By: Diane Stirling
If the saying, “luck is when opportunity meets preparation” ever truly fit a situation, library information science distance student Ed Surjan could vouch for that.
After a decade-plus as a business owner, business-turnaround expert, and technology entrepreneur, the mid-career professional was switching gears. An enthusiastic volunteer at a local library, he developed skills in an array of library operations. His administrative abilities, technology expertise, and library experience soon led to a job as an assistant librarian at an independent boarding/preparatory school in the Berkshires. Last summer, with the school’s library director planning retirement, Ed enrolled in the library and information science master’s distance program at the School of Information Studies (iSchool), feeling fairly secure about his career trajectory.
When the prep school hired a new administrator, those plans went awry. Of three library positions, two (Ed’s included) were cut. He lost his employer-funded tuition and faced the question of how, when, and whether he could continue his distance studies. Having finished his first summer residency, fall semester, and midway through spring courses, he notified Jill Hurst-Wahl, MLIS program director, of his situation.
“That’s when the iSchool stepped up in a major way,” Ed conveyed. The school responded that it would assist with his program costs for this year.
“In the absolute nadir of what happened to me, when I was most in need, this school stepped up and supported me in the most tangible way to reinforce that they were committed to seeing that I was able to finish the program, and that despite what had happened, I was valued.”
Before long, fate and the benefits of focused professional networking also came into play. Surjan had been reaching out to librarians at independent boarding schools in his region. He was invited to meet a new library director at one of them, and that person introduced him to the head reference librarian, who in turn relayed news of a fresh job opening at a nearby prep school.
With first crack at the interview, Surjan quickly found success. “Ultimately, I was the only candidate. Beyond [getting] a job, I’m a library director now, and this is pretty extraordinary. I’m pretty sure I’m the first member of my cohort to become a library director,” he joked.
Ed says Professor David Lankes’ advice “to make a name for yourself, have a personal brand, and network heavily “was one million percent right.” Surjan’s own efforts started at the iSchool, where “having access to world-class personnel in the faculty and staff of this school, that’s a tremendous resource to leverage.”
iSchool ‘Most Progressive’
After extensive research, Ed chose the iSchool because it met several key criteria, he said. It offered superior distance education; it was one of the top three or four programs in the country; and it wasn’t so far away that he couldn’t get to the campus now and then.
“When you think about the top three or four programs in the country, my opinion is, this is the most progressive. And it is so unbelievably collaborative and supportive, you feel it in a way that you do not feel to a similar extent in those other places. I came here and when I toured and came back…I honestly thought it was fake. Then you’re here for a while and you recognize that’s how it actually is. It’s that supportive, collaborative, and dedicated to making our success here as graduate students possible. That’s the piece that ties to what Syracuse did for me this spring. Everyone receives that enormous level of support and assistance in just a variety of different ways that are unique to the individual circumstances of the student. I think you can talk to student after student; everybody has those experiences they can point to here that are making an enormous difference to them.”
Ed’s new role is fully in synch with his desire to help teen students. He expects to complete his program in 2016, taking a little longer timeframe due to the added demand on staff members’ time in the boarding-school environment.
As for the field of library science, Ed sees “a ton of opportunity, and I think that this is an extraordinary time to be a librarian. With all this tremendous change, this is all still very much a set of moving pieces. It means for each one of us that we have a chance to have a much, much greater impact in shaping our own futures, and the future of the profession, in a way that may not have been historically possible. If you take that point of view, that’s tremendously exciting…[to think that] the work I do for the next 10 or 20 years could help to shape the direction of this profession over the next 50 or 100. That’s pretty cool stuff.”