Finding Your Niche: Research Librarian Turns to Data Science

Carla Hayden, the new Librarian of Congress, promises to bring the nation’s repository of history into the digital age by pushing forward a comprehensive technology strategy for the Library—something she did as CEO of the Baltimore Free Public Library System.

Her message and her mission are clear: the future of libraries is digital. Librarians with master’s and PhD’s in library science will be stewards of data in addition to physical collections, and a critical measure of their success will be how effectively they can collaborate with IT teams. Present and future librarians at STEM-oriented programs may find their careers swinging into areas where the job title may not be “librarian,” but their degree skills are a surprising, energizing fit.

For Christine Connors, research librarian skills were essential to her career path, which led her from being a corporate librarian to her present job as director of Data and Content Operations at Dodge Data & Analytics. The company provides a portfolio of information, intelligence, and data-driven insights for the construction industry.

“In essence, what I do is oversee enterprise information management—strategy, operations, and performance of structured and unstructured data and content,” she told McGraw-Hill Education. “I make sure data/content are acquired, managed, delivered, and disposed of appropriately. I work with IT to make sure the systems are there to manage those processes and I work with other departments to make sure we are efficiently running our business data and serving our customer’s needs via our product line.”

Connors gravitated to academic research and corporate librarianship when she got to graduate school. As an undergraduate, however, her major was theater. “I didn’t have the two additional languages required for a master’s in dramaturgy though—Latin and French, the only two languages I’d ever studied, weren’t on the lists of desired languages,” she says. “I figured I would study language on my own and in the meantime learn how to do research and literature management. It was close in my mind!”

Since theater librarian jobs “are few and far between,” Connors discovered a love for doing competitive intelligence and took a corporate research librarian job, which set her on, in her words, “an interesting path.”

“Relatively early in my career, an IT director I worked with saw the similarities and value of the skills, community knowledge, and experiences of the librarians in the company and asked them to help with an IT project,” she says.

The IT department and the librarians had the same underlying capability of managing and sharing information, although the former did so through virtual technology systems and the latter through physical systems.

Connors shifted her career into IT after that experience—but the research librarian skills remained especially valuable, she told McGraw-Hill Education.

“I have used the longstanding knowledge in this field—especially in the areas of cataloging and classification—to mold the work I do in Information and Knowledge Management,” she says. “I have used classic models, such as Colon Classification, and traditional tools such as Library of Congress Subject Headings and the Getty Thesauri, to directly inform how I deliver on my goals of organizing digital information and finding search and discovery tools for that information.”

Since transferring into IT from her role as a research librarian — “Yes, I was once a ‘real’ librarian,” she jokes — Connors found her degree only served to reinforce the value she brings to employers.

“My titles have opened the door, my degree gives me an edge, and my experience seals the deal,” she says.

Though her current employer was not looking for someone with an MLS, “I had less selling to do on the degree as I had the experience to back it up,” Connors says. “The novelty of the degree has, frankly, helped more than it hurt. And honestly, by the time I got to the key interviewer, if they didn’t grasp the value of the degree, I didn’t want to work for them anyway. As I’ve not had trouble gaining employment, it’s not been a problem to hold onto those ideals.”

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