Below is an article I wrote for Information Outlook, the SLA’s journal, in August 2010. Since the online version (and obviously, the paper copy too!) is only viewable by SLA members, I have reposted here now the embargo has passed for the benefit of any non-SLA members reading.
Librarians who are new to the profession can learn much from industry veterans, but some of their concerns and interests are best addressed by connecting with other new librarians.
As a new professional and recent library school graduate, I am very aware of how much I still don’t know about the information profession. I learned library theory while earning my master’s degree and am learning professional practice on the job, but I find that the most useful source of information, inspiration and advice is my professional network.
Professional networking is vital for career development at any stage of your career. To paraphrase a paper delivered at the New Professionals Conference earlier this year, your professional network can provide support, opportunities for collaboration, access to collective intelligence, and a forum to discuss ideas, problems and solutions (Ruddock 2010). I agree with all of these points: through my peer network, which includes people I’ve met both in person and online, I’ve received encouragement to submit papers for presentations, found projects on which to collaborate, obtained help with research inquiries, and been exposed to some fantastic ideas I’d never have come across in my own workplace.
I find it tremendously useful to talk to people in different stages of their careers. When I attended SLA’s Annual Conference in 2009, one of the most useful events of the conference was the First-Timers and Fellows Reception. As a student (at the time), it was incredibly inspiring to be able to talk to people who’d been active in SLA for a number of years and were at the top of their profession. The exchange of ideas between beginners and experienced professionals is a key benefit to networking.
However, it must be said that there are advantages to having networks run specifically for and by new professionals. Particularly at face-to-face events, it can be incredibly intimidating for a new professional to approach others and start a conversation. This becomes a far easier prospect if you know that the rest of the attendees are in the same boat.
Networking with others at the same level can also be a good confidence builder. While I enjoy reading professional journals and attending conference presentations to get ideas from other information professionals, this can also be slightly dispiriting. I am at the very beginning of my career and working in a job where I have little input into the strategic direction of the library, so learning about projects that others have started often makes me wonder how I’ll ever get to a position where I’m able to implement these kinds of ideas. Hearing from other professionals at my level about projects they’re working on and ideas they’ve implemented can be of more practical use.
New professionals can also be a valuable support network. This is an incredibly difficult time to be graduating from library school and hunting for a job, but knowing there are others out there in the same position–people with whom you can share ideas, advice and sympathy–can make the situation feel much more manageable.
Serving an Important Purpose
The concept of a network for new professionals is not without its controversies. Recently, the Association of European Research Libraries (LIBER) launched YEP! (Young European Professionals), “the network of young professionals in university, research and national libraries across Europe.” When this was mentioned on U.K. mailing lists, there were outcries that such a network was “ageist” and that using the term “young professional” could put off those who are middle-aged or older but still consider themselves new professionals or are interested in networking with them. When contacted about the issue, LIBER clarified that “young professional” was intended to mean either “young of age or young of spirit” and that the network was open to anyone.
The objections to YEP! seemed to be based mainly on the terminology used. Plenty of people change careers and enter librarianship later in their lives after working as paraprofessionals. “New professionals” come in all ages, so it is not surprising that forming a group of “young professionals” caused offense. The problem could have been avoided by simply using the word “new” in place of “young,” but it is to LIBER’s credit that it clarified its position so quickly. I have, however, come across objections to the very nature of networking groups for new professionals.
One concern voiced about YEP! was that “fragmenting” the profession into “splinter interest groups” could “dilute our professional voice.” When a cross-sector online network for new professionals–the LIS New Professionals Network (LISNPN)–was launched, one person commented on Twitter that this amounted to “nannying” and that we should “get out of [new professional] groups and into the mainstream.”
I understand these sorts of objections, but I disagree with them. I’m not suggesting that “new professional” groups are a replacement for mainstream networking groups, but they do serve an important purpose. A networking group cannot be all things to all people, just as a professional association cannot. SLA, for example, has divisions for various specialties within librarianship in recognition of the fact that people working in different topic areas have different interests and concerns. CILIP, the main library association in the United Kingdom, has special interest groups for the same reason.
I see “new professional” networks as an extension of this philosophy. People at the beginning of their careers have different concerns, interests and needs than do established professionals.
I consider myself fortunate to have so many opportunities to network with other new professionals. SLA’s First Five Years Advisory Council provides some terrific resources and opportunities for those at the start of their careers. I was lucky enough to win one of SLA Europe’s Early Career Conference Awards in 2009, which enabled me to attend the SLA Annual Conference that year. I have also been involved with CILIP’s Career Development Group and recently joined LISNPN.
LISNPN is an online network, so it is perfect for networking with other new professionals around the world. Although targeted toward new professionals, it is open to anyone who is interested. Several established professionals have already joined with the intention of providing advice to, and sharing ideas with, the new professionals in the network.
By getting involved with various “new professional” groups, I’ve made contacts and connections that have been of tremendous benefit even at this early stage of my career. On a personal level, I’ve also made some great friends I hope to stay in touch with long after I’ve left my current job–and no matter what direction my career takes me.
LIS New Professionals Network. Accessible online at http://www.lisnpn.spruz.com/.
Ruddock, B. 2010. Proving the value of peer networks: Plugging into your peers. Presentation at the CILIP New Professionals Conference, University of Sheffield, July 5.