There’s a Special Library for THAT?!

Career Blog

Published: February 10, 2017 by Kate M. Spaulding

Yep, there sure is! iSchool students and alumni recently shared what it was like to work in each of their libraries, a bit about their various career paths, and even some job hunting ideas.

On Monday, the iSchool’s Special Libraries Association Student Chapter (SLASC) held a panel presentation via Collaborate. The seven-person panel – composed of iSchool students and alumni with experience working in special libraries – shared what it was like to work in each of their libraries, a bit about their various career paths, and even some job hunting ideas.

What are special libraries? Well, according to the Special Libraries Association (SLA), “If you manage information and/or knowledge resources for organizations and their stakeholders—such as business executives, government agency staff, university faculty and students, association members, nonprofit funders, and law firm partners” – you are a special librarian. So special libraries can be just about anything.

The panelists’ workplaces included medical libraries, architecture libraries, and the library at Yosemite National Park, as well as specialized libraries within large universities. As you might imagine, their job duties are also quite diverse, so it was fascinating to hear about their day-to-day activities. Some do more cataloging than others, some have a say in collection development, and another works at a pretty traditional reference desk. For all of them, though, marketing their libraries to patrons and the powers-that-be is a vital part of the work. Like librarians everywhere, our classmates must show their patrons how invaluable their services and collections are in order to remain relevant (and funded).

Interestingly, when asked for course recommendations, several panelists suggested taking a broad array of classes because “you’ll never know what you need.” Basia Delawska-Elliot, a medical librarian, compared working at a special library to running a small business: “You have to be a Jack- or Jill-of-all-trades.” In other words, you’ve got to be able to do it all, especially because, in some cases, you will be a solo librarian (And yep, there’s an SLA division for that!).

If you weren’t able to attend live, I highly recommend watching the recording. There was a huge amount of information packed into the session, and I simply can’t share it all here. There’s something for everyone – metadata, instruction, green building, art installations, and the sometimes-contentious world of labor law, oh my!