Considering transitioning from a traditional LIS job to a job outside the familiar library roles? One of the biggest challenges you’ll face is figuring out how your traditional skill set “maps” to non-LIS positions.
In an effort to create a group of questions that could be replicated for each LIS role, I decided to take one job – reference librarian – and see how it could be taken apart as an LIS role and then parsed into non-LIS opportunities. A caveat here: I’ve never actually been a reference librarian, but have colleagues who’ve been willing to share their reference-librarian experiences with me, so this represents my best-guess interpretation of basic reference-librarian skills.
Here’s the process I would go through to map this role:
Job title: Reference librarian
Core job skill: Research
Job skill components: 1) mastery of research process; 2) ability to conduct successful reference interview; 3) ability to identify, evaluate, and choose best, most authoritative information resources to answer question; 4) ability to successfully use those tools to answer patron questions.
Additional “soft skill” business strengths: 1) customer relations; 2) interviewing; 3) interpersonal communication.
Business value-add: 1) analysis and synthesis; 2) research results presentation and packaging for client; 3) specialized topic knowledge (for example, biotechnology); 4) specialized resource knowledge (for example, public records or patents). [Note: these are skills that would make your basic reference skills more valuable to a non-LIS employer.]
Shift in approach: in a business or organization setting, your research will generally be used for decision support, so you will be expected to provide very targeted information and data as concisely as possible – think bullet points; also, research will often be only one component of your mandate – you may also be relied on to analyze, synthesize, and “package” the information so key points are readily identifiable.
Potentially translates to these roles: business or data analyst, business or information researcher, market research, business or product development support/research, competitive intelligence specialist, donor or prospect researcher (in general, all of these titles would include descriptors such as “analyst,” “researcher,” “specialist,” or “coordinator”).
Additional potential roles: focus group facilitator/leader; environmental scanning specialist; business trends analyst; customer service, content curation, writer, online content developer.
Who would use these skills: almost all businesses (most likely in these departments: marketing, sales, business development, product development, corporate communication and/or community affairs), large nonprofits (especially for donor research), marketing and public relations agencies (research for their client projects), organizations that use content for marketing/branding purposes.
Considerations: 1) think about which aspects of reference work you most enjoy to determine which of these career paths might be most appropriate for you – for example, if you especially enjoy the people interaction part of reference work, then you might be most interested in jobs like market research, focus group facilitation, or customer service; 2) think about whether or not there’s a subject area you’d like to specialize in if you choose to pursue the research field; 3) if your writing skills aren’t solid, you’ll want to practice them until they are.
I would love to hear from others whether this type of information is helpful in thinking about how to repurpose traditional library roles into new opportunities. Too much information? Too little? What’s missing? Would greatly appreciate any and all recommendations!
I appreciate this post! I don’t anticipate finding a job within a library when I graduate (though I have one now, think I would love another, but really want to move). I am quite intimidated by the resume’ writing process, so your examples of action verbs, task descriptions, and such phrases reduce my fear factor. I first trained as an information specialist, so I’m happy to find I haven’t left behind those career trajectories. Thank you.
I’m so glad you found this useful, Jennifer! I just came across another term I never would have thought of, but is in the same category: information/library scientist for a biopharmaceuticals company. So I’ll add that to the list, which I’m guessing will continue to grow as we all stumble across additional relevant job titles.
What about technical services librarian type work? This is getting phased out as much as if not more than reference librarian work. I would love to see what types of possibilities exist outside the traditional library for someone with strong information management skills but has not worked in reference for a long time.
Abolutely, Kathleen – I think there are many areas, certainly including the many aspects of tech services, where we need to have this type of skills mapping. I just picked one to start with, to try to figure out how to organize the information. If the next one I worked on were to be tech services, is there any additional or different information you’d find valuable to have included? At this point, I’m just trying to get the approach down, so would appreciate any/all feedback!
The way you approached the reference librarian skills seems to be a good way for tech services as well. I think a lot of people would appreciate hearing that their information management skills are transferrable to other positions and industries. For me personally, I would love to hear of options other than acquisitions (my tech services specialty) where I can utilize my skills.
Thanks for agreeing to work on this!
It was great to chat with you this afternoon, via email. Hope it’s ok with you, I would just like to give the readers of this article a pointer to http://alt-librarian-careers.blogspot.com/.
This blog is intended to capture real-life examples of librarians who have found positions in alternative career paths. It will also be used to recommend job openings found on the web, that are applicable non-traditional library roles. Specifically, I am curating positions that utilize our unique combination of skills in information management, customer service, research/reference/information retrieval, and analysis.
Thank you for this incredibly helpful article. Not only is it full of useful information but I also really appreciate the organization of this piece. I think it provides a great outline for analyzing many types of careers and job possibilities. Fantastic! Thanks again.