This month’s featured alum is Eric Childress! Eric graduated from UNCG with his MLS in 1987 and currently works for OCLC as a Consulting Project Manager in OCLC Research. (To learn what that entails, keep reading!) And, if you’re interested in hearing more of what Eric has to say about his work at OCLC, you’re in luck! On Feb 22, Eric will be the guest speaker for the Spring 2011 UNCG University Libraries/LIS Lecture entitled “OCLC Research: Shared Issues, Collaborative Work for Libraries and Beyond.” So if you’re in the area, come on out and hear a great speaker, meet current students, visit with professors and UNCG librarians, and maybe even see a few alumni!
1. What year did you graduate from the UNCG LIS program?
1987 (M.L.S.). I also completed my B.A. (Geography) at UNCG.
2. Had you worked in other areas before entering library school?
Most of my non-library work was the usual student stuff – factory job, retail clerk, restaurant work, etc. I did have library experience though. I was a student worker in the Cataloging Dept. of Jackson doing retro-con work while an undergraduate at UNCG. Shortly after graduating I joined the Jackson Serials Dept. full-time as a check-in clerk, and then I eventually transferred to the Cataloging Dept. and supervised the student workers doing physical processing of cataloged materials. I felt very fortunate to be able to gain experience working at an excellent academic library, and I applied the knowledge gained in my graduate studies. My graduate studies also made me a more knowledgeable worker. It amounted to in essence having lab on a daily basis (my work) with classroom and/or reading/writing every evening — a tiring, but very rich and immersive way to learn.
3. What was your first library job?
My first professional post was as the Special Materials Cataloger at Elon University (then Elon College). It was a wonderful first position. I did AV cataloging, reference, and a host of misc. duties (as is typical for professional staff at a small to mid-size library). The director at the time, Al Jones, was very supportive of my interest in being active in ALA, and by the time I left Elon, I was a far more knowledgeable, widely-experienced, and better networked professional because of Elon’s supportive environment than I think is typical of the experience of many new professionals in their first post. I remain very grateful to Elon for the opportunities I was given.
4. What do you remember most about your time in the UNCG LIS program?
It was interesting to work at Jackson Library and also be a graduate student using the library for my own studies, seeing services anew from a patron’s vantage. I attended the LIS program part-time so I perhaps did not have quite the same experience as full-time students. Professors like Kieth Wright, Bea Kovacs, and inimitable Sangster Parrot stand out in my memory as engaged teachers. It was also different to be one of the few males and one of the few students to be primarily interested in academic librarianship when most of my classmates were female and primarily interested in school or public librarianship. I have fond memories of many of my classmates, and I appreciated the full-timers always including me in social events.
5. What is your current position and what does it entail?
I work in OCLC Research, an applied research group that pursues OCLC’s public purpose by undertaking the exploration of important issues, new standards, and emerging technology for OCLC’s member institutions. My job is not easy to describe in a few words. I do a variety of logistical activities that support OCLC Research’s work including doing project management and also liaison work with other parts of OCLC and external agencies. I participate as a metadata subject matter expert on selected research projects. And I am sometimes tasked to assist with business analysis (the Vice President of OCLC Research is also OCLC’s Chief Strategist).
On a daily basis I do a variety of “red-tape” activities (including working with OCLC Legal) to support the operational aspects of OCLC Research projects, and I often work with external researchers to secure OCLC data for their projects. In a given month I’m likely to things like work out a complex itinerary for an upcoming visit by a library director or researcher, participate in “what if” scenarios/brain-storming for research and/or product strategy analysis and be tapped for some metadata systems/standards work.
I also do some OCLC-related travel and presentations from time-to-time. And these can be almost anywhere as OCLC has offices in 10 countries and members in 170. In 2010, for example, I gave presentations and/or attended meetings in the U.S., Canada, Sweden, and Costa Rica. To date I’ve represented OCLC in face-to-face meetings in more than a dozen countries in Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas.
6. Do you have any projects going on that you’re particularly excited about?
All the OCLC Research projects I work on are engaging – after all, they are by definition exploring something new. That said, one does have particular favorites. Two projects that stand out for me are VIAF (Virtual International Authority File) and FAST (Faceted Application of Subject Terminology). Both of these projects have provided the opportunity to work with world-class experts at OCLC and other agencies, primarily national libraries. I’ve also enjoyed my association with the Dublin Core Metadata Initiative, an independent, international metadata standards group that had its beginnings as an activity sponsored by OCLC Research. I am part of the Twitter editorial team for @dublincore and have become increasingly adept at conveying information in 140 characters or less.
7. How do you feel the profession has changed since you graduated from UNCG?
When I completed my degree in the late 80’s, the profession was still strongly focused on delivering physical-media-based information to users onsite in the library. That was very appropriate in an era when digital resources were really just emerging and personal computers and the Internet were still essentially nascent technologies. It was possible to anticipate some of the coming changes a digital world would bring, but not fully. For example, e-journals and e-books seemed sure bets, but I don’t think the impact of the social web and mobile devices were properly anticipated by many. If there’s a broad, profession-has-changed thread I would note, I think it may be the role of leveraging the past to predict the future. Up till the 90s, we could rely on the past to in some measure help us project long-term needs. Now, the profession is having to adjust to operating in a series of briefer planning-and-execution periods and making the shift to become less focused on what the library has (i.e. what’s in the onsite collection) and more on what the library can offer (i.e. services). We live in interesting times.
8. Anything else you’d like to say to the UNCG Alumni:
I have warm memories of UNCG, and I always enjoy meeting fellow UNCG alums. If you happen to be at a conference or other event with me, please take a moment to say, “Hello.”