Wednesday 15 June 2016

Game of Loans.

Following on from my previous post... yes, developing a future-proof set of skills will ensure that you are employable in an ever-changing information society. But it's not necessarily going to get you a job, let alone a fulfilling and/or successful career.

Because, like any personal journey, navigating challenges to develop one's own status in society, and live a prosperous and fruitful existence, it's a game. A game in a competitive world, where there are more would-be librarians than jobs. A game with rules, often secret rules, that will give you either an advantage or a handicap, depending on the path you choose to take. A choose your own library adventure.

A Game of Loans. And when you play the Game of Loans, you win or you die end up unemployed and/or frustrated.

Back in the old days - or so our parents told us - it was simply a case of getting a job in the mailroom, and one day you could be CEO of the company.

For my generation, it was always the tautologous frustration of needing experience to get a job, but needing a job to get experience. And for most kids, it was a case of finding a family friend who could help out getting you that first job.

And in the library world, experience is everything. The vital step is getting that library experience - preferably long before you've even considered becoming a librarian. I was lucky in that my first job was in a computer lab that was *in* the library - though technically not actually part of the library, since it was back in the days when libraries were still all about books, and wifi didn't exist yet, or if it did, you had to buy a seperate wireless card and jam it into the slot in the side of your enormous laptop, and then ask the guy at the desk (i.e. me) for the proxy settings to configure your computer to connect to the wifi. Ah, those were the days... but I digress! I was lucky, because I developed librarian skills in the form of information literacy training skills before they were really a thing!

By the time you're halfway through a librarianship course, you really need to have a job in a library. Even if it's just casual shelving, it all counts. Because once you've graduated as a librarian, you absolutely must have experience, or it will be extremely difficult to get any job in a library. Despite policies of merit-based recruitment, libraries will rarely employ qualified librarians into sub-professional positions (such as library officers, library assistants, etc.) because they know that you just want to job as a stepping stone into a "real librarian" job. I've known of qualified librarians who have underplayed their qualifications, just to get their foot in the door.

Which brings me to the next great Game of Loans - writing resumes and addressing key selection criteria. If you want to get a librarian crowd to an event, just put on a workshop, and they'll come in droves. This is a game that seems easy in theory, except that every job is different, and requires tailor-made tactics. One-resume-fits-all is now a foolhardy approach, and writing KSC is a careful exercise in concise detail, choosing every word for all of its loaded potential.

And then, like the Great Houses of Westeros, there are the various sectors of the library industry, and you need to choose your allegiances (does that make me a wildling?). Or perhaps it's more like the factions of the Divergent trilogy, where certain personality types are naturally drawn to certain sectors (does that make me Divergent - or possibly factionless?). Some librarians start out with an attitude of "I don't care - I'm happy to work in any sector as long as I'm a librarian." I would urge caution to such an approach. As much as we don't want to admit it, there is a social order of library sectors - it's easier to move from some sectors to others, but if you find yourself at the "bottom", it can be quite a struggle to climb "up".

Finally, once you've picked your tribe, passed all of the challenges, and got that library job, then the real Game of Loans begins - working with others in the library. Every job is a political minefield. You want to form alliances, familiarise with the landscape, take advantage of the benefits, and learn to negotiate the hurdles. Be assertive without being arrogant; obliging without being easily-exploited. Pick your moments. There are various approaches to succeeding at this particular Game of Loans, and depending on your workplace.

And then, there are other games. I've been playing a very different game in recent years - perhaps a bit like Arya Stark in Braavos, trying to pass her initiation into the guild of the Faceless Men. And it's a difficult game at the best of times, where the rules often change or seemingly contradict each other. Perhaps I should go back to playing a game that actually I'm good at.

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