Thursday, July 14, 2016

Interview Post: Emily Thompson



Emily Thompson

Current job?

Studio Librarian at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga

How long have you been in the field?

Almost 5 years.

How Do You Work?

What is your office/workspace like?

I have a desk that wraps around to a table. If I need to focus, I can turn to the desk and face my bulletin board. If I’m feeling tired or stressed, I can put my laptop on the table and look out on the big tree next to the University Center.

How do you organize your days?
My job entails desk shifts, instruction, and individual appointments; so every day is a little different. I try to spend a few minutes in the morning figuring out where I have to be and at what time. Then I can see which hours are free to work on projects or research.

What do you spend most of your time doing?
I spend most of my time teaching students how to make videos and other multimedia. It might be in a class or 1-on-1 or answering questions at the Studio Desk.

What is a typical day like for you?
People have typical days? There’s usually a combination of Studio desk shifts, 1-on-1 appointments, and classes. All of them involve helping students with various media projects, so my brain keeps the Adobe Suite on constant rotation.

My favorite days are when I actually get to see the finished projects that the students have been working on. The head of Sculpture (Lauren Ruth, MFA) lets me be a guest critic in the Performance Art class for the assignment I help them with, and it’s my favorite two days of the spring semester.

What are you reading right now?
I somehow keep grabbing books without finishing them, so I have two going right now: Salamander  by Thomas Wharton and  The Tokyo Zodiac Murders by Soji Shimada.

What's the best professional advice you've ever received?
“You cannot control other people.” Betty Burton told me this back in my first career as a costume designer. I also once had an Esoteric Buddhist Master tell me that I should stop dwelling on old thoughts because they’re like old gum. And like old gum, I should spit them out.

What have you found yourself doing at work that you never expected?
We always talk about how dynamic librarianship is, but I didn’t expect to end up in a position that requires so much constant learning. Every single day a student will get one of our software programs into a new knot, and we have to help them untangle it. Either that or a professor will ask, “Hey, so could you maybe teach my students X?” and we figure out how to do it. I am never bored.

That and fixing a 3D printer. Those things are evil, but my life would be much worse if I couldn’t fix it myself.

Inside the Library Studio

What is your favorite word?
Gah! Jaleh Fazelian already said “defenestrate.”

I used to live in Taipei, Taiwan and my favorite expression was O-bu-okay. In Chinese, the word “bu” basically means “not,” and it gets inserted between two of the same verb to basically add an “or not” to the end. For example, “Yao-bu-yao?” is “Do you want it or not?” So they’ve taken the english word OK and added their own grammar. “O-bu-okay” is literally “OK or not OK?” and they run it all together with a delightful lilt.

What is your least favorite word?
I don’t have a word that bugs me. I feel like all of them have their place, but should be used carefully.

What profession other than your own would you love to attempt?
I wish I knew how to be a really good carpenter. I like patterns and puzzles and I would love to be able to apply that to wood.

What profession would you never want to attempt?
I am the least detail-oriented librarian you’ll ever meet, so anything that involves data entry. I always have to do everything three times to make sure I haven’t missed or added anything by mistake.

Everything Else

What superpower do you wish you had?
Teleportation. I’ve moved around so much that I don’t get to see all my favorite people nearly often enough. If I could teleport, I would be able to have coffee with whomever I want without the travel time.

What are you most proud of in your career?
I’m really proud of the network I’ve built. I genuinely like to meet new people and I try to keep them in a mental file cabinet. Then I can introduce them to each other and spread the network further. The Aquarius-Pisces cusp in me wants everyone to be successful and I like connecting the people who can help each other.

If you're willing to share, tell about a mistake you made on the job.
I have a lot invested in being “fine.” Most of my big mistakes revolve around being fine to the point of breaking and then exploding. I’m very grateful to be in a position that will occasionally tell me “no.”

For a more specific example, while I was trying to build out my position at my previous job I tended to be a bit over-enthusiastic as to what I could handle. My “Sure, I can teach your students how to make videos.” was interpreted as “Awesome, we don’t have to learn this thing that’s now required for all 900 of our seniors. We can just send them over to the library.” It required not one but two interventions from the library director explaining that if it’s required of everyone in your department, the department may have to support it. It taught me to ask more questions, say no, and be assertive in reminding colleagues that I’m only one person.

When you aren't at work, what are you likely doing?
I’m really a homebody. I tend to be at my house working on some sort of fiber project (knitting, cross-stitch, or sewing clothes) while my cat cries at me to let her go outside. (She’s not allowed outside.)

Who else would you like to see answer these questions?
I would love to hear what Meg Hixon has to say, although I worry she’ll get stuck on the superhero question.

Emily tweets at @librarianofdoom. This is actually her third post for Letters to a Young Librarian. Previous posts: "Pushy Polite" and "The Seven Phases Related to Building My Job from Scratch."

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