Student Groups and Alternative LIS Careers

One of the most valuable career resources available to you as an iSchool student is the school’s support for a professional membership in one of several professional associations, i.e., specifically, the American Library Association (ALA), Special Libraries Association (SLA), ASIS&T (technology focus), and the Society of American Archivists (SAA).

Membership in one of these groups can be especially useful if you’re considering an alternative LIS career. Few resources offer a more effective way to learn about the world of nontraditional LIS work than these professional organizations and their special-interest communities (SIGs). Whether called SIGs, divisions, communities, or some other name indicating a shared professional interest, this is where you’ll find the people who are doing the work that intrigues you.

For example, SLA membership automatically qualifies you to join one of its divisions for free. You’ll have the option to choose among such groups as Biomedical & Life Sciences; Business & Finance; Chemistry; Competitive Intelligence; Education; Engineering; Environmental & Resource Management; Food, Agriculture, & Nutrition; Information Technology; Military Libraries; News; Petroleum & Energy Resources; Pharmaceutical & Health Technology; Science-Technology; and Taxonomy, among others. If you’re interested in more than one division, you can join additional ones for a small fee.

ALA, ASIS&T, and SAA also have SIGs that may reflect a type of work or a career path that especially interests you. Depending on the size of the group, they may offer scholarships to students for conference attendance, career-focused webcasts, mentoring, internship information, and other student resources. These are generally free to students and offer the incredible benefit of being created by practitioners, the professionals who can give you credible, real-life insights into all those questions you’ve been wrestling with.

Here’s how to make the most of these opportunities:

Connect with group members. Check the membership list for your SIG and reach out to members who are doing work of interest to you to learn more about what they do (informational interviews are especially valuable here). Do they have career advice they might offer you? Employers they might recommend? Internships they might be aware of?

Participate in the student and regional chapters. Think about not just gathering career information, but also building your professional network and gaining visibility among professionals who could turn out to be hiring managers. Look for roles that let you connect with practitioners and student members who share your interest – membership and programming are always great roles for letting you reach out to people and introduce yourself.

Take advantage of every free learning resource offered. Yes, it can be incredibly challenging to add this to your already overburdened schedule, but consider this scenario:

  • You attend a webinar put on by one of the leaders in your SIG, an expert in a career path you think you’d like to pursue. The webinar is great, you learned all sorts of useful information, and you follow up with the presenter expressing your appreciation for his/her information and asking if it would be possible to have a brief information interview. That conversation goes well, you send a thank you note and a LinkedIn request so you can follow his/her career. You periodically send this person a note with information you think might be useful for them, and let them know where you’ve taken your career and how you’ve benefited from their advice. End result: you’ve learned more about the alternative LIS career path that interests you, you’ve established a professional-level relationship based on respect and appreciation with someone you can learn from, and you’ve impressed that person with your intelligence, courtesy, and professionalism.
  • Switch to a different SIG if the one you’re in doesn’t meet your needs. Did the Competitive Intelligence Division turn out to be more about data analytics than the research strategy that was your true interest? Once you realize that, make a change into the group that does work for you (for example the Business & Finance Division).

Bottom line: don’t miss the opportunity to take maximum advantage of the iSchool student membership in your chosen professional association. People are amazingly gracious and generous with their time when it comes to supporting students just starting out their careers; make the most of this opportunity while you have it to explore every aspect of alternative LIS careers that interest you.