Imagining with Members: DC Chapter

US Department of Education
US Department of Education

My July visit to Washington, D.C., combined a great DC/SLA Chapter program, several library visits, and a quiet dinner with a friend and mentor.

I began my tours at the U.S. Department of Education, National Library of Education, where I met with Karen White and Pamela Tripp-Melby. The Library has a total staff of thirteen. Director Tripp-Melby works with White on outreach efforts, including presentations on services and resources for the evidence-based research that is conducted across the agency. The Library serves Department employees and the public. A major project is the cataloging of a textbook collection that dates from the 1830’s to the 1940’s and includes 28,000 volumes. This project highlights the extension of traditional library competencies into areas of special collections and digitization. Pamela leads Open Access for the Department of Education, and worked with other Department employees to draft their policy. A challenge in the Ed policy is the definition of research. Much Department funding goes to programming that may or may not produce a scholarly paper. Data  and data storage also present unique policy challenges. With no central education data repository, researchers will need  to store data in local repositories. Education data includes a significant amount of human subjects data, which must be handled with care.

Turning to SLA, we bridged the open access and data discussion with career opportunities for data librarians. Researchers need people who can manage this information. This is a career development opportunity for SLA and its units. Other emerging careers for information professionals include user experience  and information architecture professionals. Indexers and catalogers are re-imagining themselves as metadata specialists. Special librarians have skills and knowledge of organizations that can be leveraged for new career opportunities. Understanding emerging fields and practices is critical, and our conference programming must reflect this content. A shift in our conference planning cycle to a competitive programming model could assist in delivering fresh, broad content.

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Flash Back: A Call to Mentoring

Mentoring has been a passion of mine for nearly two decades. In the May 2002 issue of Business Information Alert, I published an article on mentoring: A Call to Mentoring. The books referenced are now from a previous decade, yet their messages stand.

In addition to the article, an SLA mentoring list was created in 2002. The list no longer exists, but as we begin to partner and work across units, perhaps the time has come to renew this effort?

New Diversity and Mentoring Discussion List

Looking for a great, current mentoring resource? Try one of these!

Career Series: Paths to Employment, II

In this post I’m going to discuss how our cumulative diverse experience is sometimes the exact background needed for a position.

Shortly after graduating with my bachelor’s degree, I married a submariner. Being a Navy family guaranteed a steady rate of moving. This mobility helped inform my decision to become a librarian. We could be stationed just about anywhere and there would be potential employment. I attended the State University of New York at Albany (SUNY-Albany) and earned my MLS shortly after our third child was born. My career began with two short-term jobs. I was first a reference librarian at Utica College and then a hypermedia development librarian at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. These experiences grounded me in instructional theory, user services and technology.

As we left the military to explore civilian life, the economy was challenging and I once again found myself working through short-term positions. I gained architecture experience at Roger Williams University. This is also where my classes began to integrate web resources. Rhode Island College included a broad range of instruction and expanded reference experience. At Helix Technology Corporation, a manufacturer of cryogenic vacuum pumps, I had my first permanent, full-time position with benefits. My undergraduate engineering experience was used daily as I served scientists and engineers. I was thrilled!

Wanting to build on this technical experience and continue to grow, I next went to MIT to work as a business librarian. My science and technical background served me well as I developed industry research guides and worked with a range of statistical products. By now I was grounded in the humanities, social sciences and hard sciences. I had several years of teaching experience and could leverage technology to create tools and services.

We faced a family move once again, and this is when we headed to Oregon and I had my Weiden + Kennedy experience. I could now add advertising and library start-up to my background. When the 2001 dot-com bubble burst, I was laid off. While temporarily devastated, I decided to use the opportunity to explore my own business, first with a partner and then on my own. This entrepreneurial period taught me a great deal — about business plans, strategy, marketing, finances and the like. Perhaps my most valuable lesson was that I was passionate about the work, but not about finding each new client.

