Friday, August 12, 2011

Overlook Opportunities and Missed Connections by Michael Perry

When I thought about what advice I would give to library school students based on my own experiences, I was at first almost overwhelmed by the different possible topics.  I have a slightly non-traditional career and view of librarianship.  I currently manage an internal knowledge center for a large national law firm.  My title technically does not include the term “librarian” but my job function is almost identical.  I answer reference questions for attorneys, manage a large scale internal database, evaluate reference services and handle contract renewals.  The first piece of advice I would give to any library school student is do not live and die by the title alone.  More and more, an individual’s job title has little resemblance to their actual job function.  My title may be Conflicts Supervisor (a much cooler sounding title than it actually is) but in job function I’m really a librarian, I even have to routinely deal with repairing down printers and copiers.  Library schools often paint a picture of a robust job market, usually based on reports about the number of people who will be retiring from the field.  The reality is actually a bit different and library jobs are highly sought after with great competition among candidates.  Don’t limit yourself from a potentially good job opportunity simply because the job title doesn’t contain the term librarian, who knows what you might be missing.  While there are aspects of this behavior that can be taken a bit too far: privatizing libraries, dropping the library title from schools, or relying on paraprofessionals; it doesn’t change the fact that there are great jobs out there that aren’t “librarian” in title.  Vendors, developers and corporations are hiring librarians to fill new roles.  Corporations are setting up knowledge centers and looking for people with the right skills and there is nobody better to meet this need than a library school graduate.

My second piece of advice to students is closely related to job function and that is: learn to market. While my library school experience taught me a great deal, I quickly learned that there were large areas that simply weren’t covered.  The topic I think most encapsulates this is marketing.  Marketing, to some librarians, is a dirty word and reminder of the efforts by some to make libraries adopt a more corporate model.  The few discussions about marketing I recall from library school often began and ended with discussing patron outreach for public libraries.    Knowing this deficit existed, when asked to select a project for my Capstone class in the spirit of Google’s 20% policy, I chose specifically to look at internal marketing in libraries.  What I found was that next to nothing has been written about this every increasingly important field.  I created mock marketing plans for various library types to present to internal stakeholders and increase communication.  During our poster session, nearly all of the feedback I received was related to the fact that nothing like this had been brought up in anyone’s classes.  Taking the lessons I learned from this exercise with me into the work place, I was able to do a great deal to increase communications between my department and our larger organization.  More important than the basics of marketing or the more advanced marketing strategies are learning how to market yourself.  As I said above, library jobs are competitive and your best bet to land that job is being able to market your skills, abilities, and education.   There isn’t a great difference between marketing an organization and marketing yourself.  I would also encourage library students to participate in social media.  There is a thriving library community on Twitter and Google+ (social media is what lead to me writing this guest piece), where you can learn about other librarians struggles and successes.

Michael holds a BA in Political Science from DePaul University and received his MLIS from Dominican University.  He tweets at @michaelrperry6 and can be found on Google+ here.

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