Notes from a New Librarian: a look back at my first year as a professional librarian

  nmrtfootnotes logo   

By Holly Wilson

So, you've sent out the resumes, gone through a variety of interviews and finally accepted the offer for what you hope is your dream job. So, what now?

Perhaps you are uprooting your life and moving to a new location for the new job. That was the case with me. After living in Chicago for 10 years, I accepted a position in Brooklyn, New York and had approximately six weeks to get my husband and I packed, moved and ready to start my new position. Looking back on it, I would recommend planning out a fairly detailed timeline. It ended up being pretty down to the wire in my situation as far as getting ready for the move. If you are going a long distance, I would recommend looking into professional movers. Oddly enough, that can work out to be less expensive than renting a truck. It's definitely worth a little research since movers can reduce a lot of stress. Try to move with some time to get settled in your new place and familiarize yourself with the new area before the job starts. If you have made any connections with your soon-to-be colleagues, ask questions you have about the area and see if they have recommendations on places to go and things to do.

On your first day, you are likely to be overwhelmed with information. Invest in a small notebook to carry with you and make notations on what you learn for future reference. You won't be expected to remember it all immediately, but for me, it helped to keep some notations to refer to later. Try to get a sense of how things work and how people communicate in that particular environment. Every workplace is different and it will take some getting used to, without a doubt. Generally your first few months are intended to be a time for learning and adjusting to the position. Don't be afraid to ask questions - hopefully you have identified a few colleagues who are open to questions and who want to help your transition. Walk around the library on your own and familiarize yourself with the collection, particularly if you are a reference librarian. If you are in an academic library, as I am, get familiar with the campus. I have to admit that I did not do a lot of that initially, and now, over a year later, there are still some buildings on campus that I haven't been in yet.

Take the time to really learn about how things work in the library and around campus and start building a network. If your position includes liaison duties, and you are unsure how to go about making that first contact, talk to colleagues who also have liaison duties and see what methods have worked for them. They may have some insight on how the campus operates that can help facilitate those initial conversations. If there's no one to turn to, you can reach out to a department head or chairperson and get their input - they should know how best to reach their faculty.

Is your position part of a union? If so, spend time reading the contract and understand the benefits and protections it offers you. Attend a union meeting - that can also be a good way to get to know people around campus and my theory is that, if you are in a union, you may as well make it work for you! Does your position encourage you to be involved outside the library? If so, talk to colleagues in similar positions to see how they got involved. Find something that interests you and figure out how to get involved with it. As an example, I am very interested in being an active participant in my union. I went to meetings and got to know active members, most notably, the Union President. Knowing that contract negotiations were approaching, I asked about being involved on the Steering Committee. My participation was welcomed and as an outgrowth of that, I became a member of the Negotiating Team and was able to voice my opinions and help shape the new contract. That was an intense, yet extremely rewarding experience.

It's a good idea to be involved with the profession overall, too. Join relevant discussion lists and participate in committees for professional associations. Does your position offer funding for professional development? If so, definitely make use of it! Know what the limitations are and make sure you know the right procedures to follow. Some will have you pay out of pocket and request reimbursement, and others will be able to initiate payment on your behalf. Be certain you know the parameters and requirements up front.

I can not stress enough the helpfulness of a good mentor. A mentoring relationship may not be right for everyone, but it certainly has helped me a great deal. A mentor can be a good source of ideas and information. They can help you navigate a new job or in the case of an academic library, help with questions about how to get involved in institution-wide activities. It actually took me quite a while after befriending a certain librarian to realize that, in fact, he is my mentor. It isn't anything formalized, to be sure, but we have personalities that communicate well and have fostered a level of trust. If I am having difficulties or concerns, I know that I have someone with a few years experience to go to for advice. He is always willing to listen and offer suggestions or ideas that have been tremendously beneficial. I was lucky enough to happen into a mentoring situation. There are many options within ALA and NMRT as well as other organizations and associations which facilitate mentoring through formalized programs.

Hopefully, this will give you some ideas on approaching the start of your new career. It can be a stressful process, but it is also an exciting time to really explore and develop personally as well as professionally.