As part of our discussion of different types of libraries around the world, we thought we’d get the perspective of someone that works for libraries, rather than in one. Bridgette Hendrix is an ILN participant and long-time supporter, and is the convenor for the IFLA New Professionals Special Interest Group (NPSIG). On top of all that, Bridgette works for ProQuest, one of the larger vendors that serve our profession. We asked Bridgette to tell us a bit about working for a vendor.
It seems to me that anytime someone goes into a library program with a sure idea of what they want to do and where they’d like to work, they always end up some place completely different. It was certainly true of me and my friends in library school. Going into my library program, I was confident that I wanted to go into an academic library and work as a liaison to a history or foreign language department- two areas I concentrated on in my undergraduate studies. One month after graduation found me sitting in my own workspace at ProQuest working as an Acquisitions Specialist. As you might guess, it’s vastly different from what I had originally seen myself doing. In the almost two years that I’ve been with ProQuest, though, I’ve realized that non-traditional library jobs can be just as interesting and rewarding as working in a library, and often in completely different ways.
I should start of by saying that ProQuest is a large company. A very large company. A very large, international company. I didn’t realize it starting out, but we have offices on almost every continent except for Africa and Antarctica. In addition to our offices, we have a very large remote employee base, meaning that several of our staff work from their homes. Having a truly global presence makes for a lot of career opportunities, which is definitely a plus. I have the pleasure of working at the Bethesda, Maryland location, which is just north of Washington, DC here in the US. My office mostly concentrates on ProQuest’s US government, historical, and statistical research products.
My work involves acquiring content for ProQuests statistical products. You know those reports and documents that you’re pulling up in your ProQuest databases? Yeah, it’s kind of my job to make sure those documents get there. I try not to let the power go to my head too much, but it is pretty cool knowing that what I do directly impacts the content researchers have access to.
A typical day for me starts by settling at my desk (with a large cup of coffee, naturally); checking my emails for anything pressing from my supervisor or from PQ editorial; checking for updates on research and reports that we regularly cover; and looking at feeds and websites for new research and possible sources of content for my products. A huge part of what I do involves staying on top of current research in my sectors. It’s actually funny to me that I get to do what everyone tells you librarians don’t do anymore: spend time reading and poring over materials to get relevant, interesting research for our products. I work closely with ProQuest’s abstractors and editors, who do the quality control and metadata part of the content process. They work hard to make sure that the abstracts for our content accurately reflect the material, giving researchers concise and informative summaries to help them find what they need quickly. I also spend a good amount of time talking to government agencies and other organizations about their research, and sometimes even get to help them! One of my favorite stories involves speaking with an analyst from a state government agency who recently lost her physical archive of periodicals her office had published. Because ProQuest was covering those periodicals in our products, I was able to get her those issues she was missing.
Now, with that said, my position is a pretty desk-bound affair. I don’t get the opportunity to directly interact with our librarians or their researchers much, which is something that I do miss being the extrovert that I am. I also do miss having direct contact with the library world. Luckily, we take office culture pretty seriously around here, and there are usually a ton of different ways that our management tries to engage us with the library world. Sometimes this results in forums with leading library figures or support for attending local conferences; sometimes it’s professional development days. The main takeaway is that vendors have a vested interest in their employees, especially those of us coming from the library world, staying connected with the LIS field at large. We might be a little removed from the front lines, but we’re never far away.
Now, I would be remiss in not addressing the main difference between working for a vendor and working for a library. Most libraries out there are non-profit, government and educational institutions. ProQuest, and vendors like us, are for profit companies with a focus on technology and research/education. We do sell our products and we are subject to market forces, sales forecasts, and all of those other business terms. Working in that kind of environment does have its challenges, but its also part of the appeal. Things move more quickly here because we have to address the needs of our customer. We can’t get too caught up in bureaucracy, otherwise we risk losing our competitive edge. Ultimately, I am extremely proud of the products that ProQuest develops and I do truly believe that at our heart we have the same mission as any library or information organization out there: to connect researchers and librarians to the information they need and to provide the tools they need to make the research process quicker, simpler, and more effective.
I know that there is a stigma around vendors, but I’m here to tell you that working for a vendor is a viable and rewarding career path that is an often overlooked by those of us with LIS degrees. In fact, vendors are typically pretty excited about hiring employees with MLS’s. My experience with ProQuest, especially my colleagues and teammates in Bethesda, has been more than positive. In ProQuest I’ve found a supportive professional environment where I have the opportunity to earn a living helping connect people and information. It might not be exactly how I’d envisioned helping people when I started graduate school a few years ago, but it’s certainly not far off the mark.
We’d like to thank Bridgette for sharing her experience with us. If anyone else would like to send us an article about their workplace we’d be very happy to consider it for publication on our website – just email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.