The Silicon Valley Chapter of the Special Libraries Association (SLA) boasts two iSchoolers in the top spots: president-elect alumna Elisa Ewing, and president Cory Laurence, a current iSchool student. The SLA group supports students through local gatherings, a mentorship program and a scholarship program—and it definitely benefits from close proximity to all sorts of special libraries located throughout Silicon Valley itself.
For both Laurence and Ewing, returning for MLIS degrees at the iSchool was a decision made to achieve workplace happiness and satisfaction. “I had been trying to figure out what I wanted to be when I ‘grew up’ for way too long,” Laurence says, adding that the iSchool program was a perfect option for her hectic life as a parent. “I realized that I have been drawn to libraries for a very long time and just never thought of it as a career choice.”
In 2007 Ewing moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, leaving behind a fabulous job, and started over as a page at the Mountain View Public Library (MVPL). “Shelving books lay in stark contrast to the rigor of my previous position,” she says. ”These kind of junctures, however, bring positive turns.” MVPL librarians inspired her, encouraging her to pursue the MLIS degree. “While taking classes, I progressed to senior page, library assistant, and eventually librarian at MVPL.”
And then came SLA.
SLA & SV & Special Libraries
Laurence joined SLA “because I was exploring my options, and the student registration is so inexpensive it seemed crazy not to!” She decided she wanted to become more involved in the local chapter, and volunteered for a role as president elect, a position that eventually transitions into the president role, and focuses on membership and preparation for future programs.
Ewing took a similar path. “With just three to four years of special libraries experience, I remained uncertain about my qualifications,” she says, “but then I got elected!”
“A student in the chapter president role demonstrates that leaders can come from any place on the professional path,” says Ewing.
Their proximity to all the tech goings-on in Silicon Valley provides many opportunities to extend learning through volunteering, internships, and SLA projects and events. And both Laurence and Ewing naturally gravitated toward tech jobs. Laurence interviewed at both a public library and at a special library. "I decided that the public library position just didn’t seem like as good of a fit as the special library position, “ she recalls. “I took the special library position (at HP Labs), and from then on I focused on special libraries.”
Having previously worked in the public sector, Ewing wanted to branch out into something different with an internship. “With a lifelong curiosity in technology, I applied for internships at companies in Silicon Valley and accepted one at the information security and management software firm Symantec,” she says. “From there, I gained real-life experience as an information professional in a business setting.
“I also discovered I enjoyed working in a special library.”
“I think there a lot of opportunities for librarians at tech companies,” Laurence explains. “I like that special libraries are so diverse; there are just so many different areas you can go into that are technically ‘special libraries’—corporate libraries, digital asset management, taxonomy, information architecture, military libraries, law libraries, etc.”
What SLA Can Do For You
SLA hosts a Leadership Summit that prepares attendees for activities from recruitment to career development. Ewing spent sessions listening and learning about SLA from professionals with years of association experience. “Being the sole librarian in my group at Symantec, I also found networking with colleagues valuable from a workplace perspective,” she says. “We exchanged ideas on how to handle common challenges regardless of industry.”
Laurence took advantage of the the SLA-SV scholarship through the iSchool, offered last year to SJSU student members of the chapter. And she immediately signed up for SLA’s mentorship program and was paired with an iSchool alumna also working in the Bay Area. Laurence and her mentor meet one-on-one and with the mentor group: the mentors, LIS professionals, talk about their careers, and give advice and support to their mentees. “This is how I got to know last year’s chapter president, who encouraged me to get involved way beyond what I would have probably volunteered for without her encouragement!” she says.
Even though the mentoring program officially ended in the fall, the two stay in touch and meet up when they can. “[My mentor] is there to bounce ideas off, look at my resume, give me advice, and tell me about what she does in her job—but also just as a friend! It was a great program. And in addition to meeting her, I met the other mentors and mentees in the program, who have all been really supportive. I feel like I have this great network of people that I can ask for help or advice.”
Special Librarianship as a Career
Laurence is now a knowledge coordinator at RocketFuel, a job she landed through networking with an iSchool alumnus at the Internet Librarian conference. “Basically, I help make knowledge bases more accessible and searchable,” she says of her duties. “I am starting to realize that the people I work with are going to have as much of an impact on my job satisfaction as the actual work, so a great company culture is going to be really important to me.”
Shortly before graduating, Ewing received a full-time offer from Symantec, which she happily accepted. “Internships do lead to jobs,” she stresses. “At Symantec, I manage an online library that provides IT market information to the entire company. My role involves curating a collection of industry analyst reports, news, blogs, and white papers; conducting training and outreach activities; creating dashboards on and overseeing UI [user interface] developments to our portal; fielding secondary research questions from internal customers; and aiding subscription renewals. It is a variety-filled job, which invigorates me.”
Both Laurence and Ewing took advantage of all that the iSchool and SLA have to offer, to advance their knowledge, networking and careers. Laurence created a travel grant for SLA student members to go to the June 2015 SLA conference in Boston, Massachusetts. “I really hope students will apply,” she says. “I’ve met a lot of people through SLA and they have really all been welcoming and kind.” Ewing advises taking advantage of interning, working or volunteering in a library setting as you study. “These opportunities allow you to relate theoretical concepts to concrete experiences, deepening your understanding of core competencies. The more effectively you apply what you learn, the better prepared you will be to enter the workforce. And the more empowered you will feel to become a leader.”