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The Federal Librarian Career Panel - Overview

In October, the SI Career Development Office hosted a new event:

A Day in the Life of a Federal Librarian Career Event- panel session, networking and more! Sponsored by: SI Career Development, ALA student chapter, SLA student chapter

We took notes of the panel and what the panelist shared and the questions asked are below, along with information on the panelists.

Also, an added resource...a University of Maryland MLIS student compiled a list of federal libraries that take volunteers. You can access this list as part of the Careers in Federal Libraries Google Group.

•Stacy Davis, Archivist, Gerald R. Ford Library

I have spent all of my archival career with the National Archives and Records Administration at many different levels. I started as an intern at the John F. Kennedy Library, and then was hired as an archives aid for the Office of Presidential Libraries. I worked as a part-time archives technician for the Still Pictures Branch of NARA while I went to graduate school and became a full time employee in that office once I graduated. Shortly after wards, I was hired into an archivist's position as part of an internal NARA archivists training program. I left the National Archives for a couple of years, but happily rejoined the agency as an archivist at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library. I have been at the Ford Library for nearly seven years and participate in a wide variety of activities, including textual reference, research room monitoring, accessioning, donor relations, managing the Library's participation in NARA's Archival Research Catalog (ARC), managing a new digitization program, supervising the Library's work-study student employment program, processing new collections, and assisting with public events and exhibits. I earned a B.S. in History from Central Michigan University in 1993 and M.L.S. (archival concentration) from the University of Maryland in 1996.

Larry S., CIA Library, Chief Technical Operations Branch

Education: Bachelor of Science Degree in Printing Management from California University of Pennsylvania, May 1984; Masters of Library Science from Catholic University, August 2007

Employment History:24 years CIA employee; 16 years as a compositor, typographer, and publications designer for the Agency's Printing and Photography Group; 1 year in Agency video production; 6 years experience in publications procurement and digital database acquisitions for the CIA and the CIA Library.

What I do Now:
Chief Technical Operations Branch - CIA Library since January 2009

Kristi B., Electronic Resources Librarian, CIA Library

Educational Background: Bachelor of Science, Mathematical Economics, Wake Forest University; Masters of Science in Information, Library and Information Services specialization, University of Michigan (2003)
Employment History: 5 years at CIA, including stints as the interlibrary loan and circulation librarian, and as a research librarian
Previous career in information technology - 10 years in the private sector, including Delta Air Lines and The Coca Cola Company
What I do Now:
Electronic resources librarian - CIA Library

Sara Peth, Manager, Information Research Services, VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System

Bio: 25+ years in managing information research services as a librarian in the federal government, first at the US GAO (now called Goverrnent Accountability Office), and in my current position at the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System. I have considerable experience in using diverse electronic databases and Internet-based resources researching medicine & health, social policy, legislative and public policy issues. Currently, as a solo librarian, I manage the VA Ann Arbor Medical Library, maintaining a collection print and e-resources in medicine and nursing, and providing information services and education to VA clinical and non-clinical staff. I have a Masters degree in Library Science and a Masters in Health Policy & Administration, both from the Univ of Mich.

Marisa Conte, Clinical & Translational Science Liaison, University of Michigan’s Health Sciences Libraries AND previous National Library of Medicine Fellow

Marisa is the Clinical and Translational Science Liaison at the University of Michigan’s Health Sciences Libraries. Marisa was a National Library of Medicine (NLM) Associate Fellow from 2006 – 2008, and spent a year at the NLM, one of the 27 Institutes and Centers that make up the National Institutes of Health.

Kim Brady, 2nd year SI-LIS student and Summer 2009 Intern- U.S. Government Printing Office

Kim will discuss her summer internship experience, as well as how to successfully navigate and apply for internships through usajobs.gov.

