23:4 (2008:12) Profiles: Christopher Brady

December 17, 2008 at 5:48 pm | Posted in Profiles | Leave a comment

PROFILES
CHRISTOPHER BRADY

Cataloging & Government Documents Librarian, Baylor Law Library
Susan Davis, Profiles Editor

I first met Chris Brady when he was named one of the 2004 Conference Student Grant Award winners.  I enjoyed our email conversations as I helped make his NASIG travel arrangements and learned he had cousins in Wisconsin that he hoped to see after the conference.  I also invited him to write a report on the NASIG Conference for my column in Serials Review, so I unashamedly take a little pride in watching his career unfold, particularly where NASIG is involved.  I like featuring NASIG success stories in these profiles and Chris was a no brainer selection.  Chris was very generous with his responses to my questions, and I would encourage anyone who hasn’t meet Chris in person to engage him in conversation at the upcoming conference in Asheville.

As usual my line of questioning revolves around NASIG, librarianship, and personal stuff.

Chris Brady came to librarianship from international relations.

Chris Brady came to librarianship from international relations.

NASIG

Chris, you were a conference Student Grant Award winner in 2004.  How did you hear about the award?  What attracted you to NASIG?  Clearly the organization must be doing something right because you’ve kept coming back to conferences and participated at various levels.  For example, you were a recorder for the 2006 conference Proceedings.  What keeps you coming back?

I learned about the student grant award through a listserv announcement at school in the last year of my MLS program at Maryland.  I actually heard about NASIG many years before – my first library jobs were in the periodicals and serials departments at American University (AU), and my boss, Evelyn Blaes, was active in the organization.  She attended regularly and always had good things to say about NASIG.  Other librarians outside of serials also spoke well of the group.  Later, after Evelyn retired, her successor, Clare Dygert, was a NASIG Horizon Award winner.  So you could say I had a great introduction to NASIG even before I had heard of the Student Grant Award.

I was interested in serials and knew that NASIG was the kind of professional organization I wanted to be involved with. So I applied and was quite fortunate to receive one of the Student Grant Awards.  NASIG didn’t disappoint.  Even though I had just completed my MLS, I learned even more through the meetings and conference sessions, plus I met so many people that week.   Everyone was very encouraging and welcoming.  It was like having a jump start to begin my professional library career.

You’re now a member of A&R (see March 2008 profile).  Is that committee the most fun or what?

Awards & Recognition is a rewarding committee to serve on.  I was glad to get a chance to serve with A&R – in a sense I now get to “give back” in a way where NASIG first gave to me.  Serving on A&R provides opportunities to meet and encourage new librarians coming into the field.  Seeing their excitement and potential is fun – and also encouraging them as they step into the “great unknown” is rewarding.  The only drawback is knowing there are so many in whom there is promise, yet there are not enough resources to extend grants and awards to everyone who could benefit.  It makes me even more grateful for the award I received five years ago.

What is your most memorable conference experience?

I’ve been to five conferences now, and all have been memorable in their own way.  Nobody else has given me the chance to “perform” at Red Rocks (when the conference was in Denver – I was in the group egged on to sing “Happy Birthday” from the stage).  But perhaps the most memorable and special experience came at my first conference when I was an award winner.  After the winners had been introduced at the opening session, many came forward to congratulate us.  One in particular remembered me – Marla Schwartz worked at the law library at American University and was thrilled to see an AU alum among the award winners.  While I had heard of Marla, we were in different libraries on different campuses. We hadn’t worked together and I’m not sure if we’d ever met previously.  But she recognized me somehow and went out of her way to enthusiastically welcome me to NASIG.  We met only that one time, and sadly, Marla took ill in the next year and has now passed away.  But I remember her welcome and encouragement. (For more information on Marla, see “Remembering Marla Schwartz, 1949–2005” in Serials Review v.31, issue 4 (December 2005) pp.237-242.)

LIBRARIANSHIP

I assume you had another career before entering library school. What were you doing?  What prompted you to go to library school?

I am interested in international affairs and did my undergraduate and one graduate degree in that field.  I was actually at American to get an MA in international affairs when I started working in the university library to pay the bills.  I did some cool things; I had an international internship at AU where I worked at the trade promotion office at the US consulate in Frankfurt for three months.  And in DC, I had another international trade job which took me to China for two weeks.  However, except for those highlights, I found it very hard to break into an international relations job – and the times I did work in that field, I had a knack of choosing miserable jobs.  It sounds trite, but it was true – once I unwittingly led a mass walkout from an international educational organization, and when I decided to leave the trade job that took me to China, I was surprised to find co-workers jealous that I was leaving.

