Library Master: 8 LIS Career Lessons we can Learn from Pokémon

by Lauren Bourdages, Senior Assistant, INALJ Ontario

Library Master: 8 LIS Career Lessons we can Learn from Pokémon

laurenb1Pokémon has been a cultural phenomenon since 1996. I still remember when the first versions of the game came out in English. I got my very first game boy because of those games, a game boy pocket, the transparent one, and a copy of Pokémon Blue. I fell in love with the games and the franchise of the whole because their world is just so much fun. They’re on their 6th generation of main series games, and I can’t even remember how many different spin-off series’ exist; I have at least 1 game from each generation. People have asked me how I can just play the same game over and over again, and to that I respond with, clearly you’ve never played Pokémon because while the main premise is the same, to become a Pokémon Master, each generation of game builds and expands upon it’s predecessors. Over the years I’ve learned a lot from these games, and I think there are some lessons here that can be applied to careers.


1. Basic Badge – Figure out what you’re good at and do it — and keep doing it over and over

The Pokémon Company figured out that they had a good premise, so they keep running with it. But you can’t just do the same thing over and over and over again in the exact same way, it gets boring and stale and stops working. You have to expand and improve, offer the players more than you did in the previous game or series. They built an entire empire off of their Pokémon concept. 6 generations of main series games, multiple spin-off franchises as I’ve already mentioned, card games, television shows, movies, mangas, and oh god the toy lines, and of course the various partnerships with McDonalds that they’ve done over the years. There are even actual Pokémon centre stores you can visit and buy their merchandise.

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What this means for your LIS career is, figure out what makes you special. What are you good at? What can you do for a library where you won’t just be working but you’ll be growing and getting better every day? Find yourself a niche. The trick is not settling you have to be willing to grow and innovate within your niche. You have to show people something new so that you don’t become outdated or stagnant.


2. Soul Badge – Don’t just follow the prescribed or recommended path

To me what has always been one of the major draws of the Pokémon games is that since the second generation it hasn’t just been about following the main story and collecting all of the pokémon to finish your Pokédex. From Gold/Silver/Crystal onward there has been a plethora of interesting side options to do in conjunction with and after the main storyline. You can focus on breeding and collecting, on training and battling, on in game contests that award trophies and ribbons and points, or on trying to find elusive and special shiny versions of each pokémon. You make your own adventure based on your own interests. Heck if you want to get really out there you can try one of the community create challenges, like the nuzlocke challenge.


The same is true of your career path. You don’t just have to go the traditional route of going to library school and getting a normal library job. There’s a whole world of career options out there for us to choose from. Our degrees build skills that allow us to explore multiple paths that are not always expected, such as competitive intelligence, user experience design, prospect research, records management or advocacy and fundraising. The only real limit is on how far you’re willing to deviate from that main story line.


3. Trio Badge – To become a true Master you’re going to have to rely on others at some point

Ever since generation one of the main series, it has been impossible to become a Pokémon master with a completed pokédex legitimately (without any form of cheating) without the help of at least one friend. In the early days of the franchise this usually meant making sure you got a sibling, cousin or friend to buy and play the version you didn’t have so you could use your game link cable to trade version specific pokémon with each other. Just like with all the other innovations in this series this collaborative nature has grown and become much more complex, first with the introduction of the GTS (Global Trading Station). This system meant you no longer had to be in the same room as your trading partner, you didn’t even need to know them anymore, you just needed to trust that they had what you needed/wanted and rely on them to make it accessible to you. Even this system has gotten more complex and important in the later generations. Now it’s no longer just about version specific pokémon, it’s about having to use multiple game cartridges from previous generations to import pokémon into the newest generations. The biggest downside of this system is that it’s hard to find the good people, there are so many people out there who try and take advantage of the collaborative system. The post much needed pokémon to the GTS but make trade restrictions requiring legendary pokémon that people don’t want to give up or asking for pokémon that are literally impossible to get without cheating. This means the GTS tends to be filled with untradeable pokémon.

