Integrating the new librarian into your library

Integrating the new librarian into your library

Debbie Schachter

When you post a job opening for a librarian with your library, you have probably already decided what level of experience/expertise you require for this position. The unique attributes of each candidate who applies for a position you post, whether those be in respect to the professional, education, or personal realm, give you the opportunity to consider candidates for reasons that extend beyond their match to the posted requirements. This is true for new librarians, who by definition have no professional librarian experience, but many other skills or work experiences they can draw upon.

Today, we should all be aware that it may be equally difficult for the new graduate as well as those with many years of experience to find a permanent position, or indeed any position, in some markets. So you may find quite an avalanche of applicants for any professional position you post, regardless of the years of experience you seek. If your position is one best suited to a new graduate, you will generally be clear about that in your expectations as far as years of experience and particular skills or abilities, and these requirements will probably match the compensation level you are offering.

Why would you decide to hire a new graduate/new librarian to fill this role? It’s probably because the position is an entry-level professional position, a position that is ideal for someone with the current and cutting-edge library school training that the new graduate will have, in addition to being a learning position. It may also be your philosophy to support new graduates within your organization, or the simple fact that you have the opportunity to create a new entry position with a salary appropriate to that level. Regardless of why you have determined that you need a new librarian for this position, there is specific work that you must do to ensure the effective integration of the new graduate into your library and, in effect, into the workforce.

As we all know, new librarians have a wide range of skills and unique backgrounds. Many will have come to librarianship with a wealth of experience, either personal or professional, from a variety of backgrounds. New graduates may either have very little library work experience, or in any workplace, having been at school continuously from high school graduation. On the other hand, many library school students are entering library school as a second career, or after a number of years specifically in library settings, only not as a librarian. In any case, the new graduate will have a unique background to bring to your library environment.

Individual librarians’ expectations as to their new position will differ, most notably based on whether they are beginning their first professional position, or whether they are entering the workforce for the first time. You will have to be aware of and prepared for the amount of support you must provide, to assist not only in integrating a new employee into your organization, but also in assisting the new graduate with the experience of entering the professional work world.

The orientation process is the most important factor in the successful integration of the new librarian. This process involves several key components and, depending on the type of position, may take some time to complete. Some of the components to this include

* Culture integration

* Expectations for the position

* Feedback

* Ongoing mentorship

Integration

One of the major components of integrating the new librarian into your library is to familiarize the new librarian with the organizational culture of your workplace. This part of the orientation is actually equally important for the new graduate as for those who have experience in the work world. At the same time, the other library staff members will need to perceive that the new librarian is becoming aware of and begins to adapt to the library culture. Your assistance in helping the new librarian to understand “how things work around here” is as important as an early success factor as is their understanding of what the responsibilities of the position is. Expectations are explicit for the type and amount of work that is accomplished by each staff member, but often the implicit culture of how staff members interact, whether your library is a family oriented organization, entrepreneurial, or hierarchical, is not always clear to the new employee. Especially the new librarian who has little workplace experiences to draw upon, it is important to help them to succeed with other staff members by helping them to understand the culture.

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Expectations

As the library manager you need to be thoroughly clear as to your expectations for the position. This begins even before you post and hire, when you are deciding what responsibilities the new staff member will have. Only then do you post for an appropriate person to fill this position. Once you have hired the new librarian, you need to be very specific about the actual work and related expectations. New librarians need to understand the milestones for projects and for their learning process, and the support they will receive to achieve their goals.

If you have a performance management system in place you will probably have little difficulty conveying this type of information. You will probably have feedback mechanisms in place for both you as the supervisor and the new employee to check in with each other on progress. If you don’t have a formal performance management system, you will need to be clear with the new librarian from the beginning as to what the work entails and how you will be working together to monitor progress. Having a fairly specific schedule, and a list of activities, in the earliest days, is often the best way to orient new librarians and to have them on track for their individual responsibilities, once their orientation is completed.

Feedback

New librarians also need to be assisted in their progress by providing them with feedback methods and identification of milestones and goals. This, of course, is true for all employees but the new graduate may have little understanding of how to give and receive feedback in the work world. Supervisors also need to ensure that goals and responsibilities are challenging enough for the new librarian, especially if the position is a new entry-level position. Make sure that you have developed the position appropriately for the new librarian you have hired. This may mean changing the position’s responsibilities early in the librarian’s tenure with you, to better take advantage of unique skills and talents. For example, if your new librarian has a communications background, perhaps they should be recruited to assist in writing user manuals, library marketing/communications, or Website communications, even though the original job description didn’t include these expectations. Make sure that you meet regularly with the new employee to give and receive feedback. If systems don’t seem to work for the new librarian, ask them for suggestions for improving them. Their expertise and fresh eyes are important assets to the library, so they should feel comfortable in your system of receiving and providing feedback.

Mentorship

Mentorship is also an important factor to the new graduate’s success, and can be provided by a colleague or seasoned librarian, rather than solely by the new librarian’s supervisor or manager. Often having someone act as mentor who is not in a direct line of supervision is useful for the new librarian’s development. Depending on the size of the library or larger organization this may not always be possible.

A new graduate who is also new to the professional work world may have double the need for a mentor. New graduates will benefit from an experienced librarian’s or manager’s perspective and your professional expertise to help them in their new position. Not only for career development but simply helping the new librarian to understand professional work environments, behaviors, and means of requesting and receiving feedback from supervisors and colleagues to ensure their success.

Providing the new librarian with structure, support, and with enough responsibility and challenges in their earliest days will help to integrate them into your library and help them to feel that they are successfully contributing to library goals. Make sure you don’t make assumptions about new librarians’ lack of skills or general knowledge, just because they haven’t worked as a librarian before. Draw upon their expertise in educational areas and personal or previous workplace experience and develop mentorship for them so they can understand how better to contribute and develop as a librarian. It is a fine balance between too much monitoring and not enough support for the new librarian, but if you create a structure of support, from providing a project for them as part of their introduction to your library, you will help to ensure their growth and success.

Debbie Schachter has a master’s degree in library science and a master’s degree in business administration. She is the associate executive director of the Jewish Family Service Agency in Vancouver, British Columbia, where she is responsible for financial management, human resources, database and IT systems, and grant application management. Schachter has more than 15 years’ experience in management and supervision, technology planning and support, in a variety of nonprofit and for-profit settings. She can be reached at dschachter@ifsa.ca.

COPYRIGHT 2006 Special Libraries Association

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