Career Strategies for Librarians
There are No Facts, Only Interpretations
by Jill Emery
(an excerpt from Jump Start Your Career in Library & Information Science by Priscilla Shontz)
There is no typical day in the library anymore. There has not been a typical day in a library since the first
major computer network switches were thrown on. By 1990, all the typical days had disappeared into the
recesses of the dusty corners of the shambles of the shelf lists. The writing is no longer within the walls
but projected out from them and librarians can’t or don’t look back.
So, what does that mean to you, a newly minted professional, standing at the cusp of this newly rising
day? Your inheritance is a profession in crisis, littered with more minefields than Bosnia. There are the
tenure issues, the .com competition, and the slow bleeding off of decent benefits packages. There are
no specific answers; your work-life will be more subjective and tentative. Your days will evolve into
fending off one crisis or another, you’ll move from one team project to another, you’ll be on more
committees than you thought possible. You have two paths to choose from - you can see this career as
a funhouse or else, as a house of horrors. Either way, the future is tricky and the following advice is a
condensed vision of many voices that have guided me to this point in my library career.
1. Become a Listener: Learn the fine art of listening to others, all others not just patrons. You can learn
invaluable amounts of information from various people both within and without the library community.
Listen to what people say when they find out you’re a librarian, listen to what they praise, what they
deride. Listen closely to faculty, community leaders, teachers, and learn from them. Listen to bookstore
clerks and to your government officials, listen to the world around you and you will become a better
librarian. Become a sounding board for people. Let them come to you when they are troubled, frustrated,
confused and listen. Use what you learn from these sessions to better serve your library, career, your
2. Accept Change: It is the constancy of the life we now live. Things move from one format to another. You
must move from one job to another to advance to the next professional level, and most often this
movement will NOT occur in the same institution/library/city in which you currently dwell. Be willing to
change and show your supervisors you are capable of initiating change. Change your screen saver and
your PC wallpaper weekly. Change your hair color quarterly.
3. Look for a Job with Autonomy: The worst possible scenario you can find yourself in is having a
domineering and overbearing boss. When searching for a job, look for one that allows you to make
decisions, allows you to voice an opinion, and allows you to work both in teams and separate from them.
However, for your first job, try to find a position that provides you with at least one strong role model. Seek
out jobs at places where you know and respect your colleagues.
4. Hide Your Insecurity: Librarians, as a profession, are insecure and unfortunately, most of us show it
too often. Work daily, hourly, to overcome your fears and insecurities. This is an insecure time, a new
millennium, frenetic technological change, evolving workplace paradigms. It is normal to be frightened
by the complex social upheaval that is occurring, but do not project this fear. Find ways to handle the
pressures of today’s world and do not cause frequent scenes at work. It is, after all, only a job.
5. Never Take Anything Personally: This is a job. Your work is to be critiqued. Sometimes people will not
like the job you do. Learn from the situation and move on. Do not allow anyone to make remarks about
you personally. If you are criticized personally, ask the person what they mean by their remarks or by their
6. Learn to Project Slogans but Don’t Adopt Any: Everybody has a slogan these days. It’s the way of the
web. Learn to use slogans adroitly but also learn not to adopt any one slogan outright. Mix and muddle
your metaphors during presentations, in papers and in normal contexts of conversation. Do not allow
yourself to be linked to any one concept or philosophy.
7. Avoid Labels: Do not let anyone label you. If you must wear a nametag at work, change the label on it
weekly. Do not allow yourself to be pinned down in any way because you’ll be seen only in that one way
for the rest of your tenure in that job. Worse yet, is to be labeled in professional arenas. Do not gain a
reputation. Speak in public forums but change your message from one meeting to the next. Always ask
questions but never, ever, make statements.
8. Learn to Schmooze and Booze: This is a highly social profession. There are numerous social
activities that come with your job, so learn how to act at functions. Compliment people sincerely and
never gossip. Drinking is not a necessity, but if you do drink, do not overdo it. Know your limits and do not
exceed them at conferences. If you do over-indulge, remove yourself promptly from the party or gathering.
9. Maintain a Sense of Humor: This is of utmost importance. If you cannot laugh at the situation you are
in, then you’ve chosen the wrong profession. Academia is by and large a product of bureaucracy and as
such an entity, you will find yourself doing the same thing over and over and over and over again in
slightly different ways to appease people in slightly different jobs. Send out a joke once a week to your
colleagues. Always bear in mind who can take a joke and who cannot. Humor can backfire if used
inappropriately or in the wrong context.
10. Don’t be Afraid to Walk Away: This profession is not for everyone. To be a librarian, you have to be
capable of retaining and regurgitating vast amounts of information from various resources. You have to
have the intelligence to connect facts and/or situations together into an over-arching worldview. You have
to anticipate where and when the next push technology will come from and what impact it will have on
your library, your institution, and your life. Learn what your boundaries are as a person and when you’ve
had enough. The skills you learn in this profession are highly marketable and can be represented in a
myriad of ways. Do not be afraid to get frustrated enough to quit.
About the Author:
Jill Emery is Director of the Electronic Resources Program at the University of Houston.
Article submitted Mar 2002
Disclaimer: The ideas expressed in LIScareer articles are those of their respective authors and do not
necessarily represent the views of the LIScareer editors.