Thoughts on non-traditional career paths – aka “Innovate or Die!” – James King, Chapter Cabinet Chair candidate

As a poster child for a non-traditional path into librarianship, I firmly believe that our profession is full of information professionals who do not fall under the stereotype of librarian.  While ALA seems to focus on academic and public librarians, SLA is home to a great melting pot of diversity at the intersection of disciplines like librarianship, business, science, law, IT, and many more!  Given my perspective and background, I also feel strongly that a strong technology competency is a key to success in our profession today and in the future, especially in a world drowning in information.  In fact, in a keynote presentation last year, I entitled my talk “Innovate or Die” because I feel like it is more critical than ever to be looking beyond the traditional lens for the vitality and future growth of our profession.

Given this diversity in our profession and the broad scope of the question, it is difficult to provide more than generic advice.  What has worked for me is to first of all know myself.  My current job may be a joy to me but torture to the next person so knowing what my interests are, where my talents/skills lie, what level of autonomy I enjoy, and what I can actually make a living doing all have brought me to where I am now.  Given the amount of time I spend on professional pursuits each week, I personally want to be doing something I enjoy with a purpose far more than I want to be making millions of dollars a year doing something I dread.  Since you’re reading this, I can assume that you have an interest and skill in handling information so see what else you like and find a place that brings them together.  My experience has proven that the career or job that I end up in does not have to have the term “librarian” applied to it in order to use those skills.  They “non-traditional” skills are in demand in a variety of situations for those who are innovative and willing to take risks.

More broadly speaking, if SLA wants to be an effective melting pot of professionals, our association needs to “raise all boats”.  By this, I mean that our activities must strive to strategically move the entire membership to a new level by providing learning opportunities and lessons learned as we adapt the wisdom of the past to this digital age.  Rather than lamenting the closure of an under-valued library, we should instead be challenging our profession to step up to the challenge of this age by showing value and relevance.

We can do that by encouraging innovation and risk taking within the “safe harbor” of SLA.  We can also do this by highlighting the successes and lessons learned of those who have made strides to exceed expectations in their organizations.  We should also be anticipating the wave of library centralization and automation sweeping through corporate and government libraries by encouraging the development of non-traditional services within our existing libraries.

Ultimately, to succeed in a non-traditional path, we should understand our skills and goals, apply the wisdom of the past to today’s opportunities, work through safe harbors like SLA to expand our skills and competencies, and take risks to innovate in our career and organizations.


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