July 29, 2014

An Open Letter to New Librarians

Dear New Librarian,

PC Sweeney, a self-described “newish” librarian whom I’ve had the pleasure to meet recently, wrote a blog post about some of his professional frustrations. This sparked a number of supportive comments from other newly-minted librarians. Clearly a number of you feel the same way.

To recap some of those frustrations, PC noted in his post:

…budget cuts, checked-out librarians that refuse to retire, passionate and newer librarians who are dying to get the chance to do amazing work in libraries but can’t find job openings, ALA’s ludicrous and ineffectual institutionalization, ALA’s and state organization’s unwillingness to act as an advocate for librarianship, librarian’s unwillingness to fight for librarianship, library closures, library reductions in staff and money, libraries lack of ability (or refusal) to adapt to a changing information world, vendors that overcharge and under-deliver products and services that library patrons can’t or refuse to use, the hostile political environment of the people who claim that freedom isn’t free but someone else should pay for it, and all of the other systems in place that are working to keep libraries from getting ahead.

I can’t and won’t argue with much of this, as I think it sounds like a pretty good description of when I entered the profession as a newly-minted librarian in 1986. Or at least it puts words to many of the frustrations I felt then as well. I spent the early part of my career trying to convince the profession that the Internet was a sea change and we would ignore it at our peril. Was I impatient? Sure thing. Frustrated? You betcha. Am I trying to deny or belittle the frustrations of new librarians now? Of course not, I’m validating them. They’re real.

But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t worth struggling against them and working to make things better. Eventually you may even find it rewarding, as you make progress and chalk up successes.

So having fought the good fight in my day, and experiencing my own professional struggles that have not always (or even frequently) resulted in success, I have a few words of advice:

  • Find fellow travelers. This can be a huge help. These are the people who will help you get through the down times. They will likely not be at your institution. They will be people you connect with online and at conferences who share your views on where we need to be going and they will serve as sounding board, support system, and inspiration.
  • Pick your battles. I learned early on that serving on ALA committees was simply not my style. Therefore, although I have been an ALA member since before my first professional job, I have mostly avoided anything that smacked of governance work. Call me a coward, but that’s pain I can do without.
  • Know yourself. Work at learning who you are professionally. Know what engages you (you will be good at these things), what bores you (you will suck at these), and what frustrates you (you will avoid these). Learn to navigate your way through the landmines to your professional nirvana.
  • Cut some things loose. There will be things that you cannot change. Learn to cut them loose so you can focus your energies on the things you can change.
  • Focus your efforts where you can make a difference. Identify some things that you can do that are within your talents, that deeply interest you, and for which you can envision potential success. This may mean starting small and working your way forward incrementally. Big things can be accomplished this way.
  • Savor success. The small ones as well as the big ones. Did you get that report finished? Good on you. Crack open the bubbly.
  • Savor the success of others. Praise a colleague who has accomplished something worthwhile. Take someone out for a drink who has reached a professional goal. Basking in their joy of accomplishment will warm your heart and encourage you.

I’m not trying to say that if you do the things above that it will be easy. It won’t. Deeply committed and visionary people will also tend to be frustrated and impatient. But I’m here to tell you that with dedication and patience you will not only survive, but thrive. Our profession is counting on you to do so. Only the best and the brightest are frustrated. Everyone else is bored, or unengaged, or biding their time for retirement. You are the ones we simply cannot do without.

Yours in struggle,

Roy

Photo courtesy of mariachilly, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

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Roy Tennant About Roy Tennant

Roy Tennant is a Senior Program Officer for OCLC Research. He is the owner of the Web4Lib and XML4Lib electronic discussions, and the creator and editor of Current Cites, a current awareness newsletter published every month since 1990. His books include "Technology in Libraries: Essays in Honor of Anne Grodzins Lipow" (2008), "Managing the Digital Library" (2004), "XML in Libraries" (2002), "Practical HTML: A Self-Paced Tutorial" (1996), and "Crossing the Internet Threshold: An Instructional Handbook" (1993). Roy wrote a monthly column on digital libraries for Library Journal for a decade and has written numerous articles in other professional journals. In 2003, he received the American Library Association's LITA/Library Hi Tech Award for Excellence in Communication for Continuing Education. Follow him on Twitter @rtennant.

Comments

  1. My decision to get an MLS degree is making my decision to get an undergraduate degree in Anthropology seem very pragmatic and forward-looking.

  2. Marc, it totally, totally is!

    ~a fellow Anthropology/MLSer

  3. “Only the best and the brightest are frustrated.”
    This will be a new sign above my desk!

  4. I’m don’t consider myself a new librarian anymore, but I’m still a young one, and I’m just as frustrated as I ever was. This is good advice for all of us. Thanks, Roy.

  5. Only the best and brightest are frustrated!!! WONDERUL INSPIRATION. Thank you. :D

  6. Thank you for writing this! I am two months into my new job as a reference librarian at Southern California Library Cooperative. I am looking forward to being frustrated, and ready to make a difference!

