Career Strategies for Librarians
by Emily Barton
Learning isn't over when you finish library school! The Michigan Library Association’s Membership
Committee recently held a workshop at their annual conference for new librarians to share the most
important lessons of their first year on the job. Six panelists—working in such diverse settings as
academic libraries, public libraries, a law library, and a prison library—gave entertaining, thoughtful, and
informative reports from the trenches on what the first year in librarianship is really like. The following are
their best pieces of advice for new graduates.
Use Your Fresh Eyes
Everyone has a lot to learn in his or her first position. But you can also use your fresh eyes to look at the
library from the patron's perspective. While you familiarize yourself with your institution's policies,
procedures, services, and collections, try to see them as a patron would. If you have suggestions, share
them. Be careful: ask if there's a reason why things are done the way they are, so you don't step on toes.
Write Everything Down
You'll be learning a lot in your first year on the job. You’ll learn about your institution, as well as what it
means to be a librarian. As you go through your day there may be all sorts of questions you can’t ask the
moment they occur to you. Carry a notebook at all times and write down your questions so you can ask
them when you have an opportunity.
Learn To Love Meetings
Librarians LOVE meetings. You'll find there are meetings and committees for everything. You'll start to
spend a lot of time in meetings. If your day includes many hours on the desk and several meetings too,
trying to get the rest of your job done may be a challenge. If you find that your calendar has filled up and
you have trouble finishing projects, try blocking out time on your calendar in advance. Use that time to
tackle those items you can’t find time to finish.
Every Institution Has Its Own Rules and Policies
No matter how much or how little library experience you have when you start a new position, take the
time to learn the lay of the land. Get to know all the departments and areas of your library. No matter what
part of the library you work in, you'll be better informed, better able to serve your patrons, and will earn the
respect of those you work with. Everyone on the panel had something to say about how important it is to
know how your library works. The more you know, the more you can accomplish.
Be Prepared For Change
Learn to love change and surprises. In their first year on the job the six participants had gone through a
system migration, a new website, a change in building, three new supervisors, and even an attempted
prison break. The technology libraries work with changes with amazing frequency, and those changes
will affect your job. Changes in the staff you work with, the location you work in, and the procedures you
follow are bound to happen too. Learn to anticipate and embrace these new opportunities.
Get a Mentor
One of the panelists reported that the best things she did in her first year was to sign up for the
mentoring program at her institution. Her mentor could give feedback off the record, and was a wonderful
outlet for questions and concerns. Many libraries have mentoring programs; if yours doesn't, try checking
with ALA, SLA, or your state library association. Yet another option is to find your own informal mentor,
either at your library or another. One of the great things about librarianship is that so many people are
willing to share their experiences with you!
Be Prepared To Be Taken By Surprise
Each of the new librarians on the panel had learned one or two surprising things about doing his or her
job. The prison librarian, for example, found that she had to update a censored list of books her patrons
(the prisoners) were allowed to request through interlibrary loan. The two academic librarians on the
panel found that faculty members were not always thrilled with the idea of working with a librarian, or
even returning their calls. Be prepared for surprises no matter what your first position is.
Other Duties As Assigned
You'll find that, as a profession, we are multitaskers who are expected to start off running. Every member
of the panel had stories to tell about assignments that weren't part of their original job descriptions. One
new librarian with no supervisory experience found herself in charge of hiring, firing, training, scheduling,
and generally keeping order among the library's teenage pages—a trial by fire! Another new librarian
took on library PR and found herself planning, coordinating, and launching an advertising and
promotional campaign within her first six months on the job. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself with a
little something extra to do.
You Didn't Finish Learning In School
One thing each of the panelists stressed is that ours is a learning profession. Change will come at the
individual, institutional, and profession-wide level all the time. Take advantage of opportunities for
professional growth: sign up for some Listservs, attend conferences, and keep up with what literature
you can. It will benefit both you and your library significantly. Enjoy being a librarian—a profession where
you are lucky enough to learn something new every day!
About the Author:
Emily Barton is a Reference Librarian and Science Bibliographer with Michigan State University
Libraries. She received her master’s from the University of Michigan's School of Information in 2004. She
has a BS from Cornell University.
Article published Nov 2006
Disclaimer: The ideas expressed in LIScareer articles are those of their respective authors and do not
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