Special Librarian: An Interview with Jeff Waryan

Editor’s note: This article was originally published on February 5, 2018.

For those of you who know me, you know that I have a lot of librarian heroes, but my favorite librarian is my dad. While I was in high school, my dad graduated from an amazing library program specifically designed for students underrepresented in the library workforce. My dad, Jeff Waryan, is now a special librarian at Barr Engineering in Minneapolis, a company focused on managing and restoring natural resources. In this interview, I ask him a few questions about his wonderful library program, the ups & downs of the job hunt, and his environmentally-attuned career. I know a lot of graduating students (myself included) are intimidated by what the future may hold, but talking with my dad about his journey to library science quelled some of those fears for me. It just goes to show you: sometimes, you just need to ask your dad for advice.

Chloe Waryan (CW): So you’re a technical librarian in an environmental engineering company. Could you tell me what exactly that means?

Jeff Waryan (JW): Actually, environmental engineering is just one aspect of what Barr Engineering does. Overall, we’re a natural resources management firm, and my title is Senior Web Services Librarian. It’s mainly a technical role, in which I’m a systems administrator for the library web servers and library application, as well as a SharePoint technical administrator. We use Microsoft’s SharePoint platform as our company’s internal-facing web site/portal. In addition to these “web services,” I work in traditional library services including cataloging, reference, and content management.

CW: I know you had a wonderful library program that really embraced nontraditional students. Could you talk about that experience?

JW: Sure. The Urban Library Program was a joint initiative in Minnesota created by The College of St. Catherine’s library program (now St. Catherine University), and the St. Paul Public Library system. It was designed to help develop a workforce of library paraprofessionals that more accurately reflected the diversity of the community. So our cohort was a wonderful mix of students from many diverse backgrounds. It was a great experience for me to return to school at an older age, and experience a challenging learning situation that gave us hands-on involvement with the community.

CW: I remember that the program was funded by an IMLS grant and was only around for a few years (which is a huge bummer since it helped so many people who otherwise may not have received that education). Can you tell me about some of the courses that were offered?

JW: The program was a mixture of traditional courses and practicum work. The core courses focused on library work in urban communities, technical services, public services, and a language requirement (I chose American Sign Language). The practicum rotations were in both public and academic libraries. The practicums were in collection development, acquisitions, cataloguing, reference, children’s services, and reader’s advisory, just to name a few.

CW: Did you know you wanted to be a special librarian when you were in library school?

JW: Well, not really. The program was primarily focused on public library work, but also demonstrated that much of the training could be applied to many types of library work. I had already been working in a museum doing exhibition and library-type work, so I was definitely open to the idea of working in a special library. Although I wasn’t very familiar with what a special library might look like—especially a business library—it still interested me. I will say that the head of my program was pleasantly surprised I ended up in a special library!

CW: Could you describe the Barr Engineering library for me?

JW: Our library is a hybrid of sorts, because the library is also the company’s records center. In fact, records management takes the lion’s share of the workload for our other staff members. The physical library looks fairly traditional in that we have a reference desk and movable stacks of paper files and reports. Also in the stacks, is our collection of technical books, government publications, industry journals, and CDs. A growing amount of the content is now electronic only.

CW: I imagine your library at Barr is very eco-friendly. What are some ways that makes your library environmentally sustainable?

JW: Fortunately, our main office is in a silver LEED-certified building, so the building’s management utilizes many eco-friendly systems in plumbing, electrical, heating & cooling, etc. to maintain that designation. For Barr specifically, we have organics composting and mixed-content recycling throughout our space. Our company also actively supports an alternative commuting program for biking, walking, and carpooling to work.

CW: What does a typical day look like to you, and what do you love most about your job?

JW: Oh, wow—on any given day it could be quite a wide range of things. That could involve electronic document delivery, library cataloging, database maintenance, video editing, CD burning, SharePoint support, reference requests, literature searches… the list goes on. I think that’s why, in large part, I like the work. It’s so variable and constantly changing, and that makes it very challenging and rewarding. We are support staff helping our engineers and scientists do their project work; in essence we’re on their project teams, so we’re always learning about the types of problems they’re trying to solve. Whether it’s about wind farms, watershed management, landscape architecture… it’s all very interesting to me.

CW: Are you involved in any professional organizations?

JW: Yes, I’m currently a member of ASIS&T, and in the past have been a member of AIIM and SLA.

CW: How do you see the field of technology changing libraries?

JW: That’s a good question that often comes up for us. Yes, technology is changing the landscape of libraries, but in our special business library, we do continue to manage paper as well, which may never go away: we still have more than 10,000 boxes of paper files in storage, which likely will never be digitized. At Barr, we have a mix of hard-copy and electronic resources, and the trick is how we finesse its accessibility, and how responsive we are to the needs of our professional staff. Technology plays a large part in this, and we currently manage our entire library and records content using a suite of Inmagic library applications, which includes Genie and Presto.

CW: For all the graduating students out there: how do you recommend job searching for special library jobs? On library job lists, corporate job lists, etc?

JW: Yes, I think monitoring as many job resource sites as you can is really the way to go. I found my job through the Minnesota state jobs site, and it was only a temporary, part-time library assistant position. I was open to that, and it quickly proved to be a perfect opportunity for growth and advancement. After the company realized I could fill a needed role, it soon expanded to a full-time, permanent career in library and information services.

If you’d like to learn more about the amazing work of Barr Engineering, please visit them at www.barr.com. You can email Jeff with any further questions here: jwaryan@barr.com

Cover photo: “Book” by Florin Gorgan, depicting a book in the grass. Licensed under CC BY 2.0


Chloe Waryan is a MLIS candidate at the University of Iowa. She entered into the library field by way of urban public libraries, as a patron, a volunteer, and eventually an employee. She now follows in her father’s footsteps working as a technical manager, for an academic journal. In her spare time, Chloe enjoys eating Cheez-It’s. Connect with her on social media or her website.


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