Magazine article American Libraries

Flying Solo: Librarian, Manage Thyself

Magazine article American Libraries

Flying Solo: Librarian, Manage Thyself

Article excerpt


What's a solo librarian? One who flies an airplane alone? Not exactly, but there are similarities.

Martha Rhine, founder of the Solo Librarians Division of the Special Libraries Association, defined a "solo" as "an isolated librarian or information collector/provider who has no professional peers within the immediate organization." Other names for solo librarian are "one-man band" (in the U.K.), "sole-charge librarian" (sometimes used in Australia and New Zealand), and "one-person librarian" fused most everywhere else). Many solo members of the American Library Association call themselves "independent librarians" and join the Independent Librarians' Exchange, a section of the Association of Specialized and Cooperative Library Agencies.

How many solos are there and where do they work? The Special Libraries Association estimates that a third to a half of its 14,000+ members are in solo positions. That's 5,0007,000 solos in special libraries alone.

Solos work mostly in corporate libraries, but they are also found in museums, schools, churches or synagogues, prisons, law firms, and hospitals. The presence of solo librarians is growing rapidly in non-traditional jobs or nonlibrary settings such as information brokers, sales for library-related firms, publishing, and infopreneurs.

In addition, U.S. Department of Education figures show that the vast majority of public libraries employ only one professional librarian; often this is true of branches of larger library systems. In addition, nearly 80% of public libraries serving populations under 25,000 are staffed by only one professional.

The solo is most likely found in a small library without extensive holdings or resources. Solos are expected to do it all - ordering, cataloging, reference, bibliographic instruction, online searching, filing, budgeting-everything. They may have a part-time assistant, volunteers, or if they are lucky, some full-time clerical assistance. But the solo is the only trained librarian on the staff. In addition, the solo has no one in the organization doing the same job to go to for advice or a shoulder to cry on. Finally, solos probably work for a nonlibrarian - a boss who does not really understand what they do or how they do it.

Do you want to be captain or just a crew member?

Why would anyone want to be a solo librarian? The three most common reasons are independence, variety, and an enhanced feeling of self-worth.

Cathy Wright of the Albany Research Center in Oregon said she relishes being in charge. "I call the shots - I can do things my way; I don't have to deal with other coworkers' attitudes, problems, baggage, whatever; I set the priorities, etc. That's pretty nice."

Former solo Frances Drone-Silvers of Champaign, Illinois, said "One of the best things about being a solo is that 'Small Can Be Beautiful' - the library's reputation is yours to make and maintain!"

Linda Appel of Tektronix in Wilsonville, Oregon, said that her interns (school librarians) were surprised at the speed at which she worked and the variety of topics she was asked to search on. "They didn't seem to be used to having to get answers now and always having work waiting. They were also surprised at how limited my resources were. I think they expected that an industrial library would have the latest, greatest systems, be fully automated, and have all other business accoutrements as well as plush quarters and lots of space. Welcome to the real world!"

The "ideal" solo is flexible, creative, well organized, able to think analytically and independently, and confident in her ability to make good decisions. She is a team player who specializes in working alone. She should possess a high frustration tolerance, an entrepreneurial attitude, and the ability to juggle multiple clients and priorities. …

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