Despite all the changes and challenges facing librarians and information professionals, there are many opportunities to make a difference within organizations and society at large. That was one of the major takeaways from the 20th Special Libraries Symposium, held on July 27th, at The Catholic University of America Department of Library and Information Science. I produce the Symposium each semester I teach as an adjunct professor at the school, for the students in my class, LSC 888, The Special Library/Information Center, and invited guests.

{All photos courtesy of SLA}

The most recent year I wrote about the symposium was in 2012. The venue this year was the Columbus School of Law, on the CUA campus; which became the new home of the LIS department about five years ago. Last week, I wrote about my reflections upon the completion of the intensive six week summer semester.

Besides an all-star panel of librarians and information professionals (including members of the vendor community; see list below), we were honored to have opening remarks by Amy Lestition Burke, the Executive Director of SLA/Special Libraries Association. Amy emphasized the opportunities open to students and new members of the profession, both in the workplace and within SLA itself. She urged the students and recent graduates to investigate volunteerism, writing and leadership within the various chapters of the organization. One of the panelists, CUA LIS professor David Shumaker, the faculty advisor to the CUA LIS SLA student group, reminded the students that leadership positions are open for the group in the soon-to-start Fall semester.

I was the moderator, and the event lasted for more than two and a half hours. After initial remarks by Amy and self-introductions by everyone (panelist bios were distributed ahead of time to cut down on the time for introductions), we adopted a modified ‘knowledge café’ format. Panelists and students/special guests were divided into groups, and there with rotating meetings discussing the state-of-the-art in the profession, plus best practices in careers and job-seeking and ‘day-in-the-life’ of the librarians/information professionals.

The panelists were Julie Arrighetti- U.S. Department of State; Nick Collison- cSubs and SLA Board Treasurer; Alexandra Gomes- The George Washington University Himmelfarb Health Library; Michael Gruenberg- Gruenberg Consulting, LLC; Alisa Holahan- American Library Association 2017 Google Public Policy Fellow; Richard Huffine- Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and CUA LIS adjunct professor;  Veralrose Hylton- AARP;  Catherine Kitchell- Bloomberg BNA; Richard Kowalski- Consumer Technology Association; Jennifer McMahan- U.S. Department of Justice;  Tom Nielsen- Bronx Community College and SLA Division Cabinet Chair; Sabrina Pacifici- LLRX.com;  David Shumaker- CUA LIS professor, Angela Titone- Consumer Technology Association; and Emily Wagner- American Library Association.

I asked the participants to email me afterward with a recap of some of the things they said and observed, including any a-ha moments. I’m including  their quotes, in some cases lightly edited, direct from the emails, to give the broadest possible flavor of what we discussed. They are presented below in alphabetical order:

Julie Arrighetti:

“The two pieces of advice I shared during the discussions are to be hungry and to stay broad.  Be hungry refers to the need to stay active and engaged, and to show that you are interested in your work and eager to try/learn new things.  As a library director, it is frustrating to have someone who is comfortable doing the same thing in the same way, day after day.  Doesn’t matter how good the work is, at some point it will become less valuable because it has stayed static.  The best teams I’ve worked with have been comprised of people who have energy and enthusiasm to try new things.  Even if they don’t work, they are valuable learning experiences and keep your library moving forward.
Stay broad means don’t specialize too early in one narrow lane.  It is important to be versatile and have experience in as many areas of the library as possible, particularly if you aspire to be a senior manager or director.  Substantive expertise is important, but to have as many career opportunities as possible, it needs to be balanced with experience across the library.
Please keep me in mind for future panels and networking opportunities.  Now that I have put my CUA library school degree to good use I welcome the opportunity to pay it back to current library school students.”

Mark Brzozowski (Librarian/Media Specialist at The Episcopal Center for Children; special guest):
1. “One needs to be proactive in reinventing oneself i.e. to always be relevant to an organization. This holds not only personally but institutionally.
2. Always be thinking of the value your library has for an organization. Don’t be afraid to toot your horn.
3. Find creative ways to be valuable to an organization. –DOJ example of conducting background research on people for court cases.
4. Networking is the life blood of any librarian.”

