Do I Really Want To Be A Librarian?

Career Advice (via quinn.anya on Flickr)

The start of the school year is a good time to refocus – on initiatives, priorities, and most importantly, on your direction and career. With students back, the start of a new year can be really energizing, but it can also be draining and overwhelming especially if your energies are focused in unproductive directions.

There was a great thread in the ALA Think Tank (join this amazing group!) several weeks ago in which someone asked others about having mixed feelings and angst about librarianship. I loved the post and all the answers because they were so authentic and sincere. These are very real, genuine questions that I know I have dealt with and that we all have to deal with as librarians and as professionals. Does my work satisfy me? Is my work fulfilling? Do I really want to be a librarian?

Sometimes librarianship can seem like a cult. There are a lot of passionate, excited people talking about how great the profession is. This can make the profession really fun, but not everyone has completely drunk the kool-aid. While it’s nice to have colleagues who love their work, it can also make it hard to do this questioning. You can feel out of place or crazy asking “do I actually want to be a librarian?”

But these are important questions and part of being a professional is taking time to reflect on them, refocus, and sometimes even find a different job or career.  This reflection isn’t just limited to librarians though. I know people in other careers from college age to people in their 50s that ask these same questions. These are questions that you need to spend time on, but they are also not just one time questions. They’re important at different points in our careers and lives and should be asked multiple times. You need to find your own answers, not simply what everyone around you is saying.

Like everyone, there have been times when I have been less than satisfied in the work I was doing. I have been in funks or have been frustrated with the way things were going. I have found these situations to be enlightening though. These are opportunities to learn about yourself and what you value.

One line of questioning I’ve found helpful is asking “what do I love doing?” “When am I most excited and engaged at work?” Do you love working one on one with users? Collaborating with others? Designing events, or projects, or lessons? This can help give you insight into what your strengths are and what gives life for you. You can then focus on and leverage those strengths which will often help you become more fulfilled and effective. If you love collaborating, can you create a project-based team? Or based on your strengths are there different areas in your position that you could direct your energy? Are there other positions where you can capitalize on those strengths?

Sometimes though, there may be bigger issues or things outside your control (organization, management, culture, etc.) that refocusing just can’t fix. In situations like this it’s important to recognize that there are things you can’t control and fighting them will only frustrate you. You may also find that librarianship is simply not for you. Like anything else it has it’s own challenges and not everyone gets excited or passionate about it. Ultimately you have to find a place where your strengths can flourish and be directed towards something important to you.

I don’t feel like I have to be a librarian. I could be a million other things. Through reflection and asking these difficult questions though I’ve recognized that I am passionate about curiosity, personal growth and understanding, lifelong learning, and serving others. I could pursue these passions a number of different ways, but for right now librarianship is a pretty damn good fit.

Do you struggle with these questions? Does your work satisfy you? What’s helpful for you when you reflect on these issues?



Bring Your SELF To Work Day

Image via Librarian Wardrobe

Balance is something I highly value and recognize that it’s important for a lot of things in life. It’s  especially necessary to have a balance between work life and the rest of life to avoid burnout and feeling overwhelmed. Constantly doing work at home or vice versa is a recipe for disaster. This does not necessarily mean setting rigid boundaries though.

Boundaries are always artificial and can often cause more stress in worrying about crossing them. We are not completely different people at work and at home. We may act differently and have different tasks and priorities, but we’re still the same person. We still have the same values and interests, and by completely sectioning work from home both areas of our life lose something.

Two weeks ago we had ACRL’s excellent Immersion Program here on campus. I was in the teacher track  a couple of years ago, and one of the things they discuss is the idea of becoming an authentic teacher. They assign readings from Parker Palmer who talks not about the how-to but about the reflective side of teaching and the “inner landscape of a teacher’s life.” Authenticity in the classroom is not about simply putting on a show or a façade, but about bringing your own identity and experiences into every situation. This is something that takes work though. This means that in the classroom I might talk about my affinity for dinosaurs, or mention that I recently at half a dozen hotdogs at a Vermont Lake Monster’s game, or get really excited about learning, research, and curiosity.

