NON-TRADITIONAL JOBS FOR SPECIAL LIBRARIANS
by Susanna Weaver

Introduction

The traditional concept of library and librarian is being redefined. As libraries and information media evolve, so too will its workers. The future of information professionals is inversely proportional to their respective ability to adapt to ever-changing media in the professional environment. Non-traditional jobs for special librarians require a fearless, non-superstitious, and forward thinking mind-set coupled with an acute ability to self-promote. In order to succeed and flourish in the non-traditional environment, librarians and information professionals must be able to embrace the fluid landscape and nature of information work. This will require the adoption of new perceptions, attitudes, beliefs, and the willingness to proactively sell the organizational, research, and evaluative expertise that belongs to practitioners of library and information science.

Many companies and private organizations are turning to librarians for expert skills in analyzing, evaluating, organizing, and disseminating needed information in the most accessible format. The skills and expertise of librarian and information workers becomes fully realized in the information age. We are moving from an ownership society of information to a shared network of information, and information is commodity. Often, the conversion of information to knowledge is the link between success and failure. The critical professional combination of superior finding skills and technological expertise plays an important role in the transfer of knowledge by providing people with access to the information they need and want.

Compensation for such efforts is positive. According to the 1998-1999 Occupational Outlook Handbook: "Slow employment growth, coupled with an increasing number of MLS graduates will result in more applicants competing for fewer jobs. Opportunities will be best for librarians outside the traditional setting."

Begging the question, what are the professional opportunities that lie outside of the traditional setting? The scope and variety is expansive. Some of the possibilities include specialized information centers, government libraries, corporations, law firms, advertising agencies, museums, professional associations, medical centers, hospitals, religious organizations, and research laboratories. Technological expertise and capability have opened opportunities in the fields of information systems, publishing, Internet coordination, marketing, database training, and web mastering.

Because the type and scope of what can be termed non-traditional is immense, this manual focuses on just a few of the alternatives available for special librarians. The sections are broken down as follows: knowledge management (including consulting and information brokerage), telecommuting, bibliotherapy, and information work with the physically and mentally challenged. The professional opportunities for information workers are endless, and the prospects will continue to grow as technology transforms the non-traditional into the traditional. A bibliography is included at the end of the handbook for further reading and research.

          Table of Contents 3

          Knowledge Management, Information Brokerage, and Consulting 4

          Telecommuting 6

          Bibliotherapy 8

          Working with the Mentally and Physically Challenged 10

          Sources Consulted (and cites for further research) 13

Knowledge Management, Information Brokerage, and Consulting

The ultimate value of documentation within an organization lies in the ability to capture, retain, and transfer knowledge to those who need it. In the corporate world, the most critical asset of any organization is knowledge. The management of that asset should be one of the most critical concerns of any business. Each and every decision made within an organization is dependent on knowledge. The need for quality solutions to information overload, time constraints of users, and sheer complexity are some of the reasons users turn to an outside agent for information. Better and more reliable information will distinguish itself from lesser products, and people will pay to save themselves time and frustration. The relationship between effective knowledge management and the success or failure of a business lends itself to the creation of a new breed of librarians and information specialists. The possibilities for a special librarian who effectively markets his/her organizational, research, and knowledge management skills will have a place in the information driven future. Because of these skills, many librarians are assuming entirely new positions within their respective organizations becoming consultants, information brokers, and knowledge managers.

Effective consultants, information brokers, and knowledge managers collect and evaluate the most applicable and accurate data for the client. They stay actively informed and abreast of all information happenings within and related to the client’s professional environment. Consultants and information brokers may be involved with creating databases, web pages, and Intranets composed of the indexed and abstracted news relevant to the client. To succeed, these professionals should save clients time, provide high quality information, supply new solutions to organizational information needs, and offer new packaging. It is no longer enough to present the user with a pile of documents as an answer to a question. Information professionals must present the best possible information in a timely manner in the best possible format for the client. Besides offering a superior product, knowledge workers must rely on marketing skills, ingenuity, and networking to keep their services in demand. The body of research and practice in library and information science used for classification and knowledge organization will be vital to an information-inundated business.