From the panel session…

Sara Peth – Solo Librarian, VA Ann Arbor Medical Library
I was one of Victor Rosenburg’s first student at UM-SI when it was still SILS (School of Information and Library Science). I took one of his first classes in information science and got my first job from a recruiter that came to class from the now United States Government Accountability Office (GAO). I was with the GAO for twelve years until budget cuts closed the Detroit office. I moved on into other information technology jobs, and then got my current job at VA. I later went back to school and got a second masters degree in public health policy. I think that a second master’s degree is very helpful if you want to specialize in the information industry.

My first job was working in information searching, network and LAN administration, and working as a technical advisor on GAO audits; I also authored two reports. Now, as a solo librarian, I get to do everything. There are 2,000 employees at the VA, so I do a lot of technical management, trouble-shooting, and set-up learning modules.
As a medial librarian, the second master’s degree is very helpful. I got this job through someone who knew about the opening and as a former federal employee, I was somewhat able to circumvent the normal job application process. I also had a leg up on writing the KSAs (Knoweledge-Skills-Abilities) – which soon may be going away. It’s your ability to be versatility, work with a wide variety of people and deal with bureaucracy that will make you successful in a job like this.

Stacy Davis – Archivist, Gerald R. Ford Library, NARA
The Ford Library is part of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). Subsequently, there are a series of regional archives and presidential libraries. The Ford Library is part of the federal agency, but it is off by self at the same time. Our staff is responsible for everything in our own little world.

I got into world of presidential libraries by accident. I saw an internship flyer for an internship at the Kennedy presidential library while I was in graduate school, applied, got it, and have been at NARA ever since. Opportunities such as this can really shape your life.
Daily, I do reference, monitor research room, work with accessioning new materials, work with donors, other staff members, electronic systems, amongst other things.

My advice for people considering the federal career route is to apply earl as it can take months from closing date to start date. I suggest that ARM students apply for archival technician jobs; once you get your foot in the door, you can move around agencies easily and quickly move up to more professional-level positions.

Marisa Conte - Clinical & Translational Science Liaison, University of Michigan’s Health Sciences Libraries AND previous National Library of Medicine Fellow

Currently, I work at UM, but I’m here to talk about my experience as Fellow with the National Library of Medicine (NLM). The NLM maintains many databases (i.e. pharmacy database), does lots of work with policy at national and international level. Working at the NLM is not for one who’s looking for a traditional library position. The service model at NLM is product development-oriented and in the realm of policy development. Internal customers are the focus, not the general public unless in that particular division.

Another different thing is that funding is very different; some of money that funds us from Congress is kept for operations and some is given out as grants/funding to external organizations. Because appropriations vary from year to year, a project may get discontinued from year to year (from Congress).

In order to get a position at the NLM or other federal agencies, pretty much all the hiring is done through USA jobs where you will need to fill out KSAs. Apply for a job that you think is a fit, whether or not it’s the level you think you want as you can move around easily once you are in.

At the NLM, there are many opportunities for catalogers and programmers. There are a wide range of technical services FT positions.
Regarding the fellowship program… this is an opportunity set up for immediate graduates. You’ll spend one year at the NLM; the second year is optional. As a Fellow, you will rotate through different areas of the library; the second year is a completely project focused. I did journal-oriented project to see how publishers were complying with funding; one with a web analysis of how people were using sites and flowing through them; and I did the information architecture for web portal. Ability to develop new skills is a must for this sort of work.
During the second year as a fellow, you are given a list of fifty or so institutions with project proposals to consider. That’s how I ended up at UM. I was assigned to a project Biomedical center for information computing; it was a great place for me to develop skills and work on the interests that I had. Luckily, the project continued and I got to stay on as UM created a full-time job for me.

I can honestly say that I would not be where I am now if not for the NLM fellowship. There’s no way that I was going to get an experience like this anywhere else except at the NLM in an entry-level position.

Also, a perk, the NLM funds many other fellowship opportunities that are short-term. I just got back from Woods Hole, Massachusetts where I spent a short period of time learning about medical information. This was a week-long funded fellowship.

