Finding Your Feet in a New Place
by Coral Hess
When I moved back to Pittsburgh for library school, I never really expected to stay. I had read countless articles and mailing list posts warning that new grads have to be flexible about location. With three library schools nearby I expected, and indeed found, a flooded job market. Assuming my graduation would be followed by employment, I figured that I would have to move, possibly very far away. Even so, it was with great trepidation--and of course excitement--that I found myself accepting a position in Anchorage, Alaska. I realized that was just about as far as I could get from the bulk of my friends and family and still be in the U.S. I also understood that it's a strange place: bears and moose wander through town, and there are wild swings in daylight from summer to winter. It would be a challenge. But it was exactly the kind of job I wanted, with smart and friendly coworkers, in a beautiful library. Also, when I visited for my interview, I found that I really liked the city.
I planned out a travel itinerary, packed what would fit in my new SUV (another thing I never expected: to own an SUV), and said goodbye to my fiancé for four months. While a flight and paid moving truck might have been less stressful for us both, the drive was gorgeous, and the staggered move fit better with our pet care and financial needs. Now, every week or so, a box comes from my fiancé, who is shipping the rest of the things we "need," such as the books that survived our heavy weeding. I'll meet up with him before the ALA Midwinter Conference, and we'll fly back to Anchorage together.
In the meantime, I have been left very much to my own devices in this new place, so I've pulled together some advice for new grads--or even more experienced librarians--who are planning to move somewhere new.
First and foremost, ask questions of your coworkers as you go through the process of moving. I kept a blog detailing my preparations, the drive, and my first couple of weeks in Anchorage. I sent a link to my blog to several of my new coworkers and they passed it on to the all-staff mailing list. Looking at the stats for the blog, you can't miss the day that happened; it looks like everyone in my library and a few people in neighboring libraries all read it. So I had this communication channel open that gave me a chance to obsess over details and it gave all of my coworkers a chance to offer advice--which many did, very generously. One coworker offered to do a drive-by of apartment buildings I was looking at, a couple insisted I tell them when I arrived in town so we could have dinner together, and several were able to provide information about cracked windshields, cell phone plans, fun local things, and all manner of other subjects. An equally good approach, if you're not the blogging sort, is just to call or email your new supervisor or someone from your search committee to ask for advice. My point is, we're librarians. We love helping and providing as much information as possible. Even if you aren't working in a library, there are probably libraries where you're going. Email some local librarians for advice. Also, it doesn't hurt to start networking early. The Anchorage Public Library was able to provide me with several really valuable information resources that helped me plan my move. All of these librarians, whether immediate coworkers or not, were crucial in the moving process. While I'd still have made it here without their help, it would have taken much longer and been way more stressful and expensive.
As busy as preparing to move may make you, be sure to take some time out to really research the place. Look for municipal websites and for crime statistics by neighborhood, especially if you're trying to choose an apartment--the local librarians can help point you to these "official" resources. But you will also want more general information. See if there's a free weekly paper, like Seattle's The Stranger or DC's City Paper; they'll usually have websites full of information about local shows and issues of interest. Check the local newspaper's website now and then, as well. If you use a Twitter application like TweetDeck, you can leave open a search for a city name; I found this very informative in the weeks leading up to the move. And definitely don't neglect the social side of things! I found several interesting groups on Meetup.com, Google Groups, and Yahoo Groups, besides the ones that came up in search engine results, and I got in touch with them before I left. Facebook, MySpace, LiveJournal, and Ravelry also yielded varying results for me--the quality of each seems very dependent on where you're going. But all of this social preparation gave me another thing to look forward to--I had people to meet up with, literally from day one. (I actually drove into town too late in the day to make the first meetup I had planned on attending.) Some groups and activities have been a great fit, while others haven't, but that's normal enough. The people that you hit it off with will tend to introduce you to more people you'd like, over time. If you spread a wide enough net, you're sure to find plenty to keep you busy outside of work.
Finally, if it's at all possible, give yourself an extra week or two before you start work, in order to settle in and explore. If you're nervous about checking out restaurants or bars without prior knowledge, you can check Yelp.com for reviews. Also, this is your chance to be a tourist in your new home: go ahead and pick up the tourist guides for the area and hit those spots. You'll be glad you did when people come to visit and expect you to show them around. And if you let the folks at the tourist spots know that you're not really a tourist, but a new resident, a lot of times they'll end up pointing you to good places that are a little more off the beaten path. If you have a GPS receiver, great; it will help you orient yourself. To get a better grip on navigation over the first couple of weeks, try using it in "map only" mode, rather than giving it a set location to navigate to every time. Get lost a couple of times, and figure out the way home, knowing you have the GPS safety blanket. Look things up on Google Maps or Mapquest and figure out how you would get there before checking the automated directions. The sooner you get comfortable navigating, the sooner the place will start to feel like home.
Moving is tough--more so if it's a new place where you don't know anyone--but it's also a way to get a fresh start, a better perspective, and furniture that you like. Explore, ask questions, and enjoy the experience. And, if you find you're moving to Anchorage, go ahead and shoot me an email. I'll tell you what I know!