By Kathy Kelly, DC/SLA Volunteer Coordinator
When I’ve mentored students and job seekers about careers in library contracting, I’ve advised them to be prepared for periods of unemployment. I’d say this not to bring them down, but to draw them a bigger picture of how working with professional services firms could be used to strategically advance their careers in the long run, despite any bumps in that road in the short run.
And that long run, in my experience, has always required both personal perseverance and dependence on my various communities. Not one or the other, but constant recourse to both.
When I once faced the elimination of a job I loved, a friend referred me to a job seekers group in Georgetown which helps a lot of professionals in my age group to work on landing their next jobs. I loved attending the weekly meetings, reporting on my progress and learning new strategies, and benefiting from the experience of the career coach/facilitator and the witness of other job seekers.
I also shared the challenge of my situation with other diverse communities – family, friends, church groups, book club members, library professional groups, and fellow residents of my apartment building. I could not have managed hundreds of solitary hours job seeking home alone in front of a laptop without the support, wisdom, and company of these people.
But these communities also taught me something about my own individual capacities. People kept remarking on my focus and persistence in engaging a difficult situation, while I had never thought of this as anything unusual. This made me recall that a male manager at the job which had been eliminated had once criticized me for “tenacity,” a charge which I had never heard levied against an assertive male colleague in the same office who received a lot of positive attention from the manager. I later realized that a variety of other managers, colleagues, and mentors in my life had praised me for tenacity, sometimes using that very word in recommendations. I found myself grateful for being out of a management environment which could not see one of my core professional traits as a business asset.
I was eventually able to move on to a work environment which welcomed and even expected assertiveness and tenacity in support of its document and records management operations. How lovely it was to enter a new community that actively asked to be bothered about what it needed to do to ensure efficient information services.
And all this seems like a parallel to the relationships between active SLA members and their chapters. We can’t help but advance as individual professionals as we actively engage our professional community. Community and individual tenacity seem to lead symbiotically to a sum greater than their parts.