Tuesday, November 13, 2012

I Got a Job! Now What?

"Moose" is a Creative Commons licensed photo by Sean Biehle.

The whole point of pursuing the MLIS is to get a job in a library, right? But what do you do when that finally happens? What's the next step? This question was the crux of an email I received last week. I responded, but figured that there are probably others out there who might have the same questions (I know I did when I was a newbrarian), so I'm sharing my response - slightly edited - with you all. 

Before I do that, though, I want to fill in a few details. My correspondent has been working in academic libraries prior to now, but always as a clerk/assistant/paraprofessional. The new job is at a small academic library where my correspondent will be responsible for (among other things) instruction, instructional technology, managing student workers, and working with faculty.

Now that you have an idea of where this started, here is how I responded:

The first thing you need to know is that your new library director and coworkers are aware of what experiences you do and don't have. So long as you didn't misrepresent your qualifications and/or background, you'll be fine. I've worked with brand new librarians before, and I expected a longer ramp up with them than with a more experienced individual. I can't imagine it will be much different for you. And if it is different, run.

My second piece of advice is to ask your new director for regular meetings, just so you can check in with each other. Ideally, I suggest weekly. Bi-weekly is okay if weekly won't work. Sometimes the hardest thing about a new job is understanding expectations and learning to read the situation, and regular meetings will alleviate a lot of that stress. Additionally, I suggest you take notes during these meetings, then type them up, and email the notes to your director, just to make sure you are both on the same page. (Closing in on a decade since I got my MLIS, I still do this after my monthly meetings with my director. It allows me to clarify any confusion immediately and to make sure I didn't miss anything.)

Third, ask to shadow other librarians (or even professors) to get a sense of how people teach there. [There are other skills where shadowing can help, too, such as handling the reference desk or collection development.] Don't be afraid to steal/borrow ideas and approaches to mix in with your own approach. Also, and I can't stress this enough, look both inside and outside of library science literature to learn how to handle info lit & instructional tech.

Fourth, don't be afraid to ask for help. It's one of the hardest skills to learn - figuring out when enough is enough and getting assistance - but it's more important than almost any skill you'll need to acquire as a newbrarian.

Finally, you'll have an advantage in your first year or so that you should use. You'll be able to see thing that others won't, and you need to realize that perspective is sometimes just as powerful as experience. Sometimes us oldbrarians have well thought out reasons for doing what we do, but sometimes it's because we never realized there were other possibilities. (I'd channel these observations through your director until you get the lay of the land.)

How about you? What other recommendations would you give a brand new librarian?


  1. Get a feel for the culture of the organization. Are they innovative or traditional? Do they prioritize the same things as you do? How is the interaction between professionals and with your director? Informal or formal. Rigid or loose.

    And find out the dress code. First thing. Dress code.

  2. I find it hard to believe that librarians are getting jobs. If it ever does happen I can understand why one would feel unprepared. I know I'd identify with this movie line:

    "Well we really don't have a plan B. We didn't expect for the first plan to work. Sometimes you can overplan these things."

    But I'd agree that the best advice you can give someone is to ask a lot of questions. The more questions you ask, the less they'll worry about you. They'll know that you're willing to make sure you're doing things correctly.

    Second piece of advice, and it relates a little: be teachable. Show them that you're willing to learn, adapt, and improve. Take performance evaluations and professional development meetings/workshops seriously and really work on any pointers they give you. It demonstrates that you have the potential for growth, and they'll be more willing to keep you around.

    1. Being teachable is a great piece of advice. Crucial, really. Thanks.

  3. One of the hardest things I've had to learn in the past year is how to admit that I DON'T KNOW. I think, as librarians, we generally love knowing everything - and we also think that, as masters of research, we can learn anything. This is an ambitious goal and for some things it will work. However, you'll save yourself and your co-workers a lot of grief if you just admit that you're unsure in the first place. But this doesn't mean that you have to refuse, or that you should feel like you're letting the side down! I always try to provide an alternative solution when I know that I can't do something (for reference, a lot of these things, for me, are tech-related). My interactions usually go something like this:

    Boss: Sara, can you do XYZunintelligiblething?

    Me: Can you give me more information?

    Boss: [Makes XYZunintelligiblething a bit clearer]

    Me: Well, I've never done it before and I don't know much about it, but let me look into it quickly. If I get back to you by the end of the day, will that give you enough time to ask around for someone else if I can't do it?

    Boss: Definitely, thanks so much! You're a pro and we're going to give you all the raises.

    ...[day passes]...

    Boss: So, how did it go?

    Me: I don't really think that I have sufficient knowledge to do XYZunintelligiblething, but I did contact Information Tech and one of the guys there knows all about it. I booked him to come by the office tomorrow at 11am.

    Boss: Here are all the raises and also seventeen gold stars.

    This shows that you are interested in the subject and motivated to learn, but also that you're not going to gum up your project by tackling something that you don't understand. Plus, you've solved the problem, which is the whole point! Your boss will appreciate it, your co-workers will appreciate it, and you will appreciate it because you won't be floundering.

    1. Exactly! That's how professional development should work - in response to something you need to learn to improve your performance.