Alexandra Gomes:

“Some of the comments from fellow panelists that really resonated with me were the encouraging remarks to explore different areas of interest while in library school, as well as network with all sorts of folks (since you never know where the lead for your next job or collaborator may come from).
In terms of my own comments, I spoke briefly about how all of our librarians (both reference and technical services) are involved in teaching. Here are two examples: Everyone is embedded in the medical school curriculum. We’re paired with two small groups of medical students for the first two years of medical school, teaching them informatics as co-instructors with the medical faculty.

The reference librarians also support GW’s extensive distance education programs. We are embedded in the courses within the learning system (Blackboard), and teach sessions on searching databases and APA citation style, answer questions from the students via the discussion board or email, and provide one-on-one consultations as needed. This teaching involvement has led to other opportunities including my current projects developing and teaching three credit electives in the School of Medicine.”

Michael Gruenberg:

“As the only “vendor” there {BR NOTE: There actually was another vendor, Nick Collison}, I reminded the students that in looking for work that they should consider working for any number of information industry companies as trainers, business development specialists and of course, sales & marketing if they are so inclined. As you know, companies like ProQuest, EBSCO, Lexis/Nexis, etc., are always hiring librarians.

In relation to the fact that few, if any library schools teach the students about dealing with vendors (an incredible oversight in my opinion), I told them that the vendor can be their best friend in helping to understand the products and prices offered by the company. They need to develop the relationship. I further said they should not be afraid of the vendor, rather they should develop the relationship to create that “win-win” situation. I also told them that when the vendor presents a price for a product and they are not satisfied with that price, they can ask a simple five-word question which is, “can you defend your price?” In other words, can you explain to me how the company arrived at that price.”

Alisa Holahan:

“I really enjoyed listening to all of the speakers. I was particularly struck by the diversity of their experiences. There are so many interesting ways to use an information degree. I also observed how passionate the speakers were about their work. The speakers gave some very helpful advice about looking for jobs. They explained that it is very important to demonstrate curiosity on a job interview, and also talked about how crucial is it to network.

I spoke about my experience as Google Public Policy Fellow. It has been a fantastic fellowship, and I have really enjoyed my time at the ALA. I have learned a great deal about policy issues impacting libraries, and I have focused in particular on policy issues related to copyright and the FCC’s E-Rate program. My days consist of research and writing as well as attending a variety of policy-related events. I attend a panel at Google every few weeks about different policy issues, such as privacy, free speech, or the future of work. I have also attended numerous other panels and presentations in DC. A highlight was attending a congressional hearing at which Librarian of Congress Dr. Carla D. Hayden was a witness.”

Veralrose Hylton:

“It was great to meet and network with Amy and the rest of the librarians. Hearing what they are doing at their libraries was thought provoking. Here are a few things that I mentioned: Best Practices in job/career; Find alternative ways of getting “in the know” as it relates to your profession: Webinars, Training, Conferences, Volunteer,  Get a mentor – shadow a librarian; Network; Take advantages of internship and practicum opportunities; Look at the position descriptions of the positions that you want and make sure that you have the necessary qualifications beyond the library degree;  Look into temp work – gets you in the door of organizations that you would not have access to, especially if they are not hiring; Sign up with the different job boards/job lines

State of the ART innovative practices in my library: Digitization – monetizing that content by selling to commercialized databases (Revenue); Infographics – self-taught librarian, now the library is seen as the experts on data visualization; DOIs {digital object identifiers} & Altmetrics – Expand the reach of our organization’s reach and demonstrate the value (In the implementation phase).”

Jennifer McMahan:

“At our library, we are “law librarians,” but legal research isn’t a big part of our work. The attorneys and paralegals typically do their own legal research and just come to us with what they can’t find. We spend most of our research time on investigating people (such as vetting expert witnesses or civil rights monitors), companies, and research in other areas such as science and medicine. We also do art tours of the RFK building, teach classes, maintain a robust website, and order print and electronic materials for the whole department, among other things. Every day is different, which is why I love what I do. We know what work we do as a staff on a daily basis and the impact it has on the organization, because we actively collect that information. I don’t understand when librarians, especially federal librarians, say that they don’t keep metrics or report to their upper management. We need to consistently remind our management and leadership of the value we bring to the organization. And, to the extent possible, explain it in dollar terms. When we help win cases, we’re saving our agency money.

