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Demonstrating your value: non-traditional jobs for information professionals

This article was first published in CILIP Update, March 2013.

We live in the information age, which means that the skills of the information professional should be more in demand than ever. And they are: if you know where and how to look. The scarcity of traditional library jobs means that most of us will need to be flexible in the roles we look for and the roles we take, and ready to demonstrate the value of our skills to employers who may not realise that they need information professionals. This doesn’t only apply to job-seekers: those already in work should be prepared to be flexible within their own organisations, to cope with restructuring or changing priorities for their role and/or team.

The first step is to stop thinking of yourself as a librarian or information professional, and focus instead on your valuable skills. CILIP’s Professional Knowledge and Skills Base (PKSB) is an excellent start for this. As an exercise, write down all the things you do in your job and any voluntary roles you have (such as committee membership), and what skills they give you. Here’s a brief example, based on my last job as a law librarian:

Job role Skills/knowledge PKSB area
Responding to legal and business research queries Customer serviceWritten and verbal communication

Locating information from a variety of sources

Evaluating sources of information

Summarising complex information

Using and exploiting knowledge and informationKnowledge and information management

Research skills

Producing current awareness bulletins Written communicationSummarising complex information

Time management

Attention to detail

Evaluating sources of information

Using and exploiting knowledge and informationKnowledge and information management
Working with practice groups to encourage knowledge sharing Written and verbal communicationBuilding relationships Knowledge and information management
Managing sections of the intranet Web editingWritten communication

Organising structured information

Attention to detail

Organising knowledge and information
Managing copyright licences Information lawAttention to detail

Personal organisation

Information governance and complianceIT and communication
Supporting the firm’s social media strategy Written communicationKnowledge of social media

Media and PR skills

IT and communication

In January 2013 I left my old job as a law librarian, and went to work for a road safety charity. My new role involves researching and liaising with expert speakers for CPD events for road safety professionals, and producing guidance reports on road safety topics based on academic research and best practice case studies. On the surface, it may not look much like a librarian’s job: in fact, it was actually advertised as a marketing and events management position. The above exercise convinced me that I could go for this job; and helped me convince the charity that I could do the work they needed. My librarian skills, including abstracting and summarising, knowledge management, and finding and evaluating diverse sources of information even on unfamiliar topics, have all proved invaluable in this role.

Because the jobs requiring a librarian’s skills are so diverse, it may be easier to search for the type of organisation you want to work for, rather than the type of job you want to do. I wanted to work for a charity, so I set up very broad job alerts on sector-specific sites like charityjob.co.uk, plus the websites of a few particular charities I was interested in, then scanned jobs that came up to see if they were looking for the types of skills that I had. This led me to a number of jobs that were never advertised on any library-specific site, but that required the kinds of skills and experience that information professionals have in spades.

If you’re applying for a non-traditional role, you’ll need to be prepared to explain in clear terms what it is that you can do and why your skills prepare you for the role. These things won’t be immediately obvious to your interviewer if they weren’t recruiting for a librarian! Make sure to use language appropriate to the role and organisation: as with all interviews, you should familiarise yourself with the organisation’s goals and mission, and the language they use to describe this, so you can reflect it back to them.

There are employers out there just desperate for librarians to come and organise their information and knowledge, but just don’t know that’s what they need – so it’s up to us to really sell our skills and convince the world of how awesome librarians are! If you are flexible in the types of jobs you are willing to consider, and prepared to shape your skills to fit non-traditional roles, then there is a whole world of information jobs to consider outside of the library.

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