Strategic Librarian

Using strategy to develop the law firm library.

7 & 1/2 Tips for the 2007 Class of New Librarians


With all the blog posts and articles being published today that deliver advice and tips for new law firm associates, I decided we should do the same for new librarians.  It’s been a while since I’ve been a new librarian but I still have some sense of what they are experiencing.  I’ve also been very lucky to be able to work with a number of new librarians over the last few years.  You may have other words of advise for new librarians than what I think is important.  If so, I invite you to leave comments with tips you would like to share.  So here goes:

  1. Take a deep breath and look for someone to assist you if you are asked to do a project where you have no clue where you should start.  If you are in a library with multiple staff, the librarian that hired you and the librarians around you expect you to ask questions and as I said in an earlier post, there are no dumb questions.  If you are the only librarian, find a mentor that you can talk to when you run into tough situations.   Librarians love to share (at least most of us do).  You will do well to find a more experienced librarian wiyh whom you feel comfortable and ask if she will take on mentoring you.
  2. Say “Let me get back to you” if you have to scramble to figure out the answer to a tough question.  Never do it in front of your client or while they are on the phone – it doesn’t build their confidence that you know what you are doing.  Instead, tell them that you will need to check on the answer and get back to them.  At the same time, don’t make what you did look like magic.  Saying “it was no problem” diminishes your work.  Even if they are amazed at the speed in which you got back to them and even more amazed by the work, fight the urge to make it look like a mystery.  You might instead, tell them how you found it, which in many cases is even more amazing.
  3. Be open to the fact that the theory you learned in school may not apply to all situations in the real world.  In many cases, the theories for today’s challenges haven’t been developed.   When faced with a decision that has no precedent in your library or others, get input from your clients and staff and make a decision.  It may be right or it may be wrong.  You will not know for a bit.  The important thing is to move forward – even if you have to take a step back if it doesn’t work.  If we waited to make all decisions until someone else has laid the groundwork, we would not be able to keep up and will eventually would be overwhelmed.
  4. Take your responsibility to provide correct answers and good decisions seriously.  Admit mistakes and let anyone affected by your mistakes know that the answer or decision you made needs to be looked at again.  There is no room for mistakes with many lawyers, but if you admit the mistake and offer a solution to repair the situation, your credibility will survive at a higher level than someone finding the mistake on their own. 
  5. Be professional in all you do.  Start by providing the best customer service you are capable of giving.  If you place a high value on customer service, being an effective member of whatever team you are on,  and continuous improvement of your skills, professionalism will follow.   Complaints, gossip, and a sense of entitlement detract from being a professional.  If you aren’t customer service oriented, get moving in that direction.
  6. Take chances.  Dale Carnegie said, “All life is a chance.  The man who goes farthest is generally the one who is willing to do and dare.”  Somewhere in my upbringing, I was taught to be a risk taker.  I can blame my dad more than I can blame my mom, who I normally has to take the heat for both good and not-so-good parts of my personality.  It may have been because I was part of a large family where we needed to take risks to stand out.  It may come naturally to some and be difficult for others to do but without risk not much changes and we don’t move ahead.  In this day of massive change, we need to take risks to make a difference and, as in my family, to stand out.
  7. Ask what terms mean.  All to often, we forget how much of our language is jargon and expect new staff to know what we are talking about.  Additionally, in law firm libraries where there is more work than staff, preparing to train new staff may be given short shrift.  If the orientation you get is less than useful, turn the problem into something positive and show your leadership skills at the same time by offering to put together materials to be used for the next staff member’s orientation.   You are in the best position to know what is needed.

One final thought, If you are working with lawyers or other busy professionals, who may sometimes be less than cordial, remember Stuart Smalley’s affirmation, “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and dog-gone it, people like me.”  There are times our confidence gets shaken, even with years of experience.  When that happens, don’t let it prevent you from being the best dog-gone librarian you can be!

3 thoughts on “7 & 1/2 Tips for the 2007 Class of New Librarians

  1. Information overload is a fact of life. Don’t let it overwhelm you. Learn to manage the information you need.

    I received an e-mail message recently from an exasperated newcomer. It read in part: “I’m trying to get started. I can’t believe the amount of material you know! I don’t know if I’ve made the correct choice.”

    Thing is, I didn’t start out knowing what I know today. In fact, the World Wide Web didn’t exist on the day I started my first job. And, because of the pace of technical developments, a lot of what I learned either no longer applies or needs re-thinking. But this is what being a professional is in today’s world. You roll with the punches, make changes, adapt or die.

    Be patient with yourself. If you’ve graduated with a master’s degree, you have the ability to succeed. Over time, you will learn what you need to know. What isn’t known, you will make happen.

    It took me 20+ years to get where I am. Yet many young folks are nipping at my heels.


  2. I like Genie’s response. Making a ‘gut call’ isn’t easy when your confidence is shaky, but more often than not it’s the right thing to do. You should always own up to your mistakes if things go awry, but creating an image of confidence early on will pay over the long term.

    Another tip I’d give is to not be afraid to banter your thoughts and new ideas. Innovation and change happens because people are willing to take ownership and try something new. You can gain a lot of people’s respect (in and out of the library) by asking to try a new project, or change an internal process. And then make sure you follow through.


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