I very recently shifted positions from a large academic research library to a small art school library, and during my transition the phrases “settling for a job” and “upward mobility” were said to me quite a bit. Both of these phrases set me personally on edge, and it got me thinking about today’s career paths for librarians and how they view their own trajectory.
At my last job, I was a small cog in a very well-oiled machine. It was not a librarian position and because I was in such a big institution I did not have a large variety of responsibilities. Librarian positions there were traditionally tenure-track, though it was clear that Technical Services was already on the path to eliminating Librarian titled positions and removing MLIS/MLS degrees from the required qualifications of position descriptions. A recent post from In the Library With the Lead Pipe addressed the realities of professional impact on the career trajectory of academic librarians today:
While good advice is readily available for most librarians looking to advance “primary” responsibilities like teaching, collection development, and support for access services, advice on the subject of scholarship—a key requirement of many academic librarian positions—remains relatively neglected by LIS programs across the country. Newly hired librarians are therefore often surprised by the realities of their long term performance expectations, and can especially struggle to find evidence of their “impact” on the larger LIS profession or field of research over time. These professional realizations prompt librarians to ask what it means to be impactful in the larger world of libraries. Is a poster at a national conference more or less impactful than a presentation at a regional one? Where can one find guidance on how to focus one’s efforts for greatest impact? Finally, who decides what impact is for librarians, and how does one go about becoming a decision-maker?
Though my last job taught me a great deal about management and scholarly publication, I accepted my current position at a small art school library because of my desire to take on a role that required me to wear a lot of different hats taking care of cataloging, helping with circulation and reference, and dabbling in student library programming. While this appeals to me greatly because of how multi-faceted my job can be, I often received negative opinions from colleagues at my last institution prior to my transition. It couldn’t be a very good position if I was doing cataloging and reference, they’d say. The unsolicited advice I was given was “don’t settle for a job. Really think about your career trajectory so that your resume makes sense to future employers.”
This sentiment really made me uncomfortable. The fact that someone would imply that the job I was taking was inferior to my institution at the time and that the only reasonable explanation was that I was “settling” was offensive. Isn’t a career trajectory something that should really only concern the individual accepting those positions? Librarianship is such a multi-faceted and diverse field, is there really such a thing as a career trajectory that “makes sense?” Is there one clear path for everyone that is meant to lead to “upward mobility?”
Should we all be viewing professional impact in librarianship the same way? My last professional environment heavily stressed implementing new (but inexpensive) technologies that would enhance library discovery and bibliographic control. My current environment is much more holistic in that it encapsulates information literacy, high-quality reference, and really just making the library a more welcoming place for students to be in.
So how do we determine the altmetrics of our career trajectory? Is there a right and a wrong way, and does this change from early-career to mid-career librarianship? In a DIY age where a lot of us are teaching ourselves skills we know to be highly desired on the fly, how do these factors contribute to our view of the impact we have on the field?