Jordan Murphy explains Alternative Career Options for LIS Professionals

Our latest post comes courtesy of Jordan Murphy, who has done some fantastic research into alternative careers for LIS professionals. She has also addressed the lack of exposure the profession is given by careers services such as Milkround or Prospects.ac.uk and such, showing that there really is a wealth of options  outside of traditional libraries for people in the field.

My story

In 2012 I graduated from the University of Birmingham with a degree in History and English and buckets of ambition. There was one vital thing I was sadly missing; specific intent. As the sun set on an era and the pitter-patter of graduation hats ground to a gradual halt, the transition from celebrating past achievements to striving for new ones irreversibly set in at what felt like a cataclysmic rate. The destination we had been travelling towards, for the entirety of our academic careers had finally been reached and suddenly the concept of “we” dissipated; we were no longer united by one cohesive goal. Mass liberation from our academic bond, had released us like fish in the ocean to swim in any and all directions that we may have deemed the most fortuitous.

After attempting a couple of jobs that I was lamentably indifferent to (professionally I’ll describe them as “learning curves” but personally I’d be more inclined to call them “car crashes”), I knew I had to go back to the drawing board and seriously consider my options. I felt dejected and almost a little foolish for blindly working so hard only to realise I wasn’t so certain what it had all been for.

A couple of years down the line, I can now happily report that my uncertainty has subsided. My many wrong turns finally led (in a much deviated route) to librarianship and I haven’t looked back since. I’m currently studying for my MsC in information management with Robert Gordon University (part-time, distance learning) and I’m working full time as an information assistant in a city law firm.

My problem

Initially, when I approached FLIP Network to ask if I could contribute, I had a clear image in my mind of a problem that I was convinced existed: a tendency for graduate careers advisors (such as Target Jobs, Prospects and Milk Round) to omit information on LIS careers. Whilst it is certainly true that the sector is somewhat under-represented, I did find traces of information so this is perhaps an unfair accusation to make.

I still feel some regret, however that as an arts graduate I had unknowingly been honing the skill-set required for a career in information throughout my degree, however It took considerable time, research and many a wrong-turn to fall into librarianship, even more so to discover specialist roles in KIM, government, business and legal domains. It seems, after closer inspection that the information is out there – if you’re actively searching for it and you know what you’re looking for. CILIP of course, offers some sound advice but again – you would have to have thought of looking there in the first place.

The problem with the “milk round” of companies that circulate the universities to cherry pick their next intake of graduates at the career fairs is that they are not representative of the whole spectrum of careers and therefore can offer a slightly skewed perception of what’s out there. Undergraduates simply cannot aspire to things they don’t know exist.

Obviously most people know that libraries exist but what many people are unaware of, and therefore the point I would like to address in this post, is the depth and range of opportunities available within the library and information sector. For all the research I’ve conducted and the people I‘ve hounded and asked questions to I’m still to this day trying to fuse the pieces of the puzzle together to create some sort of complete picture of the possibilities. A recurring theme I’ve noticed when asking people about their careers in LIS professions is the accidental nature in which people seem to have landed; those whose lifetime ambitions have always lain with librarianship are seriously outnumbered by their accidental counterparts. I certainly fall into the latter category, though only through a lack of education of the options. I thought it prudent to share what I’ve learned so far about the types of opportunities available.

Academic and public libraries seem to be the more heavily represented domains at the CILIP events I’ve been to. I’m going to do a quick fire breakdown of what I’ve learned so far about what else is out there. Have I missed anything off the list? Do you have any experiences that are different?


 

Domains

Special libraries

Amusingly I’ve always considered The term special libraries to sound a little “exclusive”. Like you have to be “special” to work there. Of course this is ridiculous; this umbrella term covers a whole host of unique libraries that may have slightly different priorities and concerns to those of public or academic libraries; they may have different accountability to the wider organisations of which they are a part or their user groups may be more varied or niche, placing their own different demands. Special libraries are an exciting prospect for anyone with a particular interest in something rather specific. If you can name it, there’s probably a library for it. From societies (royal geological society, royal horticultural society) to sporting venues (library of Wimbledon) to media establishments like the BBC.

Corporate companies / Charities

At the risk of sounding old fashioned, we are living in the “Information Age” (yes I just used that term, I know – so 2005 right?). This means that increasingly, companies are being valued not only on their tangible assets but their “intangible assets” too. This can refer to the know-how they possess, their understanding of their own market, knowledge of customer behaviour and consumer habits or business processes. In the corporate world this can be just as valuable, if not more so than the profits derived from the actual products themselves. Increasingly, corporate companies are investing money in locking this information safely within the organisation and furthermore ensuring that the information can be easily retrieved at any given notice. Additionally, companies rely on external information to inform business decisions. They may require business or market intelligence, case studies or information on other companies; competitors or prospective clients. It’s down to information professionals to supply all of this. I’ve met librarians who have worked for construction firms, pharmaceutical companies, PR companies and professional services firms. All of the above applies just the same to charities!

Government

Just as businesses need to ensure the safety of their know-how, it is imperative government does the same, both at the local and wider levels. There are many issues for local government regarding information; perhaps the most pertinent being the obligation to satisfy freedom of information requests and make available any data that has been gathered on the local area. The drive for e-government has also involved lots of policy making at higher levels and, more commonly, information professionals are sought to advise on a local level what is compliant with the law. The NHS, Civil Service , Local council,  House of Commons, Secret Intelligence Service and the Security Service are examples of government institutions (the latter two are run by the home office) that employ information workers.


 

Job Roles

Information officer

Information officers manage the procurement, supply and distribution of information across an organisation. This can often involve developing internal resources like book collections, electronic resources and intranet pages additionally there is an emphasis on re-packaging information for users which may have been retrieved from internal resources or subscribed electronic databases.

Knowledge manager

Knowledge managers (also referred to as information architects) tend to deal with capturing, developing and maintaining an organisation’s knowledge so that it can effectively be stored in an accessible format. Knowledge refers simply to “what is known” in an organisation; it may refer to business processes, or intellectual capital.

Information systems

Information systems managers deal with the organisation’s need to capture and store the data of an organisation. The role is at the more “techy” end of the spectrum, there may not be a requirement for the ability to build the systems but a sound understanding of how they are organised is crucial.

Information governance officer

The work of an information governance officer may be largely project based and emphasis is on compliance with legal obligations. They can advise on what information should and should not be kept on record, how long it should be retained and how/ when it should be discarded. Different types of organisations will have different needs in this area. There can be an overlap here with records management.

 

Hopefully this is a useful starting point by which you can start thinking about where a career in the library and information profession could take you.

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