Friday, January 26, 2007

Advice to Young Librarians (and library school students)

I have two wonderful reference librarians speak each semester in my Advanced Legal Research class, on legal research in the real world. Part of their presentation covers such realistic advice as how to get plum assignments, find good mentors, and manage your time when two partners both think you should be devoting 60 hours/week to their own project. Because one was a firm librarian in a powerhouse DC firm, and the other was an associate in an international firm, they bring a lot of terrific insights to the presentation.

But it occurred to me that much of their advice could equally apply to new librarians, and to library school students as well. So, with a major tip of the hat to Susan Vaughn and Diane D'Angelo here at Suffolk, some tips for beginning your career as a librarian:

1. Getting Plum Assignments: If you hear about exciting projects going on in your organization, offer to help work on them. You must coordinate this through your supervisor in the library, but often, people will be pleased to find somebody looking for work. Once people know you are looking for work, they will often come to you with a task. You may find talents you never knew you possessed. I discovered that I was good at meetings, for instance, something I never suspected before becoming a librarian. Volunteering for a job is also a good way to ...

2. Find Good Mentors: There may be great opportunities to work with more experienced librarians, or fascinating people elsewhere in your organization. Look for chances to "ride shotgun" on the reference desk, and follow the experienced reference librarians as they select and show materials to answer a question. Spend some time learning from your catalogers and circulation folks if you work in a different part of the library. All the departments really rely on each other, and it's a good thing to understand more about the problems in every department.

If there are reorganizations or planning tasks, take the opportunity to share the work and learn the skill. Much of library work is not glamorous, but it is all important. Look beyond your own library by getting involved in library regional and national organizations. Librarians are very collegial and collaborative. There are always committees and taskforces looking for good workers. This is a great way to make contacts, even if you can't attend meetings far away. But if you attend, go! And take a pocket full of your business cards. Hand them out and take cards from the folks you meet. Don't be afraid to stick out your hand and introduce yourself. You'll be pleasantly surprised at how accessible librarians are at all levels.

3. Take Responsibility for More Advanced Tasks: If you aren't ready to fly solo yet, offer to assist with the job. It's a terrific way to learn more, and get to know your colleagues. Another plus is that you will get a good reputation as somebody who is willing to work.

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