Saturday 10 June 2017

Day 10: The subtle art of career progression planning for librarians.

So, in my earlier blog about reasons to join ALIA (or not), I mentioned the advantages when it comes to developing one's career path. This is especially the case for students and new graduates who are seeking that elusive First Library Job. When I was convenor of the ALIA New Graduate's Group, the most popular sessions by far were presentations on how to address key selection criteria, prepare a resume, and perform at a job interview in the library and information industry.

But I'm sorry to say that, as tricky as it is to get a First Library Job, it's far from smooth sailing once you've got your foot in the door. The idea of career progression for librarians is an interesting one - unfortunately, we're not exactly an industry full of ladder-climbing overachievers! Many librarians I know would be quite happy to be doing the job they're in for the foreseeable future, and have little interest in applying for another job. Many others either get stuck where they are, or leave the industry altogether, with only the most ambitious moving their way up through the ranks. I say ambitious only because it takes resilience and real strategic thinking (and / or a lot of luck) to achieve what I personally think should be a normal career path for a professional.

And I am the first to admit that I am the worst at career progression planning. I'm good at getting interesting and challenging jobs - my pitfall comes when I ask the question, "What will this job lead to, and is that the right direction for me?" The other vital question is, "How long will I be happy to do this job for?" The eventual result of this questioning is that I take off and do something completely different, which has led to a wide range of experience and skills, but lacking the professional context of having worked for one organisation continuously for ten years. Which means that, starting a new job, I have to take all those skills and knowledge, and put them in my back pocket for a while, whilst I learn the ins-and-outs of a new role, new team, new systems, and new backstory of why everything is the way it is.

So, what might librarians need to do in order to perhaps plan their career path a little better than I might have?

1. Know where you want to be in 20 years, and plan your career path accordingly. Okay, so this one is completely unrealistic, because rarely does anybody know where they want to be in 20 years, nor do the opportunities arise to perhaps follow that path.

2. Be aware of the culture in the industry. There's a hierarchy in the library world. No matter how awesome you are, it'll be easier to move from a legal library job to a TAFE library job than the other way. Aim high in the hierarchy - it'll be easier to move down if you don't enjoy it, than try to climb up.

3. Take on mentors and champions. It could be as a formal mentor, such as the one currently offered by the ALIA Mentoring Scheme, or just finding your own champions in the industry who can keep you motivated. Make connections, build networks, share ideas, show initiative, and get help from your mentors and champions to succeed.

4. Figure out what you don't want to be doing, and then stop doing it. Some librarians love to whinge about how unsatisfied they are with their job - or maybe it's not the job itself, but the organisation, or sector, or the people they work with. Identify these elements that create barriers or frustration, and minimise them from your professional life. Also if you don't know what you want from your career, then through the process of deduction, this is one way of figuring it out.

5. But seriously, figure out exactly what you want to get out of your career. I really struggle with this one sometimes, but I think I'm getting closer. When you're a new graduate, you can be forgiven for not knowing exactly what direction you want to go in, and I wholly encourage new grads to explore the field and experience the range of work out there. But sooner or later, you're going to have to make a choice. The sooner you do it, the sooner you can get your career on track, and then you can keep your eyes on the prize. (It really is going to take 20 years in some cases.)

A lot of this is so much more easily said than done - especially in a tough and uncertain industry. But you chose to be a librarian for a reason, and chances are that it wasn't your only option. Make it count!

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