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Careering along

When I look around at the activities of information professional groups, it seems that there’s a disparity. There’s quite often a lot of support and funding available for those who’re just starting out in the profession, but a desert of nothingness for those of us who’re “just getting on with it”.

If you’re a new professional, you have lots of groups to support you as you progress in your early career, various prize funds available for essay and report writing, access to bursaries for conference attendance, eligibility for awards for being new and enthusiastic. But what do you get when you’re past that bright-eyed-and-bushy-tailed first 5 years (5 years seems to be the approximate cut-off point for becoming “established” and no longer new).

What happens when you’ve already received a bursary from an organisation earlier in your career and so wouldn’t be eligible for one now, meaning you’re not able to attend events or training? When you’re heavily involved in a project but not at project manager level, so will never be visible as a leader or receive recognition for that? When you’re voluntarily acting as a mentor to other professionals, but not in a formal manner? When you’re motoring along in the middle, not frantically aiming to rule the library world, but just wishing for a bit more support for your “I’m not shouting about this, overall I’m quite satisfied with my current role, but I could do with some help in a few areas” feelings. When you’re doing your day to day work, and wondering how to keep yourself motivated and interested in the wider profession?

It feels to me that I’m entering the normal-career wilderness. I would say mid-career, but I’ve got at least another 30 years of working days ahead of me, so being only 12 or so years into my career I can’t really say I’m in the middle yet! But already I’m feeling it to be much harder to summon up enthusiasm for doing things outside my own core work duties than it was five years ago. I’ve mostly stopped attending things in my own time that previously I would have gone along to, especially those further afield, as it costs me both time and money that I could be spending on myself rather than work activities. I have spent many years doing a lot of things in my spare time to enable and support others in their careers: sitting on committees, organising training and social events, writing articles, mentoring people in various ways. But I’m looking around now, and I’m wondering: who’s doing this for me? I recently revalidated – unlike the Chartership process, this doesn’t require the involvement of a mentor. So somehow, now that I’m not new and have been through an approximation of the system once, I’m meant to be perfectly happy to do this process myself, with no support or interaction from anyone else? Luckily, I organised with a great professional to informally fill this role for me, but again, that was down to me, and involved further effort on my part and theirs rather than any involvement or support that I was being given by the system.

It feels like the profession has sort of gone “well, you’re not new and shiny any more, so on you go, sort yourself out”. But I’m tired, and I just don’t have the ability to endlessly maintain my own enthusiasm in the face of constantly seeing things that I can’t be involved in because I’m “too old/too experienced”. Where’s the ethos that to be a good professional you must constantly evolve and learn? We don’t stop needing that when we stop being new professionals, but it seems that the structures that work for new professionals vaporise when you progress beyond that point.

I’m not all moany – I do get a lot of support from other information professionals on Twitter, and it’s through them that I’ve gained most of my professional involvement over the last few years, but it’s not the same as feeling that there’s some sort of formal structure to support those just getting on with it, and regularly coming up against various issues along the way. And I don’t know what the answer is to this, but I just know that, because I’m neither a “thought leader”, “acknowledged expert” or happy to do conference presentations, I feel that somehow I’m regarded as having less value the longer that I go on in this profession.


Anonymous said…
I suppose CILIP revalidation is supposed to address this to an extent but it hasn't worked for me. I don't think working in a sector where we are constantly undervalued helps. I am empathising with your disillusionment and tiredness
Clareangela said…
I can totally identify with this, being near 20 years in this career.

It's like being in a long term relationship. I'm currently sleeping with an MA in art history so that I can maintain interest in my 'life partner' career. Feels unfaithful but keeps the magic alive.

In the meantime, do as many interesting library things as possible (like a date night)and work hard at the bits that are dull. Like domestic details, they are essential.

Perhaps this needs a blog post - 'married to your career: keeping the underwear sexy'?

Anonymous said…
My impression is that the plethora of activities/groups/support for new professional is a more recent development (in the last 5 or so years). This emerged from a sense that new professionals weren't very well supported as a group with unique needs and were somewhat cast adrift once they'd finished their masters' degree.