This authenticity can also carry over into the other areas of work. I was reminded of a presentation that Char Booth gave at LOEX this spring. An important point that stuck with me was the idea of personality cultivation for librarians. She gave some fun examples of librarians wearing banana suits as a promotion, creating cardboard cutouts, and some clever UPload Yours buttons they created at Claremont for their scholarly repository.

As librarians we can often be concerned about being seen as professionals, but we also need to be concerned about being seen as people. Cultivating a personality and bringing your strengths and interests to your work can make your job that much more fulfilling as well as help build relationships around campus. There are a lot of examples of librarians who bring their personalities, sense of humor, and authentic selves to the work they do. Whether they’re creating wickedly funny and informative learning objects, creating a story sailboat, or simply adding a bit more style to their workplace, librarians who let their own interests infiltrate their work life seem to have a lot of fun.

The same is true for conference presentations. People who have their own style and tell stories from their life tend to be much more engaging than those simply giving information. And this is also the essence of library social media accounts. No one wants dry, institutional, informational status updates or tweets. Our users, whether online or off do not connect with the library, they connect with people.

Finding a balance between work and home is important and will be different for everyone. But I don’t think boxes work. Bring the things that excite you to work. Bring the things that fulfill you home. Do good work both places. We’re all whole people and when we can bring ourselves wholly into our work and home lives, both places will be more enriching and enriched.



Courses I Wish They’d Offered in Library School

I’ve been a librarian now for about three and a half years. I learned a lot while at SLIS at UW-Madison, and there were some awesome professors there. A couple of the most valuable classes I took were Information Architecture and a practicum in Information Literacy where I learned both theory and did hands on teaching and creation of digital instructional materials. But there’s also been a lot that I have had to figure out on my own. Looking back, I wish that there were a few more skills that I could have acquired in library schools. If they had offered these courses, I definitely would have taken them and likely would have been even better prepared for a career in today’s libraries:

Marketing/Demonstrating Value – Libraries are competing with myriad other places and services for the attention of users. How do we promote using the library to our patrons? Libraries offer a lot of great services and resources for free, but how do we let users know about them in a way that doesn’t get drowned out? It is necessary for us to differentiate ourselves from others and show our unique value in order to compete in this information rich world. In addition to promoting ourselves we also need to demonstrate what value we bring to our communities and institutions. The ACRL Value of Academic Libraries Report could be a great text for this class as well as Made to Stick and probably something by Seth Godin.

Graphic Design for Libraries – I saw this idea for a class from a great post about User Experience in LIS education by Aaron Schmidt and Michael Stephens, and I think it is spot on. I find myself regularly needing to create signage for the library or promotional materials either for print or the web, and I pretty much have to stumble through it. It would be useful in a lot of situations to be be able to make some sign or image that is beautiful or inspiring instead of a Word document with some clip art.

photo by Gwen River City Images on Flickr

Entrepreneurship/Innovation – This is a key issue for libraries to be talking about, and specific reading and coursework on this topic would have been immensely helpful to me. We are constantly talking about changing and adapting in libraries awhile at the same time complaining about how slowly it happens. Courses in LIS education about this topic would be useful in developing grads with an entrepreneurial spirit and who would be key in revitalizing and revolutionizing libraries. Hopefully this class would teach mindsets like the willingness to take risk and fail as well as being tolerant of uncertainty. In addition, it would also teach processes for innovation and turning new ideas into reality. Steven Bell talks and writes about these processes in terms of design thinking. I also saw a great paper presentation about innovation processes at ACRL in March by David Dahl. Being able to thoughtfully and successfully create change is one of the most necessary skills for librarians today.

These are the classes I wished I could have taken (and hope that some places offer or start offering). What classes do you wish that you would have seen in library school? What classes would have been really beneficial for the work you are doing now?