Perspectives, an interview series that will highlight the work of librarians in different fields and professional specializations. Our series will focus on the experiences of our participants, what they do, what they have learned, and offer advice to those interested in librarianship and various fields. To our readers, our committee hopes this column will highlight the valuable labor these individuals perform on an everyday basis. Our interviews will provide perspective on what labor in these fields entails and current issues that affect librarianship, employment, etc. On behalf of the Communications Committee, we hope you find this new column illuminating, informative, and inspiring!
What do you do?
I have worked in special libraries since finishing my MLIS degree, and my areas of interest and expertise are in creating user-centered learning experiences, which is directly related to UX and instructional design.
I started off as a researcher in a tech company, then designed instructional modules for an online higher education company, and now I am the Education & Professional Development Manager at Atla, which is a membership organization of religious studies and theological librarians and producer of research tools for the study of religion and theology. I work to improve the continuing education opportunities for Atla members, and am developing more formal learning programs. I also play a big role in planning the annual conference, and am the staff liaison on several member committees.
What aspects of your job do you enjoy the most?
There’s a lot that I like about my job! I really enjoy connecting people with each other, and expanding each other’s networks. I enjoy collaboration opportunities that are unexpected, and getting to think about big questions like the future of the organization and the future of librarianship as a profession. Atla has an international membership, and I appreciate the opportunities to work with people all over the globe, even if it requires the occasional early morning meeting! There’s so much we can learn from and share with each other.
What I love most about my career is how different each role has been. I get paid to continue learning, and my previous experiences provide the foundation and skills for me to build upon.
Can you describe a memorable moment in your career?
When I presented a session at my first major conference (SLA Annual in 2017), it was frightening and exhilarating at the same time. I realized I was good at it, that researching something I was interested in, and then turning it into a story to share with others, was something I enjoyed doing and wanted to do more of.
What kinds of professional development do you do?
I attend a wide array of conferences, symposiums, and webinars, often with the focus of determining which platforms and approaches work best for the user experience. This knowledge helps me when planning Atla’s webinars, meetings, and annual conference.
My personal interests are where librarianship intersects with other disciplines, and in opportunities that bring people together as a network and for collaboration. For instance, I’m a member of ALA’s EDI Assembly. I also started a listserv with a group of my SLA colleagues, for librarians of color in special libraries, and we meet regularly and have started working on projects together.
Is there one piece of advice you have received in your career thus far that stands out the most (that you carry with you in your work)?
Working in the corporate sector meant that layoffs were routine matters. I was encouraged early on to see layoffs as paid opportunities to think about myself and what I want to do next. What did I like about that job, and want to continue? What did I not care for, and want to avoid in the future? What do I want to do that I haven’t had the chance to do yet? Each new position has led me to develop new skills and interests, grow in my communication and leadership skills, and experience new workplaces and people.
What are some things you know now about your job/librarianship, that you wish you had known before entering the field?
I was very unfamiliar with the variety of career paths I could choose. I did not consider special librarianship at all while working on my MLIS. In fact, I had a negative view of it, thinking that if I wanted to work for a business, I would have pursued an MBA instead of an MLIS. I only applied to a special library because public and academic libraries required me to have my degree in hand before being able to even apply for a job. Since I entered librarianship in my mid-30’s and as a second career, it was important to me that I be employed immediately upon finishing my degree. I was able to start my first job during my last semester of library school, command a higher starting salary than many traditional positions, work with really smart people, and redefine for myself what being a librarian meant.
Librarianship is immensely broad, and my skillset, with its focus on user-centered design and research, is fairly niche. I’m constantly humbled (and inspired) by all that I don’t know within my chosen field. The opportunities seem endless.
What do you think are some misconceptions about librarians/libraries/librarianship?
Our society has an extremely limited definition of who and what a librarian is, which does not accurately reflect the vast scope of our profession. I know my experiences differ from what people expect a librarian to do, but I think being a librarian comes down to the way we process and interact with information, and for what purposes. To me, a librarian is someone who is concerned with finding, organizing, analyzing, and then (most importantly), sharing that information with others, whether that be in a display, a catalog, a storytime, a business report, a research guide, a video, or a textbook. We do not have to work with books, or with students, or even in a library as a physical space.
What are some current professional obstacles in this field that upcoming professionals should know about?
We need to be much, much, much better self-advocates. Librarians are great at advocating for others, not so great at advocating for ourselves. The general population does not understand what a librarian does, and questions the value of libraries in our society. That’s not good for our self-esteem and how we view ourselves, and it’s also not good for budgets, which are important to keep libraries running and librarians employed. We need a couple of viral videos and a nationwide marketing campaign, but first we need to come together and figure out what it means to be a librarian, and why our work matters.I think this is a really interesting time for librarianship to redefine itself for the 21st century, but we’re not quite there yet. We need to collectively work to elevate the importance and necessity of our profession. We need to value ourselves and our work, and learn to be our best advocates.
What professional advice would you give to graduate students who are about to enter the field?
Join a professional association (or two or three) and volunteer with it. Associations and their related chapters provide student scholarships and grants. Apply for them. Get out of your comfort zone and meet people, network, attend webinars and conferences, ask for informational interviews. Stay active and engaged.
Don’t be too shy. We’re a profession that often attracts introverts, so you’re in good company. Everyone’s usually waiting for someone else to make the first move. Let it be you.
And finally, you are the future of this profession. Librarians would love to hear from you, meet you, and help you. We like you! We’re glad you’re here!