March 16, 2018

Career Advice: 2012 Mover & Shaker Michael Russo

LJ‘s Career Insights reaches out to our Movers & Shakers and asks about key moments in their careers. Michael Russo is one of our 2012 change agents.

This series made possible by:

Michael Russo Movers & Shakers 2012


Associate Librarian/Instruction Coordinator
Louisiana State University Libraries, Baton Rouge

MLIS, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, 2000

LS United
LS United Facebook

Photo by Mark Martin

What skills, events, or other opportunities have you found most useful to your career?

I am admittedly short on skills. I can’t fly a plane or speak Chinese or play a musical instrument. I can, however, write more or less well, and this is a skill (more of a gift, really) that has carried me for years and continues to serve me in my current career. I also read a lot, as is common among librarians. I do not read fast, nor do I read especially well in terms of grasping what I read or retaining it. However, I compensate for these deficiencies with something that qualifies more as a trait than a skill: I am a plodder. Whereas others might sail through a book or an article and nail it on the first pass, I will usually have to read and re-read slowly and carefully before I come away with the essence of the piece. Sorry, but that’s the best I can do.

Is there a colleague or mentor who has helped you in your career, and, if so, how did they help?

I have been guided by numerous colleagues since starting my library career. I was mentored through the tenure process at LSU by two veterans who have become very dear to me—Barbara Wittkopf and Sigrid Kelsey. They helped me successfully negotiate the somewhat fluid track to full tenure. I should add that I consider that I continue to be mentored by all of my colleagues, whether senior or junior to me. Our professional cohort is more like a club, with members working with each other for the benefit of the library and ultimately our students.

Do you feel that any of the equity gaps — generational, gender, racial, educational — in the library world have affected your career’s trajectory?

No, I do not feel I have been hampered in my career by these kinds of roadblocks. I’ve been lucky in that regard. My biggest obstacle is me.

What do library schools have to do to better prepare graduates for the job market?

Library schools have to be aware of the trends and to adapt their curricula accordingly. Some things never change, of course, like the need for collections that meet the needs of the users. However, the forms through which those needs are met seem to be evolving constantly. Pay attention to job descriptions, note the abilities today’s libraries are seeking, and make sure your students have them.

Where would you like to be in five years professionally? What’s your dream job?

Ideally, I would be writing novels for a living, although that isn’t specifically a job. Actually, I like the job I have. As Instruction Coordinator, I am somewhere in the lower to mid echelons of management, which means not a lot of stress. And the instructors I work with are very low-maintenance: they pretty much take care of everything themselves. If I’m still doing this in five years, that’s okay.

What was your biggest failure as a librarian and what did you learn from that experience that helped you grow?

This is not directly responsive to the question, because it is not a specifically library failure. Nevertheless, since becoming a librarian at Louisiana State University, my biggest failure has been in not convincing the faculty in general and my library colleagues specifically of the need to organize. We watch the Jindal administration undermine LSU with relentless budget cuts with what seems to be an air of inevitable fatalism, as though there is just nothing we can do about it. My failure has been not convincing enough of my colleagues that abject despair is not a strategy for countering the destruction that is being visited upon this flagship university.

Any words of wisdom for those coming into the field?

Seems like every library job description I see these days requires the skills of a computer scientist. If I were just beginning in this field, I would load up on computer-related courses and make sure I was up-to-date on the emerging technologies. And since I’m giving advice, finally and most importantly—don’t listen to me.

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  1. Did Michael have much college education? I’d be interested in hearing more about this.