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Career Strategies for Librarians
Putting the You First: Learning How to Be Yourself as a New Librarian
by Toccara D. Porter

Be yourself. That is a powerful statement. That is a cliché. That is a motto. It is also something that new
librarians should come to embrace on a daily basis.

Many of you remember the story of Disney’s beloved misfit Pinocchio, a puppet who dreamed of
becoming a human boy rather than one made of wood. The line “I want to be a real boy” is a classic in
cartoon lore. Just as Pinocchio was confronted with a catch in his quest of becoming a human boy in
having to perform a great deed, we as new librarians can easily feel as if we are in the same boat.

Taking the “New” Out of “New Librarian”

New librarians sometimes grapple with the question, how can I become a real librarian? Feeding into
that perception are external and internal pressures such as our colleagues’ opinions of us and our own
internal pressure boxes that compel us to further validate our status. But, largely, as recent graduates we
ask ourselves this question because of our lack of experience in the library world. New librarians are
unproven and untested. For this reason, the need -- subconscious or not -- to be considered as equals
to veteran colleagues can develop; as new librarians we want to be seen for the contributions we make
rather than for the newness we represent, and wonder what we need to do to make that happen.   

Will getting your manuscript accepted for publication be a legitimate indicator of your credibility? Does
your activity within professional organizations help you meet that benchmark? Can that new idea you
implemented effectively in the library put you over the top?

Now that you have done these things, do you finally qualify as a “real librarian?” Further, will it put an end
to the dreaded phrase: But, [insert your name here] is a new librarian.

Perhaps. But then again, maybe not.

Look Within Yourself

An important step in your development as a new professional is taking the time to reflect on what being a
librarian means to you. In the field of librarianship you will observe and associate with colleagues whose
careers have been marked with the highest levels of success in terms of leadership, experience, tenure,
publication, and reverence from peers. That can become the driving force in an outward search for
answers, rather than an inward search. For example, in thinking about the question “How can I become
a real librarian?” the phrasing is in the first person but the answer is often in the third person. In other
words, it is not uncommon to use another’s career as an example, but it is also necessary for you to
examine your goals, your interests, and your purpose as a librarian. Even if in the end the goal is to attain
similar feats, consider that you can do these things by being yourself. As a new librarian look inward to
discover your true self and decide on a course of action.

On Being Yourself

To succeed as a librarian -- and as a person -- it is essential to be yourself. Not only will it help you
become comfortable and effective in your role as a librarian, but it will let you help others as well. Your
skills, style of leadership, and the example you set can serve to support the needs of others who were
waiting for someone like you to step out as an individual.

For many of us, that will not happen overnight. It takes time to grow, and to learn how to confront your
fears and take the initiative to speak up and actively contribute in ways that use your strengths to better
the library. It takes time to endure failure. On those days when things go wrong and you question your
ability, learn how to pick yourself up and continue forward fearlessly with success in mind.

Being a new librarian is a great experience! New librarians have fresh voices and a unique, individual
style of our own in the way we dress, talk, and approach our work. We represent diversity, the future,
enthusiasm, positive change, and an eagerness to learn. New librarians should embrace these things
as individuals and as groups.

Remember, just as Pinocchio discovered in the end, you have all the inner qualities to take you where
you need to go—you just have to be yourself.

Here are some tips for new librarians:

1) Believe in yourself. This is the first step to success. Know that you have the ability to teach a class,
lead a discussion, train others, or simply offer your opinion in a group setting. When you believe in
yourself every day there is no limit to the great things you can accomplish.

2) Be realistic about the things you are not yet ready to take on. One reason I initially found it hard to say
no when asked to participate in projects at work was that I did not have a solid grasp on what I wanted to
do. I joined to prevent others from thinking I was not a team player. As a result, I wasn’t able to contribute
actively. Take time to reflect on your interests and strengths in order to find direction in those areas
where you are motivated and can readily contribute. Also, do not feel obligated to say yes to every
opportunity immediately. Obtain more background information about the work involved, your
responsibilities, and how much time will be required. Consider all of your options in order to be
comfortable with making the decision that is best for you.

3) Have fun. There are so many great things about working in a library. Too often, though, we get bogged
down by the pressures of work and forget how to lighten up. Whether you decorate your office, bring
candy, go to lunch with colleagues, or just take time throughout the day to smile or laugh at life, have fun!

About the Author

Toccara D. Porter is the Diversity Resident Librarian at the University of Louisville in Louisville, Kentucky.

Article published  November 2010

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represent the views of the LIScareer editors.