Career Advice for Librarians at Any Level – Jill Strand, Candidate for President-Elect

When I first enrolled in my MLIS program, I wasn’t really sure what kind of library would best suit my skills or interests.  Having grown up in a family of academics, a university library seemed appealing (and still does sometimes.)  Yet given that I spent my early career in the business world, I decided to explore corporate and special libraries first.

It is amazing to see how many non-traditional roles and careers special librarians pursue: from competitive intelligence and knowledge management to big data and user-experience.  This is part of what drew me to SLA – the openness to new roles and challenges with access to a broad support network when those opportunities arose.  Given this diversified professional activity, it is hard to come up with one-size fits all advice but there are a few overarching guiding principles that have helped me throughout my career:  (Newly-minted Ninja Librarians who attended this session at the conference may recognize these!)

Cultivate Confidence: I am not naturally a confident person.  Neither is one of the most professional women I’ve always admired – my mom.  She went from single mom and graduate student to professor and later associate provost at a Midwestern university.  In my mind she always earned people’s respect and put them at ease.  Yet as I began my own foray into the professional world, she shared a secret with me – much of the time she had to self-talk her way into a confident frame of mind.  “Fake it till you feel it,” was a piece of advice she would repeat often.  And you know something?  It works.

So the next time you are met with a challenge, list the evidence (your skills and experience) that prove your readiness for the challenge. Having confidence means knowing what you can do well while also acknowledging that you’re still learning and growing.

Don’t be Afraid to Fail: Stories that focus primarily on successes and what went right often feel, well, intimidating.  Don’t get me wrong – it helps to learn what methods are most likely to lead to success.  Yet sometimes it can be just as instructive to hear about where things went wrong and how someone’s strategy changed as a result.  British actor Hugh Laurie once described something he learned from his father: “Winning doesn’t really teach you anything.  You win.  End of story.  But the losing and how you deal with it and what you take from it.  That’s the interesting bit.” Failure is not the end of the world.  Even Thomas Jefferson and Steve Jobs accepted that failure is a part of success.

Be AdaptableChange is a certainty.  While anticipating change has its value, sometimes the best thing we can do is to be open and ready to roll with it.  This isn’t easy, especially at first.  Yet recognizing this and giving yourself a chance to process the discomfort with an objective eye can help.  Adopt a wait-and-see attitude about where it might lead before determining that it is bad.  If possible, look for places where you can take some control and affect your own change.

Our professional growth is organic by nature and often takes us in a direction we didn’t expect.  At times like this, SLA offers two important benefits: 1) Stellar educational opportunities that help us gain the skills needed to meet new challenges and 2) Generous mentors whose support allows us to feel confident and hopeful about where the next leg of our professional journey will lead.  As President-Elect, I’d work to ensure that members of all backgrounds and experience levels could turn to SLA for guidance throughout their careers.


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