Alternatively titled: A Librarian Can…give a little advice to library school students.
My piece of advice for today concerns the importance of making connections and impressions. Library school is tough, and not because of the course work. Yes, you have to learn skills, but more importantly, it is the time to learn what it means to be a librarian and navigate this new professional field. I may be fairly new to this field myself, but one of the things that I learned very quickly while in school and on the job was the importance of making connections (some say networking but that concept often makes people cringe). Basically, you have to hustle, put yourself out there, build relationships, and make good impressions. This is very difficult. I am not a very outgoing, socially engaging person. I find networking and small talk incredibly anxiety producing and exhausting, but I think it is essential to my success and longevity in this field. I may not know how or when, but every interaction could have a long-term impact. I strive to make every interaction as positive and productive as possible, because who knows what will be next. It can be difficult, but the more I practice, the stronger the skill becomes. We will all have missteps, especially working on something that does not come easy. In general, people who love what they do, love to talk about it and dole out advice to others (usually the next generation). Recently, I have had two experiences with library school students that have made me want to share.
I will start with a cautionary tale. I encourage, and actually think it is necessary, to reach out to people in the field while a student. Often this is even required for some assignments. Cold calls/emails may be the only way to get the information you need, or connect with someone who might be very important. But this needs to be done with extreme thoughtfulness and professionalism. Recently, a handful of librarians and other staff got an email from a library student looking for some information for a project. No one knew this person and the recipients seemed arbitrary (and in one case inappropriate). The request also seemed not well thought out or respectful of our time. It was taken as unprofessional by most who read it. I really do not mean to shame this student. I want it to serve as a learning opportunity. You want to make an impression, but you want it to be a good one. This email may not be the worst, but for a variety of reasons it certainly got people talking. A little background research into what, how, and who to ask will save everyone time and make requests seem more considerate and thoughtful. Tone and presentation count for a lot, especially in email were meaning and manner can be easily misconstrued. Librarians love to help, especially those new to the field, but tact, respect, and professionalism still needed to be maintained.
And now for the other side of the coin. Our library recently hosted a group of library students who were interested in medical libraries, special libraries, or just wanted to learn more about how varied librarianship truly can be. Most were curious, engaging, questioning, and thoughtful. They didn’t need to be the loudest or make the most small talk, just taking their time to show interest and a willingness to learn spoke volumes. These students were lucky enough, or opportunistic enough, to have the chance to visit and speak with us in person, but the advice holds true regardless of medium.
Take any opportunity to put yourself out there and make connections, but be respectful and thoughtful. You want to make good impressions on as many people in this field as you can. Any little thing may be the slight edge you need, but more than career building, it is relationship building. The commitment to library school usually implies that you want to spend a long time in this field. Throughout this time you will need people – for help, jobs, projects, information. The field of librarianship is built on collaboration, helping, and relationships. Start practicing the skills you will need to build these things as soon and as often as you can. It is not easy. Trust me, I know. Do it anyway.