Friday, 28 May 2010

"Keeping positive in dark times."

These are dark days for new professionals struggling to claw their way into the library/information sector. Amid recession, public sector and higher education funding cuts, and James Murdoch coming off his dark throne to criticise libraries for doing their job, my friends and I are searching – and technically competing – for jobs in a crowded market. A month ago I interviewed for an entry-level, part-time shelving job: they had over 200 applications for a single position. This morning I found a job advert for a college library assistant: the advert went up two days ago and has already had over 170 hits.
All this gloom has a debilitating effect on new professionals’ morale. It can be difficult to keep going when met with failure (and repeated failure) especially when a job seems perfect for you. This is when constant comparison can set in – comparing oneself to colleagues, friends, and even far-flung contacts on blogs and Twitter. “What have they got that I haven’t?”; “Everyone is so much more qualified than me?”; “How can they be so happy?”. Comparison is never a good idea: it leads to damaging issues of self-worth and defeatism as well as poisoning your relationships with the people you need the most in dark times. I don’t know if it’s true but apparently even a novelist as great as Hemingway compared himself unfavourably to Dostoevsky.
How can young librarians stay positive through this darkness?
First, keeping applying for jobs. Some days it is such a trail to keep repeating the same information again and again onto similar application forms but ultimately it’s worth it just to get the flush of satisfaction from being selected for interview. The feeling of being wanted is a necessary morale boost even if the job itself is not ideal.
Second, do some volunteer work. Working for no money can be a strain but building up your skills, demonstrating your commitment, and feeling part of the library/information community are important morale boosters. As soon as my part-time job contract ends, I’m going to be looking for volunteer work to complement my dissertation: in the academic sector or in data centres concentrating on digitisation, collection development, and enabling academic research.
Third, keep working. Whether it’s on a Masters dissertation, on crafting the perfect CV, on a creative hobby project, or on a blog post about the need to keep working, it’s important to keep your brain from atrophying. When my energy isn’t focused outwards on a dozen projects at one, it all gets directed inwards on self-doubt, guilt, paranoia, procrastination, etc. Keep working to keep up your energy and your creative flow.
Fourth, talk to people. Unemployment can be the loneliest thing ever with only Jeremy Kyle and the BBC News team for company. Rely on your friends, go outside, go to profession-related events, and get involved. Don’t do all your work cooped up at your desk: go to the library, talk to people, and get out of your own head.
Finally, do things that make you feel good and don’t do things that make you feel bad. This may sound obvious but after a failed job interview it’s all too easy to turn on some Nick Cave and crack open a bottle of single malt. This leads to a perpetuating cycle of bad feeling. Instead, put on some music to sing along to and read something that makes you feel good. I can almost guarantee you that if you think hard enough, you’ll realise that you’ve been through worse times than this and survived.