Careers in Federal Libraries

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Information Professionals and Intelligence Analysis

Event review from Aileen Marshall


On November 8, 2011, I had the opportunity to attend a presentation/discussion at Catholic University in DC on “Library and Information Science and Intelligence Analysis: Converging Educational Paths?”.

A crowd of about 50 people, library students, professionals as well as professionals in transition, gathered in the Hannan Hall Auditorium on the beautiful campus to listen to five excellent speakers about the connection between library/information science and intelligence analysis. Although all speakers were excellent and their presentations insightful, this post concentrates on the speech given by Dr. Edna Reid, Intelligence Analyst at the U.S. Department of Justice. Whereas the other presentations mostly focused on intelligence analysis models, theories and practices, Dr. Reid introduced the audience to the language used in the field of intelligence analysis, and the impact that choosing the right jargon has on a resume and application.

An application for a position within the field of intelligence analysis requires a careful rewording of any standard library resume commonly used when applying for positions within a library. Dr. Reid emphasized that librarians have all the skills that are vital for gathering and creating intelligence, but that a lot of applicants fail to promote their skills when they fail to use community-specific terms.

Intelligence analysts identify, synthesize and analyze trends, threats and opportunities in a given environment, and gather information to understand an unfamiliar situation and its implications within a given context and/or overall problem. After the 9/11 attacks, the need for intelligence analysts grew quickly, and the shortage of qualified people hindered the ability of intelligence agencies to effectively identify and respond to terrorist’s use of the internet.

The main difference between an intelligence analyst and an information professional is the possession and mastery of high-level analytical (cognitive) skills. Whereas both professions are involved in gathering, organizing and managing information, a librarian is not usually required to analyze information and create intelligence reports crucial to mission-critical questions.

But it’s not only those skills information professionals need to acquire in order to be successful in an analyst position. Before we even get a shot at working within the intelligence community, we need to understand the language used within this field. Keep in mind that your resume, once submitted, may be first analyzed using data-mining software to determine if your resume even references the skills that the agency seeks. You might possess these skills but neglect to describe the skills in your resume. You might not use the right keywords in the resume, and that is the end of the application process for you.

So just to survive this first round and get a shot at an often times electronic interview, Dr. Reid introduced intel-specific terms that will help you reframe the language in your resume. In her article, Information Professionals as Intelligence Analysts: Making the Transition (2009), she compares terms used in other information disciplines to the ones used in intelligence analysis. It is critical that the resume is written with great care and focuses on these terms that describe the skills desired by the intel community.

If you are a librarian or other information specialist, you have surely heard of argument mapping, (reference) interview, timeline, etc. If you are thinking about becoming an intelligence analyst, you need to forget these terms and replace them with language that will get your resume through the first screening process. Argument mapping turns into The analysis of competing hypotheses (ACH), the Case Study Methodology is called Situational Logic, and the reference interview is a debriefing or even interrogation … yep, most of us have heard these terms when watching TV shows like NCIS or CSI, and honestly, who of us did not sit up straight and thought “Wow, these guys are doing all these cool things, interrogating people and tossing terms around like “Red Cell”. The latter, by the way, is the analytical technique used to pretend that the analyst is the bad guy; in other disciplines this is simply called the methodology of “Pretending to be the bad guy” (good cop, bad cop anyone?). Other words you should consider using in your resume to display your skills are: puzzles, dealing with the unknown, grow, develop, information architecture, patterns, and data mining.

In summary, librarians possess skills that are highly desirable in the intelligence community, but we need to acquire the mindset of an analyst and market our abilities in the right way in order to become of part of the interesting, exciting, and rewarding world of intelligence analysis.

Aileen Marshall holds an MLIS from the University of South Carolina and a MA in English linguistics from the Westfälische Wilhelms-University, Germany. She works as reference librarian for the U.S. Department of Transportation, and is an active member of the Special Library Association, especially the DC Chapter. She is the upcoming Chair-Elect for the SLA DGI, and enjoys advocating for libraries and the important role they play in society. As a former jail librarian, she shares her experience in an article published in the Jan./Feb. Edition of “Information Outlook“; you can learn more about her and her work at


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