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On the brink: librarianship in an age of possibility – Instalment 2

Maximize your career potential

As an information professional, whether you choose the alternative or traditional route (or mix in a little of each), your career path requires some care and attention if you want to maximize your potential and possibilities.

Visualize a path

Before you can take steps to maximize your career potential, you need to think about where you want to go and what you want to achieve. This can change over time, so regularly revisit your goals and where you are on your career path. You can start by playing the "where do you see yourself in five years' time?" interview question game – but this time, honestly!

Do you see yourself moving into management? Writing a book? Moving to a different field? Scaling back to spend more time with your family? Changing specialties? Earning tenure?

The day you have a clear goal in mind is the day you start moving towards that goal.

Once you can envision your goal, think about what steps you need to take to get there. What skills do you need to gain? What experience do you need under your belt? What information do you need to acquire?

If you're not sure, find out: use your skills at finding information for your own benefit. Keep a weather eye on job ads over time, making note of the required and preferred qualifications listed in ads for positions to which you aspire. Which of these do you currently have, and which do you lack? Talk to people in the new industry you're targeting – how did they get there? What skills are necessary?

Then, determine what you can do this week that will move you towards your long term goal. Can you make a contact, find out some information, sign up for a class, read an article, take initiative at work, start working on an article, subscribe to a blog, apply for a grant, set up an informational interview, play with a new technological tool, listen to an archived webinar, volunteer for a committee, have someone look over your CV?

Make sure that you work towards your goal every week, and always keep your eyes open for opportunities that can help you reach them. Look for calls for contributors, watch for announcements of online courses, and be alert for posts from or discussions with others who have similar goals.

Be proactive

We're lucky to be part of a profession in which we do have the power to make things happen. However, making things happen requires that we take charge of our own careers from the outset. It's easy to get bogged down in our day-to-day work and simply wait for something to happen, or wait for someone to notice us. It's easy to get bogged down in a cycle of negativity where we blame every difficulty in moving towards our goals on external factors. Yes, bad things happen. But when we relinquish all control over our own destiny, we remove any incentive to move forward and create a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Waiting is not the answer. Don't wait for your employer to offer to send you to a conference, to give you training in a new area, to hand you a silver-plated promotion for showing up every day. Don't wait for new job opportunities to present themselves, for someone to suggest you write or present or join a committee; we can't just sit back and assume that good things will happen and that our career paths will plot themselves out for us in a nice linear fashion.

Remember: This is your career, not just a job. Being proactive requires the willingness to adapt and change as circumstances around us change, and to focus our energies on moving forward. Instead of waiting for positive change to come along and transform your career for you, think about what steps you can take to improve a situation, to move yourself closer to where you want to be. One small step each week builds momentum, helping you keep focused on your goal and adding up over time to powerful change.

Get connected

Be proactive also in building connections: with other librarians, with non-librarians, with library users, in online social networks. Librarianship is all about making connections, and your relationships with others are key to your career path.

This goes beyond the bland "networking" we usually envision: handing out business cards, shaking hands at events. Get involved with your networks: comment on people's posts; remember patrons' names; drop a line to see how someone is doing or to congratulate them on a promotion, article, or book deal. Your authentic interest in others translates into their authentic interest in you. Your best career opportunities often come from others with an interest in your success.

Shameless self-promotion

We also need to take some of the energy we devote to promoting our institutions and devote it to promoting ourselves. Many of us in librarianship stand back, let others take credit, say we're just “doing our jobs” – and then we wonder why the wider world doesn't value librarians.

What steps can you take to build your name recognition? Can you volunteer for a committee, offer to present to a local group, write an article, start a blog, comment on a blog, find a mentor, be a mentor, post to a discussion list?

Professional activities are inherently self-promoting. Professional activities also provide us the foundation we need to move forward: Experience, networks, name recognition, résumé fodder, self-confidence. Everything interconnects here: your professional activities help you focus on your goal and take the steps you need to get there.

Get involved, get noticed, and get going on your own career path.

Rachel Singer Gordon is webmaster,, and blogs at The Liminal Librarian (