Last year we asked you to put your thinking caps on for questions for your keynote speakers. We received a range of interesting & thought-provoking questions, and here’s what our fabulous keynote speaker Jenica Rogers, Director of Libraries at the State University of New York at Potsdam, had to say in response. You’d be better ready for some interesting conversations with her at NLS6, she wants to know more from you as well!
What do you know about the LIS scene in Australia? What are you keen to find out?
To be brutally honest, I know very, very little about libraries and librarianship in Australia, and intend to spend the next month doing some research and asking questions of a few of my online friends. That means that I’m seriously eager to learn everything about you all — what’s the same, and what’s different? I’m looking forward to conversations that make me think about divergent perspectives, and interactions that make me think it’s a very small world after all.
Did being named a Library Journal Mover & Shaker in 2009 change your life in any way?
2009 was a hell of a year for me. I got the Mover & Shaker award, I applied for and was granted tenure and promotion to Associate Librarian rank, I applied for, interviewed for, and accepted the position of Director of Libraries, I had shoulder surgery and took 5 weeks off work, I went on my first European vacation as an adult, and I divorced my first husband. Given that pile of eventful change and disruption, it’s very hard for me to figure out which pieces affected me in which ways. It was simply a year of change, a year of growth, and a year of strong emotions. Looking back at the last three years, though, I’d say that my job title has far more professional impact than the M&S award does, for librarians — but the M&S award means more to non-librarians who may not understand our professional structures as clearly. I think it signals accomplishment to external audiences in an interesting way.
Were you offered different opportunities as a result?
I was already doggedly chasing the opportunities I wanted when the award came through, and it may be that it was a factor in getting them. I don’t know how to separate my own choices and impacts from what the award added, but I haven’t ever regretted that my friends and colleagues nominated me.
What’s the one piece of advice you wish someone had given you as a student/new grad?
You don’t have to be perfect, you just have to be good. Good is good enough to put yourself out there, and good is enough to start with, and good is enough build on. Just because we as a profession tend toward perfect — perfectly designed policies, systems that do precisely what we expect them to, MARC — doesn’t mean every thing and every person has to be perfect.
Good is good enough. If I’d realized that sooner, I’d have tried more things more often and more quickly, and I would have worried less about my own qualifications for things I wanted to do or be.
What role have mentors played in your professional development?
I’ve learned so very much from my mentors. In my experience, librarianship is a career in which you get educational training that teaches the basic principles of the field and the culture of the profession, and then you take that framework and learn absolutely everything you really need to know on the job. And you learn from your colleagues, from your supervisors, from your employees, from your users… and you learn both good and bad. All of those people are mentors, some explicit and some implicit, but they’re crucial.
In my experience, we learn by watching, we learn by listening, and we learn by being told. Explicit mentors are people who are willing to tell while you watch and listen, and implicit ones are those you just watch and listen to, who don’t know they’re telling. And there’s also amazing learning to be had from watching things go badly, people act thoughtlessly, respond poorly, so while we might not want to call that a mentoring relationship, it’s certainly an avenue for learning.
I also had the astounding luck of having three different supervisors who knew I wanted a leadership role and were willing to help me work at building that skill set — but I also know that my choice to tell them I wanted a leadership role gave them the opportunity to mentor me toward one.
How has career planning made a difference in your professional life?
My friend Jason Griffey once said to me that my career skyrocketed as it did because of the career choices I made, and he’s absolutely right. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I was planning — but I was choosing.
My first job was a holistic technical services librarian position at a very small library. There, straight out of grad school, I learned cataloging, acquisitions, collection development, serials, and weeding — as well as staff management — because in a very small library your job is a lot of things.
I also worked part time as a consultant for a local regional library system that served public as well as academic libraries, and I learned about how different kinds and sizes of libraries really functioned in the world, which was incredibly useful for me to know.
All of that positioned me very well for my first job at SUNY Potsdam — cataloging and collection development librarian — and for my changing job responsibilities as I became Coordinator of Collection Development. My choice to move to a small regional SUNY school (instead of somewhere larger, more prestigious, more geographically advantageous, etc) meant that I was a solid and known candidate when our Director retired in 2008.
If I’d chosen a different route for myself, I would certainly not have been a library director at age 33. But planning? That’s overstating my forethought. More important, I think, is knowing what I wanted out of my career and putting myself in places where I could get that. (Griffey’s also right when he says that giving me organizational power is like giving Galadriel the One Ring, but that’s another story.)
What advice can you give for a new grad wanting to stand out from all the other job applicants?
DO STUFF, and then write about it meaningfully.
Every applicant in our job pools in the US has an undergraduate and graduate degree. Some have other advanced degrees, and certificates, and those are interesting — they tell us something about who the candidate is — but what I like more is evidence of success and skill. Library internships. Volunteer work and part time jobs in libraries. Do that stuff, and list it all in meaningful ways. And if your circumstances prevent you from doing more than getting the degree, tell me about those circumstances, too. Did you work at a book store? Describe it in library terms — were you assisting customers with reader’s advisory, or buying materials to suit the local population? Or maybe you built the schedule for the 23 part time employees at the store — tell us that, because, trust me, we know what kind of skill goes into doing a job like that. Have you worked in marketing? Teaching? Copyediting? Science lab assistant? Human resources? Graphic design? Accounting? Any customer service job?
Whatever it is that you’ve done in your life, spin it toward the skills you learned there and how you hope to bring them (along with your education, interest, and library experience) to the table as a new professional.
You are more than your degree — everyone has that — so tell me about you, and why we want to hire you. But remember: always be professional about it. I’m sure there’s a professionally appropriate way to write about any job… find it, and impress me.