylish librarians out there. I may not be a librarian in real life, but I’ll continue to play one on the web. And, hey, there’s more than one way to serve an information need, buddy.