Career Strategies for Librarians
Your First Year on the Job: Five Tips to Help New Librarians
by Cassandra E. Osterloh
As I sit here thinking about the past year, I wonder how it can only have been one year since I began my
professional library career. It seems so much longer, what with all the meetings, classes, deadlines,
meetings, conferences, and did I mention meetings? Don't get me wrong; it's been lots of fun, but how
exactly did I survive this first year? I thought I might share with you a few things I learned. Here are five
tips that might just let you keep your sanity through that first year (and perhaps beyond).
Know Your Surroundings: One of the most important things to do in the first few months is to become
familiar with your surroundings. This includes knowing your library and its physical attributes, the
organization, and your job. It seems obvious to learn about your library and its collections as well as your
institution, but it is important. I found it very helpful to walk around my campus and get a feel for the
students and the buildings. Now when I am asked where a building is, I feel better answering their
question than when I just used the map (and really had no idea myself). I also felt more comfortable
directing patrons to our other libraries since I had been there myself and could picture them in my head.
Also, I felt more comfortable working at the reference desk after I had spent some time "playing" in the
reference stacks and exploring the library's web pages and databases.
It’s also a good idea to know the organizational structure and culture of your library, and, if applicable, the
institution of which your library is a part. Knowing whom to go to – and whom not to go to -- with
questions, comments, and/or suggestions is essential. You don't want to receive wrong information, just
as you don't want your great ideas going nowhere because you talked to the wrong person. I also found
knowing the organizational structure of my library helpful when discussing delicate matters with a
colleague. It helps, too, to sit back and listen and watch. I learned a lot about my library and its culture by
doing this during meetings and group discussions.
Learning your job (and doing it well) is probably the most important thing you will do during your first year
(or anytime). Know what's expected of you and what flexibility you might have. Knowing what’s expected
and working hard to meet those expectations is probably more important than anything else you do.
Keep Talking & Listening: Keep those lines of communication as open as possible. This includes both
talking (the easy part) and listening (often the most difficult). Keeping those lines of communication
open may completely depend on you. For example, in my position, my supervisor gives me a lot of
freedom and does not require me to report to him frequently. This is both good and bad. So I make it a
point to set up meetings with him once a month to make sure I'm on the right track and to make sure
he's aware of all the projects and tasks I am working on.
It is also good practice to be as open as possible with your colleagues, support staff, and
administrators. I've learned that if I am friendly and honest with as many people as possible, it will
definitely pay off in the long run.
Talking with fellow library professionals is also important. It always helps to know what other libraries
are doing or what innovative programs are going on that you might get involved with. Introduce yourself.
You don't know who might be looking for a go-getter like yourself to help write something, to be involved
on some great committee, or to team up with on some other project. While at the ACRL Conference in
Charlotte, I started seeing names I recognized (oh, I read a paper by her in library school, or oh, he's the
one that wrote that book). I decided this was no time to be shy and went up and introduced myself. I
started networking, and discovered it was fun as well as beneficial.
Join & Volunteer: Be involved. Join or volunteer for committees and working groups at your library and/or
institution. Join your state's library association and volunteer for committee work there. If you're not a
member already, join ALA and one of its divisions and/or round tables. Check out http://www.ala.
org/Template.cfm?Section=Our_Association for lists of all the divisions and round tables. The New
Members Round Table (NMRT) is great for new librarians. They have opportunities such as a mentoring
program and a great electronic discussion list (you will often receive information on job announcements,
available scholarships, and volunteer opportunities). If you are able to attend both the mid-winter and
annual ALA conferences, volunteer for committee work on the national level, as well. These committees
often have an intern position. Make sure you let the association know that you are willing to serve as an
intern. This will help get you on to a committee for a year and might even earn you a membership on that
committee for one term after your internship.
Read, Write, & Play: As you well know, ours is a profession of constant change. It is so important to keep
up with the change. When you join one (or more) of the various associations out there, you will receive
their publications. This is a great place to keep up with what's going on in the library world. I also check
the table of contents of a few favorite library journals every few months to see what's going on and who's
written what. Another way I keep up with change and news is by joining various discussion lists. Many of
the associations, round tables, societies, etc. have lists. This is a great place for up-to-the-minute news
(and a great place to get help from others in the field). Attend conferences, workshops, in-service
trainings, vendor trainings or any other avenue to learn more. I even took a few classes through the
university's continuing education division in order to improve some of my computer skills.
You may have to publish for your job, or you may have lots of great things to say and want the world to
hear them. How do you get started? There are all kinds of publishing opportunities out there. First,
volunteer to do something like book or Internet reviews. I volunteered to do book reviews for Choice. In
response to a call on a discussion list, I volunteered to write a review for a conference session I
attended. Check with your state library association to see if their newsletter needs articles. Remember,
when submitting articles to journals, check the submission guidelines. You don't want to waste too
much time putting something into one format when the journal to which you're submitting prefers
another format (I've done that, and believe me, you don't want to be pulling your hair out over that one).
For more ideas and help on writing, read Walt Crawford's new book, First Have Something to Say
(Chicago: American Library Association, 2003). It has loads of insight and tips for the beginning
Play. Have fun with what you're doing. Don't take things too seriously. Try not to take negative comments
personally. You might not know the background of a situation, and something you might take as a
personal affront might actually be an old grudge someone is holding against someone or something
else, and you just happen to be the new person on whom they can take it out. Work should be fun. Try
not to get too overwhelmed by everything and enjoy your work.
Market Yourself: It is always beneficial to keep an up-to-date resume. You may not be looking for another
job, but this is one way to keep track of everything you've accomplished. Another way to keep track of
accomplishments might be to keep a professional work journal. If you enjoy journaling, this is a great
way to track projects, progress, accomplishments, and anything else important in your every day work
life. Personally, I keep a sort of resume/work journal online. I created a professional web page and keep
a lot of information there. I don't add personal things (like photos of my adorable daughter) so that I can
use this page to market what I've done, what I'm doing, and what I can do. I also keep a teaching
portfolio. (A teaching portfolio is a selective compilation of materials that represents one’s teaching
strengths, accomplishments, improvements, and performance.) These portfolios do not have to be
limited to teaching and could be compiled for any aspect of librarianship.
You've finished your masters program, and now the real fun begins. Relax and enjoy. This is a great field
with so many possibilities. Don't worry; you'll make it -- even if your schedule says otherwise!
About the Author
Cassandra Osterloh just completed her first year as an Instruction and Reference Librarian at the
University of New Mexico. She and her family moved cross-country after she received her MLS from the
University of Maryland in 2002.
Article submitted July 2003
Disclaimer: The ideas expressed in LIScareer articles are those of their respective authors and do not
necessarily represent the views of the LIScareer editors.