Newsletter of the Association of Library and Information Science Students (ALISS)




 title of the newsletter: The Silverfish


March 2004

Vol VIII Issue III

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University of Washington
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Distance MLIS Student Professionals:
An Interview with J.R. Jenkins

By Sarah Bosarge, MLIS Distance
Author’s note: This is the first in a series of interviews with distance MLIS students who are already working as library or information science professionals.

JR Jenkins is one of a few distance students who actually calls the Seattle area home. A native of Detroit, he and his family now live in West Seattle. Jenkins was working as a project manager for a software development company when he started the dMLIS program in August 2002. In December, he secured a position with Serials Solutions, a Seattle-based company that provides e-journal management solutions for libraries. He answered the following questions about this position and how the dMLIS program has impacted his career.

Silverfish: Tell me about your current position – what you do and what projects you are working on.

J.J.: Since December 2003 I’ve been a Product Manager at Serials Solutions (a company founded by a UW Reference Librarian). I’ve been charged with managing the development of a federated search engine as well as aiding the development of the company’s software development process and internal network architecture. The job entails writing a lot of specifications, both software and hardware, and developing end user requirements. Down the road it will involve working the clientele directly and working various conferences (ALA, PLA, etc.) to help promote, demo, and sell the applications.

I love the projects I’m working on – [they’re] incredibly diverse and technical in nature, and I’ve been able to contribute to the company’s overall well being very quickly. The fact that I’m working in the library software industry is just a huge plus. It’s very cool that there are four people with the MLIS degree already working there (two from the UW) and soon to be five!

Silverfish: Since you’re still in school, have you noticed a relationship between your coursework and your professional roles?

J.J.: My employer has allowed me to take Friday mornings off to attend LIS 544 (Information Retrieval, a.k.a. Search Engines) and the class has been incredible. We’ve benefited from some guest speakers. Most recently a Program Manager at MSN Search came in and shared an incredible amount of information about the triumphs and travails of the team – the kind of information and access you can rarely get in the “real world.”

Silverfish: How else have your experiences in the dMLIS program contributed to your current career goals?

J.J.: I went to the iSchool for two major reasons: First, to meet people in the field (to network), and second, I was really interested in databases and information retrieval. Therefore, I have really tried to meet as many people as possible and have spent the bulk of my elective credits in the 540s, and less so, the 530s. However the introduction of the “information lifecycle” and exposure to so many library practices really expanded my ability to see what we are trying to accomplish with databases and search engines.

My experience at the iSchool was so profound that after the first quarter I quit a full-time job to go to school full-time and work as a Research Assistant within the department. It was a gamble on a lot of levels (leaving a good salary and benefits) but I was confident (somewhat!) that what I would learn would pay off down the line. Getting to work day-to-day in the iSchool Research Commons was a heady experience and I just immersed myself in all the great work going on around me. The faculty of the iSchool is really “world-class” as are the bulk of the research projects. It was a very empowering experience.

Silverfish: What advice do you have for current students who are interested in positions such as yours?

J.J.: To be an effective Project/Product Manager, soft skills are very important. However, after the “dot-bomb” I found that boasting soft skills won’t help you land a job. After all, most people think they are “good with people.” The iSchool experience let me really drill down into databases, search engines, classification schemes, and information theory. I even wrote quite a bit of XML, XSLT, and bit of C# and, while I’m hardly a software developer, I have an entirely new understanding of what is happening behind the interface. This is of great value to me day to day as I write functional specifications or design UIs.

Add this to soft skills and a clear understanding of project management theory (which is a study unto itself) and I think it’s a very strong combination.

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