Following the Career Path Less Traveled – Valerie Ryder, Chapter Cabinet Chair-Elect Candidate

Question 3: What sort of advice would you give to professionals, both newly minted and more seasoned professionals, who might be interested in non-traditional career paths?

Valerie Ryder, Candidate for Chapter Cabinet Chair-Elect

My advice to any information professional who is interested in a non-traditional career path is simply “Go for it!  You never know where a path may lead but the journey will be interesting.”  When I hear people talk about traditional versus non-traditional career paths for information professionals I often think that distinction can be … well, “traditional”.  In today’s world of rapid change, emerging technologies, and the need to be adaptable in one’s career, what is a traditional job anyway?

As I look around SLA, I see members in a variety of job settings that reflect SLA’s Strategic Agenda of diversification in its broadest meaning.  While the corporate environment may be in more flux than ever, which can be scary to the risk-averse, the constant change also provides a myriad of career opportunities.  Corporate information professionals are thriving in positions in knowledge management, archives, records management, information architecture, competitive intelligence, market research, and much more.  Academic librarians have assumed responsibilities for institutional repositories, scholarly communications, open access initiatives, campus educational software and help desks that provide information technology and reference services in blended IT/IS departments.  I believe that our skills and experience are highly transferable, applicable to a wide variety of work venues, and critically needed in job functions outside the traditional library setting.

When I reflect upon my own career path, I know that I have taken a direction that some people would consider non-traditional, although at each fork in the road I chose the option that would allow me to apply my training and knowledge in an interesting setting and enable me to learn new skills.  My points of advice for those who decide to travel the “path less traveled” are:

You will learn to apply your existing skills in different ways.  In a non-library setting you will need to communicate with others without using library jargon.  In many situations, you will be the only one who knows the benefits of organized information to the enterprise at large, and the best techniques for information management.  It will be up to you to make the case in terms that your audience understands and with arguments that convince them to accept and implement your recommendations.  In return, you will gain a better understanding of their perspectives and what matters most to them.  As a records manager in a highly regulated industry, I recognized the necessity for organizing internal information so that it was as retrievable to users as the external information world was.  I also gained insights into how internal documentation was used by the business and was essential to the smooth functioning of the construction and operating plants as well as being in compliance with federal-mandated safety requirements.

You will learn the business of your employer as an insider.  Too often the role of the information professional in a traditional setting is to find and deliver the requested information without participating in the decision for which that information is needed.  Information professionals who are part of the project team can more effectively apply their information finding, organizing and analyzing skills to expedite the decision process because they also understand how the information will be used, and what business outcome is expected from the decision to be made.  As a market researcher and competitive intelligence analyst in the international unit of a global company, I often gathered and analyzed information that was used for strategic planning by business units with operations in several world regions.  Many times the executives with whom I worked did not realize the wealth of information that was available, and were amazed when I found an answer to their question that was specific to their industries.  As a result, I gained a more in-depth understanding of the industry and competitive factors that impacted the company.

You will become more adaptable and have greater career resiliency.  By learning to present your talents in different and non-library settings you will fine-tune your ability visualize how your knowledge and experience can be applied to a wide range of problem sets.  You will be able to see windows of opportunity within your current employer or elsewhere by reading between the lines of a position description to distill the critical skills and find the match with your abilities.  My own career path was not a straight line and had several detours and potholes along the way.  However, I always felt that I was applying my training and knowledge as an information professional regardless of what my title or my employment situation happened to be.

SLA represents a wide variety of information specialties, with core values that encompass the many information professions of its members, whether they have traditional or non-traditional careers.  Through the SLA structures of chapters and divisions, information professionals can connect, collaborate, and strategize with other members to meet their own evolving interests.

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