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What does this mean in terms of your career? It’s pretty straight forward, no wo/man is an island in this world we all have to learn to rely on one another and collaborate to meet our goals. Sometimes it really is the only way to get there, so why sabotage one another?


4. Rumble Badge – You CAN avoid conflicts, but sometimes it will cost you — and it doesn’t help you get ahead

Battles and fighting are a key aspect of Pokémon. The vast majority of Pokémon only evolve by leveling up and they do this via battles. You also can’t move ahead in the story without getting your Pokémon to certain levels, so some amount of conflict is necessary. If you’re in a hurry though you can buy repels that keep the wild pokémon away for a certain amount of steps, the costs add up quickly, and avoiding battles doesn’t help you in the long run. You can also just avoid places where wild pokémon appear, caves, long grass, water, etc..

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The same is true in your career (you know, with the exception of being able to avoid places where conflicts can crop up), conflicts are always going to happen, it’s inevitable no one gets along or agrees with any other person 100% of the time. Sure you can try your best to avoid conflict, but chances are if you’re doing that you’re not memorable and you’re flying completely under the radar in other regards, that’s not the way to climb the career ladder. All you can do is face the conflict and fight through it, like a pokémon you’ll be better off afterward having pushed through and faced down your opponent.


5. Storm Badge – With innovation comes change, to become a master you must embrace the changes!

With the exception (as of this moment) of generation IV and generation V every new Pokémon game has been released on a different nintendo portable platform. In fact you can track my personal purchases of new Nintendo portable systems by the release of the new pokémon games. With each of those new systems the game has included changes to it’s mechanics and functionality that make optimal use of the new features of the system. For example one of the best innovations in the games is so simple and came about as a result of the change from black and white to colour. With the second generation of the games the creators of Pokémon introduced elusive shiny versions of their creations. All these are are graphics of each pokémon with a variation in their colour palette but they are incredibly prized treasures that every player wants because of how hard they are to come by, they are incredibly rare. In all my years of playing and all my games I have only ever caught ONE wild shiny, all of my other shinies came from in game events or Nintendo gifts downloaded via wifi. That is an example of one innovation the community embraced wholeheartedly, there have been other innovations throughout the years that have not been as readily embraced by everyone, but once we get used to the changes most of the fandom calms down.

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Kate Kosturski is going to be writing an article soon on dealing with and embracing change so keep an eye out for that. I’ll just say that as with the innovation and growth of games the library and information industry is always growing and with all of that growth comes change. Our profession doesn’t look the same as it did fifty years ago; it doesn’t even look the same as it did ten years ago. To get ahead and stay ahead in our industry you have to be willing to embrace the change and be ready to potentially re-brand yourself to find new opportunities that will make use of your library skills. You need to change to stay relevant or you risk becoming obsolete and eventually extinct.


6. Balance Badge – Don’t put all your eggs in one basket — spread your effort around

If you only focus on training your starter pokémon you’ll end up with an incredibly unbalanced team, and an unbalanced team isn’t going to help you defeat the Pokémon League to become the Champion and win the game. Even when you’re training your entire team you have to make sure that each member has a balance of offensive and defensive moves and stats, too far one way or too far the other gets you back to unbalanced territory and makes the game unnecessarily harder on you. Be wary though because you could also go too far in the other direction and end up in the world of competitive training (there are real pokémon championships for battling) that focusses on natures, EVs, IVs and a whole lot of math that you really only need to know if you want to be in the competitive arena, the regular player just trying to win the game doesn’t need to go that deep!

