Librarian Advice: 15 years in…

This month marks my 15th anniversary as a librarian. I started my first post-MLS job in February 2003. It has gone by so fast. I don’t feel “mid-career” but I guess it’s official now! Wait…does that mean I can retire in another 15 years? Answer: No, I will only be 54 years old then!

So in honor of those 15 years, here are 15 bits of wisdom or advice. Got your own story or advice to share? Feel free to comment below.

1. I’m still here–with help from my friends
Hey, how did I make it here? With a little bit of luck and wisdom from some great library folks I worked with: There’s Carol, my very first supervisor way back when I was a student worker. I didn’t realize I wanted to be a librarian but I slowly saw the rewarding work that Carol did. Then there was Karin, a library director and “old school” librarian who just knew how to make everything work–she could problem-solve anything. Then there was Paula–the queen of library marketing and outreach who was always thinking two steps ahead of everyone else. And Susan: who demonstrated the deep connections librarians can make to their communities. I learned from all of them!

2. I enjoy my job, but I don’t love it
Yep, I said it. For me, love is for family and friends. Don’t get me wrong: I like my job! It’s always been nice to have a job where you don’t dread going into work every day. I have many a friend who cannot say that. But I don’t live for my job. It fits squarely into my Type B personality. I also have a policy of not doing work at home (although I may glance at an email or two from time to time).

3. Work/Life balance
And that brings me to my next point: The work/life balance. About 4 years into being a librarian I was encouraged to apply for an additional part-time position at my organization. Money was tight at the time, so it seemed like it would be a good option for extra income–and it was. The downside? I was clocking 60 hours per week. I ended up getting burnt out–not just of the extra job–but of the whole organization–and sought employment elsewhere. Learn how to juggle multiple demands and speak up when “enough is enough.” Libraries can often be exploitative of labor.

4. Do I have a career or a job?
Related to #1 and #2, I waffle on whether I have a career or just a job. Being a librarian is my first and only career–so I guess it’s a career then, right? I’ve moved around libraries a lot as a trailing spouse/partner, so for me, looking for a job in the right location has always been more important than some sort of career trajectory. I’ve also been a front-line librarian the entire time. It wasn’t until about 4 years ago that I became a “middle manager” with supervisory responsibilities. I hate the “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” question–so mostly I consider myself having a “job.” I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

5. People think you’re cool!
I know a lot of librarians get the typical “oh, you must like to read” response when you tell them you are a librarian. But just as often, I get people who think being a librarian is cool–or even more. A few months ago, while on a cruise ship, I was making chit-chat with a woman and when I told her what I did, she responded in all earnestness: “I consider librarians vital to our democracy! You’re on the front lines of the information war.” Agreed!

6. Opportunities for New Librarians
I was extremely grateful to get my first librarian job. But there was a problem: I was bored. For the first six months it seemed like my only “task” was a two hour daily shift at a reference desk. THERE. WAS. NOTHING. ELSE. TO. DO. I stared at my office computer and surfed the web. And it wasn’t like I could drum up my own projects due to being micro-managed. Supervisors: When you hire a new person make sure they have work to do. I know you don’t want to overwhelm them, but trust them with projects. They will do a good a job!

7. Say Yes to New Things
When opportunity knocks, open the door! Get out of your comfort zone. A lot of my growth as a librarian involved taking on new things like coordinating info lit programming, teaching for-credit classes, or implementing 3D printing. Sometimes things are just a fluke: An invitation to do an info lit session for a cultural immersion course led to a trip to Italy with the group! One thing I enjoy as a librarian is that I’m always learning. And new things look good on the ol’ resume, too!

8. Trust Your Instincts
The old adage: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Trust your judgment on people and workplace situations. I was burned once on a job that turned out to be a disaster. I was excited to take it, but there were some warning signs I overlooked (like why I only met my supervisor for a few brief minutes on an “all day” interview). Lesson learned!

9. Failure is a learning experience
You need to get over the belief that failure is a bad thing. Failure is a learning experience that can help you innovate. As a supervisor now, I’ve tried to get co-workers to see that experimentation and failure are OK in the workplace. We’re always in beta mode! So what if the outreach event you planned didn’t pan out? Or the info lit session was bad? Re-tool it and think about how you can make it successful the next time.

10. Impostor Syndrome never goes away
There are still days when I think I’m not qualified to do my job. Part of it is being in higher ed: As an academic librarian I’ve never really considered myself an “academic”–whatever that means. Sometimes I feel like I snuck in to academia. I was the first in my family to to go college and that experience still affects my outlook. At the end of the day, I just have to tell myself “I do belong” here and people know I do a good job.

