Friday, August 20, 2010

Interview with Blane K. Dessy

Hello everyone! Hope you all had a wonderful summer. I know you all have been patiently waiting for my next posting! This weeks interview is with a federal librarian by the name of Blane K. Dessy. He is currently the Executive Director of the Federal Library and Information Center Committee which is a consortium of the many Federal libraries in the U.S. government. Prior to this, he was the library director at the Department of Justice and the Department of Education. In addition, he has also worked as a state librarian, a consultant, and a public library director as well. In addition to his position as Executive Director, he currently teaches Management as an adjunct at the Catholic University School of Library and Information Science. So as you can see he is a very busy man and I was very lucky to get this interview!

What is your educational/professional background?

I have a Bachelor's degree in English literature and Master of Library Science degree from the University of Pittsburgh (1976). However, I have always engaged in continuing education so that I stay current and learn new things. After graduating from Pitt, I attended library management training seminars at Miami University in Ohio, took graduate classes in the field of education, and have regularly attended conferences, workshops, etc. As part of my various jobs, I have also been trained to be a group facilitator, a Government contracting officer and a grants manager among other things. My personal interests in training go beyond library issues to things such as budgeting, planning, marketing, etc. I think that librarians need to obtain a broad education in order to be effective. Think outside of library and information science education.

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

To be honest, when I graduated from library school, my career goal was to find a job…any job that would give me professional experience and, of course, some money. While in graduate library school, I had concentrated in Communications, so I took courses like Group Dynamics, Organizational Analysis and Design, Counseling, etc. I even did an independent study in Bibliotherapy. Needless to say, this was not the most traditional library science education and I couldn't have described what job I wanted. So, I applied for a lot of entry level jobs and actually got a job as a library director right out of school. I had taken Management in grad school, but I had never managed anything or anyone except myself, so I had a lot to learn. However, I did learn that I really liked management and policy, so I began to build a career in which I could learn more about this and get positions of greater responsibility. Once I solidified my career goals two or three years after graduation, I looked for opportunities to advance. I've never regretted my choices, but I have had friends tell me I'm not a real librarian since my interests are in management. I really love marketing and public relations.

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

I had always loved going to the library as a child, but it wasn't until undergraduate school that I realized I could be a librarian. I had a part time job in the university library in technical services and I found that I really liked the work, the people, and the environment. I had that job because my older brother (also a librarian) told me to work there because it was pretty easy work and it was air conditioned. Sorry, that's the truth…but I fell in love with the profession as a result. After getting my Bachelor's, I did some graduate work in English Lit., worked for a short time, and then returned to graduate school to get my MLS. I have never regretted this decision.

What does a typical work day look like for you?

I am in an administrative position, so a lot of my time is spent communicating. I go to a lot of meetings, some that I call and some that I am invited to. I spend a lot of time communicating via email and I am on the phone a lot. My daughter teases me by saying that my job consists of going to meetings and drinking bad coffee. As a manager, the work involves dealing with issues on a more conceptual level (policy) and dealing with people. As a person rises in his/her career, the technical skills become less important and the human and conceptual skills become more important. I spend a lot of my time thinking about the future, thinking about the next year or the years after that so that my organization stays viable. I also spend a lot of time writing and speaking, so remember that your communication skills are extremely important.

I don't spend that much time on technology at all, except in the planning and evaluation sense. I use technology, but my more important skills are effective communication and conceptualization skills.

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

I know that this sounds strange, but I really don't have a least favorite thing. A lot of librarians might think that I have a terrible job--budgeting, personnel, planning, evaluating, communicating, but to me, it's always interesting and always challenging. No two days are alike because the situations are always changing.

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)?

Salary ranges for Federal librarians are generally pretty good. Federal librarians also receive wonderful fringe benefits and have a great retirement plan. There is no hard and fast rule, but most beginning librarians start as a GS9 which is about 50K a year plus benefits. Many librarians in the Federal government advance to the GS12 level which begins at 75K. Of course, some librarians earn more than that. Before anyone gets too excited, just remember that DC, where most Federal librarians are, is a very, very expensive city, so the cost of living has to be factored in.

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

In retrospect, my education prepared me very well for my career. I came out of graduate school with a lot of knowledge about how organizations function, how people work and communicate, and how to listen and resolve problems. This has helped me far more than the technical skills that I acquired at the time. In my career, I have not had to use the bibliographic and resource skills that I had acquired. By the time that technology was becoming prominent, I was already in management positions where the issues were more policy-oriented. As you advance in your careers, you will find that the technical skills begin to fall away and the management and conceptual skills become more important. I was lucky to leave graduate school with a grounding in those topics.

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

I have several pieces of advice for graduating students.

1. Don't stereotype yourself as a librarian. You have acquired great skills in a lot of areas and you have more career options that you may think. During my career, I have been in charge of HR Offices, EEO Offices, and even Facilities Offices. This is because I have the management and organizational skills to do these things. You also have those skills, so don't think too narrowly when you describe yourself. The famous cultural historian Jacques Barzun once wrote that we should never confuse our profession with our function. Our profession is librarianship as it's now defined, but our function is bringing people and information together.

2. Be as flexible as you can; don't lock yourself into one type of thing…I knew people in graduate school who only wanted to be catalogers or reference librarians or children's librarians. It's a big world out there, don't limit yourself. Also, if you can be geographically flexible, that's a big help. There are good jobs out there, but you may have to move to get one.

3. Your degree may get you in the door, but it's you that will be evaluated. Sharpen your communications skills; stay current with the literature; be a good colleague; dress for success, etc. Librarianship is a very tolerant profession that gives its members a lot of personal latitude. Don't abuse the privilege. Having the degree is important; having a great work ethic and being nice is more important for your success.

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

I think that the changes will be much the same as they are now--rapidly changing technologies, changing audiences and demographics, financial limitations, etc. How we do things is changing rapidly; why we do these things remains pretty much the same. What I would hope to see is that librarians see themselves differently--not as custodians of collections and not as technology trapeze artists, but as people who are committed to the expansion of knowledge and the betterment of their communities.

Thanks again to Mr. Dessy for taking time out of his busy schedule to be interviewed! Stay tuned as we have many great interviews to come in the upcoming year. Also, if you have individuals that you would like us to interview or specific professions you want to know more about please email us we love feedback!

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