Tips for Learning on the Job
There has been a lot of discussion about how well the LIS degree is preparing students for the professional library world, and there will most likely be some big changes in the near future. However, librarianship continues to be a very hands-on kind of profession, with a lot of the training done on the job. On the job learning can be stressful and daunting to new librarians, but it can offer some very real benefits like a real work learning environment and immediate feedback. Combined with the right attitude, on the job training can be your road to quick success in a new job. Here are my suggestions as a worldly, experienced librarian of one year.
Ask lots of questions. I remember in my first few months of my current position that I would often find myself heading to my supervisor’s office with a long list of questions. Pretty soon she saw me coming and knew what was going to happen next—my epically long question lists became legendary. Fortunately, instead of running away, she was always receptive of my questions and happy to give me answers, and I feel confident that the same is true in most libraries. Supervisors understand that everything is new to you, and they actually appreciate the questions you ask that prevent you from accidentally causing a disaster. So don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions, and don’t be surprised when pretty soon you don’t have as many questions and you begin to have a lot more answers.
Read up. There are a lot of resources written by librarians for librarians (what can I say, we like books), and these can be very helpful when you’re in the beginning stages of figuring out how things work. Fortunately for you, you have the library skills to find these books and get them into your own hands. Take advantage of that and get reading. Here are a few to get you started.
New Librarian, New Job: Practical Advice for Managing the Transition
Making the Most Out of Your Library Career
The Librarian’s Skillbook: 51 Essential Career Skills for Information Professionals
Career Q&A: A Librarian’s Real-Life Practical Guide to Managing a Successful Career
Grab onto professional development opportunities. While they won’t be as cheap as they were when you were a student, there are still a lot of relatively inexpensive professional development opportunities available to you through professional organizations. In fact, here is a whole list.
Webinars, conferences, workshops—take advantage of any chance you have to learn a little more about the profession. Plus, the more you attend these kinds of events, the more prepared you are to do your own webinars and presentations some day!
Find a Mentor. Having a person to turn to, not only to give you support and guidance, but to tell you to knock it off when you’re doing something risky for your professional future, is invaluable. A mentor might not be available at your library, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t many mentoring options for you. Mentors are available through NMRT (New Members Round Table), LLAMA (Library Leadership & Management Association), YALSA (Young Adult Library Services Association), and local professional organizations. If you’re a tenure track librarian, you can even sign up to get a “research coach” through the College Libraries Section of ALA to help with publishing. I did and it was a really fantastic and helpful experience!
Practice, practice, practice. It seems obvious, but the more you do something, the better you’ll be at it. Some things in your new job you’ll be good at quickly because you do them often. Other things won’t be a regular part of your job duties and, though you may want to be good at them, unless you do them often, it’ll be hard to get there. For example, if you’d like to be a better teacher but only are asked to teach occasionally, search out opportunities to do it more often. Volunteer to co-teach with someone. Teach a workshop for faculty or students. Teach your colleagues by presenting at a conference. Pretty soon you’ll find that you’re a pro!
In an ideal world, we’d all graduate from library school with all the skills we need to do everything perfectly in our new professional positions. The truth is, even if that were possible, the library field is changing all the time, and that’s a good thing! To keep up, we’re always participating on-the-job learning, even long after you think the job should be mastered. Embrace the exciting prospect that the rest of your career as a librarian will involve a lot of learning and a lot of exploring!
Mandi Goodsett is Reference Librarian/Assistant Professor/Government Documents Coordinator at Georgia Southwestern State University in Americus, GA. She earned her MLIS degree at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and graduated in May 2013. Her professional areas of interest are instructional technology and music librarianship. When she’s not hard at work teaching or fielding reference questions, she likes to bake, ride her bike, and make music on her viola.