Essential Advice for New Professionals

This page is updated on an on-going basis - adapted from this original blog post - and it provides useful info for those who are starting out in the information profession. If you have questions you'd like to see answers, or advice you'd like to share, please leave me a comment on the original post!

The Basics

Here's an introductory slide-deck:
If you want to work in libraries
View more presentations from Ned Potter.
Work *really* hard. I know this is obvious, but you'll be surprised how hard you have to work if you are to get anywhere. There are enough talented, focused and hard-working individuals in this field who will be going for the good jobs, so you have to work very hard to keep up with them unless you want to stagnate - that may mean doing stuff in your own time, including unpaid work-experience in the department you want to work in (even if you already work in the library elsewhere). Librarianship is NOT a soft option - if that's what you're after, stop reading this now and go and look for an alternative career.
Acclimatise to the fact that this is a people profession. As @jaffne points out, it's not a book profession, and as @Girlinthe points out, it's a people profession - we are part of the service industry, just in a sometimes-quite-intellectual way. You cannot work in this industry if you don't like people, if you can't solve problems, if you can't keep smiling. If you're painfully shy then that's something you can work with and overcome - if you just want to sit quietly surrounded by lovely old books, you are completely screwed. Andy (Libreaction) put it like this: "...yes, people, people, people, you wouldn’t believe the amount of interviewees who sit before me talking about books and procedures who never mention people, interaction or users/patrons once. Its a big giveaway to me that they don’t understand what librarianship is about and aren’t right for the profession."
On a related note, networking is very important. I'm just going to quote this comment from Adrienne Cooper pretty much in full, as I think it's absolutely on the money:
"I’d like to add something to the idea of librarianship being a people profession. The people you serve are not only your readers but also your co-workers and fellow professionals. Librarianship is a tiny world in which everybody shares information: somebody will know somebody who knows of you and your work. Being a known quantity (or indeed brand ;D) is important.
And that means you have to get out in front and work on your networking skills. My goodness me – you’ll need them by the bucketload! Lex Rigby’s #NPID2010 talk defines networking beautifully. It’s not about exploiting who you know, or shameless self-promotion, or accumulating and dispensing as many business cards as possible. It’s about sharing advice and support. And that support can be as small an act as smiling and listening intently to a nervous speaker. Or leaving a comment on a blog post. I am learning so much from those I meet in person and follow online.And speaking of qualities needed in bucket sized quantities – passion and enthusiasm. Sometimes it’s the only thing that sustains you through those demoralising times of frustrated (and frustrating) readers, job insecurity and tedious work… It’s totally worth it!"
Acclimatise to the fact that this is a technological profession. Technology is the one thing, apart from problem-solving, that runs through every role or job that the library pays the salary of at the end of each month. Almost every single role needs a good grasp of technology (even the ones you might not think would do, like being a Convervator for Special Collections for example). Here's a guide to what technological expertise is needed in which areas of the library. If you're not comfortable with technology now, that's okay - just through yourself into it. Fear comes from unfamiliarity, so take that away and you won't be scared anymore.
Acclimatise to the fact that this a profession in transition. Change is a constant in libraries - there's been more change in the last half-century than in all of previous library history put together. Get used to change early, and plan for the future always. Part of that change means we have to be more agressive than in the past - the days of running a library like a charity are gone. They need to be run like businesses and aggressively marketed - and you need to be prepared to market yourself, build some kind of brand, and put yourself out there. (I dread to think what I'd've said to someone in 2006, on my first day of the job, if they'd've come up to me and talked about marketing and building a brand - I probably would have laughed at them, or called them a tosser. But it's the reality, and it's more fun than you might imagine. :) )

Career Progression

Be prepared to start near the bottom. Because you need a Masters to get a good job, and you usually have to have worked in libraries for a minimum of one year to get onto the Masters, it's almost impossible to start anywhere other than near the bottom. Graduate Traineeships are a good way in - but as @Naldasaid pointed out, there aren't too many of them. Don't worry if you can't get onto one, just start off in Customer Services (or as a Library Assistant or whatever your organisation of choice likes to call it) and apply to do the Masters after a year anyway - just try and make as many opportunities as possible in that first year (by shadowing people, trying to get involved in committees, or doing extra-curricular stuff like serving on your local CILIP Career Development Group committee or gwtting an article published). You undoubtedly get a broader experience by default as a Graduate Trainee, but by the time your career is three or four years old I'd be surprised if you'd be significantly disadvantaged by not having been one. I certainly haven't been - I started off in Customer Services, and then got a better job as a Project Assistant 10 months in. Project work is great if you can get it - you can be in at the start of something, which often leads to greater responsibility and the chance to use your initiative.

