Special Librarianship doesn’t just mean special libraries – more on non-traditional LIS career paths

My piece on non-traditional and alternative jobs for LIS professionals from May 2020 was really popular. The Introduction to the Library and Information Industry (the course that I shouted out in my original post) professor in my program even made it a required reading for his students during the Fall 2020 semester; which was really exciting for me because I didn’t even know he was aware I wrote it! This really is a popular topic, especially in light of the continued pandemic as many libraries may still be furloughing staff, or library workers may not feel comfortable continuing to work in positions that directly face the public right now. I attended a fantastic panel discussion on this topic at OLA’s Superconference at the beginning of February, Special Libraries – Info Pros in GLAM Roles & Beyond, facilitated by Therese Mainville, Sandy Hirsh, and Rebecca Dysart, who are all three experts in the topic. The session was so good that I was inspired to revisit this topic and do some more writing about it.

GLAM, if you’re unfamiliar with the term, stands for Galleries, Libraries, Archives, and Museums. All institutions that can happily be professional homes for library and information professionals. But, our skills and our knowledge are applicable to so many other industries beyond those borders. Sandy Hirsh from SJSU’s iSchool highlighted the non-traditional work of their program’s alumni. One really stuck with me as one of their students graduated and went to work at Instacart; where she helped completely revamp their catalog, which she still oversees, and worked her way up to become their first ever Trend Expert and Sr. Project Manager, Catalog. In my previous post, I covered six job categories that MLIS holders could transition into, and I’m going to do the same here again in this post; and then, at the end, I’ve curated a list of relevant job titles that are currently held by or being advertised to LIS professionals.

In the first post, there were a lot of research based positions; and in this one I’m going to be talking about a lot of different types of roles that tend to have analyst in their job titles as opposed to researcher as research analysis and analytics are strong options for those of us with LIS training and skill sets.

Policy Analyst (sometimes called Research Analyst)

Roles in policy analysis are incredibly research heavy and it is work that really lends itself to the skills that we as LIS professionals spend time building in our programs. It is work that is about identifying issues, evaluating options, and developing recommendations. Depending on the organization and the specific role, you may be called on the be a more general policy analyst, or you could need specific subject matter expertise that requires a second master’s degree similar to some academic librarian job roles out there. Lots of organizations hire policy analysts, not just universities and think tanks. NGOs, government agencies, not-for-profits, hospitals, financial institutions, consulting companies, even tech companies (for example, at the time of writing this there’s currently a policy analyst role for TikTok on the LinkedIn job boards). If you like researching and writing reports, this could be a good field for you to get into.

Data Analyst/Data Scientist

Data analysis and data science aren’t exactly the same, but they both come under the umbrella of data work. Data work in general is another area in which the skills and knowledge and expertise of LIS professionals is very much welcome. This includes roles involving data warehousing, modeling, and mining. Research Data Management is a super trendy area right now in academic libraries, but data-related roles for librarians have been all over other industries for well over a decade at this point, especially with the continued growth of big data. When it comes down to it, data is just information and, as library and information professionals, we have the skills to manage information; and these skills should easily translate to the work of managing and analyzing data. You might have to work at building knowledge of and skills with certain statistical packages like SPSS or R, but there are lots of professional development options for that if you don’t get the chance to in library school. You’ll probably also need some experience with SQL for database work, and also data visualization, so be on the look out for classes that will provide that experience if you’re interested in working with data.

Information Security Analyst/Specialist & Privacy Analyst/Specialist

Information Security and Privacy often go hand in hand but not always. There are two types of privacy analyst role, the kind that goes hand in hand with information security, and the kind that deals with privacy legislation like FIPPA, MFIPPA, PIPEDA, PHIPA, or HIPPA (you can tell I am Canadian because the only American one I’ve listed there is HIPPA which I know about mainly thanks to askamanager.org) and freedom of information (FOI) requests. Information security and privacy deal more with the technical side of data collection, and they’re interested in how to ensure that data is being collected and stored securely in order to maintain the user’s privacy around their data. For the first type, you’re going to need to be familiar with privacy legislation and FOI policies and procedures. That is knowledge you can gain in library school, thankfully. Your transferable tech and research skills will also come in handy for jobs in this field. Those same tech and research skills will help in information security as well, but for these roles you’ll need to have knowledge of standards like the ISO 27001 standard. Knowledge related to intellectual property law could also come in handy for this type of role, another skill we LIS professionals tend to have in our arsenals. Privacy analyst work, regardless of which type, suits LIS professionals because we care about user privacy – after all, confidentiality and privacy are one of the core ALA values.

