May 01 2005
by Sally Gibson
After library school, I bounced around, holding three different jobs in four years. In 2000, I interviewed for a library position which I considered to be my dream job. The library, though, selected someone else, and I was very disappointed. However, this forced me to consider my current situation, where I wanted to be in the future, and the steps I needed to take to get there. I realized that I had learned new skills with each job and had started projects, but that I had not stayed long enough to completely implement any of the initiatives. On the surface, my resume did not have much substance.
At the same time, my boss told me that I needed to change or shape my current job to better fit my interests. She realized that I was not happy in my position, and I had two options: I could find a new job, or I could transform my current job into one that I wanted. The statement struck me as odd. I understood what she was saying, but her approach did not consider the needs of the organization. I think a better philosophy is to learn how to balance the needs of the organization with your personal interests, goals, and ambitions. A cataloger, for example, cannot just announce one day that she is now a reference librarian - but she can ask for additional reference responsibilities and offer to fill in on the desk when needed.
In order to achieve this balance between your needs and the needs of the organization, it is important to understand how the library operates, your role in the organization, potential growth areas, and how you can use various opportunities to accomplish your professional goals. Examine where you want to be and the means you can utilize to get there.
The first step is to develop an understanding of the big picture. Take time to learn how your library’s departments interact. What are the priorities of each department? What are they accomplishing now, and what would they like to accomplish in the future? How can you contribute? Most libraries are understaffed, and they are willing to let interested people assume different responsibilities. New ideas or projects mean more work, and, in order to accomplish new objectives, someone must tackle the tasks. If you are interested in a new project, then find ways to contribute.
You also need to be able to explain how your expertise would be of value. In some cases, just having an interest in the idea is not enough - especially if the new project is part of a different department. You will need to be able to convince the administration that this project is something that you should and are qualified to work on.
At the same time, consider your long-term career plans. Where do you want to be in five or ten years? How will you get there? What are some possible options or paths? How will you benefit from the different opportunities presented? Will they assist in achieving your goals? Understanding your needs and the needs of the organization will help maximize the benefits to both.
Volunteer for short-term projects if you do not plan to stay in your current situation for very long. This way, you will have the opportunity to see a project through from beginning to end. People can often talk about the start of a given project, but potential employers are also interested in the outcome. Many library opportunities do not have a defined ending date, so it is also important to participate in some with achievable short-term goals.
Keep your eyes open for unexpected opportunities and agree to participate in new initiatives. This will convey the image that you are willing to tackle a variety of projects, and that philosophy will be remembered down the road. Maintain a manageable workload. Get a realistic picture of the amount of work you can handle; you do not want to take on too much or make a poor contribution.
In 2000, I began a new job as a reference librarian. I accepted the job because it would provide me with the skills and experience I needed, skills which would have allowed me to land the dream job that I had interviewed for earlier in the year. There were five people in the department, and three of the librarians had been there over fifteen years. I assumed that I would be the newest librarian for a very long time. I would joke that I did everything that no one else wanted to do; I was constantly handed a variety of projects, and co-workers came to consider me as the person to ask.
Two years later, the electronic resources librarian left, and I was asked to assume those responsibilities. I then managed the electronic journals during the serials librarian’s leave of absence. I did not anticipate any of these events, but I had laid the groundwork to show that I was someone who would tackle new responsibilities and could handle new challenges. The result was that opportunities were created for me, and I was able to learn new skills and develop expertise in different areas.
At this point in my career planning, I have a firm idea of where I want to go. I am open to new opportunities and I have chosen to remain flexible in how I will achieve my goals. I am comfortable with the career philosophy of balancing the needs of the organization with my personal interests, goals, and ambition. At times it is a delicate balance, but in the end I have benefited from recognizing both my needs and the needs of my library.
Sally Gibson is the Serials & Electronic Resources Librarian at Creighton University’s Reinert/Alumni Library. She has held this position since September 2004.