Don’t list too much old experience on your resume, I’ve heard. People will find it irrelevant, and it may make them think you are old – and what could be worse than that? A lot of things, actually, but positive aging is a hard sell in a society that equates age with death, depression, and dementia. I could create a whole new blog on warped thinking about aging and how that plays out in the workplace, but I don’t want to devote too much writer energy to that sadness.
I am a hybrid. I am decidedly inexperienced as a librarian – I have only been a practicing one for about a year and a half – yet seasoned in other professional areas. (“Seasoned” is a word you should never use on your resume.) I see my librarian self as a fusing of old and new skills, habits, ideas, and ambitions. I have had to adapt my old multitasking abilities to an online instructional environment. Instead of talking on the phone and searching an admissions database at the same time, I am looking at a PubMed search screen while teaching the ins and outs of EndNote citation management software and monitoring the Zoom chat box.
My creative muscles are getting more exercise than they did in my previous professional life. In my current job, I update LibGuides (these resource guides are a little like websites, a little like mini-encyclopedias. Here’s one I created in 2017: Atheism in the U.S. – Google “LibGuide” to see more examples), help people craft literature search strategies (depending on how complicated the search is, this can feel a little bit like low-level programming and a little bit like figuring out a puzzle), write guest speaker introductions from time to time (very fun and very intimidating), and brainstorm with colleagues about how to make Librarianship’s Grand Ideas about access and inclusion more of a reality (invigorating, challenging, and why I became a librarian in the first place).
My interactions with students and faculty are more involved than they were in the past. Instead of answering questions about the application and matriculation processes, I teach people skills for finding elusive articles on that one research topic that means the world to them. (My doggedness in literature searching led one researcher to call me a “PubMed ninja.”) The determination I brought to learning how admissions databases work is the same determination I am now using to unlock the trick doors of health sciences literature databases. The more I dig into them, the better I get to know their workings, their idiosyncrasies, their flaws, and their strengths. Similarly, the more I do my job, the more I learn where I am strongest, what I need to work at, and the best strategies for getting where I need to be.
I have always seen myself as more of a tutor than a straight-up classroom teacher, but I am realizing that I really love teaching small groups in the Zoom room, especially small groups of adults. The feedback I am getting from class attendees makes me think I am doing something right, though I am careful not to get complacent. I still prep for my classes, even ones that I have taught several times, if only for a short amount of time. It helps me feel less anxious and keeps me on my toes. My biggest challenge is getting the PowerPoint slides to advance when I want them to in Zoom. They inevitably get stuck at least once. It used to rattle me, but now that I know it is going to happen every time, I just roll with it.
The LibGuide projects put my research, organizational, and project management skills to the test and give me a chance to practice the values I was taught as a library student: community focus, access, inclusivity, respect for diverse learning styles. My first attempt at bringing all of this together was in a LibGuide about LGBTQIA+ health. The guide has gotten a lot of attention from colleagues, but it is impossible to tell how much use it is getting in the broader community. I am looking for other ways to reach people. Right now, I am on a committee that promotes inclusivity, diversity, equity, and accessibility. It is a committed group whose past successes include book discussions on How to Be an Antiracist and a 21-Day Racial Equity Challenge, a series of intense self-reflective exercises and learning activities centered around the idea of dismantling racism from the inside out. I have been attending the committee’s meetings and events, as well as contributing ideas and feedback whenever I can. It is rewarding and a reminder of what is important.
I need to network more within and outside the library, diversify my collaborations. It has been tough with COVID, but I am doing what I can. I have an incredible support network of African American medical librarians with whom I meet regularly. Earlier this year, I partnered with a library fellow from California on a conference presentation. I try to connect with librarians beyond the field of health sciences, through committee work and in out-of-my-comfort-zone ways, like the campus walking group.
The bottom line: I am learning, and I am enjoying it. It is scary at times, but if it weren’t scary, it wouldn’t be worth it. Fear is the price we pay to grow. And as we grow, we become more experienced, and there is a certain fear that accompanies that as well. Once you know what you are doing, people can start holding you accountable for that knowledge. If you mess up, you can no longer blame it on newness. People start looking to you, wanting and expecting things from you.
I do not fear accountability. I do fear negative judgement, especially from people who have firing powers or people I respect. But as time passes, it becomes harder for me to justify spending it worrying about other people’s expectations. And what good is positive judgement if I have to grovel, phony-grin, and sacrifice peace of mind just to get it? Experience has taught me that I may as well be myself, because I will never succeed at being anyone else. Some people will never accept that self, will always see that self as lacking, as not-quite-capable-enough-to do-that-thing. Those are their judgements for them to work through, not for me to work through on my own time on their behalf.
Meanwhile, in the midst of my librarian newbieness, I am encountering library folks who do see me as experienced in some ways, like the two new librarians (newer than I, I mean) who asked me to talk with them one-on-one about what led me to librarianship. I am so used to being on the other side of these mentoring-type interactions. To have the chance to encourage someone else is surreal and fulfilling.
One day, a younger person (not a librarian), asked me when I knew what it was that I wanted to do in life. They were concerned that they were unsure about their own path and that it might take them too much time to figure it out.
I told them that I had never had one career goal; that I had always thought that if I was only going to have one life, I might as well try to cram as many lives as I could into it. I told them not to worry about getting it all figured out and to enjoy their experiences. I said some other things, too, but that’s all I remember right now.
If I were to encounter that younger person again, I might refer them to this list:
My favorite piece of advice on the list came from Christopher Simmons:
“Don’t be afraid to diverge from your ‘plan.’ Embrace ambiguity. The uncertain and what may appear high risk in relationships, jobs and life is usually very cool and worthwhile.”
Take the risk. You don’t need to do it all the time. You just need to do it enough to create the space where Experience can happen. It is about preparing yourself as best you can and seizing the moment with all you have to bring to it, as Eleanor Roosevelt described. You do it again and again and, gradually, you change. Get aggressive about seeking out and creating the experiences you want to have. Look around and you’ll see that Experience is everywhere, waiting to be had. And there is more where that came from.