Kim Brady - SI Student Representative, Summer Intern at US Government Printing Office

I interned last summer (2009) at the United States Government Printing Office (GPO). I landed in Washington, D.C. by accident; I really didn’t know much about careers in the federal government but in my process of application, I learned a lot about how to find and apply to these jobs.
At the GPO, whose mission is to keep America information and act as the official publisher of all government documents - I worked with the historic shelf list. I did work with the physical card catalog. There are about 600,000 records in their card catalog that are not electronic from the 1800s to 1973. With another intern, we converted the records to basic MARC records. We converted about 5300; this was a pilot project for GP) to learn how long and how much it takes to complete this project.

I also did work in technical writing. I wrote some SOPs (standard operating procedures) that were implemented at GPO and I also produced some training materials for the integrated library system.

The best part of being in Washington, D.C. was to the opportunity to network and take part in professional development activities. I went on many free events that included a tour of NLM, the Library of Congress (LOC), the Georgetown University Library. I also attended a GPO seminar that’s an annual event with federal depository libraries and other information-oriented organizations and professionals.

And, I attended a career event sponsored by the Federal Library and Information Center Committee (FLICC) and the LOC. This was a job fair sponsored by FLICC and the ALA federal library roundtable. Both of these events gave me a lot of insight into federal career options.
What I learned from my experience in applying for federal jobs and internships….

The Usajobs.gov portal is a terrific resource for finding jobs. You can browse by occupation type and specific functional categories. You can also set up job alerts in usajobs.gov. I sent one up for the library and archives occupational fields. You can also set up an alert for internships.

If you have any interest in federal career, I suggest that you get on usajobs.gov and start creating a personal profile on USAjobs.gov. The process is very time intensive and detailed. However, by doing this in advance, when a posting comes up, you’ll be ready to go. This is important because many of the job postings have a very short window for application and you won’t have time to do everything well.

Also, check other agencies that may not use uasjobs.gov for postings. There are handful of agencies that don’t post their jobs via the site so be sure to checking those posting regularly also.

FLICC also has lots of listservs for different library areas—jobs, librarians, cataloging, reference – etc – Signing up for these Listservs is a great way to stay in the know about upcoming jobs. Sometimes these jobs come out on the Listservs before they are even posted to the public.

I also suggest that you take advantage of government documents roundtable and/or federal archivist roundtables in DC; many events like this are free to students. Also, there is the Careers in Federal Libraries listserv. On the list, there are students and working professionals who share information about the area. There’s an email digest, interviewing tips, resume review . It’s a Google Group.

So, to answer the question, how did I get this internship without knowing what I know now? I really don’t know! I found the posting on Wednesday on usajobs.gov and it was due to close on Friday. I applied and got it. However, I used SI career resources, other SI students, other professionals in the field to help me. My main point of advice is to start now!

Larry S. – Chief Technological Operations Branch, CIA Library

After a career of over fifteen years in printing and graphic arts, setting types, design books, graphic design, I re-invented myself. I got into video production, then publication procurement, which then became the acquisitions arm of the CIA library.

In 2005, I was asked, “Do you want to go to library school?” Two years later, I graduated from Catholic University with a library degree and here I am still working with acquisitions, combining collection development with budget. My job entails a wide range of duties, requiring my knowledge all being pulled together and utilizing an understanding of federal budget (who has money and who doesn’t).
Now I work in management where I run the technical operations branch/tech services where I supervise eight people. I take care of cataloging, shelving, and, yes we still work with print – serials, special collections, intra-library loan, circulation management, electronic resources, and also facilities management (i.e. do the lights work, are the carpets clean, etc?) A recent concern is determining how are we going to handle the flu?

In terms of career management, my employee Kristi wrote her objectives for her job. At our library, you are in control of your career. You get to write objectives that are work related and oriented towards the organizational mission – it’s a good way to work.

For recruiting, applicants should apply via the cia.gov website. We look at all applicants, whether we have an opening or not. However, the posting stays up always as the hiring process can be lengthy so we keep is posted just in case. The website is an online form that you follow; its pretty self-explanatory.

