DAM Champ: Jenny Benevento

DAM Champ Jenny Benevento currently works as a taxonomist for Etsy, an international online marketplace offering more than 35 million goods for sale. Benevento, who has a has a degree in Library and Information Science, started her own company, Bento Metadata & Content, fresh out of library school to gain the experience necessary to get a full-time job in taxonomy. Read on for more info about how librarians can use their unique skills to find jobs outside academia and how taxonomy is a key part of the modern marketing world.

DAM champ: Someone who supports finding, setting up, or maintaining a digital asset management system (DAM). There is a wide variety in DAM champions, who come from positions in production, creative, management, IT, and marketing.

Jenny Benevento content managementWhere did you get your marketing skills and how do they relate to library?

When I graduated from library school, there weren’t even metadata classes like there are now. I knew I wanted to do taxonomy, but no one had a full-time position for that sort of thing. So my feeling was like okay, if I can’t find a full position for this, I’ll make my own company so that when people need a small project done, I can do it.

Basically, if I wanted to specialize in taxonomy, I had to do a bunch of small projects before I was trustworthy and experienced enough to be hired as a full-time taxonomist.

Maybe this is related, during the Special Libraries Association panel where we met, you mentioned you managed to turn a couple temporary jobs into longer-term work. How did you do that?

First of all, a lot of companies underestimate what they have workwise or how long something will take. I think we all have experienced that. Also, it’s easier to sell to a higher up person when you’re in the job and they see how it becomes bigger and bigger.

To help set expectations, from the beginning of any job, I’m very clear that if we have six months, this is what’s going to get done. I provide a maintenance plan for after that and be clear with the stakeholder who’s going to do all these things when I’m gone and how much work it is.

A project doesn’t end when your consultant or taxonomist leaves. In many other industries, when consultant leaves, the project truly is over. With taxonomy and metadata in general, you have to keep it up and there has to be a person to do that.

Do you think there’s a hesitancy in the librarian world for people to self-promote and did it require you to promote yourself to sort of sell additional services to people?

I don’t think I promote myself; I promote the skills librarians have. Companies need a certain set of skills and it just so happens that those skills are what you get when you get a library degree, but they don’t necessarily put the word library in a job listing.

A lot of librarians wait until someone asks for a librarian or something very specific. Instead of doing that, I look for jobs that have a little bit of overlapping Venn Diagram of skills and then apply to them. And whether I call myself a librarian or not, I focus on what I’m good at doing.

It seems like the jobs are there and the librarians are there with the skills. What do you think is needed to help connect librarians to corporate or non-profit jobs in DAM, marketing, or taxonomy?

A major library skill is coming up with keywords and search. My recommendation is to use those skills and search job listings for keywords of things that you are good at on job sites – not on library job sites – but on general job sites. Look at the full descriptions and see what other things are required. Maybe you won’t get that specific job, but use job ads and look at what skills are clustered together. If there are complementary skills that you don’t have, learn them.

I put maybe 5 terms for what I do in the first paragraph of my LinkedIn profile, like taxonomy, thesaurus, and metadata, just describing my skills in as many keywords as possible. It’s infinitely helped my career. So many people contact me on LinkedIn and if you think about who’s searching LinkedIn, it’s recruiters who don’t necessarily understand metadata or taxonomy. They just search those three terms and they call the first person who comes up. Basically what I’m saying is use your library skills to make yourself SEO-able [ed note: SEO as in search engine optimized].

Great idea – librarians spend all this time learning how to name things and what people call them, so now apply it to your skills and get a good job.

Exactly. I’ve never had the same job title twice. I’ve been a vocabulary editor, a program manager, a user experience architect, a taxonomist, and a content analyst. It was all the same job essentially.

So now you’re working for Etsy. What do you do there? What is it like being a taxonomist at Etsy?

We have about 40 million things online. We’re a marketplace where sellers sell directly to buyers, so we don’t have any products. Our sellers made the products in most cases, so they’re very deep into the craft or art they do, but the people buying may not know anything about it. There is a lot of translating from seller to buyer — everything a seller wants to tell you about a product and what a buyer needs to know to buy it.

As a taxonomist, I work on internal and external projects at Etsy. I developed all of the taxonomy and controlled data for the front-facing website, which didn’t exist before. Internally, I do things like develop taxonomy for the help desk to organize help topics, work on documentation, and other spin-off sites.

You have a very interesting use case with the sellers being so deep into their craft and the buyers at a superficial level. It seems like it could be challenging to match them up.

For our sellers, how something is made is the most important thing about it. If they are knitters, they care about the stitch type or fiber. Most buyers just want a cool looking hat and aren’t looking for a specific stitch type.

So a knitter might be very specific like it’s 80% mohair, hand dyed, hand spun, this kind of wool, such and such type of stitch – but that means nothing to a person who wants to buy a hat and knows nothing about knitting. So yeah, it is just totally different languages about an object.

Taxonomy is clearly one of your passions. How do taxonomy and social content strategy or branding match up? Where do those things overlap?

I think taxonomy is used usually in a content team or sometimes with the user experience pool. It’s interesting because in most large corporations I’ve worked in, or larger organizations in general, there’s not a lot of interaction between copywriters or branding people and taxonomists. It’s really weird because the language you use to describe your site and things on it is exactly your branding.

For example, at Etsy we use pretty casual language. Previously to Etsy, I worked at Sears-Kmart and they would call something footwear but at Etsy, we’re definitely going to call them shoes. Sears-Kmart uses old-school department store names for things and Etsy, we have a really fun voice. I think how you talk about things and what terms you use for things you’re categorizing is a real expression of your brand.

As a taxonomist, if a company brings you in to help with branding or messaging, what is the deliverable for that?

I typically give them a critique of the current organizational system on their site and offer three levels of service. At the base level, I provide a critique, you do what you want with it. Top level, I give you this critique and I do all the work for you. Then middle level is somewhere in between that, like I give you a critique, maybe you work on it…we come back, I give you more feedback.

It’s really however much handholding that organization needs. Handholding can sound dismissive, but in some cases it’s really helpful for an outsider to do something for you fully. In other cases, you know your organization so it’s more helpful for you to do that.

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