The trend of establishing and maintaining a personal brand has been a hot topic for some time with the public at large, traceable as far back as 1937 and Napoleon Hill's self-help classic Think and Grow Rich, if Wikipedia is to be believed. Unsurprisingly, personal branding has also caught on with librarians, notoriously preoccupied as we are with our professional image, both as we appear to fellow librarians and as we appear to others.
American Libraries columnist Will Manley has traced "image" articles in the library press back to 1949 (AL, June/July 2007, p.152), and WorldCat retrieved more than a dozen doctoral dissertations that have been published on the topic of the library profession's image in the last 50 years, including two as far back as 1961 (The Image of the High School Librarian as Reflected in Textbooks on Secondary School Administration by Robert L. Edwards and The Image of the Librarian as Seen in Eight Library Career Novels by Virginia McNeil Speiden). In the late 1980s, the Special Libraries Association, under the leadership of then-president Joe Ann Clifton, even established a Presidential Inter-Association Task Force for the Enhancement of the Image of the Librarian/Information Professional (AL, June 1989, p. 487) (which could have profited from a companion Task Force on Succinct Titles for Functional Work Groups).
Personal branding is sometimes vastly oversimplified to mean little more than not uploading anything to Facebook you wouldn't want potential future employers to see. But branding proponent Andromeda Yelton, now employed as a technologist at the ebook initiative Unglue.lt, notes that personal branding is more proactive and intentional than avoiding lampshade-on-the-head photos.
In 2010, Yelton was a freshly minted librarian entering a gloomy job market. She knew competition would be stiff and decided she "needed to do something to make myself stand out" among oceans of applicants, as she told me via Skype. Her path to employment began with her decision to hone how she was seen by others to maximize her employability and emphasize the unique skills she brings to the job market.
Yelton began her branding experience by asking herself, "What do I want people to believe I can do? How can I get evidence out there? How can I learn how to do things I should know how to do?" This personal inventory allowed her to road test her capabilities, identify and address any gaps, and fine-tune how she presented herself to the job market.
A software programmer, Yelton focused on what she calls evidence-based branding (which in her case meant "writing code that runs on the web somewhere"), blogging, and other evidence of her technical skills. She added, "I don't want people to take my word for it when I say I can do things, and my brand is centered on the evidence of that." The position she ultimately landed is a good fit in part, Yelton believes, because of the personal brand she established.
Bohyun Kim, digital access librarian at Florida International University Medical Library in Miami, agrees with Yelton. From Kim's point of view, "personal branding is about ... acknowledging the fact that information about us online will inevitably represent us to others whether we like it or not" and involves "consciously taking charge of that information ourselves." Kim adds that the many opportunities for social networking only exacerbate the confusion for new librarians.
To help librarians sort through the questions about branding, Kim organized and moderated a heavily attended, well-rated panel on personal branding at ALA Midwinter 2011. She was motivated by conversations in the New Members Round Table discussion group of ALA's Association of College and Research Libraries about the challenges new librarians have getting a toehold in the library world. Kim noted that these challenges went beyond job hunting to concerns such as "how to interact with the profession in generar"--including how to participate professionally, how to start a blog, and how to give back to others. …