“There’s this unspoken code that if you don’t end up a “rockstar librarian” in your niche, or end up serving on a committee, or make the news in your town, that you are a “bad” librarian. This is patently untrue. You don’t need to be or do any of those things to be amazing. You know what? You’re amazing because you love people so much that you’ve dedicated your professional career to helping them.” – Pamela Penza, Moving On & Moving Forward
Once upon a time I was a starry-eyed gal floating on the high of her first librarian job. Ready for action, excited for the challenge, eager to please I knew NOTHING COULD STOP ME! Now, over six months deep into librarianship, I can tell you that this is not what I expected at all.
Most days I live for the thrill of the job. Answering reference questions, working with patrons, tackling coding issues, playing with robots, learning to 3D print. I come home with a buzz of excitement and want to tell all about the amazing place I work and the wonderful people I meet.
Then there are the bad days. Your favorite co-worker is retiring. The boss is screaming at you. A patron calls you an idiot. Or asks for the real tech guy. Those days suck. And everyone around you will chalk it up to the growing pains of work life. Which isn’t entirely false. Work isn’t always going to be easy and even a dream job will be sprinkled with a few bad days. But still. They suck.
But then there are the really bad days. Days when a young patron overdoses on heroine and has to be rushed to the hospital. Or a child goes missing and for a few heart stopping moments you fear the worst. We didn’t talk about these kinds of real-life moments in library school. But we read about them enough. Experiencing both first-hand left me feeling terrified and helpless.
I love being a librarian. I love that I can help people, in some small way, make their lives a little better. But the last six months have been a lot harder than I expected. It isn’t that the work is unfulfilling. Though there are days when I swear if I have to fix one more broken link I will likely snap! It’s that, when you place expectations next to reality they are not always going to line up neatly.
There is so much you can’t learn or talk through enough that will help you become a better librarian. Experience and time are the only real way of breaking through and learning the ropes. Until then, I don’t feel like I am really much of a librarian. And that’s probably the hardest lesson of all.
When you’re sick of being asked “where’s the tech guy” when you are, in fact, the tech guy…
Librarianship… As you may (not) know, I am a recovering web developer/content manager, sloshing her way through librarianship by once again embracing my developer/manager side in a weird Librarian/Webmistress hybrid. I sort of feel like Captain Planet, except for the whole rings of power from the planeteers thing.
The 90’s were a strange and mystical era.
I read a lot about design. No surprise. I spend a lot of time designing things for work, friends, and myself. Not only am I interested in web design, I’m interested in all sorts of design fields from print to information design, systems and product design, and fashion and architecture. Design feeds my curiosity about how people design themselves (life isn’t about finding yourself it’s about creating yourself…) and their lives.
Now as far as librarians go I’m a still hatchling, just starting to recognize patterns of what makes a great librarian. And what I’m finding about many of my colleagues and librarians I admire are the different directions their lives took and the different careers they had before coming to librarianship. And the different interests they have that influence their roles as librarians. This isn’t a new idea. Personally, I’m still amazed at how much librarianship has in common with web development. Those things that make great designers and developers translate almost effortlessly into what makes great librarians.
Allow me to elaborate.
AListApart is one of my favorite spots on the web. Their writers, designers, developers, and content strategists explore topics on best practices and standards across the web world. Ever hear of the responsive web? Ethan Marcotte wrote a now-famous article on responsive design back in 2011 that many cite as the foundation of the now standard practice. To summaries, Marcotte was reading about a shift in architectural design where building designers began creating spaces that respond to the people in them. That’s when he had an ah ha! moment. He realized that the future of web design and development shouldn’t be about forcing sites to fit on the devices and screens of users. Instead web workers should focus on creating adaptable sites.
Pretty amazing, right? That may be oversimplifying it, but the point is, this kind of forward-thinking, future-proofing creativity, brought on by Marcotte’s interests outside his field, are exactly what how I’ve seen librarians approach librarianship for years.
Public librarians may still follow many of the decade-old conventions regarding patron services, reader’s advisory, collection development, reference and instruction, etc., but while they are making book displays and running read-a-longs, many also focus on the changing landscapes of their communities in the age of the internet. They respond by having an interest in, learning about, and adapting services to meet technological, educational, economic, and environmental needs. And by doing so, they make a meaningful impact on their communities.
People come to librarianship from many different places. Teachers. Lawyers. Musicians. Writer. Artists. Book lovers. Students. It’s wonderful! And even those who decided to enter the library world right from college or without having worked anywhere other than the library, their passion for the profession and the outside interests they bring can only help keep our profession forward-thinking and future-proof.
What’s your library origin story? What interests do you bring to the library that impacts your community.