Get focused work experience. This really good post from Library Hat reminded me of how important this is - the job market in libraries is so competitive, it's no longer enough just to have worked in libraries generally. You need experience directly relevant to the career path you want to take.

Plan to do the Masters, or at least some kind of post-graduate qualification. Forget the merits or otherwise of the LIS Library Masters, forget the fact that most job descriptions will ask for it 'or significant experience'. Just bite the bullet - pretty much everyone entering the profession now who is in it for the long haul, either has or will soon acquire a Masters in Library and Information Management or similar. It is expensive and time consuming, it's of questionable value, and it won't necessarily prepare you for the proper world of working in libraries - but for now it's absolutely essential. The sooner you get it, the better. Here's a list of the places that offer it in the UK (and here's one for the US), including Distance Learning options which a lot of people are choosing now. I can understand if the prospect of doing another qualification, and all the sacrifices it entails, puts you off the profession; that's fine. But don't continue working in libraries without planning to acquire the Masters if a: you plan on sticking around and b: you plan on getting anywhere. (On Twitter, @bibliopoesey asked if it matters where you do the Masters. In my opinion: not THAT much - it's a vocational degree, so that kind of hierarchical system of Universities doesn't seem so important. That said, UCL and Sheffield appear to offer a considerably better course, so go there if you can! But you're not going to be denied a job because you did it at Northumbria, or wherever. Just my view, I may be wrong.) There was a lot of debate in the comments of the original blog post as to whether you needed a full Masters or whether a Post Graduate Diploma would do. The general consensus was that, yes, that would probably be sufficient. This is a good option for a lot of reasons - basically it's a the Masters without the dissertation, so it's shorter and cheaper. Also, if you already HAVE a Masters in another subject, new HE rules means you'll have to pay over-seas rates to do the second - that's so crazily expensive, it makes it out of the question for most people.

Diversify. There is no career ladder in this industry; think of it as a career climbing wall. Sometimes there are no hand-holds directly above you - you have to go sideways or diagonally, but the most important thing is not to get stuck. Keep your eye on the job you want, and keep moving upwards in the meantime - sometimes there is no direct route from A to B so you have to diversify. One thing is for sure though - no one (or almost no one) ever went right from a Grade 3 entry level role to a Grade 7 professional role. You need to cover some of the ground in between - library careers often don't develop in a linear fashion.

Proactively anticipate your career needs. It's very little use trying to acquire some kind of expertise, experience, or training, after you've seen the job you want advertised. You need to have already done it before you apply - so anticipate what you might need to know, and start learning about it even if you don't require the knowledge for your current role. This could be something as simple as going on an Advanced Excel course when you get the chance, to a more strategic process like going for a Subject Team Assistant role if you want to end up as a Subject Librarian, even if that means moving sideways. Get hold of a generic job description for the next role you want, and start ticking off all the boxes in the Essential and Desirable person specification so you can strike when the position becomes available. Then, get hold of a job description for your IDEAL job, even if you're 20 years away from being able to apply - it's never too early to know what expertise your career will need.

That said... many people commented on the original post to say that sometimes you just don't know what you're going to do next, and that's fine too. Also Woodsiegirl and GirlintheMoon stated that you shouldn't be so focused on a particular next step that you rule out potentially exciting new avenues - you should be open to all sorts of possibilities, too. It's just that if you DO know what you want to do, it's better to work towards that as soon as possible. As Bohyun (Library Hat) commented: By all means, one should explore all areas of interest and follow the thread of librarianship that one is most passionate about. This includes not passing up interesting opportunities. However, I just wanted to emphasize that knowing where one’s passion lies “early” in school and “consciously working towards strengthening it” by getting relevant experience will significantly increase one’s chances in the tough job market.

