The Top 3 Myths About Going Independent

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Recently, I had the opportunity to be a guest speaker in Kim Dority’s Alternative Career Paths for Librarians class at the University of Denver. Each year, Mary Ellen Bates and I visit the class to share our experiences as “independent information professionals.”

Mary Ellen and I are among a group with graduate degrees in library and information science (MLIS), but we don’t work in libraries. We are, in Mary Ellen’s words, info-entrepreneurs. We both own small information businesses and do consulting, research, and analysis. We also speak and write about information and the information industry.

I look forward to this class each year, especially since I’m a graduate of the University of Denver MLIS program and was Kim’s student. I knew early on in my studies that I didn’t want to work in a “regular library,” so I explored some of what we call in the profession “special libraries.” In my case, I considered university libraries, especially in the health sciences.

I wound up with a part-time job in a small college library, and – after about a year – I had one of those moments of total clarity. I had just shared with our library director some ideas for enticing more students into our library, which was usually empty. My director then pointed his finger in my face and said quite angrily, “We stick to the basics around here!” Yes, at this Aha! moment, it became perfectly clear that I was not meant to have a boss at that stage of my life.

While Mary Ellen and I have different stories about how we got started, we generally share the same message with students: It’s hard work, we love what we do, and the lack of a regular paycheck is the trade-off for being our own boss. Yes, there’s something about being responsible for your own bottom line that makes it easy to take those entrepreneurial risks and do scary things every day!

Because we love our work so much, once you get us started we could talk forever. The class always runs late, with several students staying to ask more questions. It’s interesting how each class is different, and this year’s group seemed especially involved.

We didn’t have time this year, but I usually include in my talk some of the misconceptions about those of us who choose the independent route. We constantly battle with images of “doing research in our pajamas” or having all kinds of free time to lunch with friends. But probably the most annoying – and the most demeaning – are these top three myths about being an info-entrepreneur:

1. We are “consulting” between jobs.
Most of us do this because it’s what we choose to do. We are not looking for employment, so please stop sending us job postings. We’ve all had good jobs and have done well in them, but we’ve made a conscious decision to pursue this career path.

2. We went independent because we don’t like structure in our day.
Perhaps this is true for some, but many of us actually crave structure. We just create our own, based on what works for us. Don’t ever ask me to work late, but I can tackle anything at 4 a.m., and quiet Saturdays are, in my opinion, perfect for creative work like blogging or outlining my next presentation.

3. We went independent because we don’t get along well with others.
Many of us are one-person operations, but we still work with and manage a variety of clients and subcontractors. In volunteer positions, we work on teams, both virtually and in person. With clients and other connections throughout the world, we have a diverse and global perspective that others don’t often get.

If you’re an info-entrepreneur and you’ve encountered any myths you’d like to add to the list, let me know.

Note: To learn more about this career option, check out the website for the Association of Independent Information Professionals.

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