Until this summer, I never struggled with feeling disconnected as a student or a professional. I chose an in-person LIS program for precisely this reason, and my public library job included plenty of social and professional interaction – so much so, that I didn’t even really notice I was getting it until suddenly, I wasn’t.
However, transitioning from a public library where I was constantly interacting with patrons and coworkers to a quiet archives with a small staff is an experience that I’m glad I got to have. Instead of taking it for granted or having it handed to me by professors, peers, coworkers, and supervisors, I’ve been able to learn a lot about taking control of my own engagement, connection, and participation in this field.
The first thing to note about engagement, whether it be online, in-person, or intellectual, is that it’s incredibly exhausting, or at least it was for me. When you start looking for opportunities to connect, they come crashing at you in a wave of excitement and possibility. I don’t have any advice on how to mitigate this problem, as I am currently so overloaded with connection that I’m nearing my burning-out point. However, I do have some insight about navigating the wave, including the sources of information and engagement that worked best for me.
Working in an office of about 8 relatively quiet people at first seemed incredibly bizarre. I’m introverted myself, so just the thought of disrupting the quiet atmosphere was enough to have me sweating silently in my cubicle.
A few weeks into my internship, however, I became determined to interact with each of my coworkers and learn more about them. I set up informational interviews (over email) so that I could learn more about how they had ended up in their current position and have an opportunity to learn more about them in general. I’m incredibly glad I did this – I would have missed out on a lot had I not made a point to interact with my coworkers. An informational interview is both a great excuse and a low-stakes activity – you’re talking about work, you’re not trying to get a job, and you can keep it as informal as you’d like. If you need any tips for informational interviews, I used the great advice of hackers when preparing for mine, including articles from Kathy Kosinski, Gennie Gebhart, and Julia Feerrar.
I also connected a bit with my local New Professionals Interest Group – chances are your state library association has something like this, and if not, you might consider starting one yourself! I attended one casual dinner networking event and it was really enlightening to get to talk to others who were early in their careers, many of whom attended my same LIS program. If you’re interested in this route, some of our posts on networking might be useful for you.
This is about the point, however, that I had used up all my local resources and had to look outward. One of the most interesting parts of my internship is that I was working for a field office for a larger agency, which provided many opportunities to connect to people and information. The organization I was working for had a sort of internal social network that connected all the offices. I posted discussions on this page asking for advice for interns, featuring cool documents I had found in the collections, and sharing a photo of a toad I saw on my lunch break. This was another fun way to learn more about what was happening throughout the agency, become more familiar with the work culture, and find new ideas. Don’t discount organizational resources – participating in this forum connected me with webinars, meetings, and training opportunities I wouldn’t have otherwise had access to that added nuance and detail to my experience.
And, of course, I also took to social media to attempt to stay connected professionally – if you don’t already have a professionally-oriented Twitter, I would highly recommend it. I gained a lot of insight from following and participating in hashtags like #saa16, #critlib, and #RightsAndJustice. Participating in larger conversations also gets your name out there, gets you connected with other professionals with similar interests, and is a good way to get a feel for trends and circulating ideas. I also participated in a couple of Wikipedia Edit-a-Thons, which are my new favorite thing. As hacker Michael Rodriquez points out, Wikipedia is legit! I was able to connect a lot of archival documents to the articles that I worked on – it’s maybe the easiest way to get the information we have in the hands of more people.
Maybe you’re a distance student and feeling disconnected from your peers, or maybe once you get your degree your first job is as a solo librarian and you weren’t expecting to feel so isolated. There are options out there for any and all personalities – hate social media but love connecting face to face? Get involved with your state professional associations. If speaking to strangers makes you nervous, consider participating in a twitter chat. Find what works for you and make it work for you – because this is your profession, after all.
What’s the best way you use to stay connected to your profession? Is there some awesome network I’m missing and should know about? Do you have any professional engagement success stories? Let me know in the comments!
(Featured image in the Public Domain courtesy of Pixabay.)