marketing yourself as an information professional

Do you really need to market yourself? Community-verus-local impact

I think there's a danger that being in the twitter bubble or the biblioblogosphere can really mess up our understanding of exactly what is and what isn't necessary to succeed in librarianship. There's an interesting post on the ever-excellent Hack Library School blog, about New Librarianship (or, as some more cynical people are calling it, 'librarianship'...) which I think relates to this issue. I'm going to quote a chunk of it here:

New Librarians and people-who-work-in-libraries are two very different things. The latter is a job; there’s nothing wrong with that, and I believe very strongly that libraries need passionate, good people to help fulfill their purpose.

On the other end of the spectrum, “Librarianship” isn’t a job—it’s a vocation. It’s not something you can put away at the end of the day, when you leave the building. Librarianship is an aggregation of personality, ethics, politics, education, worldview, and focus; there is a reason why librarianship requires graduate study to embark upon.

Now I have to say, I've thought very much along these lines in the past, but my position is changing somewhat. In particular, whilst agreeing with the notion that this is a vocation rather than just a job, I also want to be able to leave it at the door of the building (unless I'm specifically doing something library-related like a presentation) and I have no wish to walk into any room and turn it into a library, as is suggested later on in the post. It could be just that I've done SO much library stuff in my own time last year (because of having just written a book) but I really value switching off and I consider myself a person who is a librarian, rather than being defined or consumed by librarianship. And, I should add, I don't think I'm any the worse for it as an information professional.

Anyhow, these thoughts prompted a debate on Twitter which I put into Storyify at the prompting of several of the participants - it's too long to embed here but this a link where you can read it. It includes a lot about whether you really need to market yourself as an info pro - there are a lot of successful librarians who are very good at their jobs who have no interest in marketing themselves, don't spend time online, and focus their energies entirely on what happens within the walls of the library building they work in. I think in the Twitter bubble it's easy to imagine that all employers want cutting and thrusting info pros who're always presenting at prestigious events etc, but actually I think a lot of them would much rather have someone who put all their energy into the 9-5 role in front of them.

The key point of this post:

There are two reasons why this is a danger - firstly that we over-estimate the value that our national or international achievements will have locally (and so our careers won't progress as we expect them to as a result), and secondly that if we aren't doing stuff nationally and internationally we (wrongly) assume we aren't going to be successful in getting good jobs. In other words, being 'on' all the time - not leaving librarianship at the door - appears to become a prerequisite to progress, which is intimidating to many.

Fundamentally, I think the most important thing is to continually re-evaluate one's own situation and never assume that Method A or Method B will work across the board. So for example, if you're not employed at all then the more stuff you can do instead, like presenting and writing and so on, the better. If you're trying to get other jobs, then again it might be helpful to market yourself - but only if the type of organisation you want to work for cares about that sort of stuff. If you want to continue working in your current organisation but wish to progress, it should be possible to learn enough about your senior management to know whether they'll value your efforts to market yourself online (for example) or not. If you're a brand new just-qualified librarian, then chances are marketing yourself online and getting out there nationally will be much more important because your CV will lack job-experience, meaning you HAVE to find another way to grab people's attention. But the earlier you can start focusing what you do to the job you expect to get, the better. In my opinion.

Finally, at the risk of being narcissistic but in the interests of providing a solid example, here are some things which I consider high points in my career but which insofar as I can work out DIDN'T influence me getting my current (ideal) job:

  • Being commissioned by a publisher to write a book on marketing libraries
  • Being named a Mover & Shaker by library journal
  • Winning one of the SLA's Early Career Conference Awards awards
  • Winning a best paper prize at a conference
  • Creating the New Professionals Network .

Here are some things which insofar as I can work DID influence me getting my current job:

  • Understanding the organisation I was applying to work in
  • Having a good grasp of new technologies relating to information
  • Being able to provide evidence of  innovation, and of good communication - specifically how I'd quickly be able to develop good working relationships inside and outside the library
  • Coming over as the kind of person who could fit well into the existing team
  • And my obvious enthusiasm for and dedication to this particular role at this particular institution .

At no point in the interview did they say 'have you ever won an award - tell us about that?'. They don't care about the national stuff - in fact there's the potential for them to care about how it could impact negatively on your dedication to the role.

(That's not to say all that stuff hasn't helped my career - it has - but just that it wasn't important to securing my ideal job. Unless you're planning to go freelance, the job is the most important thing, right? It pays the bills. A lot of the presentations I've done and articles I've written were useful, however, because they allowed to demonstrate knowledge and awareness of areas my previous jobs hadn't covered.)

If you ask people online 'do you need to market yourself?' then 99% of people will say yes automatically (myself included until very recently) - but remember, Twitter is a bubble. Marketing yourself online and doing exciting things nationally is admirable, it's useful, it helps you learn and develop - but make sure you assess whether it will help you go where you specifically want to go. Find your ideal job, and work backwards from their to anticipate your ideal employer's potential needs and desires.

I realise a lot of people will disagree with me about this, but as ever I'd be interested to hear all views in the comments...

- thewikiman