By Sarah LeMire
Conventional wisdom holds that Americans change careers about seven times in a lifetime, and we know that people tend to have held close to a dozen jobs by the time they hit their mid-40s (United States, Dept. of Labor). We also know that many librarians come to librarianship later in life; recent data indicate that the median age of MLS students is 35 (Fiels). While the New Members Round Table is intended to welcome all new ALA members (it isn't the Young Members Round Table, after all), some new librarians who have passed the first blush of youth might experience some awkwardness as they are grouped in with much younger librarians. If librarianship is your second career, you may know that slightly uncomfortable feeling you get when you sit down at a table at an NMRT event and realize that everyone else there is at least a decade younger than you are.
New - but not necessarily young - librarians might experience some challenges finding their places in librarianship, but these experienced new librarians have a lot they can bring to their workplaces and to the profession. As a second-career librarian myself, I have a few suggestions to offer for other experienced new librarians who find themselves feeling a little self-conscious around their contemporaries who are senior colleagues and their younger peers.
You've Got Skills, Baby
One way that experienced new librarians can begin to feel comfortable in their new positions is to recognize that their previous work and life experience have endowed them with invaluable skills. For example, you probably have garnered a lot of experience working with others, whether that's difficult colleagues or intractable toddlers. You likely have learned patience and tolerance for differing opinions. You may have gained some leadership experience, particularly if you have supervised others in a previous position. You may have a lot of experience with customer service or with marketing services, which are both skills that librarians need to have. You likely have a lot of expertise with budgeting and financial management, which will be increasingly important as you rise through the ranks. All of these are skill sets that come with experience and which can be transferred seamlessly into the library environment. Regardless of which group you're working with, whether it's your own library or a library organization, your experience and skills will make you a valuable member.
Don't Forget That Old Job Quite Yet
Leverage your prior work experience in your new position. Think about any potential crossover between your previous work and your current job and how you could translate your pre-librarian expertise into your new responsibilities; perhaps you were a teacher and can use your pedagogical expertise in designing information literacy instruction. However, less directly related career fields can also have significant crossover. For example, in my previous career, I served as an Arabic translator in the US Army. While it may not immediately seem that there are major connections between that job and my current position as a reference and instruction librarian at an academic library, there are a couple of areas of significant overlap that have helped shape my first years in the profession. First, as an Arabic speaker (however rusty), I was immediately drafted to provide additional support to my library's Middle East collection. This gave me the opportunity to continue to build upon a skill from my previous career but to use it in a new way. But I really found my niche when I began to provide outreach to the campus student veterans, an underserved population at my university and at many others. My military experience gave me an entry point to this sometimes difficult-to-reach population and allowed me to connect my previous work to my current work in a way that felt unique and productive for me and for my library.
Experienced new librarians need to assert their value by transferring hard and soft skills into the library environment, but they also need to figure out how to relate to their new colleagues. It can be awkward to find that you have more in common with your more senior colleagues than you do with your fellow new librarians. Don't be embarrassed to be older and in the same job as a much younger librarian! As the saying goes, life is a journey, not a destination, and as an experienced new librarian you are an asset to your colleagues and to the field. That being said, though, here are a few tips to help you relate to young new librarians:
- Be friendly. Your age may make it easier for you to fit in with senior colleagues, but don't neglect your younger colleagues. Think back to your first job and remember how uncomfortable it is to be the youngest person in the organization. I've found that younger new librarians have been more than willing to respond to any friendly attempts to chat. Strike up a conversation and you'll find common ground, regardless of the age difference.
- Look for partnerships. While you're asserting your own value, don't forget that your younger colleagues have some excellent skill sets and life experiences that they can bring to the table, too. You may find that their skills nicely complement your own. Perhaps you can trade insights into different student populations, or you can collaborate on a project for your library.
- Be kind (to yourself). As an experienced new librarian, your life may look very different from the life of a younger colleague. As a mother of young children, I know that I can't possibly keep up with some of the activities of my young, single colleagues. For example, I limit travel to be home for my family. But I don't worry about keeping up with my younger, less encumbered colleagues because I know that I work hard, do good work, and I'm valued by my library. I also know that the work-life balance that I've established is not permanent; as my kids get older, I'll be able to travel more, and who knows? At that point, many of my younger colleagues may be home with their own children.
Remember that after a few years, we'll all move past the designation of "new librarian," and any age differences will become less and less noticeable. But as someone who has maintained a career outside of librarianship, you'll still be in the position to fully recognize what a great gig librarianship is. You have the benefit of perspective to help you fully appreciate what great and valuable work librarians do.
Sarah LeMire is Assistant Head of Research and Information Services at the University of Utah''s J. Willard Marriott Library. Previously, she served as an Arabic translator for the 4th Infantry Division out of Fort Hood, TX.
Fiels, Keith Michael. "Who We Are." American Libraries 44.7/8 (2013): 5. Web. 29 July 2014.
United States. Dept. of Labor. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "NLS FAQs." National Longitudinal Surveys. 16 June 2014. Web. 29 July 2014.