Saturday, September 24, 2011

On being a professional

I made one of the most challenging decisions of my professional career this week.

I was contacted by a nice library director at a nice university in a nice town and she personally invited me to apply for a very nice position. The position would be the perfect next step in my professional career. It is a position for which I am experienced enough to qualify for, but which offers enough new challenges to keep the work engaging. It is a small, but established preservation program.

After much consideration and hand wringing I said no.

The time spent pondering the decision, and the subsequent time spent second-guessing myself has led me to ponder my relationship to the library preservation profession and to the idea of being a professional. The whole work/life thing can be a difficult balancing act and there are parts of my non-work life that I highly value. My primary reasons for saying no to considering the position were economic (the prospect of trying to sell a home in a dismal housing market) and location (moving even further away from family and other associations that I value.) But I do sometimes regret that I am not more actively part of my profession and it seems like getting into an established preservation program in the academic world would have been a good step deeper into my profession.

I don’t mean to imply that in my current situation I and my employer are in the backwaters. But the facts are I work at a government, not academic library which leaves me out of some of those networks, the library had no conservation program before me, my conservation responsibilities account for less than 50% of my position description, and my employer provides very little in the way of professional support (this is mostly a budget and bureaucracy-caused situation and the library administration is increasing their effort to support whatever professional development they can.)

I’m not sure exactly what I think being a professional in the library preservation world looks like. And I know that I’m not alone in struggling with balancing the values of work and life. But I know that saying no to opportunities like this position hinders

To compensate for saying no to one professional opportunity, I decided I needed to say yes to some other professional activity, so I decided the least I could do is join and participate in a professional organization. So I joined ALA/ALCTS/PARS and committed myself to at least attend the next ALA conference. Paying dues to an organization and attending their conference is perhaps not the most creative or proactive way to participate in a profession, but it’s a start. I’ve had few opportunities to spend much time with others in the profession, and I’m really looking forward to the chance to buy Beth Doyle lunch. (Because that’s what professionals do, right?)


  1. I, too, recently had to make a similar decision. I have been very lucky in my career to have been in the right place at the right time to get some amazing opportunities (jobs, positions in volunteer organizations, etc.). The hardest part sometimes is just saying "yes" and taking the plunge.

    Networking is really important. Good for you for jumping into ALA and going to PARS. I think you will like the ALA preservation crowd, and who knows, maybe we can work on some cooperative blogging effort or something.

    I would absolutely LOVE to have lunch (or some sort of noshing) with you Kevin. I'll be at Annual in Annaheim to announce the first Jan Merrill Oldham Award...not sure yet about midwinter in Dallas but we will keep in touch. Regardless, I will save a spot on my schedule for you.