GIS Analyst/Specialist/Technician

What is GIS? Well, it’s an acronym for geographical information systems. I know librarians who have moved into this work, many have a background in either geography, archeology, or some sort of science degree. So if you think science librarianship is something you’re interested in pursuing, this could also be an equally great career path for you. Whereas science librarians tend to only be found at university, college, and specialized think tank or government libraries, GIS Analyst roles are, as with many of the other career paths here, found across multiple industries. Think of it sort of similarly to work that might have been done by a Map Librarian before most map collections were largely digitized and dismantled.

Research Manager/Grant Manager etc.

This career path is directly tied to research conducting organizations. Universities, colleges, think tanks, research agencies, hospitals, labs, etc. If they’re doing research that require government or private funding, they need people in administrative roles to oversee the research processes and manage the grant applications and funding. You could expect to be responsible for various aspects of research projects in these types of roles: grant preparation and distribution, financial management, overseeing research and ethics board applications and approvals, and so on. Thankfully, as LIS professionals, we are well suited to this work because we understand the process of research and are trained to help researchers with their projects. You could also be called upon to help in strategically planning the organization’s research activities and develop programs for marketing and disseminating research that has been completely in order to ensure it gets good exposure.

Knowledge Manager/Mobilization Specialist

These two terms sound synonymous but they are not; they are only connected. The confusion stems from the acronym KM which originally belonged to knowledge management first, but was also early on adopted by the knowledge mobilization field until they realized it was confusing people and switched to KMb. Knowledge management work relates to the content, whereas knowledge mobilization work is about the process. Knowledge managers handle the strategies and practice of organizing information to distribute it in a systematic manner, which should sound very familiar to anyone why has take a cataloguing or information organization course already. Knowledge mobilization work relates to figuring out how to take that knowledge and getting it out into the world so that people can use it; so you’ll often see knowledge mobilization work in relation to research conducting organizations. Broken down, KM is about making knowledge accessible internally to an organization and KMb is about how to take knowledge and push it so that the external world can benefit from it and use it. Both types of work are equally suited to LIS professionals, but different kinds of LIS professionals might be interested in one over the other.

As promised, here is a list of some of interesting non-traditional job titles. I found all of these through a combination of digging through my LinkedIn network and searching some of the many job boards I have bookmarked still from when I was job hunting for myself. Now I use them for posts like this and to help friends and classmates who are looking for work.

  • Trends Expert & Sr. Product Manager, Catalog
  • Taxonomy and Metadata Specialist
  • Information Specialist
  • Data Owner
  • Digital Projects Coordinator
  • Knowledge and Research Officer
  • FOI, Privacy and Records Management Officer
  • Jr. Policy Analyst
  • GIS Technician
  • Compliance Analyst
  • Team Lead, Data Integration
  • UCR Coder
  • Information and Change Coordinator
  • Metadata and Standards Analyst
  • Advisor, Content Management
  • Project Lead – Heritage Resource Management
  • Learning Experience Designer
  • Program Specialist in the division of Preservation and Access
  • The Channel Specialist – Quality and Editorial Standards Consultant
  • Information and Digital Resource Specialist
  • Documentation Specialist
  • Director, Vendor Information Risk Management
  • Contact Centre – Knowledge Migration Professional
  • Data Enablement Analyst, Communication & Change Management
  • Project Coordinator, Anti-Racism Education and Communication Projects
  • Donor Relations and Administrative Coordinator
  • Raisers Edge Database Administrator
  • Donations Processing Associate
  • Machinery of Government Policy Advisor
  • Knowledge Operations Manager

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

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