Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Interview with Michael Sauers

This week’s interview is with Michael Sauers, the Technology Innovation Librarian for the Nebraska Library Commission in Lincoln, Nebraska. He trains librarians in technology throughout Nebraska and is an active presenter, blogger, and writer. He has published ten books, the most recent being Blogging & RSS: A Librarian’s Guide, Second Edition, and has three more that will be published next year. You can check out Michael’s blog at travelinlibrarian.info. Let's get started with the interview!

What is your educational/professional background?

My undergraduate degree is a BS in American Studies with a minor in Criminal Justice from SUNY Brockport (1992). I earned my MLS from the University at Albany’s School of Information Science and Policy in 1995. Prior to earning my MLS I mostly worked in bookstores (from bookseller to management) and spent my final semester as an undergraduate as an intern in the New York State Assembly. While at Albany I worked at the New York State Library on a serials verification project and then moved at the University library where I was on the team that wrote the first Web site for the library. Post MLS, I’ve (luckily) held only a few positions. For the first two years I ran my own Internet consulting business in Las Vegas, NV. I then moved to Denver, CO and spent nearly ten years as the Internet Trainer for the now defunct, Bibliographical Center for Research (BCR). Since 2007, I’ve been the Technology Innovation Librarian at the Nebraska Library Commission (the state agency for libraries) in Lincoln, NE.

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

When I entered the Albany MLS program I fully expected to become a reference librarian. At the time--this was 1994--the cataloging class still spent a half-semester talking about how to catalog on cards. When I entered the program I was allowed to have an e-mail address since I was a grad student. While I was there the Web came into existence and I latched onto the technological aspects of the library world instantly. At the time I took so many technology related classes that for the time, my own personal library school program was hardly considered standard. Compared to programs these days, the classes I took (think FTP and Gopher on dumb terminals connected to a VAX mini computer) seem almost quaint. By the time I’d finished the program, MLS students were required to have an e-mail address and so was pretty much every other student throughout the campus. So, I’d say that my goals have stayed pretty much consistent since library school but they changed radically while I was there.

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

It sounds cliche but I ended up becoming a librarian because I love books. Most of my jobs as during high school and college were at bookstores and I have an extensive book collection as a result. I love books but to be honest, very little of my library-related work has ever had much to do with books. That is, until the whole eBook revolution finally kicked into high gear.

What does a typical work day look like for you?

Whenever I’m asked this question I always have a hard time answering it because there isn’t really a “typical day” for me. However, I suppose I can describe two different types of days which don’t necessarily keep themselves separate from each other.

The first, are my training days. Part of my duties is to provide training to librarians across the state. Typically one of my workshops is either a half-day (3 hours) or a full day (6 hours). Typically, half-day workshops are paired up to fill out a whole day. Topics range from searching to Web design to eBooks. Just this week I gave a full-day workshop in Kearney, NE on WordPress for librarians joining out Nebraska Libraries on the Web project. (http://libraries.ne.gov) Those days I’m teaching the topics at hand from 9am to 4pm with an hour lunch in the middle. Depending on the distance from Lincoln, these workshops also necessitate travel either on the same day or on the days before and after. However we’re moving to a lot more online training so scratch the travel in those instances.

If I’m not training anything else I might do that day can be broken into one of three categories: constant, regular, and as-needed.

The constant could be easily described as general research in order to see what’s going on in the library and technology worlds. Via Google Reader I follow over 500 blogs and other resources mostly in the library and tech realms and watch/listen to about a dozen podcasts weekly. I’m constantly on the lookout for what’s next and how that will or can affect libraries and librarians. To a certain extent you could also view this a constant preparation for training but at this stage it’s mostly just information gathering and trend watching.

The constant category includes meetings (there’s always a committee or two going on at the Commission), technical support for the libraries in the Nebraska Libraries on the Web project, updating the computers in our training lab at least monthly, hosting a Tech Talk show as part of the Commission’s weekly webinar “NCompass Live” and producing the Commission’s NCompass Podcast. There’s also our Nebraska Learns 2.0 program (http://nelearns.blogspot.com/) which I help to run. Since there’s several of us involved typically I only need to come up with new material for that every three or four months. I’m sure there’s more than that but that’s what I can come up with off the top of my head.

As needed includes short-term projects and working with other staff members on implementing their ideas. For example I’m on the committee that’s putting together our state library conference this year. Come late October, that project will be over. The other major example is training prep. Whenever a new class is being developed or I’m scheduled to teach an existing class, there’s always time spent for a week or two in advance of the classes preparing the materials and making sure everything is up-to-date.

Then there’s all the things that you could consider librarianship-related that I don’t get to do in the office. For example, I’m currently in the middle of three active book contracts with two different publishers. (Semi-professional drive on a closed course. Always wear your safety belt. Do not try this at home.) I’m also preparing for upcoming speaking gigs in Colorado and Wyoming. As a state employee I can’t work on any of this while on state time as it would be inappropriate for me to use state time, funds and equipment for paid, non-state work.

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

In my previous position at BCR I traveled more than 50% of the time. After nearly 10 years of doing that I was starting to wear on me and that was one of the main reasons I took the job in Nebraska was to cut down on the travel a bit. However, due to the economy and the current state budget that travel has now been reduced to minimal levels. (Hence the push for more online training.) So now my biggest complaint is that I don’t get to travel as much as I’d like to.

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

My gut response to this questions is “it didn’t” but that seems a bit harsh and most will not take that as I intend them to. The reason is that jobs like mine, mostly technology and Internet centered, just didn’t exist when I went to library school. As I mentioned earlier, the program changed while I was in it and some programs today look almost nothing like what they did back then. However, what I did get out of library school was the underlying understanding of what libraries are and how they work. Despite the changes the central mission of the library hasn’t changed. And, since now I work with librarians of all types and in all positions, because of that grounding I got from library school I can talk to any of them; cataloger, reference librarian, or systems administrator. Sometimes I get the impression that some programs have so focused on the future that they’re failing to teach some of the basics.

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)?

Well, after nearly ten years at BCR I was making a little more than $60,000 a year. I took a 20% pay cut to come to Nebraska but the cost of living was about 20% lower in Lincoln than in Denver so I pretty much broke even. As to what someone else can expect starting out in such a position as mine, that’s about as much detail as I can give you.

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

Be flexible. You may intend to do a specific type of job when you get out of school but as I can attest, what you plan to do and what you end up doing can be two completely different things. Also be flexible in that the only constant is change. I’ve seen so many librarians that were well established and then everything began to change with the Internet and that sort of attitude only harms the patrons and their view of the profession. Expect and embrace change and you’ll be better off for it in the long run.

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

I’ve never been able to answer this question with any accuracy and could speak in generalities like “mobile access going to be big” but that’s hardly a surprise to anyone paying attention. Considering almost nothing I deal with in my job on a day to day basis (RSS, Podcasts, eBooks, and tables just to name a few) existed when I graduated I know better than to try to guess what we’ll be dealing with just a few years from now.