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Transitions: A Life’s Journey

If there is one constant in life, it is change. We change daily,
starting with daily physiological changes (nails grow, hair grows, cells generate and die off) to personal changes (changes in relationships, changes in where we live) to changes that effect many people (political changes, economic changes). We also change professionally. We call these changes transitions. Dictionary.com defines transition as “movement, passage, or change from one position, state, stage, subject, concept, etc., to another; change.” This definition implies a discrete time of transition. The transition has a beginning, a middle, and an end as we move from an “as is” condition to a “to be” condition.

I would submit that we as professionals should be transitioning all
the time. We should be taking our day-to-day experiences and using
them to move us toward our next position, whatever that may be. I
remember being told many years ago that one should start looking for one’s next job the day one starts a new job. There is truth and wisdom in this. Transitions are not something that we “do.” They are lived as part and parcel of the human experience.

When most people talk about professional transition, they usually
talk about things like networking, résumé writing, and interviewing skills, all of which are important. What I want to talk about is being able to take experiences, some of which may be very old, and maybe not even related to librarianship, and weave them into a tapestry that we can carry throughout all our transitions, both large and small, both momentous and every day. I want to posit some questions, the answers to which can help define and guide our professional transitions. These questions are not meant to be comprehensive. They are the things that I have thought about during my own transitions.

Where do you find your fundamental identity as a librarian? I’ve
always said that everything I learned about being a librarian, I learned while being the manager of my high school football team. You might think that incongruous because, back then, I was not even thinking about being a librarian. What my experience as the manager taught me was the importance of service in anything that one does. Having a service orientation can aid in transitions because it shows an attitude of cooperation and collaboration. Being the manager may not be the most glamorous job on a high school football team, but it is one of the necessary parts that makes for a winning team. Are you, by your service orientation, making yourself a necessary part of a winning team?

How have we come to see users of our services? This is an
interesting subject to explore. There was an article in the October 2013 issue of AALL Spectrum titled “A Customer is a Patron is a Client but Not Really” by Carol Ottolenghi. The ability to name the people who use library services will, through that process, enable us as professionals to reevaluate our relationship to them. That is a significant transition. I have always used the term client because it presumes a collaborative, dynamic relationship. Also, since many of us are working in the law firm environment, the use of the term client reminds us that, just like the attorneys are hired to deliver value to their clients, we are also hired to deliver value to the attorneys who send their requests to us.

How have you used previous professional experience? I have
direct personal experience with this. My current job relies heavily on
the experience I gained as an instructor and course developer at
Accenture. I do not think I would have gotten this job if I had not, on a regular basis, looked back at those experiences and asked myself how could I use those experiences in the task at hand.

What have we done with feedback, both positive and
developmental? Everybody likes to be praised, and we easily
internalize praise, but how do we handle it when the feedback given is developmental in nature? How do we internalize it and use it as a tool and a source of transition? Have we looked back on all the various types of feedback we have been given and critically asked ourselves, “How can I use some or all of this today to make myself a better employee, a better researcher, and, in the final analysis, a better person?”

How are we taking advantage of professional development
opportunities? One of the things that I learned at my first AALL
conference was to make every effort to attend a session that is outside my regular area of work or expertise. I would submit that looking at professional development in a broader sense to include opportunities to hear lectures or attend seminars on topics outside the areas of law or librarianship can act as catalysts for thinking about one’s own professional life differently. It is the ability to look at things differently that will create within a person an ethos of constant growth and transition. It is often a futile gesture to say, “I’m in transition now because I lost my job, so I should do some professional development to get ready for my next one.” The value of “fire alarm-induced professional development” is limited at best because it is done under duress.

How have we aided others in their transitions? It’s a well-worn
adage that “what goes around, comes around.” We have all known
people in various stages of transition. Sometimes these transitions are difficult, and sometimes they are not. Either way, I am absolutely convinced of the necessity to accompany people in their transitions. Our basic humanity and professionalism require us to help our colleagues in need, but it is also good because, through the journey and transition of another, we can learn things that will be of use as we move through our transitions. I know from personal experience the value of having people accompany me on my transitions, and I have gained immeasurable value from accompanying others on the journey.

Have you served as a mentor? Mentoring is a professional
responsibility that we all have. Mentoring is an enriching experience, not only for the mentee, but for the mentor as well. Mentoring provides leadership skills that can be useful if one is planning to enter management at some time in the future. Mentoring also demonstrates care for the profession and an interest in its future development. A person you mentor today may well become tomorrow’s library director. By mentoring, you are helping transform and transition the profession for the future.

Transitions, whether professional or personal, are sometimes
hard but are always complex; they require us to realign and refocus activities, areas of focus, and relationships. I am convinced that the more we consider transitions a natural part of our everyday lives, the better we will be able to cope with them when they come and increase the probability of a good outcome.

One thought on “Transitions: A Life’s Journey”

  1. Eugene, this is a great article. My favorite question was about the importance of using previous professional experience in every new job. Many years ago when I was the Corporate Library Manager at Freddie Mac I was constantly required to justify the presence of an in house Law Library. The question of just hiring outside firms to do the work was always there. I had to always be ready with my justifications and examples prepared and ready to present. After that, in every job I was always ready to respond to , why do we need a Law Library. My answers changed over the years but I was already for the question.

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