Wednesday, February 23, 2011

5 qualities someone interested in my job should have

The final post relating to my talk at the University of Ottawa....
(Part One: 5 best things about my job; Part Two: 5 most challenging things about my job)
  1. Patience
: Not just with the public, although that is certainly important in reference and readers' advisory work! Perhaps I put this quality first because I feel it is the one I most struggle with every day. You must have patience with yourself (ha!), with projects that fail and ideas that grow slowly, with staff dealing with change, with the system itself (your library, your city, your province, your country, your profession!).
  2. A genuine interest in people: Sounds obvious, but think about this a bit more deeply. Librarians in general tend to be curious about the world, but someone in a job similar to mine has to also be innately very curious about his or her neighbourhood, employees and colleagues. Who they are, what they are interested in, how they use the library (or don't use it), what they can contribute to the organisation, what they want to learn, what they have already learned that can be shared (expertise!), and so on. I was in the middle of writing this post when I saw a comment one of my colleagues had written after the 5 best things post, with respect to professionals and paraprofessionals, and I think it's applicable here: "The library and librarians would be well-served to remember that they have a wealth of knowledge within their own four walls and institutions." Indeed!
  3. An awareness of boundaries, and the ability to draw them: Man, if I could give every library school student a piece of advice, it would be to master this. I'm referring here to both personal boundaries (what is the level of personal information you are willing to share with a colleague? With a patron? How will you establish these norms so that everyone is comfortable and no one feels threatened / slighted? Will you make friends with your colleagues? Your employees?) and professional boundaries (what kind of an organisation can you work for? What are your workplace boundaries? How can you establish a kind of balance?)
  4. Sympathy across boundaries: ... And I phrase it that way not simply in homage to my thesis, or because of the name of this blog. Directly related to #3 above. You need to be interested in the people in your communitIES, and you also need to feel compassion and sympathy for them. That means everyone from the local city councillor to the resident of the local shelter.
  5. A strong set of your own personal and professional values
: Again, this one is applicable to anyone, but especially important if you are going to be working in an environment in which you might be the only professional. Articulating your values will help you when your boundaries are challenged at work, and also help you set the standard in your workplace (hopefully), and exhibit true leadership. So, decide now how you feel about, say, gaming in libraries, or whether your small community branch should carry all the classics, even if you are a 15-minute walk from the Central library...? Now explain your position on this, as it relates to your values, to an employee.
Here are some other words of advice, especially as a new professional, and if working in a branch setting or in a large system:
  • Learn to advocate for yourself: This was difficult for me to learn, but I realised that when I moved to Ottawa, to work in a somewhat isolated job in a big system, I would have to learn to speak up for myself or I would risk getting lost in the crowd. So, never waste an opportunity to share information with colleagues or other profesionals! Ask questions: about your organisation, about other people's jobs, about the jobs you want, about what's going on in the community. Share stories: about your workplace, your accomplishments, your organisation, your community. If you don't, who will?
  • Work for a terrible boss: Well, not deliberately, unless you have a very strong spirit. But you will learn a lot from a terrible boss, perhaps even more than you might from an excellent one.
  • Time spent "chatting" ≠ time wasted: Don't ever think that time spent chatting (I don't mean a half hour of gossip! More like a few minutes of personal time with a patron or colleague - however much you are comfortable with) is time you have wasted in your day. Schedule that time into your day! Soft skills are important, and in a profession with a reputation for not being terribly outgoing, we need to sometimes remind ourselves to go the extra mile to foster an environment that is friendly, approachable, and genuinely caring.
Many more words of wisdom are here, courtesy of a spectacular talk given by Wendy Newman for CLA-CASLIS Ottawa in 2009.

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