Monday, November 21, 2011

Be Courageous; Ask For Help, by David Green

I love my job, but no, I don’t always feel I am doing a good job. I definitely don’t always create amazing programs. Sometimes I’m fairly sure they suck – judging by the zero people that turn up. I can’t always find the right book/answer/database/website/photocopying method for the right person. I once visited a childcare centre and read them a book I hadn’t bothered to pre-read. The part about the cool pirate’s prized parrot dying and being buried at sea kinda deflated my whole pirate theme. Especially given the centre’s pet bird had recently died. Really, it had. Likewise, begging 7 staff to resuscitate my un-rehearsed first attempt at fine-arts-degree-level sewing with primary school kids, was a learning experience, to put it mildly. I am constantly trying to create amazing programs and generally ace my job. The truth is, I never really feel completely on top of my workload. Sometimes it feels like I am treading water.

Don’t get me wrong, I have enjoyed some real successes and I know I have more in the pipeline. I’m not writing this to fish for compliments, I’m writing to offer some advice.

Congratulations and welcome to the profession. You’ve got (or are working on) the degree and hopefully a staff badge (glasses and cardigan optional) and now many people will expect you to know everything. More significantly, it is very likely you expect this of yourself too. Please know, you don’t know everything and you can’t do everything. At times you will feel like you are just barely keeping on top of things (in fact, sometimes you’ll feel behind). Your job will constantly keep expanding. After all, you have your to-do list but then you open the doors to the members of your community and their lists become your lists too. You will need to say no sometimes because you cannot do everything. Trust me, I’ve tried. So ask for help. Repeat: ask for help. You’re in the information industry - people that like, and are trained, to help, surround you. Also, when you know it’s appropriate, try delegating.

I have a theory that anyone drawn to the information industry is in varying degrees a ‘stickler for order’ (read: anal retentive). This doesn’t mean we all have tidy desks, alphabetise our spice racks, or genre and alpha-order our cds (although a lot of us do). But we do like to classify, to catalogue, to order things. We like to find things and we definitely like ‘to get things right’. So what I would most like to offer advice about is what I struggle with most: perfectionism. Beware perfectionism and the procrastination and self-doubt that it manifests. You will never know everything. There will not be enough time to do everything as expertly and thoroughly as you would like.

It will be hard for you but you must be prepared to pump work out and 'go live' with stuff that you are not 100% happy with. Because tomorrow, more work is going to come in. As my supervisor wisely tells me: “you can only get done what you can get done, and what you can’t will be there tomorrow”.

This week a calming confidant gave me a postcard because it made her think of me. It is called 10 Tips To Stress Less. She felt (polite speak for ‘she knew’) the first tip especially applied to me. Serendipitously, it is also my advice to you:

“Have the courage to be imperfect”.

You should write that on a post-it for yourself. And I’d add “make mistakes” to your to-do list. Because you will. But nobody will die, you will just learn more. By entering this profession you have made an excellent commitment to lifelong-learning. I don’t mean you are committed to making mistakes, just passionate about finding the best way to do things for yourselves and most importantly, for your clients.

Best of luck and remember we’re a friendly, helpful bunch so ask for help!

David Green is a proud Children’s and Youth Librarian in an Australian public library. He blogs about libraries and learning (and occasional other loves) at and is on twitter @dpgreen.

1 comment:

  1. For the majority of reference questions that we get, there is usually at least one person on staff who has heard it before. I probably exhaust my co-workers by tapping them for help, especially on the hard ones, but we can do a better job together--and I know I'll get the chance to step in when there's a subject that I know better.