Giving advice about application materials like cover letters and resumes is tricky business because there’s such a wide variety of valid opinions out there, and of course it’s a topic that has been covered (ha) at length all over the place. I’ve chosen to focus on cover letters specifically because they’re so weird and mysterious and horrible to write, though I also share a bit about my resume/CV.
I’ve mentioned in snippets here and there that I got a fellowship that allowed me to attend DLF 2014, which took place in Atlanta, Georgia. And I’ve mentioned before that I was – and continue to be – super grateful for it. Last week my official response debuted on the DLF blog; you’ll get a bit of info about my experience there, including a brief guide to recommended sessions.
Shortly before DLF I dyed my hair magenta. I had wanted to do something like it for a long time but I was never brave enough. I couldn’t imagine how it might look. I had pastels in mind for a while, a violet maybe, but on the day of the deed I opted for more pigmented. Purely practical: I thought it would fade to a pastel, which it has more or less has.
Overall, I love it! I’m so glad I tried it. Upkeep is a pain but I knew it would be. I’ll be sticking with a pink shade of some sort for at least the next few months. Colleague feedback has been minimal; either “I love it!” or nothing. No jabs about professionalism or anything, not that that generally rises to the surface. The most hilarious response was my grandpa, who stared and stared at me. He said, “Your hair is really… ” (staring and silence). Then, an eternity later, “Well, it’s really… you.” I giggle every time I think of that reaction. He’s not one to hide his feelings.
Back to DLF! If you get the chance to go, I highly recommend it. Incredibly well-organized. Definitely ranks up there with ACRL and LOEX for me. While there were a handful of data management sessions, the scope was broad so it was probably even more relevant for heads of digital collections or digital scholarship units.
A few photos from in and around Atlanta:
Oh golly. I just logged in to my blog and realized that I had this draft post waiting for a loooong time. Too long.
I haven’t been myself these past six months, if we’re being truthful. There have been a series of hard transitions that have made me feel like the bottom has dropped out of my life. Like I am rudderless. They’ve mainly been changes in my personal life, not professional, though of course there are aftereffects. I didn’t anticipate it being this tough. I have been hiding. I have not been thriving. And honestly I don’t know how to get back to a place where I feel okay.
I think 2015 is the year to rediscover my path. To pay off my student loans and figure out how I really want to spend my time. To dig deeper into my job and find new hobbies and opportunities. To recognize that my past does not need to be so entwined with my future.
For now, here is a glut of photos from my summer in Madison, meant to be shared months ago. I hope they’ll give you a happy little glimpse into this amazing place.
Last week I got a really nice mention in Michael Rodriguez’ farewell Hack Library School post.
It made me think a lot, particularly about the fact that we need to be real about our messy lives. Or at least I feel like I do. I want to share the libraryland rejections in my recent past that you don’t see if you look at my CV. Anyone who has done anything has left a ton of rejections in their wake – but we don’t usually talk about them publicly.
- 2011 Rare Book School: REJECTED
- 2012 DPOE Train-the-Trainer program on digital preservation: REJECTED
- 2013 ACRL Immersion, Teaching with Technology: REJECTED
- 2013 ACRL Student Scholarship: REJECTED (then when a candidate did not accept, it was offered to me as one of the runners-up)
- 2013 DLF Fellows: REJECTED (reapplied this year and got it!)
- 2013 Code4Lib Journal editorial team: REJECTED
- 2013 Humanities Data Curation workshops 1 & 2: REJECTED
- 2013 DCIG board election: REJECTED
Then there were many phone interviews that I did not get a follow-up interview (not by a long shot). I even wrote this post after a particularly embarrassing phone interview.
And then, the big one. The one that hurt the most. The one that’s actually really challenging for me to put out there right now, but I’ll do it anyway because it happened and why not tell you the story?
In July 2011, a month before I started library school, I heard about the NCSU Fellowship. It paid well, seemed challenging and interesting, and I was endlessly inspired by the library director, Susan Nutter. I read everything I could get my hands on about her.
From then on, that fellowship was my ultimate career aspiration. Everything I did, I thought about how it would reflect in my application. Every year, current fellows came recruiting at IU (I went to every session: 2011, 2012, 2013). Conferences that I went to found me talking to current or past fellows. A library student I met as an undergraduate ended up getting the fellowship one year. This thing loomed large in my life. I wanted to be competitive. In spring 2013, I even got the chance to visit NCSU’s Hunt Library. I was in awe, as anyone would be.
