Where can your LIS skills add value to a consumer-goods company, a software development organization, a green-tech developer, a national online retailer, or any of the myriad other organizations that could really benefit from a smart information professional, whether they know it (yet) or not?
Actually, those skills can address multiple needs throughout each of these potential employers; the key is understanding how and where to “plug in.”
Embedded and Integrated Options
As a bit of background, one of the increasingly important roles for what used to be called special librarians is “embedded librarianship.” This term describes working as an information professional or librarian for an organization that has a centralized enterprise library or information center, and being located not within the information center but instead with one of the operational departments. As author David Shumaker notes in his classic The Embedded Librarian: Innovative Strategies for Taking Knowledge Where It’s Needed (Information Today, 2012),
Embedded librarianship…moves the librarians out of libraries and creates a new model of library and information work. It emphasizes the importance of forming a strong working relationship between the librarian and a group or team of people who need the librarian’s information expertise…. The embedded librarian becomes just as engaged in the work of the team as any other team member. As the engagement grows, the embedded librarian develops highly customized, sophisticated, and value-added contributions to the team – contributions that sometimes go far beyond the confines of traditional library reference work…. The librarian functions as a team member like any other – and shares responsibility for team and organization outcomes with all the other members of the team. (p.4)
A variation on Shumaker’s embedded librarian is what Mary Ellen Bates calls integrated information professionals – individuals functioning in similar operational roles but without the ties to or support from their now-disbanded business information center.
Or, Jumping In On Your Own
A third variation, however, which presents both a terrific opportunity and an equally terrific challenge, is those jobs created by specific operational departments savvy enough to realize they need the help of someone skilled in working with information.
The challenge? Well, actually there are two.
The first one involves what such jobs are called (so that ideally you can actually find them when you’re job-hunting). Each organization, and often each department within each of those organizations, may use completely different words and titles to describe the role they have in mind. Your best bet? Start off looking for job titles with nouns along the lines of information, knowledge, content, research, and data and adjectives like manager, coordinator, specialist, researcher, and occasionally librarian.
The second challenge, especially for LIS students and information professionals unfamiliar with non-library organizations, is figuring out who does what in a typical organization so you can understand how and where your LIS skills might be match.
Who Needs What Information (and Your Skills)
Within an organization, who needs what information, and how do they use it? Knowing this basic information is critical to being able to not only add value but also sell yourself to a potential hiring manager.
With that challenge in mind, the following is a general and very basic overview of how most enterprises organize themselves, what departments do what work, and the information they need to do it. Keep in mind that every organization is different, so this should be considered simply a guide rather than a roadmap to a specific company’s organizational layout.
Human resources (HR). Works with: department heads; legal department; contract trainers; benefits providers, recruiters, outside coaches (executive, diversity, performance, etc.) and vendors. Accountable for: aligning workforce abilities w/ company needs; recruitment and retention; on-boarding (getting new hires “settled in”); providing appropriate learning opportunities to grow workforce; creating and managing competitive benefits and compensation programs; establishing contract and outsourced/off-shored employee relationships. Key issues: legal issues related to personnel matters; staying current w/ HR; training and development (T&D); benefits, and compensation best practices; advances in recruiting, hiring, and compensation practices. Information needs: best practices, benchmarking information; vendor/provider background research, evaluations, comparisons; training and development resources; background research on potential job candidates.
Information systems (IT). Works with: department heads; legal department (compliance); contract programmers. Accountable for: aligning enterprise IT infrastructure with company needs and strategy; allocating budget to reflect often-competing strategic priorities; evaluating new technologies in terms of long-term enterprise needs; creating new product IT, managing contractors responsible for creating new product IT, or managing relationship with vendor partner responsible for creating new product IT; supporting legal requirements (records retention policies). Key issues: staying current on emerging technologies, bugs, and applications; understanding enterprise goals in order to support them via IT; getting other departments to understand and support IT roles and activities. Information needs: staying apprised of emerging information technologies; vendor/provider background research, evaluations, comparisons. IT may also be integral to an organization’s data gathering, management, and analytics efforts, depending on how the data responsibilities are assigned/located.
