Taylor Hixson was the Resident Librarian for Geographic Information Systems at the John Crerar Library at the University of Chicago from August 2016-December 2017. Taylor is currently the Librarian for Geospatial Data Services at New York University Abu Dhabi Library.
Tell me a little bit about your background. Where did you attend college? What degrees do you have? What programs (undergraduate or graduate) prepared you for your current position? Tell me about your position and what you do?
I attended Middle Tennessee State University for undergrad and majored in Journalism with a minor in Global Studies and a minor in American Culture. I learned about data journalism during my undergrad, which is what I think set the foundation for my current work. For my MSIS, I attended UT Knoxville’s School of Information Science, which is where I learned all about geographic information librarianship! I took three courses related to GIS and geographic information plus a class in environmental informatics. I also completed a year-long internship with the US Department of State’s Humanitarian Information Unit through the Virtual Student Federal Service program and worked on a project with a professor and several other students for the State Department’s Diplomacy Lab program.
In my current role, I primarily work with students, faculty, and researchers to identify, organize, utilize, visualize, describe, and archive geospatial data—that data is anything from proprietary datasets and government data to old maps and field collection data. I regularly hold drop-in instruction sessions for GIS and am embedded in a couple classes to teach students how to use GIS to complete coursework.
What caught your interest about the residency that you were a part of?
Having focused so narrowly in geographic information during grad school, the focus on GIS is what caught my interest from the start. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to put to practice what I had learned. Honestly, even though I took GIS classes in grad school, I was not yet very good at using it, let alone teaching others how to use it, so I was not sure if I would be successful in a role that already had a defined geospatial program and more advanced user needs. I thought as a resident I would be able to take the time and training necessary to hone my skills and decide if this was the right career trajectory for me.
Before you became a resident, what were you thinking about doing professionally or academically?
Before becoming a resident, I was also interviewing with government agencies—that was the direction I thought I would go. I never expected to end up staying in an academic environment!
How was the residency or job application process for you?
To me, the job application process was exciting! Because I had an in-demand skill at the time I was applying for jobs, I think I received a lot of interest and positive feedback. Of course, I still heard plenty of no’s and, often times, nothing at all. Something that helped me during the application process was being on an academic search committee myself, where I was able to learn about the other side of the application process, reviewing CVs and cover letters. From my experience on both sides of the process, I think having a well-written, concise cover letter that includes how your skills and motivations align with an institution’s strategic goals is more likely to get a first-round interview with a search committee than a lengthy CV.
Do you have any comments or advice for current residents?
My advice to residents is to prioritize yourself and your professional goals during a residency. A library residency is a multilateral role: residents often pilot or build new programs for institutions, but a library resident is also growing and learning in the profession. While some residencies lead to permanent roles, most do not, so it is completely valid for residents to do all they can during that short time to do what is necessary to meet their goals: apply for all the conference fellowships, negotiate time off for interviews, take part in leadership roles, etc. Being a resident can sometimes feel like being on the bottom of the institutional hierarchy, but I think it’s important for residents to know that they should still feel empowered to speak frankly with supervisors about their goals and expectations during the residency.
How are you becoming or staying involved with the wider profession?
For the past two years, I have been the co-team leader for the RIG New Members and Mentorship Team. I’m also a member of the International Association for Social Science Information Services and Technology and ALA’s Map and Geospatial Information Roundtable. The Western Association of Map Libraries and Geo4Lib Camp are also two communities that I like to follow and engage with. It’s more difficult to stay active and involved being so far away from some of the major organizations in North America, but locally, I’m involved with the Information Literacy Network of the GCC.