Thursday, February 22, 2007


Making Our Careers Happen

Meredith Farkas has a great post on Making things happen!, talking about Five Weeks to a Social Library and other projects.

The NEWLIB-L list also had a little flurry of discussion recently about library internships, and a couple of people mentioned their success in simply approaching libraries at which they were interested in interning. (This, of course, often works better at smaller, less bureaucratic institutions -- and when a prospective intern has a very specific picture of what they can offer an organization, what projects they could work on, and what they want to accomplish.)

This is a profession in which we do have the power to make things happen -- and in which we need to take charge of our own careers and our own development from the very beginning. Too many of us wait for our libraries to send us to conferences, to give us the skills and knowledge we need to advance, when in many cases we're lucky if our libraries are proactive enough to even give us the skills and knowledge we need for our current jobs. We can't sit back and assume that good things will happen and that our career paths will plot themselves out in a nice linear fashion for us.

G. Kim Dority writes about this in Rethinking Information Work, which is a good read for both new professionals and mid-career librarians figuring out what to do next. But, as a starting point, we need to take some of the energy we devote to promoting our institutions and devote it to promoting ourselves. Play the "where do you see yourself in five years" interview game -- but this time, answer honestly, since you're talking to yourself. Make a mental picture, whether you see yourself in management, whether you see yourself publishing a book, whether you see yourself moving to a different field.

Now, what do you need to get there? What steps can you take? What classes do you need to attend? How many article proposals do you need to send out this year? What blogs should you read? What conferences do you want to attend? Can you find grants or travel reimbursement to apply for? Do you have online/free options? Do you need to build up funds to tide you over while you strike out on your own? Figure out what you need to do, and break it into logical steps. Keep your eye out for opportunities that can help you reach your goals -- look for calls for contributors, find announcements of online courses, be alert for posts or discussions with others who have similar goals.

Being proactive is rewarding both personally and professionally, so think about how you can move forward. You don't have to create an online course, you don't have to create a blog, you don't have to find yourself an internship -- but it will pay off if you take the time to think about what step is right for you to take next.

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For me, part of the problem is figuring out what else there is left to do. It seems like every new and amazing idea in our profession has either been done (often more than once) or is being worked on by those people lucky enough to have gotten in early. There are also the combined issues of not having enough sets of letters next to my name, and, professionally speaking, being too young. In other words, this stage of my career is very difficult because no one has a compelling reason to take me seriously. This is the kind of thing that can affect one's motivation. How can I make something happen if I can't be seen?

My employer has generously supported me attending conferences and whatnot (with me being the one asking to go, not my employer asking me to go), but even if I come up with the most revolutionary idea to hit librarianship, I barely have an outlet in my own professional life (can I call it that without having the proper letters next to my name?) in which I can exercise any ideas. I came to the conclusion that at this stage (pre-MLS and pre-[insert other graduate degrees]), all of my professional growth in librarianship has to come outside of the workplace. I want to go out and do everything I can professionally (including getting that piece of paper that magically transforms me into a librarian). Very long story short, I have already re-formulated my career plan, removing it from a total disaster course. Everything I have done since then has been personally rewarding. However, I've hit a glass wall.
Julian - That's one of the reasons that I talked about steps -- for you, your bigger goal might be getting that set of letters next to your name, along with what you can do while you earn them to make sure you come out eminently employable/desirable. You don't have to create the next Five Weeks to a Social Library, but can you write an article for, say, my newsletter? Join the ALA/NMRT roundtable and jump on a committee? Start a blog? Find a mentor? Since your employer pays for you to go to conferences, submit a proposal or poster session next time, or put together several other people and propose a panel. Feel you're too young and too new? Find other young pre-MLS folks and propose a panel at your local association's conference on generational differences, or choosing a library school, or finding scholarships, or formulating a career path. Use what you know and where you are to your advantage.

There's no one path, here -- everything you do professionally counts, gives people another reason to take you seriously, and builds toward an ability to tackle "new and amazing ideas." Meredith didn't just randomly start Five Weeks, she started a blog and wrote a lot of long and thoughtful posts that helped build her network and reputation and connections with people with whom to knock around ideas. Everything's a process.
Also, we never know what things will lead to. I started (at a heinous-long URL) in 1996 as a list of links to about 12 library job sites, and initially created it for a class. It's grown. Start small and think both about what will help you professionally and what could help your fellow professionals.
Unfortunately, doing professional advancement *outside* the workplace can wreak havoc on one's work-life balance. I'm employed in a run-o-the-mill part time library position in which absolutely nothing cutting edge, novel, or innovative has happened or will ever happen. So I volunteer for association committees, I write, I take CE, and participate in small research projects. But most of these activities take place on my own time and my own dollar, and I'm starting to resent them. Not because I don't enjoy them, but because my hubby and kiddo are getting frustrated with the fact that I'm working when I'm not "at work."

I don't know what the solution is. I wish I did. But it's definitely something that gives me cause for concern as my family commitments continue to grow.
Marcy - absolutely -- and I've written about balance here before (and still don't have the answer!). But there's plenty of room between doing so much that you neglect your family or other responsibilities, and doing nothing outside your day-to-day job -- we have to find where that balance is for ourselves and prioritize our projects.
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