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Taking your Library Career to the Next Level

By: , Posted on: October 18, 2017

Our book, Taking your Library Career to the Next Level, came about from a program we presented at a Michigan Library Association conference. The topic was suggested by a colleague, who believed we had a good handle on our careers and felt we had achieved some success in the profession. We have both worked in public libraries for nearly 20 years, and have a variety of experiences under our belt, including presenting, publishing, committee work, attending conferences, as well as holding down the fort at reference desks in different libraries where we have worked. We realized, some years ago, that it wasn’t that we were so smart or clever, but that we simply participate. We didn’t luck into our speaking and publishing gigs; we sought them out purposefully. We weren’t assigned to committees; we joined. Anyone can do these things, and everyone should do these things.

We did have the support of library directors and managers along the way. They let us experiment with new ideas and put ourselves out there in the professional work of librarianship. We often made stuff up, and if it worked, great! Sometimes our projects failed miserably and other times we found that we really might be onto something and ran with it. We didn’t have the benefit of a book like this, advising actual strategies to make the most of our careers, so we decided to write one to give that advantage to our colleagues, who may never have considered all they have to offer to librarianship beyond their day jobs.

It is so easy to get stuck in our daily routines and not pay attention to where we fit in the bigger picture as individual professionals. We decided years ago that we would do everything in our power to avoid becoming stagnant, dispassionate librarians who are “RIP” (retired in place). To that end, we constantly look for projects that will further our knowledge and better our skills, as well as outlets to share our expertise.

A library school professor once advised us that when you don’t know an answer, you should find a person who is likely to have the answer. We didn’t know it yet, but we had already started to tap the collective brain of fellow librarians outside our own library. As email, search engines, and social media emerged, our librarian network increased. As we attended conferences and read journal articles, our circle expanded even more. Without question, we would not be where we are now if we had not ventured out to consume knowledge from the vast network of other librarians.

We both feel strongly that the success of the profession is dependent on all of us sharing and helping each other. The information landscape will continue to change, and the only way we will keep up is to work together. It is our hope that everyone realizes that they have something to contribute to the profession. Every pin you share on a Pinterest board, every blog comment you submit, and every question you ask of a presenter adds to the body of knowledge in our profession.

It is not pure altruism that drives us to go forth and publish, present, and participate professionally. We know we will keep calling on the great brain, and we are counting on all of you to be there for us as we keep experimenting and putting ourselves out there. We will do the same for you.

There are quite a few job realities that are universal, no matter where you are in your career journey. You will have to seek training and prioritize keeping yourself current in the profession. You will have to “manage” your boss and find ways to create better efficiency among your coworkers. There will be policies and procedures to revise and meetings to attend. Your first objective is to set realistic expectations for yourself. We have both had very rewarding careers, but we have had to invent ways to write, create presentations, attend committee meetings and conferences, and read professional journals with no extra time or money. These activities benefit us intrinsically, and we believe in the bigger picture of professionalism, so we find a way to make it work. More importantly, we strive to make our contributions to the profession relevant to our current positions. We serve our patrons at the reference desk better because we write about it, present at conferences about it, meet in committees about it, and read about it. In the hierarchy of learning objectives, we always try to move beyond knowing and identifying to analyzing, evaluating, and creating (more on that in  Chapter 4!). Our careers have been more interesting, and ultimately we are better at our day jobs for having gone the extra mile.

There have been countless examples throughout our careers where other professionals, both in real life and virtually, have made our jobs easier. Our librarian comrades-in-arms have provided us with shortcuts, resources, vendor recommendations, and instructional materials. They have also acted as a sounding board for everything from difficult management to job leads.

As computers were added to libraries and universities, materials and technology changed from books and paper journals to databases, audio and video formats, and other digital forms of information. Information itself became the product, and books became just one of the many tools used. Without a doubt, the librarian of today is expected to adapt quickly to—and keep pace with—the ever-changing landscape of technology and information. To keep up with these changes, you will need more resources. You will need other professionals. In fact, the overall success of librarianship depends on everyone sharing their experiences and knowledge.

