With Independence Comes Challenges: A Traditional Education and Career Provide Librarians with Useful Skills, but Additional Capabilities Are Needed to Be Successful as an Independent Info Pro
John, Jane, Information Outlook
Do traditional library education and experience prepare you to be an independent information professional? What are the challenges of running a business, and do you need additional skills?
I earned a library degree in the 1970s from the University of Denver, then worked in association and corporate libraries in the 1980s and 1990s. When my family moved to a small town in Maine, I started On Point Research, an independent information firm.
Today, I conduct market and business research for start-up companies. I research potential markets for mid-stage companies commercializing their products and for larger firms exploring the potential market for new products and services. I use many of the skills I acquired in traditional library settings, though I had to learn a few new ones along the way.
Start with Library Training
All in all, my traditional library training prepared me well for independent consulting. Specifically, it provided me with skills in the following areas:
Sources and methods. In library school and as a special librarian, you learn to organize, access and make sense of information. You may also create taxonomies, conduct literature searches, and answer questions.
If you decide to start your own company, you'll find there are people who will pay for these skills. Just change "library" to "information," "reference" to "research," and "answers" to "business insights," and voila--you have the mission of a new company: "Our firm will conduct research and provide you with the information and insights you need to reduce the risk of your next business decision."
Working with others. In a special library, you often work with a group of people to serve other employees; in your own firm, you may start by working totally on your own. But you will soon realize that your clients want you to work with them, as a part of their team. Working as a special librarian alongside fellow employees to accomplish a strategic initiative is not unlike consulting, in that both arrangements help a company accomplish its business goals.
Industry experience. Most SLA members work within an industry, accomplishing reference and research tasks, providing technical services, or managing people or projects. Members of the Association of Independent Information Professionals (AIIP)--all independent business owners--also report working in a variety of vertical industries. Common client bases are in the health care, information technology, education or pharmaceutical sectors. Librarians with experience in these and other industries may find that their specialized knowledge of industry sources and content transfers readily to work outside the traditional library setting.
Add Some New Skills
In addition to what you learn from a traditional library education, you'll need to acquire new skills if you decide to become an independent consultant.
Marketing. Call it marketing, advertising, or business development--once you're in business for yourself, you're responsible for your own "deal flow." No one is bringing in work for you. But even if you don't have a salesperson's temperament, there are a number of ways you can market your business. Simply placing yourself in a room of people who do not have your background can instantly make you interesting and marketable--you become an expert even if you're a generalist in a traditional library setting.
Basic business skills. A new business owner has to get up to speed quickly on budgeting, accounting and other basic business skills. These skills can be learned, and in most communities there are business development centers, retired business executive volunteers, and other resources to help you learn them. It may also be possible to find other entrepreneurs to help you with these tasks--for example, a bookkeeper to manage your expense reporting one day a week, a tech guru to design a Web site, or a financial analyst to help you decide how to grow your company. …