This is an interview with Tawny Sverdlin, Director of UX & Content Strategy at Rosemont College outside Philadelphia, done by Naomi House of INALJ. This is part of INALJ’s 2020 series on non-library jobs for library workers.
On UX & Content Strategy Work :
an Interview with Tawny Sverdlin
Q1: Thanks so much for taking the time to help us better understand both what UX and Content Strategy 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 (or your educational background) and what you do?
I was always interested in research, computers, reading, and writing. Originally, I studied English literature and creative writing, alongside gender studies and music. These proved to be subjects that didn’t lend themselves to a job after college – quelle surprise. At the urging of my mother (a library worker) and a need to get a more practical career, I attended SJSU in a hybrid format, partially in-person courses at Cal State Fullerton and also online.
More recently, I studied front-end web development through CodeAcademy and UC Berkeley – Extension. Currently, I am about halfway through a UX Design certificate program at University of the Arts. I’ve found that the relationship between visual and written elements is so very important, and have been more interested in design rather than writing content lately.
In my current job as the Director of UX and Content Strategy at Rosemont College, I manage our website and everything that goes onto it. In 2019, I led a major refresh project of the site, which included a new homepage design, new UX/UI, revised information architecture, improved SEO, and revamped written content. I’m not an engineer, but I’m the point person for technical projects.
Q2: Now can you tell us how You personally got into doing this type of work?
Yep. Shortly after starting my MLIS program, I got a paraprofessional job at the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising in downtown LA. So, it seemed my library career was set up pretty well at the start. However, the market crashed right when I finished library school, and things got much more difficult for everyone.
I found myself in a new city and jobless, after leaving FIDM about six months earlier. Nobody wanted to hire a fresh graduate, and especially not in libraries. The old guard was not retiring, and who could blame them? After a lot of trial and error, I discovered that my writing and technology abilities lent themselves well to digital marketing.
I helped a technology company organize, add metadata, and publish videos and I was really good at it. It was very similar to my library work! I also started writing PR releases, blogs, and freelancing on all types of communications projects. Search engine optimization also came naturally to me as a librarian, because it focuses on web accessibility and the psychology of web users. I continued doing this kind of job and my resume got stronger – after about ten years I’m very secure in my field.
Eventually the market caught up with my job description and I had a job title that made sense: “Content Strategist”. This new combination of communication, SEO, technology, and UX skills was now much more in demand as companies realized that Google needed quality content in order to rank a website.
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?
UX and content strategy are fields that suit the skills and interests of LIS students. We are interested in the democracy of information and technology, and tend to value effective communication. I think there is a lot of empathy in both traditional library work and in these fields, as well as a need for analytical thinking and organization.
Q4: What is the best way to get your foot in the door or your first UX job? And your first content strategy job?
Learn a little bit of coding, at least basic HTML and CSS. It is so helpful. Courses in taxonomies are incredibly relevant, and library programs usually have them in their curriculum. Internships are helpful, but I don’t think it is essential. Finding an entry-level job is usually obtainable as long as you can write and operate a computer. Look for job titles that include “Content Specialist”, “Content Writer”, “E-Commerce Manager”, and “Content Associate”.
I am still learning UX design, all my previous positions have been a blend of UX principles and content strategy. I am currently building my UX portfolio so I may eventually land a UX job that doesn’t also include SEO or writing. So, stay tuned. My title is Director of UX but I am still learning and I work as a department of one.
Q5: Finally what are some of the most important skills / certifications / etc that LIS folk can do to prepare them? Any last tips?
Look for continuing education programs at local universities. They are designed for adult students, and most people work and attend classes in the evening or online. Any program or class that focuses on web development, professional writing, UX design, or technical writing is helpful. In my field, it’s never ok to stop learning, so these kinds of programs should be enjoyable if you want to get ahead. One bonus of being a library type is that school tends to be a happy place, and this means that professional development comes easy.
I am an experience designer who specializes in words and aesthetic interfaces, I believe language and visual elements should provide natural paths forward. Not strictly art or science, building intuitive products is a balanced combination of both. With a background in writing and library science, I now apply my skills to technology and digital marketing. I currently work for a small liberal arts college outside Philadelphia, but am originally from Southern California.
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.