Author’s Corner: How to Thrive as a Library Professional

Welcome back to Author’s Corner! This series features excerpts or guest posts from authors of books about LIS careers. In this installment, we hear from Susanne Markgren and Linda Miles, who have provided a post with detailed information about the content of their book on thriving as a library professional.

Susanne and Linda represent some pretty serious chops in LIS career development. You can see from this post that they’ve got a concrete understanding of both the issues at hand and are able to translate that into practical steps and exercises. They have also generously provided a coupon for a 20% discount, if you are interested in purchasing the book. 

The citation for their book is: 

Markgren, S. & Miles, L. (2019). How to thrive as a library professional: Achieving success and satisfaction. Libraries Unlimited. 

And for more of their insight, they have co-authored two recent chapters in edited books: 

Miles, L. & Markgren, S. (2022). Combating burnout: Positive/transformational leadership and organizational culture. In C. Holm, A. Guimaraes & N. Marcano (Eds.),  Academic librarian burnout: Causes and responses. ACRL Publications.

Miles, L. & Markgren, S. (2023, forthcoming). Taking advantage of opportunities for informal leadership. In B. West & E. Galoozis (Eds.), Thriving as a mid-career librarian: Identity, advocacy, and pathways. ACRL Publications. 

In our book, How to Thrive as a Library Professional: Achieving Success and Satisfaction, we focus on what professional practice means for working librarians—the tasks we do routinely to support our patrons, the realm of influence in which we operate, and “where the rubber hits the road” as theory and action come together in the workplace. Topics include: figuring out where you want to go in your career and how to get there; cultivating multilateral relationships; understanding and successfully navigating organizational culture; developing proactive habits; using narrative and storytelling to define yourself as a professional, to advance your priorities, and to get the work done; employing mindfulness and self-compassion to support well-being and satisfaction; and practicing reflectively with an eye toward continual growth. Each chapter offers discussion, concrete examples, practical advice, exercises, and research, and reflects influence from a variety of fields of study.

Chapter 1: Forging a Path: Career Vision

Excerpt: Developing a vision and taking meaningful steps on the path toward that vision are exercises rooted in commitment and action. Whether you’re a student just beginning to think about your future as a working professional or you’re looking for a new path and wondering if there’s a different position in your future, developing a sense of where you want to go and visualizing a path forward may help you do the best, most energized, and rewarding work of your professional life. This chapter will help you build self-awareness: What do you know about yourself as a professional or professional-to-be? What work is most meaningful for you? As you contemplate these questions, it is important to visualize a destination: Whom will you work with? As a librarian, what constituency will you serve or support? What will you help them accomplish? How will you use your time and energy to reach that destination? What are the first steps on the path that will allow you to cultivate the future you envision?

Topic Discussed: vision, action, and momentum; getting started; “boots on the ground,” or what the work in various library settings looks like; and moving forward with a plan

Selected Exercises:

  • Current Contexts
  • Informational Interviews
  • Future Contexts
  • Future Task/Responsibility Journaling
  • First Steps

Chapter 2: Gathering and Lending Support: Relationships

Excerpt: Relationships can play important and varied roles in librarians’ professional lives. They exist in many forms and at many levels. There are people we work closely with and those we may never meet in person. There are relationships we seek out and those that find us. They all have purpose and meaning. What roles can professional relationships play across a career? How do overlapping and networked relationships help an individual develop professionally, succeed, get ahead, and provide satisfaction and meaning? And what can a librarian do to foster these connections in their own practice?

Topics Discussed: how strong relationships contribute to “flourishing”; the structural view–social networks and social capital; types of supportive working relationships; and positive networking behavior.

Selected Exercises:

  • Relationship Journaling
  • Network Mapping
  • Roles and Types of Support
  • Networking Behaviors Worksheet 

Chapter 3: Getting Your Bearings: Understanding Organizational Culture

Excerpt: When a librarian is newly hired and is entering the workplace for the first time, it is important that they spend some amount of time observing and listening, in order to “decode” the workplace culture. This is an equally valuable exercise for longtime members of the workplace community wishing to “take stock” of an environment to which they may have grown accustomed. What are the collective values in play? How do people behave and talk in the workplace? Where are the tensions and points of convergence? How do individuals, collaborative partners, and teams get work done? How are decisions really made? How is change introduced and implemented? How do you know when to go with the flow and when and how to resist or stand your ground? Every workplace is different, but awareness of some common challenges, a set of questions to help librarians interpret what they observe around them, and profiles of organizational dynamics in action will support those working to cultivate a professional practice in often complex library environments.

Topics Discussed: organizational cultures as complex systems; resistance to change; decoding organizational cultures; the roles of empowerment and engagement

Selected Exercises:

  • Basic Organizational Culture
  • Focusing on What Matters
  • Organizational Empowerment Assessment
  • How Engaged Are You?

