The 2004-2005 NMRT’s Membership Meeting and Program Committee Presents Interviews with Library Leaders

For the month of December, the NMRT Membership Meeting and Program Committee chose to interview Carol Tenopir, a well-known and prolific member of the library profession. We asked her to offer advice to new and prospective librarians, particularly those interested in pursuing careers in academia. Dr. Tenopir's responses are listed below.

Nathalie Hristov

What advice do you have for the current and up-and-coming library professionals who want to take on more of a leadership role in their profession?

Get involved from the beginning by attending conferences, volunteering for a committee, working with a division or special interest group, organizing sessions, etc. Show up at business meetings, sit in on committee meetings, be there and be willing to volunteer. And attend a conference even if your library doesn’t pay your full expenses—it will pay off personally in the long run.

You might start with tasks that will help you learn and provide visibility, but that are difficult to find volunteers for. For example, one of the first things I did for the American Society of Information Science & Technology was to edit the newsletter of a Special Interest Group. Edit a newsletter, be webmaster, review contributed papers—there are lots of those types of opportunities in professional societies that need lots of volunteers and that have the side benefit of teaching you about the organization and the profession.Having said that, don’t try to do to much at one time—pick a few targeted tasks or focus on one division and do that well.

What advice do you have for new librarians trying to establish a research agenda and record of scholarly activity?

Don’t be too scattered in your research areas--focus on one or two areas that are of interest to you. Look for research topics that are related to your work. For example, if you are going to start a new method of user instruction or choose a new software package for virtual reference, or devise a new way to collect user data for collection development decisions, think of how you can turn these tasks into research projects. Gather “before” and “after” data, monitor choices and progress, test new methods on groups of users. Your well-documented and designed research approach will not only help you in your job, but will assist other librarians in similar situations. Plan to disseminate your research at conference presentations, as journal articles, or in library trade journals. You can start with regional conferences and work your way up.

Also, find collaborators who provide strengths you don’t have. If you feel shaky in statistical analysis or research methods, hook up with an experienced faculty researcher; if you are uncomfortable in writing, find a good writer to work with. If you seek federal funding from agencies like IMLS they like you to work with other disciplines and have strong research teams, so get into this habit early. If you are in an academic library you are surrounded by faculty in any subjects who have research interests and strengths. Get started by working with them or senior librarians.

Are current programs straying from core values?

How should library students and new librarians prepare themselves for a career in academic institutions?

All of the library and information professions share common core values that are still a part of the curricula of ALA accredited schools. The courses may have different titles, be a part of a larger course, be required or electives, but basic principals are still essential to our disciplines. The sphere of information professions is growing, however, and there are more types of opportunities for our graduates than ever before. Beyond core values and knowledge, the specific courses needed may vary. For example, a children’s librarian needs children’s literature courses, a systems librarian needs technical and digital library courses. Each, however, needs courses that cover professional ethics and service to user communities. Students have a greater responsibility to interpret and apply core values to their specific work interests.

To prepare for any career, consult with your academic advisor regularly! In addition, I would recommend a work-place mentor. If your LIS program has an alumni mentoring program that matches alums with current students, be sure to take advantage of it. If not, seek out work opportunities or volunteer opportunities where you can benefit from a mentor in a professional setting. This is especially important to prepare for a career in academic libraries.

Future academic librarians need a good background in multiple areas—reference (both general and subject specific), management, technical (digital libraries, web design, cataloging or indexing) and user-centered courses (library instruction, user-focused research). If you know what area you want to focus on, build a specialty by having coursework or independent study in that specialty. You will also be expected to be a researcher so take research methods, participate in research opportunities with your faculty while you are in school, and consider the thesis option. A practicum should be the keystone of your academic preparation, where you put what you learned in classes into practice in a non-threatening environment with a chance for feedback.

Carol Tenopir, Professor School of Information Sciences and Interim Director, Center for Information Studies University of Tennessee 1345 Circle Park Drive, 451 Communications Bldg. Knoxville, TN 37996-0341 (865) 974-7911 FAX (865) 974-4967