Daily Archives: August 13, 2008

The Meaning of Life (As it Applies to a First-Year Academic Librarian)

The title of this post isn’t exactly true: I’m not sure I’ll ever really know the meaning of life. But more importantly: I can now officially call myself a second-year librarian. Today is the anniversary of my start date in the world of academic librarianship. Coincidentally, I’m also teaching my first instruction session of the semester today. I didn’t plan it that way, but it seems appropriate, does it not? As I’ve been preparing for this first class and the start of the new semester, I’ve been thinking back to the amazing and overwhelming amount of information I’ve compiled in my head (and file cabinets) over the past year. To take a cue from last year’s guest poster, Lauren Jensen, I’d like to provide a brief summary of the most important things I’ve learned, in hopes that it will inspire the new batch of first-year academic librarians:

• Never be afraid to reach out to colleagues. I’ve sent “cold” emails to several librarians in the past year, asking about an instructional tool they’ve created, or an article they’ve written. Every response has been welcoming and helpful!

• Don’t underestimate your students. It’s possible, when starting out, that I pegged many students as having an “I could care less” attitude. I’ve learned that it’s not that they don’t want to learn, they just need to be engaged and challenged. I’m still learning how to accomplish that!

• Try [fill in the blank] at least once! You’ll never know if an idea will work if you don’t give it a shot. This could relate to a new way of assessing information literacy skills or a new service for faculty. At the very least, you’ll learn that you’re very good at revising. :)

• Just because you’re interested in publishing, doesn’t mean you have to start out with an article or a book. Try blogging, writing for your alumni newsletter, or contributing book or product reviews for a journal. These are all things I’ve accomplished in the last year, and now an article doesn’t seem quite so daunting.

• Take advantage of free online professional development! While I’m lucky that my institution will reimburse me for professional development relating to my job, I know that’s not something I can go crazy with. Thanks to the folks at SirsiDynix Institute, WebJunction, the TLT Group, and even ACRL, I’ve been able to attend dozens of free web seminars. These opportunities have definitely increased my awareness and made me a better librarian.

Well, that about does it for my final post. It’s been wonderful having the opportunity to share my thoughts and run my ideas by the ACRLog readers during my first year. Your insights and encouragement have been much appreciated, and I am happy to say that I’ve learned a thing or two from your comments. I need to thank Steven Bell, and the other regular ACRLog contributors, for occasionally adjusting their posting routine to give us new librarians a chance to contribute. On that note, I’d also like to congratulate my fellow new colleagues on successfully completing their first years! It’s been great knowing there are others out there just like me, and that although things have been both challenging and rewarding during our first years in the field, we can feel confident knowing that there is an amazing network of supportive colleagues only a phone call or email away. Have a great year everyone!

Fast? Slow? Timing? Luck? Contemplating The Secret To Success

The one time I wrote something on the personal side the nature of the post was achieving success in academic librarianship. I asked how you know if you are where you should be in your career? For the most part the response was positive, although a number of you, particularly the younger demographic, thought my formula for success depended too much on a slow but steady approach. Well, get ready to start hearing a whole lot more about the nature of success, what it takes to achieve it, and on what terms you should define your own interpretation of a successful career. I’ve recently come across some different perspectives on being successful or reaching your potential, and they are showing up in some fairly different sources.

One individual who will be driving the conversations about the nature of success is Malcolm Gladwell. Gladwell, best known for his popular books The Tipping Point and Blink, has a new one coming out this fall and according to a recent NYT article, it may be even bigger than those previous two books. A clue as to the book’s content appeared in a May New Yorker article by Gladwell titled “In the Air“. What we do know is that the book is titled “Outliers: Why Some People Succeed and Some Don’t” and that it promises to show that the ways we think about success and how it is achieved are all wrong. The clues suggest that Gladwell will make the point that success is often more about where you are at a particular point in time and whether you have the smarts, intuition and ability to spot the right opportunity and grab it “out of the air”. I think we all know there is something to this idea. In our profession the difference between success and mediocrity can be getting the right student internship, being on the staff at a library that has the right resources for a timely, innovative project or disseminating your ideas in a blog post ahead of a colleague with the same thoughts.

But even if you aren’t in the right place at the right time there may still be some strategies you can use to get on a better path to achieving success on your own terms. The key is to take personal responsibility for your career. That advice comes from an article in the July-August 2008 issue of Harvard Business Review titled “Reaching Your Potential” (subscription required). Career success, as defined in this article, is not necessarily about getting to the top. Rather, the author says “It’s about taking a very personal look at how you define success in your heart of hearts and then finding your path to get there.” Getting there involves three accomplishments: knowing yourself; excelling at critical tasks; and demonstrating character and leadership. All careers, even the rewarding ones – as I said in my post – are a series of hills and valleys. This article wraps up by pretty much saying the same thing, but points out that the challenge for many of us is to not abandon our career plans when we hit the valleys. That’s when we each must take responsibility for the management of our own careers.

Finally, there may be something to gain from taking things slowly in your career. Though you may scoff at my source, an article in the August 2008 issue of Best Life talks about the virtues of taking it slow in life. As the author writes “Apparently, slower is the secret to success.” Surprisingly, there are more than a few things in life where you may actually do much better if you slow up and take your time. It can be difficult to be patient when it comes to career success, making a name for yourself, being in the limelight – whatever you want to call it. But sometimes being deliberate about taking your time can make a difference in whether or not you succeed. The opportunity for success you think will be gone for good if you fail to rush to “grab it out of the air” may only be replaced later on by an even bigger and better one.

So keep in mind that there is more than one path to success, and that career success is based on your own definition of what it is.