Mary Ellen Bates is arguably one of the best-known information professionals working today. Her workshops are standing-room-only, and her books, blog, and columns have helped countless independent info pros and those considering this option find their way.
Following are the answers Mary Ellen gave to questions about her career path:
What is your current position or professional role?
It’s a personal point of pride that I don’t have a job title, but I will admit to being the founder and principal of Bates Information Services Inc. I help my clients make better-informed strategic decisions through research and analysis, and I offer business coaching for both new and long-time independent info pros.
How long have you been doing this work?
I started my business in 1991, after having worked in special libraries for more than a decade.
What career path led you to this work?
I worked in special libraries for 12 years, primarily managing corporate information centers. I loved the research, but didn’t enjoy managing people or working within large organizations. While attending a Special Libraries Association conference back in the late 1980s, I saw an exhibit booth for the Association of Independent Information Professionals, and I knew I’d found my future.
The problem is this: Often the heart and mind disagree. Fervently.
– Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard
You know the feeling: you know you need to make a change of some sort, but don’t seem to be able to get it in gear.
Perhaps you’ve decided to broaden your skill set, which may mean pursuing an online certificate or degree, something you’ve never done before. Or you’ve decided that you’re going to start actively building your professional brand online, necessitating learning and using unfamiliar tools. Or you’ve determined that your organization could support professional development among the staff much more effectively if it changed its approach to annual performance evaluations – but how do you help bring about that change in approach?
Heather Hedden, author of the excellent and very practical The Accidental Taxonomist(Information Today, 2010), has developed her career as a respected taxonomist by being willing to take on new challenges, move fluidly between employment and self-employment, and constantly learn more about the issues and technologies that drive this discipline. In Heather’s words:
One of the really cool things about how flexible an LIS career can be is that it allows you to create your own path, and pretty much endlessly take that career onto new paths as your life circumstances dictate. And if you enjoy multi-tasking, one of those new paths might actually be to take it several directions at the same time.
For example, as you think about the future of your career, you might consider combining multiple types of income streams. For example:
That’s one of the questions we’ll be exploring in a new subgroup I’ve just created on LinkedIn – and we need your participation!
The goal of the group is to provide a forum for asking your career questions, sharing your career and professional expertise, finding out more about career paths that may be of interest to you, and finding ways to connect with people who may be able to help with your career goals.
How To Join the Group
If you’re already a LinkedIn member, just go to the LIS Career Options group page (it’s a subgroup of the ALA groups page; you don’t have to be an ALA member to join, but you will have to join the ALA LinkedIn Group) and sign up – no approval process necessary. Then jump in and start asking or answering questions, start a new discussion thread, recommend a great resource, or contribute in any way you’d like. (And yep, lurkers are welcome, too!)
Pop quiz: what’s the one resource every aspiring information broker and independent researcher should read, re-read, and keep handy on his or her desk? The recently released second edition of Mary Ellen Bates’ Building & Running a Successful Research Business (CyberAge Books/Information Today, Inc.).
Subtitled “A Guide for the Independent Information Professional,” the second edition of this popular and practical guide is even more useful than the first edition (2003), because so much has changed in the ensuing seven years. Bates captures this perfectly in her introduction:
When I wrote the first edition of this book, blogs were a novelty; Google’s ad server was cranking out ads so fast that it ran out of “inventory” (not enough advertisers for the space available); and “knowledge management” was the hot new job title. What I find most exciting about what has happened since the early 2000s is that what was then only available to the big players is probably now just an app you can download to your phone.
Content Strategy for the Web by Kristina Halvorson
Grad school is not only an opportunity for you to develop your LIS skills and expertise, it’s also an opportunity for you to build a professional platform that will help launch you into a career that’s rewarding both personally and financially.
The following tactics will help you jumpstart your career:
1. Set your personal career growth agenda. Focus on growth, not grades, because your ability to grow professionally (that means stretching beyond your comfort zone, trying new challenges, recovering from failures and moving on to successes) lasts a lot longer – and will do you more good – than an A in cataloging.
“So, if I were to become an independent, what kind of work would I do?” Given the shaky state of the economy (and LIS jobs), more and more information pros are asking this question.
Or maybe you’re thinking about adding a second revenue stream in addition to your day job. Or wanting to develop a new career path into which you’ll eventually transition. If you’ve got information skills (or are willing to learn them), there are all sorts of ways to turn that knowledge into income.
What kinds of things can you do as an independent information pro? Three of the most popular types of information work are research and analysis, writing and content development, and information products.
One of the challenges for those of us in alternative LIS careers is how to describe ourselves. Information consultant? Check. Independent information professional? Check. Consulting/freelance/contract/independent librarian? Yep.
But the role I most often end up playing is information strategist. And what the heck, you may ask, is that?
The Information Strategist’s Role
As an information strategist, I work with for-profit and nonprofit organizations to help them create an information strategy that aligns with and drives their strategic goals. I meet with key members of the organization to determine answers to the following questions: