Wednesday 13 June 2012

Taking the next step?

It can take courage to take that next step in your LIS career, particularly if (like me) you are new to the profession and a bit unsure about your skills.
Those of us who are career change new professionals work with a double edged sword because while our previous experience is valuable, is useful and has provided us with a valid skill set – it’s not in libraries. Likewise, younger new graduates bring enthusiasm and fresh perspectives to balance against their lack of long years of work experience. Regardless of which best describes you, how can we fast track some of those skills onto a path that will then help build a strong LIS resume?
Even if you’re not actively job seeking, it’s useful to continue to build your skills and knowledge so that if an opportunity for your dream job (or one that sets you on the path to your dream job) does present itself, you have some extra confidence to leap! So what can you do? Here’s some of the things I’ve tried.
Get involved at work. Is there a project at work you can put your hand up for? Can you think of a project that needs doing? Can you make it known that you’re happy to fill in for others when needed, or perhaps volunteer to do something that has been left undone for a while as it’s not anyone’s favourite task?  You can sell your inexperience as an opportunity for fresh eyes to look at the issue, you’ll probably learn something new and as an extra bonus, you build a reputation as helpful and reliable.
Get involved in a professional association. ALIA has many committees and groups you can be a part of, including specialist new graduate ones or groups based around a geographic area or particular area of interest, but ALIA is also not the only LIS professional association. If you are working in a special library, law library, public library, health library or school library there is an association or group out there to suit you. Get your librarian skills on and google it today!
These groups and associations run social events and training that are both useful and helpful, but I think the real value is in getting involved on the organising side. I joined the ALIA New Generation Advisory Committee (NGAC) in 2010 as a brand new LIS professional and consider it one of the better career decisions I’ve made so far. I’ve developed valuable contacts (that in some cases have since become friends) but I’ve also learned a lot about collaborating with others to develop and provide strategic level advice to the ALIA Board. I recently stepped into the role of Chair of this committee and that is bringing another skill set with it as I write agendas, manage teleconferences and work as the connection between the committee and ALIA national office. All of this adds ‘CV sparkle’, but more importantly, builds my skills and the confidence to use them.
Get yourself a PLN. A personal learning network, or PLN, can be a valuable tool. It gives you contacts in the profession but also works to give you a sounding board for your ideas, virtual colleagues if you are isolated professionally (as I was in my first job working in a one person library) and people to meet up with when you eventually get to attend conferences, PD events or even travel interstate for training and development opportunities. I got my PLN up and running almost by accident – I joined twitter when I joined NGAC as everyone else on the committee was on twitter and I was pulled into a world of LIS folk swapping stories, sharing ideas, triumphs and failures and generally acting as a support network across the country.
Your PLN doesn’t have to be in cyber space. I have changed jobs and no longer work alone, so have been able to add ‘real life’ colleagues to my PLN. I love tapping into the different experiences staff here have had, it adds to my knowledge and often gives me ideas for further investigation or research.
So, if you’re thinking that perhaps you don’t want to stay in your job forever (no matter how satisfied you may be with it at present) and you want to have a bit of extra confidence to reach a little bit further for the next job, perhaps give some of these a go.
Oh, and we’re currently looking for new members for NGAC! Are you a new professional? Interested? Have a look at the expression of interest and perhaps drop me a line.

Clare McKenzie
Clare is an Outreach Librarian at UNSW and the current chair of the ALIA New Generation Advisory Committee. She tweets as @newgradlib.

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