When I read (via @CILIPinfo – thanks!) that the Australian Library and Information Association were collecting top 10 library lists for 10/10/10, my first response was “great!”. I love reading top 10-type lists, and I also find dates like this oddly pleasing – but what to write about?
After running through some of the options (top 10 librarians on twitter, top 10 library blogs, top 10 insert-category-here libraries) I decided to make it a bit more personal, and to write about what I think are the 10 most important things I’ve learnt about my profession so far. That’s not to say that I’m not interested in the top 10s I’ve decided not to cover, but I know there are librarians out there who are far better qualified to write about them than I am – and I hope they do!
Top 10 things I’ve learnt from being a librarian
1. Expect the unexpected
There are so many things I do in my current post that I wasn’t expecting it to include, and would never have imagined I’d be any good at (or even remotely interested in) – and these are some of the most rewarding parts of my job. You never know quite what you’re going to be asked by patrons or colleagues, and this is one of the greatest challenges but also (in my view) one of the greatest joys of being a librarian.
2. Look for the positives
There have been occasions where I’ve felt seriously demotivated, unhappy, or annoyed about things at work, and I know this sounds really cheesy but I’ve found that the best way to deal with such things is to have a good rant about it all to someone sympathetic and then to start looking at what I can do to change the situation. Is there someone I need to speak to about it? Are there any new projects I can get involved with? Do I need more training? Is it time to move on? These kind of questions have really helped me to pin down the exact source of my problems, and enable a constructive solution to be found, and I find that taking a proactive approach to issues is a big confidence booster too. (NB. this is wisdom gained after many many rants, and a couple of periods of rather miserable inertia, and I still enjoy the therapeutic benefits of a good rant from time to time!)
3. You just can’t please some people
There will always be people who take your best efforts and say “oh, so you can’t give me what I need then”, regardless of how much other relevant information you have actually provided them with. It is possible that this is down to a communication failure on your part, which is always worth considering (and it has taken me a long time to realise this), but there are some occasions when you will never win, and it’s best to let them go. If they identify a gap in your skills or knowledge then use this as a learning opportunity, but try not to let the defeats fester.
4. Leave your preconceptions at the door
All sorts of people use and work in libraries – this is no profession for the bigoted. Not that I ever was (I hope), but I’ve certainly found my first impressions of people challenged in all sorts of interesting ways. I’m not a big people person, and sometimes I have to make a huge effort, but I find that the personal service element of librarianship is almost always rewarding, especially when I’ve managed to produce an unexpected gem of information.
5. Twitter is a fantastic resource
For quite a long time I was very sceptical of Twitter, subscribing to the “isn’t it all just Stephen Fry talking about what he had for lunch” school of thought. I initially signed up as I was asked to investigate web 2 applications for possible use in promoting our library services, and I thought I’d minimise the risks by starting with a personal account. Little by little I discovered the fantastic community of librarians on there, as well as people who share some of my personal interests, and now I’m hooked. I’m just finding my feet in terms of making my own contributions, but I’ve found out about several events and lots of useful online resources which would probably otherwise have passed me by. I also love reading all the snippets of news, comments, and random facts which people share.
6. Networking is really worthwhile
Following neatly on from my previous point, probably the most important benefit of Twitter is that it allows me to tap into a network of fellow LIS professionals. This has prompted a fairly major sea-change in my personal perspective, previously I hadn’t thought very much about what it meant to be a LIS professional outside my own career path, but now I feel as though I’m part of something much larger and far more significant. I’ve blogged previously about Lex Rigby’s excellent presentation on the values of networking, but I just want to stress here how significant networking has been in enabling me to feel part of a community. I find taking the plunge and speaking to new people really daunting, whether at conferences, training courses or other events, and even online, but it does get easier the more I do it, and in my view the benefits far outweigh the risks.
7. I’m hopeless at cataloguing in Dewey
Cat. and Class. was my weakest module in library school, and it turns out that I’m pretty bad at applying DDC in the real world as well. Fortunately only a small proportion of our book stock ends up in our Dewey sequence, and I have access to online bibliographic sources and a more highly-skilled colleague to help me out. My excuse is that I don’t do it very often, and if I did I might get better at it; but I think the ultimate moral of the story is that I probably can’t be good at everything, no matter how much I would like to be, though it won’t stop me trying nevertheless.
8. Librarians are powerful people
This is quite a recent revelation to me (via Phil Bradley). Librarians have information, and information is power. Librarians also need excellent marketing skills to ensure that everyone knows about the information they’ve got to offer (though maybe we shouldn’t tell too many people about the power, it might upset them!). I’m not sure I’ve entirely grasped how to use the power yet, but I’m working on it, and my marketing skills are improving all the time!
9. Self-belief can get you further than you might expect
Several of the most important things which have happened to me over the last few years, both personally and professionally, have come about because I ignored the doubting voices in my head and just did it anyway. In spite of whatever evidence there was to the contrary I believed in what I was doing, and in my ability to do it, and I’m convinced that this belief enabled me to get the results I wanted.
10. You never stop learning
Probably my favourite thing overall about being a librarian is the fact that almost every day provides an opportunity to learn something new, either through interaction with patrons or colleagues, and I’m sure there aren’t many jobs where you can say that.
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