Ask a Special Librarian – February Edition

Ask a Special Librarian
Tracy Z. Maleeff
Library Resources Manager at Duane Morris LLP in Philadelphia
@LibrarySherpa &

Tracy_Z_MaleeffLucky for you, the special librarian saw a shadow and now we have at least six more weeks of the “Ask a Special Librarian” column! I was thrilled to see the great response from my inaugural installment of “Ask a Special Librarian.” The questions and comments I received justified the thought I had that there is a lot of uncertainty out there regarding the special libraries world. Before I address the questions that were sent in, I wanted to make a shameless plug that is vital to understanding the professional life of a special librarian.

Some of you may know that I am the Chair of the Special Libraries Association’s Annual Conference Advisory Council for 2015. This means that I head up a committee that is charged with bringing the conference content to life. I selected the conference theme of “Be Revolutionary!” not only as a nod to host city Boston’s history, but to encapsulate the feeling that I think special librarians need to have in order to succeed professionally. IBM first told us toTHINK.” Apple later told us to, Think different.”

From where I sit, I say that info pros and special librarians need to go beyond that and be outright revolutionary. Turn the past ways of thinking upside down. Take your skills and be a big data specialist, be a knowledge management director, be social media maven, but, most of all, just be revolutionary. To get exposure to the skills needed to do this, attend the SLA 2015 Annual Conference & INFO-EXPO June 14-16 in Boston. Full details here:

Now, back to the business at hand – answering reader questions!  

Stacy asked: What would be your best advice for someone who wants to work special libraries? I currently work as a school media specialist and an academic librarian part time but I am wanting to expand knowledge and my experience in different types of libraries.

First of all, Stacy, good for you for wanting to expand your professional interests! Even if you wind up not liking it, you can at least say that you tried it. Remember that the term “special libraries” applies to a wide range of industries. For example, within the Special Libraries Association (SLA) alone, there are 26 different divisions to represent the varied professional fields of the members. So, to speak in very general terms regarding special libraries, here is the advice I have for you:

  1. Networking. Contact an information professional at an employer that interests you to inquire about setting up an informational interview or a shadowing day. If you are still enrolled in an MLIS program, you should be able to get assistance with this through your school. In my opinion, a smart move would be to get your LinkedIn profile up to snuff first. Use that as a tool to connect with info pros and special librarians in a field that interests you. Sure, you could just cold call someone. But, I think a better use of your time is to go through networking channels in order to get informational interview or shadowing day questions answered. Ask for just 15-30 minutes of their valuable time for a phone call, or just e-mail a networking contact some questions. Use your professional association contacts and LinkedIn connections.
  2. Temp agency. If you can, try just dipping a toe into special library waters by getting a temporary placement in one. The folks at Pro Libra Associates were phenomenal in helping me with a temporary job at QVC, which started off my special libraries career. There are other placement agencies like Randstad and LAC Group. The important thing is to make sure the placement service has experience with LIS placements. Another option is to work for a filing service. You’ll be able to see what those work places look like and the kinds of print materials used. These are just examples of ways to get your foot in the door without making a full commitment to something you’re not sure if you’d like.
  3. Just apply for a special libraries job. Lastly, spruce up your resume and put yourself out there. Remember that special libraries may not use the term “librarian” so be creative when you use search terms on job websites. You might have better luck searching by your skill set rather than an actual job title. Keep an eye on INALJ for jobs posted in your area!

Stacy also asked, Is it true that corporate or law librarians who work at a firm have to “fight” for their jobs on a daily basis?
Sure, demonstrating your value to the firm or company is a very important part of job security. In my experience, though, it is not a daily Sword of Damocles for corporate or law librarians. If you have heard that specific example from someone, my opinion is that company or firm has bigger issues that go beyond the library department. Often times, good performance speaks for itself. Never forget that metrics are your friend. A good director or manager will track different types of services in order to provide that data to the company’s decision-makers. It’s also advisable to keep track of your own metrics for your annual review and substantiation of your work. Now, there may be things you could do on a daily basis to remind your company of your value. Elevator pitches, for example. But, that’s just good business practice, in my opinion.

Janice asked: I just asked this in a LinkedIn discussion group, but do you have suggestions for how to find corporate librarian jobs? I have searched on many of the alternate titles (conveniently on INALJ), and have checked career sites of companies in the area. It may be simply a dearth of open positions in my location at present, but maybe I should be searching in other ways/places as well. This is an avenue I would be interested in pursuing if the opportunity arises.

I give you a lot of credit for trying. It does sound like you really are beating the bushes. True, it just could be that there aren’t any jobs available in your area at the moment. The answers I gave Stacy basically apply to your situation as well. In addition to those above, let me give you some more.

  1. Keywords. On the main page of, there is a list and links to resources about using keywords other than “library” or “librarian” when searching for a job. Remember that many special libraries will use other terms and may not even list an MLIS degree as a requirement. I feel like the onus is on us as information professionals to explain to prospective employers why they need us. I have heard some human resources professionals say that they didn’t know the MLIS degree even existed. In some instances, a company may not even realize that the skills required for the job they are hiring for needs a librarian or information professional.
  2. Expand your online search. Sites like,, and can often get overlooked by librarians and information professionals. Look at specialized sites like (Job Search for Technology Professionals) in order to see if you can find something that matches your skill set.
  3. Networking. Networking. Networking. I cannot emphasize enough how important networking is to job hunting and career development. You’ve heard the expression, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” Either in person, over email or online – get out and network! Sites like or have inexpensive options to create business cards, if you don’t already have some.  Once you make those connections, ask about job openings or career advice. Get your name known within your professional community. But, be careful not to impose on these new connections! Read my blog post, Cultivate Your Network Like a Garden for more information about maintaining a healthy networking relationship.
  4. Suggested Reading. Check out, Rock Your Network for Job Seekers: How to Rebuild Your Network in 5 Minutes a Day Online and Off by Wendy Terwelp (@wendyterwelp)


I look forward to answering more of your questions about special libraries. Please drop me an email at or Tweet at me @LibrarySherpa if you have special libraries questions!

  1 comment for “Ask a Special Librarian – February Edition

Comments are closed.