22:2 (2007:05) Profiles: Both Sides

May 10, 2007 at 1:31 pm | Posted in Profiles | 1 Comment

BOTH SIDES
Maggie Rioux, Profiles Editor

I’ve heard it said that there are two kinds of people in the world: those that think everything can be divided into two groups and those that don’t.  Well, it seems to me that NASIG is in the first group of those two.  We tend to think that NASIGers fall into two groups: serialists who work in libraries and serialists who work in non-library settings (notably subscription agents, publishers and other content providers, and miscellaneous vendor-types).  The problem comes not with the taxonomy, but when we start to see whichever group we, personally, fall into as “us” and the other group as “them.”  When this happens, we also tend to see the membership in each group as unchanging (i.e., once a “whatever,” always a “whatever”).  This fits neither the concept of NASIG as a whole bunch of miscellaneous serialist “us’ns” nor the reality that serialists have a perverse tendency to change jobs.  Often this job change involves “crossing the street,” so to speak.

NASIG includes all serialists and has always aimed at providing a “perspective-neutral” setting in which to network and learn.  We have also sought to have our conferences include programming of interest to all types of serialists and also to allow us to see the world from others’ perspectives.  Sometimes these goals have been elusive, but that doesn’t mean we quit trying.  In view of this history and purpose, I thought it might be worthwhile to take a look at some NASIGers who have, as alluded to above, worked both sides of the street in order to see how NASIG has worked for them in each role and also to see what led them to cross over. 

The group for this profile was assembled entirely unscientifically. I started with a group of names that my editor (the lovely and talented Kathryn Wesley) and I came up with through a little brainstorming.  I emailed these folks with some questions and several of them suggested other names that would be good to include. All told, I ended up with responses from twenty NASIGers who have been employed at one time or other in both library- and non-library-based settings.

Since all the people we’re looking at have worked in library-based settings, it’s not surprising that their educational background is library-oriented rather than business-oriented. Most of the folks started out in a library-based setting after, or shortly before, getting a master’s degree in library science. Some of them started in serials because they developed an interest in the field during graduate school or in a previous position (often a student internship). Several fell into serials accidentally when that was the job that opened up. However they got into serials, all of them discovered that serials are cool and decided to remain as serialists. A couple of our subjects did actually start their careers in a non-library-based setting, but one into which they were hired because of their library education and interests. The types of entry positions reported were quite varied – collection development, serials cataloging (“I swore I’d never be a serials cataloger, and then I became one.”), customer relations, etc.

The reasons that led the members of our subject group to change between library-based and non-library-based settings tended to fall into two groups. The first group changed spheres for the most practical reason around: “I needed a job and they had one.” This usually had to do with a family move to a new location, but I think we can include in this group the folks who switched from library to non-library because of the offer of a major pay increase.

The other folks who switched sides offered more philosophical reasons. Those going from library to non-library were attracted by the chance to do more travel, meet more people and be in a less bureaucratic setting. Those moving the other way were looking for something with less travel and less uncertainty – something a little more predictable, maybe.  One person who moved from a library to a subscription agent in order to get out of the office went back to a library when she realized that all the agents at the airport recognized her by sight. Time to stay home for awhile!
 
The most important questions I asked the group to answer had to do with their experiences in NASIG and whether there were differences depending on which side of the street they were working at the time.  The first NASIG-related question was whether both types of employers had supported their NASIG membership and activities.  Interestingly enough, most folks said that their non-library employers had been more supportive, especially with financial help for attending conferences.  While library employers thought membership in the organization was good, there was less money forthcoming when conference time rolled around. There was also a tendency by library employers to push ALA.

Everyone thought that NASIG had been equally helpful to them in both types of positions. Programming and networking were both mentioned. Some respondents were new on one side of the fence, but felt that they were going to get good benefit from NASIG in their new positions. Even the respondents who worked with monographs in the non-library sector found NASIG conferences to be worthwhile.

I also inquired as to personal benefit from NASIG contacts and conferences.  Specifically, I wanted to know if NASIG contacts had helped them get a job, especially when crossing the street. While several people said that they thought being able to put NASIG involvement on a resume had helped them get a job or promotion, only two actually were actually able to attribute getting a specific job to a NASIG event. One person was recruited to a new job over late-evening beer at a NASIG conference.  Another respondent says she first met the person who is now her boss on the Ohio River cruise at the Carnegie Mellon conference (Hmm, there’s a river cruise at the Louisville Conference and it’s even on the same river.  Anyone looking for a new job?  Several folks intimated that NASIG contacts and programming had helped them broaden their horizons in seeking new situations. The opportunity to interact with and learn from other serialists from many different venues gave them more options (at least mentally) when looking for a new job.

