The opening keynote speech on day two of the 2013 Umbrella conference promised to address the challenges inherent in this critical time for information professionals. Delivered by the charismatic and energetic Janice LaChance, CEO of the Special Libraries Association (SLA), we learnt much about professional skills as well as some unexpected insights into Janice’s life working for President Clinton.
We were encouraged to learn from thought leaders both inside and outside the profession, a rallying cry I’ve also heard at other conferences where we’re encouraged to dialogue and engage and advocate with those outside the profession.
Librarians have many transferable skills, Janice pointed out, from organisation and reference to analysis and research and whilst the job title ‘librarian’ might be in decline, skills such as those will remain relevant for many other positions. “The market for jobs may be sluggish but the market for expertise is thriving,” she declared. The SLA’s membership of 9,000 includes over 2,000 different job titles – perhaps your next job might be content choreographer, VP market intelligence, or conflicts supervisor…
And the particular skills honed by information professionals can achieve more than we think – save lives, ensure justice is done and improve society, to quote a few examples Janice highlighted.
To remain relevant and valued, librarians need to demonstrate how their skills benefit their organisations and to focus more on promoting the value of their services. Being able to demonstrate ROI and to think and act like executives will provide new opportunities and ensure the information centre is aligned with the goals of the organisation and its senior management.
Thinking like an executive includes being able to answer questions such as those Bill Clinton would fire at Janice when she was his Chief of Staff: ‘What problems are you trying to solve right now/over the next few weeks/months?’, for example. And not just producing the right information at the right time but putting it into the hands of the right people, in the right format (eg mobile) and adding a layer of interpretation and analysis to the data.
Finally, she emphasised, the opportunities won’t come to you, you need to take risks and stretch yourself, believe you can make a difference, and to look for opportunities in places you wouldn’t usually… a theme which was to be reiterated by other speakers throughout the day.