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Congratulations! You just got your first job as a brand spankin’ new librarian! You got a whole lot of support to get you here. You attended conference presentations, networked, read articles in professional magazines and read blog posts all about how to get a librarian job.
But what’s next?
In an effort to support and encourage new graduates in finding work, I’ve noticed (as a new librarian myself) that there isn’t a whole lot of energy devoted to supporting early-career librarians (read: total newbies) who are in the trenches learning the ropes of a new position in the midst of establishing their professional identity.
So, fellow newbies, this one’s for you. After some careful reflection on my own experiences as a new academic librarian, I’ve put together some tips for new librarians who are just getting started in their first professional gig.
In your first few months on the job, exercise the art of listening. Really take the time to learn the culture of your new work environment. I’m not saying don’t actively participate in meetings or group work sessions. You should definitely participate, ask questions, and ask for clarification about anything you can’t quite follow. Especially when it comes down to learning all those acronyms.
By taking a step back before diving in head first, you’ll have time to learn your surroundings and get a feel for the organizational culture at your new workplace.
Take advantage of institutional knowledge
Not sure what you’re doing? Looking for some direction? Want to ask for help with your teaching load, but don’t know who to approach or how to approach them? Your boss or immediate supervisor is a fantastic resource who can assist you as you navigate your new work environment. Develop an understanding of your relationship with your boss so this kind of open communication flows naturally.
Find your champion
Starting a new job in a new profession can be overwhelming. Some organizations offer a formal mentoring program. These are great for new librarians because in addition to learning about your new environment & institutional history, you’ll also learn a lot about librarianship as a profession.
Alternatively, keep your eyes and ears open for someone who believes in your potential or supports your ideas. Depending on where you work there can be some red tape or general politics that you haven’t learned to navigate yet. Finding your champion puts a more senior librarian in your corner to support your case (and you). Having someone rooting for you could also open doors to your professional development you may not discover on your own.
Be a diplomat
Not a diplomat? Become one. There are two things we are not taught in library school: how organizational culture affects the workplace and diplomacy skills (if you don’t have them, you will learn them).
Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
You’re a new librarian! There is so much that you don’t know, that you don’t even know how much you don’t know. Was that confusing? Simply put: asking questions will create opportunities for you to learn, so don’t ever think you “should” know something that you don’t.
Ask for help
In the same vein, don’t be afraid to ask for help. If you’re not sure how to advise a patron or you’re not confident in your expertise, follow up with a colleague and ask them if you’re on the right track (this is where a mentor comes in handy). This will boost your confidence and help you decipher what you know or don’t know.
Take advantage of opportunities
Learn to recognize opportunity when it’s staring you in the face. Then pounce on it, naturally.
But learn the power of saying “no” (politely)
As much as we would all like to take on everything we are interested in doing, it’s just not possible if you want to sustain a healthy work/life balance. Learn to recognize your own limitations so you don’t burn out before you can say “I’m OSAP free!”
So there you have it. You can take it or leave it, but that is my advice to you, from one newbie to another, as you begin your quest as a professional librarian.
Denise Smith is an early-career librarian in the process of forging a path for herself. She is currently an Education Liaison Librarian at McMaster University’s Health Sciences Library, where she is the liaison for the Bachelor of Health Sciences program. She presently serves as Vice-President/President-Elect on OCULA Council and is on the OLA Mentoring Committee as web content & social media coordinator. Denise can be contacted at dsmith [at] mcmaster.ca and @DeniseSmith85.