Monday, September 2, 2013

An Interview with iSchool Alum Ben Goldman on Librarianship

This post originally appeared on Information Space, the blog of the iSchool at Syracuse University, on 3 May 2012.

Ben Goldman is a digital archivist at the University of Wyoming, and will shortly be taking a position as Digital Records Archivist at Penn State University, where he will be involved with digital curation and repository development.  Ben is also a 2009 graudate of the School of Information Studies.  He was kind enough to answer some questions for me on life, careers and SU’s iSchool.
1) What is your career, and what aspect of it most surprises you?
Currently, I am a digital archivist at the University of Wyoming’s American Heritage Center, which is a repository of university archives, rare books and manuscript collections. It’s like working in a really, really big special collections library. There are two main aspects to my work. One might be loosely called ‘digital preservation’, but in the jargon of archives, what I am doing is developing practices for the management and preservation of born-digital archival collections, and attempting to address the particular concerns of archives: authenticity, context, etc. The other significant area of work I am engaged in is mass digitization of archival collections.
What surprises me most is how hard I work! Not that I expected to be lazy in this career, but I definitely expected the library field to be paced slower than my previous work in corporate. Not the case at all. There is so much work to be done when it comes to digital library and archives issues, and usually not enough time or resource to do it. I am never lacking for an interesting project or challenge to work on.
2) How were you prepared for your professional life by your iSchool experience?
It would be easy to point to the digital libraries curriculum as being central to the preparation I received at SU, but looking back I realize that a broad range of courses helped prepare me in little ways for all the work I am doing now, including the Management course, and the Planning, Marketing and Assessment course.
3) As students, we’re given lots of advice. What was the best piece of advice you received? Is there anything you wish someone had told you?
I know finding work is one concern all library school students share. Dr. Megan Oakleaf told me to start the job search as early as one year before my graduation date, since I was pursuing work in academic libraries. That was probably the best piece of advice anyone gave me. Starting early helped me understand what jobs were out there, where they were, what they were looking for. It helped guide so many of my education choices and gave me ample time to polish my credentials and develop useful contacts.
The piece of advice I wish someone had told me: get as much experience outside the classroom as possible. As much as the coursework can lay the foundation for work in libraries, it’s amazing how much more you learn actually having your feet on the ground in a library. And when you’re one of 50 new graduates applying for an open job, experience is a significant thing that can distinguish you from everyone else. My  advice to library students would probably be to take a broad range of topical courses, enough to make you conversant in a number of different areas, but to focus heavily on getting work experience (through internships, part-time work, volunteer work, whatever) in whatever area you are interested in having a job in later.
4) What was the most valuable experience you had in the iSchool or at SU? A class, a project, an extracurricular?
The courses I was least excited about when I signed up for them were the ones that have been the most beneficial on the job. I really wasn’t interested in the Management course, and I went into the Library Planning course thinking I’d probably never be in a leadership position that required me to do any planning or project management. In reality, this stuff is relevant every day on the job. The Library Planning course (IST 613, I think) was the best course I took at the iSchool. I give the iSchool a lot of credit for recognizing that preparing library professionals is about more than teaching them MARC, or how to conduct a reference interview.
5) Why did you choose library school?
Certainly not to make money!  I was burnt out and rudderless after eight years of working in corporate IT.
6) How do you keep up with the field? Who/what do you read? Professional organizations?
I really enjoy going to conferences. I think there is so much energy and collaboration happening in professional library and archive organizations–I think it’s more evident than in other fields, to be sure. For anyone interested in finding an academic library or archive job, I find that OCLC’s Research Libraries Group has their finger on the pulse of a lot of critical issues and they are connected to all the movers and shakers in the field. I try to follow them as much as possible.
7) As a new LIS student, what questions should I be asking? Where’s information going?
Recently I had a colleague say to me that he had this vision that his job would one day be entirely non-technical, which kind of surprised me. I think library professionals need to engage technology issues with a critical eye, but I find there is still so much resistance to technology (and to progressive trends more generally) in our field, from experienced and new professionals alike. So it’s not surprising to me that we are so far behind on really important issues like digital preservation, like making our holdings available online. One doesn’t need to be a technologist or proficient with coding languages to contribute to the future digital directions of our profession, so I would hope new LIS students wouldn’t dismiss digital issues too quickly, regardless of their professional interests.

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