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.
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.
“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:
Years ago, when I was working as an executive information advisor to a CEO and was also teaching adjunct in the University of Denver MLIS program, my friend (and colleague) suggested that I wasn’t really a librarian, or a researcher, or an information manager, although I performed all those roles.
Infonista: Now My Mom Gets What I Do
Instead, she said, I was an infonista, someone who made her living using, creating, disseminating, or otherwise creating value with, information. I think she nailed it (certainly it offered a way to summarize my job skills for my mother), and I also have found that there are a lot of us who are doing exactly that – making a living with information.