Thursday, March 24, 2011

Interview with Lauren Pressley

This week's post features Lauren Pressley, the Instructional Design Librarian at Wake Forest University, whose library
just won the ACRL Academic Library of Excellence award this year. Lauren is an active writer and presenter who was recognized in 2008 as an ALA Emerging Leader, and in 2009 as a Library Journal Mover & Shaker. Her publications include So You Want To Be a Librarian and Wikis for Libraries, in addition to her library blog, which can be found here. Photo credit: Ken Bennett, Wake Forest University.

What is your educational/professional background?

I wasn't really sure what I wanted to do when I was in college, so I got degrees that were interesting to me: philosophy and communication. Once I graduated, I knew I had good general skills and knowledge but nothing specific. I was looking for work that did more good than evil, and eventually fell into a paraprofessional position. Once I did, though, it was obvious I was in the right place: I had volunteered in libraries for much of my life. After a few months in the position I knew I'd need the MLS to do the type of work I wanted to do, so I went to library school while I continued my library job full time.

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

My immediate goal was go get a job. I knew I'd find something I enjoyed, so the next variable I focused on was in a location I'd be happy in for a little while. I was fortunate that Wake Forest University, where I worked through library school, was able to offer me a job doing really interesting work. Since then my goals have evolved to be about more than just the job. I still want to do meaningful and interesting work at my library, but I also hope to make an impact at the institutional level and for the field of librarianship. I'm working on both those goals through various committee appointments, and I try to contribute to librarianship through writing and presenting as well.

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

I knew it once I was in a paraprofessional position. But if I had been honest with myself, I would have known it since I learned to read. (I outlined my path in detail for the Library Routes Project.) My school librarians played a big role in my childhood, and I loved working with the local public librarians, too. Ironically, when I became a Resident Advisor in college I was told that I had to quit any jobs I held that were not directly tied to my career aspirations. I ended up quitting the student position I held in the library and kept the journalism job with the student paper.

What does a typical work day look like for you?

There is no typical day. Whenever I participate in Library Day in the Life I typically chronicle an entire week to get to some of the diversity of my position. In general I do a lot of communicating, so I have a lot of email, meetings, and face-to-face conversations. I serve on a number of committees ranging from focusing on the library website to academic technology for the entire university to serving on the Teaching and Learning Center advisory board. Most of my tasks are related to the work we do in these groups. I also am the liaison for Philosophy, Women's and Gender Studies, and the Teaching and Learning Center. I teach one-shot classes for these disciplines and collect materials for them as well. I also do a number of technology workshops for our staff and the general campus community.

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

I am most passionate about helping our users think about the changing information environment and what it means for them as users and producers of information. I love any work that touches on that, whether it's teaching the one-credit information literacy course that I teach or helping faculty think about digital scholarship. Some of the mundane tasks are less fun, and at times it's hard to get everything done, but none of that is worth complaining about because the job is generally intellectually interesting, satisfying, and I work with fantastic colleagues (both in the library and in the academic faculty).

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's hard to nail down specific salaries. The ALA-APA puts out a survey of salaries every few years, which is a really useful resource if you're looking for a point to begin negotiating with. Many institutions have a career ladder in which you might earn more as you move up in rank. For example, at WFU librarians have faculty status without tenure, so there is a ranking from Assistant to Associate to Full to Senior. To move up a level an individual has to have served a specified number of years and to have performed at increasing levels.

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

My graduate program gave me a solid understanding of issues that are important to librarians and the values of the profession. I also felt I got a really good grounding in the broad spectrum of the field, which is nice as I'm in a more specialized area where I don't do cataloging, access, or special collections. As anyone will tell you, classroom knowledge is different from working knowledge, and I learn a lot every day on the job. That tends to be more about specific duties, institutional culture, and the politics of an organization. I also learn a lot about trends and technology from Twitter and blogs.

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

I always advise current and graduating students to just go ahead and get involved! Most of the opportunities I've had have been indirectly and directly tied to my blogging through library school. Twitter can be a great gateway to professional networking. Some ALA and state association committees look for library school students to get a more diverse perspective. Just saying, "I'm a student," can get people to share with you about their professional path, which can help you think about what other experiences you might like to get. Go ahead and think of yourself as a member of the profession (you are!) and begin getting your feet wet and making connections!

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

One of the most exciting things about our field is that we're changing a lot right now, and you can contribute to the discussion of what we should be doing and who we should be. I believe libraries are about information. Books were just the most convenient location for a long time. If we think of ourselves as information experts we can contribute to conversations in our community about new information formats and services, we can offer agile and adaptive services based on current user needs, and we can help our users think about how they want to be involved in their information environment.... in addition to getting materials (be they digital or physical). It's an exciting time to be in libraries, and I'm glad you're here with us!

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