Thursday, November 30, 2017

Interview Post: Jen Brown


Jen Brown; my full name is Jennifer, but I usually shorten it because I always feel like it’s three syllables too long. ¯\_()_/¯

Current job?
I’m the Emerging Technologies Coordinator at Columbia University Libraries.

How long have you been in the field?
Four years, if you count my assistantship work at the University of Michigan (which I definitely do).

How Do You Work?

What is your office/workspace like?
Living and working in New York City has given me an interesting perspective on space (in short: we never have enough of it); to get your own office, even in the libraries here, isn’t the norm.

So I treat mine like my home away from home. As you can see, I’ve splashed the walls with artwork from my favorite comics, pictures of my family, memorable conference swag (my #PoCLibrariansAtWork and #BlackLivesMatter ribbons comfort me at eye level every day); I also display a watercolor painting I purchased from Monireh, an artist I met while strolling through the Villa Borghese gardens in Rome earlier this year. I put it up to keep a piece of my recent travels with me, and to remind myself that I’m privileged to be able to see the world and support aspiring artists near and far. This is nice because that’s pretty much my life goal -- to make and support art wherever I am! Alongside all that, I’ve got spur of the moment art purchases up too, like a selection of Georgia O’Keefe postcards; buttons and pins; stickers and totes; signed posters from some of my favorite comic book writers; you name it.

Though all of this probably sounds like A Lot™, I see my office as a site of both resistance and reflection; a place where I get to challenge the professional norms that say you can’t bring your full self, or outside passions, into the workplace.

How do you organize your days?
So I recently started using the Pomodoro Technique, which has been very helpful for structuring my time and getting the most out of my day. This also lets me focus intently on work for a burst, then refresh with bite-sized breathers in between.

In general though, mornings are for catching up and prioritizing; midday is for digging into large projects that need sustained amounts of my time and attention; late afternoons are for exploring, researching, or investigating new technologies.

I try to stick to this format as much as possible, but of course there are plenty of days where this plan goes completely off the rails!

What do you spend most of your time doing?
Recently, big picture thinking. Columbia Libraries just underwent a large-scale strategic planning process, which saw (among many changes) me re-organized into a brand new division called Digital Scholarship. Since transitioning, I’ve spent a lot of time brainstorming ways to reimagine technological support, services, and programs in broader, interdisciplinary contexts.

I also spend a fair amount of my time thinking about instruction and outreach, which happen to be my favorite parts of this job.

What is a typical day like for you?
It’s really hard to pin down a “typical” day, but lately it’s been a mish mash of handling email, scheduling consults with students interested in our microcontrollers (like the Arduino and Raspberry Pi) and virtual reality devices, delivering or planning for library workshops, working on grant-funded projects, and attending lots of meetings.

What are you reading right now?
SO. MANY. THINGS. I just started The Stone Sky by N. K. Jemisin, and I’m rotating that book with Crooked Kingdom for (somewhat) lighter reading. In the short fiction realm, I’m also reading Fireside Magazine (just finished the October issue and, hot diggity, was it good) and Fiyah: Magazine of Black Speculative Fiction.

What's the best professional advice you've ever received?
Two things:
  1. Find your people; it would be much harder to stay in this profession if I hadn’t connected with so many fantastic librarians of color through formal and informal networks. (POC libs, if you’re reading this check out We Here to connect with other POCs in closed group settings).
  2. Set aside time every day/other day for learning something new. It’s like setting up your own mini professional development goals, and could inspire whole new areas of inquiry. I try to do this as often as possible, and it’s really rewarding to catch up on the latest instruction or tech literature. Also, our time is valuable and we deserve taking time to better ourselves.

What have you found yourself doing at work that you never expected?
Never thought I’d be working on large, grant-funded projects; it’s been interesting so far. 

Inside the Library Studio

What is your favorite word?

What is your least favorite word?
Moist. *shivers*

What profession other than your own would you love to attempt?
I would love to be a graphic designer! Spending my day pouring over typography options, color palette ideas, and layouts sounds heavenly.

What profession would you never want to attempt?
Beekeeper. If you know me, you know I’m terrified of bees (and wasps or anything else that buzzes and stings), so I literally don’t know how those people do a job where the creature you are trying to care for or protect just jabs a part of its body into you because it doesn’t understand that you’re trying to help it.

I have mad respect for beekeepers though.

Everything Else

What superpower do you wish you had?
Teleportation would make my life so much easier. Second choice would just be outright flying.

What are you most proud of in your career?
Maybe this is a cop out, but I’m really proud that I’m still chugging. [Editor's Note: Note a cop out.] This is my first role out of library school, so impostor syndrome was a huge thing to overcome early on. I’m happy to say that every day, I feel more and more like I deserve to be here.

If you're willing to share, tell about a mistake you made on the job.
Early on in my position, I was asked to lead an internal professional development initiative to promote skills training among myself and other colleagues. I felt pretty in over my head and struggled to thoughtfully structure the experience. What helped, though, was acknowledging that I was in over my head; I actively sought feedback from my colleagues and asked them for suggestions on how to make the experience better. That meant being humble and embracing my mistakes.

When you aren't at work, what are you likely doing?
Often, I’m writing. I spend a lot of time working on short story drafts and novel outlines. I’m also one of those people who gets lost down internet rabbit holes like the cat videos section of YouTube :).

Who else would you like to see answer these questions?
I would LOVE to see the ever wonderful and dope likes of Rebecca Martin at Harvard and Nicholae Cline at IU Bloomington answer these questions!

Jennifer tweets at @jeninthelib.

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