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March 7, 2014 / playforth

Alignment, change and the balanced librarian

Do you align yourself with your profession, your sector, or your workplace? It’s probably a bit of all three, with the balance shifting depending on things like: the length of time in a workplace, the level of involvement in professional activities outside work, the amount of personal interest you have in your sector/workplace etc. I’ve been thinking about this lately, for no particular reason other than a growing awareness of the dynamics of work and our experience of it – helped by a recent Happiness at Work survey, and making some major personal work-life decisions around the same time.

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When I first qualified as a librarian in 2006, I was proud of my academic achievement and excited about my newly-minted profession but I didn’t immediately feel like a librarian. I was working part-time in the broad area of information/learning resource provision but not in a library. I didn’t work with any other librarians, and I didn’t really hang out with any online or in real life either. My daughter was born at the end of that same year and I was on maternity leave for 6 months, which was a precious and crazy time but didn’t exactly help me feel embedded in my new profession. When I went back to work I was relieved to be going back to something familiar and flexible, and barely thought about how to progress in my ‘career’ for another couple of years. In short I was comfortable with my specific workplace and my role in it but not really engaged with the wider profession.

In 2009 I started work as a cataloguer in a ‘real’ library. It was around this time that I started getting involved in library talk on Twitter, going to more library events and generally feeling like a librarian. However, my post didn’t strictly require a library qualification, and my library was small and somewhat idiosyncratic, straddling a line between academic library, subject-specific research collection, and charity. But at this point I was so pleased to be doing actual library work and meeting actual librarians that I tended to ignore the gaps between my day to day work and the idea of ‘a librarian’ that I had begun to apply to myself. I’d characterise this period as feeling strongly aligned to my profession but in a workplace that was still somewhat adrift from it, and didn’t really fit into a defined sector.

So what about now? I’ve worked in this funny library for over 5 years now, and several more shifts have taken place. The library itself has changed and, in terms of systems and technology, aligned itself more with what other libraries are doing, but at the same time my role has become less traditionally ‘librariany’. I don’t do much cataloguing now, and the projects I’m currently working on use very few of the ‘hard’ information management skills I learned at library school. I’m managing a service that is embedded in the wider institution, meaning that I have stronger ties to this workplace as a whole than ever before. I’m also doing more international and partnership work and this has tended to align me more with what colleagues are doing (we work in international development) than with other academic librarians. But my strongest alignment is with the library specifically – we’re a great team and we do great work 🙂

Rachel in the Serials

I guess the perfect balance is feeling that you’re using and updating all your professional skills and contributing to your professional community, in a sector you believe in and understand, in a workplace that values you and that you like. I’m not sure I’ve cracked it completely but it’s something to aim for!

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