In discussing what we look for in new employees, I found myself mostly nodding my head because others were saying the same things I was thinking. Intellectual curiosity, flexibility, willingness to try new things, etc. In an interview, I like to hear that the job candidate has the ability to bring about positive change in an organization. Someone who can look around and see how things are done and look for ways to make them better and be able to implement their ideas. Librarians in general aren’t used to tooting our own horns, but in an interview, it’s essential to “sell” what you can bring to the organization. If you can’t sell your skills and experience in an interview, how can you “sell” the library to its stakeholders?

Another issue that came up in both panels was that we spend a lot of time looking for our own agency documents and we’re often asked by someone in an office at DOJ to find a document that was issued by that very office 50 years ago, or even 5 years ago. It’s one negative aspect of being a very siloed organization with no central archives or historian, other than the role played by NARA with the documents that get sent there. That issue brought up a discussion on Knowledge Management and the role librarians can play. I think one important point students could take away from our discussion is that librarian skills are transferable to a lot of different roles in an organization and even many “traditional” librarian jobs need to be constantly reinvented according to the needs of the organization. After the panels, one of the students was asking about online resources for professional development. I put together a monthly newsletter of free professional development opportunities for our staff, so I have some favorite sites that I visit or follow to keep up with new resources, webinars, etc., including:
Kansas State Library Calendar – A collection of librarian-related webinars from all over the country.
Lynda.com – Courses on anything and everything.
PinHawk Librarian News Digest – More Law Librarian focused, but not entirely.
Research Buzz – “News and information about search engines, databases, social media, and more.”
beSpacific – “Accurate, Focused Research on Law, Technology and Knowledge Discovery” {BR NOTE: This site is run by one of the panelists, Sabrina Pacifici.}

Tom Nielsen:

“I particularly liked the diversity of workplaces and circumstances panelists had and appreciated the inclusion of vendors.  I think this is particularly important so that students understand that working for a vendor is a viable and rewarding job and that librarians don’t have to be intimidated by them.

My experience from the evening was that both my current adjunct position as well as my past position at Metro were of interest to attendees.  I don’t think attendees understood the practical aspects of an adjunct position in an academic library. I explained that my position at Bronx Community College is to fill in for full-time staff at the reference desk and that I do not teach information literacy sessions.  I work 9 hours per week, three hours on three separate days.  Adjunct positions at the City University of New York are covered by a contract which sets a limit on total hours per semester and pay rate, which is higher based on years of experience and years working within CUNY.

I also talked about my position at Metro {Metropolitan New York Library Council} with the assumption that attendees wouldn’t know much about a library consortium.  I talked about how Metro is a state-funded member organization for libraries and librarians serving NYC and Westchester County.  In this position, I didn’t do any traditional library work, rather, I reviewed applications for membership from both libraries and librarians and made site visits to library applicants.  Member benefits for library members includes eligibility for grants, participation in a delivery service to facilitate interlibrary lending among members, and discounts on professional development workshops.  In my position, I coordinated many of these workshops and other events to promote Metro and showcase accomplishments of our members, particularly around digitizing their collections.  Finally, I expanded Metro membership to include individual librarians and focused on career focused benefits like access to Lynda.com, professional photos, workshop discounts and support for group and individual research projects.”

Laura Spence (law librarian at DLA Piper; a special invited guest)

“I’ve never been a member of SLA and hadn’t really thought about law libraries as special libraries before. As far as a-ha moments, there were so many! I thought the discussion groups were a really interesting mix of librarians—vendors, bloggers, government, non-profit, and for-profit librarians, etc. One common thread seemed to be just how much each of these library positions required adaptability—to changes in technology, funding, and job descriptions. I know as a solo librarian at a telecom firm (before coming to DLA Piper), my firm had no sense of what a librarian did. I was often asked “Do we even have a library?” They had no clue that as their librarian I managed their entire print and electronic resource portfolio, negotiated contracts, and did all of their marketing and social media—all in between legal research projects. From everyone’s stories, this experience sounded by no means unique. Everyone’s titles alone were really illuminating on the idea that librarians are so much more than just librarians these days. I was also struck by how outgoing everyone was. It seemed like librarians do really love to make and maintain connections in the librarian community.”

The entire evening was a testament to the power of networking and continuous learning. I’m grateful to everyone who participated!