Ask the Info Pros: What’s the Most Valuable Thing You Learned on the Job

By Ellen Mehling, Career Development Consultant, METRO

Classes taught in library school and other formal training cover much of what information professionals need to know to do their jobs, but there are other very important things learned from real-life, on-the-job experience. This month we are talking with different kinds of info pros at various stages in their careers about the most valuable thing they’ve learned on the job:

20140306_AdviceforNewProfessionals.pngWhen thinking about what the most valuable thing I learned/ing on the job, a lot of words come to mind. The word or underlying concept that keeps rising to the top is communication. I have by no means mastered this skill, but I have come to appreciate how important a skill it is, and how it lingers at the core of many aspects of what we do in this field.

These are some ideas around communication I thought about. While I think I work on these every day, I look to improve on these always.

You will be remembered for how and what you communicate.

How put together you look presents an image of what you want people to think of when thinking of you or the service you represent.

Stay connected.

The art of email is in the brevity and frequency of your communications – know how to manage both.

Speak up in a meeting, or sit down with a colleague or your boss to go over the details of a project.

Build your presentation skills up from the one-on-one with a team member to larger groups of known people to those you don’t know. Soon you will be presenting to a room of people with ease and authority.

Communication is key up, down, and sideways - those who report to you, those you report to, and your peers.

-Clara Cabrera, Research & Reference Specialist - Team Lead, WilmerHale, six years of experience

I would say that I have become a little bit more compassionate and patient than I was when I started working. When you are around the public all day you get to know people and their problems/quirks. One begins to see different sides to situations and problems such as homelessness, children, teens, etc., that one may have not had to deal with in other jobs.

- Anonymous, Public Librarian, ten years of experience

Asking for a helping hand is a sign of strength! Out of all of the resources available to you, people are the most valuable. Advice from colleagues can save you from the worst of the growing pains and failures that are inevitable in any new job. This extends to your greater community as well. Building relationships with your patrons is so important. Find out what they need and listen to what they have to say, and your efforts will have a much greater impact.

Also, if someone is asking a really complicated or completely confusing question, say something like "I think what you're saying is," and repeat it back to them. It really helps.

- Abby Garnett, Children's Librarian, Brooklyn Public Library, 5½ years of experience (1½ as a children’s librarian)

The most valuable skill I learned at one of my first jobs is that you're going to make mistakes and that you need to take ownership of them. It doesn't matter how careful you are, you will always make some kind of mistake. What matters is you learn to identify and correct them. If you make a mistake, realize that you may not always have an opportunity to correct your mistakes in life. But when you have the opportunity to identify and correct your mistakes -- take it! Another soft skill I learned is to say good morning to your co-worker each day.

Laura DeMuro, Content Manager at Voxgov, 4½ years experience

Since starting to work at an academic library in the early spring, a good chunk of what I've learned on the job is pretty straightforward: the operations and procedures of my library. How to circulate materials (including laptops and netbooks), which databases and libguides hold the best answers to student questions how to open and close the library, how to write content and do layout for the quarterly newsletter, how to copy catalog and process new materials... I've also learned the habits and needs of student and faculty patrons: this one wants the latest action movies on DVD, that one will do the reserve reading for class a few weeks ahead, the public speaking class that has students stressed about speeches, the student who loves movies based on Jane Austen books, the one who wanted information about local drawing classes.

Although I've learned so much each day about the workings of my library, what strikes me the most is seeing how the things I've learned elsewhere become relevant. Of course, I'm getting to see lessons from my studies put into practice: conducting reference interviews, participating in a huge weeding project, updating MARC records. More than that, though, what I notice is the ways things I've learned from other settings and career paths come into play.

Thanks to the time I spent working as a publicist for a business publisher, I have a good handle on resources to offer students about job searching, entrepreneurship, and business plans. My supervisor at that same job is the voice I hear in my mind, sometimes, reminding me to check the small details just one more time to make sure I've done my best work. My own studies, deadlines and writing projects help me feel a kinship with students juggling end-of-semester assignments (and I hope, help them believe me when I try to offer encouragement.) Even the mysteries I read and watch for fun have been a good advisory resource (the criminal justice majors are discerning in their police procedural picks).

I know I've just started learning... but I think the main thing I've learned on the job is that I have found exactly the right career path.

Elizabeth Willse, Librarian, Berkeley College, and author of Using Tablets and Apps in Libraries (Rowman & Littlefield, 2015), less than one year of experience

By far, it’s been articulating my value. As a lone arranger at an institutional archives, I must promote my activities to colleagues outside of my field. For example, senior executives may be unfamiliar with the term “metadata,” but if I express the importance of its collection and usage in ways that resonate with their needs, they will have a better understanding of what I do and how they benefit. Information professionals are experts in detail-oriented work, but we must communicate our worth in big picture terms. Aligning my message with my audience has raised the profile of my department and demonstrated the assets I bring to my position.

Margot Note, Director of Archives and Information Management, World Monuments Fund, nine years of experience as an archivist

I’d say that one of the most valuable things I’ve learned on the job is the importance of face-to-face interaction. As information professionals, many of us (myself included) can tend towards being shy, introverted, quiet—and of course it’s perfectly fine to be those things, but, it is also incredibly important to make sure to talk to people in person. That’s how relationships are formed. That’s how things get done. I was a bit of a slow (and reluctant) learner on this one, but I’m a huge fan of just walking up to someone and asking them for something. There is no more effective way to get what you want than to ask for it face-to-face. Answers come more quickly that way too, and I’ve gained important advocates by striking up conversations in elevators instead of looking at my phone. E-mails and phone calls can be ignored. It’s harder to ignore or say no to someone standing in front of you.

- Anne Petrimoulx, Archivist, Trinity Wall Street Archives, seven years of experience

Previous questions:

Stay tuned for more questions posed to information professionals at different stages of their careers!