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  • Mindy Carner

Commiseration to Inspiration: Bringing Solo Information Professionals Together to Share Tactics

My first role outside of library school was a solo role. I was the Taxonomy and Search Specialist for an international development organization and at times it felt like I was the only person in the building who knew what the word taxonomy meant (This was not the case, they had video archivists as well as knowledge managers with whom I would collaborate when I could – but it still felt that way at times). And I have never since quite felt that experience of being "an island" so strong as I did while managing that digital media taxonomy.

At another time in my career, I was helping set up the corporate archive for a national restaurant chain and as part of my support, I was the acting archivist who was applying metadata from the custom schema to digital artifacts as well as the digital surrogates of physical artifacts. I had to decide where content lived in the taxonomy, I had sole discretion over adjusting the schema when a new content type was found, and I was even arranging physical artifacts on shelves in the archive. It was a thrilling opportunity and experience to be a corporate archivist, but it was also rife with uncertainty, imposter syndrome, and frequent bouts of feeling completely overwhelmed.

The Pitfalls of Working Alone

There can be so many woes when one is a solo information manager. For one, and an obvious one, is that you don’t have anyone to bounce your ideas off of. Attending conferences is seen by many solo information managers as a chance to commune amongst their own, to hear others speak their language, to engage in a very singular group therapy. All of this because in their day-to-day, they do not have the benefit of a team working alongside them.

Another less obvious pitfall is growth. There is a vicious cycle associated with budgets. If you are able to get your work done month over month, year over year, then the budgetary committee believes that you are sufficient people to do the work. But fall behind without (losing a lot of time to) documenting exactly what valuable tasks you are spending your time doing, and you have to account for the fact that the system is falling behind despite your long hours and stress. Bottom line is, in order to get additional support, solo info managers often have to bear the burden of proving how much work is associated with the task, on top of all of the work that they’re already doing just to try to keep the ship afloat.

But being a “lone arranger” is not all struggle and strife. Of course, there is the freedom associated with making all (most) of the decisions, not having any distractions, not having to decide what to delegate or having to proof a subordinate’s work. You know exactly what is going on with your system because you set it up, and you manage the flow of content through it. But even as a lone arranger, I bet you have already begun to find ways to notbe making all of the decisions, like organizing a governance committee to help decide how to grow the metadata schema and to help decide the scope of assets to be included in the system over time (but it is still nice to feel like you get to make some final calls).

How a "Lone arranger" Can Feel Immersed and Inspired

One the of best ways that I know of to get that “I only get this at a conference” experience more than once a year is to actively seek out your peers. The funny thing is that they’re all around you. Sitting in office spaces only blocks away, probably bemoaning their own solo plight. Most major cities have meet-ups dedicated to information professionals, whether it be a taxonomy-dedicated meetup, or one for digital archivists, digital asset managers, data librarians, you name it, there are peers out there doing what you’re doing, and probably feeling just as insecure about it as you are. Actually, that is one of the key success factors for so many conference attendees, realizing that they’re “not the only one who” … fill in the blank with whatever major roadblock to success.

If you’re not having any luck finding meet ups in your area, consider organizing one. Everyone loves an initiative-taker and there is no better way to expand your network. You will have the opportunity for direct one-on-one contact with all of the people interested in joining your meetups and will be seen by all of them as a leader. I know that the word leadercan be intimidating. Bear in mind though, that it is not the same as expert. You don’t need to be an expert to be a leader, to be an initiative-taker. Don’t let it stop you if you feel like you’re the one trying to learnfrom your peers, helping to initiate, and then immersing yourself in the conversation will do so much for you and everyone who attends the meetup and all will benefit and be grateful for the local group.

Beyond these options, I have heard a lot of people who work alone talk about how to get together to share ideas. They hold lunches so that they can regularly meet with their peers. And in cases of extreme isolation or distribution, will hold regular conference calls just to hear the voice and words of a person who knows where they're coming from.

For folks in the New York area, I am excited to announce that for information professionals specifically in the Digital Asset Management realm, you may look no further than the "Lone Arrangers" panel on May 2nd at the Henry Stewart Digital Asset Management conference.

I am thoroughly excited about this session. We're going to go a little astray of the traditional panel format and make use of the ever-innovative collective intelligenceof the audience to surface many and diverse strategies and tactics that they employ to manage a "lifeblood of the organization" system as a solo artist. Knowing this, I hope you will come prepared to share your best strategies and talk amongst your peers (as I know you are starved to do).

Our panelists come from different organizations in quite diverse industries, and so will have run into a number of the many possible roadblocks to success such as budgetary constraints, disinterested stakeholders, lack of true executive sponsorship and more. One panelist, Brigette Supernova holds the distinct title of Digital Asset Manager, archivist – working with Smith College, who houses their publicly available history – as well asContent Producer at Planned Parenthood and has researched, curated, licensed, organized, created, and managed multimedia content for brand success. She is deep in the weeds of solo DAM. Another panelist, Lori Baluta from Discovery, Inc., acts as the system administrator for Discovery's stills DAM and operates as SME, trainer, developer liaison and governance committee and is working with recently-acquired Scripps Networks International to merge all image assets into a single DAM. And a third panelist, Thomas Kiedrowski, is the DAM manager and metadata specialist for MAC Cosmetics. His company is part of an enterprise DAM roll-out encompassing numerous brands. He has the fun, if immense, job of tackling metadata application and asset migration for thousands of current and legacy assets from across MAC and the globe while conforming to a multi-brand, enterprise-wide organizational structure and metadata schema.

As you can see, between our panelists we cover a range of industries as well as the gamut of tasks and activities – and struggles – associated with managing the DAM, and now remember that they’re all doing it alone! We are so excited to discuss being a lone arranger not just amongst the panelists, but with YOU! We want to make the most of the minds that will be in the room, as even with the diversity we will have on our panel, there are always more experiences to gain from. Join us on May 02, 2:40pm at the Henry Stewart Digital Asset Management Conference so that we can truly commiserate, commune and share our experience and make the most out of that sweet, brief moment of being around so many of ‘our own’. And in the meantime, join the conversation on twitter and LinkedIn with the hashtag #DAMNY.

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