The funny thing was that while I was looking for my “dream job,” I had learned a very marketable skill in cataloging, so after I left AU, I worked quite a bit in the library field while I was “between things.”  Eventually, even I had to admit I liked the work I was doing “between things” rather than those other jobs I was dreaming about.  That’s when I decided to pursue the MLS.

I know you were a contract librarian.  Please explain what that is exactly, and relate any stories, both good and bad, to give us a sense of what it’s like to work as a contractor.

I can talk about the situation I experienced in the DC area – it may be different in other parts of the country.  Around Washington, there are a lot of opportunities to work as a library contractor.  There are many associations, law firms, agencies, and other organizations in DC that have special libraries for their own use.  Quite often their HR department is skilled at recruiting employees for their primary mission, but the skill set for their libraries is so different many rely on library staffing agencies to fill those vacancies.  In addition, the federal government has classified certain professions falling outside the primary scope of an agency’s mission, including library services and information technology, to be candidates for outside contracting.  Thus, contacting for library services is very active in the DC area.

When I contracted, I was an employee of my particular agency, InfoCurrent.  The agency would match me to a request from a client for a particular need.  Job assignments could vary from the very short term of a week or two, to longer term assignments that could last for months or even indefinitely.  There are even opportunities for direct hire, though I have not taken that route.  I worked on longer-term assignments that were several months to a year long.

For my own needs, I found contracting very beneficial.  While I started contracting because I needed employment, eventually I realized I truly enjoyed working in libraries.  I was able to work for a variety of interesting organizations in jobs I would never have learned about since they were not advertized on the open market.  For example, I cataloged special collections at AARP, worked for several months at the Department of State, and processed a special gift collection of German-language materials at Wesley Seminary.  Contracting allowed me to experience a variety of libraries in types and sizes.  I saw how different conditions led to different approaches and processes in technical services – there is more than one way to solve the same problem.  And it gave me experience in being adaptable and quick to learn different systems and processes used in different libraries.

There are some drawbacks.  One fellow former contractor put it this way, “Even when you’re there, you’re not there.”  While it differed among workplaces, it was true everywhere I worked.  Generally, I was respected and included as a colleague almost everywhere I contracted.  And sometimes my input help steer some policy decisions.  But I might not have my own phone, or desk, or email account.  Or I might be responsible for a vendor relationship while not having any budgetary authority.  And in areas of the country where contracting is not common, people may wonder why I “jumped around so often,” rather than recognizing that I had completed several assignments for one employer.

Then you moved to a cataloging position at Baylor.  Now you’re in the law library, and working with government documents, too?  Tell us about how all of those moves happened.  How is life in a law library different?  Or is it?

Actually, it’s funny how I got back to Baylor.  Even though I’m a Maryland native, I went down to Waco, Texas, to attend college at Baylor.  I enjoyed my time there, but I did go back home to the DC area after graduation.  Life went on, I went to graduate school and library school around DC, and after 15 years, really thought I was settled in DC for life.  But I was looking for a full-time professional library position after finishing my MLS and noticed a job opening at Baylor for a serials and electronic resources catalog librarian.  Not only was the job opening at my alma mater, but it seemed like they took my technician job from AU and professionalized it.  It was too tempting not to apply.  One thing led to another and I moved to Waco in the summer of 2005 to start work at Baylor.

The move to the law school library was another thing that just seemed to come together.  It has a sad background, though.  When I had been at Baylor for a little over a year, the longtime cataloger at the law library had a serious illness and needed to take a lot of leave for medical treatments.  The staff over there is very small, and there was no backup for handling cataloging.  The law library director contacted the university libraries to ask for help, and I was sent over on a part-time basis to keep workflow from falling completely by the wayside.  Unfortunately, the law library cataloger did succumb to her illness, and I continued working part-time at law library while they searched for a replacement, all while continuing my full-time responsibilities at the university libraries.  I enjoyed the law library, and decided to apply for the position.  I got that position, and have been working full-time at Baylor Law since June 2007.

My current position at the law library covers cataloging and government documents.  In fact, I’m writing this while at the annual Federal Depository Library Program conference in Arlington, Virginia.  While libraries may differ, I can say the experience has been very different at the law school as compared to the university libraries.  User needs are more focused and deadlines are very real.  The library has fewer days off at the holidays to provide access to students and lawyers trying to make their deadlines.  It is an intense place.

