So What CAN a Librarian Do Outside the Library?

by Kate Kosturski, Senior Editor, INALJ Ontario and INALJ Quebec

So What CAN a Librarian Do Outside the Library?

kate_photo_2014Last month, I wrote about all the types of non-traditional library jobs that are out there for the MLS degree holder – and I do hope you got some good ideas for your own job search. But, I am sure many of you are asking, “well, all these outside the box jobs are all well and good, but what can a librarian do in the non-traditional setting?  How can I translate that skill set.”  Through my work, I was able to attend the Association of American Publishers Professional and Scholarly Publishing Professional Development Committee Brown Bag Luncheon, Librarians in Publishing Organizations, which answers just this question.

Our speakers, McGraw-Hill’s Digital Resources Librarians Kalle Covert and Anthony Marrocolla, and Wolters Kluwer Librarian/Market Intelligence Manager Michelle Volesko Brewer, are what you would call “floating librarians.”  They are extremely autonomous within their organization, but use the fact that they “speak librarian” to their advantage in several ways:

  • Understanding of the user (librarian, faculty, student) and their needs.  All three of our speakers make that the heart of their daily work. Michelle calls this the “librarian as trusted partner” – the place for the reality check of user, always asking the question, “Is this what the user really wants?” while balancing the needs of the company.   (By the way, here is where all those User Experience courses you took in library school come in handy!)
  • Bridge communication gaps in different departments, while keeping that end user in mind.   For example, sales staff at McGraw-Hill may only have knowledge about the one product they were hired to sell – but Kalle and Anthony have knowledge of the entire suite of products, and can make connections to benefit all of the sales staff.   Often these take the form of reference interviews – the same reference interviews that the librarian in the public or academic library conducts daily!   They can ask the questions that keep the user at the heart of the conversation and bring forth real needs and desires.
  • Bring overall knowledge of the field.  By keeping up with trends through listservs, conference attendance, and professional involvement, Kalle, Michelle, and Anthony know more about the profession and their users – market trends, different customer views, the publishing and library industry as a whole.  My former boss at JSTOR used to call this “librarianship at 30,00 feel” – the macro view of the profession, not just the micro view you get from your own library working world.   All this “librarianship at 30,000 feet”  translates into effective training for sales staff, marketing messaging that speaks to librarians and their users, and products designed with the user directly in mind.
  • Use the organizational, analytical nature of the librarian (you know, that one that is the heart of all the librarian stereotype jokes).    At McGraw-Hill, Kalle and Anthony put this to work in usage statistics analysis. both for their customers, and for their work colleagues.   This includes interpreting usage statistics for customers, identifying which resources need to be more discoverable for customers and fellow employees, and working to develop the best search strategies for customers.

Are you noticing a trend with those three bullets?  One word should be jumping out at you – USER.  I did this deliberately to remind you that the library is more than a building of books – it is the user that comes to peruse and absorb those books.  (Slight tangent for some homework:  If you want to reflect in further detail on this philosophy, do read R. David Lankes’ The Atlas of New Librarianship and view his New Librarianship Master Class MOOC.) Just because a librarian is not working in a library does not mean that those user-centered skills go to waste – they just translate into a different set of users – and in the case of our speakers, both internal users (colleagues within your company), and external users (the customers of the product).   I see this often in my daily work at JSTOR.  About ⅓ of our outreach staff has the MLS degree, and several of us (myself included) remain active in our professional groups.   We use what we know about our field to enlighten our colleagues who may not always be aware of the latest trends outside of the geographical territory they cover.

I encourage you to think less about the library as place of books – and more about the library as the place of the user.  When you remove the physical resource, and insert the heart of the library – the user – a whole world of jobs opens to you.   Make that your resolution for 2015 – to get the heck out of the library!

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