Why librarians are well-suited for location-flexible work

October 29, 2013. I’m in beautiful Monterey, CA for right now because I’m speaking at a conference here: Internet Librarian. Since all my work is online, instead of paying for three nights in an expensive hotel, I decided to find a place for a whole month and just live here for a while. I’m staying in a cute little cottage that I found on Airbnb. It’s only a few blocks from the conference hotel. I love it!

I’ve invited anyone who is interested in location-flexible work to join me this evening for a “dine-around” (group dinners at local restaurants on various topics of interest to librarians). We’re meeting at Siamese Bay (Thai food) at 7pm.

Because of that, I thought it would be fun to write a post about why I think librarians are well-suited for working this way.

What is location-flexible work?

Location-flexible work involves working online, either for an employer or for yourself (or both)… so that you can be free to spend time, live or vacation anywhere, flexibly. There are several blogs that inspired me to do this:

What are some advantages of being location-flexible?

First of all, just because you work online doesn’t mean you have to travel or move around often. But having that option certainly makes your life more interesting and possibly easier!

Here are some advantages:

  • If your significant other gets a job offer in another location, you can consider it more easily, since your work comes with you.
  • When attending far-away family events (weddings, funerals, visiting new babies), you can spend more time there if you like, and combine it with working.
  • You can experience life in different cultures around the world, or different cultures within your own country.
  • You can experience what it’s like to live in a particular location before moving there for a longer time.
  • You can adopt an RV lifestyle and bring your home (and pets) with you.
  • You can more easily try a car-free lifestyle, since you don’t have to commute.
  • With the time saved from not commuting, you can find more time for healthy habits, like getting more exercise and making your own healthy meals.
  • You can move away from where natural disasters are happening (wildfires, floods) and live in a different location for a while.
  • You can live your life with fewer possessions, need less money, and focus on quality experiences.
  • You can easily visit or live with friends and family who live far apart from each other.

I’m sure you can think of more advantages, too!

Why librarians are well-suited to this

Many library services and jobs are almost completely virtual and some libraries are completely virtual now. I don’t mean to say that I think physical libraries will disappear. I think they will continue to thrive, since they provide so many wonderful services to their communities. Working virtually is just another option that some of us may want to try at different times in our lives.

Here are some roles that can be completely or mostly virtual:

  • curators of information
  • online searchers
  • website developers
  • user experience designers
  • information architects
  • developers of online instruction (live or asynchronous)
  • supporters of MOOCs or other online learning
  • social media marketers
  • online community builders
  • metadata creators
  • data scientists
  • GIS librarians
  • database designers
  • software engineers
  • scholarly publishing program managers
  • reviewers of books and apps

I’m sure you can think of more!

If you’re interested in this, you can try working for yourself, as many librarians already do (information consultants and so on), or you can find (or negotiate) a position from an employer that allows remote work.

There is an interesting book that I just started reading: Remote: Office not Required. This quote amazed me:

From 2005 to 2011 remote work soared 73 percent in the United States — to 3 million workers total.

Here’s the source they cited behind that statement: Latest Telecommuting Statistics, Global Workplace Analytics.

In spite of Yahoo’s recent decision not to allow remote work, many employers are allowing it and finding happier employees with increased productivity. This book discusses all of that, and I’m looking forward to finishing it.

What I’m doing for location-flexible work

I feel very lucky because my skill set and recent experience is already mostly virtual. I was a webmaster for the MIT Libraries for eleven years and then head of their User Experience Group for three years. But as you can see from the list above, I think many other job types are suited to working remotely.

One thing people usually say to me is, “so you’re a consultant now?” The answer is no, because everything I’ve been inspired by in the past few years of reading, has emphasized creating products and services to sell, rather than selling your time. When you work for yourself selling your time, you are still limited by the number of hours in a day. You probably have even less free time, since now you have to find work and do things your employer used to do for you.

Instead, if you create and sell products and services (that can bring in money after you’re done creating them) you are leveraging the time you spent. I like this idea, because I’m looking for better work/life balance.

So I’m creating information products (online courses and books). I also teach online courses through the continuing education programs of Simmons GSLIS and ALA. (These take place for defined six-week periods and most of my work is up-front, creating the courses). This combination of selling my time and selling information products allows me to leverage my time and hopefully work fewer hours!

In order to diversify my sources of income, I’ve also co-built a web app called Feedwelder. It’s a tool for blending and displaying RSS feeds on your website. My co-founder is one of the software developers for the MIT Libraries, and we hope to make it live later this year. (We’ve been working on this for a few years in our spare time. Here’s why we started it).

Of course it’s all an experiment right now. This is my first year, so in order to live simply, I sold most of my possessions, rented out my condo, and lived in Oaxaca, Mexico for five months. I’m enjoying it and I have no regrets about leaving an interesting, secure job. After being at the same institution for 14 years, I felt ready for a change.

Further Resources

So, librarians… I’d love to hear from anyone who is doing something similar, or who wants to do it someday. Here are some resources that you might find useful. Let me know your story in the comments!

Location-independent lifestyle – my guide

More Americans working remotely

Pros and Cons of Telecommuting

Telecommuting statistics

How to Negotiate a Remote Work Arrangement

The rise of the digital nomad

Traveling while making a living – Words from someone working and living in Paris.

Technomadia – Cherie & Chris who full time RV in the USA in a “geeked out vintage bus conversion,” with their cat, Kiki.
See their “no excuses” guide.

7 great reasons to encourage working remotely

Art of non-conformityChris Guillebeau, author of the $100 Startup

Flexjobs – Job search engine for flexible work (sometimes remote)

Book: Remote: office not required

2 thoughts on “Why librarians are well-suited for location-flexible work

  1. sfbookclubem

    I’m an ILS sys admin. When my son was born my manager made it possible for me to go down to part time and start working from home. This January I’m going to go up to 32 hrs but still will work from home.

    As you pointed out, there are many advantages to working from home. In fact, Tuesday I’m leaving for Thanksgiving “vacation.” My mother will get more time with her grandson while I continue to work in another state from my library. Having everything setup for me to access work remotely also means I can respond to emergencies much faster. I’m also more flexible with the hours I’m willing to work which comes in handy when vendor support is based in New Zealand.

    However, there are also disadvantages. At least for my job, a lot of times people don’t know what I can fix. I’ve invested a lot of time trying to encourage people that they can email me no matter how small the inconvenience they are experiencing. Yet, there’s still stuff I miss now that probably would have come up in “useless” workplace chatting. I’m way more productive working at home, I can focus a lot better. However, I also miss little things that would make our staff’s lives easier.

    I do think working from home is a net benefit to my organization. However, it needs to be done thoughtfully so as many of the downsides as possible can be addressed and hopefully mitigated.

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