What Else You Can Do with a Library Degree?

By Christine Martin

Apologies to Betty-Carol Sellen, editor of 1997 book of same name.

With library salaries in the cellar, it pays-literally and figuratively-to look around for non-library employers who value a librarian’s skills. Old standbys, of course, are vendors that sell products to librarians and private-sector organizations such as newspapers, law firms, and other corporations that may have an in-house library. But have you considered:

  1. Working for a trade association. Some trade associations have traditional libraries, even those that don’t often want to make information available to their members, the media, and the public via the web. If you have good information organization skills, some familiarity with electronic databases, and good writing skills, you may be of interest to the association community. Your chances are even better if you have some media or public relations experience. Most associations strive to be the “voice of the industry” and an information professional who has some experience with external relations may be especially attractive. In fact, if you have experience with community or political groups or superior administrative or executive skills, you may make a good association executive. Job titles typically are executive director, assistant director, or program manager. For further information, see the American Society of Association Executives (www.asaenet.org).
  2. Working for a social service agency. Among other things, social service agencies provide “information and referral” (I&R). According to the Alliance of Information and Referral Systems (http://www.airs.org), a national trade group for the industry, “I & R specialists are skilled professionals who work with callers to find the help they need. They assess callers’ needs and help the caller determine their options and the best course of action. Additionally, I & R specialists are trained to determine whether a caller may be eligible for other programs, to intervene in crisis situations, and to advocate on behalf of the caller.” While librarians are not social workers, many do have a lot of experience working with the public. Who better to refer people to social services such as emergency financial assistance, mental health support, or job counseling? According to the Alliance’s web site, I & R centers maintain “comprehensive databases of resources, including federal, state, and local government agencies, private non-profit agencies, faith and community based agencies, schools, libraries, and civic organizations.” Perhaps an I & R center near you needs a librarian to help oversee its database(s) and any call center it uses to field inquiries.
  3. Writing. Many librarians could go this route. If you’re good with graphic design (remember all those library displays and web sites?) and can write clean, crisp copy, consider writing and editing newsletters, brochures, press releases, and the like. Potential employers include not only the private sector, but also local governments and community groups. For aspiring writers in the Midwest, the Independent Writers of Chicago (www.iwoc.org) offers tips and support. Other metropolitan areas may host similar groups.
  4. Training of all kinds. Librarians train people to use both print and electronic resources. Training is big business outside the library. Not only do companies train people to use their products, they also train people to provide service (think call centers) and handle tough situations. If you are comfortable in front of a group, speak well, and have teaching experience of any kind, you may have a future in training.
  5. Event planning. Organizations that provide training (see above) also set up training events. So if you have experience as an event planner (library programming, anyone?), consider what you might have to offer trade associations, governments, community colleges, and other organizations that train large numbers of employees–whether theirs or other organization’s. Also, trade associations hire event planners to run their conventions and hotels hire event planners to accommodate them. Start small, and you may be able to break into this field.
  6. Foreign service. The U.S. State Department hires Information Resource Officers to serve overseas as part of its Office of International Information Programs (IIP), which was created from elements of the U.S. Information Agency after it merged with the State Department in 1999. Minimum qualifications include a master’s degree in library science and at least five years of library experience (two “general” and three “specialized”). Applicants must be willing to serve worldwide and should expect to spend 75 percent of their career overseas, moving every two to four years. For more information, see the State Department’s web site (www.careers.state.gov/specialist/opportunities/inforesource.html ).
  7. Records management. Businesses and governments alike use records managers to maintain important documents and save space. Although most records managers are not librarians, the skills they use may remind you of things you learned in library school. For example, if you took any classes is business systems analysis or data definition, you may recognize the following records management duties:
    • analyze an organization’s records to determine:
      • what information they contain;
      • how long various records series must be retained by law; and
      • whether a record series contains any personal information that must be safeguarded (e.g., social security numbers).
    • document the organization’s records (similar to cataloging);
    • organize documents for easy retrieval and timely destruction;
    • analyze space needs (everything you learned about floor weights and shelving will come in handy); and
    • train people to find records, either on a new system or an existing one.

Like librarians, records managers must work well with people, despite any outdated images to the contrary. For example, records managers can expect to consult with co-workers, including senior management and the information technology department, to:

  • identify the records generated by the organization, how they are filed, and how people are likely to refer to them when trying to retrieve them;
  • determine records retention periods (i.e., does the organization want to keep a record for only the legal minimum, or are there administrative, financial, or historical reasons to it longer?); and
  • develop a taxonomy (i.e., subject classification) or other finding aids that make it easier for users to identify the records that they need.

For more information, see ARMA International (www.arma.org), which was originally founded as the Association of Records Managers and Administrators.

For still more ideas as well as in-depth case histories, see What else you can do with a library degree, edited by Betty-Carol Sellen, Neal-Schuman Publishers, Inc., New York, 1997.

Christine Martin is an aspiring freelance writer and 1997 graduate of the University of Illinois’ Graduate School of Library and Information Science .