Right now, we’re looking for librarians that are well-rounded. We like to hire well-functioning librarians who can work in all areas including acquisitions, reference, technical services. Specifically, we are seeking a circulation librarian at this time.

Kristi B. - Electronic Resources Librarian, CIA Library

I’ve worked at the CIA library for five years. I’ve had three job titles and four job assignments. Therefore, it’s important to be flexible if you want to work at a library such as ours. Some of the assignments where what I chose, some were assigned.

Even though you may apply for a position that’s open, it takes so long to get people in that when you arrive, you get the job that’s open – not what you want. I was a reference librarian here at the CIA; I’ve also been a deployed librarian where I was placed with the analytic group and trained them and assisted with their research with for their work. There are lots of rotations and there’s the ability to work with State dept or Department of Defense, which includes the option to live overseas or travel overseas to do research tools work. To say the least, librarians at CIA and in other intelligence areas are in demand.
My current job is in ERL. I’ve never done it before, but I can write own job description. I’m representing the library’s interests to the inside tech team – they sit with us, but aren’t librarians. The group has database skills, but don’t know why we do what we do, so we let them know which databases are important and they help to replace antique systems and track analytics. It’s fun and challenging; I go to lots of demos and tech fairs with the IT folks to see if things are a possibility. I’m also on a lot of committees and I contribute to those.

For example, with several other media people, I track metrics regarding the help desk, shelving, circulation, etc. There is also lots of in-house training. CIA has many opportunities for inside training including project management, computer skills, amongst others.
Fed Link is the federal consortium. They do a lot of trainings in DC. There are also many conferences; these are often in DC but attendance depends on the budget.

Regarding a career path at the CIA library, where you come in at may not be your dream job, but most assignments are only one to two years, so there’s flexibility. Make friends with your supervisor so they can help you… be aware of what skills you need. There have been employees that have left the library, developed other skills back and get a higher assignment, then come back.

I got my job through the CIA website. We keep job posting up all the time, but be warned that doesn’t always mean that there are jobs. However, there are openings now. Apply now, and wait; If you odn’t hear anything, apply again in 6 months. The more practical experience you have, the better. Also, if you have language skills, even better… plus, the CIA will support learning language skills. Note that the application process can take up to a year – typically six to nine months.

Questions from Audience:

Q: You mentioned how some people have worked in non-traditional libraries. What’s the definition of a non-traditional library? What skills are most important for those roles?

Sara: I came out of iSchool looking for a non-traditional library (a traditional library is considered to be a public library). However, the CIA has a traditional library setting. In a non-traditional library, you may or may not be in charge of a collection or checking books in/out – you will be working with information, information retrieval, etc..
Adaptability is most important. You need to take what you learned in school and apply it in many ways. For me, learning database searching was the big thing. I learned learn how to do things that no one else knows how to do. Also, customer service skills are huge. Your customers are the staff in the agency (for me, doctors, nurses, and facilities staff) and how I work with their different skill levels is important. I teach a lot of people how to use computers, as they don’t know how. Adaptability – and of course, technical skills. The more, the better. You need to have them and be able to apply them.

You may not have a specific skill being sought, but if you can apply a different skill and can write that out, that may be all you need to get in.

Question: Speaking of different skills and abilities for the library field, what opportunities of learning are there in your different environments?

Marissa: My undergraduate degree is in medieval literature. I then when to WSU and focused on informatics. All I knew was that I wanted to do something different and then I saw the application for the NLM Fellowship. I then changed me focus to health sciences research so that I could develop a strong knowledge set in that area. The NLM is looking for people who want to pursue this area, specifically, environmental, toxicology side of things is important and in demand.

In their FT positions, customer service is essential due to the team work and working with other staff. If you don’t have the technical services, you can be taught. Personal skills aren’t so teachable.

