Broadening Opportunities, Confirming Career Paths

This is the second in a five-part series of blog posts about four recent recipients of the SLA Philadelphia Chapter’s Knower Fund Travel Award. The first post described the Knower Fund and introduced the four travel award recipients; in this post, the award recipients discuss the reasons they joined SLA and the lessons they learned while attending their first SLA Annual Conference.

Library school may be the gateway to librarianship, but what opens doors to actual library careers? For Chrystelle Browman, Michelle Klaw, Erin Nagawiecki, and Marrette Pearsall, the path to jobs in the library field went through SLA and specifically the Philadelphia Chapter.

Each of the four women joined the SLA student group at Drexel University, and each received a travel stipend from the Philadelphia Chapter’s Beverly M. Knower Fund to attend an SLA Annual Conference. While their reasons for joining SLA and their conference experiences were somewhat similar, their early-career success is a testament to the many different opportunities afforded by special librarianship and the benefits of having a diverse professional network to help identify and provide insights into those opportunities.

Chrystelle Browman’s SLA experience illuminates these benefits. “I joined SLA as a student because I wanted to broaden my career opportunities,” says Chrystelle, currently a legal research analyst at a law firm specializing in intellectual property and technology issues. “During library school, the focus was primarily on public and academic librarianship, neither of which I was particularly keen on. Being active in my SLA student group and networking with Philly Chapter members exposed me to career paths I would not have known about otherwise.”

Attending SLA 2012 in Chicago (with assistance from the Knower Fund Travel Award) confirmed to Chrystelle the value of SLA membership.

“The conference in Chicago instilled a confidence in my career path—and, subsequently, myself—I had not experienced prior to attending,” she says. “This newly found assurance was due to the exposure of possible career opportunities and the open-arms acceptance of the library community at large. Everyone I met was interested, and seemed vested, in my success as an information professional. At every networking event, someone offered to look over my résumé, gave me valuable advice, or wanted to establish a long-lasting professional relationship. I would have never understood the value in professional conferences had I not had the opportunity to attend.”

Michelle Klaw joined SLA during her first semester at Drexel on the advice of a professor. “As a student member, I benefited from a network of experienced and knowledgeable professionals who were generous with their advice and support,” she says. “More experienced SLA members were willing to review my résumé, offer me advice for finding employment after graduation, and help me prepare for upcoming interviews.”

Like Chrystelle, Michelle came away from the SLA Annual Conference feeling that her career choice had been validated.

“I remember leaving the 2015 conference [in Boston] feeling excited and energized for both my future career and the future of the field,” she says. “I loved learning about the libraries, organizations, and careers of other information professionals. Having recently begun a career in library sciences, it was comforting to hear the advice of experienced individuals who have chosen a similar career. After leaving the conference, I knew I had made the right career decision.”

Erin Nagawiecki joined SLA as a student to meet people in the field and learn more about the variety of positions librarians hold. “Being a member of SLA gave me another perspective on librarianship than what was provided in a classroom setting,” she says.

After overcoming her initial jitters as a “newbie” at the SLA 2013 Annual Conference in San Diego, Erin made the most of her experience. “Career-wise, my first SLA conference was important because I was unsure of what kind of librarian I wanted to be,” she says. “The conference opened up myriad opportunities that I didn’t realize were available. Overall, I got to experience how welcoming the SLA community is, and I was able to explore a new city and meet librarians from all over the world in various stages of their careers.”

Marrette Pearsall also found SLA 2013 to be intimidating for a first-timer, but she, too, settled in quickly. “I would consider myself an extroverted introvert,” she says. “I am awkward in social situations, but I push through that while talking to people and end up having a good time. During the conference, I chatted up a lot of people, looking for people who held positions I was interested in, plus I volunteered for divisions that were related to my desired field. I collected e-mail addresses and phone numbers and followed up with those people for informational interviews, which was very helpful.”

Marrette took that same approach when she joined SLA while a student at Drexel. “At the university’s in-person student orientation, many of the speakers recommended joining associations, so I joined all of the local associations and student chapters,” she says. “At the time, the most active student group was SLA’s, so I joined their board as an officer, updating and generating content for the job board and organizing activities for students.”

That early involvement in SLA quickly paid off. “Through some of the activities, I got to meet Philadelphia Chapter members and network,” she says. “I also learned about all of the different types of libraries and companies that hire information professionals. That was helpful and widened my view of where I could look for and apply for jobs.”

In the next blog post of this series, Marrette, Erin, Michelle, and Chrystelle will discuss how SLA helped them transition from their MLIS studies to the working world.

— Valerie J. Ryder
2016–2017 Membership Chair
SLA Philadelphia Chapter

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