While earning my MLS, I had the opportunity to meet Lucrea Dayrit. She was passionate about the local chapter of the Special Libraries Association and was advocating for student involvement. I became a member and learned a great deal from her. Recently, I asked her some questions for this blog. Her responses are below.
Lauren: Please share details about your experience working in special libraries.
Lu: As a special librarian, I am an advisor or consultant.
I have been called the go-to pro – an informational professional who is sought for help by members in an organization for some insights that will help in their better decision making.
The path to this go-to-pro reputation started in the reference or advisory services, complemented by cataloging/metadata experiences. Although my focus has been on reference work, I cover news services, collection development and management, and library system administration. Reference has always been my forte.
As the go-to pro, I fulfill the Library’s mission. Also, I work towards elevating the library profession generally, which could be seen in my local and national leadership roles.
My experiences are built from the ground up. I started as an academic librarian which is the foundation of where I am now. I was hired as a cataloger and reference librarian. Many years ago, my focus was organizing a collection of print government documents: volumes of Congressional banking and finance hearings and other government documents. Since all materials passed my desk, these provided me knowledge in banking, economics, finance, statistics, and other related fields that raised my skills in reference work.
Lauren: What are two of the biggest changes you have seen over your career?
Lu: One of the greatest changes is the need for customization of the information or services we provide to our clients. The second change is the diminishing of print materials on the shelves. The term ‘library’ no longer means simply a physical library.
Networking with other members in the organization and in the profession is significant for a successful career. I never thought that I would be an active leader in a global association.
Lauren: Please give some details about your leadership in a global association.
Lu: I started as a student member in the SLA Kansas Western Missouri chapter (local chapter) many years ago (1996!) – formerly called Heart of America Chapter. That was also the year I started my ESU MLS program (face-to-face). During SLA chapter meetings, I attended most of the meetings and one of the leaders asked me if I could take one of the positions as the Affirmative Action Chair. I then took the position, which was supposed to be a one-year term, although I was reappointed twice. After this first position in the local chapter, I was asked to be the membership chair, maybe because I was always attending the meetings!
If I remember during those early years, I had a great opportunity to listen to what the senior leaders were saying about the successes and challenges in the chapter. During those years, there were few members (mostly the leaders) attending. Every year though there was a banquet sponsored by the chapter and many members attended. As I learned more from the senior leaders, my role as the membership chair covered several years since there was no term limit—until I was encouraged to take the Vice-President role. As VP, after a year of service, one would be the President and then Past President. So it was a 3-year commitment! After serving as President, I created a pipeline of leaders in the chapter. When there was no member who volunteered for the chapter lead as VP/President, the only solution was for me to take the role a second time.
My national leadership started when I responded to a call for volunteers. When I signed-up for this first national volunteer work, I indicated that I would like to be on the membership team. I was then selected as one of the 11 members of the SLA Membership Advisory Council (MAC) which was led by a colleague-friend at that time. For two years, I was in this Council then when the MAC Chair completed her 2-year term, I was asked by the SLA President if I could be the Chair. I felt it was an honor to lead such an important Council. I worked very closely with an SLA Staff member and all the other 9 MAC members.
I attended SLA annual conferences and as MAC Chair, I led meetings with the other Chapters’ membership chairs. I worked very closely with the SLA Engagement Staff members.
After serving as MAC Chair, I continued my volunteer work. I am currently a member of the PRAC—Public Relations Advisory Council. I am also one of the members advising the SLA President on SLA strategies, etc. through the SLA Leadership Advisory Council.
Lauren: In your opinion, what are two of the most important skills special librarians should possess?
Lu: One of the most important skills for special librarians or any librarian is to learn to speak well. This takes one to a different level when communicating with people. It also encourages one to share knowledge with others and lead in the profession.
With strong communication skills, a librarian, particularly a special librarian, can develop a network and create visibility in the organization. It used to be that special libraries were not as visible as they needed to be, and that has changed. When a librarian makes him/herself visible, of course the library becomes known to a larger group.
Lauren: How have the professional development needs of special librarians changed over time?
Lu: If we go back to our readings many years ago, special librarians were focused on the development and management of their library operations. We delved into the workings of the World Wide Web [!]. There were years in the early ‘90s that we were talking of being knowledge managers. With the KM trend, more librarians updated their titles to Knowledge Managers, and renamed their libraries as Knowledge Centers. During those years, I thought what is the difference? Does it really matter?
As special librarians continued to learn more about collection development and management, selection of materials and services, and leadership in their own libraries and other parts of operations, they became more knowledgeable about the ‘how to’ of marketing, partnerships, and collaborations.
Lauren: What professional development resources do you recommend special librarians use to stay up-to-date?
Lu: To stay up-to-date, special librarians or any other librarians need to join professional associations. There are many professional associations one can join. Membership is the path to building experience. Also, attending conferences or seminars and participating in online discussion forums are excellent professional development opportunities.
Lauren: What do you know now that you wish you had known when you started working in special libraries?
Lu: I know now how to speak well! I wish I could have known many years ago.
Lauren: What is one piece of advice you would give to someone just starting out in special libraries?
Lu: Join the Toastmasters or develop a two-second greeting to offer anyone in your organization. In that quick greeting, market yourself and what you do that will make the other person remember you.
Start in cataloging and reference roles. A lot of information passes one’s hands in these functions. One builds knowledge on the resources available in the library. Being a generalist is significant these days.
Get to know most of the people in your organization. Take the opportunity to invite new employees to lunch. Building relationships in any organization will be your greatest asset.
As you get to know people within your organization, start connecting with other information professionals. Finally, in this network of information professionals, seek a mentor.
* The views expressed in response to these interview questions are solely those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect the views of her employer.
Lauren Hays, PhD, is an Assistant Professor of Instructional Technology at the University of Central Missouri, and a frequent speaker on topics related to libraries and librarianship. Her professional interests include information literacy, educational technology, library and information science education, teacher identity, and academic development. Please read Lauren’s other posts about skills for special librarians. And take a look at Lucidea’s powerful integrated library systems, SydneyEnterprise, and GeniePlus, used daily by innovative special librarians in libraries of all types, sizes and budgets.
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