Monday, 18 April 2011

Ten Things I Wish I'd Been Told About the LIS Sector

Exactly what it says on the tin. The Wikiman and other new info pros have no doubt weighed in on this, but here's a fairly succinct list of things I really, really wish I'd been told three years ago, when I informed my largely skeptical colleagues at the DVLA that I was leaving them to become a graduate trainee librarian:
  1. There are no 59 year-old baby boomers who can't wait to give their (well-paid, interesting and relatively secure) jobs to you, at least in the UK and in the two academic libraries I work for. Sorry. You'll need to be more proactive in job-hunting than waiting around for people to retire and/or die.

  2. To channel my inner indie kid and quote Regina Spektor: "People are just people, they shouldn't make you nervous." Yeah, there are a few bad eggs as with any large group, but LIS folk are genuinely one of the nicest groups of people about. Don't ever, ever be scared to express your opinion to anyone at any level of your organisation. The worst they can say is 'no', and having received negative feedback about my reticence, I have concluded that the future of this profession will not belong to the meek and mild.

  3. Scores of talented, brilliant and ambitious people find themselves unemployed for quite some time after their postgraduate courses finish. You may need to take on a paraprofessional post as a shelver or library porter, step sideways, or take a job in a related area such as university administration or database management. The more you narrow your options to one specific area, the harder it is to find something. There is no clearly-defined path for career progression in many LIS posts, and it can be hard to move up through the ranks. Giving my own situation, as a customer service supervisor, I don't have management experience, so I don't meet the job description for many customer service management roles. Frustrating doesn't even begin to cover it.

  4. Following on from this, it's likely your first job (or jobs) will be fixed-term, part-time, away from where you live now, in an area you don't particularly want to live in and will involve working evenings and/or weekends. I work two part-time jobs in two different cities, and work twelve days in a row on alternative weeks. It's not pretty, and I don't intend on it forever, but I'm not alone: one of my colleagues works on weekends with me, is a librarian in an FE college in a different city three days a week, and is studying part-time for a BA in librarianship.

  5. We're not 'one big profession'. See below blog post for details how we don't stick together at times. Law libraries, financial organisations, public libraries and academic libraries all seem to prefer dealing with their own, and it can be tricky to move between sectors. (I've applied to several LIS jobs in the private sector to no avail, yet have been interviewed for almost every academic role I've applied for. What impresses one sector will not necessarily impress the other. The alternative is that I'm rubbish at application forms, but I'm fairly certain my application forms rock.)

  6. You will always have to defend what you do to people. Every time I mention in passing to a customer that I'm finishing up my dissertation, and they ask what in, they always say, "why do you need a Masters degree for that?" People just don't realise what we do, and if you have a job title which isn't straight-up librarian? Good luck explaining until your throat goes hoarse. And if you don't explain? It just perpetuates the myths.

  7. Every single job in a library and information environment will contain routine tasks. There may be some days, or even weeks, where all you do is routine tasks. Case in point: I spend up to three hours on busy days unpacking books from transit boxes. If you can't deal with this? Don't take it on.

  8. Market yourself, whether you like it or not. My Graduate Trainee induction should have included sessions on making the most of Twitter, setting up a blog, networking your behind off, writing memorable conference paper proposals and making small talk with people you want to impress but have very little common ground with. Thankfully, New Professionals Network has much of this for you. I'm somewhat guilty of neglecting Twitter from time to time, but I know people who don't get involved with professional organisations or social networking at all. I'm not saying this will hold you back from a long and fulfilling career, but how successful will you be if you don't know what else is happening in the profession?

  9. You are more awesome than you realise. Until the Turning test is passed, it's us LIS folk who provide the world with the information it needs and will continue to do so. In thirty years or so, you may well be doing a job which doesn't exist yet.

  10. Don't panic, and don't despair. I know plenty of new professionals who have wound up with their ideal jobs almost immediately after finishing their postgraduate courses. There might not be hundreds of applicants. In fact, I was told there were 243 applicants for my current (paraprofessional) post, and forty or so for the last academic librarian job advertised. Face it: someone is going to obtain that job you've been drooling over, and if you plan and prepare your heart out, why can't it be you?


  1. great post, my work place is running a course on blogging and networking soon which I'm pretty excited about. I recently joined cilip and I want to get my para-professional certification so I've found all of this very useful. Thanks!

  2. A baby-boomer writes: 'well-paid, interesting and relatively secure jobs'? Cue hollow laughter. Many of us are on the dole too, so, as Alice says, if your career plan is based on pushing us under buses, forget it.
    If you have youth on your side, for heaven's sake use the advantage it brings. It won't last.

  3. Well-paid, interesting and relatively secure compared to me, at least! If I could pass the £20k per annum barrier, I'd be breaking out the Veuve Cliquot.

    Good luck in the job hunt, by the way, and you're absolutely right. There's a worrying trend for young'uns to be resentful of older people who keep on working, and it really saddens me.

  4. I really enjoyed your blog, very funny and very true, especially number 6! Whenever I say I am doing a masters to become a librarian I am met with the same response!
    (Rachel from the Libray Gossip Girls)