Seven Helpful Steps to Get You to the Top: Libraries Are People-Based Places and Our Profession Is Very Much a Relationship Business. Don't Underestimate the Importance of Networking

By Tonkery, Dan | Information Outlook, May 2005 | Go to article overview

Seven Helpful Steps to Get You to the Top: Libraries Are People-Based Places and Our Profession Is Very Much a Relationship Business. Don't Underestimate the Importance of Networking


Tonkery, Dan, Information Outlook


Librarians can climb to the top of the profession through many different avenues. In my 35-year career, I've been fortunate to work as a librarian in many different roles, from advancing to a senior position at the National Library of Medicine to working as an associate university librarian at UCLA and then moving over to the business side of the industry, where I served as president and CEO of three different library services companies. From this unique background, I have found several healthy career habits to be invaluable in helping me achieve my professional goals.

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1. Develop your professional strengths.

Any person working in the library should come into the profession with more than one area of expertise or strength. In my case it was with a background of science (biology) and computer science. Through on-the-job training, I gained other skills such as negotiation, and accounting and financial services.

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In today's competitive job market, it is essential to have strong communication skills, extensive computer knowledge with a concentration on technical skills, and a subject focus that is helpful in the library setting. Be prepared for a lifelong learning experience and look for the special skills that are most useful in a library setting.

Develop a proper understanding of bibliographic control and the principles behind it. One of my most important classes in library school focused on bibliographic control--in the Dark Ages we called it cataloging--and that has formed a strong basis for my understanding of the organization of information.

2. Network, network, network!

Libraries are still based on people and our profession is still very much a relationship business. Early in your career, start building a professional network. To do this effectively, you need to get out and participate in regional and national meetings with your peers. While funding is often limited, don't underestimate the importance of networking, and what can come from the relationships you've built over the years.

Networking is a continuing process. Many of the people with whom you networked in the early part of your career will retire, and you must focus on rebuilding that network of influential people. It is not uncommon for me to find that I have known the last six directors of some of the major libraries in the United States.

3. Seek leadership and volunteer opportunities.

Become an advocate for your profession. Library associations offer great opportunities to help you meet new people, expand your skill set and assume leadership roles. Some of my best friends in the profession have come from boards or committees where we both served.

Be the first to volunteer. Enthusiastically take on assignments. Don't be afraid to tackle projects that are new or seem difficult. Successfully fulfilling these roles will help build your reputation among peers. …

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Seven Helpful Steps to Get You to the Top: Libraries Are People-Based Places and Our Profession Is Very Much a Relationship Business. Don't Underestimate the Importance of Networking
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