Today was week two, day two at my new job and I think I'm adjusting well. In case you missed my previous post, I took a position as a reference/instruction/collection development librarian at an urban community college in downtown Dallas. There is a lot to learn but my new supervisors and coworkers are understanding about information overload and being able to remember it all. I wanted to write about my initial perceptions and experiences at my first library job before I might forget, to reflect from the perspective of a recent graduate.
My paranoia was right: library school is not enough(so I'm glad I went overboard in gaining hands-on experience outside of the classroom)
Library school certainly gave me enough theory and understanding of how to keep up with library news and topics so that I can have an intelligent conversation with other librarians and stay current professionally, but what is really helping me keep up right now in a live environment is my previous library work experience, as well as previous jobs in customer service. I honestly kiiiind of shrugged off how important my customer service experience in positions such as a lowly sales clerk would be, but it does make a big difference.
Every library school program has its pros and cons, and as happy as I am with what I took away from SIRLS, the reference class I had was very weak (and the instructor is no longer there if that says anything). It was 100% theory, with no practical experience, without even practicing on classmates. Because I had some previous experience in sales and virtual reference I feel a little better, but if I hadn't done an internship or had the position I had prior to my current job, I think I would have had more difficulties (and perhaps not gotten the job anyhow). However, whether a program has a great reference class or not, that work experience is invaluable! I highly urge current students to work or volunteer to get that background.
A Master's degree does not automatically equal expert
I'm glad I had spoken with others about how they felt on their first day at their first job, not just in LIS, but other fields; a common newbie misconception (and huge stressor) is believing just because one has a Master's that they should automatically be an expert and know everything. Every library is different, with different databases, OPACs, and procedures, so learning a lot on the job is necessary. When I don't know how to answer a student's question immediately, my first response is still to beat up on myself a little and get stressed, but I don't think it's possible for a new librarian to know how to do everything. When I shadow at the reference desk, it seems to be understood that there is a learning period, so I think I need to give myself a break (which I'm slowly learning to do better), and the more relaxed I am, the better customer service I can provide.
Watch and learn, do and learn
The best way to learn everything I need to get familiar with is to just watch others (shadowing) and then try it myself and learn from my mistakes. That was how I best remembered which supplement aids which ailment and is located in which section of the store when I worked in natural health, and it is how I'm best remembering how to help students find information in the library now. I've also taken a copy of every pathfinder and library guide created for our library so I can read them all over in my office when I have some down time. Practicing with the OPAC and various databases while it's slow at the desk is also very helpful. We have a binder of assignments instructors have shared with the library, so something else I'm going to do when I have more time is to try doing as many assignments on my own as I can so I know what the students will be going through (doing the just the research, not also writing the papers, of course).
I haven't started instruction yet (not until summer sessions), but I can say for reference, you just have to jump in and do it to learn. Making mistakes in front of students isn't fun, but it does at least show them you're human and gives you the chance to find out the answer for future questions.