iSchool Alumna Champions Information Accessibility in her Life and Career
“While I didn’t know everything, I was comforted by absolute theories, facts, laws: things that may or may not be refuted at a later time as it is with all types of information and content.”
Tess (Teresita) McCarthy
MLIS Graduate 2012
San Francisco, CA
MLIS graduate Tess McCarthy uses skills learned at the San José State University School of Information to foster information accessibility in her work, her art and her life.
SJSU School of Information alumna Tess McCarthy (MLIS, ’12) found her way towards a career in the information field and the iSchool by way of a desire to get information that wasn’t accessible to her. “I was teaching myself how to write and draw comics as a kid,” she says, “and the encyclopedia set only took me so far. I skateboarded up to my library and the reference librarian got two books on making comics for me.” This basic interaction between library patron and librarian proved to be anything but basic for McCarthy, who studied to be an elementary teacher in Colorado in her undergraduate program later on. She had been an information seeker—and sharer—all her life. After a visit to a career counselor when she moved back to California, her path forward became clearer. “Once she found out I was a non-fiction junkie,” McCarthy recalls, “she said ‘stop right there, you need to do library work.’ I don’t care if you’re at an information booth in the airport or a reference desk down the road. You need to do this work.’” Research into MLIS programs across the country eventually landed McCarthy at SJSU, where she truly discovered her place in the field. The iSchool’s plethora of career pathways and unique courses gave McCarthy a whole world of information skills to discover.
A diagnosis of breast cancer just before McCarthy began at SJSU threatened to upend her education. “I am so glad [SJSU’s program] was online,” she says, “because I had to go through treatment. I also got help from SJSU’s Disability Resource Center.” After her active treatment was completed, she fell more in love with archives—with the storage of history and the lives people and information have lived. McCarthy also began delving into extracurricular activities for SJSU and the information field. “I did comics for The Descriptor, [SJSU's retired ALA chapter magazine] called “Libraries of the Future,” she enthuses, “and so far, I have taught two workshops on comic book making and one workshop on making zines.” One of McCarthy’s comics is featured at the end of this article
Climbing Ever Higher
“In school,” McCarthy says, “I became more interested in being open to the flexibility of working in many different industries, as long as I was making information accessible. That was my only ‘goal’ in my career.” So, McCarthy chose to take an assorted load of classes in online searching, metadata, cataloging, archives and more. In school, she was introduced to writings of academic Carol Kuhlthau, discussing information-seeking behavior, which McCarthy found to be especially relevant to her because of her education background. “A lot of information literacy is centered around how users learn. Oftentimes, they need scaffolding from information professionals,” says McCarthy, “just like they would from teachers. This helped form my philosophy on how I operate in information management.” With the focus on the user as learner in mind, McCarthy began tailoring her courses so that they would net her the skills to understand ISP (Information Search Process) and how users access information. These skills and this philosophy paid off. McCarthy has worked for Google, The Hoover Institution and Chevron in various positions related to metadata research, archives processing, DAM and information management.
Today, McCarthy (pictured right) works at the San Francisco International Airport (SFO) for a consulting firm as a digital archivist and information management consultant performing document control duties. Says McCarthy, “I help the Terminal 1 Redevelopment Program at SFO manage the design and build process with the project management support services team.” She organizes everything from contracts, architectural drawings, construction photos to reports. “Almost any live document that is generated, down to presentations and email correspondence” McCarthy notes, “I am using my skill set to do it all.” She also has chances to teach while working on this monumental project. “Just the other day I showed the field engineering team how to do filtered searches,” she says. “It was exciting for me because the way the interface worked was super easy to me and I could explain it to them.” McCarthy revels in the chances she gets to disseminate information, providing access to information on a one to one level.
• Keep yourself open to careers and jobs you thought you’d never visit.
• Know yourself. Really know what makes you happy.
• Be a life-long learner.
• Be curious and always problem solve.
• Know what your passions are because ONE job can’t meet all of those needs.
• Master the art of interpersonal communications.
• Know how to ‘sell’ your ideas to contribute to an organization.
• Know how to elevator pitch yourself when networking.
• Keep your circle intimate and wide by staying in contact with those you network with:
o Think of your LinkedIn profile as a living, breathing resume.
o Actively participate in meet-ups hosted by professionals and organizations.
o Engage students and alumni through classes and social media.
As for McCarthy’s future, she is a big supporter of the famed twenty-year career plan, though she knows how much life can affect such things. “We should always endeavor to have growing career plans,” she says. “As we grow older in the work place we not only have to plan six months, one year and three to five years out, but really examine the twenty-year plan.” Within McCarthy’s twenty-year plan, she hopes to master information management, learn big data, machine learning, obtain her certified archivist certificate and, have a real successful career where she leads a team on projects like the T1 program. “My vision into ‘old ladyhood,’ McCarthy says, “is awesome. I will live somewhere in a community that shares property and resources. I’ll end up having my own consulting firm down the line. Also, I will get to write, make comics and publish books and poetry year after year.” She continues, “I also get to volunteer at an information booth. The twenty-year plan includes the opportunity to teach workshops on how to make comics the old-fashioned way. I don’t think I’ll ever give up writing and comics. Maybe I’ll become a director at a comics museum/library/archive, who knows?”