Director of Collections at the Virginia Holocaust Museum.
How long have you been in the field?
I’ve been in the profession since 1995.
How Do You Work?
What is your office/workspace like?
My position oversees the archives, library, and exhibits, so I wind up working throughout the museum. My office is in the library section of the collections department overlooking our reading room. This is where I do both administrative work and all the server-side digital preservation work for the video, audio, and photographic collections.
How do you organize your days?
I tend to work through my day based on a floating priority list. As the primary reference person, I attempt to field as many of the incoming questions as possible. This means I’m often pushing information to people outside the organization or digging for something for our staff. The bulk of our internal work is project based, so what we might be doing at any given time depends on the deadline. I tend to stagger my workload between physical and mental tasks to keep from getting bored.
What do you spend most of your time doing?
I spend the majority of my time fielding requests for information during the academic year and teaching during the summer.
What is a typical day like for you?
It depends entirely on what projects are on my calendar. Since we are an embedded collection within an institution, our work is shaped by the needs of the organization. What often happens is that Monday and Tuesday are spent working through piles of information requests from the weekend while long and short-term projects become the focus of more work as the week progresses. Collection development and processing take place constantly and serve as a nice diversion throughout the week.
What are you reading right now?
The Gate to Women’s Country by Sheri Tepper, Lafayette in the Somewhat United States by Sarah Vowell, Golden Harvest by Jan Tomasz Gross, and Black Earth: the Holocaust as History and Warning by Timothy Snyder.
What's the best professional advice you've ever received?
It’s not one thing that I’ve been told but rather a collection of things I learned from having a couple of fantastic mentors. I worked with a reference librarian early on in my career – Anita White-Carter – who is incredibly gifted. As a graduate student, I always went to her when I was struggling with a question or some part of a process; she’s really the reason I took the route I did professionally. The second was a professor from grad school – Jim Carmichael – who stressed us weekly with research questions that grew progressively more complex throughout the semesters. His tactic worked well as it gave me a framework for how to think about answering questions (any questions!) even if you have no background in the subject.
What have you found yourself doing at work that you never expected?
Working with mannequins. Not the sort of thing most librarians would ever have to know I imagine.
Inside the Library Studio
What is your favorite word?
What is your least favorite word?
What is your favorite curse word?
What profession other than your own would you love to attempt?
What profession would you never want to attempt?
What superpower do you wish you had?
Teleportation, especially if it comes with blue skin and a prehensile tail.
What are you most proud of in your career?
Not eating my young -- I say that flippantly but this profession can have a toxic bent I didn’t expect when I was coming out of grad school, so I’m most proud of serving as a mentor to young librarians and archivists. I think paying back to a profession that has given me a talent for research a purpose beyond writing unread academic articles is likely the most praiseworthy thing I’ve done.
If you're willing to share, tell about a mistake you made on the job.
I’ve made them all. It doesn’t matter what realm we’re discussing – collection development, customer service, material processing, reference services – I’ve fumbled in a variety of ways both minor and spectacular over the years. I have no intention of stopping.
When you aren't at work, what are you likely doing?
It could be anything but I tend to get the most enjoyment out of reading, drumming, hiking, traveling, cooking, and long, rambling conversations. I also have an affinity for pie and whiskey.
Who else would you like to see answer these questions?
I’d love to see how Anita White-Carter and Jim Carmichael would answer these.
Tim tweets at @geistweg.
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