Exploring Opportunities for LIS Professionals

Career Blog
Surveying the horizon.

Published: March 22, 2019 by Greta Snyder

To learn more about LIS career paths and emerging nontraditional opportunities for information professionals, I interviewed Kennedy James, who currently works as executive director of operations at The Gottman Institute, a psychology research institute in Seattle, WA.

Kennedy earned a BA in Comparative Literature, and one of her early jobs was as a systems technician at a technology company. She leveraged the skills she gained there and took on a staff position at a community college library, where she “jumped at any challenge and every chance to try and learn more about systems management.”

During this time, she became interested in Library Science as a future career, so she earned her MLIS degree and transferred her technical skills and newfound love of teaching to secure a position as a librarian at Centralia College, a small community college in Centralia, WA.

Kennedy explained that the benefit of working at a smaller institution was that it gave her “the opportunity to wear many hats and to learn what she loved doing by trying everything.” Kennedy learned she really loved figuring out how the library could improve to better meet the needs of the students.

Kennedy began to take on more leadership roles at the library while working toward her PhD in Education and was promoted to library director and dean of instruction, library and eLearning in 2007, and served in this role until 2018. This leadership experience and her education allowed her to see the role the library played in the ecosystem of the college and to better understand the library user’s needs. Kennedy explains that “it is crucial, within any organization, to gain perspective on what function the information science portion plays so that the library, or data managers, can better meet and anticipate user needs.”

Jumping from the academic to the private sector world last year was a big change for Kennedy, but she felt ready to learn something new. So far, she has found that her ability to quickly assess where the information access issues lie for employees allows her to “immediately tackle storage and access problems and successfully bring an informational professional perspective to a non-traditional library space.”

Kennedy discussed the application and interview process for a non-traditional LIS role, and she emphasized that to translate LIS education and work experiences to any new employment opportunity, you have to “think not of things your job did, but of things that you personally did and skills you gained.”

Kennedy and I considered the significance of having an open mindset for LIS professionals and the importance of always branching out to take on new responsibilities and leaping at any chance to learn about unfamiliar things and emerging technology. By doing so, you can diversify your skill set and be prepared to meet challenges in your current role, and ultimately expand your ability to anticipate user needs and be a source of innovation for your library or organization. As she so eloquently puts it, the role of the information professional in any environment is “identifying where the information need lies and how you can personally impact positive change or mobilize a system that will improve access.” Kennedy elaborated this idea:

“One thing I’ve found myself saying in multiple conversations is that every business needs an information professional, but they don’t recognize it that way. Organizations articulate problems, and an information professional can translate that problem into a need as well as create a plan to address it. An LIS career is really more defined by the values of the profession and the toolset you craft to put those values into action, irrespective of the context.”

We wrapped up the interview by discussing how critical it is for LIS professionals to be more open-minded and adaptable and to not think of career paths, so much as getting the most out your current job and/or education by making it your own, and always being open to opportunities that grow your skills and experience. In this way, Kennedy’s career path was not planned, but developed naturally out of a ceaseless desire to improve an information system to better support those that depend upon it.

Kennedy’s experience and insights really show that shifting fields is completely seamless, and that translating LIS skills to non-traditional roles opens up a whole new world of exciting career opportunities. Focusing intentionally on developing a breadth of competencies, such as those outlined by the iSchool MLIS program, taking on unknown challenges, and constantly flexing your technical learning muscles are crucial to finding success and a job you love in the increasingly flexible, evolving world of information science careers.

Thank you again to Kennedy James for sharing her amazing insights and advice! As always, please email me or comment with questions or suggestions for future topics, books to review, or people to interview!

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