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Monday, August 12, 2013

Guest Post: The First Few Months of Librarianship by Elizabeth

I am back from vacation and want to thank everyone who helped out during that time by sharing their thoughts on the blog.  Even I get sick of just reading my stuff, so I can imagine you do too.  It is nice to see other perspectives.

But, after being away for 11 days I have a lot of catching up to do with life, so if you will bear with me, I scheduled 2 more days of guest posts, with the specific intention of showcasing the views of young librarians in the field.

So no Monday Discussion today, instead we have Elizabeth on her first few months in her first real Librarian job. You may remember Elizabeth from this past Spring when she was the BPL RA intern.  Take it away Elizabeth...
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Hello friends of RA For All! It is such a delight to be a guest on this fabulous blog and have the opportunity to share some of my experiences during my first year as a capital-L Librarian. I am always eager to discuss my life in library land with friends/family/random strangers in line at Starbucks, so it’s lovely to do so in a virtual setting amongst peers.

As I reflect back on my first three months in the librarianship profession, I realize that grad school couldn’t prepare me for some elements of my new job. There were experiences that I wasn’t expecting to encounter, the things that made me say: “They didn’t teach us this in grad school…”

First, at the risk of sounding ridiculously delighted, I truly wasn’t expecting to have the opportunity to do so many awesome things my first year in the field. While searching for jobs I tried to prepare myself for the possibility that, as a new librarian, I would probably be assigned strictly less than desirable tasks. I was wrong.  I was thrilled to discover that I would have the opportunity to work in the areas of librarianship in which I was most passionate, such as book groups, user instruction, collection development, and social media. As a new librarian, I have never felt like I was paying my dues with tedious tasks, but rather I’ve been encouraged to pursue all of my professional goals right away.
  • Collection Development-it’s not as scary as it sounds. When my supervisor told me that I would be responsible for the general fiction collection, I nearly danced a jig from joy; however, my delight abruptly ended as I processed the weight of this responsibility. How was I going to order all of the general fiction books? Surely I would miss one? This slight panic lasted about five minutes before I realized that I had all the necessary tools needed in order to succeed. Between professional periodicals, email notifications, and suggestions from patrons and staff, I truly feel like I have all of my bases covered and I’m able to stay up-to-date on the latest releases. I also didn’t expect to spend so much time on collection development on a daily basis. Between ordering new titles, maintaining displays in my section, replacing damaged/lost items, and processing purchase requests, I would estimate that I spend at least half of my day working on some sort of CD work. Lastly, I should also point out that I was surprised to discover that I get a bit, somewhat irrationally, upset when books go missing from my area. Ordering replacements can be a frustrating process, especially when you have to replace the same book multiple times (Fifty Shades anyone?) Also, why steal a library book? It’s FREE you just have to RETURN IT. See? I got upset just thinking about it.           
  • Adjusting to a new library. Since I worked in two different libraries as a grad student, I assumed that I would be able to adapt to my new surroundings quickly and with ease. Ha. I went through a major change in that my new place of employment is a stand-alone library (meaning we’re not part of a consortium) whereas my last two libraries were part of SWAN. Suddenly I found myself filling out ILL forms rather than clicking through Millennium Circulation to make a request. Surprisingly, it took me a week or two to fully adjust, as I was accustomed to being connected to 80+ libraries. Despite the fact that I was initially puzzled by my library’s stand-alone status, I quickly discovered that this choice was made to best meet the needs of the community we serve.

Just as a few elements of the job surprised me, there are several aspects of librarianship that I felt prepared for as a result of my academic work. While my entire graduate career was very memorable, there are a few classes that I refer to on a daily basis:
  • Cataloging. I’ve heard a few MLIS students who question the need to study cataloging if it is not part of their professional goal- “Do we really need to know this if we aren’t going to be catalogers?” Yes. The answer is absolutely yes. While I don’t catalog, I do read MARC records every day. So if there are any students out there who are reading this please believe me when I tell you to pay attention in your cataloging class.
  • User Instruction. I think anyone going into public librarianship should take some sort of user instruction. Not only did my experience with this class help prepare me for teaching computer courses, but I’ve also utilized these instruction skills while working with patrons individually in the computer lab
  • Business Reference. I will admit that I really did not want to take this class; however, I’m most grateful for the experience. I run into a lot of business related reference questions, so I am thankful my advisor talked me into taking it as it helped me assist patrons who are researching companies or studying local businesses.
  • Readers’ Advisory…of course! I am immeasurably grateful for the formal book club training I received in Becky’s RA class. Additionally, the study of genres, and the hot trends and authors within, was most useful. I work with readers of all genres every day so I definitely utilize the skills and tools discussed in RA.
  • This is a side note, but I once had a professor warn me that I would encounter a lot of gross stuff as a public librarian. She was right. Coffee stained book pages, sticky computer keyboards, false eyelashes stuck to returned items (no joke, this happened at my first library job); our profession can be a bit germy. Just know that you can never have enough Purell.

Lastly, if there are any soon to be graduates out there, or fellow first years, I thought I would include my First Year Librarian Survival Tips:

Make friends…fast. Your colleagues are your best resources when learning a new job. I am most fortunate to be surrounded by a team of librarians who are happy to answer my (somewhat incessant) questions and coach me through new practices with patience and enthusiasm. I also recommend eavesdropping (when appropriate) on your coworkers’ reference interactions. This is an excellent opportunity to observe a reference exchange from a seasoned librarian and also discover the most helpful resources used at the desk.

Take advantage of any early downtime. During my first few weeks, I was in an unusual place in that I had completed training but had yet to start any major work in book club, collection development, etc. This short window of time was an excellent opportunity for me to familiarize myself with the new library. I would walk through the stacks to learn some of the nuances of our collection: where the music scores were located, where to find the pencil sharpener (don’t laugh, patrons ask for it all the time).  When I couldn’t leave the desk to tour the space, I would practice using our various databases.

Prepare to be a team player. As a new librarian, you should expect to find yourself on at least one committee. Whether it’s an internal team, or an external opportunity, know that you will probably be asked to join forces with a group of your peers. This is an awesome opportunity for new librarians to collaborate and develop professionally. If you are not automatically put on a committee, perhaps ask if there is any opportunity to join one of the various groups that work towards keeping your library functioning effectively.

Keep in touch with friends from graduate school and former colleagues. I include this tip for two reasons: 1.) Collaboration and Camaraderie: Getting together with former classmates is an excellent opportunity to celebrate your new profession, share stories, and get advice. 2.) Networking. A professor once told my class to look around at our peers because we are likely looking at future colleagues/managers/employees (This is true- I now work with two people who were former classmates). So keep in touch in an effort to continue to learn from each other, and you never know, you may find yourself working together again within a committee or association.


-Elizabeth is an Adult Services Librarian at Lisle Library District

2 comments:

Monica said...

Sounds like you are off to a terrific start, Elizabeth. You are going to be one of the all time greats. Thanks for sharing your experience.

Jo said...

You do a great job of pointing out some of the things we learn in library school that actually do come in handy. I look at MARC records more often than I ever thought I would, just for collection development.

It was great to read your post -- and a good reminder of how cool it is to be a librarian. And, your survival tips are great, too! :)