Monday, September 13, 2010

Interview With Linda Absher

Hello to all of my loyal readers. This week I have Linda Absher, a librarian who currently works in Portland, Oregon at the Portland State University Library. She pretty much has my dream job by the way. However, she has worked in a variety of library environments, not to mention she has her own website entitled "The Lipstick Librarian." Where she discusses the "prettier" side of librarianship. It's nice to see we still have fashionistas in our profession (besides me of course). Well I know I am excited so lets get to the interview.

What is your educational/professional background?

I have an AB in English Literature (what else) from the University of California, Davis. I received my MLIS from the University of California, Berkeley. At the time it was the School of Library & Information Studies; it’s been revamped and is now the School of Information Management, a program that does not have (and did not seek) ALA accreditation.

Since library school, I have worked in academic, special and public libraries, including IBM and Multnomah County Library. I am currently a reference librarian for the humanities for Portland State University in Portland, Oregon.

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

Career Goals: the first goal was employment. The fact that I am an academic librarian surprises me since at the time, everyone in my program wanted to be one. I figured my best chance in getting a job was becoming a special librarian, unaware that at the time many corporations were downsizing and closing libraries. But I accepted a complex project as an internship with Golden Gate University, which led to a position with them after graduation.

As for changing goals, I’d say the bibliographic sparkle that made the profession so enticing has worn off for me. Not sure why, other than I’m at a mid-career stage. Currently I am one of a very rare breed: a tenured librarian. I would like to become a full professor, which would entail more service and publishing, two things I enjoy doing. I would also like to write a book that has nothing to do with the profession, but I do have one obstacle: I’m lazy.

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

I was working as an office drone right out of college; one of my workers was leaving because she was accepted into the librarian program at Berkeley. I was shocked because, quite frankly at the time I had no idea one needed a graduate degree to become a librarian. It stuck in my mind, though for a variety of reasons mostly boiling down to the fact that I was terrified, I didn’t apply to the program until almost ten years later. In the interim I worked at a slew of subsistence jobs, which included shoveling popcorn at a movie house, receptionist, and record store clerk. Ultimately weariness and poverty won out over fear.

What does a typical work day look like for you?

Is there a typical work day for librarians anymore? I do work reference hours; I provide collection development services, including managing a budget. Since our library has a subject specialty model, I am the subject specialist and liaison for the World Languages, Applied Linguistics and Communication Studies departments for Portland State. I also provide bibliographic instruction as well as develop research guides and learning objects for the campus and community.
Because I’m tenured, I also do research on librarianship; right now my interests are diversity and vernacular materials. I try squeezing that in between questions from students as to why they shouldn’t cite Wikipedia in their papers.

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

It’s probably the same thing, I love being a librarian. If I could no longer refer to myself as a librarian, I would feel a sense of loss. I enjoy trying to come up with solutions or (believe it or not) answers on the spot. I’m also extremely nosy, which means I get paid to listen to people trying to explain what they’re doing or what they’re preoccupied with—it’s intellectual eavesdropping.
But sometimes the whole aura of being a librarian becomes a bit tiresome. I have made somewhat of a name for myself by writing about the professional stereotype, but there are times when it is an obstacle, in expected and unexpected ways. I do believe once people find out I’m a librarian, I’m placed in this nice little mental box, unable to see the value of what I do beyond being something quaint and or quirky. And I don’t think my experience is unique.

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)?

I will say I make over $50K/year—average to high for a front-line academic librarian with over five years experience. My salary went up after being granted promotion and tenure, a process that took approximately six years. As for salaries today: I’m not too familiar with starting salaries, but they seem to have gone up somewhat since I started in the mid-1990s.
I’m hesitant to speculate about salaries in this day and age. That being said, I think salaries are higher in that many positions require a fair amount of tech savvy, even for positions that may not seem at first glance to need it (e.g., YA librarian, et al).

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

I was lucky in that I attended library school right before the World Wide Web was introduced. Berkeley at the time was incredibly forward thinking in terms of computer skills and training. As part of my course work, I completed C and database programming classes. In addition, I learned to work in a command-based, UNIX environment. These skills were what got me interviews. I also have to give a shout-out to Marcella Genz, who was my reference instructor: she was the person who made me truly think and develop a reference philosophy. There’s not a work day where I don’t base my reference interview on something I learned from Marcella.
Surprises: The biggest surprise was how much public speaking/interaction I’ve had in my career—that wasn’t brought up in library school. I do think many people still choose librarianship because it seems like a secular nunnery: it’s a profession where one can cloister themselves with as little interaction with others as possible. Alas, it is a myth: I have done more public speaking as a librarian than in any other position. We teach; we present; we give tours, story times—in short, we do a lot of very loud talking. All in the name of information literacy.

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

I think librarianship will continue being more and more technologically sophisticated. Even with the background I came out with from Berkeley, there are very few positions now for which I would be qualified—I don’t see that changing. In fact, the only change would be the speed at which technology is morphing.
The biggest challenge for us as a profession is convincing those around us that they truly do need us, even with these big, sophisticated tools--*because* of these tools. The technology is so powerful it deludes folks into thinking they’re expert information researchers, when all they’re doing is pulling so much dreck that they’re unable to filter or assess what they find. I’m hoping there comes a breaking point where people are so overwhelmed with what they find they realize they need some sort of expert to deal with all this content, but at this point, most people are perfectly content with the first 3-4 hits in Google.
But I am a patient librarian. And a proactive one to boot. You should be one too.

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

Don’t become discouraged by the job market. Despite what you may have heard, it’s always been tough to find librarian position, a fact that was presented to me during my library program orientation in the early nineties. Try to be as technologically sophisticated as possible, even if you’re looking into positions that seem to have little to do with technology. You’d be surprised at how many library positions have been completely transformed over the last ten years.

And though it may sound like heresy, you may want to think about positions outside librarianship. The skills we learn in school aren’t just applicable to librarianship—I know of one graduate who works with an insurance company handling complex disability claims; she’s very highly regarded (and financially rewarded) due in no small part to her ability to ferret out information from a variety of resources.


Joel said...

I heart the Lipstick Librarian. She and the House of BANG! will soon have a dance battle at an ALA!

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