Thursday night I participated as part of a panel set up by the SLA Student Chapter at the University of Toronto’s iSchool. The theme of the night was, “What’s the best career advice you’ve ever gotten?” One of my New Year’s Resolutions was to take more risks, and this dovetailed a bit with what I told these fledging information professionals: Stop being scared. A wise and sage librarian told me this recently, and it stuck.
Man, I was so intensely terrified in my second year of grad school — scared I wouldn’t get a job, scared I wouldn’t get a good job, scared I’d have to make lattes for a living, scared I’d be bad at everything, all the time. And then, when I took my new job, I was scared of the business world, scared I’d suck at this new gig, scared of the professional and lifestyle changes, scared I’d hate Sales. No more being scared, Meg! I’m not dodging bombs or performing brain surgery blindfolded. There really is no reason to be so scared. Also, everything worked out, I love my job and the work I do, and I haven’t had to make a single latte in years. All that fear was really unjustified, and didn’t get me anywhere. Silly.
I spoke with three other librarian people, all of whom had some really valuable things to say as well. One important theme that arose was the need to have, and to be — a mentor. Mentorship is huge, and it’s so key to passing on insights and good judgement from one generation of librarians to the next.
Another theme that came up was the myth that you have to figure out what type of library sector you want to work in for the rest of your life right now and go with it, because you can never ever leave that field to go do something else. Um, what? That’s just crazy talk. Transferable skills are easy to come by in our profession, and organizations love to hire people with an outsider’s perspective. Stay engaged with the profession, know how to talk the talk (one library’s company research is a other library’s prospect research is another library’s competitive intelligence), and you’ll go places.
Another important thing we discusses was the need to always advocate for yourself. Ask questions, be confident of the value you bring to your organization, show off your achievements, let people know how keen you are and what good ideas you have. Good things happen when new librarians speak up and assert themselves in the field.
It was a great evening, and I learned a lot. There are some really smart, dynamic, creative students coming out of the iSchool right now, so watch out. And if you’re in a position to hire new librarians — take note!
UPDATE: My friend (from the Internet, we’ve concluded that we don’t think we’ve ever *actually* met) Graham Lavender posted a refined view of my original statement. He says, you can’t stop being scared. But what’s important is this: “Don’t let being scared stand in your way.” Read his response here. Thanks, Graham for your insights!