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Pursuing an LIS Career? You’ll Be Creating the New Normal.

Kim Dority

As we move into the next phase of the country’s Covid-19 response, many of you are getting ready to launch your LIS career. Congratulations on your graduation, but even more so on your determination to succeed, to overcome obstacles to achieving your goals, to go forward and create your place in the profession.

And for those of you who are still immersed in your SIS studies, taking courses that will open up new possibilities and expose you to new insights about information as well as yourself, I applaud your commitment to learn, grow, and contribute. We need both our graduates and our current students to bring the best of what you’ve got to our future, because your passion and ability to think creatively about solving new challenges is what will carry us forward from this “pause” into our new, positive normal.

What might libraries’ new normal look like?

Considering the coping strategies that have helped libraries navigate our recent distancing requirements, it’s pretty clear that some of these have been sufficiently successful that they’re likely to continue on into our new normal. For example:

More interest in virtual services. Many library patrons who’d never availed themselves of libraries’ virtual and streaming services learned very quickly how to download e-books, audiobooks, and movies when it was their only option. What was at first a choice of desperation (wait, what? I can’t go get that audiobook I wanted to listen to???) has for many now morphed into a very convenient downloading alternative. What other types of virtual services might also be considered now? (Might libraries start hosting Zoom meet-ups for remote book clubs?)

Multiple types of connection. Most libraries were already doing a good job of combining in-house and online communication and service delivery. However, as schools have tried to provide learning online we’ve now seen very clearly how many families are unable to take advantage of either option. How else can libraries provide bridges for these families? What can we do with phone lines? Can we partner with other needed service providers such as food banks to provide services outside the library, at the point of need? How else can we create multiple options for connecting throughout the community? Libraries have been experimenting with numerous options, some with great success.

Carrying forward the best solutions libraries have created. One of the encouraging things going on right now is how innovative and creative many libraries have been in overcoming obstacles (sort of like the SIS students and graduates). Lots of great ideas have gone live, and in the grand tradition of the LIS profession, we’ll be sharing them with each other to be ready for the next “pause” event. Smart librarians don’t have all the answers, but we do have two terrific attributes: 1) we are always willing to try out and learn new things, and 2) we’re driven to share information to better help all of our communities.

Budget uncertainty. It’s hard to tell how substantial a hit library funding will take, but it’s clear that pretty much every organization – whether public, private, nonprofit, or other – is going to be dealing with budget uncertainty. Although this isn’t something you can control, it’s smart to accept this reality and not take any of the job-hunting challenges it presents personally.

So what should you be doing in the meantime?

Though it’s natural to wish this disruption to all types of libraries might quickly disappear, that’s not likely. A more realistic scenario is a slow roll-out of traditional and “new solutions” functions and services.

We’ll probably be moving forward slowly until our communities and society in general have a better sense of what works now and what should be put off for a bit, when we can see more clearly what’s safe and what’s not.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t be actively building your career in the months ahead, regardless of what the job market looks like.

  • Revisit the three strategies of research, connection, and visibility we explored several weeks ago. Now is the perfect time to lean into those efforts, because they will position you both for when the jobs open up and for any that might be currently “invisible,” i.e., not yet posted.
  • Flex your superpowers. If you have a bit of time on your hands while job-hunting, see if you can find a way to contribute your information skills to an initiative, organization or community group that could benefit from them. This is a win-win-win; your partner benefits from your extraordinary skills, you get practical experience, and you have a terrific response ready when an interviewer asks you what you’ve been doing during “the pause.”
  • Recheck the information you’ve gathered during your information interviews and look for any skills gaps between jobs you’d like to land and your current expertise. Fill those knowledge gaps using your favorite learning approach (book, webinar, association professional development course, free online tutorials, hanging out with a knowledgeable friend) and then see if you can find ways to practice what you’re learning.
  • Go all-in on information and communications technologies. As noted in our new normal notes, it’s probable that virtual service, resource and program delivery is going to become a very big part of future library jobs. Learn about and master as many of the collaborative technology tools as you can, and then come up with as many creative ways libraries could use them with patrons, students, colleagues, etc. as possible. (One of my colleagues has used her “pause downtime” to master every aspect of creating Zoom online training workshops, and is now being recruited to train the trainers.)
  • Keep writing in your journal, whether you’re recording a cool new idea or feelings of depression and frustration. Both are equally important in your life and career thinking, and it’s important to give yourself the space (and permission) to acknowledge all your ups and downs. Job-hunting is notoriously crazy-making, so whenever you’re having one of those moments, use your journal to vent if needed. Then know that this simply means you’re a completely normal human being.
  • Go for mastery. In every career, as in every life, it’s important to understand what you can control and what you can’t. Your goal, always, is to put your time, effort, and best stuff into the former. So if you’re feeling anxious, choose a new skill or challenge to master while things are getting sorted out. And it doesn’t even have to be a professional skill…. Into baking sourdough bread or growing tomatoes or playing the guitar or learning Spanish? Go for it! Throw yourself into anything where you can see progress and growth based on your consistent efforts. That sense of accomplishment and mastery will help offset any anxiety you’re feeling.
  • Practice the information professional’s core competency: the ability to adapt. What does that look like? A willingness to embrace change, move beyond your comfort zone, pivot into new opportunities, and create them when you can. Given how many unknowns we’re facing, author Joseph Campbell’s caveat that “we must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us” couldn’t be truer. On the other hand, how cool is it to be part of creating the new era of librarianship?

You’ve got this

Bottom line: consider this a test of your resiliency. The most interesting – and often most rewarding – careers are frequently in a state of change. So it helps to think of your career as being in what LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman has described as “permanent beta,” in a permanent state of trying things out, learning from your efforts, and moving forward.

If you embrace that mindset, today’s information profession and its current unknowable future is just one part of the equation. The other part, the important one, is what you’ll be doing in the areas that only you control. Trust me, you’ve got this.

Kim Dority, MLIS
Dority & Associates; dorityassociates.com
kimdority@gkdority.com; Linkedin.com/in/kimdority
Author, Rethinking Information Work, 2d ed
Recipient, SLA Rose L. Vormelker (“The Rosie”) Award