Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Presentation at UB: Non-Traditional Career Paths for Librarians

Today I went to the University at Buffalo (UB) do to a lecture in the School of Informatics as part of a Speaker Series for 2005 -– 2006. My presentation was on "Non-Traditional Career Paths for Librarians." You can view the PowerPoint here (use Slide Show to see all of the content). I was fortunate to have lunch with four students, the Upstate SLA Chapter liaison to the student group at UB, one faculty member, and a member of the external relations team. The presentation was attended by more people than I would have imagined ("sold out") and the dean of the School of Informatics, David Penniman, introduced me.

So why me? I have not had a traditional library career at all. I have consistently intertwined library science with information technology. I've been a corporate librarian in a library that focused on competitive intelligence, worked for a start-up high-tech company, and -- for the last eight years -- had my own business. If you had asked me in library school what I would be doing, I wouldn't have even guessed this, but it is what do and what I enjoy!

What did I talk about?

I started of talking about my career. Here's the two-second overview:
  • Began working in libraries in fifth grade and then continued to work in libraries through my undergraduate degree.

  • Worked in radio (announcer and program/commercial scheduler) for four years. (We all deviate into other careers at some point.) Working in radio was fun, even if it didn'’t pay much. And it taught me a lot about speaking and thinking on my feet.

  • Went to grad school to get my MLS and began working with computers.

  • Worked professionally in IT and then switched to become a corporate librarian doing mostly competitive intelligence (CI).

  • Worked in a combination of IT and library science for a while.

  • Began work in scanning/digitization in 1990 (as part of my corporate library duties).

  • Started Hurst Associates, Ltd. in 1998 and now do both competitive intelligence/business research and digitization planning. (Those two areas are not as dissimilar as you might think.)
Then I talked about the need for libraries to become more interactive and how that could lead to new jobs and also mentioned some of the non-traditional jobs that are available. BTW I mentioned the idea of working for companies that provide products to libraries or companies that provide information products to businesses. We often don't think of working for them, but that'’s a viable option (and they need us).

I mentioned Library 2.0 (L2) and saw a few people taking notes. I like mentioning L2 because it shows that the profession is looking to change. As I said, it is a move to become more interactive, collaborative, and driven by community needs -- and those are all good things. (And you don't have to like the label to like what it about.)

I talked about some of the skills they will need to develop. Unfortunately, some of those skills still are not taught in library school.

At some point, I talked about billable hours and covering expenses, which are important when you run your own business, as well as other business matters.

I mentioned an article in Searcher about resumes, but couldn't remember the title or when it was published. Well, it was in the July/August 2002 issue (which is a great issue). The article was "A Resume That Works." The article isn't on the Searcher web site, but would be available in a library or from one of the database services.

What questions did I get? Well, I got asked many questions, but only -- at the moment -- remember a few!
  • What job to I see in the future for librarians that doesn't exist now? I said "information guide" which might mean that someone develops tools to guide people to information or actually works as a guide. I see this as being different that the intermediaries we have today and the ways people now find or connect to information.

  • How do I estimate the cost of a client project?

  • Is there a book or article about how to package information?

  • What information (database) sources do I use?
The package information question is an interesting one. I'll look around to see what sources I can pass along, but really I learned by reading other people's work (especially reports from major consulting firms). I also learned from my corporate experience which taught to get to the answer quickly (also know as "answer up-front"), create executive summaries whenever possible, and keep the reports short (and the appendices long). I keep things factual and allow the client to develop his/her opinion, rather than me telling a client what this information means to his/her business.

BTW with my class this semester, I am using the paper "How to Write a White Paper -- – A White Paper on White Papers" by Michael A. Stelzner as a reference for their last assignment. The assignment is for them to write a position paper and hopefully this document by Stelzner will help them formulate something that is more business-like, less academic, and helps them "sell" their point of view.

What should I have mentioned?
  • I should have mentioned the book The NextGen Librarian's Survival Guide, which may not be about being a non-traditional librarian, but would likely be of interest to students.

  • I should have pointed them towards Meredith Farkas' posts about her job hunting experience. (Check the link and go back to her posts from summer 2005.) I think her insight is of value to any library science student.

  • I should have mentioned that being an independent information professional is not for everyone. It takes discipline to work independently and a tolerance for risk (risk of failure). Some people find that they need real structure to their work. Fortunately, I have found that I can thrive working independently and I enjoy the flexibility.

  • Having your own business can mean working all the time. I did kind of say that, but it is worth emphasizing. There are deadlines to meet and clients to please.

  • I didn't tell them that I generally don't mention to business clients that I have an MLS. Business clients only want to know what skills I have to locate the information they need, if I understand their business/industry, and what I'’m going to deliver (and how much it will cost). I always frame the "how" in terms that they will understand and don't use library jargon. I've found that allows me to come across as a businessperson and an equal. The degree doesn't matter to them. Now, with my library clients, I do tell them that I have an MLS, because it matters to them and they see me as an equal (and I'll use library jargon with them).

  • And...likely there are a ton of other things I should have said. Hopefully if the students have questions, they'll e-mail or IM me.
Believe it or not, I only spoke for 45 minutes and then likely fielded about 10 minutes of questions. I packed a lot in! Hopefully what I presented will help them see their options differently and maybe lead them down an unexpected -- but exciting -- career path.

Addendum (4/5/2006): I mentioned the Talis report on Library 2.0 (Do libraries
matter? The rise of Library 2.0). Here is a link to that.

One of the students gave me her business card. We're in an era where even full-time students should have business cards, especially when going out on interviews or attending conferences. She was fortunate to have a roommate that could design a very professional-looking card for her. If you're a students and you want a business card, check your local copy center. Likely they can great a good business card for you at a low cost. Or check online...there are even some places where you can get business cards for free.

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David W. Martin said...

I wonder if the business card that can be created from Word will suffice? I made one that way, but I'm not sure if it looks "professional" enough to impress potential employers. It does, however, contain all the essential info.

Jill Hurst-Wahl said...

David, what you have created might suffice. The test will be to compare your business card to others. So gather a few business cards from people you know (or businesses that you visit) and see how yours stacks up.

BTW you can see bits and pieces of some cards here that I picked up at CIL.

When I had by first business card created, two friends "tested" it. One -- who worked in marketing -- dropped the business card on the ground. She wanted to see how it looked from a distance -- AND -- if it was dropped, was it compelling enough to pick up. The second friend -- who had worked in the printing business -- used my business card to pick her teeth! This was a test of quality of the card stock. Thankfully, my card passed both tests (and still does).

Oh...One place to get free business cards is Vista Print. I've not used them, but know of people who have.

Michael Stelzner said...

Hi Jill;

Thanks a bunch for using my How to Write a White Paper document. I thought you might like to know that I also now have a book out on the same topic at http://www.writingwhitepapers.com/book/

All my best!

Mike - mike@writingwhitepapers.com