Google Alerts are amazing. Instead of spending time crawling the web for news on librarians, librarianship, programs, privacy, etc., Google takes care of it for me, leaving me time to do the other librarian things I do. So imagine the eye-rolling annoyance that comes over me when I see the countless Google Alerts of late that amusingly cover stories like Son Pays 85 Years’ Worth of Library Fines or Library Book Returned After [Insert Number of Years Here]. It’s not that fluff news doesn’t have its place in the hearts and minds of readers. But this kind of clickbait is the opposite kind of the coverage libraries need right now.
But journalists, bloggers, and internet writers don’t know that. They know the nostalgia of a public library. They know what headlines get the best shares. They know how to write for the web (most of the time). What they don’t know is what you DO for a living. And why libraries are just as important as ever.
As library students, we are not required to create a professional portfolio to graduate, but we should be. That’s a crazy thing to say, especially when there are so many requirements we already have: Homework. Assignments. Families. Jobs. Internships.Life. Why add one more to the mix?
Developing a professional portfolio is a worthwhile investment. It’s a way of organizing and sharing your educational and professional accomplishments. It is also a valuable tools that may help you secure an interview for a library job, get your name out in the library world, and be the 24/7 example of your expertise, experience, and dedication to the library profession. Beyond that, a professional portfolio is a well-organized kudos file to help you reflect on previous accomplishments and brainstorm new and exciting ideas.
What is a professional portfolio?
This seems like a stupid question to ask – we’re librarians: there are no stupid questions! – but it is important to define exactly what a professional portfolio is. In short, it is an online archive of your accomplishments both at school and in the field, highlighting your skills, knowledge, interests, and qualifications.
What goes in a portfolio?
Everything from your research papers to infographics should be included. Along with details on events or projects you’ve managed, shareable instructions for classes you’ve run, pictures of you in actions, video projects you’ve completed, etc. If it’s relevant to your current or future career as a librarian, it belongs in your portfolio.
Of course, I’m not just talking about library-only experiences. For example:
- Were you on the board of a nonprofit or school organization?
- Did you help your church/friends/business organize a fundraiser?
- Were you the founder/leader of a book club?
- Do you make your own beer?
- Do you have a YouTube channel where you review movies, music, books?
You may not think there is value to including anecdotal or outside hobbies to your portfolio, but what people are looking for when they see your site is a person. Not a stereotype of the “perfect” librarian, but YOU, an awesome human being who also happens to be a librarian.
What doesn’t go in a portfolio?
I am just going to present you with my personal list of things not to include in your online portfolio. This is by no means comprehensive:
- Very personal stories: like what you did on your 21st birthday.
- Super sad anecdotes: like when your hamster ran away.
- Really old content: that paper you wrote on imperialism in high school? Not relevant.
- Other people’s information: unless you have their permission and it’s relevant.
Are you starting to see a pattern here? You are or will be a librarian. What you add to your portfolio should be relevant to that. You can make it fun, add the touch of personal; quotes you like, book reviews, reading lists, pictures. Just be sure it reflects who you are and what you bring to the profession.
How do I begin?
I believe it was Don Draper from Mad Men who said “make it simple, but significant.” When it comes starting your professional portfolio, that’s exactly what you should aim for.
How to begin:
- Google Librarian Portfolios. See what other people have made. Get an sense of how you’d like your own site to look. Try drawing it out on paper. Once you have a good sense of what you want you can start building your own.
- Pick a website service. A place where you can create a site for free or cheap that allows you enough freedom to make something nice, but doesn’t require you to be a coder — unless you want to. Here are a few free ones I’ve used in the past…
- Get your resume in ship-shape to add to your portfolio.
- Gather together the most important and relevant work you’ve done to date
- Start posting. You can organize it any way you like. (I just blog about the stuff I do and categorize it for easy retrieval.)
- Share you page with friends and colleagues for honest feedback.
- Add a link to your portfolio to your resume, LinkedIn, business card, Twitter profile, etc.
The purpose of a portfolio is not just for job searching or professional enhancement. It’s also a way for you to keep a record of everything you’ve done through school and into your professional life. Sometimes we are so focused on what needs to get done now that we lose track of what we’ve already accomplished. Don’t get hung up on the need for super-shiny perfectionism. Let your site develop naturally throughout the rest of your library school experience. By the time you graduate, you will have a kick-ass showcase of your kick-ass self.
Still have questions about professional portfolios? Already have an one you want to share? Post them both in the comments below!
This post was originally published for the Syracuse iSchool InfoSpace Blog.
I love Syracuse University iSchool. Not only do they provide an incredible educational environment for their students, they also host a number of career-oriented workshops for budding librarians. Today I got to speak at one of those session on building a librarian portfolio.
Thanks so much to Dr. Marilyn Arnone for kicking off the session and for the amazing ladies at LISSA for inviting me to speak.
What do you do when you get the call to interview for a librarian job? Well, friends. Let me share with you what I did when I interviewed for the librarian job I have: web services librarian!
