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Alumni Q&A: Taylor Hixson, a librarian in the Middle East

Taylor Hixson

Alumni: Taylor Hixson (’14)

Position: Librarian for Geospatial Services at New York University Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates

What does your current job entail? As the Librarian for Geospatial Services at NYUAD, my primary focus is to make sure library patrons and the campus community are able to access and use the geospatial software, data, and resources they need to do coursework or research. I work with faculty to incorporate geographic information–from desktop and web GIS (geographic information system) to physical maps and spatial datasets–into courses. I assist students who are using GIS in courses and capstone research. I also do a lot of drop-in workshops that introduce attendees to geospatial data, tools, and research. I work in a small library, so I have shared library responsibilities, too, such as reference shifts and general library programs.

What job/internships did you hold before this one? Before coming to NYUAD, I held a similar role as the Resident Librarian for Geographic Information Systems at the University of Chicago Library. While I was at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, I had quite a few jobs and internships that helped me get that first job. One role I think helped me stand out when I was applying for jobs after grad school was my internship through the Virtual Student Federal Serviceprogram with the U.S. Department of State Humanitarian Information Unit’s MapGive program. I also did another U.S. Department of State project led by professor Bharat Mehra, and was the graduate research assistant at Pendergrass Library during my second year at the School of Information Sciences.

What excites you most about your job and your field? I really enjoy how interdisciplinary it is! I like that I can teach the same GIS tools to two courses in different disciplines, and it’s exciting to see how they may use these same tools and maps for entirely different types of research. There is a huge amount of data waiting to be created (or recreated) from static maps sitting in map cases! It’s exciting when someone I work with wants to take a map and digitize it to learn about, or reinterpret, how cartographers of the past understood or represented their environment.

Did you always anticipate international travel/living for a job, and did that play any part in choosing your focus area? I’d always hoped for it! I worked abroad for a year before attending SIS, and international librarianship was always a goal for me. Once I started working with geospatial information, I never imagined being able to do both geospatial and international librarianship at the same time! The role I have now is truly unique, and I feel very lucky to have the opportunity to do exactly what I want to be doing as a recent graduate.

What is it like working and living in the United Arab Emirates? The UAE is a really modern, comfortable, and safe place to live. It’s nothing like what most people who have never been to this part of the world may imagine the Middle East or [Persian] Gulf is like. I enjoy getting to work and live in such a diverse place.

What would you say to a student who is interested in Information Sciences as to why they should pursue that degree? Information sciences is more than books! An information sciences degree is incredibly versatile beyond libraries. Some information professionals take for granted their ability to access, comprehend, and organize relevant and reliable information, when in fact this is an incredibly valuable skill that many lack.

What misconceptions do people who are not in the field have about Information Sciences, and how do you explain what you do to them? People usually think I read books all day. I typically try to say that, while I don’t read books all day, I won’t get fired for deciding to take an entire workday or longer to learn a new skill or how to use new software. In fact, it’s encouraged! Everything I do in my job is to try to make people’s lives easier when it comes to getting the information they need to do their jobs, research, or coursework, so it’s important to me to spend a lot of time keeping up with trends and tools. However, that still doesn’t mean I get to sit in my office reading the latest best sellers.

Do you have specific goals for your career–if so, how do you plan to achieve those goals? When I set my career goals, they were to be doing exactly what I am doing now. I think for now I’m just trying to enjoy all that I’ve achieved in my career so far. Of course, one day I’d love to become the Librarian of Congress.