Sunday, March 13, 2011

A Diverse Universe: Creating a Patent Reference Librarian Position with Intellogist

By Kristin Whitman

I came to a librarianship in a very backwards way.  I worked in patent searching, which is a small, niche industry where almost no one has an MLIS.   Patent searchers need advanced technical degrees and an understanding of patent law; most have master’s degrees in technical fields such as mechanical engineering and biochemistry, and some even have JDs or have passed the patent bar exam.  With all that necessary education, patent searching librarians are a rarity.
I was hired from within my patent searching company to write cParitical reviews about patent search systems, and to create comparison tables and reports to publish on our website.  I spent the next several years working steadily to product Intellogist (, an online review site for that patent searching industry.  As you’ve probably already guessed, evaluating patent search tools requires the skills, background and knowledge of a librarian – and I had no idea!  I was deep in the weeds grappling with concepts like collection domain and scope, interface design, and controlled indexing before I finally realized that this was a degree I needed to have. 
From that point forward I felt that it would be almost irresponsible of me to continue doing my job without the proper training.  Location was a problem – there was no accredited library school in Virginia, and Catholic and Maryland would have presented too much of a commuting burden.  When I finally stumbled across my first fully online degree program, I was thrilled. The flexibility of asynchronous, fully online scheduling meant I could do my coursework whenever and wherever I needed.  I enrolled at Rutgers, and the faculty there has been a blessing in so many ways – the program is thriving, and everyone there is really dedicated to preparing the students to jump right into the real world of librarianship and get our hands dirty.  
Thanks to my education, I was able to provide the highest possible quality work on Intellogist.  In addition, people within the company started to see me as an unofficial reference resource, and come to me to discuss their search problems.  I already knew that I would love reference work from my past days in a customer service position: helping people gives me a natural high.  Because I was seeing a need within the company, I worked with my boss to design a new job for myself as a librarian.  We envisioned the rollout of a Landon IP Reference Desk, and worked for months to bring our idea to fruition.  I knew the company needed this kind of support, but my challenge was bringing the message to everyone else!  
When we finally rolled out our Reference Desk service, I immediately received over 170 reference requests in the first month.  We’re still going strong, and I am so proud and so happy to have created my dream job within the company by showing them what I can really do for them.  It seems to me to be an instance of librarians proving their value by addressing underlying information needs that no one else at an organization can see.  In my opinion, I would not have had the courage to do this had I not been involved in SLA since 2009, and heard the underlying message: show your employers what you can do.  Show them what librarianship can mean to them.  My very great thanks to all the SLA members who are making the organization a source of support and professional development.

Kristin Whitman is a new reference librarian and a co-creator of  She is currently in her last semester at the School of Communication and Information at Rutgers University.

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