Lucy Park (‘96) moved to Washington after graduating from SIS to take an entry-level job at the library of the Environmental Protection Agency. She worked on a federal contract there for nine years in various positions, eventually working her way up to Library Manager. She moved to the USPTO because she was ready for a change, and had always heard that patent searching was a particularly challenging and esoteric branch of librarianship. She thought it would be a good thing to add to her skill set, and ended up loving it and staying longer than expected.
The following is an interview with Lucy Park:
(SIS) Brief description of your job responsibilities:
(LP) I am a patent prior art searcher, which means that I help Patent Examiners find information related to inventions that are being considered for patents. Patent Examiners must determine if an invention is truly novel. That involves searching all of the relevant published literature, known as the “prior art,” to see if the invention already exists anywhere. Prior art could be found in technical journals, patents, books, news articles, product documentation, press releases, web sites, or other sources. Since the USPTO has a large backlog of patent applications, we need to find the information as quickly as possible. I spend most days conducting in-depth, highly technical searches in online databases such as Proquest Dialog, STN, IEEE Xplore, ACM, Safari ebooks, and others. I also teach classes to Patent Examiners on how to do their own searching in these resources.
(SIS) Did you imagine yourself in this role while you were a student?
(LP) I knew I wanted to be in a specialized library, working with patrons in a more in-depth way than might be possible in other types of libraries. And I knew I enjoyed online research. But since my background was in the arts, I never expected to be working with such high-tech information.
(SIS) What is unique about your job compared to public school or public library jobs?
(LP) TThe work is more analytical than what I imagine a typical reference encounter in a public or school library would be. Most of my patrons have advanced degrees in engineering or computer science, so the topics we are searching are very specialized. I concentrate on inventions in the areas of information technology, electri- cal engineering and computer science. I admire public librarians for their ability to field questions and conduct research on any topic under the sun!
(SIS) What is your favorite part of the job?
(LP) Prior art searching is like solving a puzzle. Every day I begin work by learning about something new and then trying to find that needle-in-the-haystack piece of information that the Patent Examiner needs. The time constraint makes it even more interesting – it adds a “beat the clock” element. It can be thrilling to find that elusive piece of prior art after digging into every resource you can think of.
(SIS) Why do you think you bring special qualifications to the job?
(LP) Patent Examiners are experts in their areas of technology, but they don’t have the time to become experts in every single search tool that is available to them. As a prior art searcher, I bring searching expertise in all of the tools, from commercial online databases to web-based tools, to print resources.
(SIS) What components of your degree program are helping you the most in your current job?
(LP) Carol Tenopir’s reference classes taught me the fundamentals of online searching, and I draw on that almost every day. Knowing how the backend of “old school” online systems work, like STN and Dialog, is still serving me well, even as those technologies are changing. Also knowing the continued importance of print resources – we don’t use them for every search, but sometimes they are what you need if you have to find very old information. Also the art of the reference interview – how do I get this patron to tell me what he or she really needs?
(SIS) If you could give current students some advice, what would it be?
(LP) Hone your writing skills. If you are a good writer, you will be pulled into many interesting projects no matter where you work.
(SIS) Job seeking applicants?
(LP) Don’t be intimidated if you don’t have the subject area expertise for a particular position. Librarians are curious people by nature and are good at conducting research in unfamiliar areas. If you enjoy learning, you’ll be able to work in many different professional environments.
(SIS) What is the funniest or most gratifying experience you have had in your career?
(LP) It’s pretty cool to be working on a patent application and to see that the inventor is Bill Gates or Steve Jobs.