On shooting for the moon

Michael Steeleworthy is a fantastic gentleman I was fortunate enough to meet at CLA in Halifax this year, and he recently offered some very good advice for recent grads based on his first year as a professional librarian, including:

  • Share your opinions with your employers and colleagues
    • You still have a lot to learn, and these people can help you along the way.  But more importantly, these people want to know your opinions, too.  You may be new and green, but to a lot of people, you represent vast potential because you can bring different and new ideas to the table.  You shouldn’t ever take over a meeting with your opinions and antics, but you should definitely speak up and be heard.  Remember: you won’t be hired to be a bump on a log, so make sure your contribute to your library and your team.

For the most part, I agree with all of his advice. Of course, he acknowledges that “nothing is ever 100% or complete in this world,” and I would slap a big YMMV sticker on the following:

  • Don’t shoot for the moon
    • Once you land a job, you may be so full of enthusiasm that you’ll want to tackle everything at once.  Don’t do this.  Prioritize what needs to be done against the library’s timelines, your schedule, and also against your own learning curve.  Taking on too much will burn you out and potentially let others down.  Instead, create a schedule with your supervisors or mentors, and return to it regularly to adjust it up or down.  This shows foresight: they’ll appreciate that you’re balancing your duties and also keeping them in the loop.

True, many (if not most) first library gigs involve an overwhelming workload. And yes, piling on projects until you risk burning out is a bad idea. But I would never discourage anyone from shooting for the moon – you just need to be realistic about it. Do you have a great idea you want to try out, but you’re not sure whether you have time for it? Talk to your supervisor, and see how you can fit it in. But by all means, prioritize, create schedules, and only take on what you can handle.

I think in additional to the workload of the position, another important variable is the personality of the individual. There are certainly some new librarians who are afraid to say no, and this can lead to burning out, so these people should avoid shooting for the moon. However, there are also librarians who avoid volunteering for additional projects because they want to focus on their core responsibilities. Sometimes this makes sense, but the additional projects can be the most interesting ones, and I would hate for anyone to miss out on enjoyable endeavours because they want to put 110% into their main duties. It’s okay to only put in 100%, and use the extra 10% elsewhere!

It may sound less catchy, but here’s my advice: shoot for the moon, but only after you have considered your situation and consulted with your supervisor.