The Ten Commandments of the New Professional

By Natalie Baur

Library school diploma straight off the press, check. Applications and cover letters sent out to dream jobs, check. Weeks (and weeks) of waiting, phone interviews and on-site interviews, check. An accepted job offer and start date, check! For many new librarians, the long, angst-filled path from graduation to job offer is a journey that consumes every last ounce of attention, making it all too easy to forget that a career is indeed waiting for them after getting that job offer. After breathing a sigh of relief that the bills will get paid on time, reality sets in; this is your very first professional position. Soon after, that little voice inside your head rings the alarm bells: I have no idea what I’m doing!

Don’t listen to that little devil on your shoulder. Instead, look the other way and channel your inner awesomeness, that will power and self confidence that got you through graduate school while serving multiple internships and gaining work experience. Use the time you have in the Purgatory of the Freshly Hired, the stage between the job offer and your first day, to study the catechism of the new professional. Are you ready? Yes.

The following Ten Commandments will give you sound guidance for starting your long and rewarding career on the professional staff rosters.

  1. Jack of all trades, master of none. You do not want to be Jack. Instead of overwhelming yourself by getting involved in everything, everywhere, just step back for those first critical few months and figure out which areas of librarianship most excite you, and where you want to concentrate your efforts. Select and join a core of professional organizations (too many memberships get expensive, anyway!). Find that one committee or roundtable that really gets you fired up to donate your volunteer hours. As you get more networking experience and settle in, then you can do more. Little steps will still get you to where you’re headed!
  1. Study your organization’s hierarchy. You can easily ask for the organizational chart before your first day on the job. Know who is who and, more importantly, who answers to whom. After all, you will want to get things done in your new role, and you need to know who to ask and in what order.
  1. Get to know the workplace culture. Is it laid back or formal? What is the dress code? Are schedules flexible or do you need to punch in and out at exact times? What is the working relationship between professional and paraprofessional staff members? Before you start, it might be a good idea to get in touch with some of the folks on your search committee or your HR contact to discuss the ins and outs of fitting in.
  2. Take the initiative. Contact your new boss before you start. Ask her about what kinds of things you will be working on right out of the gate. You don’t have to write tomes or ask a million questions. Just let her know that you are seeking the initiative and are thinking about your new roles and responsibilities.
  1. Expectations. What does the library expect of its newest professionals? Are you expected to publish, present and/or attend and participate in professional conferences and meetings? If you didn’t get this information in the interview process, make sure you have all of the details. You will need to be on top of this from day one, as many libraries require these types of activities before you are considered for retention, promotion or, in some cases, tenure.
  1. Find a mentor. This person can be someone at your new library or a former professor or supervisor. In any case, this person will be your ally in helping you wade through the ins and outs of professional librarianship. Soon enough you won’t be the newbie anymore, and then it will be your turn to guide the next generation to the path of success.
  1. Find your stride. The first few weeks or months will be an adjustment and very busy, but consider what kind of work-life balance is best for your lifestyle and family situation. You’ll save yourself from burning out before your vacation time accrues. And take those vacation days. That’s what they’re for!
  1. Introduce yourself. Don’t wait for everyone to introduce themselves to you. Your coworkers and librarians in other departments are busy, too. Do your best to introduce yourself to folks you don’t know, don’t remember or didn’t get the chance to meet during your interview. Librarians are generally very friendly and love to help, so it’s a good idea to show your new teammates you are on their side.
  1. Explore. Find out about all of the fringe benefits your organization offers. Many organizations offer employees such perks as exercise facilities and discounted entertainment, museum tickets and travel. If HR doesn’t clue you into this, make sure to ask! It will help you achieve that perfect work-life balance. Double bonus.
  1. Be yourself. It’s a cliché, but this is the best thing you can do, and you can do it from day one. Follow your true interests and passions and you will find that most likely your library will have an outlet for you to pursue them to the fullest. It’s up to you to show your fellow librarians just what makes you tick.

Starting your first professional position is daunting, but everyone started out somewhere. Clear your mind of those jitters and doubts. Having a positive attitude from day one will make the transition much easier for you and your new co-workers. Good luck!

Natalie Baur is an archivist for the Cuban Heritage Collection at the University of Miami Libraries.