Joanne Wleklinski, Knowledge Management Specialist (and former librarian) offers some professional tips for success in non-traditional information roles. Some of these include: "don’t focus on one department--get out and learn about everything, see the company from all different angles, deliver research by hand, develop personal working relationships, synthesize research and writing roles, synthesize information into knowledge, and above all else, be flexible, multi-dimensional, and proactive."

The skills of the librarian naturally lend themselves to a myriad of professional settings that require efficient and productive use of information. In light of this inclination, willing adaptability seems to be the deciding factor for successful integration into non-traditional environments. "Evolve into useful agents, evangelize your capabilities, work alongside the people, never let a false sense of traditionalism push you into a rigid, self-imposed isolation. It can leave you as a librarian chasing the information revolution instead of leading it, as librarians should." (Wleklinski 10.)

Telecommuting

Telecommuting is another professional option open for special librarians. Advanced technology for telecommuting allows librarian and information workers to work from home or any mobile location by remote. This is the alternative workplace, the combination of non-traditional work practices, settings, and locations that is beginning to supplement traditional offices. Some 30 to 40 million people in the U.S. are now either telecommuters or home-based workers. Emerging jobs for librarians involving knowledge management, and traditional jobs such and indexing, abstracting, and cataloging can currently be achieved through telecommuting. That is, all workflow (including input, output, and the majority of communications) are handled by computer technologies away from a centralized office.

Moving the work to the worker has many benefits for both employer and employee. Some benefits of telecommuting for the employer include: reducing current and future costs associated with real estate (property, leases, and overhead), increased productivity, increased recruitment and retention rates, increased customer satisfaction, and consolidation/reallocation of space. Employees in the alternative workplace tend to devote less time and energy to typical office routines and more to tasks, clients, and patrons.

The benefits to the employee include fewer distractions, less downtime, no commute, flexibility, more personal time, and having the freedom to set up workspace according to personal preference. Telecommuting employees are covered under the Worker’s Compensation Act if injured while performing work responsibilities. Generally, equipment is provided and maintained by the employer, although some allow employees to utilize their own equipment. Telecommuters are provided the same help from systems staff as the traditional office for any trouble-shooting questions or consultations. Often, portions of company savings produced by telecommuting are earmarked for dividends to enhance employee commitment and loyalty.

Telecommuting programs that are successful do not leave their telecommuters without support. One needs more than a laptop and a cellular phone to be effective in a telecommuting environment. Teamwork/group cohesion is still a very important part of the work environment. Telecommuting can build teamwork and organizational cohesion through communicational technology by enabling immediate communication with co-workers and shared access to information. Shared access empowers all employees. The collective nature of the telecommuting environment lends an egalitarian quality to the workplace.

The ability to excel in the telecommuting environment depends on an array of new communication skills and competencies. Telecommuting programs must be committed to success by offering relevant training, appropriate equipment, and flexible administrative support. Flexibility/adaptability, respect for personal time/priorities, and a commitment to using technology for improving performance characterize the workplace of the future. In the information age, the alternative workplace offers a profound opportunity to benefit the individual, organization, and enterprise.

Bibliotherapy

Bibliotherapy is a treatment technique used by information professionals to make therapeutic use of selected reading materials for clients and patrons. Through the guided reading of written materials, patrons/clients are helped to gain an understanding or insight into solving problems relevant to therapeutic needs thereby affecting attitude and behavioral changes. Health and wellness professionals rely on the librarians’ knowledge of literature to recommend books and other informational material to help reach goals set forth in the therapy process. Bibliotherapy is usually performed collaboratively with health, psychology, and information professionals. Bibliotherapy is used in public, private, and independent health resource information centers, libraries, and in conjunction with traditional forms of psychotherapy. Librarians working as bibliotherapists strive to reflect all aspects of applicable literature (fiction and non-fiction), current treatment, diagnosis, and recovery for a wide variety of mental and physical health needs.

Bibliotherapy should not be viewed as a single approach to treatment but rather as an adjunct to other therapies. As with most therapies, bibliotherapy is not a cure-all that will automatically influence attitudes or behaviors in the desired direction. But, bibliotherapy as a practice, has the ability to reach people who may not otherwise seek traditional help. For those reluctant to disclose their situations, and for families and friends who wish to understand and offer help to those suffering, the library can offer a wealth of information and support in a private environment. Bibliotherapy is used to address a wide variety of topics including: learning disabilities, sexual abuse, drug and alcohol abuse, mental illness, disease etc.

