There have been a couple of articles on the subject of alternative and non-traditional jobs for MLIS holders here on Hack Library School; most recently back in December of 2019 where a guest author shared their story, some tips, and some transferable skills. This is a subject that is near and dear to my heart. I’ve written about it a couple of times myself in the past when I was a Head Editor and then a Content Editor for Naomi House at I Need a Library Job (inalj.com). It’s a topic I am passionate about because I see the value in the skills LIS professionals have and I see how it could apply to so many things. I work in a traditional library role in an academic library now, but that wasn’t where I started. I always WANTED to be in a library; but I was aware that not everyone who wants to be in a library is going to end up in one because there there are only so many library jobs to go around. So, we need to be flexible and willing to cast a wider net, especially in the current climate of COVID-19 and ever crunching library budgets. Instead of talking generally about skills though, I want to start to highlight some of the possible positions that you could consider, and why they’d be a good fit. There are so many options out there if you open your mind and get creative with your job searching. My first information industry job was in Donor Information Management, which itself is a great career path into non-profits and university administration and can open the door to Prospect Research; which is a field littered with librarians but one that not a lot of people even realize exists until someone points it out. In my Introduction to the Library and Information Industry course back in the fall, one of our discussion topics was to analyse a non-traditional job posting, and I went with a Prospect Research related position for it. This is one of the jobs I want to look more closely at. The other good thing about these non-traditional jobs, is that most if not all of them can be done remotely at a distance which is great for the current atmosphere of working from home, and means that a lot of these roles could actually still be hiring even now.
Prospect Researcher/Donor Researcher/Fundraising Researcher/Advancement Researcher
This type of work can come up under a lot of different synonymous titles. At its heart, it’s about using your research skills to put an organization, usually a charity, non-profit, or academic institution to find people who fundraisers can convince to donate large amounts of money to a given cause. It’s like a combination of an academic business librarian and a private investigator. You need to have advanced searching skills, understand how to use databases, read and write reports, and give presentations. An understanding of financial records and tax filings is going to come in handy, too. Generally you’ll see this type of role at very large and very rich non-profits and charities or hospital foundations; and then academic institutions like private schools, colleges, and universities. There are also prospect research firms that exist so that institutions who can’t afford to keep a prospect researcher on staff can still contract temporary prospect research services. Prospect Researchers have their own professional association called APRA.
Instructional Designer/Curriculum Designer/Course Developer
These are all similar types of role that all deal with education or corporate training. What this work entails is identifying what students need to learn, how they should go about learning it, and what resources they’ll need to do that learning. You need to understand current educational research and have an understanding of pedagogical theories. Having actual instruction experience is an asset as well. Your research skills will come in handy in this type of role as well as any technical skills you’ve developed. Depending on the organization hiring for the position, you could need an understanding of working either with children and teens or with adults in an educational capacity. This is an incredibly popular option right now thanks to the switch to e-learning for COVID-19 as many post-secondary institutes are expanding their instructional design teams.
User Experience Designer/Researcher
User Experience (UX) is an emerging and trendy field and it’s absolutely one that librarians can jump into! There are two sides: research and design. These two sides go hand in hand. The UX researcher will need to conduct research, both theoretical and practical, as you’ll need the skills to interview people and conduct user experience tests and activities. This is all about finding out what things work and what things don’t in order to improve the user’s experience with an interface or service. The UX designer then takes the work of the researcher and uses their technical skills to design or improve upon the physical or digital experience. This is a really common role in technology start-ups and established tech companies like software companies or learning management system vendors. Basically, if it’s a company that deals in anything people use, they probably have people working on this. Even libraries are starting to hire people specifically to handle user experience issues.
Market analysis and research is going to use very similar skills to prospect research, except in this instance you’ll be researching companies, industries, products, and services, not people. Competitive Intelligence work would also be applicable here. This type of work is about helping companies figure out how they can improve their market share or whether or not the products they want to sell will actually make them money, etc. Larger companies will probably have in-house teams handling this type of work; but there are also external market research firms that can be contracted to do this work on behalf of an organization. Similarly to the UX Researcher, you could be called upon to conduct research with people; so knowing how to do that and having an understanding of research ethics will come in handy in this type of position.
Think CIA Analysts, that kind of intelligence. You could call yourself a Spybrarian for fun. In this role, you would be called upon to analyze and evaluate information from databases and other sources including geographic information systems or public records. You’ll gather the data and then use it to report on criminal activities in hopes of anticipating and preventing them. Fact checking is a skill that will come in handy in this job. You might even get the chance to go into the field. Major law enforcement agents have vast teams of employees filling this role. Other regulatory bodies such as gaming commissions do as well.
Digital Asset Manager/Curator
This one seems pretty self explanatory from the title. You’ll be in charge of the management of an organizations digital assets. All of them. You’ll be responsible for organizing them and storing and retrieving them. You will create and enforce naming taxonomies and metadata schemes. You’ll be responsible for distribution of the assets internally and externally; so you’ll need to understand copyright and licensing as well. Digitization skills will play a role in your work here, so you’ll need to understand the standards surrounding that. This is another field that is only going to continue growing as more and more digital content is generated by organizations and as we come to rely on it. Think of this like records management, but your records aren’t just text they’re all types or text, images, and rich media.
There are so many other possibilities out there. I highly encourage you to take off your library blinders and seek them out. You know what you’re capable of and you can make an employer see that the skills you have to bring to the table fit their needs, even if they didn’t know that when they wrote their job ad.
In addition to being a Contributing Writer here at Hack Library School, Lauren (she/her) is currently working towards her MLIS part-time, online, through the University of Alberta, she expects to graduate in Spring 2022. She holds an honours BA in English/Religion & Culture and a BEd, both from Wilfrid Laurier University. Her interests are copyright, open education; accessibility; and diversity, equity, and inclusion in LIS. Lauren is the Copyright and Reserves Supervisor at Wilfrid Laurier University, serving on the Library’s Accessibility Committee, and the Student Advisory Council. She also co-hosts a bi-weekly Twitter chat on library issues and trends (#lisprochat) and is a research assistant on the Opening Up Copyright project. Find her: @rendages, @lisprochat | about.me/laurenbourdages