I attended a recent discussion hosted by the Special Libraries Association Washington DC Chapter entitled, “Reinventing Yourself Professionally,” featuring a panel of librarians who reflected their own professional reinventions. The panel included Betsy Jayasuriya, Chief Librarian, U.S. Department of Justice; Raymond Maxwell, Assistant Librarian, Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, Howard University; Tom Nielsen, Adjunct Librarian, CUNY York College; Bruce Rosenstein, Managing Editor, Leader to Leader, and Adjunct Professor at Catholic University of America (moderator); and Jan Zastrow, Independent Archivist/Librarian/Researcher/Writer.
All of the panelists worked in various library fields ranging from academia to government to media to the private sector with different titles and responsibilities. Each detailed their ‘reinventions’ through their careers and provided a few tips to an almost-full house crowd in a conference at the LexisNexis building.
I’ve incorporated some comments from Alice Boyce’s “The Pros and Cons of Having a ‘Side Hustle” in Psychology Today.
Obtaining and maintaining your networks
The panelists emphasized the importance of networking at workplaces and local chapters of professional development associations and maintaining these relationships. Such professional development associations include the Special Libraries Association and American Library Association. Panelists like Betsy Jayasuriya, Raymond Maxwell and Tom Nielsen received new job opportunities due to information provided by their former colleagues. Jan Zastrow used her networks to obtain archival contracts to work on the papers of retiring US Senators. Even though she is a full-time independent archivist, Zastrow still has a relationship at her academic institution in Hawaii.
Use previous jobs and training in your current position
The panelists detailed how their past employment opportunities and training were helpful during their respective careers. Originally trained as a medical librarian, Betsy Jayasuriya learned to conduct legal and legislative research and become a supervisor, thanks due to previous jobs in academic and state and federal government institutions. For Raymond Maxwell, his library career started later in life, where he first served the Navy as the librarian and then worked in the Foreign Service. While obtaining his library science degree, Maxwell unlearned and relearned the library technology. However, his training from the Navy and the Foreign Service assisted him to thrive in library school and serve patrons through a different lens, especially in his previous and current academic librarian jobs. He recommended taking a little risk at your job, as it shows your creativity to think beyond your job title. Zastrow agreed with Maxwell’s point and added to reframe your current position with your skills and knowledge.
These points are very relatable to my position as a solo librarian at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) National Laboratory Center. While one of my duties is to provide accurate and authoritative scientific information for ATF personnel nationally, I work on other projects that involve my distinct knowledge and training. This project is to create the center’s archival repository to establish their institutional history, which includes creating policies and a disaster plan separate from the library and designing the archives’ organizational framework.
Do something outside your career
There will be periods where librarians will struggle to obtain a job, lose their job or both. It is important to remember not to take rejection seriously. Nielsen explained his unfortunate experience to be laid off before getting a job as an adjunct librarian. While searching for a new job, Nielsen found slight relief by volunteering at his local SLA chapter and farms in New York. His volunteering at the farms helped him regain his confidence and start job searching again. According to Alice Boyes, from Psychology Today, doing a project or side hustle outside your career will help you take a mental breather and “cope with the work-related frustrations, disappointments and setbacks.”