Chapter 4: The Choices We Make: Creating Habits for Professional Growth

Excerpt: Habits have the potential to help us focus and stay productive even as the pressures of our jobs seem to increase continually and our responsibilities shift and diversify. In part because automatism can dull awareness, it’s a good idea to periodically review and revise habitual practices and perhaps identify opportunities for developing new positive routines. Remember that habits can help determine the course of our work and careers, so making sure that those we choose to develop are right for us, in our work context and with our priorities and goals, is very important. Consider which habits will support improved focus, productivity, and thinking based on the specifics of your own personality and situation.

Topics Discussed: clearing the decks; habits for focus, time management, and productivity; mindsets and habits of mind; making it stick

Selected Exercises:

  • Habits Checklist
  • Five Steps to Getting Things Done
  • The Eisenhower Matrix
  • Mind Mapping
  • What’s Your Mindset?
  • Six Step Habituation

Chapter 5: Telling our Stories: Using Narrative for Self-Promotion, Professional Development, and Influence

Excerpt: Working in libraries, we are surrounded by stories on the shelves, stories of our patrons and clients, stories of our colleagues, stories of our stakeholders and our leaders, and our own stories—narratives that can help us understand who we are, what we want, and where we are going. Through narrative we create stronger networks while bridging divides and flattening silos. We enhance reality and help contextualize and humanize information and data. We are able to better understand and share our organization’s structure and vision. By taking control of our own storyline, and strategically sharing bits and pieces of it in a variety of situations and for a variety of audiences, we can better control our present, and steer our work and careers toward the future we envision.

Topics Discussed: Structure and elements; storytelling for self-knowledge and self-promotion; storytelling to get the work done

Selected Exercises:

  • Five-Part Narrative
  •  One-Sentence ABT (And-But-Therefore)
  • Let me tell you a story….
  • Professional Biography Outline
  • “You Story” Elevator Speech
  •  STAR Worksheet
  • Write an Opinion Piece

Chapter 6: Finding Your Place: Mindfulness & Self-Compassion

Excerpt: No work environment is perfect, and that dream job may never come to fruition—at least not in the way you imagine it. So what do you do when the frustration creeps in and the position that was supposed to bring energy and fulfillment brings misgivings instead? How do we slow down, assess our state of well-being, and become more aware of what’s going on around us? More aware of how we are responding? How can we cultivate more positivity and better self-esteem? And how can we find energy and satisfaction in our current roles, while minimizing stress. In this chapter, we will explore these questions, and offer ways to enhance confidence, mindfulness, and self-compassion in our professional lives.

Topics Discussed: confidence, mindfulness, self-compassion

Selected exercises:

  • Peaks and Valleys
  • Mindful Meditation – Breathing
  • Self-appreciation
  • Objective and Compassionate Advice to Yourself
  • Gratitude Journal

Chapter 7: Discovering Your True Purpose: Reflective Practice

Excerpt: Reflection involves close scrutiny of one’s own work. Not surprisingly, questioning your own words and actions can be uncomfortable at times. However, through the development of a disciplined, thoughtful, and habitual practice, reflection helps you become more accountable and proactive in decision-making, and can provide agency for shaping your own future. In this final chapter, we will explore the meaning of, and purposes for, reflection in a professional context and offer concrete strategies for using this approach to address day-to-day practices and long-term development. We’ll also consider the role reflection may play in helping you direct and navigate the future course of your career.

Topics Discussed: why take up reflection?, getting started, building reflective habits, reflecting in groups

Selected Exercises:

  • Three-Phase Reflective Process
  • Exploring Reflective Approaches
  • Capture the Context
  • Exploring Practices to Build a Reflective Habit
  • Career Reflection
  • Approaches to Group Reflection

Susanne Markgren

is the director of technical services at Manhattan College in the Bronx, where she oversees acquisitions, electronic resources, cataloging, interlibrary loan, and systems, and serves as the subject librarian for the English department. Prior to this position, she spent eleven years as the digital services librarian at Purchase College, SUNY. She has served on national committees of ACRL, on the executive board of an ACRL chapter, and as the board president of a library consortium. She holds an MLIS from the University of Texas at Austin and an MFA in creative writing from Manhattanville College.

Linda Miles (she/her)

is Assistant Professor, Head of Library Reference, and a liaison librarian for the faculty of early childhood education and the visual and performing arts at Hostos Community College – City University of New York. Before coming to Hostos, Linda served for four years as Public Services and User Experience Librarian at Yeshiva University and she began her career in the library of the Lincoln Center Institute, an arts education organization. Linda is currently Co-Chair of the Community & Junior College Section of ACRL, Immediate Past President of ACRL/NY, and co-convener of a public services special interest group of a regional consortium. She holds an MLS from St. John’s University and a PhD in theatre history and criticism from the University of Texas at Austin.

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