When to Hold and When to Fold

Mary Kelly —  January 28, 2014 — Leave a comment
photo credit: pfala via photopin cc

photo credit: pfala via photopin cc

I got my first job when I was thirteen detassling corn in central Illinois. The job lasted about 3 or 4 weeks and then since the fields were finished, so was the crew. Since that fateful day in the early 1970s, I have held and dropped more jobs than I can remember. Most of my “transitions” were smooth and my managers understood I was moving on to something else. Others I quit because I couldn’t take one more minute of insanity. I have even resigned on the spot, without a plan for my future. (I still get a stomach ache thinking about some of these horrible moments.)

In the last few years, I have seen lots of good librarians feel trapped in bad jobs or have no prospects at all. Unfortunately, this is not uncommon during times of economic stress. (This is where I say money covers a multitude of sins.) Bad bosses, hostile co-workers, lack of security and no leadership of any kind, can make a even a good job, on its face, be a nightmare from which you cannot awake.

You should first truly assess the situation. Use a good friend (professional friend) to help you stay grounded and focused on getting your professional life under your control. Those of us in public service need to concentrate on defining a problem. Is it the actual work that is difficult or is it your work life? Believe it or not I have actually heard that many people don’t want to “work with the public”, “hate computers” or “do research” or anything that would be considered a librarian job. If you don’t like these kinds of activities, then you really should re-think your career. I actually heard an employee once complain that she didn’t like when people asked questions. Clearly, this person is not cut out for work in a public library.

Second, make a plan. This can include working or re-working your resume, updating your skills and attending conferences and meetings. Even volunteering for a library workgroup or your professional association is worth investigating. Even if your current job does not pay/support professional development, do it anyway. If a new job is your goal then you must commit to working on that goal in a big way.

Part of making a plan is identifying what you can and can’t do in your current job. Remove your personal files and anything you deem important. Take pictures or document projects/displays/programs you worked on. Think of portfolio development, not just protecting your work. Read the employee handbook on all pertinent documentation and the etiquette of quitting. Even if you think you are working in the bowels of hell for the devil himself, keep yourself above reproach. Don’t badmouth or burn bridges in any way. The library world is small and it sucks up gossip like a vacuum.

Consider non-traditional options or even temporary solutions. A job as a substitute librarians can give you a leg up in making contacts. It is also a chance to stretch in ways you haven’t considered. I did some part time work for a university reference desk while still working my public library job. It was a good way to stretch and work with a different kind of patron. I also was able to add this to my resume. If you consider these kinds of options, be clear on the time committments.

Mary Kelly


Co-founder of awfullibrarybooks.net and library utility player. Lover of: library data, spreadsheets, collection quality, cats and cardigans. Follow me on twitter @librarymary40

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