Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Interview with Ruth Kneale

Hey guys we've got another new interview for you (I know you have all been patiently waiting!). This weeks interviewee is Ruth Kneale the author of the widely popular book You Don't Look Like a Librarian. For those of you who have yet to read it its pretty awesome especially for a librarian like me with tats and piercings! Needless to say, shes anything but the stereotypical librarian. But, enough jabbering from me lets get to the interview!

What is your educational/professional background?

I have a Bachelor's of Science in astronomy, and a Master's in Information Resources and Library Science. My professional background is all astronomical - I've been working in one way or another for observatories since I was an undergrad. My first real job was with the Steward Observatory's Mirror Laboratory; I changed jobs to the Gemini 8m Telescopes Project in late 1991 and worked for them for over ten years. My first post-grad job was for the new Gemini Observatory (which is what Projects become when they grow up, in astronomy), setting up a research library in Hawaii. After a couple of years I jumped ship for the daytime side of astronomy and came to work as a systems librarian for the Advanced Technology Solar Telescope project of the National Solar Observatory, where I still work.

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

One of the benefits for me of going to grad school while working full time is that I had a very definite idea in mind - I knew exactly what I wanted to do. It was great to be able to immediately apply something I learned at school to my work situation. My goals haven't changed much since then - I still want to make sure that information is sorted, organized, findable and available to folks.

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

During my time with the Gemini Project, I was put in charge of organizing and managing all the technical documentation for the project; that task really brought home to me how much I enjoyed organizing information and making it available and easily findable by the staff. That, in conjunction with my home experiences, led me down the street to the library school. (My mother was a librarian as well and I learned about librarianship from behind the desk at an early age.)

What does a typical work day look like for you?

That's a tough one - every day is different! Typically, I'll wake up the computer (while making coffee) and then check and answer email on several accounts. I deal with any requests that have come in, then touch base with my boss to see if he's had anything come up that needs attention. I then turn to my never-ending to-do list; some of the items on it right now include combining three separate documents on a similar topic into one, and annotate; finish migrating some software to a new server; process some released technical documents; add new items to our staff publication web page; cross-check two mailing lists for commonalities; update some instrumentation work areas with new information; and write a newsletter article. So I work on any one of those items, keep up with my email, and deal with any issues that pop up over the day (ranging from helping someone fix a template issue with Word to configuring a new computer). Near the end of the day I skim my list of library blogs and/or my library magazine pile; I may not work in a typical library but what happens in public and academic libraries does have an impact on my job, so I keep up as best I can.

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

The favorite thing is easy: the people I work with. I've got a great staff who not only understands the skill-set I bring to the party, but actually uses it. That rocks! The least favorite thing is probably the never-ending software issues I have to handle, across the board - users, servers, visitors, anyone who's having problems with their software brings their computers to me to fix.

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)?

This is a tough question to answer. I do make a very decent living, eleven years after graduation. Starting salaries for systems librarians can vary widely based on location and the skill set you bring to the table; in general, though, systems librarians rank slightly higher on pay scales.

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

The school I attended focused primarily on the theory of things; I took all my practical classes as electives outside the core class requirements. I also had the benefit, as I mentioned earlier, of working full time at the same time, so I was also able to get on-the-job training, so to speak. So, for the philosophical take on things, I was pretty well covered; for the hands-on, day-to-day "get it done" part, there was a lot less coverage.

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

Be persistent. Be open to the possibilities. Most importantly, think (and look) outside the box! Librarians can and do work anywhere - if there's a particular type of work you want to do, you will lose absolutely nothing by approaching organizations and companies and asking them about it. You might be surprised at the responses. Never stop learning, either - and be open to all kinds of learning, including learning by playing. In my opinion, it's the best way to learn how to use a new tool, whether it's a smartboard or a social network.

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

I can't predict any specific changes - so much has changed in the last ten years! - but I do believe that libraries and librarians will continue to be critical for communities, knowledge distribution and sharing, and information management. I also believe that more organizations and institutions will begin to use the embedded librarian model (that of a librarian working within and as a part of a particular project team, not as a central shared resource). I firmly believe that it is and will be a good career to be in!

Special thanks to Ruth for participating in our blog. For those of you interesting in learning more about Ruth please check out her website or email her at

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