A network for new and aspiring library professionals
Can you tell us a bit about your background? How did you first become involved in the library and information profession?
Frank Sinatra did a version of the song, “That’s Life,” where he sang, “I’ve been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate, a poet, a pawn and a king.” I’ve done lots of things which each contributed to my professional success and where I am now. I always stress the importance of transferable skills to LIS students and new professionals. Draw upon lessons and experiences learned in the past to help you with your career. Before I even considered LIS as a career path I was a travel agent, administrative assistant, and a coffee bar barista — to name a few.
Technically, I suppose you could say that I first started out involved with libraries as a child when I volunteered to work in both my school and local public libraries. It never occurred to me then to pursue LIS studies or librarianship as a profession. That’s why I feel that outreach and mentoring is very important and that we as professionals should be interacting with college and high school students to put this career path on their radar.
The specific story of how I got involved with libraries professionally is that I did an internship at the Temple University Libraries’ Urban Archives while I was an undergraduate there. It introduced me to the world of libraries and archives as a career path and profession. After graduation, I was hired by book distributor Baker & Taylor where I did original cataloging for them. My Baker & Taylor co-workers told me about the Master of Library and Information Science degree and how it would help my career. I wasted no time enrolling in a program and following an LIS career path ever since. My “big break” was getting a temporary assignment as a corporate librarian at the QVC headquarters. Six months there of doing intensive corporate and intellectual property research gave me the boost on my resume to get me into a full-time position with a law firm. I spent a total of 10 years in private law firm libraries, before breaking out on my own and starting my own business, Sherpa Intelligence LLC, about a month ago.
In your former role as a law librarian you had to liaise with lawyers and other non-library professionals. What tips can you give to our members on how to build and manage these relationships?
I like to tell LIS students and new professionals that we as librarians are in a service profession. We are not subservient, but we are of service to our patrons. In my case for ten years, I worked in private law firm libraries. One of the keys is to communicate to the attorneys about how you can help them. Strike up a conversation with one. Ask her or him how their practice is going and what sort of topics interest them for new cases. Basically, do a reference interview without the person even knowing you are interviewing them. Then, if you can think quickly on the spot, mention what services or resources your library has that can help that person. Even if you can’t think of something on the spot, follow up with that person later by email. Tell them you were the one chatting with them in the elevator and here is a link to a resource that might help with their practice. In my mind, it was all about establishing your role within the organization and then demonstrating your value. We talk about demonstrating value ad infinitum within the LIS community. There needs to be less talk and more action. Position yourself as an expert who can help a patron achieve success. Think of it kind of like fishing. You will put a bunch of poles in the water with something enticing on the hook. Not everyone will take the bait. But, all its takes is one executive to take you up on your services. Provided that you do a good job, that person will talk about you and recommend you. All of a sudden, you have a reputation of being a great fisherman. You need to put yourself out there and follow through with good work.
As someone who is an active user of Twitter you often communicate with librarians across the globe; what advice would you give to someone who is new to Twitter but is wanting to build up their network?
Twitter chats are a good way to get to know other people on Twitter. I highly recommend the UKlibchat group (#uklibchat, @UKlibchat). It is very organized and easy to follow. I have been trying to get my own Twitter chat off the ground, @InfoProChat (#infoprochat) but I’ve been so busy lately. A Twitter chat is a good way to see other LIS people on Twitter and either join a conversation or just lurk and watch the commentary.
Follow people who are active in the LIS community. If you read an article and see that the author listed her or his Twitter handle, follow that person. Also, do a basic Twitter search for people who list “librarian” in a Twitter profile. Sample search here.
Set yourself up by following good resources like professional publications, professional associations, well-known librarians, and institutions with library schools. Chances are, these groups will re-Tweet influential and useful information which will give you exposure to even more Twitter handles to follow.
Be active on social media. You won’t get anything out of it if you are merely passive.
You communicate with people all over the world, have you noticed any differences in terms of which topics are being focused upon within the library sector in different countries?
That’s hard to say, really, because the librarians that I follow are from a variety of professional backgrounds. The concerns and interests of a public librarian don’t necessarily match mine, with my law firm and now independent info pro interests. Generally speaking, it does seem like the problems are the same around the world, from what I can tell.
You are very involved with SLA, what are the main things you think a network should provide?
A network should provide you with the opportunity to learn and to connect you with people within your profession. SLA has indeed given that to me over the years. The opportunities are what you make of them, so one does need to be a self-starter in the sense that the framework is set up through SLA. But, you need to actually go to events and engage in order to get something out of it. I have heard many complaints from people over the years that professional associations don’t do enough for them, but yet I never saw them at an event or even talking to other people when they did attend an event in person. A good professional association will provide you with opportunities, then it’s up to you as a member to take advantage of what is offered to you.
Do you think there are any skills that new professionals should be focusing on? E.g. networking, coding, cataloguing etc.
Librarians should always be networking. There’s no question in my mind about that. Get better at engagement. Meaning, chatting up a patron. Whether that patron is an attorney or a member of the public, to understand their needs and in turn promoting your skills.
A few months ago, I would have said that all librarians need to learn how to code. I’ve softened my stance on that a little. Librarians definitely need to become more tech-savvy, that’s for sure. Learning code isn’t for everybody. If you are a die-hard Luddite, then just make sure that you are aware of what’s going on in the tech world around you. Know the terms and technologies associated with privacy and information security, for example.
I’d say the more important thing to know are resources. Be on top of where to get information. Sounds like a no-brainer, right? But, I’ve seen too many LIS professionals get lazy and rely on the same old resources and not have any curiosity about other ways to retrieve information. There are so many GIFs out in the world of that Neil Gaiman quote, “Google can bring you back 100,000 answers. A librarian can bring you back the right one.” Let’s stay on top of that skill and be worthy of that quote. Keep your research skills up and maintain a curiosity about new resources and better ways to find information.
You have moved into the information security sector, what attracts you about this sector? And do you consider this to be an area in which the information sector will start to evolve in 2016?
Yes, information security is a great interest of mine and what I am moving towards professionally. One of the things that attracts me to it is the very librarian mindset of helping people by connecting them with information. By staying on top of technology news regarding information security, I can then help create awareness to help people protect their data and devices. I am also drawn to the more technical part of information security. I like learning about the back end of network systems and how they fend off hackers. There is a wealth of information there alone that can use a librarian brain to catalog and organize. My interest in information security is finally marrying the once-dormant tech part of my brain with my love of organization librarian part of my brain. It’s fun and exciting to me and I’m very glad to have made this career pivot.