Not all Essential Criteria are created equal. There were lots of comments on the original post from people with shortlisting experience. I thought this from Tixylix was particulary useful: "As a shortlister, I would recommend really doing your research on the insitution (if academic) and library to which you’re applying for a post: can you get any information about whether there have been big changes in staffing, what are the priorities for the service (look for a strategic plan), where does the post sit in the bigger scheme of things etc. Call the named contact on the application form with a couple of well thought out questions and you’re likely to find out more than the bare bones of the job and person spec. I have experience of doing this and getting feedback (and the job) that I had made a good impression on the phone, but also it helped me find out what the real priorities were for the panel. Thinking back to shortlisting recently, yes lots of people met the essential criteria but what I was looking for were experience of line management and a positive and proactive attitude. This isn’t to say that all the rest of the criteria went out the window, but that these were my main interests. So, if you can find out more about the context of the post, you can ensure you have excellent examples of the skills or experience that the panel are really looking for." Nicola Franklin, who is a proper expert in these matters, added this: "It is an important fact to bear in mind, however, when putting your application together – make sure you cover the bases, to show you have the essential quals/experience/skills listed, of course, but don”t stop there! In addition, you need to make sure you go on to show what differentiates you; find out from call the person listed ‘for an information discussion of the post’ what 1 or 2 key goals the post has, what key aspects they are looking for in applicants, & then ensure that you address those things in your application statement or cover letter or at interview. In my own experience the thing most often lamented by clients, after seeing CVs or interviewing, is a lack of enthusiasm – whether evidenced by lack of prior research and thinking about the organisation/job (and what the applicant can bring/why they want the job), or by poor interpersonal skill, communication style and/or body language. Try not to let nerves get the better of you! Preparation and rehearsal is probably the best way to overcome this – rope in a friend or two – practice your answers to the obvious questions, practice your own questions – then on the day you won’t ‘freeze’ and go blank and will hopefully be able to let your personality shine through."

Online Platforms

Join LISNPN. I created a network for LIS New Professionals - it's full of events listings, how-to guides, information, and other new professionals (around 560 at the time of writing). Wherever you are from, join it - we can try and answer your questions, attend to your needs, we organise face-to-face meet-ups, and we'll connect you with the wider profession.

Get yourself on Twitter. Twitter is an invaluable source of networking, links, information and support. If you're not on it, it's probably different to how you imagine it is - it's much more interactive, and much less vapid. Make time for it and you'll have so much more understanding of what's going on in the Information Profession; here's my guide on how to get started. If you want to set up a blog too, even better - here's another guide on how to do that, and on the importance of an online presence. Blogs can also provide loads of great advice. Here's some essential reading from Bobbi Newman’s recent post on the subject, a nice round-up of a lot of good information freely available on the web:

Library Bodies

Join a professional body. I can't emphasise enough how valuable I've found an awareness of the wider profession, and for me that awareness comes from two things - professional bodies and social media (more on which below). So join CILIP, or IFLA, or SLA, or ALA, or whatever body is most pertinent to your ambitions, and devour all the information and connections they have to offer. Most organisations have cheaper rates while you're a student or earning under a certain amount, so take advantage while you can! Attend events. Meet people, learn stuff, make connections, understand more than just your own library world. Social Media will help you find the best events to go to, as will membership of a library body.

The Oprah-style stuff

Value yourself. Things have changed over the last few years, and New Professionals are increasingly recognised as being worth listening to! We have a voice, we have networks of support. Don't put up any kind of wall between 'us' and everyone else more senior - but be confident from the start that your opinion is of value.

Make things happen for yourself. If you've got a good idea or a wish, don't wait for someone else to make it happen. Today, with social media and Web 2 tools, you can probably make it happen yourself. Just do it, and professional development will almost certainly follow. An example of this is the Library Routes Project, set up by me and Woodsiegirl - take a look, you may find it useful, as it documents people's routes through their library career (including how they got started). We just decided to do it because we thought it'd be useful - now it has around 150 entries from librarians all over the world, and has been viewed by over 25,000 people.

Basically the message is: Do something. Anything!

Find something in librarianship that matches your existing interests. You'll be amazed at how diverse interests can be accommodated as part of your library job. Whether you're a wannabe writer (write some articles for professional publications) or a fan of 16th century textiles (work towards becoming the archivist for the 16th Century Textiles Society..) you can drag your existing interests into your job somehow. It's what helps make it a vocation rather than just a job. As Bethan Ruddock put it: "Look at the other things you do, and how they can be related to what libraries do."