Getting Started in the Profession: New Info Pros Share Their Best Career Advice

By Ellen Mehling, Career Development Consultant, METRO

Usually I am the one answering job search and career-related questions; this time I’m the one posing a question to some recent graduates in the first few years of their information professional careers. Here are their responses to “What is the best career advice you’ve received?” Some answers are brief, others are longer, all are excellent.

The best career advice I received was from Pam Rollo, my Pratt [Institute] instructor and SLA-NY Board President at the time. She said, “Your education in this profession does not end at with a graduate diploma from Library School. Technology and the field of Information are continuously evolving. Stay in step of what is happening and aware of what is to come in the future.

- Clara Cabrera, Research & Reference Specialist - Team Lead, WilmerHale

Conversation by Dmitry Baranovskiy from The Noun ProjectThe best career advice I received was the importance of gaining hands-on experience in a library, even if that means doing volunteer work. This was mentioned to me by several people, but I was helped the most by Dr. Westermann, a former professor of mine from [LIU] Post, who pointed me in the right direction when I reached out to her for advice on where to volunteer. The summer before graduation, I was concerned that, since I was in the Archives and Records Management program and my internship would be taking place in an archive as opposed to a library, I would be missing out on the hands-on experience in a public library that many of my fellow graduates would be getting.

I knew Dr. Westermann lived in my town, and thought she might be helpful in seeking out a volunteer position at one of the local libraries. Luckily, I was correct, and she put me in contact with our library's director, who in turn put me in contact with the head of the children's department there. As it turned out, the head of children's remembered me from my time spent at the library when I was younger, and was happy to have me come in once or twice a week in the evenings (I worked full time during the day) to assist the librarians and clerks with a variety of tasks. I volunteered at my library for a little over a year, almost right up until I started my current position.

I believe that this volunteer experience played a big role in obtaining my current job. Not only did it give me demonstrated experience helping patrons in a public library, but it also helped show my dedication to my new profession. I know that working full time and finishing grad school is not easy, and trying to squeeze in a few hours a week of unpaid work in a library seemed overwhelming when I first thought of doing it. However, I found that once I was at the library, I really enjoyed my time there and it wasn't overwhelming at all. I knew for sure it would be well worth it in the long run.

- Stephanie DiChiara, Adult Services Librarian & PALS Coordinator, Sayville Library

The best career advice I’ve ever received came from Dr. Bea Baaden during the panel discussion at [LIU Post’s] Palmer [School]’s 2012 event, "Insider Tips on Launching your Information Science Career." Dr. Baaden advised attendees, “Use what you’re passionate about as the basis for your career.” There are so many possibilities in the world of librarianship, especially when you consider that the positions or projects which might be the most fitting for you personally might not have the word "librarian" in the description at all. It's hard to know what next step will be the right one. Focus on what you know you love to do, what talents you have, and be creative: find evidence of those things in job and project descriptions. In my experience, following these small cues will ultimately lead you to a rewarding and fulfilling experience you never could have predicted.

- Jaime McCurry, National Digital Stewardship Resident, The Folger Shakespeare Library at Library of Congress

One great piece of advice that I got -- and have fulfilled with my career -- is that if you study Library Science and you play your cards right, you can become an expert and aficionado on almost any topic you want, and work in almost any field. That advice came to me from the Barnard Zine Librarian, Jenna Freedman. Interested in law? Become a law librarian. Interested in music? Become a music librarian. Huge Woody Guthrie fan? Maybe you can get a job at the Woody Guthrie Archive! There are libraries and archives for nearly everything, and that is counting all of the private and personal archives that are out there. For me, it was comics. I pursued every single comics related internship and volunteer opportunity I could, wrote articles about comics librarianship and focused my class projects on it, and now only three years after graduating I am one of the curators at the largest archive of comic book and cartoon art in the world.

- Caitlin McGurk, Visiting Curator at The Ohio State University Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum

Conversation by Dmitry Baranovskiy from The Noun ProjectThe best advice for my library career came from Dr.Tula Giannini, Dean of Pratt SILS, during our program orientation. Tula advised students to get out into the community from the very beginning of school. She shared with us that the profession is extremely supportive and if we asked for help or advice people would be happy to provide it. This was completely different from my previous career in finance! Taking her advice, I attended every event posted on the listserv that I possibly could. These meetings and the people I met at them transformed my Pratt experience by helping me discover my path very quickly.By using 'networking' events as opportunities for doing research, I was able to survey the broad library field landscape and meet industry leaders. It's easy to approach people if you are asking them to talk about talk themselves and their experience. I learned important information, made new friends and ultimately met the Partner of my current firm who ended up offering me a job! Thank you Dr. Giannini!

- Gretchen Nadasky, Senior Associate at Optimity Advisors

Sometimes we have to let go to run our course." I followed this advice from a friend and while it was scary at times, it led me to a new job that I love. I was in a toxic situation at a job when I decided to follow my dream and go back to school for library science. I am now a librarian at a wonderful school with awesome kids and great coworkers.

- Laura Rivera, Librarian, New York Institute for Special Education

I don't have a [single] best piece of advice, but there have been a lot that worked for me. General good practice advice like tailor your CV/resume and cover letters, be engaging, be interested, etc. The best pieces of advice I got were from Evelyn Ehrlich (Head, Humanities and Social Sciences Reference Center at NYU Bobst Library). I consulted with her a lot while I was job hunting. I think everyone needs a mentor --someone to help you look over your materials, prepare your job talk, give you a pep talk when you're down, and support you. And it doesn't have to be just one mentor. I consulted with at least four other librarians!

- Shirley Zhao, Physical Sciences Librarian, Kresge Library, Dartmouth College

Thank you to all who shared their “best advice” stories, and to those who gave that advice!

Keep an eye out for future questions directed at information professionals who are mid-career and nearing retirement.


Icon Credit: Conversation by Dmitry Baranovskiy from The Noun Project