Special Libraries' Saviors James Matarazzo and Toby Pearlstein '77LS, '87DA
posted October 3, 2013 7:06 AM
"Why are special librarians worth saving today if less than 1% of new graduates remain in the field after a few years?" I asked Dean Emeritus and Professor James Matarazzo after attending the presentation "Educating Special Librarians" at the Massachusetts Health Sciences Library Network (MAHSLIN) annual meeting.
"Decisions depend on accurate information. Every organization needs information to be accessed, organized, and evaluated. If we don't have information managers, business leaders are not making informed decisions. They are making guesses," says Matarazzo, who became interested in the special libraries field when he noticed that "corporate librarians ask the best questions."
While Matarazzo attributes attrition of librarians from the special libraries field to dissatisfaction with management in a depressed economy, the perception of opportunities to make more money in other professions, and the desire for more challenges, he also emphasizes the opportunities in the field. "I get more job posting vacancies than there are Simmons GSLIS graduates," says Matarazzo, pointing to his bulletin board that sits outside his P-204 office littered with specialty job postings in knowledge management, government, and academia. "Students may have to be willing to relocate for their career," he states.
Although corporations may be risk-averse, librarians need to take risks in the workplace. While he was offering consulting services for Fortune 500 companies in the nineties, Matarazzo met his research partner, Simmons GSLIS alumna Dr. Toby Pearlstein. He recruited Pearlstein from her Massachusetts Department of Transportation archivist and librarian position to a coveted career as Director of Global Information Services at Bain & Company. After spending 14 years at Bain, Pearlstein joined forces with Matarazzo to champion special libraries. To this day, they communicate daily.
"Library and information science students' education needs to prepare them to make an impact on an organization's bottom-line," Pearlstein says. "Library and information science schools need to keep the pipeline to the profession open by giving students a theoretical foundation and transferable skills, and developing learning outcomes that are aligned with professional standards and employer needs."
At the MAHSLIN meeting, they introduced a recommended reading for the dean of every LIS school, Special Libraries: A Survival Guide, co-authored by Matarazzo and Pearlstein, which provides strategic tactical advice about how special librarians can promote themselves and become valuable to an organization. Matarazzo believes graduate library and information science programs currently do not have special library tracks that are aligned with employment-placement opportunities. He is seeking to remedy the situation at Simmons GSLIS by introducing a special librarians' track in Fall 2013.
Borrowing from the medical librarianship education model, the Simmons GSLIS special libraries track will include Matarazzo as the full-time faculty member. He will be dedicated to developing a targeted curriculum and building a community of practice that improves the preparation of future librarians. As a Fellow of the Special Libraries Association (SLA) and faculty advisor to the Simmons GSLIS SLA (Twitter handle @SLASimmons) chapter, Matarazzo plans to incorporate LIS 465 Knowledge Management, LIS 414 Organization and Management of Corporate Libraries, LIS 474 Competitive Intelligence, and LIS 456 Managing Records in Electronic Environments into the track.
Pearlstein says that creating specialized educational tracks and encouraging librarians to integrate themselves in the workflow could stop the "murder or suicide" that is occurring with specialized libraries. "We can play the victim or do as much as we can to demonstrate that we are indispensable to an organization's bottom-line. By showing value, we can create a legacy for librarians. Otherwise, we become history."
While Matarazzo champions the special libraries cause, he is also the Vice President and Secretary for the H.W. Wilson Foundation, which provides grants for nonprofit information institutions. He is also planning a trip to Nestlé in Switzerland to learn about their special libraries and hopes to share their tactics in LIS 414 Organization and Management of Corporate Libraries. He also travels to the University of Arizona for a few weeks every year to teach the LIS 414 course, where he stays at the Delta Chi fraternity house. Matarazzo claims not to party as much as the college kids.
Having worked in virtually every role possible at Simmons GSLIS since the mid-1960s and having received more awards than top Emmy winners, Matarazzo is a living institutional repository of library and information science data and tales. He advises students to continue to look for opportunities to augment their education and to not be afraid to try new roles in their institutions. When his supervisor at the MIT Lincoln Labs during the early years of his career was concerned he did not have enough background to transition to a documentation librarian position, he replied, "I didn't take a class on kissing, but somehow I still manage."
By Dean's Editorial Fellow Jennifer Moyer