EVEN months ago, I left Greater Manchester to start a new job down south as a librarian. I hadn’t yet completed my Master’s degree in Library and Information Management, and had little knowledge of the workings of Weston Area Health Trust. I was tabula rasa; a blank slate.
Thankfully, my new colleagues at Weston were incredibly kind, helpful and understanding. I was a long way away from the familiar surroundings of the North, so the support of my colleagues was invaluable. I couldn’t have asked to be part of a more welcoming and supportive team. Of course, being new at the whole “being a librarian” thing was difficult (and barely believable!) at first.
So, for any new LIS graduates starting their first professional post, here are my top tips.
1. As the Hitchhiker’s Guide says: don’t panic
You’re there for a reason, and were chosen to do the job from (no doubt) a lot of other applicants; make sure you keep telling yourself this to ward off any imposter syndrome. You might feel that you know very little, or nothing at all, and that’s perfectly ok! Try to write down as much as possible, and learn as much as you can, even if it might seem irrelevant. You never know when a bit of information will come in handy. Try to learn as much as you can about the library, but also about the wider organisation, too.
2. Know your users
It’s all very well and good to know the functionality of the library, and know every little bit of it like the back of your hand. But although that collection of dinosaur books looks really cool, the user looking for a book about brain surgery might not find it very useful. Chat to people, try and get access to stats. Find out what people are using, and more importantly, what they can’t find.
3. “Oh, you’re a librarian? I’d love to just read books all day”
You WILL come across this remark, or a variation of it. Hold the sassy retort (yes, it’s hard) and use it as an opportunity to shamelessly plug the library and what you do. Let them know about the personalised current evidence bulletin service, or tell them about the literature search service you offer! Let them realise that yes, you keep an eye on books, but you can also support their work in many different ways.
4. Be an entrepreneur
Working in a hospital library is totally different from other sectors. Don’t be afraid to branch out and leap into the unknown. Try to attend different team meetings, not only to get an idea about the organisation, but also to offer support with the wealth of knowledge and information you have at your fingertips. Evidence-based knowledge is a very powerful tool indeed, and you’re the one who knows how to access and distribute it. If something looks interesting and hasn’t been done before, give it a go and see if it works for you! The unknown isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and innovation is vital for an adaptable library service.
5. You’re going to hear the term “impact” a lot
You’re a part of one of the best teams in the country. Prove it. Impact studies, usability studies, case studies are all great ways of collecting data and providing good evidence for the impact you’re making. Just like a decent journal article, you need to back your service with strong evidence to prove you’re doing a heck of a lot more than “reading books all day”. The terms “knowledge management” and “synthesis” also crop up a lot; try and book yourself onto courses, or read up about these terms. They sound a lot scarier than they actually are. Your university days will have prepared you for this.
6. Don’t be shy! Chat with other librarians, and don’t forget your friends from uni
It’s good to find out what other librarians get up to, and how they approach challenges. Sometimes it’ll feel like your library is the only library in the world, and that might feel a bit isolating. But there are others outside the walls and boundaries of your service, who can offer support and advice. From my experience thus far, people who work in libraries tend to be the kindest, friendliest people who will have no qualms about helping you out when you need it. Your friends from uni will have (or will be getting) library jobs too, and it’s always good to keep in touch and lend a hand if they need it.
7. If you can, start your chartership
Perhaps you’re fresh from uni, or returning to work. Starting your chartership will give you that extra bit of support, and allow you to develop your LIS skills in the workplace. It’ll also give you the opportunity to meet people outside of your sector.