Bibliotherapy is especially appropriate in the modern world because it provides a safe way to confront dilemmas. Through the selected use of literature, clients have an opportunity to identify, relive, compensate, and solve problems in a controlled manner. Bibliotherapy contributes a crucial connection to those in need by showing they are not alone in facing their particular problem. The controlled and selected use of professionally chosen literature for clients helps develop self-concept through identification and increased knowledge of any given problem, which lends itself to the development of more appropriate and healthier coping skills.

Throughout time, books have been used as powerful tools with which to guide thinking, strengthen character, shape behavior, inform, and now, to solve problems. Bibliotherapy is a very unobtrusive method of helping those in need. It offers a safe and vicarious way for people to work through their difficulties and the faculty to reach a wider audience than traditional therapies. The wealth of excellent resources currently available, coupled with heightened cultural interest in mental and physical health, has led to an increase in the popularity and practice of bibliotherapy. Professionals involved with bibliotherapy find it to be a rewarding career, as the benefits of bibliotherapy are many and the drawbacks very few.

Working with the Mentally and Physically Challenged

In July 1990, Congress enacted Public Law 101-336--the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA is a federal effort to prohibit discrimination based on one's disability. ADA laws apply to many private and public employers and facilities. The ADA has done much to heighten public awareness to the needs of those with disabilities by requiring facilities to provide equal access. According to the ADA "public accommodations must provide auxiliary aids and services to individuals with vision or hearing impairments or other individuals with disabilities so that they can have an equal opportunity to participate or benefit, unless an undue burden would result." While this is a huge step forward, the undefined "undue burden" shifts most concerns and changes toward the issue of building access compliance alone.

This is of particular interest to the library and librarian who recognize that further measures must be utilized to reach this portion of the population. It is great to be able to get in to the library building, but what if once you get in, the information you are looking for is inadequate or simply not there? Sadly, that is the case in most public libraries. There are so many people with disabilities who never find applicable resources because of a lack of connected information. This can be attributed, in part, to the fact that the ADA does "not specifically require a public accommodation [such as a library or museum] to alter its inventory to include accessible or special goods that are designed for, or facilitate use by individuals with disabilities" However, "a public accommodation shall order accessible or special goods at the request of the individual with a disability, if, in the normal course of its operation, it makes special orders on request for unstocked goods, and if the accessible or special goods can be obtained from a supplier with whom the public accommodation customarily does business." (Federal Register 1991,36.707)

Herein lies the problem. How can you order materials that you do not know exist? Moreover, many of the applicable collection items for the mentally and physically challenged are not found in the catalogues of traditional library suppliers. Over 50 million Americans live with a disability that interferes with everyday activities, approximately 20% of the population in any given community in the U.S. has some form of disability, and people with disabilities constitute the largest minority in the country. One can quickly see the importance of specialized library and information centers devoted to this population.

Most facilities specializing in library services to the disabled operate in conjunction with local agencies, private organizations, or as a separate library within a larger library facility. These institutions provide a critical link between the client and needed information. Special libraries, in a dedicated environment, can house and supplement helpful resources that this segment may not be exposed to otherwise. Special librarians can play an instrumental role in breaking the information barrier by providing good, positive, practical information to help the physically and mentally challenged live autonomously. Librarians working in an environment devoted to the mentally and physically challenged should work closely with local organizations to promote and market collective resources. Such cooperation can result in many supplemental programs and workshops designed to inform the disabled community about issues such as legal rights, educational programs, scholarships, job opportunities, assistive technology, and involvement with local advocacy groups.

Special libraries and information centers for the physically and mentally challenged grant exposure to material that is understandable, accessible, and appropriate for this population. The ideal of providing equal access should encompass the effort to bring people who might otherwise be isolated into the body of the community. The need for librarians to mend this information breach is acute. Librarians who work and thrive in this environment strive to avoid stereotypes, assumptions, ignorance, and poor disability etiquette. Programs and services should provide clients with the capabilities to proceed with their endeavors as independently as possible. With appropriate information, accessibility, and outreach, special libraries and information centers can help these individuals bridge the information gap to promote better living.

Other Resources on Libraries:

http://www.printerinks.com/Library-Resources-on-the-Internet.html


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