Career Strategies for Librarians
So You Want a Career in LIS?
by Jill Emery
On September 11, 2001 all bets were called off. For the first 3 days after the attacks, the world wanted
information, pure unadulterated facts. What happened? Who committed these acts? Why didn’t the U.S.
A. see this coming? Why would someone do these things? The search engine “www.google.com”
changed over a matter of hours from a basic, pure search engine into a web portal. Suddenly, librarians
and information specialists had a valued role to play. We could gather together the resources people
wanted. We could serve these resources to our patron bases. We could validate the fact from the fiction.
Many in the field rose to this occasion. These librarians and information specialists went into action,
compiling links, evaluating the good sites from the bad, trying to find ways to fill this newly created and
demanding information niche. Being able to help in this capacity and aiding someone in their desperate
need for information is what makes this career exciting, enlightening and worthwhile.
In average day-to-day terms, librarians help those who save the world. Our daily crises are more in the
vein of which servers went down and which links aren’t working, which IP addresses are or are not valid,
and which descriptors does our library want to give to book x and serial y. You deal with problem child X
beating up problem child Y and bathrooms which overflow and buildings that flood. Not to mention that
damn book that the library catalog clearly says is here is not anywhere to be found much less on the
shelf where you expect to find it. Our work is undervalued and underpaid in the non-profit sectors.
University presidents/City Hall managers rarely stand up at meetings and announce what a fabulous
contribution the library is making to their campus/city environment. In the for-profit sectors, we are treated
as information miners, web monkeys and data entry drones. While in the for-profit sectors, the pay may
be high, the hours are long and innovation goes unrecognized and rarely rewarded and the information
specialist jobs are the first to go in a declining economy.
Most of the work we accomplish in any given day is behind the scenes of the actual working
environment. How many times have you heard the librarians speak on NPR or show up in front of the
camera on CNN? We are a low-profile profession overall and rising stars give papers on things like
metadata and e-book readers. We provide the backbone, the gristle for the world to wrestle with and
make sense out of and this is a fine role to play in today’s world. Carl Castle would be hard pressed to
pronounce half of what he does on NPR without the help of capable and proficient librarians.
You want a job in library and information science? Bear these three things in mind:
The greatest satisfaction will come from your own sense of value and self-worth and being self-aware of
both your contributions and your shortcomings.
Humor is a key to success.
With any career, if you don’t like it, find something else to do.
About the Author:
Jill Emery is Director of the Electronic Resources Program at the University of Houston.
Article submitted Nov 2001
Disclaimer: The ideas expressed in LIScareer articles are those of their respective authors and do not
necessarily represent the views of the LIScareer editors.