I wonder then, whether redressing this issue has led to things swinging too far the other way, leading to the situation you desribe?
Dumpling said…
@lornaslibrarythoughts Undervaluing by the legal sector doesn't help to motivate ourselves to go above and beyond voluntarily, but I know this "ho hum" feeling isn't just confined there, it's across all sectors.

@clareangela But I've tried that - I've organised and/or been to tours of interesting libraries/panel discussions on lots of topics/legal and/or library networking events, done an Open University course...but the underwear is now looking grey rather than sparkling white :D

@ellyob Yup, and in turn I've tried to do my best to support the creation of a network for new professionals that I never had when I started (much of this has been made possible by the social tools that just didn't exist before), but as you suggest, it seems that now everyone's so focussed on fixing that that the rest of us are being left out in the cold.
Anonymous said…
I also tried Clareangela's suggestion and started an MSc in totally different subject but all this did was make me tired and stressed! I'm also coming up to 20 years in law libraries (it will be 18 years actually in May), maybe it's just too long doing the same thing?
Clareangela said…
Yeah...I'm thinking it's a short term affaire which is going to lead to a trial separation at some point. But I don't know what it's going to lead to. Tied in by security, pension and regular good salary = lethally boring!
Anonymous said…
I agree with ellyob’s observation that first five years support groups (whether self-started or formally established by professional associations) are a relatively recent phenomena helped by social media. They seem to be fixing the problem of providing support, advice and help for those entering the profession.
To be fair there’s never really been a formal structure for those who are just getting on with it (aka established or mid-career folk). We all fall back on the support you describe you get from Twitter and from active involvement in many of the associations. What more support do you want? It may be that no one has successfully articulated this which is why it isn’t provided.
I’ve been an information professional for 25 years now, and have been lucky that a lot of the professional support I’ve gained has come through active involvement in associations: initially, CILIP, then AUKML and now SLA. It takes a lot of time and energy but the benefits (networking, learning and the chance to gain new skills) justify this, or so I’ve found. I’ve always seen my professional development as a combination of active involvement in my associations and finding the right jobs. I’ve moved around a fair bit, working in different sectors and when in large organisations (BBC) have made sure I moved between departments taking opportunities to gain new skills and experience through secondments. I realise not everyone can do this.
Anonymous said…
I know exactly what you mean! Since I've been in the profession for more than five years now, I feel like I've just passed the "new professional" limit, and I'm starting to feel a bit left out in the cold. I agree with previous commenters that the whole "new professional" thing was probably a reaction to the previous lack of anything aimed at new professionals, but may have swung a bit too far the other way!

I know SLA Europe introduced a "conference award" for established professionals last year, as a complement to the early career award, in part to address this gap. Not sure if they're running it again this year though. I don't know if any of the other professional bodies run anything like that?
Dumpling said…
@kateintheuk I've been a committee member of my specialist professional group for 5 years, plus the Convenor of it for 3 years, and Newsletter editor for 3 years, the website manager for a while, along with being the organiser of many specialist courses for my group, I'm involved in a major project for the group, I am Chartered, Revalidated and I'm a current and active CILIP mentor. I have travelled to events around the country in order to meet and network with other information professionals in all sectors, despite my workplace not having the resources to allow me to do this. I'm in the right job for me, and I could hardly have put more effort into being engaged, but it's difficult to maintain this sort of momentum when there's nobody supporting the people doing things. I don't know what the solution is, but I know that I'm not alone in feeling increasingly disconnected, and if I'm feeling like this, having been enthusiastic in being involved in all aspects of professional activities, there must be many more who are even more disengaged.

