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Each month, this space will highlight the unique career path and insights of an SSP member. We hope that these brief profiles provide guidance to our early career members and those site visitors interested in the broad spectrum of scholarly communications opportunities. Please contact info@sspnet.org with any questions or suggestions for future profiles.


Hillary Corbett

Director, Scholarly Communications and Digital Publishing, Northeastern University

Hillary CorbettPlease tell us a bit about yourself (e.g. hometown, current locale, course of study).

I was born and raised in Orlando, Florida, although my parents are originally from Canada. I came north to attend the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and have lived in Massachusetts since then, with the exception of a brief stint in Ann Arbor, Michigan, to attend library school. As an undergraduate I majored in English and history, and I also have a master’s degree in American Studies. My husband and I currently live in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood of Boston.

Describe some of your current responsibilities, and what type of organization you belong to.

I’m a librarian at Northeastern University in Boston, where I’ve worked in several roles since 2005. Northeastern is a private R1 research university with about 17,000 undergraduate students and about 8,000 grad students. Since I’ve been here, Northeastern’s academic and research profile has increased dramatically, which has led to changes in the library, especially the development of new services. I started out at Snell Library (our main library) in technical services, supervising copy cataloging of monographs and serials management for our print resources. As our intake of print materials declined and the need for full-time scholarly communication support grew, I transitioned into a new Scholarly Communication Librarian role. As part of that position I managed our institutional repository until we needed someone to take that on full-time; handing over that responsibility freed up time for me to develop a library publishing program. I’m now Director of Scholarly Communication and Digital Publishing, and I also serve as the University Copyright Officer. I work with researchers at all levels to help them reach a wide audience for their scholarly output, through open-access advocacy, author rights advice, outreach on copyright and fair use, and support for new modes of dissemination. I also work closely with our Research Data Management Librarian and Digital Repository Manager to provide integrated support for the entire research lifecycle.

What was your first scholarly publishing role? How did you get that job? What path led to your current position?

I’ve worked almost entirely in book-related fields my whole life. My first summer job was typing shelf list cards at the public library in my hometown, when I was in high school. And the summer before I started college, I had an internship at what was then Harcourt Brace, in the K-6 school book division. I worked for the production manager there, so I learned a lot about how textbook publishing works. I’ve moonlighted in educational and magazine publishing here and there since then, and I was the web manager for an independent bookstore, which taught me about marketing, order fulfillment, and customer relations. My first librarian position was at Fisher College in Boston—at the time it was a very small, primarily two-year college where the library staff ranged from two to four full-time librarians. That was a great opportunity for gaining experience in all different aspects of librarianship, although I didn’t get to take many lunch breaks! I supplemented my income while there with evening and weekend reference-desk jobs at a couple of other local libraries, Northeastern being one of them.

If there was a pivotal moment or key person in your career development, please describe briefly.

When I was in college at UMass Amherst, I worked in the Interlibrary Loan department of the library as a student assistant for three years. During that period, two of the full-time paraprofessional staff were working towards their MILS degrees, which at that time involved driving from western Massachusetts to the University of Rhode Island to attend classes one or more evenings a week—about four hours round-trip, after a full day of work. They were incredibly dedicated to advancing their careers through getting the degree, and hearing them discuss their coursework got me interested in librarianship as a career path, too. In my senior year, it became known elsewhere in the library that I was hoping to go on to library school after graduating, and the head of Reference arranged for me to work at the Reference Desk on Saturday mornings—not an opportunity normally given to student employees. The staff at that library really set me up for success in a career that I love, and I’ll always be grateful for that.

What tools, web sites and organizations do you find most valuable for your career development?

I’m a huge fan of Twitter—a couple of years ago I started a second account so I could keep my personal and professional interests distinct, and that’s really improved its usability for me. I learn so much from the people and organizations that I follow, and I’ve made some very valuable connections there. My involvement in SSP and the Library Publishing Coalition has also helped me advance my industry knowledge and build connections with people doing work that’s both similar and quite different to what I do.

What are some of the surprises/obstacles that you’ve encountered during your career?

When I moved from cataloging and serials management to scholarly communication, I was really surprised at how challenging it was to shift my focus from “micro” to “macro”—to go from cataloging rules and tracking down missed journal issues to thinking about what scholarly communication means to different people and how I could support them. Sometimes I still miss the detail-oriented nature of my previous work—it can be exhausting to think “big picture” all the time! But I think there is definitely room for detail work with metrics and data analysis in scholarly communication librarianship—for example, my colleague and I have been working on a citation analysis research project that is revealing some very interesting broad observations about how our faculty conduct research.

What do you wish you knew more about?

Grantwriting! I’m hoping to get more experience with that soon.

What advice would you give to people interested in a career in scholarly communications?

Academic libraries are wonderful places to find meaningful employment in many different aspects of scholarly communication. Not only do libraries engage directly in publishing activity, they also offer opportunities for work supporting digital scholarship, data visualization and management, repository development and management, digitization of print/analog collections, and outreach to authors at all levels—from undergraduates to tenured faculty. A growing number of professional positions in academic libraries do not require a library science degree. And higher education institutions generally offer good work/life balance and excellent benefits.

If you have a blog or personal/professional website, please provide a link.

You can find me on Twitter at @zetamathian.