Finding a job that fuels multiple passions is rare. But Claire Jordan (’22) successfully did just that when she accepted a position working for the Library of Congress as a research librarian for the Congressional Research Service. After completing the master’s program at the School of Information Sciences, she returned to her old stomping grounds in Washington, DC, where she spends each fast-paced day doing vital research for members of Congress, helping to provide credible, crucial information that supports our country’s legislative process. Before Jordan entered the field of information sciences, however, she worked as a lobbyist on environmental policy.
Jordan, a Chicago native, attended Michigan State University as an undergraduate, where she studied environmental science and gender studies. Inspired by her time studying in Malawi, Jordan decided to pursue working on environmental policy and moved to DC. As a grassroots lobbyist working on federal policy related to climate change, food systems, pesticides, and water quality, she was incredibly inspired by her work, but felt burnout approaching. A move to lobbying at the state level in Maryland was less taxing, but ultimately Jordan wanted to find a less stressful path
“Being a lobbyist is a really tough industry, even at the grassroots or state level. It was all-consuming, and I needed a break. I developed some health issues that forced me to take some time off. It’s throughout that experience that I realized this wasn’t sustainable for me long-term,” said Jordan.
Jordan examined what she enjoyed about lobbying: she liked working with community groups and coalitions, and she liked connecting people to the information they needed to make decisions. When she met a librarian for the patent office at a friend’s birthday party, Jordan joked that maybe she’d become a librarian when she retired.
“But why wait?” the librarian asked, after hearing more about Jordan’s professional interests.
“She was like all those things are what librarians do: navigating and disseminating information, sifting through and figuring out what information people need. You could do that with science information, she told me,” Jordan recounted.
Forging a New Path
The more Jordan considered a way forward, the more she felt librarianship might be the right fit, but she wanted to be certain. To gain more experience, she got a job working for the DC Public Library. Her job was a little atypical. In the role, she worked at a different library branch every day, filling in where needed, which turned out to be a crash course in librarianship.
“I really liked working on environmental issues. But up to that point, I had never before woken up excited to go to work in the way that I did when I worked for DC Public Library,” she said. “I loved being in the library. I loved working with community members. I loved helping people day to day. I loved everything about it.”
From there, the decision was clear: She would find a master’s program in information sciences and start down the path to become a science librarian. At first, she assumed she would have to cobble together her own curriculum, but when she stumbled across University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s master of science in information sciences program, she was excited to see the program has a unique pathway specifically for science information. Better yet, when she applied, her application was flagged for the CALL (Collaborative Analysis Liaison Librarians) grant program.
Funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services’ (IMLS) Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian grant program, the 2019 project funded a cohort of 14 students and prepared them to be leaders in science library liaison roles. It was the perfect fit for Jordan, and she made the decision to become a Volunteer, moving to Knoxville to start the MSIS program as a full-time student.
The unique structure offered by the CALL program helped Jordan cement her interests. She also completed several fellowships and internships, with impressive experience including a fellowship at the University of Michigan, where she worked on a study about the misuse of scientific information in online settings, and an almost year-long internship at the U.S. Geological Survey.
“We had a fairly prescribed curriculum compared to other MSIS students,” she said. “We took a lot of data-related classes and a lot of science information related classes. It was great for me because that’s what I really wanted to do. It also was great because so many of the classes had guest speakers, so we got to hear from so many different types of science librarians.”
Originally, Jordan thought her only path to science librarianship was academia, but her eyes were opened to new options through the CALL program, including government libraries. With this in mind, Jordan began casually job searching in the winter of 2021, right before starting her final semester. When she saw an opening at the Library of Congress, she jumped at the chance.
Jordan assumed she would need special connections to get her foot in the door. To her surprise, her UT education, job history, and background in policy stood on their own, and she was offered the job in January of 2022. Because she hadn’t yet graduated, the Library of Congress was willing to delay her start date until the summer. She completed the MSIS program in May 2022 and moved to DC immediately.
Combining Two Passions
The Congressional Research Service, where Jordan now works, is just one component of the Library of Congress. As part of the legislative branch of government, the service works exclusively for Congress and their staff. The five divisions in CRS are American Law; Domestic Social Policy; Foreign Affairs, Defense and Trade; Government and Finance; and Resources, Science and Industry. Jordan is part of the latter division, working primarily on environmental policy. It’s the perfect marriage of her former work as a lobbyist and her newly minted status as a graduate of UT’s MSIS program. Jordan finds the work extremely rewarding.
“There are a few different aspects of my job that are fulfilling for me: working every day with brilliant, passionate, and motivated people who care deeply about the work we do and doing it well; working to ensure Congress has the most accurate, credible, and up to date information; and helping members of Congress serve their constituents by finding answers to their questions,” she said.
Jordan isn’t allowed to discuss who specifically she receives requests from, nor the kinds of requests she gets. But she elaborates that her role involves extensive research into government information, such as previous legislation and legislation history, as well as scientific news and academic articles. Her day-to-day draws extensively on the skills she gained at SIS. For example, when she needs more information about a request, she conducts a “scoping call,” which draws on a key aspect of librarianship: reference interviews—which is asking additional questions about the request in order to understand what the requester really needs.
“I do a lot more technical writing than I would have expected as a librarian, and my class assignments really prepared me for that. I also spend a lot of time thinking about information organization and information retrieval when collaborating with non-librarian colleagues of mine, and that is a unique skill set that information professionals bring to the table,” she said.
Another enjoyable aspect of the role is the access she has to vast amounts of information. She works frequently with other librarians and utilizes the on-site resources and reading rooms at the Library of Congress. The ever-shifting pace and re-prioritization of tasks also keeps her on her toes.
“I’m working on different stuff all the time, which I really like,” she said. “I like being busy, and I like the changing nature of the job. It’s very versatile.”
Jordan is excited to see what the future holds and continues to strive to be a leader in the field. She feels lucky to provide a service that impacts the nation, and she encourages others to be creative when considering a career in information sciences.
“Think about what excites you and how information and information sciences play a role in that,” she said. “So many people I met in the MSIS program were there because they figured out how to connect their passion, whatever it was, with information sciences, and then they started building a career out of that. I think that’s a great way to look at the field from another angle and find the path that is right for you.”
Her advice for students currently in an information sciences program is also in the spirit of openness.
“My advice to someone already in an IS program is to try everything,” she said. “Say yes to as many opportunities as you can because even if you don’t end up enjoying it, that’s another piece of information you’ve learned about your career that can help you find your path within the field. Nothing is ever what it seems, so there’s always something more to learn by saying ‘yes’ as much as you can.”