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When it comes to balance in your career you need balance in a couple of areas. Like the successful pokémon trainer you can’t ONLY focus on building up one skill set or one niche area of expertise, you need to diversify and make sure all your skills and knowledge are up to scratch. You may be a systems person but you never know if you may at some point be called on to run public programs in your career, or answer reference questions. Just like a trainer has to train all stats and all pokémon so must you work on keeping all your skills up to date. You also need to remember to take a break and not focus TOO hard, not everyone needs to or wants to be the 24/7/365 employee, that can lead to burnout. Remember that you need work life balance, you need time to step back and get your head out of work, it helps make most people better employees in the long run, they’ve proven that scientifically.


7. Rising Badge – To become a Master you need to rise to the top, be the very best, like no one ever was

Why yes I did quote the television show’s theme song there, what a good eye you have :D. It’s the true point of the game after all, to beat all of the trainers and collect all 719 pokémon somehow. That’s what makes you the very best and it takes a lot of hard work, time, and cooperation to get there.


All of which is equally true for reaching the top of the career ladder in your professional life. If you want to get to the top of the heap you have to be willing to put in the time, effort, and dedication to getting there.


8. Mind Badge – A Master knows that sometimes they need a little help — they don’t feel bad about seeking it out


Pokémon caves can be complex, from navigating a confusing area of the world map, to remembering advantageous type match-ups for battles, to figuring out when, how or where your pokémon will evolve, a player won’t always be able to retain all of this information. That’s where the fan community comes in handy. Thankfully there are one only knows how many resources out there, walkthroughs on YouTube  or IGN, wikis, Facebook groups, forums, the list goes on and official books. Many of the fan made resources are actually incredibly comprehensive and authoritative. Someone who wants to become a Pokémon Master isn’t afraid to seek these resources out and use them when they get stuck; it’s not cheating to ask for help.

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If you want to be a true master of your LIS career you have to be able and willing to do two things. First you need to be able to identify when you’re in a situation that you need someone’s help in and secondly you need to be willing to actually seek out help. As I am constantly reminded, library professionals WANT to help other library professionals succeed, I think we illustrate that point very well here at INALJ. Just like with pokémon there are lots of resources out there readily available to you, your personal network, the INALJ community, the ALA Think Tank, Professional Associations and Mentorship programs. All of these resources are things you can access for help with any of your LIS career issues, you just have to be willing to use them.


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all images belong to Pokemon

Naomi House

Naomi House, MLIS, is the founder and publisher of the popular webzine and jobs list (formerly I Need a Library Job) and former CMO (Chief Marketing Officer) of, a crowdfunding platform focused on African patrimony, heritage and cultural projects. INALJ was founded in October 2010 with the assistance of her fellow Rutgers classmate, Elizabeth Leonard. Its social media presence has grown to include Facebook (retired in 2016), Twitter and a LinkedIn group, in addition to the interviews, articles and jobs found on INALJ. INALJ has had over 21 Million page hits and helped many, many thousands of librarians find employment! Through grassroots marketing, word of mouth and a real focus on exploring unconventional resources for job leads, INALJ grew from a subscription base of 20 friends to a website with over 500,000 visits in one month. Naomi believes that well-sourced quantity is quality in this narrow job market and INALJ reflects this with many new jobs published daily. She has also written for the 2011, 2012 and 2013 LexisNexis Government Info Pro and many other publications in the past decade. She presents whenever she can, including serving on three panels at the American Library Association's Annual Conference in Las Vegas; as breakout presenter at OCLC EMEA in Cape Town, South Africa; as a keynote speaker at the Virginia Library Association annual meeting; at the National Press Club in Washington DC; McGill University in Montreal, Canada; the University of the Emirates, Dubai, MLIS program and the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Naomi was a Reference, Marketing and Acquisitions Librarian for a contractor at a federal library outside Washington, DC, and has been living and working in Budapest, Hungary and Western New York State. She spent years running her husband’s moving labor website, fixed and sold old houses and assisted her husband cooking delicious Pakistani food. She is preparing to re-enter the workforce and is job hunting. Her husband is now the co-editor of INALJ, a true support!  She has heard of spare time but hasn’t encountered it lately. She pronounces INALJ as eye-na-elle-jay. 


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