Robin Camille Davis
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Hello from Raleigh! My new job as User Experience Librarian

December 02, 2019
Tags: library, NC, ux

Robin smiling and pointing at an NC State University sign

In June of this year, I moved from Brooklyn, NY, to Raleigh, NC, with my husband (just married!) and started a new job at NC State University Libraries as User Experience Librarian.

The new gig

I describe my job as a combo of UX design and user research. Having been at State for six months now, I’m part of multiple ongoing projects, including creating a web style guide, holding Tiny Café events for quick usability testing, wireframing Drupal content types, and rethinking how some emails from the Libraries look and read. I’m on the Ask Us desk for two hours per week; this involves more tech and policy questions than reference. I do some web development in my role, like creating a subsite for projects or fixing tiny things here or there, but there are more experienced developers in my department who do this more often and much better.

I work in the libraries’ User Experience department, which (a) exists, which, wow!; (b) has six (6! VI!) people in it; and (c) is on the org chart under the umbrella of student success, aligned with access and learning. Some UX department projects spring from internal motivation, and many are collaborations with other departments. NC State University Libraries has over 200 employees (?!), so there’s a lot going on. My head is still spinning!

I’m thrilled about all of it. Let me tell you how I got here.

My first job in an academic library

Since graduating with my MLIS in 2012 until this year, I was the Emerging Technologies & Online Learning Librarian at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY. I wrote about the transition from student to librarian in November 2012.

John Jay, and CUNY as a whole, is a wonderful place to be a librarian. There’s a real emphasis there on mentorship, collegiality, solidarity, and scholarship, and sometimes I can’t believe how much I grew and changed professionally over the course of seven years. Being on a smaller staff had its challenges, but it also meant taking on many fulfilling roles and getting to know the library inside and out.

My big projects at John Jay included leading the migration of the library website to Drupal and continuing to maintain it; leading iterative design updates of the site, corroborated by usability research and analytics; and implementing online learning projects, like the embedded librarian program. Beyond what was listed in the job description, my role evolved to include student outreach (for which I created a really fun Escape the Library game), as well as a good dose of teaching and reference. Most of this work was highly collaborative, though limited by resources and the time of librarians asked to continue doing the work of a full-time staff that used to be about 50% larger. At times, things felt either woefully or wonderfully bootstrapped.

Time for a change

So much in this first job was surprising to me: that I would really love teaching (after actively avoiding the instruction classes in my MLIS program), that I wouldn’t really love working on research data management problems, and that I would enjoy giving presentations and leading workshops much more than writing articles. (This last point was a bit problematic, since all full-time librarians at CUNY are on the tenure track.) I was surprised by the librarian I was becoming.

After seven years, I felt it was time for a change. The main impetus was, at first, the desire to leave New York City, but as I started poking around job listings, I began to recognize that my career would benefit from a different experience. I wanted to see what it was like working for a larger organization, somewhere where I didn’t have to wear a dozen hats but could really focus on the part of my work that I loved: user experience. So when the User Experience Librarian position popped up from a place I’d long admired, NC State, I applied like all get-out.

My husband Max was a big supporter of this change in my career. We both fell in love with Raleigh when we visited in February. So when the job offer came in, we jumped at the chance for a change.

Robin and Max smiling in front of fall foliage

Max and me at Umstead State Park in Raleigh, where the fall foliage this year was incredible. Six months into living in North Carolina, we love it and have shamelessly embarked on a campaign to get all of our NYC friends to move down here.

What a perfect first week on the job looks like

Getting to know a large organization like NC State is such a challenge. The workplace culture transition was jarring, especially in terms of how people schedule each other for meetings. But I had a wonderful first week on the job, which has set the tone for every week since:

  • I had email and calendar access well before my first day — not that I was doing work before I started, but it was great to skim through staff listserv emails to see what was going on, and not to have to use my personal email until my staff one was set up
  • My calendar was full of invitations to coffee and lunch with people I would likely be collaborating with.
    • They treated me every time, such generosity! Everyone said it was tradition, since we almost all know what it’s like to move someplace and start work and not know when exactly we’d be paid. I’ve been happy to pass this on already to colleagues newer than me!
    • Hearing “we’re glad you’re here” went a long way to making me feel welcome
  • A formatted laptop with software that I’d requested was waiting for me on my desk
  • My colleagues compiled a list of tasks they requested that I do as though I were participating in a usability test. This was such a great way for them to take advantage of my fresh eyes, and for me to learn about the systems at work and contribute useful feedback.

Most of this was arranged by my supervisor, Josh Boyer, and I very much credit him with arranging a warm welcome to a new job.

What am I working on now?

Eight wireframes with sticky notes stuck to the wall

Paper prototyping that users made in a participatory design activity

I’m knee-deep in a lot of collaborative user research projects. My department is working on a style guide (hurrah!). I’m personally pushing myself to do more writing, including on this dusty little blog. And I’m looking ahead to focusing on accessible, inclusive UX design and web content.

Cards sorted into piles called Hobbies, Technology, and Analytical Thinking Cards sorted into piles called Showcasing, Entertainment with Education, Workshops/Educational, and Technology

Card-sorting with students: how would they categorize our events, workshops, and exhibits?

I’m grateful for where my career in librarianship has led me, and I’m so excited for what 2020 holds!