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Career Advice

So you want to be an emerging technologies librarian?


Do you often find yourself spending time on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest? Are you quick to incorporate new blogs, Prezi or audio programs into your school projects or presentations? If you’re intrigued and challenged by the chance to explore, evaluate and promote various technologies, perhaps you should consider a career that lets you make all of these tools accessible to students in a university setting. Helping others become more digitally literate is part of what an emerging technologies librarian (ETL) does best.

The career is relatively new, and it continues to be refined as it becomes applied in more settings. It’s a job that’s becoming increasingly important as libraries struggle to make sense of the sheer volume of technologies that can benefit its patrons and staff alike. This tech-savvy librarian plays an important role in discovering innovative ways to communicate with students and faculty across the campus. When students aren’t responding to class emails , the ETL can teach professors how to set up interactive online message boards or video blogs to get the information in front of the students’ eyes in fresh ways.

A day in the life

Each work day is different. In an academic environment, the parameters of the job are almost entirely project-based, says Rochelle Mazar, a former ETL at the University of Toronto’s Mississauga campus who now works at the University of Rochester as coordinator of the digital academy, River Campus Libraries. She was the only ETL in Canada when she took the job five years ago, she says. In her ETL role, Ms. Mazar was responsible for all online course-work support and helping university faculty incorporate learning tools like Blackboard or other audio/visual elements into their teaching. She also worked on projects that refresh websites.

“My top two goals are to reduce the fear of technology and to make things as pain-free as possible,” Ms. Mazar says. “When most people see the word ‘library,’ they think, I like books so I’ll be a librarian. But the job is mostly about people and providing service to people who need it.”

Getting your foot in the door

The only required qualification is a master of library and information science. Here are a few MLIS graduate programs in the country:

A degree in engineering or computer science is not required to consider this career. Ms. Mazar has a bachelor’s degree in English, history and theological studies. Learning how to code or program is not as important as having the ability to introduce technology to patrons who feel uncomfortable or apprehensive about using it.

Even after you land the job, you have to be willing to experiment with technology and new social media platforms. Beyond that, you will have to come up with simple metaphors to help explain how to use online tools. An ETL has to constantly ask him or herself, “what is this like” or “how else can I describe this?” The ability to synthesize technical information and show others how it fits into their lives is a skill students with a background in the humanities tend to excel at, Ms. Mazar adds.

A simple tip for preparing to become an ETL is building an online presence. “This can be for pure fun, and it doesn’t have to feel like work to prove it’s worth doing,” Ms. Mazar says. She encourages future ETLs to “let the world see you doing cool, productive stuff” by building an online portfolio that can be accessed using Google..

The best advice is to find a way to pursue your passions online. Join an online knitting community if that’s what you feel passionate about, Ms. Mazar says. But keep your mind open to how being a part of this online community could be useful to people who are learning, teaching and who need to develop these skills for their careers. Keep with it, and you’ll be on your way to possibly being one of the few emerging technologies librarians in the country. “My tech background is out of pure interest and not out of qualification—it’s much more about inspiring others to engage with and get creative with technology in collaborative ways,” Ms. Mazar says.

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