Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Interview with Jessamyn West

Interview with Jessamyn West

Alright ladies and gentleman here is the first official LISSA Denton Blog Interview. For those of you who didn't read my previous posting I will be interviewing people in the upcoming year several times a month currently employed in the LIS field. These individuals will come from both traditional and nontraditional settings. I will be asking every person the same set of questions, for the most part, to give all of you a better understanding of what life as a LIS professional is really like and the wide variety of settings and environments these individuals are employed in. If you have any requests for types of LIS fields you would like me to post just shoot me an email or post a comment on the blog. If you would like to submit an interview or suggest someone you would like me to interview please also email me or post on the blog.

Our first interviewee is Jessamyn West.

For those of you who don't know who she is I have included her brief bio from her website below:

Jessamyn West is a community technology librarian and a moderator of the massive group blog She lives in a rural area of Central Vermont where she teaches basic computer skills. She assists tiny libraries with technology planning and implementation, helping them with wifi and websites and making sense of their systems. She maintains an online presence at and and has had her address and phone number on the Internet for a decade. Her favorite color is orange.

Other bullet-point type information that may or may not be helpful.

-former ALA Councilor
-co-editor Revolting Librarians Redux was one of the first librarian weblogs
-runs especially the question asking/answering part of the site Ask Metafilter.
-official blogger at the Democratic National Convention 2004
-"the FBI has not been here" signs
-Wikipedia article

So as you can see she's kind of a library celeb of sorts. Needless to say I couldn't wait to ask her a couple questions about her LIS career. Now lets get to the part you've all been waiting for the interview questions!

What is your educational/professional background?

I have an undergraduate degree in linguistics from Hampshire College
and a MLib from the University of Washington.

When you graduated college/graduate school what were your career goals/have they changed since?

I wanted to be a rural librarian and now I live in a rural area mostly
doing technology work but sometimes working as a rural librarian. I
like rural library work, but I think wanting to run my own library was
a goal that wasn't as attainable as I thought. Actually what i wanted
to do was LIVE IN the library I worked at, and while I tried hard to
do that, I haven't managed it yet.

When/how did you decide the LIS career path was for you?

When I got out of college and I thought about what I really had
enjoyed doing most when I was in college. The answer was looking
things up and doing research at the library. I have always loved to
read, and to help people, and there was a great library school just up
the road. It worked out perfectly.

What does a typical work day look like for you?

I have a lot of small jobs so there is really no typical day. Today I
got up around 10, had coffee, checked the website,
where I work as a community manager. Then I went to the vocational
high school in town that I work at, did IT stuff for a few hours
[helping people with software installations and getting their email
working] and then I did "drop-in time" for two and a half hours.
Anyone in the community can come by the computer lab and I will help
them with their computer issues. I had someone who came in to do
email, someone who had laptop questions, a whole family who had a new
laptop and wanted help setting it up and two young adults from the
evening degree program who wanted to catch up on facebook before
class. Then I went and had dinner with a friend and now I'm writing
this and will probably work some more on my book about teaching
technology to novice computer users before a nighttime scrabble game
and then bed.

What is your favorite/least favorite thing about your job?

Every day is different. I like that I've managed to achieve some sort
of status and reputation and someone who knows what she is talking
about but at the same time not get up to an alarm clock every day. I
love helping people and I love living in a rural community and I'm
happy I can make a living at it.

What is your salary range/What can students interested in working in your type of LIS profession
look to make as far as salary (both starting out and over time)?

It really varies. I make an annual salary in the mid five figures with
my community management job. The local high school pays me between
$20-50/hour for the work I do there. When I work at the local public
library I make $8/hour. Writing the book is going to pay very little.
When I go places to give speeches, I get paid in the
high-three-low-four figures depending on what I do and how long I'm
there. It's a weird way to make a living but it works well for me.

How do you think your education prepared you/didn't prepare you for your current career?

I didn't learn as much about the business side as I could have used. I
feel that I don't know as much about working with vendors and budgets.
I feel that I learned a good amount about computers, considering that
it was 1993-1996 at the time. I feel that I learned a lot about
working with lots of different sorts of people, in ways that are
helpful to me. I feel that UW gave me a good ethical foundation of
what it really means to be a librarian and that's been helpful to me
all the way along.

What advice do you have for current/graduating library and information science students?

practical experience with technology and in libraries before you
graduate. Realize that many great jobs don't happen in a library
setting and think about other places you could use your brain to be
useful. Get involved in professional organizations like ALA or TXLA
[which is really one of the best state library associations in the
country, seriously] and take advantage of some of their mentoring
programs and learn to do public speaking and interact with other
professionals maybe outside of your specialty or geographic area.
Interact with other librarians online and enjoy the social scene in
addition to the professional scene. There are a lot of great people
doing great things lately and there's always room for more.

What changes do you foresee for the field of Library and Information Science in the next five to ten years?

I'm a very poor futurist, so I always answer "More of the same, even
if you think otherwise"

Well there you have it folks. I hope I provided you all with some useful information and special thanks to Jessamyn for being so helpful. If you would like to know more about Jessamyn or you have some questions for her please visit her at her website

New Year, New Blog

Hello all my name is Angel and I am the new secretary/treasurer of LISSA Denton for the upcoming school year. I will be changing the format of this blog. From now on it will be a post for interviews with individuals currently employed in the LIS field. Every two weeks there will be a new interview for LIS students to checkout. I will try to find individuals from both traditional and non traditional library settings so that people about to enter the work world get a true sense of what it is to be a "librarian" in todays work world. Stay tuned for more information. I will post links to the facebook and twitter when I have posted a new interview.