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Things to Tell My Newbie Self

I’m a noob. by simplebitsdan, on Flickr


Depending on the day of the week, I don’t really know what I am. Am I a librarian, who has a strong interest in tech? Or am I a techie who happens to work in the Library field? What I have come to realize is that it doesn’t matter. Whatever it is that I am, I enjoy it, so I should focus on that.

Now, it took me about 5 years to come to that realization. But when I did, I immediately thought “I wish I could go back in time and tell myself about this!”

This got me to thinking: “What other things would I want to tell myself throughout my early career in libraries and library technology?” Shortly after asking myself this, an old friend of mine, who is a budding future librarian, asked me something along similar lines. So, here it is: the top 4 things that I would tell my younger self given the opportunity.

  1. The vast majority of your job will not be anything you learned in grad school (and that’s okay!)
    I remember my first quarter at UCLA, walking into the largest lecture hall I’d ever been in (it wasn’t really that big, I had just gone to a small college for my undergraduate studies) and being shocked with how “high level” the lectures were, wrestling with such existential questions as “What is documentation?” (it’s antelopes, by the way). I instantly thought back to all of the librarians I had come to know throughout my life and was suddenly much, much more impressed with them, assuming that all of these philosophical thoughts about information and documentation were constantly swirling around their heads too.

    Flash forward to today, and students at my university were seeing “reached maximum virtual host limit” as they tried to access the library databases. “Thanks a lot, SAGE,” I muttered to myself while bumping up the MaxVirtualHost limit yet again. “The things they don’t tell you about in school,” I thought to myself.

    I know, I know. It’s a pretty common refrain among practicing librarians that most of what they do on a day-to-day basis is informed more so by experience than by education. I certainly don’t see this as a problem though. It’s never a bad thing to know more about something than less. Sure, you may never catalog a single item in your life post-grad school, but because you took that course you probably have a ton of respect for people who live for cataloging. And who knows, the little bit of knowledge you happened to have held on to may prove useful to you or someone else coming up through the ranks.

  2. Keep in touch with your classmates — then keep building your network
    This is one I certainly could have done a better job on. I got to know some of my classmates during my degree program, but I was commuting from about 80 miles away, so I missed out on a lot of social gatherings. That being said, I owe an incredible amount of gratitude to those I did manage to keep up with, as they have proven to be constant sources of support, advice, and (perhaps most importantly) job leads.

    Building your network may require you to take a closer look at social media if that’s something you’ve been avoiding. You don’t have to let it take over your life, by any means, but I would recommend at least having a LinkedIn account (especially if you’re on the job hunt). If you’re in a tech role, roll the die with Twitter for a little while. I never really “got” Twitter at first, but the way in which the tech industry seems to have pretty much adopted it as a primary means to share knowledge has totally changed the way I look at it. There’s another hugely important way to build your network as well:

  3. Go to conferences (and do not skip the dine-arounds)
    I couldn’t decide whether or not to include this one, simply because many people don’t have much of a choice as to whether they can attend conferences or not ($). I would recommend to do whatever it takes to get to one — and try to find one that’s more along the lines of the area of librarianship you’re interested in. Don’t get me wrong; I’ve enjoyed the ALA Annual Conferences I’ve attended, and while they are certainly high on the “amount of free books” scale, the programs tend to be directed toward a broader audience than I would prefer. So, if you can only make it to one, get the biggest bang for your buck! If you’re interested in library technology, you have quite a few options (ER&L, Code4Lib, Internet Librarian, Computers in Libraries, and of course LITA Forum, among others).

    Also, go to the dine-arounds. I’m totally guilty of ignoring those for my first three years of conference going. The thought of meeting up with people I didn’t know, to go to a restaurant I’d never heard of, to talk about who-knows-what and then awkwardly split a bill pretty much sounded like my nightmare. What you’ll find out, though, is that even though you don’t know the people you’re dining with, you know them. They are you. You are them. It’s almost magical. You will have found “your people”. Go!

  4. Impostor syndrome is real and everyone has it (so stop worrying)
    Impostor syndrome, for those who may not be familiar with the term, basically means you’re constantly afraid of being found out as a fraud. David Walsh wrote a blog post that looks at this from a coder’s perspective and it pretty much hits the nail on the head for me. Having self-taught myself almost all of my tech skills, I always felt like my skills weren’t real. Real developers don’t have to Google things. Real programmers are fluent in JavaScript, C#, Ruby, and Python. For me, this stretched into librarianship as well. Real librarians publish in peer-reviewed journals and speak at conferences. Real librarians are featured in American Libraries and appear on trading cards. All of these were ideas I put into my own head.

    I was talking to a software developer friend of mine recently, and he was asking me what I was interested in learning over the next year. I told him I wanted to get better at JavaScript, learn Node.js, get comfortable with MVC frameworks, learn Ruby (on Rails), start using GitHub, get better at responsive web design, and, if I have time, learn about ASP.NET Single Page Applications and AngularJS. He said I was crazy. It still exists in my head, though: “if I want to be a real “whatever the heck I am”, I should know these things”. Obviously, this isn’t true. Ambition is a good thing, but left unchecked it can wreak havoc on your psyche. Just remember, no matter what, you are real. True, you may never know everything about everything, but neither will anyone else. Enjoy your own journey, and remember to have fun.

That’s all I’ve got for now. I’d love to hear what other bits of advice other practicing librarians have for their younger selves!


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  2. Molly Bitters

    From the public library perspective:
    It will take you at least six months to get comfortable with weeding any section you are given. You will weed stuff you later regret weeding, and have altruistic ties to things you really should get rid of. And that’s okay. There’s always OCLC loans.

    You will say something personal to a patron that in retrospect was incredibly stupid to share. We build personal relationships with patrons and as humans, you can’t be professional all the time.

    Remember that tax season is, for some people, the only time they enter the library. No matter how many times you’ve heard the same dumb joke or how irate they are, you want them to leave the library remembering your compassion and desire to help.

    Information is information. Those Google Map directions are just as valuable to that individual patron as finding an obscure reference resource. Satisfying any information need is rewarding.

    I laughed so hard at the antelope reference. 🙂

  3. Sybilla Cook

    Good article. Should be handed out to all young grads.

    Networking is all important in this life. One of my teachers said you don’t have to KNOW all the answers, just know where to find them.

  4. Ruth

    Great “share”. Hand to new LIS students, not just the recent grads. ?

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