A Conversation With Kim Dority

At SLA’s Annual Conference in Boston this past June, I had the opportunity to moderate a career panel. Kim Dority spoke, and also provided SLA’s closing keynote address. Both inspiring and practical, Kim provides the kind of advice that motivates each of us to find our most rewarding career path and be our true selves. I reached out to her recently to discuss her forthcoming book, Rethinking Information Work, 2nd edition.

Kim Dority
Kim Dority

Dee: The first edition of Rethinking Information Work is a highly holistic approach to career planning. What updates did you include in the new edition?

Kim: The updates I made reflected the substantial changes the profession has undergone in the past ten years, both contracting and expanding. For example, school librarianship has taken a terrible employment hit in recent years as more and more school administrators decide that having a knowledgeable, trained teacher-librarian working with students is no longer a budget priority for them. It’s a terrible decision for many reasons (all highly documented), but it’s the new reality. So when I wrote about school librarianship as a career path, I tried to be as honest and factual as possible about the career realities.

On the other hand, the emerging opportunities in disciplines like data management, digital asset management, embedded librarianship, user experience design, data visualization, instructional design, and digital content creation and marketing (to name just a few) are expanding like crazy.

The challenge for LIS professionals is to 1) figure out what these jobs are called, since the titles and job descriptions are still sorting themselves out, and 2) effectively “map” or translate their LIS skills into language that aligns with the hiring organization. So I’ve tried to include useful, actionable information about new types of LIS work, job titles, and skills translation.

Dee: What roles have mentors played in your own development? Do you have advice for identifying a career mentor?

Kim: I’ve been fortunate to have had many wonderful informal mentors, male and female, throughout my career. People in this profession are unusually generous about sharing information and wisdom, so I don’t hesitate to seek out mentors for guidance in areas that are not strengths for me (many opportunities!).

My advice in terms of identifying a career mentor is first and foremost, work with someone you feel “emotionally safe” with. When you’re being mentored, you are, by default, exposing an area of weakness or lack of knowledge. You’re seeking information that will help you learn, help you develop stronger skills in a given area.

In a healthy mentoring relationship, your mentor will help you without judgment, criticism, belittling, or any of the other responses that can make you feel embarrassed or humiliated. A good mentor will want to find positive ways to help you succeed, and will bolster your confidence that you can do so. And if your mentor has a good sense of humor and can laugh with you through your learning process, so much the better!

Another thing to keep in mind is that mentors come in all shapes, sizes, specializations, and age groups. Your best mentor for social media smarts may be the 25-year-old down the hall, while your best mentor for honing your organizational “social intelligence” skills may be the quiet but effective administrator that’s been with the organization for thirty or more years. Your job is to recognize their expertise, treat them with the respect that expertise deserves, and then ask them if they would be willing to coach you.

Dee: The current work environment for information professionals is full of challenges and opportunities. What trends do you feel are particularly important to note?

Kim: I think the transition the LIS profession is undergoing – from being print-focused to digital to data – is going to have a huge impact on the skills required of information professionals going forward. Many of my students are supplementing their MLIS curriculum with business-school courses in data analytics, data visualization, and coding, among other topics. I don’t think that we’ll transition completely away from our print roots, but rather the breadth of skills and tools that will be key to navigating future LIS career opportunities will continue to expand. No doubt this will present an interesting challenge for MLIS programs in the context of ALA accreditation.

Dee: You delivered the closing keynote address at SLA 2015 in Boston. You advised the audience to “be fearless.” How can each of us fearlessly map our career paths?

Kim: I think the most important element is to be open to new opportunities, whether they’ve dropped in your lap or your own efforts have created them. To do that, you have to be willing to deal with the opportunities that turned out to be phenomenal disasters (been there, done that) as well as the ones that ended up being amazingly wonderful.

I’m a very cautious risk-taker, but over the years I’ve found that the positive results of taking informed risks greatly outweigh negative ones (and also discovered that we can all survive those disasters). As a consequence, my fear of failure is now most often far outweighed by the potential for doing really cool stuff. Once you know you can survive just about anything, you realize you can do just about anything. And that’s when it gets really fun!

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