  7. Julie Williams says:

    Thanks for the essential reminder – “Know Thyself.” As one hardheaded gal who is nearly done with her MLIS, but has grasped any challenge to try to prove her capability at all (and has ended up doing amazing work, failing miserably, and avoiding the rest), your words are a poignant reminder and a hopeful balm to my soul:

    Know yourself. Work at learning who you are professionally. Know what engages you (you will be good at these things), what bores you (you will suck at these), and what frustrates you (you will avoid these). Learn to navigate your way through the landmines to your professional nirvana.

  8. Roy – Thanks for the advice. I think even some of the not-so-new librarians like me can use it :-)

  9. Roy, your advice to new librarians is much more on target than your original prediction about Kindles. ;-)

  10. Thank you. I’m almost five years in the profession now, and no longer new, but still frustrated and am working toward another opportunity, sometimes wondering if I should do something else entirely. When I started, I’d ask why we did ______ or ____________ the way we did. I was told, “Well, it’s always been done that way.” I’ve learned to pick my battles and change has happened …slooooooowwwwwly.

  11. KGS: Hey, we all have our misses. I’m cutting that one loose. ;-)

  12. Oh I know… I remember seeing the first text-based web browser and commenting, “This will never take off”

  13. You, and the Lipstick Librarian, and Karen, are saying true, and useful, and indeed lovely things.

    I would like to add my “Ten Graces for New Librarians” the commencement address I gave in 1996 at SUNY Albany. It is good to know so many of our thoughts are shared, and remain.

    http://www.well.com/user/ladyhawk/albany.html

  14. Lindsay S. C. says:

    Thanks, Roy, for the encouraging words!

  15. Jenny Reiswig says:

    Taking a page from your “bookend” post for long-term librarians, I think it would be a good appendix for new librarians to listen as well. Not all long-term librarians are checked out dinosaurs who need to get of the way. Really. You may very well find fellow travelers in your institution, even if we do have a few more, um, stamps in our passport. Or something. And at least seeking them out may help break down some of the us-and-them feelings that are just barriers to building any kind of mutual trust and respect. If it works for your institution, beer is a pretty good uniter.

  16. Jennie Stoltz says:

    Well said Roy. I was a Children’s librarian for almost 12 years and have been a Director for about 4 years and the one thing that did take me a while (almost too long) to learn is “pick your battles”. There are many things out there right now that we need to be aware of but it is important not to get bogged down in something that although seemingly important may not have long standing end result(s). I know too that it is frustrating to new librarians that the “old” librarians don’t seem to be retiring but the fact is that is not just happening in our industry, it is happening everywhere. Keep the faith though – we need new librarians and there ARE those of us who are working to advocate for the profession.

  17. I just finished my MLS in December and these are some of the best words of encouragement and inspiration I have seen – Thank you.

    While I look for a fellow librarian to take a chance on a new graduate and apply to job after job, I do my part to advocate for the profession because I know new librarians are needed.
    For example, I share articles and resources about what libraries and librarians are doing on my social media sites, informing those people who think that libraries and librarians are going “extinct” that libraries and librarians are here to stay and are vital to surviving and developing during the information age. The feedback I get is the rewarding part as well, because most people do not have a clue about what we can do or what services we can supply, and if one person knows and can spread the word, all the better.
    So I encourage new students/graduates, despite the frustrations I share with you, to spread the word and advocate for the profession by which ever means you can. If no one knows what we have to offer or how dynamic we can be in multiple arenas, well we may just find ourselves going extinct in one of the most developmental times of our lives.
    Keep your heads up fellow travlers and thanks again Roy.
    “Deeply committed and visionary people will also tend to be frustrated and impatient. But I’m here to tell you that with dedication and patience you will not only survive, but thrive. Our profession is counting on you to do so”

  18. Michael Matthews says:

    Sweet Lord, this (and the original blog post) will help me get through today. Have you ever tried to gain support for a cooperative collection development agreement in a state facing draconian cuts? I’ve grown accustomed to hearing the sounds of crickets chirping after my presentations.

  19. As a soon to be SLIS grad, you have *no* idea how much I needed to read this (thank you for the link Karen!) I am sharing this information right now!

    Every bullet point resonated with me in one way or the other and “…with dedication and patience you will not only survive, but thrive.” is going to be my new mantra.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  20. Cheryl Gould says:

    Great post Roy. Echoing your thoughts, I want to share the four principles used by groups that survived the holocaust. It turns out that being strong, aggressive and powerful wasn’t a predictor of survival but groups who agreed to abide by these rules were more likely to survive. I, in no way, mean to equate the situation of libraries with the holocaust. I do believe this is a good formula for working to improve the planet.

    1. No Denial
    2. Have hope
    3. Be willing to do something – take small steps
    4. Be willing to give and get help.

  21. Mrs. Shreya says:

    Cut some things loose – It’s really a good advice because some things can’t be changed. So to cut them loose is the only ulternative…Focusing one’s energy on things that one can change is really beneficial…Thank you.

  22. Ink Paper Words says:

    @ susie quinn

    I know of a certain county system in the central valley where the stores of frustration will be limitless for you!

Trackbacks

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