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News + Views
Why the 2nd job you ever get in libraries may be the most important of your career Tags: LIS careers

Reproduced from here because it's particularly relevant for New Profs...


I have a theory: I think the 2nd job you ever get in libraries is the most important. We’ll come on to the why in a minute – first of all I wanted to see if others’ experiences backed up my hypothesis. I put a poll on to Twitter, asking this:

Which job was most significant in getting you to where you are in libraries now? Which most influenced you onto your current path?

I didn’t want to prejudice the outcome so I didn’t mention my theory. The results were interesting – they did seem to (just!) back me up:


36% said 2nd job, 34% said 1st job
Turns out spelling the word 'job' correctly 5 times is beyond me

Now, this is a very specific question. I’m not asking which factor is most significant to where people are now (a lot of people would say professional development outside of their 9-to-5 jobs, or their Masters perhaps) and I’m not asking which job is the most important in terms of people being in the information profession at all (presumably that’d be the first job for the vast majority of people) – it’s all about where you are, the path you’re on, the area of librarianship you’ve ended up in or the role you’re currently doing.

So I believe the 2nd job you ever get in libraries is arguably the most important because it dictates much SO of what happens to you afterwards. Obviously all jobs have an effect on what comes after them to some extent, but the 2nd job is something of a tipping point whose significance is, I’d imagine, not appreciated at the time most people are applying for it. Most people’s first library jobs fall into one of two categories – securing an entry-level position prior to doing the Masters (or becoming a graduate trainee), or securing an entry-level position because you’ve sort of stumbled into libraries accidently, and then finding it was a lot more interesting than you thought, so you stay in the sector. As has been discussed before, almost no first library jobs are beyond the entry-level – even people who have the Masters have to start at or near the bottom.

So – as a result of this, there’s not much proactive career choice about your first library job: you just need a job. Most people start as something like a ‘Library assistant’ – often a customer facing role, in the library itself, issuing books and helping with queries etc. You only really start to mould you career when you apply for that 2nd job – and my argument is that you need to make a really sound choice here, because it has a vital domino effect on your subsequent career. And actually, it’s tricky to divert off the path you choose for yourself at that 2nd job choice, because the 3rd job will (probably) be a higher up or better or related version of that 2nd job and (probably) pretty good, meaning you build a career off the back of it.

I’m obviously generalising here, and of course there will be exceptions – and throughout I’m imagining someone staying in more or less the same place, rather than having accrued several jobs at the same level on their CV simply because they’ve relocated a few times. But generally speaking, if you’re in that position that so many of us were in – you’re in your first library role, thinking it’s actually pretty good, wondering about making it into a career – you need to think carefully about the path you choose and, not least, how long that path is in reality.

I’ll take the academic library as an example, because that’s what I know best. Your first role was in Lending Services on the desk, so where do you go next? If you choose to stay in Customer Services then you’re looking at a Reference / Enquiries Desk role perhaps, otherwise there’s a big jump up to something like Customer Services Manager or Site Manager. If you go into the cataloguing side of things you could go for an Assistant Cataloguer post. You could try and move towards the subject librarian side of things by going for a Team Assistant post in an academic librarian subject team. Or there might be a ‘Digital Library Assistant’ type role, to do with digitisation or e-Resources. Whichever of these you choose, your 3rd job will probably also be in this area, is my point. And your 4th job too, perhaps. Of course people change all the time, but it’s quicker to develop a career in a roughly straight line. (I know this, because I didn’t - and have only in the last few months arrived at the job I actually wanted to do all along, and have much younger colleagues who took a more direct route…)

To use a building analogy – our 1st job in libraries is coming in through the front door. We can see a lot more now we’re inside, and we understand it more and want to stay. The second job is like choosing what floor to go to, and subsequent jobs tend to be a choice of doors on that floor. Of course it’s possible to change floors, but it often takes a lot of work… And we often just stay on that floor for ages becuase it’s naturally the floor we know most about.

Part of the reason I’m writing this is because I know some people who’ve been working in libraries a good while, and are just sort of treading water – because that second job took them down a path, and now that path is blocked for whatever reason. There just aren't any more senior jobs than they're already doing, in the area they've come to specialise in. So I’d recommend getting hold of one of those organisational structure charts for your library (or the library you’d like to work in) and literally plotting your ideal route upwards, seeing what’s feasible, where the obstacles are, when you’d be waiting an age for people to retire or leave, etc. Some paths have very few destinations so are more competitive. Some might not even exist by the time you get to the good bit. Some paths might look like their beyond you in terms of expertise, but actually you could get there over time. Some paths have loads of destinations but aren’t well paid. Money certainly isn’t everything, but progression means a lot – you don’t want to get stuck in a rut.

It would be nice just to live in the moment, just to ‘be’ and not worry about all this stuff. But librarianship is a hugely competitive profession, with far more qualified librarians than there are jobs for qualified librarians. So it’s really never too early to be thinking about the career path you’re embarking upon – ideally, you need to start making informed choices almost from the very start.

If you’ve made it through all that - do you agree with my 2nd Job Hypothesis?

- thewikiman


LISNPN is under new(ish) management... Tags: about lisnpn

Hi all, this is a post to announce that Rachel Bickley and Lex Rigby are taking over as the primary admins of the network. This is partly because I'm writing a book and that's eating all my non-work time, but also because the network has been going over a year now and it needs fresh impetus from people other than me to help it grow. Good ideas (and I do think LISNPN is a good idea!) deserve to be passed on to people who can keep the momentum going, and there's all sorts of ideas I've had for the network which I've just never got around to implementing.

The rest of the admin team remains largely unchanged (although Jo Alcock who's done a lot of work on LISNPN's social media presences is stepping down and we thank her muchly for all she's done...) and Rachel and Lex have lots of good ideas to take things forward. 

We're also delighted to finally announce some sponsors! The site has so many members and so much traffic that we pay for a Premium Spruz package - so Phil Bradley (and another sponsor to be finalised later today) have generously stepped in to cover these costs. The ads will appear on the top-left hand side of the home-page, so do click on them (and maybe on some of Phil's own site's ads as well!) and have a look - obviously, we're only accepting sponsorship from legitimate and library-and-information related sources...  And also obviously, but it warrants stating explicitly, all the sponsorship money goes into the site.

To start a network in an already crowded social-media-market-place and get more than 1,200 members is a great thing, I think - thank you to everyone who has helped get us this far, and here's to whatever happens next!


Ned Potter (former LISNPN admin)

LISNPN wants your blogs! Tags: social media CPD

LISNPN wants to expand its blog output. As you'll have noticed, we've had a few guest posts in recent months, and we'd like to have even more.

If you want to write a blog post for LISNPN, or even a series of posts, then let us know - leave a comment, or send me an email - ned @ thewikiman DOT org. It can be about anything that you think will be useful or interesting for those who've joined the library and information professions within the last decade or so.

If you've written such a post on your own blog and would like it to appear on LISNPN as well, that's fine too! A recent example of this is Laura's 'library school experience' post - it originally appeared on her own blog, and she generously rewrote it for this site too.

So, get involved - LISNPN wants your blogs!

- Ned


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