Forget the bespectacled, shushing, finger-wagging, dog-eared stereotype.
Special librarians are flexible, resourceful -- and essential in many of today's
Where there's information to be stored, retrieved, analyzed or distributed,
there's a need for special librarians. That's because they do way more than
simply rhyme off the Dewey Decimal system. They locate accurate and reliable
information for organizations and help bridge the gap between employees and
Ulla de Stricker heads a consulting firm specializing in strategic planning
for information services. She says special librarians are known by many different
names: corporate librarians, knowledge officers, decision support managers,
corporate memory managers and business intelligence officers.
"Regardless of what they're called, they're all vital to an organization's
ability to know what it knows, and discover what it doesn't."
And they can be found in many different places: corporations, law firms,
advertising agencies, museums, professional associations, research laboratories
But in the eyes of many, librarians are laboring under an outdated stereotype.
"Traditionally, the profession of librarianship has suffered from a somewhat
stuffy image," says de Stricker. "It's understandable that those in a position
to choose careers may think: 'Librarian! Oh dear!"
Things are changing, albeit somewhat too slowly for some.
"We still hear the 'Oh, everything is on the Internet now so we don't need
a librarian anymore' nonsense," says de Stricker.
"Savvy managers know better. Really savvy managers know to deploy special
librarian skill sets in every area of the organization's life where information
plays a role: corporate memory, document management, customer relations management,
Judith Siess publishes a newsletter for librarians. She agrees that there
is still a need for them, even with all the free information available on
"It isn't ALL there, it isn't ALL good, and it isn't free if you count
the productive time wasted by engineers, scientists, marketing people, executives,
etc., who neither know where or how to find good, reliable, accurate information,"
And really savvy special librarians know how to sell themselves in order
to get the job and keep it.
"It may seem pushy, but you have to sell yourself every day by providing
service that is on time, on budget and meets or exceeds expectations," says
Mitchell Brown. Brown is a mathematics and physics librarian at Princeton
"Don't go into special librarianship if you want to get rich, or if you
just want to read books, or if you just think it would be fun," warns Siess.
"DO go into it if you genuinely like people, like helping them find answers
to their problems...if you have an entrepreneurial spirit, if you have good
communication and presentation skills, if you are dedicated to lifelong learning
to keep yourself up to date, and if you play well with others. This is no
longer a profession for the timid or shy or the person who wants to hide in
To get started, a degree in library sciences is good. But
so far, few colleges and universities offer degrees geared specifically to
Some industry insiders suggest you get a degree in something such as law
or business first, then apply that education towards a second degree in library
sciences or move directly into the information management field.
"Many librarians come to the field as second or third careers, and this
pool of experience is useful in understanding corporate information needs,"
"The field has flexibility and provides for a broad range of technical
and intellectual job situations, so your career can change as your situation
or interests change."
While education and experience are important, so is attitude. "Be prepared
for many challenges," says de Stricker. "Be prepared to have to sell yourself
constantly and initiate projects on a shoestring in order to demonstrate the
utility of something.
"Traditionally, the library faculties attracted service-oriented individuals,
not necessarily entrepreneurial types with skills in relationship management
and 'selling.' That is changing, and it is encouraging to see dynamic personalities
enter the field."
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