Sales and marketing. Works with: product developers; engineering and development; finance (for product pricing issues); corporate communications (press releases). Accountable for: performing market research, market segmentation; creating and executing marketing and sales campaigns; documenting return-on-investment (ROI) of marketing campaigns; setting and meeting sales goals. Key issues: understanding characteristics of market opportunity; understanding customers’ purchase drivers, segments; understanding competitive landscape; organizing and managing a high-quality customer care program. Information needs: market, customer, and competitor information (includes demographics, purchase drivers, product response, trends and changing patterns); sales data gathering, organization, management, and analytics; effective sales channels and approaches; statistical information; market research – characteristics of potential opportunities; call center and customer service best practices, benchmarking. Increasingly moving toward “content creation” role and consequently needs individuals who can research and write effectively for consumers, and also potentially use social media channels to “market” that content for increased brand visibility and customer loyalty.
Finance. Works with: department heads and key company strategists and decision-makers; legal dept (Sarbanes-Oxley, compliance issues); outside and internal auditors; investors and industry analysts; SEC (if public). Accountable for: integrity of company’s financial reporting; integrity of company’s financial operations; budget data; industry comparisons and ratios. Key issues: legal issues related to financial requirements; financial strength of organization relative to similar companies; competitive intelligence re potential joint ventures partners, acquisitions, or hostile takeovers. Information needs: internal financial performance data; budget data; industry comparisons and ratios; competitive intelligence of a financial nature; market trends (for financial forecasting); regulatory or market developments that may impact revenues.
Engineering and production. Works with: product managers; sales and marketing; suppliers. Accountable for: creating products within technical and budget specifications; delivering products on time; using best practices and processes to maximize product’s consumer benefit while minimizing product production costs; supply-chain management; creative and managing competitive benefits and compensation programs; establishing contract and outsourced/off-shored employee relationships. Key issues: maximum-efficiency, minimum-cost production processes; optimizing supply-chain management processes (vendor relations and specifications). Information needs: best practices, benchmarks; vendor/provider/supplier background research, evaluations, comparisons; advances in engineering and materials sciences; possibly patent research.
Legal. Works with: department heads, especially on contractual agreements; finance; HR; corporate communications (press releases). Accountable for: ensuring company compliance with all legal/regulatory restrictions; ensuring legality of hr policies; ensuring that contracts are appropriate and not damaging to the organization; working with outside counsel in the event of a lawsuit. Key issues: legal issues related to personnel matters; regulatory requirements and proposed regulations; keeping the company out of lawsuits. Information needs: ongoing updating regarding legal and regulatory changes; legal decisions and proceedings, current and background; any pending SEC issues; records digitization, preservation, and management. The records management function may be part of the legal department or it may fall within the purview of the IT group.
Corporate communications. Works with: department heads; legal dept; sales & marketing; “visible” executives making public statements. Accountable for: creating and placing external messages to “brand and position” the company, rather than the product (which is sales and marketing); communicating with the organization’s various constituencies, including investors, the media, and competitors; building and protecting the company’s reputation in the marketplace; managing public-relations crises. Key issues: controlling messages and communication processes; avoiding public-relations disasters; creating positive views about the company and its products; positioning the company and its leadership as capable, innovative, and expert. Information needs: quotable statistics, background information, competitive intelligence; media research; issues research; speech/article backgrounders. The brand content development and marketing function may be located in the corporate communications department if not owned by the marketing department, or it may be a shared responsibility. (Note: the phrase marcom refers to marketing and communications.)
Cross-departmental. Depending on which department(s) has responsibility for these areas, information architecture, taxonomy-building and implementation, and metadata/cataloging work will be important information skills wherever content or data is being gathered, organized, managed, analyzed, and archived. Keep in mind that as is often the case, organizations are unlikely to use the exact words to describe these roles that LIS professionals would. And in that case, it’s really important that you use the potential employer’s phrases rather than LIS terminology. Literally, you’re proving that you speak their language….
Be sure to keep in mind that every organization has information needs specific to its business and the products and services it delivers. Just consider this a starter overview to get you thinking about where and how your information skills could add value within your current organization or one you’d like to work for.