Not too long ago, iSchool student Elaine Hall responded to an email query requesting a research assistant and was hired to work with Dr. Sandra Hirsh, iSchool director. Hirsh is a fairly busy professional, and initially assigned Hall tasks that included working on Hirsh’s presentations and doing research into global librarianship, emerging trends, and alternative career opportunities for MLIS degree holders.
Hall used to ask Hirsh for more work, a request that’s become a standard joke between the two. Because soon Hirsh revealed that she was working on a little project that would require just a bit more time, research and input from Hall: Together, they would be developing the next great LIS textbook.
The Life of an Editorial Assistant
Information Services Today: An Introduction was published on March 16, 2015, just one year after its conception. The textbook is a current, comprehensive overview of the information professions, perfect for introductory library and information science (LIS) courses as well as for new and current professionals seeking to augment their education. It’s paired with supplemental multimedia materials, including a series of webinar discussions with selected chapter authors. All of which Hall was involved in organizing.
Consider that, in addition to her research duties editing a textbook, Hall was taking two to three classes per semester, providing consulting support part-time for a previous employer, spending a good amount of time with her family, and working on her e-portfolio.
How did you find the time? It is the number one question Hall is asked these days. “You just buckle down and do it,” she laughs. “I don’t know what my strategy is, other than I’m highly organized.” Her advice for anyone who takes on multiple projects, balancing priorities and commitments: “Every day I think: what is the most important thing today? And it might change from what I thought yesterday. It’s just a matter of developing the organizational landscape up front, and then reprioritizing that, constantly.”
Hall used her initial research work with Hirsh to suggest respected LIS thought leaders to write chapters for the textbook, and from there, the duties developed organically. “I didn’t even really have an idea what I’d do on the project,” Hall remembers, “but I got involved in the process… and it went back and forth from there. [Hirsh] knew me, knew I would take ownership.”
She found that, with her student point of view, she was uniquely qualified to improve the content of the textbook. “As a student I was able to say: this doesn’t quite make sense to me. And that challenged the authors because they’re writing this for brand new students. That was valuable, because it’s not just one expert critiquing another expert. I wouldn’t have been able to be an effective partner without that experience at the iSchool.”
Using email and Drobox as their primary modes of communication, Hall helped Hirsh develop her vision for the book, identify key themes, and critique authors’ work for the final publication. After helping secure authors for specific chapters, Hall provided each one with an overview of the textbook and specifics on key themes they needed to focus on. Over time, that interaction evolved into relationships with these well-known professionals, providing Hall with tremendous prospects for networking.
Getting involved in networking through writing is Hall’s key to finding herself and creating professional LIS connections. “It really makes you feel like you’re part of this professional culture,” she says. “This process helped me identify myself almost as an equal: We’re all committed to this profession, to our communities, to professional development and to moving forward. I leave with that sense of knowing I’m part of this community now. It’s amazing.”
In a quirky twist, some of the people she worked with were her own iSchool professors, including Wayne T. Disher, Mary Ann Harlan, Michelle Holschuh Simmons, Cheryl Stenstrom and Michael Stephens. “I’m a student,” she says, “and to just be able to... help develop this product with people I’ve been taught by, to have the opportunity to offer critique back to your professor on their own work—it’s a really rewarding experience.”
Finding Your Own Voice
It also helps to partner with an employer and mentor who respects your input and recognizes your talent. Hirsh acknowledges Hall’s “tremendous work” as her research assistant helping produce this book.
“Her outstanding contributions and ideas, organizational skills, professionalism, and attention to detail are evident all throughout the book,” Hirsh says. “She was a true partner on this project, and I feel extremely fortunate to have worked with someone of her caliber. Despite her own busy school and family schedule, she worked many late-night hours with me to ensure that we delivered the project on time and with the quality we both strived for.”
Being Hirsh’s research assistant allowed Hall to develop her own voice and to be confident in what she can bring to any professional interaction. “I went through the whole intimidation process,” Hall says, “But over time there was the confidence building, and to have your own voice on someone else’s project… that’s my own confidence building up, and her trust in me.”
“My LIS program has been outstanding and impactful,” says Hall, “but I truly believe it is because I jumped on every opportunity that presented itself.”
Being a part of the Information Services Today project has solidified Hall’s interest in the research and publication process. Her passion is to help individuals with their research needs, and after graduating, she would like to work with youth, college students, and faculty on research projects and information technology literacy, or continue in a writing vein working directly in publishing as a project manager or editor.
“Beyond full-time employment,” she says, “I also intend to keep directly involved in LIS research on the topics of global librarianship, emerging technologies and information literacy. I hope to publish my own book someday.”