I believe that opportunity frequently aligns with readiness. Parallel to these years of career growth across multiple sectors was my increased involvement with SLA. I had been most active with the Information Technology Division and the Information Futurists’ Caucus. A colleague and mentor from both units sent me a message asking if I was interested in applying to be the library director at a new engineering college. The school was back east, and the opportunity felt right on many levels. Remarkably, the school wanted a library leader with a sci-tech background who also had start-up experience. An entrepreneurial background was a plus. The position almost defined my path. I applied to Olin College of Engineering, and the next 11 years were full of creativity, new growth and relationships, and partnership-building within the school, to other colleges and universities, and to the vendor community.

I would not have been offered the position at Olin College if I had not traveled my diverse career path. Each experience was valuable. Each experience was an opportunity to grow. SLA was with me throughout my development, and my increased involvement helped lay the path to Olin College.

What to learn from this? Value your life experiences. Be alert for opportunities. Share your gifts with your colleagues. Your own career will blossom.

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Career Series: Paths to Employment, I

We’ve all been told that most jobs are found outside the classifieds. So true! What is your story? What has been your path? I have many stories from my career, and will be sharing them in this blog series.

For my first post I’m going to flash back to circa 1997, when I worked as an engineering librarian at Helix Technology Corporation, aka CTI Cryogenics. I was active with SLA’s Information Futurists Caucus, and decided to begin a discussion of Peter Schwartz’s Art of the Long View.

The book introduces scenario planning, and caucus members joined me to discuss looking forward, thinking win-win, and understanding current culture and events to inform future context. Nearly a year later, while at MIT, I was contacted about a position at Weiden + Kennedy, an advertising agency. A member who followed the book discussion on the Information Futurists’ Caucus list wanted to know if I would be interested in applying for a position in advertising. I would have the opportunity to create a corporate library in a new facility.

When I interviewed for the position, my prospective manager had a copy of Peter Schwartz’s book on his shelf. I noticed the title, and asked him about his connection with scenario planning. We spent the balance of the interview discussing the book, the author, and the Global Business Network. I became the Agency Librarian at Weiden + Kennedy, and my discussion of Schwartz’s title on the Information Futurists’ Discussion list had a direct impact on my career path.

The take-away? Step up. Volunteer. Start a discussion. You never know who is listening!

Putting Competencies to Work for Information Professionals

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In June 2003 SLA published Competencies for Information Professionals of the 21st Century, Revised Edition. I had the great honor of authoring that document along with my co-creators: Eileen Abels, Rebecca Jones, John Latham, and Joanne Gard Marshall. The document defines an information professional, an information organization, and provides two core competencies before turning to professional, then personal competencies. Information professionals and organizations can use this document to create development plans, position descriptions and service portfolios.

The 2003 edition was an update to the original document and now, in 2015, the competencies are once again under revision. Our profession continues to evolve, and the skills and characteristics necessary to succeed as an information professional must keep pace. Other library and information associations and groups have created competencies to serve their own members, and I have begun a Competencies Pinterest board to track these documents.

All of the competency documents break down skills into groups or clusters, and the FLICC document for U.S. Federal librarians provides levels and descriptions of competencies. The Medical Library Association document has an action document that includes recommendations for health information professionals, the Medical Library Association, employers and library & information science educators.

While each set of competencies provides important career material, none of the documents has, as of this writing, taken the step to turn skills into actionable development tools. For this purpose, I have assembled a team at the Los Alamos National Laboratory Research Library. The purpose of the team is to create a custom set of competencies that map to the Lab’s and the Research Library’s mission and goals, together with tools to leverage those competencies. Skill levels are important so that staff members can gain depth in individual competencies. A grid is being created. To gain depth a person will work horizontally across the grid, and to learn a new competency a person will work vertically down the grid. Lab courses along with association and online learning opportunities will be mapped to competencies and levels. This particular tool will allow staff to create individual development plans. We will also create a competency database. When new teams are formed, the database can be utilized to find the skills needed to execute team goals.  Our project goals are ambitious, but promise to yield powerful personal and team development tools. Team members include myself, Helen Boorman, Michelle Mittrach and Adrian Romero.

Competencies provide important career coordinates. Tools and resources are needed to create the rich development mosaic each of us requires to move our careers in new directions.