And then my final year of library school unfurled. In late October 2013 I submitted my fellowship application – my very first professional job application. Then it was time to wait and see what happened.
I was back in Wisconsin for winter break when I next heard about NCSU. It’s Christmas Eve and I’m in Best Buy when I get the text from a peer: “I just got an interview at NCSU! They’re flying me out in February!” Chatter around me fades to a low buzz. I can’t move, see, remember what I’m doing in this aisle. My dad is right there and I suddenly feel transparent with fear. Quickly, I check my missed calls: nothing. Email: nothing. I feel my heart thudding in my chest. I feel my cheeks coloring. I am afraid I might lose it but I know I can’t yet. I’m in the middle of a bustling store filled with happy people doing last-minute shopping.
Crying came later. I knew just in time for Christmas that I did not get an interview for the job I had pined for. It was hard to feel good about myself. Instead I felt deeply disappointed and humiliated. I had an in-person interview at UW the very next week; I knew I needed to pull myself together for that at least.
Post-interview, I headed back to IU for a new semester, utterly vulnerable as word of who got the call back and who didn’t spread through the department. My failure, known to my parents and partner thus far, was now revealed to mentors and peers. It was a low point. I was very keen on hiding, at this point; no interest in making anyone who had gotten an interview feel bad, I just didn’t want to discuss it. I wanted to survive the next few months, quietly healing.
Unfortunately, frequent reminders proved inescapable. For example: It’s around 8:30pm mid-February and I’m sitting at a computer in the lab, working on yet another cover letter. It had been a day filled with class, jobs, and multiple cups of coffee on a mostly empty stomach. I was still waiting to hear back from UW and I felt doubtful about my prospects. The person who texted me on Christmas Eve walks up to me, starts talking. “I’m just so worried about my NCSU interview. X also got an interview; I’m worried X might do better than me. And what will I do if X gets it and I don’t?”
I’m not even going to take the time to share how this made me feel. I’ll let you imagine.
I just recall my bus ride to the safety of home that dragged on, stumbling in the front door furious and heartbroken, wine sloshing in the glass as I poured, hand shaking. To say those things to me. Knowing. I couldn’t parse out the intention of this person. The first text was innocent. But bringing it up to my face more than once, despite my lukewarm trying-to-be-polite-clearly-not-enthusiastic reaction? How could that be innocent?
Library school is so small and word travels fast. I was privy to the whole story. The people in my program who were invited to interview, the people who weren’t. The people who were offered the job, those who weren’t. So by the time I got a form letter from NCSU in the spring, duh, I knew I wasn’t being offered the job. In fact, I had already accepted a job at UW. It was laughable.
That’s the story of the most painful rejection I have experienced. Undoubtedly I have many more rejections, big and small, private and public, stretching on ahead of me. If you try, you fail. I remind myself that moving forward is a good thing even if it’s not always easy. Writing about it makes me feel vulnerable again. All the bad things. Judged. Seen as trying too hard. Got what she deserved. Always so intense. (Is this just in my head or is this real? I can’t tell.)
There are a few things I took away from this.
Be kind and considerate to your peers. We are all scared, insecure, and trying our best. We need to encourage and help each other. It’s a fact of life in library school that a big pool of students will apply for the same job or opportunity and only a few will get an interview and/or job offer. It’s hard to manage your emotions and interactions with other people no matter what side of this equation you’re on. Talk about an awkward time. But seriously? If you get an interview and your pal doesn’t, just don’t bring it up unless they do. Certainly don’t seek out the chance to talk about it with them. It’s not okay. It’s not nice. And if you don’t get an interview/job, try to be happy for the people who did. Don’t hold it against them. Just let them be. Refocus on new opportunities and keep believing in yourself.
Knowing what I know now, I encourage you to have a big, scary goal to push toward. This was CRITICAL for me. If you are a library student, go find a job description that is entry level-ish but still challenging. Tell yourself, “I am going to be competitive for this job.” Give yourself a timeline. Start picking up the skills you need however you can. I am endlessly grateful that I had the fellowship to work toward throughout my three years in library school – the jobs I sought out to make myself well-rounded for the fellowship gave me a heck of a lot of options when I graduated.
Know too that great things happen even if you don’t get that dream job. I love my challenging, bewildering, and slightly mysterious job. Life goes on and it turns out it’s pretty awesome.
“Hi, I’m Brianna and I’m the Digital Curation Coordinator.”