Kristi: My advice is don’t get intimidated by job descriptions. They are written for the perfect candidate that doesn’t exist. Most organizations are looking for people that fit, that can learn and are interested in learning new skills. Not everyone will fit perfectly, but candidates do have the ability to sell other abilities such as learning.

Stacy: At the Ford Library, customer service is important in dealing with the general public (anyone from first graders to PhDs), adaptability, willingness to learn, and being excited about what is being done or the focus of the library. I now know more about Gerald Ford than I ever thought I would!

Sara: I was brought in to modernize the library here in Ann Arbor. They had a card catalog and clunky computers and were totally unorganized. I automated everything. I took what was really a dead facility and made it useful again. My background was important – my ability to be adaptable and it was also important to pay attention to what the job description said and note what was required and what was desired. Currently, when we review applications, we are looking for the key terms – some are ranked, some are scored – and if you fall into the right area, you get to move to the next step. Those that are not appropriate to the job are pulled out. Then the applications go to the department that’s actually hiring.

Your ability to match your abilities/skills to what is being asked is important. But, in a medical library, you don’t necessarily need a medical degree; its more about what you can bring to the job as a whole.

Q: For CIA…For many of the jobs you are put into, employees don’t have the skills for when they start the project. Who are employees networking with to get those skills?

We get on-the-job training – also have the consortium to get help. However, the CIA Library does have a “donut”: people with twenty years of experience and people with five years or less. The gap in between is the problem of seeking out experience, so we have to go externally.

Q: KSAs – can you speak to them – what are they looking for?

Sara: KSAs are no fun. They were developed when the government did not accept resumes. It was seen as a way to get at what do applicants know. With the USAjobs.gov site, that’s starting to go away – the resumes are starting to be more important. In some aspects, the KSAs are basically re-stating what you would put in your resume, but more in-depth. Books exist on this topic now that you can use to help answer the questions. There will be questions like, “How would you handle this problem?” Taking your skills and abilities and applying them to this position is the ideal way to prove to the reader that you are the person really able to do this job the way that they want it done. It’s like writing an essay. I had to write five of them for my job – some are only one. Some say just send resume.

Q: How heavily are the KSA weighted in the application process?

Each agency is different – KSAs are a way to demonstrate that you can write effectively – so equally important to the resume—but more detailed, etc

Kim: Be very specific; give examples of how you demonstrated this skill.

Stacy: Mine were about one page, single space for each one.

Sara: There are many tips on the USAjobs.gov website including tip on how to apply jobs, etc. Applicants that don’t make it through are because their resumes will be very brief, or the KSA won’t answer the question. Surprisingly, a number of people don’t answer the question or there will be lots of typos.

Larry: With the CIA, typos are a show-stopper for applications.

Kim: Developing the profile is very handy – but you will need to tweak it for every position that you apply to.

Q: The CIA is looking for librarians with what languages? What about training?

Larry/Kristi: Arabic, Chinese, East Asian languages, – the hard target languages. Languages that are spoken in countries that we have an adverse relationship with. Farsi.

Some people go to full-time intensive language training – but that’s budget driven. If you are going to be gone for 6 months, have to be able to use in the skills in the office. Language training in general is not a hard-sell and the training is easy to get. Once you get the training completed, you can get tested and if you score high enough, you may receive a language stipend.

Kim: Outside of the intelligence agencies, language skills are also important. Medical libraries, special collections, archives, the Library of Congress are of value being multi-lingual.

Q: Kim, when did you apply for your internship?

Kim: I applied in March. I had been applying to a variety of things for a while; then I accidentally found the posting. Last year was first year for GPO to hire grad students. I’d be happy to put anyone interested in touch with the GPO hiring contacts.

Sara: On a side note, don’t forget about temporary employees. Sometimes these opportunities can last for two to three years or even more! Grant-funded positions are different, but temp employees are a budget work around. Even if it doesn’t last, it’s a great way to get experience if you don’t have it or are caught up in that vicious circle of needing experience to get experience. Internships, volunteering, etc are also good.

Posted by kkowatch at November 12, 2009 02:15 PM


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