11. Avoid Negative Co-workers
Easier said than done–especially if the negative person is your supervisor. My one social gift is using some good-natured humor to get around these things. Truth be told: I’m a reactive person–so if everyone around me is negative I will respond with negativity. I’ve had to train myself to step out of the situation. With negative co-workers, I just don’t engage with them. I can converse with them about library-related tasks, but beyond that, I just don’t care about them. Focus instead on keeping yourself in good mental health!

12. You’re an expert, too!
I like that librarians share their knowledge! It has made me such a better librarian. Just following other librarians on Twitter I’ve learned many new ideas, tips, and best practices. Share what you are doing! I’ve been serving on the conference planning committee for my state’s academic library association and have been so grateful to learn from my peers through various presentations and panels and have even presented my own a few times!

13. The “Unicorn Librarian” must die
The job market for librarians has been stagnant (or worse) since I graduated with my MLS in 2002. Libraries and hiring managers take advantage of this by posting what I call “unicorn librarian” positions. You’ve seen them: The job posting demands years of post-MLS experience, additional degrees beyond the MLS (hello, college debt!), multiple foreign languages, computer coding, and more. Instead, we should invest in the training and education of new librarians when hired. Hiring managers: Don’t write job postings just so you don’t have to sift through applications. Lots of talented librarians are qualified for these positions–cast a wider net and you will be pleasantly suprised.

14. Be kind
My default operating mode is set to “kindness.” Maybe empathy is a better word for what I’m trying to describe? I don’t want to make it sound like I’m forcing people to be kind. Other emotions, such as anger, can rightfully be used–especially in situations relating to inequality and justice. But for me, being kind is stepping into someone else’s experiences: Walk a mile in someone else’s shoes…that sort of thing. Note: Kindness should not be construed as being a pushover. Use “tough love” when you need to.

15. Have fun!
Most people flourish in jobs where they can be creative–at least that has always worked for me. So look for experiences that allow for joy, fun, and adventure. Doesn’t matter if you’re focusing on fun with your library users, staff, or your own personal interests–but make it a goal. “Fun” has lead to crazy things like the Lego Library and Librarian Twitter Bingo for me!


How Ranking Library Schools is Like Ranking the Socks in Your Drawer

U.S. News & World Report just released new rankings of graduate schools in library science. Isn’t ranking library schools sort of like ranking the socks in your drawer? It does not matter.

I hope that prospective MLS students don’t read the rankings and think, “Gee, I need to go to THAT library school!”

These rankings have repeatedly been called into question. The prime reason is the methodology:

The rankings are based solely on the results of a fall 2012 survey sent to the dean of each program, the program director, and a senior faculty member in each program.

And this:

The library and information studies specialty ratings are based solely on the nominations of program deans, program directors, and a senior faculty member at each program. They were asked to choose up to 10 programs noted for excellence in each specialty area. Those with the most votes are listed.

Not a good research methodology, is it?–something that I suspect any MLS student could tell you. The issue of college rankings (both undergraduate and graduate programs) and the data that is gathered has been scrutinized by higher ed periodicals and websites. Just take a look at:

So what should a prospective MLS student do? I’ve written about this before, but when it comes to library school, just pick the cheapest (in state vs. out of state) or most convenient (online vs. on-campus) option that’s available to you. The coursework provides the base and the theory, but it’s experience that will get you a job. If you’re just taking the classes, you’re doing it wrong.

I remember students in my program complaining that the MLS coursework wasn’t “academic” enough, but I think it’s important to remember that you are in a professional program. You are training for a career, not writing a dissertation. It’s up to you to turn the coursework into something worthwhile. Work as a paraprofessional or library assistant during library school. Do an internship, practicum, or volunteer. These experiences will help you land a job better than any course you take.

I’ve never looked at anyone’s résumé and thought, “Wow, they graduated from a top ranked library school! Let’s hire him/her.” So ignore the rankings. Focus on gaining some relevant experience instead.

Advice: Being a Librarian…10 Years On

As of today, I’ve logged 10 years as a librarian. I started my first professional library job as a reference librarian at Sam Houston State University in Texas in February 2003. A couple months prior, I was getting ready to graduate with my MLS from Indiana University in December 2002 when I managed to snag three librarian interviews in Texas, South Carolina, and New Mexico. I was geographically free to move anywhere, and in the post-9/11 economic slump, I was grateful for what I had. The Texas job matched my skills and interests and I took it! Since TX, I’ve logged time in IL, NH, and WI.

In the 10 years since I became a librarian, much has changed. I was actually taught command line searching in library school because it was thought that I might encounter it. Never did. We also put together a lot of paper bibliographies on various topics–but of course that’s what today’s Libguides do. An ebook was an annoying thing you *had* to read on your computer via the NetLibrary database – not a device you could take anywhere! A cell phone was not “smart” – just a device to take/make calls. Facebook and Twitter did not exist, which is funny since social media has evolved into a major component of my job.

