Book Review: What’s the Alternative: Career Options for Librarians and Info Pros

What's the Alternative: Career Options for Librarians and Info Pros.
Rachel Singer Gordon. Medford, NJ: Information Today, Inc, 2008.

whats the alternative book cover image In this tight employment market for librarians, job seekers with an MLIS degree will find a clear voice of encouragement and hope in Rachel Singer Gordon’s What’s the Alternative? Career Options for Librarians and Info Pros. Gordon, author of several other books and websites in the field, presents a comprehensive overview of information-related career options, from organizations that serve libraries, to non-traditional positions within libraries, as well as self-employment and freelance research work.

The structure of the book is designed to highlight the many different arenas in which librarians may employ their expertise, regardless of whether or not they have an MLIS or prior library experience. Short chapter lengths, with numerous subsections and clear headings, make the book a quick read that is easy to pick up and browse for positions that fit particular interests. The supporting website, has additional and updated resource listings, as well as previews of the Introduction and Table of Contents.

Gordon consistently focuses on transferable skills, self-promotion, and the important steps towards developing a “commitment to a career path – not just a focus on landing one job” (p. 232). In the first chapter, the author asks the reader some poignant questions to assist them in exploring their own motivations and goals for leaving the library. Thoughtfully considering these questions will go a long way towards planning a successful and rewarding new career, rather than a haphazard exit from an uninspiring library job, or a desperate plea for any job available in this difficult economy.

After reviewing jobs in organizations that serve librarians and libraries, such as vendors, Gordon goes on to describe other businesses similar to libraries that hire information professionals, for example, publishers and museums. The sections on “striking out on your own” and starting an information business or consultancy are most helpful for those who already have considerable experience and a reliable networks of contacts.

Another section explores Information Technology and other related jobs both inside and outside of libraries, although it is perhaps more difficult now to secure a technology position without highly-developed technical skills than it was when the Internet and computer systems were still in their infancy. Also, with the proliferation of technology classes in many MLIS programs, some of the technology roles in libraries, such as web content manager and digital librarianship, are no longer as non-traditional as they were even a few years ago.

Sprinkled throughout the chapters are inspiring sidebars with stories from information professionals who have already made the transition to alternative fields. These not only give a face to the careers that people may not fully understand, but the testimonials also describe reasons for changing positions, and the benefits and drawbacks to each situation. Contributors cite joining subject-specific associations, in addition to the American Library Association, as a way for librarians to stay connected to the profession, especially those who eventually see themselves ultimately returning to traditional librarianship.

For recent graduates who have just invested in an MLIS degree, it may be difficult to think about choosing a career outside the library. Indeed, one sidebar commenter mentions the troubling notion of “But you’re not a real librarian” (p. 50), which unfortunately leaves one without a satisfying comeback except to impress upon our colleagues the need to expand the fold, “as well as to lay claim to information work in multitude disciplines, rather than ceding the field to other professions” (p. 235). Throughout the book, Gordon does an excellent job of reminding those dissatisfied with their jobs, or discouraged by applying for positions for which they are highly overqualified, that there are many good options for each person to find a career that will fit them and their needs. She recognizes that many skills, when stripped of library jargon, can be relevant for just about any kind of job that deals with information, organization, or communication.

Encouraging everyone to follow their heart and their particular needs wherever it leads them, Gordon challenges, “why place limits on yourself and what you can do?” (p. 157). So, what new opportunities or avenues will this book inspire you to explore?

Reviewed by: Tanya Cothran. Tanya is a recent MLIS graduate from St. Catherine University, and Executive Administrator for the international grant-making organization, Spirit in Action.