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Career Story: Bibliographic Database Designer

Bibliographic Database Designer

Job Title: Bibliographic Database Designer

Type of Company: I work for an electronic publisher who combines different print and electronic titles into a range of products for schools, libraries, hospitals, and corporate information services. The databases we produce are available by subscription. Most of our customers access our products through their library, school or business.

Education: BS, Animal Science and Psychology •• MLS, with special interest in electronic information storage and retrieval

Previous Experience: As a graduate student in library school I worked in a national library on a training program for searching their resources. From there I worked briefly as a Reference Librarian. I spent over 10 years working for publishers making their titles available online and on CD.

Job Tasks: I spend a lot of my day solving interesting problems. I do some analysis of different forms of data. Some of it comes in .xml, or on a spreadsheet, or in a file with tags for each row. I need to make sure different incoming data is mapped to a standard format, so it can be combined into one seamless product. That's the part of my job I do mostly on my own. I write technical specs, which are the rules for handling the data. This can take several hours or several days, depending on the project.

The rest of my time I am consulting with programmers (who follow the directions in my spec), quality analysts (who check that the result is what we asked for), and product managers (who decide if what we ended up with matches what they wanted to bring to market). Together we come up with something that pleases most of us most of the time. From beginning to end a project can take from 6 weeks to 6 months.

Best and Worst Parts of the Job: The best parts of my job are when the product first comes up online in a test build. That's where I get to see my design implemented by the programmers. And I get to search for different terms and sort the results in different ways. It's like watching a document turn from a two-dimensional sheet of paper into an interactive game.

The worst part of my job is being asked to produce something too quickly. You can do something well or do something fast. But you can't always do both together.

Job Tips: When doing research for a paper or project, pay attention to what kind of material you get from different resources. Learning how to find what you need, or why you failed to find what you need, is excellent preparation for designing information systems.

Try to figure out what information you really need to answer the question at hand. In libraries, this is called the "reference interview." What people ask doesn't always capture the problem they want to solve.

Librarian skills are just as valuable outside a library as inside of one. Think outside the stereotypes.

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