My job title is such that there’s no way I can get away without a little explanation. So today I thought I’d write about what my new job entails exactly. What does it mean to be a Digital Curation Coordinator? Am I a librarian? What do I do with my time?
(If you work in the digital scholarship realm, you already know the answer is messy.)
Technically, the classification for my job is that I am IT staff for the UW-Madison General Library System. According to my title, I’m not a librarian… but I am pretty much a librarian in practice: I work in a library, so funding and support for my initiatives comes from the library and I tap into my LIS background daily. Depending on the group I’m talking to, sometimes I’ll refer to myself as a data management librarian. It’s just easier.
The bulk of my position description falls under two categories: managing the institutional repository (25%) and building data management and curation services (70%) with an extra 5% thrown in for professional involvement.
Hats I’m wearing at this particular time include…
sociologist & therapist
I am a sociologist. I decipher relationships, incentives, and organizational dynamics here at UW. When I think back on my English degree, the most important thing I took away was in terms of understanding audience and relating to other human beings. How does x character feel? What is the context? What is the action/reaction? This is really interesting to me. Learning how to work effectively with so many different people is hands down my favorite part of my job.
I am a therapist. The faculty, staff, and colleagues I talk to feel nervous about their digital stuff. They have so many other things to do, but they know their stuff is sitting there, vulnerable. They feel guilty that they aren’t sure what to do, especially since they’ve heard these scary terms “bit rot” and “media obsolescence” being thrown around. I come in and I listen. I think they can tell that I understand and agree: DIGITAL STUFF IS OVERWHELMING. We’re generating it so fast! It holds the same value but is so much less comfortable than the stacks of paper in the filing cabinet were. And we are all so busy already.
I can provide guidance but not much in the way of concrete, library-backed services – yet. But I’m gathering information. I’m taking the temperature. I’m gauging reactions. I’m learning about my community.
explorer & strategist
I explore options. I am encouraged to think creatively and to think BIG, then to bring that back to the reality of my university. The world of managing digital stuff is broad, shifting, and encompasses so many different needs and viewpoints. There’s nothing easy about it. I look at what my colleagues are doing or have done. I look at what UW’s peer institutions are doing or have done. I consider the particular setup of my institution and try to figure out how to make things happen here.
As a library student, I thought, “Well, just do it. Just do this cool thing that has already been figured out.” But now I get that every cool thing that is done was likely a battle, convincing and reshuffling and learning on everyone’s part. That’s the nature of getting work done in an institutional setting. It’s not inherently negative. It just is. There are people and parts to be corralled. Now it’s me trying to figure out what I can do to ease the process along. And honestly, I love it.
I’m managing the upgrade of our repository to DSpace 4.0 in the near future. Most of the technical know-how I’ve had to cultivate includes understanding the infrastructure: how servers are set up and how content is distributed among them. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about storage options and about DPN. But coding or tinkering? Nothing yet, not since graduating. This has probably been the most surprising thing: I thought I was taking on a techier role.
how all this translates to my day-to-day work
In no particular order, some things I’ve done these past few months:
- Became a member, then co-chair, of Research Data Services (RDS), including inheriting a library student doing his practicum with RDS (who I now supervise – whoa!). A lot of my time has been spent on the ins and outs of this group: meetings, projects, relationships, changes. I’ve given two talks just in these past few weeks, one to a group of PIs and research admins about the Dept. of Energy public data access requirement and another to liaison librarians here at UW. These past few months have been quite RDS-centric.
- Talked about the repository at length: people’s thoughts and frustrations (librarians and researchers), how to move forward (library digital collections, library admin). Hence the forthcoming upgrade!
- Reached out to colleagues in similar roles around the midwest… skyping, emailing, all that jazz. They have been a BIG help to me as I get acclimated.
- Officially joined the RDAP 2015 planning committee.
- Said goodbye to Hack Library School and hello to the LITA blog, where I’m now editor. Lots of wrangling and planning is still underway, but now there’s a whole team of awesome writers on board. My first post on listing your tech skills on resumes/CVs just went up last week.
- I have been applying for things as they come up on the good ol listservs. I mentioned earlier this summer that I am headed to the DLF Forum in October, but now I’m also headed to OpenCon in November. (Atlanta, then Nashville, then Washington DC, then home for Thanksgiving: it will be a whirlwind few weeks)
And that’s about it. I’m learning things every day. It’s an exciting time!
Last Wednesday I attended a free travel journal workshop offered by the Bubbler, Madison Public Library‘s creative programming group. The workshop was led by Laura Komai of Anthology, an amazing craft shop located on State Street.
