My primary motivation for going to library school was that it provided specific skills for a specific profession; you went to library school and afterwards you became a librarian. After almost a year and half of library school, however, I’m pretty sure I will never work in a library.
So what happened? If I’m not going to be a librarian, what is it I’m going to do with a library degree? This is a question I get all the time. I’m planning on working for a business doing either information management or business research. I’m still working on refining an elevator speech that effectively explains this confusing situation, but a short blog entry should afford enough time to fully explain my about face in career plans.
Once I began taking courses, I realized I was most intrigued by the technology and innovation in the realm of information science. I enjoyed the technical challenges of learning a programming language, and the dynamic, fast-paced environment of business. I appreciate the values and goals of traditional libraries, but I found the questions raised in the business environment to be more intellectually stimulating.
So what are these questions being asked by business that I found so stimulating, and how can library students address them?
In my experience, I’ve have found that there are two basic questions related to information science being asked by businesses:
1. What can we do with all the information available outside our organization?
2. What are we going to do with all the information we’re producing inside our organization?
I confronted the first question while working as a Graduate Assistant for John Deere where I performed business and technology research. Again, you might be asking, what is a library student doing working at John Deere?
Using my knowledge of information resources available through the UIUC library and globally on the internet, I’m able to present information to managers and decision makers that they would have previously never seen. More specifically, my team and I research technologies and companies unknown to the company and provide analysis that is used to inform decisions. It might be surprising, but even a large company like John Deere doesn’t know everything! Perhaps less surprising, engineers are usually very good at doing a few very specific things, but can struggle when something falls outside their expertise or training. As an example, imagine an engineering team at Deere trying to develop the most comfortable chair on the market. They probably know a lot about past John Deere chairs or their traditional competitor’s chairs, but what if there’s a new company of China or Europe making the best chairs in the world? What if there’s a truck manufacturer that’s developed a chair that is so ergonomic that it eliminates back pain? This is where I step in, take a few weeks to do research, and then submit a report on the most innovative industrial machinery chairs in the world. I’m simply taking traditional library skills such as fulfilling reference requests, and applying them to the business world.
The second question is a little bit more abstract, but I think it’s currently one of the most interesting opportunities for LIS students. Businesses, like the rest of the world, are producing more information than they ever have before. As this information grows, all organizations are realizing that there is value in being able to find documents from the past and capture the knowledge inside of them. To further complicate things, businesses often have teams of employees working together on the same documents. Most of us have difficulty finding documents or emails we created and organized ourselves, let alone finding a document that was titled by someone else. Almost everyone has experienced the horrors that come with a shared drive where anyone can create folders and name documents inconsistently; it’s impossible to find anything! In the summer of 2012, I worked as an intern at State Farm where I helped a department of 100 better organize, name, and categorize the documents they worked on with one another. Without some structure and guidance, the place where they shared documents, a Microsoft SharePoint site, had become a mess where no one could find anything! Similar to John Deere, I was able to take the theories on information management and organization I learned in my library courses and apply them in the business environment in a way that was valuable to individuals and the organization as a whole.
These are just two ways that one might take the skills learned in library school and apply them in environments where librarians have not traditionally worked. The world of business is not for everyone, but it can be a fascinating and invigorating place with ample opportunity.
When I first came to library school, I would have never guessed that within a year I would have worked for two different corporations and was planning on working for a business upon graduation. It’s certainly not the well-worn path to a specific job that I had hoped for when I began. However, it’s been a pretty exciting ride and I’m looking forward to a very exciting career upon graduation.