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
Can you tell us a little bit about your background, your current position and how you got into the field of visual resources?
I started working in Smith College’s Hillyer Art Library while I was an undergraduate student. I was taking studio art classes and art history courses in addition to majoring in East Asian Studies and Japanese. I didn’t work with the visual resource materials then – but I became familiar with them via proximity and osmosis. After college, I had a summer job as a creative intern at an advertising agency, after which I completed my final undergraduate semester in the Kansas City Art Institute’s painting department, graduating in January.
I stayed in Kansas City because – while at KCAI – I started working as a cataloging assistant in the library across the street – at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. I added artist monographs published in Chinese, Japanese, and Korean to a MARC records database using a (now totally outdated) CJK character keyboard for a couple of years, and by then was addicted to art books and visual resource materials. I also realized that my voracity for art and art-related books and media would always be unsustainable on an artist’s income – unless I worked in art museums and/or visual resource libraries! So, a few years later when I moved to Austin, Texas, I did freelance artwork painting murals, drawing portraits, and digitally painting over video for animated shorts and feature films (a process called rotoscoping) by day, and supervised students at the University of Texas at Austin’s Fine Arts Library on nights and weekends.
After nearly a decade at UT, I was invited to create (research, implement, and populate) an image DAMS for an architecture and engineering firm. There, I became the solo visual resource curator for a 500-person company with a 100+ year image history. They had 80,000+ images on slides, film, and CDs and had never had an image database, nor any cataloging or retention standards. I worked there for eight years. When I left, all 500 employees had access to the images they needed for everything from their own photos and presentations to 3-D collaborative-project files, and the image database had its own dedicated server with 24/7 access via VPN from anywhere in the world.
What is your favorite part about your work? Can you describe any project(s) you’re currently working on?
My favorite part of my work is being able to look at pictures of the made-and-built environment (architects talk about the “built environment” a lot, but I would include anything handmade or person-made: art, design, and architecture) and to be able to provide access to that image information – so that it may inspire or instruct the people who are making and/or working with those files.
Right now, I am not working with images for work. I am doing part-time freelance consulting for an attorney, organizing email and documents until I can find a new role in visual resources. I currently only work with images on my own, in my art studio. Even though I am not currently doing what I love most, everything I have learned about metadata tagging, file formats, and database management still applies. And because I am so visual (and pretty ADHD, too), it does help my brain to think of the court filings, meeting notes, and email files as bricks that are needed to make a sculpture or a building – like pieces of some other kind of made-and-build environment.
What does a typical work day look like for you?
Freelance/Consulting life is not my ideal, and my schedule depends on the day of the week, but usually my time is structured around three constants: class at the gym in the mornings (4x per week), evenings with my family (really just my husband and cat), and the community college courses I take on the weekends (2x per week – currently a Japanese refresher course). I do my consulting work in the afternoons in 3-4 hour stretches when the attorney is available. Mornings at the beginning of the week I am likely to be searching job search websites for work, and later in the week, I am applying for the jobs I found on Monday or Tuesday. Some days, I just draw or paint, but usually when I get started that extends into the evenings, several days in a row – and it lessens when I am worried about money.
What were some challenges you came across when you first started out in the field of visual resources?
My early choice to pursue studio art rather than an MIS or MLIS has limited the type of positions to which I can apply. Without an advanced library degree, promotions within the university library – or even adequate cost-of-living pay increases – were nonexistent.
Moving from academic and art-museum work to a role at an architecture firm was one way I was able to circumvent a master’s degree. However, I discovered that thinking like a marketer, graphic/UX designer, or “brand ambassador” is infinitely more compelling to my bosses than adhering to academic standards of information management – at least in corporate settings. I missed the rationale, rigor, and plain good sense of academic libraries.
What skills do you use for your job that you didn’t learn while in school?
Nearly all of my job skills were learned at work. I did take a Photoshop class early-on in college, but aside from my Japanese language skills (only used briefly while I worked as a cataloging assistant), everything has been learned outside of the classroom. I learned LC Classification in my college work-study job, the basics of photography in order to document my own artwork, and I created and managed graphics and small databases in the UT Fine Arts Library. Working on animated films allowed me to be comfortable processing large numbers of digital image files, and how to prepare for data loss and disaster recovery, lol (i.e. “autosave”).
Looking back, what accomplishments are you most proud of?
I’m proud of the DAMS I chose and implemented for the architecture firm, and all of the updates I made to it over the course of several years. In various iterations, I was able to add or port-over several new image collections quickly, all while making sure the software was seamlessly compatible with other commonly used software applications. I worked with the DAMS developers and local I.T. staff to tailor it to the needs of users with disparate and ever-changing needs pretty successfully. I even made the architectural engineering teams happy – and the engineers were notoriously difficult to please. please. And I’m proud that I have been able to remain close to the things that inspire me – art, books, pictures – and still (mostly) make a living.
What is one thing in the visual resources field that you think is lacking or missing?
A clearer career path for individuals who do not work in academia, and don’t have advanced degrees.
What is something that most excites you about the field of visual resources.
Visual resources as a field has a LOT of potential. There is a high demand for VR professionals – and I only see it increasing – so, it is time we learn how to promote ourselves and each other better!
Where else do you seek professional development opportunities other than VRA?
Indeed, LinkedIn, LinkedIn user groups related to specific DAMS software, digital asset management, knowledge management, Twitter, at least one Facebook group, and Jasmine Burns’ VRA Job Digest emails!
What other professional organizations are you a part of?
I think this question is probably satisfied mostly by the answer above. There is one independent group I belong to, but I don’t know if it is national, regional, or just local. It’s a list serve called “Breaking Library Silos”, and it’s a bunch of professional librarians and archivists who have let me eavesdrop on their strategizing get-togethers.
Do you have any words of advice or wisdom for emerging professionals and students in this field?
Being a renaissance-person will someday be back in vogue – but for now, it isn’t. Get your masters’ degree.
What are some of your favorite things outside of work? What are some of your hobbies?
I love going to art galleries and museums, and painting portraits and landscapes. I love doing this weird form of exercise called Kettlebell Sport. It is a kind of endurance weightlifting that was made popular by Russian strong-men in the 1980s and after. Now women – especially women in North America and Europe – have kind of taken it over and have made it popular here. But not popular enough to be an Olympic sport; I don’t think it will ever be popular enough to be an Olympic sport (which is fine with me, because I’ll never be great at it. It’s just fun and makes me feel strong and healthy).
Reach out to Holly at 📧firstname.lastname@example.org
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!