Question for Retired or Near-Retirement Professionals: What Advice Would you Give your Earlier Self? ​

by Ellen Mehling, Career Development Consultant, METRO


In the past I’ve posed questions to new librarians and mid-career information professionals. Now it’s time to hear from librarians who are at or near the end of their careers, or already retired.

The question I asked was, “If you could go back in time and speak to your earlier self as you finished library school, what advice would you give yourself?” Here’s what they had to say:


20140306_AdviceforNewProfessionals.pngThe advice I would give my rookie librarian self is to not stress the small stuff, to not worry too much about what I don't know and to treat the early years of my career as a continuation of library school.

I'd tell myself to believe more in myself. Library school and actually working in the field, especially in a city public library, are very different situations; nothing learned in a classroom can quite prepare someone for dealing with what actually occurs in a public library, so I should relax and enjoy all of it.

And I'd tell myself to not take anything personally. Some days will be great and some not so great, but all will be different and interesting.

- Rachelle Stein, Retired Supervising Librarian, New York Public Library


Going back to when I just finished library school is like going back to the Middle Ages. I was lucky to have a job that required some hefty computer skills. While I had enough to get by I never really took advantage of the opportunities to learn more.

So, my advice to me would be to enhance my computer skills to the fullest. This would have included expanding my programming skills from basic to an advanced level. I would also advise that I learn one of the emerging new programming languages in order to keep up with - what was then called mainframe - developments. In today’s parlance, this would mean gaining skills that are described in current job descriptions.

In addition, I would advise that I enhance my administrative and interpersonal skills so that I would be better prepared for employment in a major academic or special library. Emphasis would be on grant writing, employee evaluation and integrating emerging technological systems and equipment into the library.

I received my MLS in 1967.

- Dr. Thomas T. Surprenant - Professor Emeritus, Queens College, CUNY, Graduate School of Library & Information Studies


Actually, this is not a terribly difficult question to answer, as I believe I often speak to my earlier self each time that I speak with a mentee. I advise library students to immerse themselves in the profession from day one Learn to think like an information specialist, walk the talk. Taking courses and attending conferences is only part of the larger equation. To become a librarian or information professional means to adopt the mindset of a professional.

Study best practices, adopt them early. Learn to take initiative based on sound fact-finding, informational interviews, case studies and networking. Adopt educational technology and promote its use. Learn a bit of coding.

As a female librarian, I would say that one should expect as much from oneself as one would from a man. Learn to manage up as well as across and down. Remember that professional development and continuing education is as much your own responsibility as that of your employer, if even more. It is to invest in yourself. Hold yourself accountable for troubleshooting and fact-finding without continually asking others for assistance.

If you are an academic librarian, do not confine yourself to the world of information science. Read and participate in events and professional organizations that interface with the library and staff. Read about trends in higher education, in publishing, in technology. Learn as much as you can about your users, those stakeholders who have an impact on your service and who will benefit from honest dialog about your profession and the services librarians provide.

Becoming a professional is not limited to a 9 to 5 timeslot. In the 21st century, it is an evolving process that is often attended to best beyond the confines of one’s employment. For one who is passionate about the profession, the pursuit for excellence will provide camaraderie, intellectual stimulation and immense personal satisfaction. It will allow you to not only grow spiritually but widen your opportunities for future employment as well as bolster your self-esteem and self-image.

- Stephanie Gross, Electronic Reserves Librarian, Yeshiva University


20140306_AdviceforNewProfessionals2.pngLibrarianship was a mid-life career change for me. So as I reflect on advice I would give to myself, or to any current library school student, the importance of customer service skills and patience are key to being an effective and productive librarian. It is a career that is ever-changing and evolving, especially over the last 15 years. The current hard skills, needed by librarians, include knowledge of the latest technology and devices, social media, grant-writing, project management and of course, effective communication skills and training tools.

It is, however, the soft skills of patience, respect for, and desire to help others that is essential in providing quality service to the public. Thankfully, I came to this career with past professional experience where I had developed and fine-tuned my customer service skills. I knew I enjoyed helping others. Mutual respect both to internal, as well as external customers is essential. This served me well in facing the challenge of interacting well with all age groups.

Yes, I wish I was able to spend more time in honing technology skills. However, I was lucky to take a course, entitled, “Librarian as Teacher” where I discovered the different learning styles, i.e., kinesthetic, auditory and visual, and was able to develop some of my training programs to meet all these styles. Librarians are expected to be more like teachers and job coaches these days. Knowing how to relate to different learning strengths/levels and age levels will enhance library programs and training sessions.

- Mary McCaffrey, Retired Senior Librarian, Business & Career Library, Brooklyn Public Library


Seeking inspiration for the advice I would have given myself 20 years ago upon graduating from library school, I decided to take a walk -- after all, it was a beautiful spring day. After walking for a few minutes, I stumbled upon the first piece of advice I would have given myself if I could have traveled back in time. I would have strongly suggested walking more. Walking slows down time and helps develop perspective. My career could have benefitted from both.

Not surprisingly, I soon found myself browsing the new book table in one of my favorite bookstores. Mysteriously, upon exiting the store several minutes later, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed on the table near the door a book with a quirky loud cover calling out to me: The Crossroads of Should and Must: Find and Follow Your Passion.

Although not typically drawn to self-help books, given the topic at hand, I was compelled to give it a cursory look. I didn’t look at it long enough to form an opinion, but the three questions the book poses -- what do I need, what should I do, and what do I want -- certainly would have been good questions to ponder at the time of graduation, and subsequently. Reflecting on these questions would have been good advice to the new graduate!

- Alan Krissoff, Director, The Levy Library, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai


Many thanks to all who shared their advice for this piece. Stay tuned for more questions asked of different information professionals.