You’re all out there doing such interesting work, and the VR community is a small one, so let’s get to know each other better! If you’d be willing to spend 30-45 minutes talking to me via Gchat or Skype (video or non-video), or if you’d like to fill out a Member Profile Questionnaire, please get in touch with me at email@example.com
Susan Jane Williams
Can you tell us a little bit about your background, your current position and how you got into the field of visual resources?
I can’t say I particularly planned for this career. I earned a BFA and spent some years as an artist and later a commercial illustrator. I earned an MA in Art History and rather fell into visual resources work at that point. (Back in the day an Art History MA was totally sufficient; this has changed). I worked for RIT and Yale; that phase was 14 years total. I had the opportunity to begin working freelance, consulting and cataloging, and have done that now for 14 years, so half my working career.
What is your favorite part of your work? Can you describe any project(s) you’re currently working on?
In the earlier years of freelancing, I did a good bit of consulting and travel. Now my business is almost completely cataloging, or data cleanup and remediation on a project basis. I have worked on a few historic special collections, artist archives, and faculty collections; I have worked for all the major image vendors (directly or indirectly).
What does a typical work day look like for you?
My schedule in my “electronic cottage” is completely flexible, which is both good and bad. I have found that rather than be always available, it is good to try to keep to a M-F, 9 to 5 model. That said, I frequently get customer support requests on Sundays, which tells me that is when my customers find time to email (!) so I try to respond to those. Scheduling on a project basis can be a “feast or famine” proposition; I even that out with steady part-time but on-going work for Archivision.
What were some challenges you came across when you first started out in the field of visual resources?
I first started in VR in 1990; we printed slide labels via a mainframe computer! The stroke of luck is that this system at RIT was one of the computer installations done by Luraine Tansey herself, and she was a joy to meet and to know. I did begin to tinker with creating databases for the first time at RIT (ditching the mainframe), and I did work with relatively early digital imaging, multimedia projects on CDs, running a creative lab, campus photo system etc. I did in many ways create my own job (which was very broad and unusual), and the path to doing that at RIT was to pick up tech skills–fortunately this was something I found I enjoyed and for which I had an aptitude. This is what later made me attractive to Yale, when they looked for someone with digital experience.
What skills do you use for your job that you didn’t learn while in school?
As Mark Twain said, don’t let your schooling get in the way of your education. I like being a jack-of-all-trades, a generalist and a widget maker. That is not necessarily a recipe for traditional success; so many career ladders crest with administrative positions. Personally, I don’t feel an interest in, nor a talent for, administration, although I functioned well enough as a supervisor/department head. I knew this would ultimately limit me in academe, but looking back I would not change it. My schooling gave me the ability to be an adjunct instructor in Art History (which I did at RIT) but other than that…..
Looking back, what accomplishments are you most proud of?
I won the DeLaurier Award in 2007 for developing the database VCat. VCat was, as far as I know, the first database capable of VRA Core 4 XML export. Because of that, I was able to help support other tool developers by giving out testbed Core 4 XML data, and I began work with the DSC and Core 4 support committees (now CaMS). I might note that VCat (first released in 2005) also properly supported vocabs and refids out of the gate.
What is one thing in the visual resources field that you think is lacking or missing?
Thirty years ago, in the analog age, the raison d’etre of VRA was clear, and we were all doing similar things in our jobs. That is no longer the case–there is a much broader array of job settings, descriptions, and skills. That can be an opportunity, but a new “center of gravity” needs to be defined for VRA. In general, I think we need to be discovering and developing (and publishing) primary, not secondary, visual materials.
What is something that most excites you about the field of visual resources?
The development of the semantic web and the use of RDF, LOD, and IIIF. I had been somewhat skeptical about that coming to fruition but recently became aware that (d’oh!) those things have huge commercial applications too, so I do think that will become part of our workaday world.
Where else do you seek professional development opportunities other than VRA?
As I have one foot in retirement, I am no longer doing this, although I will say that if I were younger, I would take programming classes.
What other professional organizations are you a part of?
In the past, I have been part of (or attended) CAA, MCN, and ARLIS (both NA and UK and Ireland). I think the choice of these will align with someone’s specific job or desired career path. I would recommend, if possible, trying to attend at least one conference in a foreign country to get some really new perspectives.
Do you have any words of advice or wisdom for emerging professionals and students in this field?
Approach any job with energy and creativity; you may be able to craft that job in surprising and fulfilling ways. That latitude or flexibility is not always found at the larger schools, companies or museums, so consider that trade-off: happiness matters.
What are some of your favorite things outside of work? What are some of your hobbies?
Gardening (native plants), making art (botanical illustration), vacuuming cubic feet of Corgi hair (but they are worth it).
Reach out to Susan at 📧firstname.lastname@example.org or 👋 meet her at VRA 2019 in Los Angeles!
Feeling a bit overwhelmed or suffering from imposter syndrome in the Visual Resources field? Sign up to be a mentee in the VRA’s Year-round Mentorship Program! Learn more: http://vraweb.org/opportunities/mentorship/ or connect with other VREPS on Slack!