Career Strategies for Librarians
Growing Your Talent Tree: Practical Tips for New Professionals
by Veronica L. C. Stevenson-Moudamane
Remaining professionally developed is an ongoing challenge for both new and seasoned library
professionals in today’s environment of continual change. With each new resource acquired or service
offered, library staff are perceived by their customers as the information professionals and the resource
to turn to for assistance. Staff are expected to have knowledge of and proficiency with all the library’s
services and available resources. However, as a new professional, you’ve probably already noticed that
a great deal is and will be required of you, yet the support systems may be wanting. You’ve no doubt
asked yourself, “How will I ever achieve it all?”
Simply stated, “growing your talent tree” is a combined lesson in patience, dedication, perseverance,
and commitment to the profession, to the specific mission of your workplace, and to yourself. In spite of
the hurdles that many new professionals face, you can develop professionally by being willing to
promote yourself as a recognized expert in your discipline, by doing community outreach, by being
innovative, by thinking outside the box, and by being willing to educate your community and your
colleagues on that which you do best.
So how do you begin growing your talent tree? The six practical suggestions outlined below are key
areas in which to focus your attention.
1. Be willing to commit to learning and building needed skills.
As a new professional, you’re able to look at your new workplace from a fresh perspective. You’ll be able
to see areas that may have never been addressed, are being addressed with mediocrity, or have been
dropped due to lack of interest from colleagues or the community. These weaknesses just might be
areas at which you could excel if you obtain the necessary skills. Your first course of action is to submit
a proposal to your supervisor for approval and financial funding to attend classes or workshops to help
you gain these skills. However, if these areas are outside your discipline, you might not get approved.
That’s OK; this simply means that if you want to obtain these skills, you may need to take classes or
participate in workshops beyond the workday or on your days off. Does this mean that you’ll need to
actually put some of your own money and time into your professional development? Yes, it does!
However, it also means that you’re in control of your own professional development. Although learning
something new and different might be outside your daily responsibilities, your efforts will show your
determination and your willingness to develop professionally, including by expanding your educational
Sassy Librarian Tip: Another common practice in libraries is that you may be required to work a few
hours per week in another department. Although this area may not be your specialty, try to become as
proficient with that department’s activities as you can. While specialization is a great job enhancer, in
today’s “do more with less people” environment, being knowledgeable of other disciplines is a welcome
2. Serve on local and/or national committees.
Nothing develops one’s professional career faster than by joining local and/or national committees and
being willing to volunteer for projects. Committee work keeps you up-to-date with current developments
in your discipline and what other libraries are doing both locally and nationally. First, consult your
organization’s professional development policy to determine if your employer will pay your membership
dues to any professional organizations. If your library’s professional development policy does not
include payment of your membership dues, you will need to do this on your own dime. You may be able
to deduct the dues as professionally related expenses when you do your yearly taxes, so don’t let being
required to pay your own dues keep you from joining professional associations.
Sassy Librarian Tip: Simply stated, some work colleagues are just not generous in the sharing of
information and ideas department and can become very defensive of their intellectual property or the
tangible contributions they make to the organization. Unfortunate as it may be, some colleagues always
want to be the “stars” and delight in feeling that you are merely mediocre. If this is your situation, then
you’ll definitely want to join a local or national committee. Once you are an active participant on a couple
of well selected committees, you will be indebted to the bounty of knowledge that you will bring back to
your library, especially when it’s brainstorming time.
3. Join local or national listservs.
Joining local or national listservs (electronic discussion lists) that focus on your specific discipline or
those areas in which you desire further training is another great way to stay intellectually connected with
the greater world, especially if there are obstacles preventing you from joining committees or attending
meetings. Great work and ideas are often discussed on electronic discussion lists; listserv participants
may also ask for solutions to challenges that you may be experiencing at your library. To get started,
consult ALA’s website at www.ala.org or check with your state’s association for a list of active electronic
Sassy Librarian Tip: If using email for listserv activity is not high on the list of networking or professional
growth priorities at your institution, you can always subscribe using your personal email address. If you
don’t have a computer at home, you can set up a free email account with a service such as Yahoo! or
Hotmail using the computers at your local library.
4. Be a mentor.
As you grow professionally, be willing to serve as a mentor to someone who is relatively new to
librarianship. As you assist your mentee in navigating the highs and lows of the profession, you develop
invaluable leadership, counseling and management skills, and you will also begin to see the profession
from a whole new perspective. The mentor/mentee relationship can serve as a “booster shot” and is a
wonderful opportunity to refresh your attitude and approach towards the profession.
Sassy Librarian Tip: Mentoring is a developmentally wonderful process in itself. If you’re not able to find
a newly minted professional with whom you can work, consider volunteering to work with or tutor
youngsters that attend your local youth center. The relationships you build are often positive and
rewarding in themselves, and they also provide another excellent way to fine-tune your valuable
5. Get published.
Get your thoughts on paper! The topics you could write about are limitless. For example, if you’ve
discovered inequalities in service to specific segments of the population or have some great ideas for
righting some of the “wrongs,” write them down and submit your manuscript to the appropriate
publishers for possible publication. Perhaps you’re doing something at your organization that deserves
national attention or can serve as a model for other libraries to emulate. This could serve as an
excellent starting point for a great article!
If you don’t feel you’re quite up to a full-fledged peer reviewed article or book chapter, try your luck with the
growing number of online newsletters that are being published by library professionals for library
professionals. If you’re concerned about your writing style, ask a colleague or perhaps your mentor to
review your piece for grammatical and logical problems prior to submitting it. If the subject matter is
strong and timely, most editors will be glad to assist you. The key is to get your ideas out there for your
fellow colleagues to read.
Sassy Librarian Tip: OK, getting started is not as easy as it sounds. If you’ve got the drive but are having
difficulties in the procrastination department, look for a colleague or two who might be interested in co-
authorship. With two or more on the team, you’ll be more inclined to shoulder your share of the work and
meet assigned deadlines. Having colleagues as co-authors also provides you with a professional
sounding board within a “safe” environment.
6. Attend local and national meetings—Network.
Attending a state or national conference is a great way to meet other people in the profession who are
doing what you’re doing or who have done what you want to do. Networking plays a crucial function in
professional development as it is through meeting and talking with others that you will often discover
resources or solutions to issues you are facing, including marvelous ideas which you can implement at
your library. In other words, we learn, we share, we practice and we grow!
Sassy Librarian Tip: Simply put, all organizations are not equal. What one may do for its new hires may
not be what is practiced at another organization. Some organizations strongly support all their
employees in attending local and national conferences, while others may recommend that only their
senior level staff attend. Should the latter be the case at your organization, you may wish to consider
attending the conference on your own time. Local and national conferences offer so many educational,
cultural and networking opportunities for their attendees that you just might feel that you’re truly on
About the Author:
Veronica L.C. Stevenson-Moudamane is the Junior Services Librarian for the City of Danbury in
Connecticut. Ms. Stevenson-Moudamane has worked as a library professional since the age of 22. With
fifteen years under her belt, her Sassy Librarian Tips are tried and true experiences. She is an active
member of many national and regional associations and committees.
Article published Sept 2005
Disclaimer: The ideas expressed in LIScareer articles are those of their respective authors and do not
necessarily represent the views of the LIScareer editors.