Last year we asked for your curly questions for our keynotes, and we’re launching ourselves back into the build-up to NLS6 with their answers. We put your questions to Ruth Kneale, our wonderful keynote who wrote You Don’t Look Like a Librarian! based on her original blog started in 2002. Here’s what she had to say. You might just find yourselves with a raft more questions to ask her when you meet her in Brisbane in February 2013, as it is not long to go now.
What do you know about the LIS scene in Australia? What are you keen to find out?
Not very much, and what I do know is through the eyes of my friends who live here. I’d love to find out more about how special libraries are handled (I know there’s a chapter in SLA for the area but not much more – at least not yet!) and I’d love to learn more about how ALIA deals with a geographically dispersed membership.
Do you still get told that “you don’t look like a librarian”?
Oh, yeah. Recently (December 21st) at a postal service store, as a matter of fact. I was shipping a box of signed copies of my book out, and the guy behind the counter saw the label. He asked about it, I told him it was a book I had written, and he then said “can’t be – you don’t….hang on a second…” I had to laugh!
What is your favourite response to the statement “but you don’t look like a librarian”?
To be honest, I like to turn it around to the asker – “so what does a librarian look like, then?” it often leads to a follow-on statement, “well, I didn’t know that!” It can really be a great lead-in to a conversation that changes that person’s perspective of libraries and librarians. (Educate and inform, I always say!)
What’s the one piece of advice you wish someone had given you as a student/new grad?
That library school would not teach you everything you need to know to be a good librarian.
What role have mentors played in your professional development?
My grad school adviser and mentor, Dr. Charley Seavey, convinced me to stay in grad school when I ran up against some philosophy classes that were difficult for me. He kept me grounded and sane throughout library school, letting me vent and discuss and learn in his office, and I am forever grateful to him for it. We’ve stayed in touch over the intervening years.
A couple of years after I graduated, I met someone who became my mentor within SLA, Stephen Abram. He encouraged me to get more involved with the association, and pursue my interest in the portrayal of librarians in popular culture. He also reminded me that it’s OK – even encouraged – to have fun at a conference!
Thanks to these two (and a host of others), I took the book-writing plunge, got more involved with SLA, and am now a Fellow pondering another book.
How has career planning made a difference in your professional life?
Well, the quick answer is, it got me where I am today, and I love my job, so it made a pretty big difference!
A longer answer is that it will definitely be an advantage to your career if you know what you want to be when you grow up. I’m not saying you have to know right now this very instant, but having some idea will allow you to take those steps when they appear in front of you. Early on is a good time to try things, and I do recommend that if you’re not sure that a particular path is the right one for you – but it’s always good to have “where do I want to be in five years?” lurking in the back of your mind. Talk to folks as you go along – never be afraid to ask “If I want to get into this branch/field/job, what would you recommend I do?” Take advantage of your professors in school, your bosses at your workplace, and fellow members of your associations. They are invaluable sources of career advice!
What advice can you give for a new grad wanting to stand out from all the other job applicants?
Be confident in yourself. Don’t be arrogant, but be confident. And keep trying! You will fail. Accept it, learn from it, and try again.