Finishing library school in 15 months and transitioning into a professional job two years after the 2008 collapse wasn’t easy. It took me nine months from graduating library school to starting my first job as a web services librarian at a small college in the South. It took me five months from starting my first job in the South, to leaving it for a vendor in New York. I left my job for the same reasons many people leave their job: Being closer to my family, and higher pay. Yet, part of me felt guilty.
I mean, I’m a librarian. I’m supposed to be an honorable public servant, someone who cringes at the very thought of working for a profitable, capitalist entity, right? At least, that’s the vibe I picked up from mutterings of jaded colleagues. Librarians embody freedom of information, for all… how could I go and work for (and condone) The Man—and the greed for power and money that comes along with it?
Despite my anxiety of crossing over into the vendor world, I have realized that these worries are, in fact, unfounded. When the vendor you work for employs, supports, and values librarians within its team, it’s a decision you don’t regret. And, when your job is to help librarians around the world be better at their jobs, it becomes a really cool opportunity.
I’ve worked for Imagine Easy Solutions (the folks behind EasyBib.com) since 2012. Working at a startup for more than three years is nearly unheard of, and besides the four founders, I’m one of the most veteran people there. Why have I stuck around for so long, instead of jumping ship to the newest, snazziest start-up that could poach me? Two reasons: (1) My job encourages me to have a real voice and (2) with that voice, I’ve been able to support a community of librarians around the world to be become better at their jobs.
Having a real voice has not only made my job more fun, but it’s allowed me to support librarians around the world and engage in outreach much better than hiding behind a corporate façade. For example, my Twitter account is run by me; it’s not an account that uses my name with pre-approved messaging. Working for a company that lets—nay, encourages!—you to voice your knowledge and opinions is rare, and important. I’ve been fortunate enough to present at a dozen or so library conferences, speak at national conferences, and network with leaders in the field over the past 3 years. Showing librarians that there is a real, genuine person rooted in an ed tech company can speak volumes.
Having an open and authentic voice is also crucial for community building. Kevin, as well as other librarians and teachers I’ve worked with, have said to me (and my bosses!) that they wouldn’t have even considered doing that webinar, or writing that blog post, or coming to our conference booth, if anyone besides me had reached out to them. Why? Because of our shared background in librarianship and passion for education. Trust me, I never thought that five years after graduating from library school, I’d be a Community Manager. I don’t think “Community Manager” was even a thing in 2010. What I’ve learned is, librarians make amazing community managers.
As is the nature of working for a startup, I’ve worn many hats. I started writing curriculum and assessments, shifted to developing content for librarians, and now I’m the Community Manager. In between, I’ve done citation QA, voice-overs for videos, and HTML coding. Through all of these experiences, I’ve evolved into a pseudo mediator between a Big Bad Vendor and librarians. This opportunity to work in a startup and take on a variety of projects is one of many things that’s made working at Imagine Easy so dang awesome.
In my day to day, I do a lot of “lukewarm” outreach—essentially, reaching out to people who may have heard of us (but aren’t diehard fans), and are interested in learning about what we do to help librarians and educators. And, let’s be real, seldom of us are happy to receive a business email where the sender asks something of you—be it your money, your time, or your resources (librarians especially—they’re trained in detecting B.S.!). But when the person on the other end of that email is on your level, genuinely empathizes with you, and shares common values, the conversation shifts from defensive to open.
Through our professional development webinars, I’ve been able to empower our viewers with novel ideas and training from amazing presenters… and I’ve provided our amazing presenters with a stage to share their knowledge with the world. (How do you think I got to know Dani and Kevin in the first place?) Building relationships takes time, but it’s much easier to start a conversation when you have shared passions, and come from a direction of empowerment, not sales pitches. It is these real, honest relationships that foster and build community—much like in physical libraries.
Nurturing communities is at the foundation of librarianship: We are the experts in finding solutions, conducting outreach, and keeping our patrons (or customers) happy. Librarians have the necessary research skills, curiosity, passion, empathy, and intelligence to take the lead in this growing job space. (If you’re interested in seeing what community managers do, check out WeSupport and CMX.)
Here’s a pro tip for you ed tech CEOs: Employing people who worked, or still work, in the field in which you sell is crucial. It shows that you value the people you sell to. It shows that you want perspectives and opinions of your end-users internally, to advise on product improvements or marketing copy before you take it to the masses. Imagine Easy employs five librarians from diverse backgrounds, and my colleague Michele and I still work in libraries (school and public, respectively).
tl;dr: Companies that work with librarians as customers, should have librarians as employees. It’s not rocket science.
Librarians are amazingly skilled individuals, and these skills are valued and used outside of libraries. I mean, can you blame organizations for wanting someone as smart, versatile, and resourceful as a librarian on its staff? Not to mention the job market—I applied to over 100 jobs between graduating and getting my first job offer (in thanks to Naomi House over at INALJ), and I can count on one hand how many phone interviews I got. Vendors expand the job market for new librarians. Don’t have three Master’s degrees and 5 years of experience for an entry-level job that pays $30,000 per year? That’s OK!
Yes, I was sad to leave my first mentors, surrender my faculty I.D. and spacious private office at my last job. That said, knocking knees under IKEA furniture in an open workspace setup is well worth it, knowing my daily efforts are making a meaningful impact for librarians everywhere. So let’s shake the stigma of librarians working for a vendor–if a passionate career is what we want, why close off a possible avenue for achieving our goals?
Emily Gover is the Community Manager for Imagine Easy Solutions and a part-time librarian for the Westchester Library System (NY). She has presented at numerous state and international conferences, and has been published in School Library Journal (and now Rule Number One, woo!). You can connect with her on Twitter, @edtechjam.