The View from This Side

I’ve been a librarian for about two and a half months now. In so far as I can accurately judge my job without students around to complicate things, I love it. I am intimidated by all that I still have to learn and all the new things I’ll be doing over the next year. At the same time, I’m finding I can make a difference, even when I don’t know absolutely everything about how my library works. I find that if you are simply up front about what you don’t know, what you need to find out, and what you’re going to do next, situations that could be tricky are suddenly smoothed over.

Recently, a friend from library school got a job in a town that I know pretty well. She emailed to ask for recommendations on cool places to go in the area and then she asked for any advice I might have for a new librarian. The recommendations were easy, but my first thought on the second part was, “Why are you asking me?! I have no idea what I’m doing!” Then, I realized that I actually do have a few things to say.

Tech tools that have made a big difference:

  • Workflowy: a great list making tool that I use for brain dumping and forgetting. It was especially helpful in the first few weeks on the job when ideas and questions were coming faster than I could remember them. I like that you can collapse the outline structure so you can keep everything but the list can be as short and manageable as you like.
  • Diigo: for bookmarking. I like that I can tag bookmarks and I can even highlight and annotate webpages and save them for later. This helps keep bookmarks organized and helps me remember why I bookmarked them in the first place.
  • Netvibes: for my feedreader. I wrote about this before, but I’m really loving Netvibes. The premium service is meant for a different kind of customer, but the free service is basically a feedreader with extra bells and whistles. You can create “dashboards” (basically tabs) for different topics that can be hidden from each other so you can effectively ignore topics you don’t want to see all the time while still allowing the information to be collected for later.
  • Evernote: for organizing information. I have lots of folders, and most of them contain notes that are the digital equivalent of scribbles. I also have the web clipping tool installed in my browser for clipping images and I love that I can send important emails to Evernote so everything can be in one place.
  • Zotero: for managing my citations. So. Much. Research. Zotero is currently keeping me sane as I wade through piles of articles and books on assessment in libraries. I add things here as I find them and then I create a note that says whether I have read it or not. If I’ve read it, I add a few sentences about whether it was helpful and in what way I might use the research in my library. It only takes a minute or two and is invaluable as a do-it-and-forget-it tool.

Most of these tools are things I that had heard about or used in a different capacity as a student but that have taken on new meaning and importance as a professional. You’ll notice that I favor tools that allow me to add personal meaning, organize for later, and forget about them until I need the information later.

Here’s some other advice I passed along:

It takes a while to get settled. You’ll feel like you have no idea what you’re supposed to be doing for a good 6 weeks. This is normal. You will figure it out. Absorb everything, observe everything, ask lots of questions, spend time writing and making lists of things you think are cool or interesting or possible or even impossible. It will fall into place.

Introduce yourself to everyone. It’s more awkward to be the one person in the group that is unknown that to take the step right off the bat to say “Hi, I’m Meggan, I’m new.” Not that you need to make the rounds or anything, just make a point to introduce yourself when it makes sense.

Say yes and show interest, especially at the beginning. Don’t necessarily commit yourself, but when someone asks if you want to see how something works or they go off on a long conversation on a topic that’s only really relevant to their job and stop and ask if you’re interested, say yes, ask questions, and follow up. Don’t get caught in the trap that if something’s not in your job description then it means you don’t need to know about it. Not that you need to be able to DO everything, but the more idea you have about how pieces fit together, the better off you’ll be.

Things that are your job and you shouldn’t feel bad about:

  1. Browsing the stacks. You need to know what the holdings are like and the absolutely best way to do this is to shelve books or just spend some time wandering. OPACs are not good for this at all.
  2. Reading. Professional literature, especially. The best part about reading as a professional is that if it doesn’t interest you or isn’t relevant to what you’re doing right then, you don’t have to read the whole thing. It’s not like in school where you have to read stuff you hate. I’ve spend quite a bit of time this summer reading books and journal articles. This is your job, too.
  3. Chatting with people. Whether it’s patrons at the desk or work study students or co-workers or people from other departments, it’s your job to know what’s going on in the library and sometimes that means having an in depth discussion about someone’s dog. This is management, and it has many faces, some of which look like you’re not actually doing anything. Even if you’re not responsible for managing anyone, you’ll build great relationships that will make it easier to get things done in the future.

Do you have any lessons for a very new librarian?

7 thoughts on “The View from This Side

  1. […] Awesome advice from UMSI alum Meggan Frost on getting started in a new librarian job. […]

  2. Eileen Thomas says:

    Don’t make too many promises of things you’ll do, projects you’ll take on (especially long or continuing ones) until you are a bit more settled. Express interest in learning more about them so that you can see how they might fit in, but emphasize the observing, learning, and perspective gaining so you can see whether they are the right things to be doing. In your excitement to be doing your best, making a difference, and working hard it is easy to say yes too soon. Something I learned the hard way.

    • Meggan says:

      I totally agree with your advice. Really what I meant by “say yes” was be curious, positive, and interested. Committing to projects, especially other people’s projects, right off the bat is probably not a great idea until you know the shape of things.

  3. Graham says:

    This is a TOTALLY stellar post, thanks for the wise words. About 3-4 weeks in, and I think I have finally determined what department I’m in.

    Signed, a fellow new librarian.

  4. Lisa Newton says:

    I actually just wrote a post on exactly this! “2 Things New School Librarians Need to Know.”

    I would also echo what Eileen said about not promising things you can’t do. Follow through on EVERYTHING. If you’re not sure if you can do something, be honest with the teacher or student and let them you know’ll try but you can’t promise. This builds trust.

    Also, I’ve been in school libraries for 8 years, but I just started at a new school. The former librarian had a bowl of jelly beans at her desk because it encouraged students to stop by and chat. I’ve continued her tradition and it works like a charm!

  5. […] said yes. I talked briefly before about saying yes when talking about starting a new job. The “yes” is metaphorical, mostly, but it can […]

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