Are you active in any other library organizations?  Which and how?

NASIG has been my primary professional activity, but I do look for other venues to connect with other colleagues.  In the last year, I have been attending meetings of a group of government documents librarians in North Texas called NORDOCS.  Our fall meeting is in early November in Waco, so I have been busy organizing that.  I’ve attended quite a few conferences for technical librarians, law librarians, and a couple of ALA meetings, but NASIG is still the organization I am most involved with.

Do you have a particular (or any) career goal(s)?  What would be your ideal job if money were no object?

After spending too much time looking for a “dream job” before that really didn’t exist, I’m not sure I even want to think about a “perfect job” anymore.  But there are things I would look at if I were to dream about the future.  Variety would be important – I would hate to do the same thing day in and day out.  I like to solve problems. That may be why I took so well to serials and cataloging.  While it might just be from my contracting experience, I have enjoyed working at smaller libraries; for example, Wesley Seminary had a full-time staff of six.  There seemed to be more direct contact with the other functions of a library; there certainly was no wall between technical and public services like sometimes happens in larger institutions.  I would like to learn more about the other areas of technical services such as acquisitions and systems; while I have done some light duties in those areas, I could see myself delving deeper into them.  And I have enjoyed the chances to apply my “non-library” interests to my job.  For example, working at the Department of State library was fascinating because of the collections – it was a perfect fit for my interests in international affairs.

Have you had any mentors along the way or “library heroes”? How have they helped you?

Wow – I have had a lot of mentors or “library heroes!”  I shudder to think about naming some because I know I’ll leave someone out, but I can name some areas where I have found mentors and supporters.

The people I worked with at AU were an amazing bunch.  They were very supportive and encouraging, and really laid the foundation for my career as a librarian.  I had good experiences with InfoCurrent, my contracting agency.  Through them and also through the people I worked with on assignments, I gained great experience and started a professional network of librarians, some of whom I still am in touch with several years later.  I had a good experience in library school at the University of Maryland.  During that time I found many librarians from the university libraries who took an interest in the MLS students.

And I must say NASIG has been a mother-lode for meeting and networking with other librarians.  I have found many “kindred-soul” librarians in NASIG who are eager to support each other.  Just as an example, when I was on vacation this summer in Chicago, I met up with a fellow NASIG member, Sarah Morris Lin, for lunch downtown.  Afterwards, she toured me through her law firm’s library, and we found ourselves “talking shop” and discussed possible solutions to some technical services matters in her library.  Sarah mentioned that as the only technical services librarian on site, having this kind of discussion with a fellow tech services librarian was welcome and unusual.  NASIG really fosters an environment where people focus on solving problems and meeting challenges, and we like to help each other in doing so.

PERSONAL

After living in the DC area for 15 years, what’s life been like in Waco?  Besides going to church and football, what do you do for fun?

Washington and Waco are certainly different places!  I grew up in Maryland just outside DC, but really didn’t go into the city much until I was at AU.  Between graduate school, work, and other activities, I did spend a lot of those 15 years in the city.  Coming back to Waco was a major adjustment.  I sometimes joke the only thing missing from my Waco neighborhood is a conveniently located Metro station.  There were a lot of adjustments: the climate (yes, 95 degrees in August can seem like a relief); local sports allegiances (Native Washingtonian in Cowboys country – need I say more?); allergies (didn’t believe in them before coming back), and so forth.  But there are also advantages to being in a smaller city (Waco’s metro population is about 200,000).  I can get anywhere in town in about 15 minutes by car.  There is no real traffic congestion. Navigating the Waco airport is a breeze.  Housing is affordable – I own a home here, which I doubt I’d be able to do in the DC area without moving to West Virginia.  Everything I need and a surprising amount of what I want is available here.  Waco even has the largest municipal park in Texas –Cameron Park stretches along the Brazos River and offers everything from picnic areas to wooded trails and scenic views from bluffs overlooking the river.  It reminds me of Rock Creek Park in Washington.  Waco is also the birthplace of Dr. Pepper (back in 1885). And Waco is centrally located in Texas.  Dallas and Austin are both easy drives and when I do want a change of pace for a day or weekend, I’ll make a road trip.

Sounds like Chris may have a future with the Waco Chamber of Commerce if he ever grows bored with his library job!

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