Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Surviving the first professional post

At this time of year many young librarians will start new jobs. As Masters dissertations get handed in and new terms begin, many will be beginning in their first professionals posts. It’s been discussed on many other blogs that librarianship degrees are sometimes not enough to prepare someone for the realities of library work. I was fortunate enough (or unfortunate enough!) to find a post while finishing my dissertation so I’ve gained some idea of how to survive that first professional post.
Ask questions:

No-one can be expected to understand everything straight away and despite the public perception (“Isn’t it just stamping books?”), librarianship is complicated. In a new job, there will be lots of information and skills to learn, lots of individual library idiosyncrasies to come to terms with, and lots of names to pretend you can remember. Ask other members of staff about anything and everything: natural curiosity is probably the best way to learn about an organisation.

Explore the computer system:

Nowadays, the limits of our computers are the limits of our work. Get to know what you can and can’t do with the computers. If some mundane task is annoying, figure out a shortcut to make it quicker. Poke around the computers: every organisation has a different computer system and the computer system tells you a lot about the organisation. Familiarise yourself with the virtual space, re-organise or set up your own folders if need be, and learn what software is installed.

Make suggestions:

Organisations often hire young librarians because of their enthusiasm and creativity. If you see something that doesn’t make sense or a process that could be made easier with new methods/technology, make a suggestion to senior staff. A lot of libraries need an extra push to work at promoting their brand, expanding their online service, or digitising their materials. The worst that can happen is the higher-ups say no. The best that can happen is the library service being improved, gaining evidence of your innovation and creativity, and getting to pursue a personal project of interest to you.

Rely on your support network:

A first professional post is scary. With great ‘Librarian’ name-badges comes great responsibility. But whatever you’re going through, there will always be someone who has already gone through it. Talk to your friends, keep in contact with your library colleagues and fellow library students, and use Twitter. Take advantage of the many networks available to you – CILIP or LISNPN – at the LISNPN Manchester meet-up last Thursday, the *apologies* older librarians made it clear that they would have loved communities like we have now when they were new professionals. Take advantage of it: last week’s meet-up was a brilliant opportunity to bounce problems off experienced people and to have a good time.

Throw yourself in:

Do all of the above and commit to the position as soon as possible. Though this may not always be possible (with part-time work or while finishing a Masters degree), it’s better to focus on one post at a time and not to be torn in two. Due to commitments at home and an incomplete dissertation, until recently I had been making an hour and a half commute to my first post. It made the days much longer than they needed to be and had an adverse effect on my work. Moving to a closer location has got rid of the stress of driving, made me a lot less preoccupied at work, and allowed me to focus on my job. So whether it’s moving or completing outstanding tasks, do it all quickly and focus on the post.

A first professional post is a great opportunity: the first chance to use the skills gained at library school in the real world; the first chance to experience project or team management; the first step in a career. Have fun, work hard, make new friends, and prove that you can do the basic tasks for when you move on to that second professional post.

Friday, 3 September 2010

Taking the blinkers off

Writing a dissertation is like trying to land a plane hurtling towards the earth. You desperately wrestle with the controls, try to rein it in to do what you want it do, and eventually you just want to get it on the ground even if it’s not in one piece when it gets there. Right now, I feel like I’m emerging from the semi-smouldering remains of an imperfect but landed dissertation.
My Masters dissertation is more or less complete and I suddenly see how much I’ve neglected over the past few months. I devoted myself to the project because, through incredible good fortune and the support of my supervisor, I was allowed to pursue a topic I’m heavily invested in. My dissertation is about consilience: the subject of my undergraduate dissertation and, in my opinion, the most important idea no-one has ever heard of. Basically I outline a digital library system that would aim to aid academic collaboration and help to achieve consilience. FYI, the research suggests – spoiler alert! – that the system is technically possible within 10-20 years: if anyone’s interested, I can send you a copy when it’s 100%-ed.
Some people are able to take on multiple tasks: Ian who works, dissertates, is a father, and does amazing amounts of library advocacy; Lauren who finished her dissertation while saving Doncaster’s public libraries. I have enormous respect for anyone who can do that much. I tend to be more single-minded, doggedly pursuing a task to the finish and wearing blinkers while doing it.
Last night, I read this piece about young librarians claiming the profession and directing it towards the future. And I realise that all these months writing my dissertation, I’ve been working on my own: trying to improve the library and information sector in a small way.
But there are threats towards libraries that we can’t face on our own: threats that are going to face today’s new professionals. We need to work together to shape the library and information profession’s future and keep what we love intact. Only together can we fight the onslaught on public sector cuts and Cameron’s hordes of volunteers. Only together can we work to keep information free and keep access to digital resources open. Only together can we shape libraries into what we want them to be. To do that, the community of new professionals need to get involved, to participate in the conversation, and to meet up.
So now that the blinkers of my dissertation have been removed, I intend to work on my professional development. I want to teach myself to work with people rather than on my own. And I can’t think of a better bunch of people to work with than the library community. 

Edit: Well, this is excellent. Two enterprising new professionals have organised LISNPN meet-ups in Manchester and London on the 23rd of September.