I also wanted to know, in general, how NASIG had helped them in their varied serialist careers. You can probably come up with the answers yourself with just a little reflection: networking, learning, staying up-to-date on the latest serials issues.  NASIG proved especially valuable in keeping current on broad serials issues and aspects of serials in which they were not directly involved at the moment.

As stated several times above, networking was one of the most valued benefits of NASIG.  My respondents valued this on both sides of the street.  As library-based serialists, they appreciated being able to interact socially with non-library-based colleagues, some of whom they already knew from business relationships.  When based outside the library, they especially enjoyed being able to be sociable with, and learn from, library-based colleagues and also colleagues who work for other companies.  They valued having non-business interaction with other serialists, being able to be informal and not having to be “on duty” all the time. However, one respondent did say that while vendor-based he always felt that people saw him as a representative of his company even at NASIG.

My last area of inquiry was to ask what my respondents thought NASIG could do to improve diversity and make serialists of all flavors feel welcome.  This, after all, is a basic purpose of NASIG – the proverbial level playing field.  Every one of my respondents indicated that they felt equally welcome at NASIG conferences no matter which side of the street they were working at the time. One indicated that while subscription agents and vendors were welcome (which is what most of my respondents are or had been), she thought that publishers might have been greeted with less enthusiasm at times. Replies to my request for suggestions were mostly along the lines of “keep providing a variety of programming at conferences that will be of interest to all serialist flavors.” There was interest in programming where the audience can view the world from another’s perspective and also a couple of people said they thought the publisher speed dating being offered in Louisville is an excellent idea. The main point was to keep people talking to each other and I think, looking at the program for Louisville, this is what my respondents had in mind.  Personally, I think the social events and meals are just as important, since they are a chance for us all to interact on an informal basis. One person did, however, mention that as we greet old friends from the other side of the street, we shouldn’t forget the newbies.

Speaking of newbies, something else we need to work at is getting new members from all sectors. One respondent suggested that vendor and agent reps might volunteer to be NASIG good will ambassadors and promote NASIG informally in some of their customer visits, especially with management-level serialists and librarians.  (Library-based NASIGers might also mention NASIG to the reps when they visit, just in case they’re not yet members.)  Membership Development Committee, please take note.  I know that, in the past, some commercial NASIG members have had brochures in their booths at ALA and other meetings, but I don’t think anything has ever been done in an organized fashion. Other programming suggestions included offering professional technical training which could attract corporate-library-based and commercial-sector attendees to our conference, offering traveling workshops at other conferences (perhaps a mini-seminar with a multi-sector panel) and including sessions in the conference dealing with big-picture topics.  A frequent theme of suggestees was to concentrate on common interests, which will make NASIG appealing to all sectors of our membership.

My conclusions: only a few that haven’t been covered.  First, it seems that NASIG is pretty much doing okay with its purpose of bringing together all flavors of serialists; we just need to keep doing it, only more so.  Second, we should all be aware that serialists don’t just stay in one sector: just as they change jobs, they also change arenas, going from library to non-library, vice versa and back again.  So it all seems to come down to where we started: there isn’t (or at least shouldn’t be) any “us” and “them” in NASIG – there should only be one big WE.

P.S.: thanks to the following twenty NASIGers who responded to my request for information.  It’s greatly appreciated.

Amira Aaron
Barbara Albee
Rick Anderson
Bob Boissy
Morag Boyd
Kathy Brannon
Marla Chesler
Tina Feick
Rachel Frick
Beverley Geer
Katy Ginanni
Judy Luther
Anne McKee
Steve Oberg
Alison Roth
Bob Schatz
Reeta Sinha
Christine Stamison
Dan Tonkery
Davette Zinik

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  1. Thanks, Maggie, for a nicely presented piece on those of us who have been both “us” and “them”! I’d like to clarify one little misperception, though. While it’s sometimes true that moving from a library to a vendor results in a pay increase, it’s not always a major increase! When I made the move, the pay increase could be defined only as paltry. On the positive side, I’ve had somewhat regular raises, which I could never count on in state-supported academic libraries…


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