Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Awesome Alumni Interview Series: Catherine

This week's alumni interview is with Catherine Odson. Currently, Catherine is the courseware support librarian at the University of Pennsylvania. She graduated from Drexel with an MS(LIS) in March 2011 and was president/co-chair of SCALA from June 2010 to March 2011.

While at Drexel, Catherine completed internships with the research and instructional services and courseware support departments at the University of Pennsylvania's Van Pelt Library.

Before library school, Catherine was a children's department and circulation clerk volunteer at her hometown public library. Her past jobs include newspaper reporter, substitute teacher, and youth tennis instructor.

What is your current job? I am the courseware support librarian at the University of Pennsylvania. Most of my time is spent providing end-user support and instructional design support for Blackboard and other courseware systems. I also help lead our social media efforts, provide reference services, work on our website, and occasionally help out with library instruction.

How did you find your job? I had a number of internships at the Penn Libraries during grad school, and a position opened up a few weeks before I graduated. I was extremely lucky and spared most of the job search.

What does your typical day look like? Is this what you expected when you took the job? I have two kinds of typical days. At the beginning of each semester, my days are completely packed with day-to-day-type activities, such as answering support questions and helping instructors create their course sites. The rest of the year, I’ll start my day with those same day-to-day tasks and catch up on email. After that, I’m able to tackle some projects, such as writing or updating Blackboard how-to documents, revising a workshop script, preparing for an instructional session, or planning our social media calendar. I appreciate both the breakneck pace of the busy days and the more project-driven style the rest of the year offers. This job gives me the opportunity to have both. I was already working with the courseware team as an intern, so I had very few surprises when I started full-time.

What do you enjoy most about your job? Thinking about using technology in innovative ways to improve student learning and helping faculty discover ways they can do this in their courses.

What are some of the common misconceptions about your job/your area of librarianship? There’s a misconception that libraries are in panic mode and making drastic changes to stay relevant. The reality for many libraries is evolution, not revolution. We are continuously working to better position ourselves to support teaching, learning and research on campus.

What was the most valuable thing that you did or learned while in library school? Most valuable experience: SCALA. Most valuable class: INFO 608 Human-Computer Interaction.

If you are reading this blog, you likely understand the value of being involved in professional associations. SCALA was the best fit for me; find your niche, whether that’s a student group or a local association, and start getting involved now.

INFO 608 will change how you live your life. You will find yourself analyzing doors, grocery store layouts, web services, always thinking about how a different design would make something more or less intuitive. Much of the reading applies to both digital and physical environments, and you will find a way to apply the concepts in your library or information organization.

What inspired you to choose this career? I got into libraries because I wanted to work with books. I originally wanted to be a children’s librarian. After I started my internship at Penn, I realized that an academic setting was a much better fit for me.

What do you wish you had learned more about? I wish I had taken more digital libraries and systems classes, both because they would support the work I am doing now and because they would have given me a stronger foundation in the technologies that are both the present and future of libraries. I’ve worked in both academic and public libraries, and it’s harder to get the maximum value out of classes that review a lot of what you may have learned on the job (for me, INFO 651 Academic Library Service in my last quarter really drove this point home). Challenge yourself to think about the profession more broadly, and find classes that will help as libraries continue to grow.

Any tips for current students? Grad school is what you make of it. You won’t learn everything you need to learn in class, and sometimes you have to make classes work for you and go beyond the required readings to get something out of it. It’s called the easy way out for a reason, but think bigger and get the most out of every class.

You need to be getting library (or archives or knowledge management and so on) experience while you are in school. The job market is tough, and even if you have an arsenal of valuable skills (accounting, development, communications, customer service), little substitutes for the word “library” (or archives or knowledge management and so on) on your resume. Making time for internships or part-time jobs is going to let you see how the theory you learn in class is actually applied (or ignored) in the real world. It also will help you focus your career goals.

Finally, get involved. It’s networking, it’s learning, it’s professionally developing, and it’s good for you!

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