Building Your Professional Toolkit

By Julia Frankosky

This year's NMRT President's Program topic was "Building your Professional Toolkit," which brought nine speakers together to discuss different aspects of being a new librarian, from personal branding and job hunting, through improving interpersonal skills and working with vendors. This was a great group of speakers who were able to provide tips that new librarians could use to improve their skill set and lay the groundwork for a successful career.

Justin Hoenke, a.k.a. Justin the Librarian, enthusiastically discussed the importance of "Personal Branding!" Personal branding is all about turning yourself and your career into a brand that you can market to employers and your community. When branding yourself, it's important to stay positive and emphasize your awesomeness. Personal branding is great because not only does it make your life more exciting, it can help you be the librarian you want to be, e.g. creating a confident, outgoing librarian persona that you can use, especially if you're not very extroverted. Personal branding also gives you a way to connect to your community and for your community to connect with you. When trying to create your personal brand, remember that you are amazingly awesome and that you shouldn't keep this to yourself; let everyone know. Find something you like, for example gaming in libraries, focus on it and find an outlet to share your thoughts and ideas, such as through blogging, tweeting, and Tumblr.

Benjamin Andrus discussed one the most frustrating aspects of being a new librarian: job hunting. In his talk "Job Search and Juggling Part-Time Jobs," Benjamin acknowledged that job hunting can be frustrating because for every fifteen resumes you send out, you're lucky if you get one call back. It's easy to feel discouraged, but it's crucial to remain optimistic and use the lack of response as motivation to find projects and build skills that will set you apart from everyone else in the applicant pool. Keep your skills and resume up-to-date and expand your network; your network is one of the most valuable job hunting tools that you can use. Remember when it comes to getting an interview, generally there's no real rhyme or reason behind why your resume ended up in one pile over the other. Just keep putting yourself out there and keep trying; you never know when your luck will turn around. Recommended job search sites: ALA Job List, LibGIG, HigherEd Jobs, and I Need a Library Job.

Nora Quinlan was on a perpetual search committee when her academic library went on a hiring frenzy, so she is intimately familiar with the topic of "Why you didn't get the job: A behind the scenes look at a library search committee." If you've never been on a search committee, you may not realize that filling a position is a lengthy process and can take six months or more. Behind the scenes activities include building a position description that is approved by department directors and other administrative personnel, getting a search committee of three to five people assembled, posting and publicizing the job, and building a strong candidate pool; all of which can easily take three months. The next step is phone interviews and then the top three or four choices will be invited for an in-person interview. But this doesn't mean that the job search is almost complete, as there are many unknowns that may happen, such as candidates withdrawing because of other offers or offers being turned down. Sometimes, five months into the search, the search committee is back at square one. So remember, when you're applying for jobs, start early, because the process takes longer than you anticipate.

Cory Eckert spoke on community engagement and networking. When she came to her public library, there were a lot of changes needed, such as weeding the collection and adding educational components to story time. Cory began making changes despite the change resistant atmosphere using the idea that it is easier to ask forgiveness than to ask permission. Some changes needed buy in from the community, so Cory went to them. Starting with the city council, she invited them into the library, and then she went out to the community at large, hosting well-publicized library events. The community needs to know what's going on at the library and it's hard to get the word out if you never leave the building. Cory got out of the library, holding "office hours" at a local coffee shop and providing reader's advisory to patrons. By getting out into the community, she and the library are seen as approachable. She builds personal relationships by having real conversations and skipping the small talk. These relationships have built trust between herself and the community, so when she makes big changes, the community supports her decisions.

Sheila Urwiler discussed "The four F's of leadership." If you respect your staff and your patrons, you will inspire them to respect and trust you. You can do this by adhering to the following: First: Be proactive and manage by doing. Don't just sit in your office and delegate; get out there and do the work. Don't shy away from the crummy jobs; if you wouldn't do it yourself, how can you expect your staff to do it? Fair: Trust everyone the same. Be honest in your communication and be sure to listen to all sides before making a decision. Firm: Mean what you say and say what you mean. Before making a decision, get the full picture so you won't have to go back and change things later. Follow up to ensure your directions are being followed. Flexible: Not every situation is black and white. While policies should be the basis for your decisions, they don't have to be the hard and fast rule. Sometimes situations require you to be open to change and ready to adjust accordingly.

Emily Sanford explained why it's important to understand emotional intelligence in the workplace. Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify, understand, and control not only your emotions, but the emotions of others. There are four hallmarks of emotional intelligence: Self-awareness: The capability to recognize and understand your own emotions and how they affect others. Traits indicative of self-awareness are self-deprecating sense of humor, self-confidence, and maintaining a clear head in turbulent situations. This is a good skill to have at work because you understand your emotional triggers and you're less likely to be distracted by trivial details. Self-management: The ability to use your awareness of your emotions to manage your emotional reactions. Examples include openness to change, comfort with ambiguity, and thoughtfulness. In a work setting, this skill helps you decide when to speak up and when to remain silent and it helps you deal with change. Social Awareness: Also known as empathy, this is the ability to pick up the emotions of others. Examples include understanding non-verbal communication and knowing how to talk to people with different personality types. This skill helps you be a motivational leader. Relationship Management: Building and maintaining relationships over time. Examples of this trait include friendliness, persuasiveness, and connecting people and ideas. This characteristic also helps you to be a better leader and a good communicator.

Ed Garcia jumped into a new job and decided to be impulsive and take on some big renovation projects, which gave him a "Crash course in project management." Rather than taking his time and learning his job, he embarked on what became nine renovation projects across five buildings, which were rather difficult to manage. He quickly learned that he had to be incredibly well organized, which he did using Evernote and Dropbox. Evernote allows you to take notes and access them on any device. Dropbox gives you a place to store your files and access them from any device. He recommends that while you shouldn't take on so many large projects at once, you also shouldn't be afraid to take on projects.

Catherine Soehner presented on how to hold difficult conversations. Difficult conversations include telling someone that they will not be rehired, that they aren't performing up to standards, or they need to change how they've been doing something. While even experienced managers dread having these conversations, they can be incredibly terrifying to new managers. Instead of dwelling on your fear that you might be awful at this type of conversation or that you may get angry or emotional, try to remain calm and remember to be compassionate and sensitive. Put some thought into what you want to say and gather supporting resources, such as documentation of specific events. During the conversation, state the facts; ask questions, listen to the responses, and restate what you heard; set expectations and provide compliments; and pay attention. After the conversation, write down everything that happened and keep it in a file as evidence of the interaction.

Jason Chabak, a licensing manager with Springer, discussed how to negotiate with vendors. Communication is key when it comes to negotiations, not just for the obvious reasons but because it helps to build a relationship between you and the sales representative and aids in developing a mutual understanding. Get to know your sales representatives, even if you don't have any money at the time; take the time to learn about the products and to let the rep know what you want so that they can help you get the products you want and/or need when you have the money. When it comes to the actual negotiations, don't be afraid to tell your sales rep exactly what you want. Haggle and negotiate terms that benefit you. Have a walk away point and if it can't be reached, don't be afraid to say no. Ask for discounts and know that certain times of the year, such as the end of the fiscal year, might be better for discounts. And if you're not happy with what you purchased or if it isn't living up to your expectations, tell your sales rep. If you don't speak up, the vendor won't know that their product needs improvement or enhancements.