I’ve enjoyed being a librarian. I don’t say I *love* it–that’s reserved for family, friends, and free-time. But it’s so nice to have a job where you *enjoy* coming into work (or at the very least, don’t *hate* it). A lot of people can’t say that. For me, being a librarian has always been about connecting people with information. This is what I like. It’s not the books. It’s not the technology. It’s People + Information.

So, for 10 years, here’s 10 quick bits of advice on being a librarian:

  1. You’re not going to please everybody
    Don’t try. Do your job. Do it well. Some people are not going to like you no matter what you do. Get over it.
  2. Say yes to new opportunities
    Don’t be afraid. Yes, it can be overwhelming, but ultimately worthwhile. If I hadn’t said “yes” I would have missed out on side opportunities like teaching some fun credit classes (“Podcasting 101”, “College Life Through Film”)  and the chance to work as an instructional technologist.   
  3. Attitude Matters
    Be positive. Sometimes just being “nice” works–but make sure it’s genuine. I guess a more formal term is “collegiality” – you need to do it, otherwise you’re in the wrong field.
  4. You don’t have to be the expert at everything
    We all have our strengths. It’s OK to ask someone else if YOU don’t know the answer. “But wait, we’re librarians…we’re supposed to know EVERYTHING.” No! But we know WHERE to find the answer.
  5. Don’t let anyone make you feel like you are not a professional
    You know what you’re doing. You have the skills. Speak up for yourself, because sometimes no one else will.
  6. The patron (customer) is not always right
    Many business ideas are applicable to libraries. But this one bugs me. The patron is NOT always right. Be clear, concise, courteous, and reasoned in disagreements. However, bad behavior from patrons should not be rewarded. See #5.
  7. You never stop learning
    I like reading blog posts and discussion postings from “newbie” librarians. But then I think: Hey, I feel like that too! Because libraryland changes so much, I still feel like a newbie. That’s what I love about being a librarian.
  8. Sometimes getting a job is just luck
    I know this bothers some people, but it just is. Maybe the preferred candidate turned down the job and you as the 2nd choice got it? Maybe you made an outstanding presentation when compared to other candidates? Maybe it was a Friday and the hiring committee was just ready to get the job offered to…someone. Unfortunately, some things are just beyond your control.
  9. Trust your instincts
    Does something not sound/look quite right? It probably is! Creepy patron, weird job interview, strange chat reference questions?…yep.
  10. Work/Life Balance
    Take your vacation time. Be passionate about something non-library related. Disconnect from email/voicemail in your free time. Give yourself a chance to re-charge, and return to the library feeling energized.

What advice would you give?

Things My Dad Taught Me

I haven’t blogged much this summer–my mind has been elsewhere…

My dad passed away back in May. He was 63. It was a brain tumor–the most aggressive kind, discovered last October. An operation followed and most of it was removed, however it reappeared rapidly again in the spring. This time, surgery was not an option. Instead of prolonging the inevitable, he dealt with it on his own terms. Dad had a slow and gradual decline and went peacefully in his sleep at his home.

I’ve been thinking about him a lot. In fact, it was on a Friday when I pulled into the library parking lot and got the phone call with the bad news. I had been planning on seeing him the very next day.

Usually I blog about library-related things here. I’m making an exception just this once. Although these items below are general in nature, I can see some applications for librarians…So here goes: Things my dad taught me, or lessons learned from him and his life:

  • Don’t waste time. If there’s something you want to do, then do it! It could be a job promotion you want, a trip you want to take, losing a few pounds…whatever. Stop making excuses. Stop wasting your time. Time is something you can never get back.
  • The golden rule: treat others the way you want to be treated. Before criticizing other people, put yourself in their shoes.
  • The customer is not always right. Outrageous demands? Yelling? Don’t let it slide. Be firm, yet tactful. Bad behavior shouldn’t get rewarded. How will anyone learn?
  • Stop worrying about what other people think of you. Concentrate on being a good person. Do a good job. Trust your own judgment.
  • Cherish nature: it’s one of the few things in life that is free – a beautiful sunrise, fog rising off of the lake, a crisp autumn morning, the crunch of snow beneath your shoes. Go out and enjoy it.
  • Stop being overcommitted. Or at least don’t whine about it. “Oh, I have another committee meeting.” Learn to say “No” when you need to. Use your vacation time. Learn to unwind. Take time to enjoy life for yourself.
  • Learn how to tell a story: My dad was what you would call a raconteur – everyone loved to hear him tell a story. A lot of us can easily present facts, but how do we weave it into a story? How do we make the information relatable? That is key.
  • Everyone has something to contribute. Everyone is important. We all have our different areas of expertise, but we all have something to share. Don’t think you’re better than the next person. Be humble.

I miss my dad a lot, but I also have many good memories–and have hopefully learned a few of his good traits.