This is an interview with Fallon Zschiegner-Bleich, GIS Analyst II with the Benton County Assessor’s Office, done by Naomi House of INALJ. This is part of INALJ’s 2020 series on non-library jobs for library workers.
On GIS (Geographic Information System) Work :
an Interview with Fallon Zschiegner-Bleich
Q1: Thanks so much for taking the time to help us better understand what GIS work is and how LIS folk can get into this field. First could you tell us a little bit about yourself, where you got your MLIS and what you do?
My name is Fallon Zschiegner-Bleich and I got my MLIS with a specialization in digital libraries through Rutgers online program in 2013. I’ve worked with the county for 13 years (in August) and I worked part time with my local public library for 6 years before finally having to quit due to family illness. I’ve also volunteered and help set up the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art Library, so I’ve had a lot of varied and fun library experiences.
Q2: Now can you tell us how You personally got into doing this type of work?
I honestly sort of stumbled into this field. I work with the county Assessor and started off working with the real estate side of things. A lot of that uses GIS from a consumer side, meaning I had no real experience with any of the databases or the programs or anything. I decided to get my MLIS in 2010 and while I tried to get a librarian job, it just wasn’t happening. Meanwhile, a position opened up in the GIS department and at that point, I had had some basic SQL and database classes; they decided to give me a shot from there. And ever since, I’ve just slowly worked my way up through the ranks.
Q3: What makes this a great field for LIS workers and likewise, what do you think makes LIS workers strong candidates for hiring managers in this field?
I think that there are 2 major reasons that LIS workers can and should thrive in this field.
- The first being that many of us understand and generate metatags and databases on a daily basis. We just might not be aware of it. While there is a learning curve to understanding some of the aspects of using the GIS programs that are out there, the majority of the data that you deal with is in database form. You have to understand how to set them up, how to use them, and the importance of maintaining and filling out all of the attributes of a particular “field”. Librarians understand cataloguing, we understand databases, and we understand the importance of accurate information.
- The 2nd reason I think LIS workers would be a good match is that many of us have some sort of coding experience in our education or our pasts. A lot of my ability to write any type of Python expression or script is because of my LIS education at Rutgers. Sure, I took specific classes to gain that understanding, but there is an aspect of librarianship that I personally see in many of the librarians that I know: We’re always open to learn. It’s why when we work the reference desk, we may not know the answer to someone’s question, but we definitely will look it up and learn it! The same applies with GIS. There is so much that I just have to learn on the fly some days and it’s really great to have that drive to want to find out the answer. So, really, I guess there were 3 reasons why we’re awesome for GIS. 🙂
Q4: What is the best way to get your foot in the door or your first GIS job?
Be willing to start at the bottom. You won’t be an analyst from the get go. You will have to do a lot of grunt tech work, which means staring at the screen until your eyes cross. It will mean cussing out the computer some days. But honestly, if you’re wanting to take this on, definitely stress that database work in an interview. Talk about your ability to work with multiple formats, your past work with maintaining databases and any python or SQL work you may have had. These are all important keywords to mention.
Q5: Finally what are some of the most important skills / certifications / etc that LIS folk can do to prepare them? Any last tips?
There is a lot of freeware out there; the most important being QGIS. It is structured differently than ArcGIS which is what many institutions use, but it is a great tool to play with to get started. If you can, for some reason, get a free license to use ArcGis, then Esri has SO many videos for free that can help you learn the basics. Definitely play around with any of those that you can. And there are a ton of GIS Graduate Certificate programs out there, many of which are entirely online. I’ve thought many times of going back and getting mine, just to help me learn more skills. I don’t think it’s necessarily something you have to have, but it definitely wouldn’t hurt if you have the time and money to get the graduate certificate. Also, if you’re already in school and can gain that extra knowledge, take some classes in GIS! See if it’s something you would like. Get that free school license on that program!
Fallon Zschiegner-Bleich is a GIS Analyst II with the Benton County Assessor’s Office in Benton County, Arkansas. She loves her animals, fiance, and living out in the woods, where it’s nice and quiet for reading and crafting. Fallon has been an ALA Emerging Leader, on multiple YALSA committees, and is currently serving on the Literacy Council of Benton County as a board member. She can be contacted for any questions or just fun conversation via her email at Fallon.Bleich at gmail.com.
Views expressed are those of the interviewee and not INALJ or their employer. Photo provided by the interviewee and permission granted to use it for this interview.