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Focus On: Melissa Fraser-Arnott

April 17, 2013

Highlighting research by members of the Canadian library and information management community.

Doctoral Student, Queensland University of Technology (SJSU Gateway PhD Program)

Photo of Melissa Fraser-Arnott

What is your research topic?

I am studying the professional identities of library and information science (LIS) graduates in non-traditional roles. Non-traditional jobs for LIS graduates may include positions outside of libraries and in other industry sectors; new or unusual job titles, such as metadata specialist or data analyst; or jobs with traditional titles (such as librarian) in traditional settings such as libraries or archives but which involve new tasks such as working with emerging technologies or offering new, value added information services. A professional identity is a particular type of identity that is focused on an individual’s sense of self in relation to their occupation, work or professional life.

What interested you in that topic?

Most of my career to date has involved non-traditional roles. I have been a “hidden librarian” performing librarian-type tasks such as alert services, information resource building, and technology training in a non-library environment (as a Commercial Officer in a government department); a librarian in a non-traditional library setting (an electronic library that built its collection through content partnerships with non-governmental organizations with Creative Commons licenses); and as a librarian in a traditional library setting engaged in non-traditional tasks (I’m the office SharePoint expert and have provided information management guidance on content projects). Taking on these types of roles that seemed very different from what my colleagues in public and academic libraries were doing made me think about my role and the roles of others in positions like mine in the larger LIS community.

What impact would you like to see your research have on LIS practitioners?

I think that exploring the experiences of LIS graduates in non-traditional roles can help LIS schools and professional associations in developing professional development programming for LIS graduates that open up a new range of employment opportunities.

Like many others in our profession, I believe that the information-related skill set that we possess can allow us to add value to a number of environments, but that employers are not always aware of the range of an LIS graduates capabilities, especially when they continue to associate our profession only with books and traditional library services.

I hope that my work will help LIS practitioners in the pursuit of non-traditional, alternative, or unusual career opportunities.

What emerging topics do you foresee in the future of LIS research?

Library and information science is a very rich field that is tied to a number of diverse disciplines.

My fellow students in the SJSU-QUT Gateway PhD program are all working on fascinating research topics that combine research from multiple disciplines. For example, we have PhD students working on information hoarding in cloud computing recordkeeping environments, use of web 2.0 technologies to facilitate teamwork and information sharing, education strategies for teaching the use of information resources, and library use of influence strategies in obtaining funding to name a few.

As a practitioner, I believe that LIS professionals can best demonstrate their value by showing their role in business operations (i.e. through direct interaction in the workflows of their host organizations). I believe that integration with other disciplines will also be important to our research future.

What advice would you give to LIS students or practitioners hoping to engage in research?

I had dreamed of entering a PhD program since I finished my MLIS degree, but didn’t think that I’d had enough research experience or exposure to the academic environment to be able to realize that dream. I hadn’t taken the opportunity to do a research project in my Masters’ program and then had worked in special and public libraries rather than academic libraries where scholarly research and publishing are encouraged. Even when working in other types of library environments, however, I had been developing my research, information gathering and writing skills by performing tasks such as preparing research backgrounders, performing information audits, and developing program evaluation tools.

When I applied to the SJSU-QUT Gateway PhD program they considered these types of research experiences valuable even though I didn’t have a scholarly publishing portfolio. The advice, therefore, that I would give an LIS student or practitioner hoping to engage in research is to go out and try it – whether it is publishing an article for a peer-reviewed or non-peer-reviewed journal, holding a conference session, or even applying for a PhD program. As long as you have an idea that you believe is worth researching there are ways to get the research work done.

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