“Your Job Sounds Interesting”

Filed under: GIS in Libraries — geoLibro @ 12:21 pm

Alright, alright. It’s been a while, of course, so let me get some stuff down on paper. I just returned from the Spring 2007 CNI Task Force Meeting in Phoenix, Az (more on that later) to find an email from someone who happened to be nearby when I presented at the 2007 Indiana GIS Conference and who now wanted to know my background, since my job sounded interesting. I’m posting my response here, because I suspect it’s something I’ll want to return to and read again in two years, then again five years after that, etc.

This is pretty fascinating work, I think. You know, being in GIS, how rapidly its technologies are changing. This makes GIS in and of itself pretty wild these days, but it’s particularly interesting (let “interesting” be a euphemism for “challenging”) to be in the niche that a GIS librarian occupies, since the problem that is staring us in the face is largely unfixed: how to intelligently store, and more importantly, provide intuitive-but-structured, easy-but-full access to those datasets. Oh, and at the same time try to offer support, advice, and infrastructure to pretty much anybody on campus who wants to do GIS but doesn’t already have the training, data, software, or hardware. “And can we get that into Google Earth?”

I don’t mean to sound flip or disgruntled, though. There are fascinating and tough GIS and GIS-related projects going on everywhere and I’m very glad to be a part of it. There are some really good ideas, and you know the technology is opening up so that it’s no longer a matter of “well, has ESRI enabled that?”

You would have a particular advantage, in many ways, since you come from the GIS side of things. I’m a humanist, really, and came to graduate school (in Library Science) following a Bachelor’s in English, where the texts I ended up wanting to write about had a lot to do with maps if they weren’t maps themselves. The tech. and science parts I’ve sort of had to teach myself and I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a GIS tech. Don’t have much interest in being one, really. The information and data and access side is what’s interesting to me (not to mention the opening up of GIS to user populations who are suddenly emboldened [and overwhelmed] by their newfound civic, political, and of course academic power).

Anyway, that’s a long-winded of way of introducing the notion that if you want to be a GIS Librarian proper, odds are that you’ll need a Master’s in Library Science, yes. I’m hedging that, because many libraries are hiring in people who aren’t librarians (in more like staff positions), but then allowing them to get their Master’s slowly, while on the job. That just happened to a talented systems guy here .

At the same time, some libraries are now in discussions on the way of becoming one, are hiring in non-Library Science graduates as library faculty. These people would be coming in from anywhere, really, as long as they could contribute to some part of what the libraries is trying to solve for the univesity. The old guard is a little upset about it, but the younger among us (generally, of course) don’t see a problem with it. The thinking goes “library science needs talented, technologically-minded people if we’re going to compete with the rest of the world that’s now run by computer scientists, and we don’t care where they come from.” My impression is that it’s increasingly possible to get into the GIS-as-information-mechanism (that’s opposed to the GIS-as-analysis-mechanism world that makes up most of the GIS work you hear about) without being a library scientist (a term which is loosely defined to begin with).

Anyway, I’d be happy to discuss it with you more, if you like. The short answer, since I haven’t given that yet, is that I’m an English B.A. (History minor) with a Master’s in Library Science from the University of Iowa, and by and large I taught myself all of the GIS I know.


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