If there was one message that came through loud and clear on my recent road trip, it was Employment, with a capital E. SLA has a robust Career Center , which I hope every unemployed, under-employed, or barely-employed member knows about. SLA has done a good job of providing members with access to tools that can help with resumes, job searches, and information-gathering. Still, sometimes, you just need to hear a success story or two from other members.
For example, last weekend I attended commencement exercise for the School of Library and Information Management of Emporia State University in Portland, Oregon. Now that I’m running for SLA president-elect, the commencement ceremony affected me in a new way. I’ve been visiting SLA chapters, hearing their suggestions and advice, and as I said, one message has risen above the din: members want jobs, Jobs, JOBS.
What can we do to inform these newly-minted information professionals about the best options that lie in the road ahead? Is there anything we can learn from them? Here’s a short burst of ideas that I’ve been exploring.
We can inspire them
The commencement keynoter was my friend, colleague, and client Kevin Carroll, who is an amazing inspirational speaker and author of “The Red Rubber Ball.” Kevin engages people all over the world on the power of play and creativity, and he never ceases to raise the energy level of whatever room he’s in. Kevin’s life story is like a made-for-TV movie, as he has risen from the poverty of the inner city to tour the world, teaching people to believe in themselves.
Kevin told the graduates, “You are going to impact people’s lives.” He gave each graduate permission to “chase your dream and be a catalyst — a human agent for change.” He recognized that knowledge and learning is their play—and play is serious business. My guess is that every one of those students was ready to go out and scale a mountain or slay the nearest dragon.
We can offer them advice
Here are a couple pointers from Jan Chindlund, an SLA colleague in the Illinois Chapter. Jan has been mentoring library and information professionals for many years.
1) Look in places that are not so obvious. Information research professionals could be called anything. In fact, there are nearly 2,000 different job titles in the SLA database, so look outside the usual terminology.
Here’s a success story to illustrate this point: Reece Dano, a member of the Oregon chapter, met Jeremy Snell, a South Carolina library school student at the 2009 SLA Conference in Washington, D.C. They talked about Reece’s position as a Information Specialist at Ziba Design in Portland, Oregon, which interested Jeremy as he did not know that this type of job existed.
A few weeks later Jeremy applied to several design firms in South Carolina for a research internship. Reece offered this advice: do not sell yourself as a librarian first and foremost, but rather as a multi-dimensional researcher who can leverage the ancient and time-tested skills of library science to add value to retrieving information.
A few weeks later Reece saw that Jeremy was starting his internship at Post No Bills, a design consultancy. To me, that’s proof that participating in SLA — especially early in one’s career — can have a positive impact.
What’s the big insight? As Jeremy told me, “There a lot of other things outside a traditional library that I can do with this degree. I would not have been exposed to these possibilities without SLA.”
2) Volunteer at an institution or non-profit. You’ll get great experience and they will get to know you, your work habits, and your skill set. It might lead to paying work, or to another opportunity. Build your network!
Here’s a success story to illustrate this point: Dianna Wiggins, a member of SLA’s Illinois chapter, told me that she volunteered at the YMCA headquarters in Chicago two days a week for five months. She learned about the need from a colleague from the Chicago Knowledge Management (KM) group. The work was challenging, but she kept with it. When a position came available at YMCA for a Social Networking Manager, Dianna was in a great position to capitalize on the time she had invested in this relationship. She is now working with the Resource Directors in the field, assessing knowledge-sharing needs for high-risk communities.
As Dianna said simply, “It was worth the wait.” Congrats! Great job title, by the way.
3) Conduct zillions of informational interviews. Always wanted to work with XXX? Call a company in your area that does XXX. Through your SLA network, learn the names of hiring managers in your area and get on their calendar. Conduct yourself with the utmost professionalism, ask insightful questions, and who knows? It could lead to an interview.
And we can get out of their way
Jim Scheppke, the Oregon State Librarian, also attended the Emporia State graduation. I buttonholed him afterwards and talked about the state of our profession. He predicted that the Boomer generation will start to retire in greater numbers as the economy begins to rebound. I asked him if those jobs will become available or will they be lost to attrition? Jim couldn’t say for sure, but he predicted that libraries have more potential than ever, and his “bullish” enthusiasm was catching.
What advice/inspiration/stories do you have for finding and landing jobs?
SLA asked candidates for the Board this question: “What are the top two issues facing SLA and our profession and how would you address them?” Here’s my response:
As I start to formulate this response, I am standing in the Intensive Care Unit at the hospital. My mother-in-law has checked herself into the hospital. The doctors and nurses are trying to determine what’s wrong through a series of diagnostic tests, pointed questions, and even poking around a bit. It is really disturbing not to know what is wrong–just that it hurts.
At the same time, it’s comforting to watch everyone work. They have assigned roles and functions, and they are a good team. The ICU team members aren’t the bench players – these folks work efficiently and smoothly. I feel like we are in good hands.
Determining the issues confronting our Association is a bit the same. We have formed committees and assigned some of our best talent to look at the profession, the association, and our role. SLA has already devoted time and resources to the diagnostics of our situation, specifically, through the Strategic Alignment research that Fleishman-Hillard conducted over the past three years. The Strategic Alignment identified, among other points, that:
But I’ve gotten ahead of myself. I believe that the two underlying issues confronting SLA are:
1) the economy and 2) the evolution of the library
Regarding the economy, we are going through what New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman calls the “Great Disruption” – a time when “the market and Mother Nature both hit the wall….” Here is Friedman’s crucial question:
“We need growth, we need ways to raise people’s standards of living, but what will be the new ways we should focus on—post-The Great Disruption—that will allow us to grow people’s living standards in a more sustainable and regenerative way?”
I’ve noticed that SLA members and units are responding in positive ways to the anxiety that the economy has created. There are programs for Career Agility (by the San Andreas Chapter), Doing More with Less (by the Southern California Chapter), and How to Evolve with the Changing Landscape by yet another Chapter. Chapters and Divisions are also providing networking which is fundamental for job leads, encouragement and gaining insights.
2) Regarding the evolution of the library, in coining the phrase “The Great Disruption,” Friedman could just as easily have been referring to the effect that the new wave of social networking tools, user generated content (UGC), the atomization of information, and the glut of information has had on the information profession. Information is pouring onto the Internet by the terabyte, be it yoga hamsters or functional specifications. Somebody has to be in charge as the paradigms evolve, and that somebody is the information professional. Frankly, it should be comforting for Internet users to know we are here, and maybe that’s part of the story we should be telling.
It’s all very complex. Like the ICU technicians I talked about earlier, it’s hard to determine what information will be useful in moving us forward. My mother-in-law had a lot of tubes inserted and monitors beeping, but the doctors made sense of it and put her back on the right road. By Mother’s Day she was perky again, and as we say out west, this wasn’t her first rodeo. She’s had tough times before and got through them. So will we.