Tuesday, March 11, 2008

This gun for hire

Yesterday, I spoke on a panel for alternative librarian careers. Since I consider myself very much a librarian, my career is not really an "alternative". But I'm not really concerned about that in this post.

I'm concerned about a comment that I overheard about how unsteady it is to be a freelancer and that the person really felt they needed a pay check. I like my pay check too, but I really like my work environment more. I don't think you could pay me enough to stay in work that sucks, but I have an advantage that most freelancers also have: we know what we can do that makes money.

Have you ever sat down and really thought about the things that you can do that people will pay for? These can be library-related like specialized collection development, or on the peripheries of library work (or stuff not always part of every librarian's job) such as editing, proof-reading, teaching, or skills that you have, not necessarily library-related that you can make money at, like installing a wireless network or translating from English to another language. Who would pay you for them and how would you market them?

Can you make money with them in libraries? For example, could you offer a paid workshop on how to give directions or greet people in Mandarin? I know a few librarians that might sign up for that as an online class, just for their own career development. How many people within libraries know what you know and if they don't know it, would they pay to learn it or use it to accomplish a task?

If you know what you can sell and what the market is like for your skills, I think you can make a reasonable living. And let's not kid ourselves: some entry-level library jobs are not a reasonable living and you may need to make some freelance cash to survive, or supplement your income. Sit down and figure out what you can do for money. The next step: how much money would you need to make at it to survive?

For a primer on freelancing, yesterday's WSJ put a loose plan together that you can use to stimulate your thoughts. And seriously think about it: even if you don't make it as freelancer, you still need to know what you can do and how to offer that to an employer.

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