@woodsiegirl Apparently the SLA award won't run this year due to funding issues. Which is a shame, as I'd never heard of it, and it sounds like the kind of thing that is just what people need - one where their mid level experience won't see them de-prioritised in favour of new career entrants. I'm not saying new professionals don't need those awards, but awards that focus on continuing professionals instead of new ones would be a good thing.
Simon Barron said…
With my SLA Europe Awards Committee Co-Chair hat on:

The Conference Award was a really good development and we know that the winner got a lot out of it. Obviously it's great to have this kind of award for mid-career professionals. Sadly we didn't receive the same funding this year and so couldn't really support it. Sucky.
Deb Hunt said…
I've been in the midcareer doldrums and found that it was up to me to get out of them ;-) I don't see volunteering as just giving as I always get so much back in return. Volunteering has allowed me to hone skills, learn new ones, meet wonderful colleagues who have become friends and get business. As an independent, I get most of my business from networking. And many of my colleagues get a leg up into new, higher paying jobs due to the networking and volunteering they do.

Hang in there, take a leap of faith and see this time as one of learning a new skill, shouting from the rooftops what you CAN do and contribute to your organization.

Invest in yourself. If we don't do that, others won't either.

Niamh said…
Thank you for writing this - it's a major problem that I've been mulling over for a while because you're not the first person to mention that they feel like this and as a committee member of CILIP East Members' Network I feel it's something we have to address. I'm in libraries nearly 10 years but only finished my MSc in October so I haven't hit the problem yet, but I completely get that I probably will at some point. I know as well that there's a retention issue in CILIP with a lot of people leaving after 7 years - presumably because they've hit this slump. I wonder if any exit interviews/surveys are ever conducted?

It's really hard to know how to do it though. It's easy to say you get as much out as you put in, but as you say you've been there, done that, and there's only so long you can keep being involved at that level without burning out. I feel a 'Beating those mid-career blues' day coming on...

The other thing I thought about was pure networking - not networking at library tours/conferences/pub nights, but networking events where we do non-library stuff but with library people so there's low-key networking with library types but no ongoing commitment. Things like family days out, cookery nights, theatre trips... The #libknittwit sounded like great fun, with groups of information professionals coming together to share a hobby that's not library-related. I wonder if that kind of thing might help maintain network links through this period without feeling like it's yet more work stuff for which you have to negotiate 'time off' from minding children at weekends etc (now that's a problem I've hit already...)

What do you think? Or is there anything else that might help? It's a serious problem and I really do want to help, just not sure how to do it!
Dumpling said…
@Niamh I like the idea of non-library stuff days - I think a lot of what helps keep motivation going is there being a not-work element to activities, which means it tilts attendance towards "pleasure" rather than "business". I'd be far happier about the prospect of a day of my weekend being spent with librarians if it meant I also picked up a skill or took part in an activity I personally want to do. I think that was why the first Librarycamp I went to in Birmingham felt inspirational - you could be there chatting about gamification, or you could nip off to the side and learn how to crochet (which I still can't do, since I was chatting elsewhere so I missed my chance!) You still got something personal out if the day :)

I think a lot of what's needed in terms of keeping yourself motivated comes from your network, and @Bethanar, @cjclib and myself were discussing the idea of setting up some form of informal mentoring groups for mid-career professionals. Say a group of 6 people, volunteering to take part in an informal virtual mentor group, being randomly placed together (or maybe deliberately mixed up into groups that don't have members in the same sectors if possible) and given access to a secure online environment where they could speak freely, and discuss anything and everything they need to in a private place. This would mean you'd have access to a personal supportive group, and could also develop a stronger, more direct mentoring relationship with anyone you felt you fitted with, if they were agreeable and had already gotten to know you through your group. The group format would mean the burden of support placed on any one individual would never be too large, and it would allow non-library chats to be established (not something encouraged on professional forums, but essential to develop relationships).

Just the beginnings of an idea, but I think @bethanar is looking at taking it further with SLA Europe, and @cjclib has been developing the same concept for her group.
Niamh said…
That's really interesting and something I think we could facilitate in the East as well. I'll have a chat with Céline about how she sees it working...
Lilian said…
10 years in, I identify with a lot of what you say here. Thank you.
Lien said…
You described me to a T! I think a lot has to do with the fact that I don't actually identify myself as a Librarian even though I work in corporate research services. My local library association is heavily geared towards public and academic libraries and I'm finding the conferences completely irrelevant for what I do. Glad I found your blog!!

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