Climb That Mountain (7)
This post details my short-lived experience as a digitization operator for Memnon Archiving Services, and the beginning of my time as a graduate student worker for IU’s Information and Library Science Department from October 2019 right up before the start of the pandemic in 2020. It also serves as the Prologue to my Bloomington & Sun posts.
I’m finally here.
No more detours. No more side paths.
Something about my experience in Boise left me changed. I felt hardened, single-minded, and determined in ways that I had never felt before in my entire life. Almost immediately after arriving back in Chicago, I jumped in my car, drove 4 hours down to Bloomington, Indiana and scouted out apartments for graduate school. One month later, I was living in my new apartment.
I had never lived alone before or had to pay the full share of bills, but something strange was happening inside of me. As a teenager and young adult, I loved reading books about strategy, psychology, power, and philosophy. Additionally, my time in Boise had provided me with skills, practical experience, and self-confidence. It felt like for the first time, all those lessons, both practical and esoteric, were locking into place like gears in a machine. I had all the right intellectual frameworks and lived experiences to navigate adulthood on my own. Bloomington was a nesting ground full of resources for me to succeed.
I was insanely anxious, but also incredibly excited.
Digitization Process Operator
The first thing I needed to do was to find a new job in Bloomington, preferably within the university. For some reason however, the university is incredibly difficult to get a foothold into. As a result, I settled for a job as a video editor for Memnon Archiving Services, a digitization company that teamed with IU’s libraries to help digitize their degrading analog audio and video materials.
Working as a video editor did not afford me the opportunity to work on IU’s degrading materials, however. Instead, I spent large swaths of time removing copywritten music and titles from early 2000's Ring of Honor videos and performing other quality assurance processes.
Ring of Honor is a professional wrestling promotion from Jacksonville, Florida and a lot of famous wrestlers from WWE and AEW got their start there such as: CM Punk, Daniel Bryan, Seth Rollins, and Samoa Joe. It was serendipitous that just a month before, I would often hang out with my brother-in-law in Boise and watch episodes of WWE and NXT. So, it was fun to edit clips of those same wrestlers in their younger years.
Unfortunately, shortly after working for Memnon, I was furloughed. Twice. Management was having a hard time finding new clients, so there wasn’t enough work to go around. Furthermore, the company was experiencing a lawsuit from other employees looking to unionize due to health concerns from having to work with unsafe chemicals. Seeing the writing on the wall, I chose to exit that company. I’m guessing it was the right call because eventually Memnon’s Bloomington branch laid off over 90 percent of its workers.
Graduate Student Worker
Hurting for cash in January 2020, I came across a part-time job posting for my home department of Information and Library Science. The posting was titled, ‘Receptionist and Assistant to the Chair’, and I couldn’t believe my luck.
This was a position with the university, within my home department where I could learn the ends and outs of academic administration — and develop insanely close relationships to my professors.
My plan was to complete this master’s program, go on to a Ph.D, and work in academia. This was the perfect steppingstone.
I needed to get this position.
After sprucing up my resume and writing a compelling cover letter, I eventually received an email from Kassidy, the Assistant Director of the ILS department. I did not get the Assistant to the Chair position that I originally wanted, but I was offered a position as a graduate student worker. While Kassidy’s initial goal was to have me create multimedia content for the department given my background as a television production assistant, she also expressed great interest in letting students ‘build their own position’ based on their personal interests and career goals. For example, one student worker named Bethany managed the department’s social media and communications platforms while another, Dana, focused-on building student cohesion by planning fun events and managing the different student librarian groups.
Personally, I wasn’t sure how I wanted to contribute to the department. Even though I had a background in creating media, I found myself more interested in communicating useful information and solving deep-rooted organizational issues. At a loss for how to move forward, I did what any sensible, soft-hearted person would do: I started banging on doors and asking questions.
I went around and casually interviewed anyone I could talk to about their experience in the department, and what issues they thought were most pressing. At first, I talked to all of my fellow graduate student coworkers and determined that they were most interested in developing a better way of organizing digital files, and also wanted to have more content for the newsletter. From there, I went around and knocked on the door of any professor with time to talk with me, many of whom voiced a desire to provide more resources to students and to help clarify our identity to other departments within Luddy.
After talking to administrators, professors, grad students, and even some people outside of the department, I collected every single piece of department documentation that I could get my hands on. This included: strategic goals, marketing materials, website information, course histories, past department newsletters, lists of current students and past alumni, accreditation manuals, and even all of the curriculum vitas of the professors in the department. I wanted to obtain as much information about the department and the Luddy School as humanly possible. I wanted to zero in on one pressing, but solvable issue and throw my whole being into making it better.
One of the first things I noticed was our informational materials. They were fairly vague. As a new student to the field of Information Science, most of the content on the website and printed materials had information that did nothing to help me understand what information science was actually about. Furthermore, our marketing materials talked a lot of about its ‘impressive history’ and what kind of student they wanted to see join the program, but they did very little to actually sell themselves to prospective students. If the department was to improve enrollment, they needed to show how they could improve the livelihoods of prospective students lives.
I also went around trying to interview and hang out with administrators and graduate students in other departments. The Luddy School was one full of computer science, engineering, data, and UX students. Very few of them had relationships with people within ILS. Furthermore, most of them had a very antiquated view of what Information and Library Science was about and wondered why it even deserved to be part of a school so focused on modern technology. Building positive relationships outside of the department would only strengthen people’s perception of ILS and plant the seeds for future collaboration. Little by little, I was gaining a better picture of ILS, the Luddy School, and the greater IU ecosystem. I was slowly putting together the pieces to create a unique niche for myself within that ecosystem.
Eventually, I found a way to combine these disparate areas. It dawned on me that I wanted to analyze alumni outcomes in the program and write career related content for the department. Many of the students in the program were young adults struggling to make their undergraduate humanities degrees marketable to employers. Their entry into the Information and Library Science graduate program was a chance for a do-over. One of the pieces of feedback I had received from students, however, was that the department did very little to help students navigate the job search process once they had actually graduated. Therefore, creating career content would allow us to kill multiple birds with one stone by: 1) Providing a useful resource to current students 2) Allow us to reconnect with alumni 3) Provide more engaging content for our newsletter and social media platforms, and 4) Give us an opportunity to connect and engage with other academic and administrative departments in Luddy as we interview them for content.
I would also manage the department’s LinkedIn social media page by posting job openings and career events and publishing written content.
Alongside my work as a graduate student worker, I had started doing Aikido again at the university. I was happy to learn that the IU Aikido Club was still led by my old teachers Nathan Mishler and Dan Speer. Since my departure in 2015, the club had grown large and even included other Luddy graduate students from the Informatics department. We would often eat at restaurants and organize get togethers for martial arts movie nights.
It was great.
After three years of unemployment, lateral career moves, and unexpected detours, I was finally starting graduate school. I also had a job where I could provide genuine value with a team that was young, smart, and nourishing. I was developing close relationships with the academic community, both as a student and as a worker. I was doing incredibly well in my classes. And lastly, I had found a new family in martial arts.
Everything was perfect.
Everything was in its right place.
I just knew that the next two years of my master’s program were going to be the best two years of my entire life.
Until it wasn’t.