How many of you have had family members, friends, acquaintances, strangers, etc. ask you why you are in library school or give you a quizzical look and say something along the lines of “Don’t you know that librarianship is a dying profession?” or “But didn’t Google replace the need for librarians?” Of course, we all know that this isn’t true, but if there is anything I’ve learned over the past 2.5 years in library school, it’s that we must be advocates for our profession and, perhaps more importantly, ourselves. The reality is that we will probably never be able to stop advocating. So, I urge you to learn how to do this now, because if you want a long and successful career in this field, you will need this valuable skill.
I work as a solo librarian in the field of visual resources librarianship. I am based in an academic art department, so I don’t have the resources and support of my university’s library system. My position was demoted from a professional faculty position (like most librarians at universities) to department staff a few years ago and I am ineligible for professional development or travel funds and make a good bit less than the faculty predecessor, despite drastically altering my job description for the better and adding additional responsibilities. Once I obtain my MLIS this May and have the terminal degree for librarians, I plan to meet with HR and will build the case for re-classifying my position from staff to either Librarian I or Academic Professional. Both of these positions are based on 12-month contracts that must be renewed each year, unlike my current staff classification, which is permanent and full-time. So, there is a lot of risk associated with this kind of transition, but I believe that advocating for the professionalism of my position and the work I do is important and worth the effort. As librarians, our positions are never really secure. Budget cuts, reclassifications, etc. can drastically impact our libraries and our positions. This is why learning how to be our own advocates is so important.
So… where to begin? You need to develop a professional toolkit. Not necessarily an actual kit, but a set of tools that you can use when you need to advocate for yourself or your position. I recommend starting with the following five tools:
- Know the bigger picture.
You need to know what’s going on in the grander scheme of your profession in order to make your case as an individual. This information can range from salaries for similar positions in your area to new technologies being incorporated into libraries. Gather professional reports and documents that advocate for your branch of librarianship and learn what is going on at our peer institutions. You want to have as much “evidence” as possible.
- Prepare an elevator speech.
Occasionally, your boss, co-workers, professional colleagues, patrons, board, family, friends, strangers, etc. will ask you about your job. They will want to know what you do, what projects you are working on, and why you are significant. The best way to combat these questions is to prepare an “elevator” style speech – a two-minute speech that describes what you do in your position along with recent successes or current projects. You can tailor this based on audience, of course, but the important thing is to already know how to answer this question and practice so you are prepared. With an elevator speech in your toolkit, you will be prepared to answer these kinds of intimidating questions with confidence.
- Update your CV regularly.
Do not let your resume/CV sit unattended just because you are not job searching. And especially not if you are! You never know when you will need it, and it is so much easier to have an updated copy at the ready. Plus, if you are like me, you might forget to include something important that occurred six months ago.
- Maintain a professional portfolio.
I have to create a professional e-portfolio for my Capstone class this semester and the more I work on it, the more I think everyone should have one. This is different from your resume/CV, because this is not just a list of your accomplishments. You can upload selected assignments, posters, PowerPoint presentations, and other kinds of work and show your best work off! Depending on the site you use (I use Google Sites), you can limit who actually has access to this portfolio, so you can keep it for your own benefit or only give the address to future employers.
- Keep a record of achievements.
Yes, you will have a list of achievements in your resume/CV – presentations, publications, major successes and events, etc. But what about the occasional compliment from a colleague, a patron, or your boss? What about that little change you made that may not be significant enough to add to your resume/CV, but still made a big difference in your daily work life? Write it down and keep it in a record of achievements. You could have a Google doc or a notebook; the format does not matter. The point is to have a record of all of the things – big or small – so that when you are up for a raise or in a performance review, you have documented information you can use on your behalf.
What do you do to advocate for yourself? Are there any other tools you would add to the toolkit?