I’m about to start my third week as a professional public librarian. It’s gone quickly and mostly well. In the real world, it turns out, colleagues and patrons are as patient and good-natured as you might like them to be, but were secretly afraid they wouldn’t be. People are basically decent--go figure!
Which isn’t to say things have gone completely smoothly. People and institutions have their entrenched ways of doing things, and entering into these systems can feel bewildering and isolating. I’ve found success by trying to adapt to the blanket methods that are in place at my new library--which mostly entails knowing what role each staff member fills, and dealing with them directly in those roles--while carving out my own methods in those areas that affect only me, or which I now find myself (unbelievably) in charge of.
That means I’ve set up my own little processes when it comes to my itty-bitty corners of the collection development budget and to planning my adult programming. It’s really helpful that the library’s director (among others, but mainly her) is very open to change and has given me carte blanche to do what I want in a few areas. That’s sort of intimidating! But after ten days at work, it’s starting to feel like, yes, I actually can exert a little authority here and there. It’s been really important to feel like I’m doing at least a couple of things “my way,” because otherwise I might find myself going a little nuts in a few months.
It’ll still take some getting used to. There are three librarians here, of which I’m one, and we’re technically the heads of our departments and everyone else’s “superiors.” In practice it won’t really work that way, which is more than fine--I’m happy to defer to anyone’s wisdom and experience, whether they have an “MLS” after their name or not. (That’s a lesson a few young hotshots really should take to heart or risk an unhappy professional life.) But I do have to remind myself to inhabit my “director” role as much as possible.
One evening I was going over some circ desk procedures with one of the clerks, who was actually the most recent hire before I got there. She was telling me the policy for patron phone use. “We’re usually not allowed to let anyone use the desk phone, but the librarians can make exceptions, so just ask one of them--oh!” It wasn’t until she said it that she realized that I was one of those librarians who’s allowed to make exceptions. No hard feelings, though--I didn’t realize it at first either!
I’ve had some great opportunities to meet a lot of active patrons and community members. There seems to be a great crew that’s in the library all the time--the kind of funny, sweet, sometimes odd folks that make me wonder why there hasn’t been a successful library-based sitcom yet. But I’m also fortunate to be coming to work at the start of the strategic planning process, and was drafted by the library director to take part in a series of community conversations intended to glean ideas and aspirations. This has been a great way to meet a lot of active, opinionated people who feel a stake in the library, but who might not be in the building every day.
If you don’t happen to be starting your job in time for an opportunity like that, I’d urge you to make other efforts to meet similar people in your community. Find all the civic meetings in town and attend as many as you can--and speak up to introduce yourself. People will be delighted to meet the new librarian. Everyone here has been.
So I guess if I had to sum up the lessons of my first weeks on the job…
Defer to local practices, but carve out spaces for you to make your institutional mark.
Seek and use your colleagues’ experience, but don’t fail to inhabit your professional authority.
Get out there and introduce yourself to the community!