Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Professional Development for the Library Technologist

Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Professional Development for the Library Technologist

Article excerpt

The last couple of months have marked several personal milestones. I've had my 25year anniversary of employment at Vanderbilt University, I will soon attend my 25th Computers in Libraries conference, and I've been involved with this column for slightly more than 10 years. The passing of these dates calls to mind some of the strategies I have found important to building a career focused on technology in the library profession. For others either considering a career in library technology or those already in the field thinking about their next steps, I will reflect on some of the phases of my own career and offer some thoughts on what I view as helpful strategies. While I write mostly in regard to building a tech-focused career in libraries, these ideas may also apply more generally.

Grow Through the Ranks

I've had the great opportunity to work with technology in libraries for 25 years. My official tenure with Vanderbilt University's Jean and Alexander Heard Library began on Feb. 5, 1985, preceded by an additional couple of years of service while in grad school. I've worked my way through the ranks of several positions and have had the chance to work with computing and automation from their very beginnings in our organization. Though my first assignment wasn't designed to be focused on technology, it coincided with the implementation of our first automation system, NOTIS. I had gained an affinity for technology through college and graduate school, making use of some of the earliest word processing systems and doing data manipulations and programming on mainframe computers using keypunch cards. As our library began its automation efforts, I quickly shifted to full-time responsibilities with technology, initially on the data networks, but eventually to all aspects of our systems.

The various positions I've held at Vanderbilt have given me incredible opportunities for hands-on experience working with and building a variety of different library applications and thinking strategically about the role of technology in a large university library. I find that at least some ongoing involvement in programming, systems administration, and other technical work helps maintain skills and makes sure that my strategic thinking about technology remains connected with the practical. To this day, I enjoy developing software as much as I do writing documents about strategic technology. Being engaged in a variety of different activities not only makes my work more interesting but also helps keep sharp the skills that I use in maintaining my own websites and other projects.

It's important to work toward a position that lines up with your own areas of strength. Of course, we must all perform the duties we were hired to do, but in most cases library positions offer some flexibility to shape these duties, at least to a certain extent, according to personal interests and talents. An ongoing dialogue with your managers should help in adding and subtracting activities over time that will both improve service to the library and better match your professional interests.

Discover a Niche

One of the strategies that I think is most helpful in professional development involves finding a specialty and mastering that area to its fullest extent. It's essential to not only have a broad perspective and be well-informed on a wide range of topics within the profession but also develop deep expertise and experience within a specific area. Over time, you can develop into one in the pool of experts in that area whom others in your own institution and beyond will respect and rely on. Given enough effort and luck, it's possible to grow into being one of the nationally recognized experts within that niche.

I've gone through a few niches so far over the course of my career. The first involved OCLC connectivity. The original model of performing cataloging with OCLC involved having a relatively small number of terminals and having catalogers or their support staff schedule time on them. …

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