Scott Brown on Being a Cybrarian

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San José State University School of Information alumnus turned instructor Scott Brown on being a cybrarian. From humble beginnings as a page in the Santa Cruz, California, public library, iSchool alumnus and instructor Scott Brown has come a long way in his career.

After working in the public library Brown moved to a community college role, and then into a corporate librarian job. “The reason I went there,” he explains, “was what actually interested me from the public library: the systems aspect.” So when Brown decided to go back to school for the MLIS, it was to learn more about systems and libraries. He chose the iSchool for its proximity to Silicon Valley, taking all the technical courses he possibly could.

And then a practicum experience changed his life.

Here Comes the Sun Microsystems

According to iSchool alumni, participating in a practicum, internship or fieldwork are all extremely helpful steps to landing a role in the information profession. Brown was fortunate to do his practicum at Sun Microsystems, creator of the Java programming language.

“At the time, fall 1999, Sun was the darling of the whole tech bubble community, providing servers for all the startup internet firms,” Brown says. “It was a really cool place to work. I was hired to develop and improve their web pages.” Brown was confident in his abilities due to his iSchool course work, particularly an HTML coding class with Linda Main. “It was the most valuable course I took, which got me the practicum at Sun,” he recalls. “The ability to build and troubleshoot a web page is what got me my job. I’m terribly grateful for that.”

Armed with the practical experience and knowledge in systems, after graduating Brown surprised himself by switching gears and accepting a research position at Sun. “I was doing marketing and competitive research in the information technology market,” Brown explains. “I’d never thought of doing that or had a desire for it, but it was a fantastic opportunity.”

Sun had two physical libraries, one on the West and one on the East coast, and, as a global company, they were working towards a more digital information environment. “It was the perfect fit,” Brown enthuses. “It was the corporate setting, dynamic, changing, project based, but providing the library piece, allowing me to getting up to speed on a topic quickly. It was a great challenge.”

The Independent Librarian

Brown stayed at Sun for nine years, eventually leaving the role to concentrate full time on pursuing a master’s degree in counseling, which he considered a great fit with the library degree, noting that “counseling and information work are both helping professions in their own ways.”

“What’s really held me in good stead is the communication piece, being able to write well,” Brown elaborates, with a nod to his bachelor’s degree in writing. “That’s carried me through my work.”

To fill the work void Brown started doing project and consulting work in the information field, drawing on his writing, research and counseling skills, and formed Social Information Group, “an independent information practice focused on the effective use of social tools for sharing and finding information.” To help guide him through the transition to solo work, he joined the Association of Independent Information Professionals (AIIP).

It was also during this time that Brown returned to his iSchool roots, when associate director Linda Main approached him about a teaching opportunity. Brown and his colleague from Sun, Christy Confetti Higgins, joined forces to teach courses focused on social media tools and technologies, and Brown also proposed, created and taught courses in marketing LIS skills in a networked world, conflict management, and information research using social media tools.

“The reason I wanted to do that was due to my experience with the school,” he says. “I felt like it was always forward looking, and that appealed to me. I feel very fortunate to be able to teach, provide guidance to students and see what they’re going through.”

Through work at Sun, he’d gained experience working on social media platforms, first experimenting with blogging well before it was the norm, and then using social media tools for research purposes.

“For students coming out of library school these days, it’s second nature to look at social tools. But in the late 2000s it was still new for a lot of people, there were a lot of interesting things you could discover and understand from a competitive research standpoint. To me, it’s interesting to see what kind of information you can find through these tools,” he says.

The Cybrarian of Oracle 

The time eventually came when Brown, pictured right, realized that he wanted to get back into a corporate library setting. “I missed the work, and I wanted to build my skills in different areas,” he explains.

When friend, colleague and frequent collaborator Higgins called and said she had a position for him back at Sun, now Oracle, Brown jumped at the opportunity. ““Christy…brought me on to manage content and bring the research aspect. I really enjoy it because it combines some of my favorite aspects: research, marketing, and we use a lot of social tools within the company. It’s very satisfying.”

So in 2014, Brown was hired to work at the tech giant as a cybrarian. It was a word he wasn’t quite comfortable with, but a job he loved.

“It’s interesting: the cybrarian word,” Brown laughs. “But people love that word. It intrigues them, they say it’s so cool, which is a great segue into telling them what I do at the company. It’s got the high tech connotation and fits really well with the job.”

Brown encourages students in his iSchool courses to develop elevator speeches, succinct summaries or talking points they can whip out in a pinch to explain their work, experience, and goals in this fast-paced, LinkedIn world. So what’s his cybrarian elevator pitch?

“Our function in Oracle is virtual information services, and part of the charter we have is to help Oracle make better business decisions. We make information available to everyone at Oracle, and then help them get the right information at the right time to make the right decisions for the business,” he says. “That sums up my work pretty well.”

Brown continues to teach iSchool courses, and an idea he’s been mulling is to add an alternative careers angle to the marketing LIS skills course. 

“There’s a need to keep reinventing yourself in the information field, and that’s worthwhile to understand and discuss as a group. There’s a lot of opportunity out there, but not necessarily in traditional libraries.”

“That’s the excitement with students in our profession,” he adds. “All the change going on, no matter what environment you’re in.”