True Librarian — Interviews with UWM Libraries Staff: Joe Tomich

Joe Tomich

Joe Tomich. Photo by Christina DeSpears.

Joe Tomich is a cataloger/metadata librarian at the UWM Libraries, and co-chair of a team that oversees content in Alma, the new UW System-wide shared library management system that has improved discovery and searching. His supervisors add these titles to his job description: “life saver, miracle worker, big-picture diagnostician.”

Joe arrived at the UWM Libraries in 2004 as somewhat of a self-taught expert in Voyager, the previous library management system. He holds two degrees from UW-Madison: a BA in political science and an MA in library and information studies. Outside of work, Joe is an ardent fan, he says, of “the whole world of guitars and amps.”

Q: Did you plan on a library graduate degree?

Joe: I thought I would go to law school. But I began to realize that my notion of law and lawyers was being drawn from a narrow, elite group of the best out there, and that what I imagined their lives to be may not bear any real resemblance to the day-to-day practice of law. In hindsight I’ve come to say that being a lawyer was my last rock star fantasy.

Q: Why library school?

Joe: It was a professional master’s degree, akin to what a law degree would have been. In addition to political science, I was also very much into languages and literature as an undergraduate and working in an academic library would allow me to be near that world. There were also other possibilities with the degree, like corporate or law librarianship.

Q: What did you do after earning your MA?

Joe: I got a job at a very small liberal arts college in South Carolina where I was basically head of cataloging. There hadn’t been a person in my position for years, so there was a backlog of things that needed to be done, and I knew if I could do them successfully, it would be really good for my resume. That experience, though only for one year, was priceless.

Q: That’s where you learned Voyager?

Joe: Growing up, I hadn’t been very interested in techy or digital things, but I took some database management and networking classes in graduate school, and the left side of my brain, the logical side, kicked in, so to speak, and hasn’t let go. Voyager had this nice big thick manual that I just started reading over and over until it started to make sense.

Q: At the UWM Libraries, Voyager was replaced by Alma in 2014. How are they different?

Joe: The role of the Shared Content group that I co-chair helps explain. Our group basically oversees the transition from an environment (Voyager) where all the libraries were to a certain degree autonomous, in terms of how they were cataloging and managing things, to a place (Alma) where a lot more cooperation and collaboration, and sometimes directives from above, are part of the equation.

Q: As a cataloger at the UWM Libraries, what has been your most interesting project?

Joe: The most important one–it was transformative for me–was inputting UWM PhD dissertations and Master’s theses that came in one form to us from one vendor, into our then new UWM Digital Commons (provided by a different vendor), which required the files to be in another form. Among my challenges were to learn a powerful processing language called XSLT and to build “data crosswalks” between the two platforms. Since then my data processing and analysis skills and tools have grown by leaps and bounds.

Q: Joe, it is well known around the library that your great passion is the guitar.

Joe: When I was twelve, my dad traded his old acoustic in for a really nice electric guitar, showed me a couple of chords, and I was pretty much hooked. Over the years I’ve developed interests in different styles although I’m more narrowly focused now. I like an amalgamation of blues, classic rock and country and I try to build my own style from those three elements. I am also a fan of vintage vacuum tube audio. In the last two years I have built three guitar amps and a vintage hifi mono audio amp, and I am in the process of building a tube tester that is my own design. To a certain degree, what I have been able to learn and the technical skills I’ve been able to build in my library job have given me the confidence and the impetus to go full bore on my tube audio hobby.