This month I celebrated five years working as a librarian, and four years post my librarianship degree. As someone who is naturally reflective, I wanted to look back on what I have achieved and the challenges I faced as a new librarian – as well as my hopes for the future.
I entered the library profession at the age of twenty-one, having scored a job from my practicum placement. I really just “got lucky.” Being a twenty-one-year-old in a profession dominated by the middle-aged was a little daunting at first. I think this is because the minute we enter the workforce, we’re told that experience is the only currency we need; that experience is so valuable that it’s enough to reimburse you for your time, energy and even mental health. I think this myth plays on the biggest insecurity of new librarians – that experience is the one thing you don’t have, and only time spent working, and doing extra curricula stuff, professional development and volunteer work will fix that. In the embryonic stages of my librarian career, I certainly felt that way – and that feeling was worsened by the competitiveness of the library job market, especially in rural Queensland. It felt like an impossible quest to match up or even be considered for opportunities against librarians with 20+ years’ experience.
Now don’t get me wrong – I’m a fan professional development and volunteer work – and believe they do matter in every profession and is something everyone has a personal responsibility for. However, there’s a thin line between healthy professional development, and perceiving your extracurricular activities and successes as a mirror of your value (which it is not).
However, engaging in professional development and volunteer work as been some of the highlights of my first five years in libraries. I want to reflect on some the things I achieved in my first five years and why they were important to me.
- Presenting at the ALIA Queensland Mini Conference and the New Librarians’ Symposium 9 on diversity and inclusion in libraries. As someone who is naturally introverted and quiet, presenting at events like these allowed me to voice topics that mattered to me. I also went on to write accompanying blog posts to these topics and the response from others has been overwhelmingly positive. Some of my blog posts are now featured in library leadership books, are being used in Charles Stuart’s librarianship courses and have been featured in international newslets. Although it is nerve-wracking to speak up, my experience has made me realise that the voices of new librarians, diverse librarians and all librarians does matter.
- Working in different areas of the library. One of the downsides of being a new librarian is although I have a permanent part-time position, I also work from contract-to-contract to get fulltime hours. Although this is slightly unstable, the silver lining is I have been exposed to many areas of librarianship, other professions and really cool projects. In five years, I have worked on proving library content to incarcerated students, battled legal jargon as a copyright librarian, catalogued as metadata librarian, worked as a Diversity and Inclusion Officer, tutored Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students and casually marked assignments. Now, I have two fantastic contracts as an Open Education Content Librarian (contributing to the development of open textbooks), and as research assistant (researching war memorials) – both of which I love and am really enjoying.
- Volunteering for ALIA Students and New Graduates Group. I have spent two years volunteering as a Social Media Coordinator for ALIA Students and New Graduates Group. The best thing about volunteering is the connections and friendships I have made – being connected with likeminded passionate individuals is such a gift. Volunteering also allows me to keep up with the happenings of the industry.
- Published first article in JALIA. Getting my first scholarly article ‘Professional Ethics, Copyright Legislation and the Case for Collective Copyright Disobedience in Libraries’ published in the Journal of the Australian Library and Information Association was another highlight for me. It was something I agonised over at the time of writing, but it was something I had wanted to challenge myself with and I’m proud of the result.
- Meeting fantastic people. Above all, meeting and engaging with other library folk online and in real life. Thank you to all those who have mentored me, engaged with me, write me nice emails about my blogs, and come up to me at conference because you know I’m the awkward new librarian – thank you, it means a lot.
I am proud of these things and the progress I’ve made in the first five years as a librarian. However, there are a lot of things I’m not proud of too. I’m not proud that I initially saw being a twenty-one-year-old librarian as my identity. I know I’m not alone in this. I know so many people in their twenties see their work as their self-worth; their job title in their email signature as the official label of their identity. Yes, success should require hard work, but should not come at a substantial cost. Our career are not religions and our identities are more than what we do in our day jobs.
I’m not proud that it is so difficult for young librarians to find a place in the library profession and I’m not proud that diversity and inclusion is still an apparent issue.
With more maturity, I’m aiming for more work life balance as we all do. Sure, I forget this in the rush of the day of day. I get swept up in the meaningless stuff but I’m also trying to debug that pattern of thinking whenever I can. Because the truth is I feel successful when I make my partner smile, when I help a client with a task, when I take ten minutes to play with my cat, when I take the time to ask “are you okay?” to colleagues and “I love yous” to family and friends. Yes, I feel good when I accomplish something like a conference paper, or scoring a new job, but it’s more than that too. It’s moving and taking care of my body. It’s the connections I make. The bonds I build. The people I have the privilege of loving and learning from. It’s the promise that I don’t take work home and spend nights with my partner adjoined on the couch watching Netflix. Most of those things – the great things, the best things exist outside my career. They sit quietly in the periphery of my every day, sometimes forgotten about when life is enveloped in the chaos of meetings, deadlines and doctors appointments. Will I keep working on shaping my career? Learning? Challenging myself? Of course, but going forward I’ll do it with perspective, more self-love, more balance – and I truly believe that I’ll be a better librarian because of it. My passion is not going anywhere.
Thank you for all contributing and being a part of my first five years as a librarian – it’s been a blast.
2 thoughts on “The view from here: five years as a librarian”
Oh I relate to elements of this so much. Even entering the librarian field at 27, I often felt like the youngest person in the room. There was one staff member at a previous university that joked about my age constantly, to the point of almost being cruel. It’s made me very self conscious if I’m perfectly honest.
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