The moment I got the call for an interview, I immediately asked my partner to help me prepare. We sat down at a table, I dressed up in my power suit, and he asked me questions you can almost guarantee will be asked at any library interview:
- Why are you the right person for this job?
- Describe a good/bad interaction you had with a patron and describe how you managed it.
- Tell us a bit about what you know about this library.
- Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
- What are your goals for this job?
- Why do you want to be a librarian?
Get Your Answers on Paper
The mock interview we set up wasn’t a one-time deal. We repeated it several times. He asked me a question, and I responded.
When I got flustered, I would write down my responses. Although my responses usually started as paragraphs, I whittled them down to keywords or short sentences. These words served as triggers for more thoughtful responses. For example:
- Q: Why do you want to be a librarian?
- My trigger word: Impact
- A: “I want to be a librarian to make a positive impact on my community … “
I refined my responses to the fundamental points I wanted to make. Eventually, I could nail the answers I wanted to give without the “um”s and “uh”s that normally trip me up.
Read or Watch What You’re Given
Before the interview, the library gave me several articles to read based on responsive design and coding. I didn’t just read them. I printed them out, highlighted important passages, wrote notes in the margins, and memorized key points I felt would be brought up in the interview. You’re not given articles for kicks – the interviewers want you to read them and prepare for the key facets of the job.
Practice Your Skills
In many cases, the interview will be more than sitting at a table answering questions. You will be given a task to complete. It could be a presentation based on a question (teach a lesson to 5th graders on credible web sources), a class focused on a particular audience, or a coding challenge. You won’t be asked to go in blind.
A few days before my interview, my interviewers gave me the coding challenge to complete at the interview. I practiced it over and over, knowing they would throw in a curve or two. During the actual interview, the curve threw me, and I made a mistake. But because I had practiced, I corrected the issue right away, and my speed and accuracy impressed my interviewers.
Learn About the Library
You need to learn as much as possible about the library before you interview. It isn’t a matter of impressing the interviewers on your knowledge. You want to gain as much insight into the workings of the library as possible.
In the end, you want to be sure their goals and policies align with yours. Learn about the:
- Events and programs they run
- People you might be working with
- Boss you might be working for
- Culture of the library
And remember to visit the damn place! I mean it. Go to the library. Walk around. Observe the staff and patrons. How you feel about a place will impact how much satisfaction you’ll get on the job.
Be Nervous, but Confident
That’s right! It’s okay to be nervous. Just remember to be confident, too. you’ve got this and you know your stuff. You were asked to interview for a reason. Being nervous is normal for anyone applying for any position in any profession. It shows you care about the job, you want it, and you are willing to work hard to get it. But remember:
“I know what I’m doing.”
Repeat that to yourself when you’re about to interview for that first (or any) library job you want. You sent in your resume and polished up your portfolio. You’re qualified.
As a new librarian who just went through the interview process: I am just as nervous, confused, and overwhelmed as everyone said I would be. One thing I can say with confidence is that the library hired me because I am a qualified and capable librarian.
You won’t get an interview for every application you submit to a librarian job opening. But as a famous hockey player once said: “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” Even if you interview but don’t get the job, you were qualified enough to get a shot at the position. So give yourself a hand! That’s no small feat in the hyper-competitive world of librarian jobs.
So submit your resume, prepare yourself, and blow the interviewers (and yourself) away!
This post was originally published for the Syracuse iSchool InfoSpace Blog.
I think it’s safe to say very few people declare their intentions of entering librarianship when they are kids. No one dresses in a cardigan and sports a tight bun an career day in kindergarten and tells their classmates they want to be a librarian when they grow up. Ok! Some of us do. But I’ve only met one person who fits that description. Everyone else came to the profession by happenstance, happy accident, over after years of soul searching and job hopping. I fall into the last category.
I’ve only been working in libraries for two years and still have a year to go until I finish my MLIS, but it feels like the last decade of my life has been preparing me for this field. I’ve work as a web manager, web production associate, technology and Google Apps trainer, web developer, and circulation specialist. Soon, I will take on my first professional role as the Web Services Librarian at Newton Free Library. I’ll be working in the reference department, which is awesome, and if I’m lucky I might actually get to work on developing STEAM programs. I am beyond thrilled!
Here’s to the next adventure.
In high school my mom and I began this odd and beautiful exchange of quotes via email. I had just opened my first email account (I don’t remember the address but I do know it was very teenage angsty). I’ve been out of high school a while, but I’ve kept every quote we shared. They are saved in a text file that now lives on my Google Drive. The only information I never thought to save were the dates we sent out quotes.
The first quote my mom ever sent me is one I’ve read hundreds of time and still makes me smile. It from Mark Twain, and I’m sure you’ve seen it too:
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” -Mark Twain
I hope to share more quotes over time.