Ask A Librarian: Options for Remote Librarianship

stained glass in the Lincoln Library
A portion of an email I received: “It seems you’ve been able to piece together disparate threads to form an unusual career. That’s exciting to me. I see the economy shifting toward a new model i.e. multiple income streams/work when you want/remote employment, and feel like there is for potential for me to carry over what I’ve learned in the library world, I’m just uncertain as to my options, and among them, which are lucrative and/or worthwhile.”

The trick mostly is learning to live on not much money and making sure you have a consistent profile online even if you don’t have a geographically bounded one. And staying in touch in a consistent manner even if you’re doing it from many locations. Have an email and a phone and a twitter that you ANSWER.

For me, it’s having a home base, at least, so I do get in some of that “terroir” thing of actually knowing a place. My general MO that I say is that librarianship is primarily a very very grounded profession, both in the philosophical sense and in the staying-put sense. Most librarians only cross-pollinate with people outside of their systems at professional development opportunities or at infrequent conferences and special events.

Accordingly, I think it’s a useful thing for some librarians (a small subset) to actually do more moving around, talking about libraries to other libraries. It’s tricky because you can wind up sounding like a
“Here I am someone who doesn’t really know what your job entails, telling you how to do it better” person. So it’s good to have a set of librarians, whoever they are, who really know you. For me this is the librarians in Vermont. I work with the profesisonal association, maintain their website and go to (and help plan) their conferences.

So picking a few things

  • Whatever your “local” is, might be an online community, might be one library or place where the people know you
  • Having a consistent online presence that is maintained since more people will know you through this than in person
  • Gigging with things that don’t require in person stuff (maintaining association or other websites, social media stuff, writing). I don’t know where the email/social media lady for VLA is and it doesn’t matter to me as long as she gets the job done.
  • Maybe some regular stuff that isn’t glamorous but pays bills. I write for Computers in Libraries, a regular column in a print magazine, and it keeps my health insurance paid

And realizing that it’s all about choices. If travel is the most important thing to you, other people with work to offer may realize that and say “Eh that’s not what we want” and that is also okay. Having a consistent self-narrative so that even if you’re not in one place, you are one person, will make a difference in how people feel about tossing money your way. Being professional in what you do for work, no matter what you’re doing in your life, is to me what people want to see.

I get a lot of mileage out of presenting at conferences, both in getting the word out but also meeting people and learning about them and their lives. Depending on what your traveling scenario looks like, having something where you travel between library conference gigs is a workable thing if you don’t mind having your travels being bounded by work responsibilities. It’s pretty easy to plan ahead of some of this stuff, especially at a national level, so thinking about having a thing or two you could do at these events that other people might pay for would be my first “plan of attack” in seeing if you can make this work for you.

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