Career Exploration: A Balancing Act

By: Hannah Joy Chapman

In the career of librarianship, it is not unheard of to be stretched thin. I have found this to be true especially in the early stages of a career in which you are trying to grow and expand your experience. During the month of March, I posed the question of, when to say “no,” to the NMRT listserv community. The question also encompassed how to balance a desire to grow one’s career and therefore saying “yes” to opportunities as they arise while also maintaining a manageable workload and creating a cohesive resume or CV which will hopefully appeal to future employers. The discussion branched out in a couple of directions including volunteering, organization size and career stage.

Organizations and committees are always ready to take on additional volunteers. It is in the best interest of early career librarians to take advantage of these opportunities for growth, networking and giving back to the profession. But when do you decide to pull back a bit and start cherry picking opportunities and how do you decide which to keep doing? One respondent noted that she wanted to volunteer for everything shortly after she received her degree, but quickly found too much on her plate and a lack of general motivation ensued. Lately, she has been much more selective in her commitments, only serving on a few committees and volunteering for one organization for which she feels very passionately.

Volunteering in a finite capacity also arose from the discussion. One respondent referenced a a new graduate sharing a successful method. Only volunteer for limited time commitments and with relatively simple tasks, like to host a webinar or plan an event. Reflecting on this practice it would work well to get your name out there as a person who is willing to dedicate time and attention to projects but is not overly taxing on time. I also appreciate the idea of not starting another commitment until the prior one has passed. What a great way to learn about different organizations and truly find your fit before committing for a year(s) long term and discovering that it may not be for you.

ALA is very big and has a seemingly endless list of opportunities! Several of the respondents indicated that they had found their niche more easily within local or state organizations. If you work better in smaller groups or in face-to-face interactions versus via online contact, maybe state or local involvement would be a more meaningful fit. The respondent also brought up the difference in conference size preference, and particularly not knowing a strong personal preference until both a national and a local conference had been attended.

Career stage is another important thread that wove through the discussions. A couple discussion participants are still working on their training or plan to get the degree as a next step. These respondents brought a valuable viewpoint to the discussion. One had the chance to meet several credentialed librarians who were still working in temporary or interim positions. This led to thoughts about what other skills, in addition to librarianship, you might bring to the table.  Mentors helped guide her to consider whether she was more interested in the credential or a specialized skill set. This distinction between a credential and a specialized skill set struck a chord with me. I think both can be important, and some institutions place value on one or the other depending on the position for which you apply.

Early career librarians who aren’t yet in a fixed or long term position are in a unique stage of their career. They have the possibility to learn where they fit best within the profession, and thus branching out and casting a wide net is a good thing! As one respondent pointed out, finding where you don’t belong, is just as important as finding where you do. Many respondents reported attending trainings offered by institutions or branches that might lead you down a different path of librarianship. Additionally, if you are at a conference, go to at least one session that is completely outside of your current sector of the profession – you never know what you might find.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this question resonated with many on NMRT. It seems to be a common occurrence among early career librarians and professionals that cuts across all types of librarianship, as we all seek to innovate and share a general excitement about the work we do. It’s so important to find your niche though, that you should all get out there and explore as much as you can. Just remember to be conscious of time constraints and personal and professional goals as you continue to seek.

Responses and Experiences Shared:

  • There is perhaps a recognized tendency to get involved in too much, too quickly
  • Organizations and committees are always looking for new volunteers
  • Taking advantage of library system wide training sessions as they fit with your schedule
  • Coming to the MLIS degree later after experiences and trainings are under your belt can be a more focused approach toward finding your path post-MLIS degree
  • Volunteering for events or activities that are one time and not on-going is a good way to get your name out there and manage your time well, such as webinars or event planning
  • Find small volunteer opportunities that you really feel passionately about
  • Getting more involved with your state organizations
  • Branch out a lot early on, and focus later
  • It’s just as much about finding what you don’t want to do as it is finding what you do want
  • Is your interest based in a specialized skill set or a credential
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