May 04 2009
by Penny Scott
When I began my current position at the University of San Francisco in 2003, I knew that five years down the road I would need to apply for a promotion. This involved showing my professional development and service by creating a promotion binder that traced my career development — and seemed a daunting task to my new librarian’s eyes, because I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to find enough professional opportunities with which to fill my binder. I’ve found, though, that the promotion process is a model for the art of being proactive about career development, both in thought and in deed. Being proactive requires an active, open, seeking attitude, as well as reliable, high-quality action. This combination is very powerful, and can help you get beyond the constraints of time, funding, geography, or your current job description — giving you a career path of which to be proud.
I am by no means an advocate of overscheduling or taking on more than what you can reasonably do. But having an open attitude about new challenges has served me well in finding ways to grow, and has led me to opportunities that I might not otherwise have considered. For example, though I do a lot of library instruction, I don’t do as much public speaking in other professional settings. Two years ago, I was offered the opportunity to serve on a panel about professional development for business librarians at the Special Libraries Association annual conference. I immediately said yes, then got nervous. But, reviewing the professional experiences I had had up to that point, I knew that serving on a panel was a good complement to the other work I had done. Being on the panel and attending the conference allowed me to explore SLA, which was a new professional association for me, and a new potential platform for professional development. It ended up being a very good experience, and a great fit for my professional portfolio!
Start small, then grow
Being on that panel was one opportunity that was offered to me — but I didn’t sit back and wait for others, and neither should you! Use your natural librarian sleuthing skills and stay on the lookout for all kinds of opportunities. Start with your workplace, and then branch out. At work, are there cross-training opportunities? Are you talking to colleagues about what they are doing? You can find many kinds of professional development opportunities to suit your personality and needs; the trick is to hone your current skills in a variety of settings, and be willing to try things that allow you to stretch and grow.
Don’t forget about the larger community around your work. If you’re an academic, look on campus for ways to partner with student groups, upcoming events, other academic departments, faculty, or staff needs. If you are in a public library, look to the city or town where you work for events, groups and committees with which to work. Scan newsletters, announcements, and email lists to see what is going on in town or on campus or within your company, and think of ways you can offer to assist. Are there tasks in your library or community that need to be done that no one is doing? Volunteer to do them!
For me, one example of this idea has been reviving my library’s new staff mentoring program. At one time this program had been active, but had fallen by the wayside. When I realized this I decided to resurrect the program, and now my library has a strong mentoring program. Another good experience has been doing outreach for my university’s school of business as their library liaison. I decided I wanted to go beyond emails and phone calls, so brought my laptop to the school during the weekly coffee break and offered research help. This has been a great success, and not just in the ways I had imagined. In addition to allowing me to provide on-the-spot research help every Tuesday morning, my presence has led to other kinds of interactions with students and faculty. My outreach has turned into an informal networking opportunity, which has both reminded people of ways that I can work with them, and helped me stay informed about programs at the school of business I can assist with.
Move into the profession at large
Your workplace and your community are great places to start, but don’t stop there. Professional organizations are great ways to get involved, stay informed, and supplement your work duties. For me, joining the New Members Round Table of the American Library Association was crucial in getting me involved in the profession, and allowed me to develop and hone a variety of skills, from public speaking, to leadership, to writing. NMRT was also an excellent introduction to the people and the opportunities of ALA.
Another excellent experience was getting involved with my library school’s alumni association. Here I was able to start out as co-creator of a job seekers’ web site, move to a position as a director at large, and ultimately become president of the association. During the years I’ve been involved, I’ve served on job panels, helped organize career and social events, written brief articles for our newsletter, and connected with alumni all over the U.S. This has really been fun — and another excellent opportunity for me to meet people, develop skills, and learn more about myself as a professional.
A few great places to look for opportunities or to hear about what others are working on include:
Beyond the Job: A fantastic place to view varied professional development opportunities.
LISCareer: An excellent collection of articles on all aspects of career development
Your library’s blog or newsletter, professional association websites, email lists, and publications, and meetings or informal chats with your colleagues!
The value of mentoring
It’s vital to keep your eyes and ears open, but having others keep their eyes and ears open on your behalf is even better! Mentors can assist you both in focusing your career path and in identifying opportunities. You can find mentors in your workplace, community, or in professional associations. Some organizations have formal mentoring programs that will match you up with a mentor.
If you have identified a potential mentor yourself, contact them to ask about opportunities they may think are a good fit for you. And be a good mentee! Know that your mentor is busy, and make it easy for him or her to help you. Always thank your mentor for their help. And as you go along, look for ways that you can share what you’ve learned as a mentor yourself.
Keep track, and keep it going
All of these actions helped me to fill my promotion binder with a variety of professional activities, and I’m happy to say that I was promoted! But engaging in professional development gave me other things as well; good friends, many new skills, and an extremely satisfying work life. Creating my promotion binder allowed me to keep track of what I had done, and helped me make decisions about what professional opportunities to pursue.
As I go forward in my career, my needs change, and so will yours. But being open and proactive will serve us throughout our time as library professionals. I, for one, am counting on that, because I am already preparing for my next promotion in 2012!
Penny Scott is a reference librarian and business liaison at the Gleeson Library/Geschke Center at the University of San Francisco. She obtained her MLIS from San Jose State University, where she is currently the president of the alumni association. She enjoys being professionally active, and is always looking for new opportunities to serve and grow.
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