Independent Information Professional Career Paths

Doing independent information work, or becoming an “independent,” can be a fun, rewarding, and potentially lucrative way to deploy your information skills. In fact, almost any aspect of information work can be done as an independent.

Business research? Donor prospecting? Information organization? Content creation? Designing user experiences? Creating taxonomies? Processing archival collections? Setting up private libraries? Doing market research? Yep, any and all of these types of information work can be done on an independent basis.

Becoming part of the gig economy

One way to approach independent information work is to do the occasional side project for an individual or organization literally as a “sideline” to your full-time job. There are, in fact, so many ways to do independent information work, and so many types of work to do, that your options are only limited by your own skill set and finding someone willing to pay you to do work for them.

Often this type of on-the-side LIS work happens because someone – perhaps a former employer or a friend of a friend – knows that you have the skills they’re looking for and asks you to take on a project for them. As long as there’s no conflict of interest with your primary employer, this is a great way to get started. You’ll have a small- scale test of how side projects work for you, for example:

  • Can you manage your time well?
  • Do you enjoy the type of work the project entails?
  • Do you mind giving up your leisure time to do the work?
  • Can you manage a client deadline without undue stress?
  • Does what you’re being paid make it worth giving up your free time?
  • Would you like to do more of this?

Side projects are a great way to expand your work options, add a bit to your income, grow your network, and potentially let you test out a future career pivot.

Becoming an independent information professional

Or you may want become a full-time independent information professional, an options for which there are many different approaches. You might work with a single client, for example, being a contract substitute librarian for one library district. Or you might become a “solo,” a one-person shop offering your services, for example, as a freelance indexer to publishers around the country.

On the other hand, you might want to build a business that includes several employees, thereby extending your company’s ability to handle a large number of clients and projects simultaneously. Or you might decide you’d rather not take on the management and overhead of employees, so as an alternative you decide instead to join a loose network of information pros who come together on a project basis, participating based on the expertise needed on specific projects.

If you decide to launch your own independent business, you’ll need to make a number of critical decisions before starting out. For example:

  • What work will you do? What information product or service will you offer?
  • What market will you target? Why will they pay for your product or service?
  • What will you charge?
  • How will you get your first client, and then the next clients?
  • Who is your competition, and how will you differentiate your offering from theirs?

This is just a starter list; you’ll want to do a lot more research should you decide to pursue this path. But the bottom line in doing independent information work is that all the choices are completely up to you: what work you do, how you do it, what markets or clients you go after (as well as, occasionally, what clients you fire), what you charge, how you grow/expand your business (if this is a goal for you).

Resources

Association of Independent Information Professionals

Bates, Mary Ellen. Building & Running a Successful Research Business: A Guide for the Independent Information Professional, 2d ed. Cyberage Books/Information Today, 2010. 500p. ISBN 0910965859.

Palmer, Kimberly. The Economy of You: Discover Your Inner Entrepreneur and Recession-Proof Your Life. Amacom, 2014. 239p. ISBN 0814432730.