One of the main reasons I chose to do the online MLIS program was that I wanted to continue working full time while I was in school. It had taken me longer than I had liked to get a job after I finished my undergraduate degree, and I had only been there for a little over six months when I applied to the iSchool. I was working in the creative department of start-up stock photography company. Our main focus was building a collection by creating and ingesting photos. My title was Creative Assistant, which was a nice way of saying receptionist, researcher, office manager, and general lackey and latte-fetcher. They didn't pay me much, and the staff was always too small for the amount of work we had to do, but I was happy to be working in a creative industry with interesting people. My favorite part of the job was doing the research to back up our photo shoots. The Creative Director would come to me and say, "We think there's an emerging trend on eco-travel," or "Tell me what Hispanic people are spending their money on," and I would need to find solid, reliable information to back up his ideas. I'd also often have to find pictures that exemplified these trends. This frequently meant spending a lot of time ripping advertisements out of magazines and unintentionally learning far too much about Angelina Jolie.
After about two years, the company changed its business plan slightly, we went in to photo production overdrive, and I was promoted to Creative Associate, which meant I still did everything I was doing before, but there was someone else to answer the phone and get the lattes. It was around this time that my supervisor asked me to take more of a role in dealing with the metadata that we generated for the photographs in our collection. We had all sorts of useful information that no one could access or understand because it was disorganized and locked away in several different databases. At first, this was a real challenge because the databases were really never designed to export metadata dynamically, only to import and store it. Eventually, after several months of working with our database administrator, we developed a way to pull the metadata from the databases in ways we could use. I could generate an Excel report on almost anything my supervisor wanted and give him an executive summary. Needless to say, I became the default Excel guru in office.
Then, our parent company was suddenly purchased by one of our large competitors. We were separated out to run as our own independent collection, and our business plan changed yet again. Our parent company had previously handled all sales and distribution, and all of a sudden we were going to have to do those tasks from our office. I was once again promoted, and since I intimately knew our systems and metadata, I was given the job of Metadata Specialist. We suddenly had to create and distribute large batches of images, and I created all of the accompanying metadata files for these shipments. I had several large projects where I had to clean and standardize vast amounts of metadata to bring it to our distributors' specifications. Our metadata was of uneven quality because it had been created by several different vendors over the years. There were often tight deadlines and what seemed like insurmountable piles of work. One project that remains especially vivid in my memory required me to work eight to ten hours a day, every day of the week, for an entire month. I took a few days of vacation after that.
During this time period, I was also still providing frequent reports and information to my boss. For winter quarter in 2008, I took LIS 542: Conceptual Database Design, which taught me a great deal about what actually lived behind the systems I had been using for so many years. It allowed me to create a small access database that calculated a great deal of sales information that I had previously been laboriously calculating by hand using flat lists in Excel. I wrote it up as my final project for 542. My peer reviewer responded to me, "I thought that this was a good example of a database project—you cleared up most of the unclear spots for me, though the work you are using it for seems like a really involved process. Whatever are they going to do when you are gone?" Fifteen days later I was laid off.
I wasn't particularly surprised; the company had been struggling and the economy had started to spiral downward. My boss told me that he had held on to me as long as he could, and he was sorry to see me go. Although it's never a pleasant experience to lose your job, it at least happened to me at a good time. I was just in time to add another class to my schedule for spring quarter, and over the summer I was able to participate in a research project that I would not have otherwise. However, I was worried that I would have to take another administrative job that would not utilize all of my abilities, because I was a year away from completing my degree. I applied all over the place, hoping I would be able to get a new job that might be even just a little bit related to LIS. I signed up for all of the iJob listservs, I compulsively trolled Craig's List and the newspaper, and I wrote four different versions of my resume.
Then, towards the end of July, a single notice came through one of the iJobs lists. Corbis was hiring temporary contract Search and Metadata Specialists. I sent in my resume immediately. I thought to myself, this has to be it—I'm perfect for this one. I had industry experience, an almost-finished MLIS degree, and I didn't care that I would be shortly unemployed again as long as I had something useful to do until then. A week later they asked me to come in for an interview, and after a weekend of biting my fingernails, I was told I had gotten the job. I started almost immediately after that, and I could not have been more excited. I got to learn and work with a whole different set of systems, I got to dig around in the back end of a controlled vocabulary, and I got to work with several other people who were graduates of the iSchool. I was determined to get as much experience with these systems and people as I could in the time I had, so I worked my butt off. Apparently someone noticed, because just after the beginning of 2009, I was offered a full time position with the company as a fully-fledged Search and Metadata Specialist. I now get to spend my days cataloging images and rummaging around in a controlled vocabulary. And sometimes, on Fridays, we pull out the Nintendo Wii and play Cooking Mama. I don't think I could have found a better job than the one I am lucky enough to have right now.
Note: Again, I cannot attach the actual database I constructed as it contains confidential information.
© 2009 Elizabeth Bair