So You Want to Be a Special Librarian?
11/03/2011 § 20 Comments
When you started library school, did you know exactly what kind of librarian you wanted to be? Or — did you have a general idea, but you were open to other possibilities?
That’s where I was when I started at SLIS. I knew without a doubt that I wanted to be a librarian, but I also figured out pretty quickly that the traditional library job market is more competitive than ever before. I began to lean toward academic librarianship, specifically reference work, and as an English major I assumed my subject specialties would be in the humanities.
However, a combination of library school experiences in my second year – a great Special Libraries professor and mentor, student jobs and internships, and an amazing Science Reference class – have convinced me that not only are my reference skills transferable to many other jobs, but that a variety of subjects and nontraditional jobs can hold my interest. I currently have a paid internship in an academic military library, something I didn’t even know was possible when I started library school.
If you’re not really sure what special libraries are, here is a good starter definition – they are essentially libraries or information centers within corporations, private businesses, government agencies, museums, colleges, hospitals, associations and information management consulting firms (and any other institution you can think of – I have a friend who interned at a paranormal library!).
I can’t sum up an entire course worth of information on special librarianship for you, but I did want to let you know that amazing jobs in nontraditional library settings are out there, and give you a broad overview of my favorite resources.
If you are even the tiniest bit interested in a nontraditional library job, you should look into a student membership with the Special Libraries Association, or SLA — students only pay $40 for a year membership. It’s still a lot of money, but if you’re interested in going to the annual conference (as well as gaining access to all of SLA’s resources), it is WELL worth it. If your school has an SLA student group, join it. If it doesn’t – start one! Here are some of SLA’s resources I have found invaluable:
- My SLA annual and MLW conference experiences. At SLA annual, I met librarians who worked for Target, the Department of Transportation, the European Union — you name it. I truly couldn’t believe some of these positions existed.
- SLA First Five Years, which aims to be a resource for new librarians
- SLA Future Ready blog
- SLA Divisions — I’m a member of the Military Libraries Division, but as you can see there are so many to choose from! Many of the division pages contain excellent resources, some of which I have used in my reference courses, and browsing these is a great way to get to know some of the unique positions out there. Also, each of the divisions have a special dynamic and many awesome librarians to network with! In SLA, you are not alone, even if you’re a solo librarian.
However, lest you think this post is one big advertisement for SLA, here is the blog for ALA’s FAFLRT (Federal and Armed Forces) round table, as well as one of my favorite resources, the Careers in Federal Libraries Google Group.
And finally, human resources!
Since my special library experiences have come in the form of academic science and engineering, medical, and military libraries (and I will happily answer any questions about those experiences!), I asked our very own Nicole Fonsh to speak a little bit about how she came to be a research analyst:
I work in the research library at a private equity firm. There are 7 of us and all of my co-workers have MLIS degrees. For many this was their first job out of grad school while others have some background working in law libraries or academic libraries. We also have a part-time intern from Simmons who works on our catalog and ad-hoc requests as necessary. The library provides “global deal and shared resources staff in each business unit with industry, economic, and demographic research as a means to support informed investment decisions. Services also include database training, subscriptions ordering, and archiving.”
We are all called “Research Analysts” and are divided by industry coverage. The industries range from metals & mining to healthcare. The idea is that we are all experts in the resources in our industries that we cover.
I love my job. Honestly. When my internship in the library turned into a full-time opportunity last September I was apprehensive but then crazy excited. Because I realized that what I would essentially be doing everyday was Reference. Which I love. I love finding answers for people and learning new things. This is basically what I do each day. It’s cliché, but everyday is different. That is not to say that there aren’t times when I want to pull my hair out going “um I don’t think that information exists” but I love that it is challenging and new and different each day. And when someone writes back “Thank you, this is exactly what I was looking for” there is a sense of accomplishment and joy that you can’t put a price on.
And the best part of it all- I didn’t even realize this was something I could do with my degree. But it is and I find almost every day that there is some aspect of one of my classes that I get to apply to my research and searching. And that is a great feeling.
So, do you want to be a special librarian? Here is my ultimate tip. After you have done your research about what types of positions interest you, try to find an internship in that kind of position. While it is possible to get a job based on your other library experiences (transferable skills!), having even a little bit of experience in that position will make a world of difference, especially in more difficult to obtain positions. This is where networking can really help you, so don’t be afraid to contact special librarians! Being a member of SLA is a huge icebreaker, but there are definitely other ways to get in touch — Twitter, for example.
Do you work in a special library? Please share what you do and how you got there! Do you have any other great resources to add to our list? If you’re a student, do you have questions about special libraries, or any of our personal experiences? We’re happy to answer whatever we can, and we’ll find answers to the questions we don’t know!