Sara Mooney has managed to combine a love of theater with her LIS skills in a highly unusual job, with a highly innovative organization. She managed to follow her own interests while also doing a great job of creating business value wherever she went. Her comments about her job and her eclectic career path:
What is your current position or professional role?
Technical Documentalist for Cirque du Soleil
How long have you been doing this work?
Approximately 2 ½ years although I’ve been with Cirque for eight years.
What career path led you to this work?
I had a very varied path to get here. I studied communications as an undergraduate, concentrating in corporate media but also had a theatre minor. Upon graduating with my B.A., I realized that theatre and media jobs were going to be hard to come by, so I packed up and moved to Florida where I studied show production and touring for 18 months. From there, I obtained a job at Walt Disney World as a stage technician. It was a great experience because I had the opportunity to try a bit of all aspects of stage work: audio, automation, lighting, props, pyrotechnics, maintenance, inventory, and ordering.
Since theatre shows tend to come with very little documentation, I found a niche in creating spare parts lists, updating paperwork and plots, keeping a library of manuals, etc. This led me to document the Voyage of the Little Mermaid show’s lighting refresh while I was there, culminating in a “bible” and CD with all the information needed to keep the show as the designer intended it. I had a blast on that project!
But, as often happens in jobs, soon I was back to regular stage work and finding myself no longer challenged. I took a job down the street at Cirque du Soleil’s La Nouba as a followspot operator, and after six months I still found myself unchallenged. I did some searching, talking to friends, and skills inventories to find that I’d really like to be in library work. I began volunteering at the local public library approximately 5-10 hours a week, and was then offered a part-time page job. In the mornings I worked at the library, and in the evenings I worked in the theatre (is this the opposite of moonlighting?). Fast-forward a few years: The librarians convinced me to get my MLIS. I applied and was accepted into my top two schools.
After starting my MLIS at Florida State University in August 2007 – at the speedy pace of one class a semester – I decided to update my employment profile with Cirque. Around Christmas of 2007, I received a phone call inquiring if I would be interested in discussing a contract position doing documentation for a new show. Three months later, my home was boxed up and shipped to Las Vegas where I began my full-time career as information professional with Viva Elvis.
Even though I do full-time LIS work, I found it helpful to still volunteer on Saturdays at the local public library. It helped me to see the parallels between corporate LIS-work and traditional library work. Having both experiences gave me a unique view in some of my MLIS classes and a perspective not often found in grad school.
What do you like most about your work?
I love the digitizing and digital media aspects of my work. I also enjoyed the taxonomy and creating the controlled vocabulary for the show’s structure and elements. I also really enjoyed the initial research of the project, either in the existing electronic document management system or otherwise.
That no matter how hard I tried, I cannot obtain every critical piece of information needed to keep the show’s technical information at 100%. As with all knowledge management initiatives, you can only gather the information that the content specialists are willing to divulge.
The fact that information can quickly become outdated. Designers often change their minds. Project managers make daily changes on the type of materials used. The equipment is modified so that it requires less maintenance. All those things get documented. Change is the only constant!
The need to do hard copy documentation in triplicate so that the information can be stored in various locations as back-ups and in case of emergency.
What do you see as the various career paths LIS professionals could follow with this type of skill set?
So many! Digital archives management, metadata specialist, corporate archivist, knowledge management, emerging technologies librarian, digital libraries, content management systems analyst, information architecture, usability specialist, search and semantics specialist…
What personal characteristics do you feel are important for someone doing this work?
Tenacity. Inquisitiveness. The ability to work with a wide range of people and tailor your communication style to their voice and needs. Very strong writing skills. Intermediate computer and networking skills and a basic understanding of file structures and file securities. A very strong sense of humor, especially when things keep changing.
What type of education would best prepare someone for this type of work?
Taxonomy, cataloging, digital libraries, information architecture, usability, management, marketing (yes, learn how to “market” to get the information for the content specialists!), metadata, SharePoint 2007-2010 webinars, search theory and practice, business infomatics (BI).
What advice do you have for someone contemplating a career doing the type of work you do?
Documentation is a Jekyll and Hyde style profession since you’re either seen as the savior (Yay! We have the information we need!) or the devil (Why are we missing this information?). It’s not something you can take personally if the content specialist doesn’t convey the information to you. Ask many, many, many questions about whatever your documenting. People love to talk about their projects, so even a question over lunch or happy hour can provide you the information you need. It’s also good to keep up on current digital archive and knowledge management trends since the field is progressing very quickly.
Anything that, looking back, you wish you’d learned in grad school that you didn’t?
What is needed to build a good corporate library. Most MLIS programs are still centered on public and academic librarianship, tending to glaze over the alternate LIS careers. The need for knowledge management and corporate digital archivists is increasing every year, yet very little is mentioned in higher ed. Also, the study of infomatics. It’s still a new field, but it combines information studies, business practices, algorithms, some economics, and psychology to apply it to systems.
Where can we follow your career?