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.


Alice said...

"At this time of year many young librarians will start new jobs."

Lucky you! This hasn't been the case for me, and many of my contemporaries. It's really nice to know that some people who've finished their LIS Masters have found professional posts.

Exploring new computer systems is probably the most fun part of the job for me, I must admit. I quickly taught myself shortcuts on Millennium and organised my Outlook Inbox into logical folders during my grad trainee year, and it was probably the best thing I did!

One thing I'd like to add: keep current. Although that links in to support networks too, I suppose.

Simon XIX said...

Keeping current is very important for continued engagement with the profession. A first post can feel quite isolated if you're away from other librarians or your fellow library students.

Part of this is plugging into networks of new professionals and following Twitter and RSS feeds (I'd struggle without Google Reader!).

(First thing I did at my job was organise my predecessors notes into spreadsheets. Lovely and logical!)