I’ve had the good fortune to be friends with Pat Wagner for many years, and during that time have marveled at her ability to “get to the heart of the matter” clearly and quickly, whatever that matter happened to be. Recently she shared this information about her career helping library organizations do what they do, only better.
What is your current position or professional role?
I am a management consultant for the library community. I speak at conferences, conduct workshops at libraries, facilitate meetings, and provide advice for groups and individuals. My topics are mostly what people don’t learn in grad school: personnel, management, leadership, strategic planning, project management, customer service, marketing, conflict management and career issues. I also help write, produce and market online classes in various formats. My main partner is the University of North Texas LE@D program, which provides online continuing education classes for libraries.
How long have you been doing this work?
I started in 1978; since 1989, about 85% of my clients have been people who for libraries and higher education.
What career path (in terms of previous jobs, education, volunteer work, etc.) led you to this work?
A series of well-timed accidents, a short attention span, and a love of books and writing. I did not follow a career path the “right” way. I was flexible, indifferent to status, interested in new ideas, willing to take risks, willing to work hard, and nice to everyone. Two paths converged: a desire to impact people with my work as a performance poet and playwright, and a belief in the importance of a marketplace of ideas. When I started presenting information, I listened to my audiences, so I am doing something different today than I was 30 years ago.
What do you like most about your work?
The best part is when I feel that the people I work with are able to take the information and make it their own, creating success for themselves and others – I want to put myself out of a job!
Watching people make themselves and others unhappy, without the ability and/or interest in changing. I feel frustrated, and I doubt my ability to do the work I was hired to do.
What do you see as the various career paths LIS professionals could follow with this type of skill set?
Anything in adult education, including training, coaching, supervision, project management, or organizational development.
What personal characteristics do you feel are important for someone doing this work?
I am told I am positive (self-motivating), a risk-taker, interested in new ideas, respectful, good-humored, articulate, able to think on my feet, eclectic in terms of professional influences (I don’t worship at one altar or discipline), energetic, and mostly kind. You have to like people, and think of other people as your equals, not that you are better than other humans.
What type of education (grad school courses, additional training, etc.) would best prepare someone for this type of work?
I favor a diverse liberal arts education with formal classes in adult education, psychology, anthropology, philosophy, history, and sociology. Also, I prefer that people have lots of job experiences in blue-collar and service jobs outside of libraries and academe, so that they can relate to everyone in the workplace and walking in the front door, not just other MLSs. I have washed dishes, worked in Headstart programs with toddlers, sold cameras and clothing, worked in print shops and warehouses, etc. Finally, I think theater training is more valuable than “speaker” programs – a good class in improvisational theater teaches you to be fearless.
What advice do you have for someone contemplating a career doing the type of work you do?
Start today. Don’t wait until you are perfect. You know stuff; find audiences and learn how you can improve. When I was first developing my practice as a trainer, I spent a year volunteering as a speaker and workshop leader for 50 different organizations, in exchange for feedback, while I earned my income elsewhere. At the end of a year, I had a stack of recommendations, lots of feedback, and real offers of work.
Anything that, looking back, you wish you’d learned in grad school that you didn’t?
I never went to grad school, but I know they don’t teach one how to run an enterprise. There is next to nothing in library schools about how to be an independent information professional: market oneself, run a business, etc.
Where can we follow your career?
Linked In is the best way – Look for Pat Wagner with Pattern Research, Inc, Denver