Two words: Professional development. Talk of professional development starts in library school, with LIS students encouraged to volunteer at conferences, attend local events and generally “get involved” to accrue professional development points or hours. Maybe your workplace gives you opportunities to attend events on the proviso you come back to work and share your learnings. Or perhaps, like me, you realise that professional development activities are a way to learn and meet people in the industry, something that is really useful if you’re a library ‘outsider’ (e.g. not working in libraries).
Where do you start? How do you find the right activities and opportunities for you? You’ve got to start by answering, “who?”
A wise person once said “know thyself” and yes, that’s what I’m talking about. We are all, as another wise person once said like an onion, and when you start to peel back your layers and know yourself better, you will be a better professional and it will be easier to find the right professional opportunities that suit you. Plus you might surprise yourself by taking bigger leaps and accepting challenges you would have run away from before.
Knowing yourself is hard and uncomfortable work, BUT, here’s the thing. If you’ve invested heavily like me (financially, personally, emotionally), in going to library school and carving out a new career for yourself, you want to get this right and be a great librarian, advocate for your community and co-worker. You want to be resilient and have the stamina and skills to stay employed right? Many of us work with a huge variety of people every day, and being a resilient and reflective librarian is a good thing! This is why I want to encourage you to peel back those layers and find yourself first.
I’m a deeply curious person, always exploring ways to understand myself and others and I like to use a variety of tools to do this. It did take me years to discover those tools and be brave enough to listen to what I discovered. Years ago, I read What Colour is Your Parachute?, took the Myers-Briggs test at a work conference, and went to a career counsellor. I tried to ignore everything I learned, but it didn’t work. Part of me was paying attention and each time I explored something new and uncovered a kernel of truth about myself, an onion layer fell away and I got closer to who I really am.. Acknowledging personal biases, privilege, weaknesses, and figuring out how to celebrate and make the most of your strengths are all challenging. It’s hard to acknowledge who you are and find ways to change and do better at living and working.
As an ENFP, I am always willing to find solutions, so here are some of my personal tools for digging deeper and being brave. At one point or another each of these has got me through a rough patch and opened up doors to understanding myself and other people.
- Listen. TED talks, podcasts, online radio shows - there are so many ways to listen and learn. Don’t stick to just library related content, branch out and explore new topics! (An added bonus is that you’ll be absorbing good and bad storytelling - how many times have you heard how about important storytelling is for library advocacy and promotion?)
- Explore personalities and preferences. Try 16 Personalities, The Four Tendencies or read What Colour is Your Parachute?. You don’t have to agree with all the results, but they will give you some insight that you can explore (or ignore, but really, I bet you find one useful nugget of truth).
- Ask friends and family what they think. (Awkward yes, useful, YES). You’ll be surprised at what people see in you and it’s more insight for you to reflect upon. Remember that how you see yourself is completely different to how everyone else does.
- Be really honest with yourself about things you could be better at, and then find ways to improve. Written communication not great? Offer to write a newsletter article at work or start a blog. Jump on Twitter and practice writing in short concise sound-bites. Write book reviews for your library or just your friends. Feel like your tech skills need a refresh? Find out if your organisation or local library has a Lynda.com subscription or ask a colleague you know has great tech skills to show you their tips and tricks.
- Spend time getting to know the people you work with, and how your personality and behaviours fit (or don’t). Read up on teams and communication. Start a conversation with co-workers or ask your boss if there are any short training courses you can take to expand your knowledge of teamwork and strategic communication.
- Seek professional help if you need to. Sometimes we need to dig further to find ourselves and a professional counsellor or therapist can help.
Most importantly, discover your “who” your way. Extrovert, introvert, ambivert - there’s a way to do this that will suit you. Just try to extend yourself a little from time to time, try something new, and you could surprise yourself.
So, new librarian, this probably seems like quite a lot of ‘work’. Well, it is. However, you don’t need to do it all right now! Take small, achievable steps, and be kind to yourself and choose topics and activities you enjoy. Spend ten minutes a day reading an article or blog post, ask a colleague to show you how to do something that seems easy to them. Send that email to five close friends asking them that difficult question. Think small, it all adds up.
Find your who and the rest will follow.
Sally is a librarian who doesn't work in a library. Instead she supports library and information professionals for ALIA and co-hosts a podcast about libraries, galleries, museums and archives. Talk to her on Twitter @sallyturbitt.