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Transforming Roles–What Do You Want To Be? The Tuesday Evening Session

The half-life of our information professional skills is only about 5 years.  So we need to be reinventing ourselves all the time.  This panel of information professionals was composed of:

  • Marshall Breeding, formerly of Vanderbilt University, and author, Next-Gen Library Catalogs,
  • Nicole Engard, author, The Accidental Systems Librarian,
  • Scott Brown, Social Information Group and author, Social Information: Gaining Competitive and Business Advantages,
  • Cecily Walker, Web Services Librarian, Vancouver Public Library, and
  • Renee Chalut, Assistant Manager, Information Services & Training, Vancouver Public Library.
It was moderated by Donna Scheeder, Congressional Research Service

Tuesday Evening Panel (L-R) Renee Chalut, Cecily Walker, Nicole Engard, Scott Brown, Marshall Breeding

Donna Scheeder

Each of the panelists gave a brief outline of their career path.  Marshall Breeding said that he started in an interesting computing time–the first computer he worked on was a PDP-11.  He worked on information technology as computers were coming into libraries and grew with them.  Then he moved to CD-ROM networks, which eventually died.  He built his career based on a technology niche.  He never had a class in library science or computing, but had 30 years of on the job training.

Scott Brown started by pursuing a B.S. in creative writing and worked at several positions in the Santa Cruz Public Library, then moved into the corporate world and found he could ask for money to do things.  After getting his degree from San Jose State University, he was at Sun Microsystems for 9 years, then started his independent business which focuses on social media systems.

Nicole Engard went to college to be a writer and never thought about libraries.  She went to a liberal arts college and took computer science and got a B.S. in literature and programming. Then she joined a law library as a web designer.  When she came to IL 2005, she found about blogging and started one, went to library school, and joined the Princeton Theological Seminary and became the metadata librarian.  She is now a systems librarian.  People now call her and ask her to apply for jobs because she started her blog.

Cecily Walker was terrified when a tornado came through Atlanta, ran to find her brother, and a librarian pulled her inside and saved her life.  She got a degree in literature and was working on a M.S. degree in African-American Studies, but found after she moved to Vancouver that there were not many opportunities.  She got a degree in library and information studies and got her first job as a user experience architect.  She learned a lot, then moved to a software development company and moved to Vancouver Public Library as a Web Services Librarian. She has always been involved in helping people make sense of the information in front of them.

Renee Chalut has worked in a library for a long time.  She went to library school because she wanted to do what Google does, then worked in library branches.  She took a position coordinating provincial chat services and helping librarians working with them and worked on building and information commons and studied new ways of doing computer training and has now gone back to her original job of going out to the community.

Many of the panelists spoke of traditional and non-traditional library work.  Is there a difference?  Some people may think that if you are involved with technological work, you are not a “real” librarian.  Nicole thinks that the distinction gets in the way and can cause a rift–everything we do is to better the library, so we are librarians.  Marshall said that there are a myriad of career paths toward doing library-type work.  A lot of people assume that if you do not work in a public library, you are not a librarian.

Are library schools changing?  Do they teach the skills needed to cope with constant change?  See the book What Else You Can Do With a Library Degree for opinions on this topic.  The trend in many public libraries today is to put everybody on the reference desk at some time, which makes people with a library degree feel undervalued.

Personal skills are highly important; there are jobs for people with library-type skills regardless of whether they have a library degree or not.  We need to distinguish between professional and personal skills and market ourselves.  This is not limited to the library world.

What do you think we will be doing differently 3 years from today?  What changes are driving what you do today?  We are a very courageous group–who knows what will happen in 3 years?  We must pick up all the new technologies, and we are doing it in a very public way.  Curiosity and a desire to keep learning are critical.

You need to figure out what your niche is, what you can do well, and what you are passionate about to succeed in this environment.  You need to be constantly aware of what is going on around you and keep up with your subject skills.  Be your own greatest advocate.  Get familiar with how to market your skills online.  We are tremendously skilled people.

The panel offered these summarizing points.

  • In the job you have now, do what you must for your organization, but also do more for your profession.
  • Your career is not your job.
  • We are training people for jobs that don’t exist.  What can we do about that?
  • If you can make your job your passion and your career, find a way to do it.
  • Look at your career and skills every day and you will see something new.
  • Do a “23 Things” self-evaluation.


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