By now you’ve likely heard about the growing “gig economy” and assumed, since you didn’t want to use your MLIS degree to be an Uber or Lyft driver, it probably didn’t apply to you.
Makes sense, until you consider the wide range of ways you could, instead, use your information skills to create sidelines outside of your regular LIS job, none of which involve tapping into your inner cab driver.
In fact, whether described as side-gigs, side hustles, sidelines, or the old-school moonlighting, these modest professional engagements can deliver outsized benefits to your career for both the short- and long-term.
So what exactly is a side-gig?
A side-gig is any part-time revenue-producing activity you do outside of your regular job. As an information professional, your side-gig would likely involve using one of your specialized skills or areas of expertise on behalf of a client (or several).
For example, an academic librarian with a specialization in history might have a sideline doing research for genealogists. A public librarian charged with creating and managing the library’s website might have a side-gig creating websites for entrepreneurial friends.
A school librarian with a passion for instruction might tutor on the weekends. And a business researcher specializing in competitive intelligence (CI) for an employer might also do CI for start-ups in the community (after first ensuring that there are no conflicts with the employer’s business).
In fact, there are probably hundreds of different ways information professionals could use their talents and expertise to create a small solopreneur sideline. What these types of side-gig activities usually have in common is that they:
- are entirely separate from your main or full-time job, so there’s no conflict of interest;
- are fairly modest in the amount of time they consume (perhaps 5-8 hours a week) so you don’t get overwhelmed with work; and
- can generally be done remotely, which gives you the flexibility to do the work based on your own schedule.
Why might you want to develop an LIS side-gig?
In addition to providing always-useful additional income, your side-gig could potentially provide several additional benefits.
Providing income stability. Given the unpredictability of our workplaces, having a second income can provide a temporary financial fall-back strategy to tide you over if you happen to get laid off. In this case, you also have the option of increasing the amount of hours you devote to your sideline, and the amount of income it generates.
Creating new career paths. You might decide that you’d like to create a path to a new type of LIS career, and doing the type of work that interests you will help you build a bridge into that new arena. For example, if you were currently doing research in a pharmaceutical company but were becoming increasing interested in the pet care and services industry (estimated to be $69.36 billion in 2017), you might consider creating a blog about information resources for this burgeoning industry or honing your skills so you could do research for veterinarians, veterinary medicine companies, or the industry’s trade association.
Any of these types of work would help you build the skills and connections you’d need to move out of pharma and into the pet services industry when you were ready to make that change.
Building professional visibility. Similarly, a side-gig focused on an area of expertise you’d like to become known for lets you develop visibility as a topic or skill expert outside of your employer’s “brand.” This can be especially helpful if your day job doesn’t provide many opportunities for you to become known to others in your area of interest, and will keep you from becoming professionally invisible. Two of the most valuable career assets you have are your network and your reputation, and it’s a smart move to make sure that whatever sideline you choose helps boost both if at all possible.
Providing professional autonomy. Another benefit of an LIS sideline is that if your work situation is someone chaotic and/or you lack control over the work you do, having work that you control for yourself can go a long way to alleviating the anxiety that lack of autonomy or purpose at work can produce.
Adding some fun to your life! Having an LIS side-gig that you enjoy can just be fun! That’s one of the reasons you’ll want to think about potential side opportunities in terms of work that not only might deliver some of the benefits described previously but could also be activities that delight and engage you.
What LIS side-gigs might you develop?
As mentioned, when thinking about potential side activities, pick something that sounds interesting or fun to you and where you have a requisite level of expertise.
Within that framework, here are some sample ideas to help you brainstorm your own best LIS sideline, all done on a freelance or project basis:
- book author
- business writer (white papers, case studies, position papers, trends analysis, newsletters)
- grant writer for nonprofits
- indexer for publishing companies
- information curator (for example, gathering information about library jobs is how Naomi House started the terrific INALJ)
- instructional designer
- online instructor
- researcher (donor prospecting, patent researcher, private investigator, due diligence specialist, competitive intelligence researcher, recruitment research specialist, among others)
- social media content marketer
- social media content developer
- special-topic blogger (revenue via ads or sponsorship)
- website developer/manager
- user experience consultant
Your own LIS sideline would be based on a combination of the type of work you want to do, where your expertise lies, and who is willing to pay you for that expertise.
But if possible, your goal should be to find a service that you wouldn’t mind building into a steady revenue stream with clients who come to rely on your skills and professionalism. This gives you the option of keeping your sideline as a sideline, or at some point deciding to establish an independent business based on the positive relationships and professional brand you’ve built up with ongoing clients.
Bates, Mary Ellen. The Reluctant Entrepreneur: Making a Living Doing What You Love. Niwot Press, 2014. 216p. ISBN 9780615975955. The go-to guide for those who aren’t familiar with entrepreneurship and want to know the basics from a well-known LIS solopreneur.
Moore, Susie. What if It Does Work Out? How a Side Hustle Can Change Your Life. Ixia Press, 2017. 192p. ISBN 9780486816494. For LIS professionals whose sidelines turn out to be wildly, and life-changingly, successful.
Palmer, Kimberly. The Economy of You: Discover Your Inner Entrepreneur and Recession-Proof Your Life. AMACOM, 2014. 239p. ISBN 978-0814432730. Primer on how to develop and manage a side-gig with an excellent set of exercises and worksheets (see especially “Five Common Pitfalls to Avoid”).