CHLA Conference 2011: Exploring paths to health sciences research careers

For the upcoming Canadian Health Libraries Association 2011 conference, a group of health librarians including myself are putting together a poster that traces the career paths of five qualified health librarians who all work outside of a traditional library settings. The goal of this reflection is to explore what brought us to our current positions, how the field of health librarianship is evolving, and how library and information studies Master’s programs can better prepare their students for careers that may not take place in “a library” but still call for the information professional’s skill set of searching, synthesis, instruction, and information fluency.

Because we are each tracing our own development, we wanted a theoretical frame to guide the analysis and a way to interpret one another’s responses. Additionally, we needed to account for the fact that we are all trained as librarians, but do not currently work “in libraries.” So to underpin the interview questions that we designed, we used the Chaos Theory of Career Development, which accounts for the inevitability of attractors and chance events in one’s career decision making.

The next steps include analyzing all of our responses for thematic elements, and collating those onto a poster for dicussion. The idea of a career paths got me thinking of visualizing each respondent in a color, like the subway map above. This is just one idea of how to present this visually, and I’m hoping for some more inspiration as the process goes on.

As a teaser, I’ll include one of my responses below (though you can always ask for more). I haven’t asked the others yet, but I’m hoping some of my co-presenters will agree to share some of their responses as well.

1. Describe how you came to have your current position: How did you find out about it? How and why did you obtain or create the position? How (if at all) has it evolved over the time?

I heard through a personal connection that my current position was open, and as luck would have it my immigration documents had come through after graduation and I was able to apply. I was selected for the the position through a combination of traditional librarianship skills–information retrieval, needs assessment, research synthesis, teaching–and some unique skills that I brought by either personal interest or chance–knowledge and experience with social media being foremost among them.


My position is quite flexible, and it evolves with the project load of the office as well as accommodations for personal and professional interests. Currently I work on a lot of web strategy because that is where there is a need in both practical office knowledge translation efforts as well as in research design. But I have the sense that my responsibilities will continue to shift as my skills as a librarian are taken full advantage of by my colleagues, as funding priorities ebb and flow in eHealth, and as our existing projects continue to follow their natural life cycles.

Image: designboom


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