Transitioning from One Library into Another

A Conversation with DaTransitions Word Cloudvis Erin Anderson and Raymond Pun

Davis Erin Anderson and Raymond Pun are co-editors of the upcoming volume titled Career Transitions for Librarians: Proven Strategies for Moving to Another Type of Library to be published by Rowman and Littlefield in 2016. This conversation piece explores how they both decided to work on this edited volume that is focused on library career transitions. They will also share some insights they found in the chapters that were submitted for this volume.

Hello Ray! Thanks for conversing with me regarding our project to edit and publish a book featuring stories from librarians who are making transitions within the field. I remember when you and I met for coffee in June 2014 to talk about partnering on this project. How did you conceive of this project in the first place? We know from our publishers that a book of this nature hasn’t been produced before; how did the idea come to you?

I know, I can’t believe that was a year and a half ago. I thought about this transition because of my own personal career move: I previously worked at the New York Public Library (NYPL) and then I transitioned into an academic library (NYU Shanghai). During my interview for this academic position, I kept getting asked how my public library background could translate into academic librarianship. It was a tough but fair question.

Later when my public library colleagues found out I was going to work in an academic library, they all asked how I managed to get the academic job. I even blogged about my transition for the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL); if you scroll down, you’ll see a few comments asking about this transition. That gave me the idea to pursue this project, because I haven’t seen any kind of literature or advice on how to move from one kind of librarianship into another. We all know someone who has made that transition and always feel surprised that it has worked out for them!

We sure do! As we were looking for contributors for the volume, we had no trouble covering all the various routes librarians take in their careers. And the breadth of stories we’ve uncovered through this process is really heartening, particularly for those who hope to experience a variety of environments in their time in the field.

I’m dying to know: when your hiring managers asked you how your public librarian experience translates to an academic setting, how did you answer the question?

That’s right! For my experience, I answered their questions thoughtfully and explained how I provided reference services, taught research workshops and mapped out an outreach plan to engage with different universities. In addition to publishing and presenting, I was also active in ACRL-NYC and ACRL-National committees and that helped me explain how I was preparing for a career in academic librarianship.

But what about your role as a community engagement manager at the Metropolitan Library Council (METRO)? How and why did you decide to agree to work on this project with me? It’s quite a commitment and I am very glad you agreed to work on this with me!

Thank you! I’ve gotta say, my favorite part of editing this book is getting to talk to you so often! We’ll have to queue up another project once our book goes to press. I opted in immediately because I think it’s such a smart idea to share the stories of our colleagues in their own voices.

Your interview strategy sounds like a smart one, especially gearing up for the shift by becoming more invested in the academic library community. It’s a stock piece of advice but it’s one I definitely advocate as well: getting involved in our professional organizations is a great way to meet colleagues and learn more about their work lives. This certainly worked in my favor when I opted to explore the profession during my last year in library school. I had been working full time in the music field and knew that I’d need more of a traditional library background in order to take my next step.

I’ll never forget when I first walked into METRO; I was an intern at CUNY Brooklyn College at the time. My mentor there invited me to a reference special interest group (SIG) meeting. When I arrived, I immediately bumped into Tom Nielsen, whom I’d met through SLA NY Chapter events. I mentioned to Tom that I was seeking experience in the field. He was happy to take in my resume, I became an intern, and the rest is history! It’s amazing to me that part of my position — I’ve been full time at METRO for two years now — involves working with our SIG program. Full circle!

So, Ray, tell me a little bit more about how you got started in the field. Was NYPL your first stop?

I think that’s a smart move to be stepping out of your comfort zone to transition from one kind of the library to the next. NYPL was my first library home and it was a great learning experience – I’ve had so many great colleagues and mentors from all different departments – I think working at a public library really diversified my skill sets and prepared me for academic libraries in ways that most people wouldn’t think about.

I also want to add that gathering and editing chapters has been quite an interesting learning experience. I am actually learning more about different types of libraries and skillsets. For example, Lisa Liang Philpotts’ chapter on academic to medical librarianship; I did not know a lot about systematic reviews but it was certainly appropriate for academic librarians to develop good searching skills and strategies for systematic reviews if they want to work in medical libraries. Other chapters including Dr. Sandra Hirsh, Laura Ruttum Senturia, and Sarah T. Jewell covered a lot of great advice on how to transfer skills and adapt in different settings widely.

The book itself will contain reflections and job strategies from librarians who did make the transition from one type of library into another around the world from China to Sweden to Korea. What’s more exciting is that we have Mary Lee Kennedy, Chief Library Officer of NYPL contributing a foreword to this book. Mary Lee has worked in Microsoft, Harvard Libraries and now at NYPL. Her foreword really gives the “big picture” of the multifaceted roles of librarians in this growing information ecosystem.

Yes! And I’d like to add that Lisa Chow and Sandra Sojanas graciously wrote a chapter for us on turning their library experience into a consultancy, People Interact. Side gigs like theirs are a great way to start a transition.

I also loved reading about the skills our authors brought from other industries. April Hathcock, for example, shared the law skills she uses in her role at New York University. And the reverse is also true — Sean Flores wrote about how he was able to build his library-related skills through part time jobs and internships while he was in school. Those opportunities led him to successfully apply for a great gig at Qualcomm. We often hear how transferrable our skills are as librarians, and Sean’s experience is proof of that!

Thanks for chatting with me, Ray! Now I’m off to edit more chapters. I can’t wait to read more about how our colleagues have landed in roles that are great for them right now through transitioning from other roles in librarianship — and from other fields!


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