Librarians Have Skills That Pay The Bills

Sarah Houghton-Jan recently conducted a survey over Twitter about why people continue to work in libraries. The results were interesting, but also thought provoking. It made me think about my own career as a librarian and the skills I’ve developed. One of the reasons that people gave for continuing to work in libraries was “Fear that I’m not qualified for anything else.” I tried to be honest with myself and question if that was a reason I’m a librarian. The answer was a resounding no.

Not just me, but librarians in general have a lot of skills that can transfer well to other fields. Houghton-Jan in her post mentioned project management, information architechture, and writing. After some thinking about myself and a lot of other librarians I know, I recognized there are a lot of trasferrable skills that we librarians have.

Project Management

Much of what we do involves large scale projects. Whether it is redesigning a website, weeding the reference collection, or digitizing a collection of rare materials, librarians have experience in planning and managing projects.

Information Architecture

Librarians understand information and how to organize it like few others. This skill is needed a lot of places due to the terabytes or exabytes or yottabytes (it’s a thing, look it up) of data than is constantly being created. Librarians understand ways to get to information quickly and how to select which information is important. Librarians understand indexing, search, or semantic data. The future needs minds like ours to make sense of this wealth of information.


Our profession is filled with constant writing. Writing grants, proposals, scholarly articles, blog posts, web copy, emails, marketing materials, newsletters, etc.


It’s necessary for librarians to promote themselves and their services in order to get used and stay relevant. Librarians create paper and electronic newsletters. They use services like Facebook, Twitter, and Foursquare to engage and interact with users.  They create marketing materials, whether they’re signs, ads, or banners. They network in the community spreading their messages via word of mouth.

Customer Service

This is (or should be) our bread and butter. Librarians have superior customer service skills. They want to make sure that their patrons are pleased, have a good experience, and get a sufficient answer to their questions. I can recall many instances of librarians chasing after people with one last resource that they found, or librarians who rush catalog a book to get it into someone’s hands. Librarians aim to please, and this translates to the for-profit world well.

Event Planning

There is no shortage of events that librarians plan and organize whether it’s a summer reading program, conferences, crafternoon, or gaming events at the library. Librarians know what it takes to make events successful.

Technology Chops

It might not always seem like it, but librarians are probably one of the most tech savvy groups of people outside of Silicon Valley. Librarians, for the most part, understand the web and how it works. They’re curious about new tools and like to experiment. Being able to adapt to the changing technological landscape is a necessary skill to have these days. Librarians possess this skill in spades.


Out of necessity librarians have learned to be very creative. Budgets are constantly getting cut, and funds are almost always tight, but librarians find a way to do a lot with a little. We implement creative solutions on a shoestring budget, whether it’s running Linux on public workstations or finding more efficient ways of managing our collections. This could be very useful in places like the non-profit sector or start-ups.

I work in libraries because I really love learning. I love the idea of learning and I like helping other people learn. But I could see why someone might want to try something other than libraries. I don’t think that we should fear about not being able to do other things. We have skills that can be transferred to a lot of other fields. The ones I listed above are just a few. What other transferable skills do you think you have?


An Illusion of Privacy (The Facebook Debate)

privacy sign

photo by rpongsaj on Flickr

There has been a ton of talk online about the most recent privacy debacle, stemming from Facebook’s Open Graph and other privacy changes. One interesting point of view was that of tech blogger Robert Scoble who wished that Facebook was more open, because right now only 5000 people can see his page.

In contrast to this viewpoint, danah boyd believes that most people are not like Robert Scoble. They are angry and confused with these changes and feel like they have to suffer through them and continually “fix” their privacy settings when Facebook makes changes. The reason they feel like they have no other choice and cannot delete their profile is because they have invested so much in creating it, and all their friends still use it as a way of primary contact. People feel trapped.

Another viewpoint comes from Mashable contributor Ben Parr, who defends what Facebook is doing. He makes the point that privacy on the web is dead. Even if you can control who sees your profile, any information you put up is still a copy/paste away from being out on the open web. You have little control of something once it goes online.

Since libraries are champions of privacy, I think there are a couple of lessons here for us and our users:

  • Privacy is the responsibility of the user – If you are worried about someone (mom, ex-girlfriend, employer) seeing something on your Facebook profile, you probably shouldn’t post it in the first place. Privacy online is an illusion. This is Parr’s point about any info being a copy/paste away from everyone seeing it. If something is put on Facebook or elsewhere, others will eventually see it. It’s simply good practice to not post secret things online.
  • Social media is public sharing of information – Going along with the first point, there are no more walls. Twitter is an open conversation. Facebook is realizing this as well and trying to make their site more open. They want to allow people to share more across the web (the reason for Open Graph). Mark Zuckerburg believes that public sharing is the new social norm and wants to tap into that.
  • People use social media for different purposes – Robert Scoble wants Facebook to be more open, but that’s because he uses it for self promotion. As boyd points out most people don’t use Facebook in this way. They use it to keep in touch with friends and share their personal lives. Social media has tons of uses though: self-promotion, learning, communication, marketing, friendship, etc. Assuming that everyone is using a tool exactly like you is terribly short-sighted.

I agree with boyd that people are frustrated and feel trapped. But the reason for this is because they are believing a lie. Facebook created the illusion that you have privacy settings and these settings keep your information safe. In reality, these settings are confusing and often change; and even with privacy settings a friend can download a photo you post and put it elsewhere. In the age of social media, information posted on the web (even behind walls) can be shared everywhere.

This can be a great thing. A lot of amazing things can happen with this ease of sharing information. The problem comes when people share things on the web that they shouldn’t. In my opinion libraries and privacy task forces should be focused on dispelling this illusion that people have walled social media gardens where they can air their dirty laundry.


Moments That Make It All Worth It

shooting star

Photo by Navicore of Flickr

We had an all campus retreat this week. It was all day and the chairs were uncomfortable, but there were periods of illumination and inspiration.

One of these periods was when someone at our table told of a moment of affirmation when a student was really in their shell while studying abroad. This staff member encouraged the student to seize the opportunity while he had it. He didn’t hear back from the student for a long time. When the student came back though, he came to the staff member’s office and told him that it was that conversation that helped him turn the corner and make the study abroad experience amazing.

This made me think about times like that in my own career – moments of affirmation that help you realize that you are making a difference. It’s like watching a meteor shower. You can get discouraged, but sometimes there are spectacular flashes that are utterly beautiful.

In my job I think of reference interviews where students start understanding how they’re going to start approaching their project, or when they get super excited about their topic. I also distinctly remember a class that I thought went OK, but a student saw me in the library later and told me how useful it was. It’s times like this that give me so much joy.

I know other people have had experiences like this. What’s your story? When was a moment that you realized, “hey, this is why I became a librarian?”