I will admit that I was wary of this concept of “art journaling.” The thing that stressed me out about traditional scrapbooking in the past was my perfectionism. I couldn’t stand spending so much time on one layout. I didn’t feel creative, I felt overwhelmed.
Although the workshop’s aim was to give you a place to add the photos and ephemera from a trip you had taken, I already put that stuff in other albums. Instead, I just made stuff from the paper, stamps, and other miscellaneous stuff lying around. I didn’t measure anything. I followed my “more is more” style philosophy and acted rather than planned (a major victory).
What I started with:
What I came up with in an hour:
I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. I have always been archival-minded, fixating on how something will hold up after x number of years. This was a bit more freeing since I wasn’t thinking of the final product, just the process.
I started avoiding this space these past few months. I was seeing, learning, and thinking about a lot of things – but I avoided my website. On a whim this week I changed it up. I just don’t need to keep the portfolio structure I had as a grad student. I loved my website then, but it has a lot of associations of stress, worry, trying to adhere to this very strict version of myself. I’m over it. I needed something new.
Lots of things have been happening.
I graduated from IU with my MLS and MIS in May. Sometimes I forget I have two Master’s degrees. I haven’t gotten my diploma yet, so I suppose it’s not quite official.
(Above photo taken after I finally figured out how to affix my hood to my gown.)
The day after graduation, I chopped off all my hair and took off on a road trip of the southeast US. I met a lot of new cities for the first time, including Clarksdale, MS; New Orleans, LA; Pensacola Beach, FL; Savannah, GA; Charleston, SC; and Asheville, NC.
Now I’m just about two months into my new job. Times flies! I am now a salaried employee trying to get my bearings in a new library. My colleagues are great and Madison is insanely beautiful in the summertime.
Some professional miscellany:
- I was ACRL Member of the Week in June.
- I also was recognized as a DLF Fellow, meaning I will have the funding to go to a conference that I have heard wondrous things about for years. Cannot wait.
- Last month I had a post featured on the E-Science Community Blog: “Five tips for getting settled into your data-related job“
- I applied to be editor of the LITA blog and they said yes! I missed Hack Library School too much to stay away. The call for regular writers is up – apply by August 15!
Overall, I feel so much more balanced right now than I ever did in library school. I am so glad I did the things that I did during that time because they paid off in all the right ways, but I needed to rediscover my personality. I didn’t even realize how different I was until I emerged from that stress.
I’m really pleased to share that I have accepted the position of Digital Curation Coordinator at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Starting in mid-June, I will be responsible for managing UW’s institutional repository and working across the university on data management and digital preservation issues. It is exactly the type of position I dreamed about when I first decided to pursue a career in library technology. I applied for jobs that dealt with many different facets of library work, from digitization to digital scholarship, and I don’t think I could have written a job description that I would enjoy more. Working with data is a fascinating and challenging undertaking.
UW is familiar to me and yet brand new at the same time. My parents live in a Madison suburb and both of my younger siblings attend UW, so me coming back to Madison will be somewhat of a family affair. I’m eager to experience the city as an adult.
When I was a senior in high school applying for college, I applied to UW-Madison as well as a few other state schools. I wasn’t really a high achiever; I was well-liked by my teachers and got mostly A’s with a few B’s but I wasn’t aiming for the honor roll. I journaled through most of my classes. I ended up getting waitlisted by UW, something that wasn’t a surprise necessarily but still gave me pause. My whole attitude changed when I got waitlisted because I recognized that it didn’t matter if I thought I was smart enough to attend UW-Madison. What mattered was proving it through tangible actions.
I went to UW-La Crosse, a state school, and had a fine time. I began exploring librarianship as a career. I applied for admission to the Midwestern library schools, finally narrowing it down to UW and IU. When I chose IU, I remember saying to my dad, “I want to be competitive for a job at UW when I graduate.” Now, strangely, that sentiment has become my reality. UW shaped my attitude about building a career so it feels like I’m coming full circle.
Going from being on the job hunt to suddenly not having to spend hours on application materials is blissful. I feel as though I’ve been given the gift of enjoying my last fleeting months here at IU. I will wrap up my classes and student jobs, travel, and spend time with my partner of seven years, who is moving to Nashville, TN, when I move to Madison. I’m also exploring ways to find a place within the digital curation community. There are lots of big changes coming up but I can truly say I couldn’t be happier.