Advice for new graduates

As part of my campaign for a position on the ALIA Board of Directors (vote now!@ragamouf asked  me “do you have any advice for new LIS grads entering the profession?”

Gosh, that’s a difficult question. Not because I don’t – trust me when I say I just love being asked for advice on something – but it’s so broad. What would a new grad want advice on, exactly?

Presumably they want advice on getting a job. I’m not sure I’m the right person to give advice on that. I was told a lot of things when I was a new grad, admittedly not that long ago. I formed a belief, faith if you will, in the idea that with hard work, creativity, energy and professionalism I would go far. Well, sometimes that’s true and sometimes it’s not.

What I’ve found is that people’s advice sometimes reflects how they wish things were, not how they are. We wish our profession was based entirely on merit, and that we attracted and rewarded the best and brightest. That those with big new ideas are going to have a chance to put them into practice, and if they fail we’ll forgive them and let them try again. But the fact is that we are like every other profession – we are bound by organisational rules, history, and our personal failings. Sometimes we, as in each of us individually and collectively, make the wrong decision. Which means that we suffer or someone else suffers, and there are setbacks.

But sometimes we don’t make the wrong decisions, and sometimes this profession leads you to pretty extraordinary places. I’ve had the most brilliant fun being a librarian so far, and I hope there’s lots more to come. Oh the places I’ve been and the things that I’ve seen! My job at the moment surprises me – I’ve had a chance to work on two big projects in the last six months that I had no idea I’d be working on when I first started the job, and I’m really excited about both of them.

So if it’s job advice you’re after, here it is: go for it. What ever ‘it’ is, go for it. Apply for jobs that you probably won’t get, apply for temporary positions, apply for jobs in libraries that look like they’re about to fall over – it’s where you get to have the biggest impact. But remember that it might not work out the way you want it to, and then you’ll have to apply for more jobs.

Oh, and apply for lots of jobs. Sometimes the reason you don’t get the job you’re perfect for is because of the other people who applied, and nothing to do with you. No matter how badly you want that job, don’t put all your eggs in that basket.

The other advice I would give to new grads is to get involved. I was told by a lot of people that being involved in the profession (i.e. being an active member of ALIA or other professional associations, or developing a strong professional learning network) would help me get jobs. I’m not sure it’s always worked out that way, but what it definitely has done is made me new friends, and that’s wonderful. I did a presentation at NLS in 2008 about why you should bother with professional involvement, but it came down to this: I want to hear what you have to say, so find your professional voice and use it. The more of us that are involved, the more likely it is that we can sustain positive change, so please, get involved.

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