is the second of a three-part exploration of the LIS job market.
Like an acolyte
seeking the wisdom of teachers and sages on the path to enlightenment,
I decided to ask a couple of seasoned professionals for their perspective
on the job search. I wanted to find out their stories, how their jobs
had evolved, and what insights they had to guide me on my way.
Lisa Abbott is
a solo librarian, the Information Specialist at the W.K.
Kellogg Foundation Library (WKKF) in Michigan. She found her job
while still in school at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign,
through a serendipitous connection. She applied for a position at
a public library, and the director of the library forwarded her application
to the Kellogg Foundation, which had just dissolved their internal
library. She was hired as an outside contractor to WKKF through the
public library and had to defend and promote her position to other
staff members, who often mistook her for a secretarial temp. "My
position was probably too open-ended," Lisa told me. "I
walked into a solo librarianship with no written policies or procedures
in place and was put under the supervision of a director who, while
an amazingly astute and sympathetic boss, was too busy doing the rest
of her job to worry about my needs." However, she was eventually
successful at insinuating herself into the fabric of the organization.
another solo librarian, works at the Sound Transit Information Center
here in Seattle and is also the President of the Pacific Northwest
Chapter of the Special Libraries Association. Becky found her niche
through word of mouth, working with her local contacts in the King
County Department of Natural Resources and Department of Transportation
libraries to land a job with Sound Transit. She had to carve out her
place in Sound Transit, using her skills to build a collection from
scratch on a shoestring budget and to market herself to become an
indispensable service within the agency. "I have had to define
my own role without a lot of guidance," Becky said. "When
I started at Sound Transit in 1998 the agency was very small, and
my manager knew what was needed but not how to achieve it, so it was
left to me to develop the Information Center and its services."
A couple themes
have emerged here. The first is networking: both Lisa and Becky procured
positions through a social network in which librarians informed each
other of opportunities. Lisa notes, "Many organizations, at a
loss to know where to start looking for an information professional,
turn to their local library for recommendations in the field."
This is obviously the most pressing point for we who are about to
graduate. Getting to know professionals as well as colleagues will
pay off in the future. Plus, it's just more fun.
is the invention and definition of one's own position. Although the
initial job description may seem concrete, many jobs information professionals
enter are bound to evolve quickly over time. Becky began with 10 boxes
of documents and an empty room. "As a solo I'm responsible for
every facet of the Information Center's operations, which gives me
a lot of autonomy but also makes it hard to balance everything and
find time to be proactive," she said. Lisa also found that autonomy
is not always a good thing. She noted, "In retrospect, I would
have been happier with more structure -- especially since this was
my first 'real' librarian job." It seems to be a reality of the
information profession. Technology, knowledge, and society are constantly
changing, and libraries are perpetually on the verge of dissolving.
We must be prepared to live without structure, define our own roles,
and invent our own jobs.
Take a job,
I have heard
time and again from my European friends that we Americans are too
focused on our careers, that work takes too high a priority in our
lives. They work to live; we live to work. Don't worry about whether
the job is intellectually stimulating, satisfying or rewarding - just
as long as it pays the bills. "My advice is to keep your options
open -- don't talk yourself out of a position because it doesn't have
the 'l' word in it," said Lisa. However, many have done this
and found themselves discontented and despondent, spending 40 hours
a week doing something that is personally unrewarding. Becky warned,
"Think outside the box of traditional library opportunities,
but don't go off on tangents that don't interest you just to get a
job if you can help it. You won't be doing yourself or your employer
Does this mean
that we cannot follow our bliss? What happened to doing what makes
you happy? "Never settle," like the Monster.com slogan says,
As with almost
everything else in life, the answer is in neither extreme. The solution
is the middle path, the way of moderation. Don't just settle for anything,
but never "never settle." Start small and feasible, and
work your way to that golden equilibrium, balancing work that suffices
and work that satisfies. "My last four jobs (including two in
other industries before I went to grad school) all started out as
temporary, and all developed into permanent positions," said
Becky. Lisa's advises, "Don't write off the humble local library
as a possible stepping stone. When I saw graduation looming on the
horizon, I applied for a reference position at a public library."
A voyage of
Looking for a
job, I have found, is like looking for yourself. It is a voyage of
self-discovery, a journey which I suspect will never end. Finding
a career in which one is truly happy, sufficiently compensated, and
simultaneously qualified and challenged, requires in-depth knowledge
of one's own strengths and weaknesses, desires and dislikes.
For many Information
School students I know (including myself), entering the MLIS, MSIM,
Informatics, or PhD programs was their most recent step towards a
career that more closely matched the landscape of their soul. Finding
the right job is just the next step.
Past Vice President, ALISS