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Reflection – The conversion of James the Geek to James the Librarian

Reflection – The conversion of James the Geek to James the Librarian

By James King

I was born as a Navy ‘brat’ and spent most of my life following my dad from base-to-base-to-base, moving at least 25 times before graduating high school. In college, I pursued the then-new field of computer graphics but also focused on the help desk aspect of the job as my career. My first full time job was as a contractor at the Naval Research Lab’s (NRL) Library in Washington, DC where I provided desktop support in their new Microcomputer Software Support Center.  I was fortunate to join a forward-thinking library that was at the forefront of technology. I got to ride the wave of the internet, the digital library birth, and the explosion of the web.

The library director was a great mentor and encouraged me to pursue a library degree and to get involved in professional associations. These two activities forever changed my life and career direction. I started volunteering with ALA and SLA while in library school, helping to build websites, manage discussion lists and other tasks that my technical skills could be applied to. I still appreciate how networking with other students and graduates through professional associations helped me to see the great diversity of libraries and roles within libraries.

Eventually, I became the library director at NRL, building upon past successes to address the changing needs of researchers and engineers. Leaning on the collective wisdom of other special library contacts in SLA through networking and the conference proved invaluable in discerning the future direction for the library and justifying the services to upper management. At the end of my term, NRL management and researchers viewed the NRL Research Library as the best library in DoD and credited our services as positively changing the research process at NRL. This was all done while operating more efficiently under a flat budget for five years with 25% less staff.

In 2009, a lot changed in my life.  First, I successfully ran for the DC/SLA presidency, my daughter Sarah was born, and I was invited to jump over to the National Institutes of Health Library to build a new Custom Information Solutions service. As a new Information Architect at the world’s largest biomedical funder in the world, I finally found a job title that fit what I had been doing for my entire career – blending technology and librarianship in the creation of customized services for our customers. Custom Information Solutions is a “geek squad” for the NIH Library’s Informationists (embedded librarians) and is focused on building cost-recovery partnerships to meet the information needs of clinicians and intramural researchers through the application of information tools. To date, we’ve built a collaboration site for pandemic influenza researchers (http://pida.nihlibrary.com/), a research funding portfolio site for global Alzheimer’s research (http://iadrp.nia.nih.gov/), and a chronic pain research portfolio (http://paindatabase.nih.gov/). Our team has received several awards and the word of mouth of these projects has spurred several new funded projects.

I have no doubt that the friends that I’ve established through my professional activities in SLA have helped me to develop new skills that I’ve applied to my job, have helped me to find new jobs, have broadened my thinking about what is possible, and has validated risky decisions on future actions. My participation in the SLA Annual Conference is a high priority and I gladly give my time to volunteer with SLA to this day, because I want to give back to this community that has given me so much. I’m honored to be called a member of SLA.

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