Emerging Leader update: Three service challenges as an early-career librarian

headshot Stacy Gilbert
Emerging Leader: Stacy Gilbert, Media, Communications, and Information Librarian, University of Colorado

On June 23, 2017, the date my ALA Emerging Leader (EL) group and I presented our poster on building and enhancing Sister Libraries partnerships for the International Relations Round Table (IRRT), I officially completed the EL program. Many hours of work went into this project, and we are thrilled to be able to share our findings with everyone.

Over the last few months, I have been thinking about my experiences with the EL project, my time at ALA Annual Conference and Exhibition, and where I am in my library career (this summer marked the end of my second year as a professional librarian). While my past RUSA Updates posts showed my initial excitement and positive outlook for completing this project, there were also many challenges that I want to share. Below are three of the biggest challenges I faced–and continue to face–as an early-career librarian working on service or ALA projects.

1. Everything is New

When this project began in January 2017, it was a new service commitment and I only knew one person out of the four in our group. Also in January, I started a new position, in a town and institution I had only visited once during my interview. I quickly had to learn institutional knowledge on not only my EL project, but my full-time jobs as well. Plus, my new EL group had to develop our own norms and expectations. I find new opportunities to be exciting, but being new to many things at once presented challenges, like constantly wondering if I am on the right track, feeling inadequate for not knowing answers to seemingly easy questions, and trying to get to know and understand the people I’m working with.

  1. Managing Workload

Juggling my new job while meeting the needs of my EL project was another challenge, although I suspect this is a challenge librarians face at any stage of their career. Related to my first point, I had to learn the institutional knowledge of what is expected of me to succeed in service roles and at my full-time job, how much time I could lend to working on service projects, and how my service project can contribute to other areas of my job, such as my research component.

  1. What do I do now?

As my EL project was coming to an end, I was faced with deciding what I should do next. Being an EL exposed me to some parts of ALA, namely the Emerging Leader Working Group and IRRT, and allowed me to network with those involved in RUSA. I used my time at ALA Annual to explore other divisions, round tables, and sections, and asked colleagues, librarian friends, and random people at ALA what I should do next. These people also shared that it took them time to find the right place in ALA. While I hope to take the next few years to continue to explore various aspects of ALA, networking with other RUSA members landed me a position in RUSA’s Emerging Technologies Section (ETS), and I’m happy to continue my service in this area.

After facing these challenges, my biggest things I’ve learned are 1) it’s helpful to talk (or vent) to others about my challenges and struggles, and 2) many people face the same struggles. Sharing my experiences with colleagues and other librarians helped me understand that I’m not the only one who has faced these challenges and these issues are perfectly normal. I plan on taking these learnings with me as I continue to navigate roles in ALA and my job.

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