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Career Strategies for Librarians
Embracing Librarianship: A New Librarian Reflects on Organizational Characteristics that Motivate
the Transition from Library Associate to Professional Librarian
by Cassandra L. Jackson

We have all heard the news regarding employment trends as they relate to professional librarians. The
librarian profession is facing a shortage.  According to the latest edition of the Occupational Outlook
Handbook, library managers will be in great demand over the next several years due to retirement and a
reduction in MLS graduates.  Library systems will be faced with recruiting new talent capable of leading
their organizations into the future. Where will library administrators find new talent?   

How can managers motivate library associates, their existing talent pool, to make the transition from
library associate to professional librarian?  For some library associates, librarianship is not their chosen
career path. Many librarians stumble into the profession while pursuing other career goals.  The book In
Our Own Voices: The Changing Faces of Librarianship contains several narratives attesting to this fact.

When I initially accepted a position as a library associate at a public library branch in Texas, I was
looking for a job, not a career.  I never considered librarianship as my ultimate career choice.  In fact, I
was shocked to find out the MLS was required in order to become a librarian.  The longer I worked as a
library associate, the more intrigued I became with my job. I began making the connection between the
career I intended to pursue and my position as a library associate.  As a sociology major in college, I
aspired to work for a nonprofit organization.  I desired to work at an agency that addressed literacy or
provided programming for at-risk teens.  As a library associate working in community branches, I was
able to assist patrons and collaborate with organizations on both these issues as well as many others.

The most valuable aspect of my experiences working as a paraprofessional was being employed by a
library system that possessed exceptional organizational characteristics.  In all honesty, I did not realize
the uniqueness of this public library system until I finished my graduate degree program.  Library school
equipped me with the academic credentials necessary to thrive as a librarian; however, my employer
provided resources, services, and opportunities which continue to empower and motivate me to become
a leader within the profession.       

As a new librarian, I embrace the opportunity to move up the ranks and offer significant contributions to
librarianship, a profession I have grown to love.  I believe the following four organizational characteristics
of my former public library system were particularly instrumental in motivating my transition from library
associate to professional librarian.

Mentoring. One of the most priceless experiences I received as a library associate was working and
interacting with professional librarians, branch managers, and administrators who were highly
accomplished and talented. They always provided valuable insight and advice regarding the profession.  
In addition, the library system employed individuals from diverse states and countries, which provided a
tremendous opportunity to exchange cultural experiences and share different perspectives on
librarianship.
Significant Development Opportunities through Library Related Projects. I was NEVER limited only to
reference desk and circulation duties as a library associate. I was placed on the summer reading
committee. I participated in collection development activities by suggesting and securing materials for
the African-American special collection, one of my favorite areas. In addition, I represented the library on
at least two collaborative projects with community agencies. Through these tasks, I was able to develop
skills and experiences uniquely significant to the librarian profession.
Full Access to Branch Managers and Considerable Opportunities to Interact with Administrators. During
orientation, one of the library administrators told all newcomers to contact him with any concerns while
employed with the library system. Despite all of the responsibilities connected to his position, he was
ALWAYS available to employees. All administrators and branch managers were fully accessible. This
positive and extremely productive interaction with my managers and administrators highly influenced
how I would like to approach the role of manager in the future.  
Constant Encouragement and Support to Pursue the MLS and Relevant Training Opportunities. In
addition to library system educational benefits, branch managers and administrators frequently informed
library associates about outside scholarships and grants.  Many of the textbooks for MLS courses were
available in the collection.  Library associates were encouraged to enroll in computer courses (Word,
Excel, and PowerPoint) offered by the library.  These courses allowed associates to become more
effective on the job and better prepared for library school. Some library schools require students to have
numerous computer competencies before enrolling in classes.  Special training opportunities such as
young adult programming and introductory Spanish classes were also offered to employees.   Because
many employees were enrolled in MLS courses at the same time, support was always available. The
library system consistently raised the bar and encouraged staff to reach new heights.  
Clearly, personal criteria and expectations determine how much one is motivated to pursue career
development opportunities.  While libraries may offer an enormous amount of support, encouragement,
and professional resources to employees, the significance of these motivating organizational
characteristics tends to vary from individual to individual. The organizational characteristics I value may
be insignificant to someone else.  I benefited from working in a library system committed to developing
and nurturing librarians internally. I was inspired to write this article because I truly believe effective
leadership, combined with support and solid motivational tools, will encourage others to make the
transition to the amazing world of professional librarianship!

About the Author:

Cassandra Jackson received her MLS from Texas Woman’s University in 2003.  She is a Learning
Resource Center Specialist at Strayer University-Thousand Oaks in Memphis, Tennessee. Previously,
she worked for the Dallas Public Library system as a library associate.

Article published October 2004

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