More often than not, the fastest and smartest way to get a handle on a problem or situation is to reach out to our professional network. Your professional network can guide you to the experts who have the information you need. As your career develops, you will start remembering and identifying certain projects, technology, and expertise with certain colleagues. Tapping into that wider ocean of experience can streamline your job or help you get up to speed on a particular topic. This professional network is dependent on all of us sharing and cooperating with each other. Without all of us contributing to the effort of sharing knowledge, the network itself will fail.

 

For many librarians, sharing knowledge is essential for promotion or tenure. Even if participating and contributing to the profession aren’t supported by your current job situation, it is still worth developing your skills using your own resources. Your value as a professional will increase when you develop successful projects and ideas and share them in the industry.

Today’s information professional is navigating a world that is quite different from that of librarians of yesteryear. Before there was an Internet, online catalogs, or other modern technologies, librarians concentrated on organizing a body of knowledge, and were mostly limited to their own knowledge of the collection. Accessing information beyond library borders was slow, and depended on phone calls or the mail. The pace of the library was manageable, and limited to books and a few other items. A good memory, nice handwriting, and an intimate knowledge of the library’s collection were all one needed to be a pretty successful librarian. Modern libraries and librarians are quite a bit different. Books are just one avenue of service and research.

This book takes a long view of one’s career. The timeline for success is up to you and your own agenda. Different career specialties in library and information science require different levels of participation. Over the course of our career, we have encountered many people—especially those new to the profession—who fear they are underprepared or “don’t know enough” to effectively contribute to the professional literature or wider body of knowledge in the industry. This is not true. The very nature of librarianship attracts those with a variety interests, both specific and far-reaching. Everyone can contribute. Dedicating even a few minutes a day above and beyond your current job duties can improve your skills, widen your network of information sources, and help you keep abreast of library trends.

Many books about improving your career seem to be filled with buzzwords and expressions that really don’t reflect on you, or the librarian profession for that matter. However, while you might inwardly shudder at terms like “personal branding” and “professional networking,” feeling outside your comfort zone or like you are a product to be sold, there are solid reasons to take these concepts and adapt them to fit your personality and career. Finding a good job is difficult in the competitive environment of library science, and being able to differentiate your skills from that of other job seekers is essential. The best part is that today’s technology allows us to contribute without necessarily having to “glad hand” or stage a performance at every library function. This book is about developing a career strategy that includes participation and contribution to the profession in a way that is tailored to your personality and career goals. We will be using the term “personal branding,” but give us a chance to use it in the context of librarian career-building before you quit reading. You are probably already doing personal branding activities as part of your job. This book will help you fine tune and showcase your skill set and make a conscious effort to work with your own strengths as a professional.

Our goal is to purposely and thoughtfully navigate ways to increase your employability for the future, set yourself up for promotion or tenure, or simply just be a part of the library science knowledge landscape. We want to inspire you to contribute to the profession beyond your daily work, resulting in a fulfilling career.

Taking Your Library Career to the Next Level: Introduction

 

taking your library career to the next level

If you enjoyed this Introduction, you can access individual chapters or the entire book online via ScienceDirect here. If you prefer to purchase a print or ebook, visit the Elsevier store. Apply discount code STC317 and save up to 30% off the list price and free global shipping.

making a collection count

The authors also have a book called Making a Collection Count: A Holistic Approach to Library Collection Management, Second Edition . The book takes a holistic look at library collection management, connecting collection management activities and departments, and instructs on how to gather and analyse data from each point in a collection’s lifecycle. It is also available online via ScienceDirect and in print or ebook from the Elsevier store. Apply discount code STC317 to save up to 30% off this book and enjoy free global shipping.

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Social Sciences

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