How My Previous Jobs Prepared Me to be a Librarian
by Alexis Linoski
Librarianship is my third career. And, for me, it’s basically coming full circle. My first job was as a student worker at my college’s library. I worked there for three years, part-time during the semester and full-time during the summer. I loved the job and the environment. However, after graduation (I was a Business major), I moved on to other jobs. For some reason, it didn’t really occur to me to head to Graduate School for a Library Science degree. Although, truth be told, I was rather tired of school by that time. Yet, here I am, over ten years later, the Collection Development Librarian at the University of Central Arkansas.
I eventually reached a cross-roads and had to decide what I wanted to do; where I wanted to go. After checking a number of graduate programs, I finally looked at the Library Science programs, and I knew that was it. Given my job experience and skills, plus my love of information in all forms, it was obvious this was the way to go, though I knew it would be hard without recent library experience. During library school and after graduation, I came to realize that the skills and experiences from my previous jobs lent themselves very well to the library field.
There are four main areas in which my past jobs provided experience that relate to the library field: customer service, liaison duties, training, and technology.
What I did. I previously worked for a software company. I was both an Account Manager, working with assigned customers, and later a part of the Customer Care Team. My customers were all over the country. This required me to build relationships with them not only in person, either with site visits or meeting them at conference, but also over the phone. As a part of Customer Care, we received cases (calls, requests, inquiries) via an automated system. The customer called a number, the case was created, then assigned. Once the case was mine, I researched the information the customer needed and followed up, either by phone or by e-mail. The research part required knowing which corporate database to search, which department to contact, company procedures, etc.
How does this relate? This has actually translated well to my time at the reference desk. The big difference is the patron is usually standing in front of me, but there is the occasional call. Because of my previous job, I’m very comfortable walking a patron through databases, the website, referring them to the appropriate sources, print or electronic, or answering other questions, either in person, on the phone, or via e-mail. The questions are different, the resources used are different, the environment is different, but the main job function is basically the same.
What I did. After my time in Customer Care, I moved to a position in Customer Communications as a User Group Manager. Customers created user groups, like those that exist for library information systems. My job was to work with them to provide resources from my company for sessions at the user group meetings and also to promote those meetings to the product development teams within the company and to our third party vendors. I worked with over 25 user groups.
How does this relate? Many academic library positions require that librarians act as liaisons with various departments. Some examples: "ÃÂÃÂ¯ÃÂÃÂ¿ÃÂÃÂ½serving as a liaison to the School of Business," "ÃÂÃÂ¯ÃÂÃÂ¿ÃÂÃÂ½acts as collection development liaison to specific academic departments/programs," "ÃÂÃÂ¯ÃÂÃÂ¿ÃÂÃÂ½serving as liaison to the Science and Health Science departments," and "Provides liaison services including subject-specific instruction, outreach activities, and collection development." These tend to be rather vague statements, though some, like the last, get a bit more specific. The basic definition of liaison is "communication between different units or groups of an organization" (Webster’s II, 1984, p. 689). In my previous job, I was the liaison between not only my company and the user groups but between the user groups and my company. It’s been fairly easy to transition to being the liaison between my library and several departments on campus as well as with the database vendors.
What I did. Working for a software company, you tend to wear a variety of hats. While working with the user groups, we selected and implemented event management software. Once the software was selected and a process developed (I also wrote a users manual), we had to train the user group boards. While I’d done training before on other software applications (with another software company), it was obvious that I couldn’t visit each group individually. So, the training was provided using Internet Meeting (WebEx) technologies. Once trained, some users still had questions or just needed help, which I provided over the phone. In several cases, due to schedules, the training was done one-on-one via the phone.
How does this relate? Library instruction becomes a part of just about every librarian’s job, especially in academic libraries. Even though I am not the instructional librarian, I routinely show students how to use various databases, how to tweak the searches, and more, when I am on the reference desk. I’ve also given library orientations, which include the basics of navigating the website, what databases are good for what type of research, and the best approaches to searching the databases. It was not difficult for me to transition from teaching software applications to teaching research databases. And, yes, I’ve even done it over the phone a time or two.
What I did. This perhaps is where I gained the most at my previous job. Because it was a software company, the use of cutting edge technologies was almost required to remain competitive. Not only was I exposed to new technologies, such as chat (it was new at the time) and Internet meeting tools, on a regular basis, but also to various types of software applications, everything from Microsoft applications to customer relationship Management (CRM) software to event management software. I learned a variety of technologies and also became a power user of several Microsoft Office applications - Word, Excel, and PowerPoint.
How does this relate? I have no fear when it comes to something new. If it’s new, I want to try it. I may not like the application, but I want to learn it. The applications are different, but I see the potential for how new technologies can enhance the services that the library offers. Many positions look for familiarity and experience with computers or computer applications. And, when I’m at the reference desk, students often need help with various applications. It’s not generally a documented part of what a reference librarian does, but I’m glad that I’m able to help students with questions or problems with the applications.
I could go on. Yes, there’s more. As I mentioned earlier, this is my third career. However, these skills alone would not have qualified me to be a Librarian. Even though I’d worked in a library as an undergraduate and knew what a library was about, what I learned in library school was invaluable. But, these skills, combined with what I learned in library school, add to the overall "package."
Webster’s II New Riverside University Dictionary. (1984). Liaison definition. Boston: The Riverside Publishing Company