It’s hard to believe, but last week marked my one year anniversary of playing that full-time library game. It’s been a good year, and it’s gone by incredibly fast, so it seems like a good moment to pause and reflect on the semi-steep learning curve of being a new librarian.
On The First Real Librarian Job
Here’s how my first few hours after being offered my job went: “Holy smokes, I can’t believe I got a job, let alone one of my top choices. This is the best ever!”
Here’s how everything went after that: “But I just graduated from library school! How am I supposed to know anything??”
A few months into the job, I wrote a post on professional anxiety, which pretty much captured the tidal wave of panic I felt at the time. If current-me could tell that earlier me one thing, it would be this: They hired you for a reason, and they knew that you don’t know everything and that you just came out of library school. Trust in their decision. People told me similar things all the time, but I didn’t believe them. But it’s really true. If they offered you a job, then they saw something in you that is valuable; it doesn’t really matter if you have all the details down yet. You can (and will) learn the minutiae, but the big picture stuff (how you work with others, your ethos of librarianship, your ideas) you bring with you.
Kim Duckett recently wrote an excellent post for us about getting experience while in library school; Kevin has also written about this before. I’ll echo the choir in saying that getting professional experience while in library school was the best preparation possible for the first job. Every working experience you have in the library will give you a better understanding of how libraries really work, and that helped me get up to speed on certain things more quickly than I might have. I was fortunate in library school to have a job in an academic library that trusted grad students with professional-level reference and instruction, which certainly gave me real-world skills and informs my practice today. But I also worked circulation at a public library; this informs things I do in my job now, like figuring out an emerging tech loan program. Previous library experience, even when it isn’t one-to-one with your new job, gives you a more holistic picture of the workings of a library and situates you well to imagine innovative projects and collaborations. It all goes into your bag of librarian tricks.
I’m not always the most patient, but learning something as complex as a new job (especially if it’s a new position, and you’re sort of feeling out your place) takes time. While I wanted to know everything about everything yesterday, nobody expected that of me. Now that I’ve been in the gig for a year, I feel like I have a pretty good sense of how things work, but it did take that full year. And, of course, I’m still learning.
My first full-time instruction session went pretty darn well. My second one did not. I’ve noticed that sessions tend to go south most quickly when a faculty member asks me to do 17 things in a session and I try it. For me, doing too much is the fastest ticket to bad teaching. I know this, but sometimes it feels lousy to tell a faculty member, “No, I can’t teach all 17 of those things well in 75 minutes,” even though it’s true. Building the confidence to say that is continually a work in progress.
One of my pet bugaboos from the instruction librarian discourse is the idea that “kids these days” learn in a totally different way than anyone ever before. As a Millennial myself, I’m pretty sure this is wrong and kind of offensive (I’ll tackle this in a post later this summer). Instruction librarians should be able to offer alternative solutions for teaching and reaching students other than “read pop culture books” and “use technology.” As a profession, we need to more consistently start turning to the education literature for best practices in teaching, which may or may not include technology. That’s part of the purpose of this blog, and I hope we see more engagement with this.
On the Profession
As a new librarian, getting involved in the national librarianship scene is a little daunting. There’s a focus on networking to get ahead, as there is in many professions. Though I think I might be allergic to the term “networking,” I’m coming around to seeing that one of the benefits of going to conferences is meeting other people who share your interests. I attended two small, targeted conferences this year, one focuses on library technology and one on library instruction. They were super great because I met other people who care about the same stuff I do, and I’ve got a few projects in the works now based on those mutual interests. That wasn’t the goal, but it is nice to find your people. So I wish maybe we could reframe “networking” as getting to know people and being real, without the implicit focus on getting something out of that relationship. This isn’t unique to librarianship.
Which brings me to my last reflection. As a profession, we share this narrative that librarians are “nice” and “helpful,” etc. It’s a positive story (though almost certainly an outcome of being a heavily female profession), but it is a story. In the past year, I have met many kind, magnanimous, and real librarians, to be sure. But I’ve also met a few who are petty or snarky or downright mean. Does that mean that’s their whole character? Of course not. But I think it’s worth acknowledging that we, just like all people, are not perfectly nice all the time, and that’s ok. It’s something we can strive for, sure, but only if we notice that it’s not already the case. We’re librarians and we’re people, and, just like all people, we need to work on being kind to our fellow librarians.
These are a few of my thoughts coming out of this year. Other new (or not-so-new) librarians, what are your thoughts?