Our dedicated ALL-SIS Newsletter Editor, Shaun Esposito, informed me at the 2003 AALL Meeting that I could no longer title this column “Trials and Tribulations of a New Law Librarian.” His justification being that I am no longer a new law librarian. I am sure that he did not intend the comment to trigger my quarter-life crisis. But I had to wonder. If I’m not a new law librarian, what am I? I knew better than to think I was a seasoned pro. Alas, Shaun walked away and I was left on my own to ponder my next step in my career. Where do we go once we are no longer “new” law librarians?
This newfound career anxiety prompted me to research the phases of a career. And it turns out that I am not alone in my career palpitations. The literature on this topic is voluminous. After several Google searches, I finally selected a website on career tips by Deborah Arron, a well-known author of career self-help books for attorneys (available at www.decisionbooks.com/arron1.html). I figured that the information contained therein could easily be extrapolated to the academic law librarian.
According to Ms. Arron, every career has five phases. Upon closer inspection, I decided that the first and second career phases were the phases of a new law librarian. The first phase is orientation where you learn the basics of the profession. Yes, I remember that phase. It is similar to what I call my “first six months on the job” theory, i.e. it takes six months to become comfortable in a new job. The second phase is challenge where you face a “stimulating learning curve” and improve your skills. I wonder if, by “stimulating learning curve,” she means constantly feeling like you are in over your head and having your stomach tie up in knots upon hearing the words “legislative history” during a reference interview. If so, then, yes, I remember that phase too.
The third phase is where I believe the transition from new law librarian takes place. In this phase, called establishment, you attempt to achieve success. But, as Ms. Arron points out, there are risks in establishing your career. Your career drive can damage personal relationships. You can risk driving yourself so hard that you end up realizing you are on the wrong career path after it is too late. And, finally, you may not succeed and risk getting stuck on a lower rung of the career ladder (although some don’t want to go to the top of the ladder in the first place). I suppose this establishment phase is where I am now. No wonder I’ve been a little edgy lately. It sounds stressful.
Having never experienced the fourth and fifth phases, what I can say about them is only conjecture. Cruising is the fourth phase of a career, and, as the name implies, this seems like the most enjoyable of all the career phases. At this phase, you attain a mastery of your job and are comfortable in your position. The fifth phase is disengagement where you begin the transition away from your career and toward retirement or a new career. Now that I think about it, retirement could arguably be the most enjoyable of all the career phases.
As for my career anxiety, I have finally accepted that I’m not a new law librarian anymore. I have graduated to the establishment phase of my career. I suppose I should view this transition with some sense of relief. Yet, no matter what anyone says, when I look in the mirror, I am always going to see a new law librarian. And I know it is this little bit of insecurity that drives me to learn, grow and achieve.
If I were true to Ms. Arron’s career phases, I would change the title of this column to the Trials and Tribulations of an Established Law Librarian. However, it just doesn’t have the right ring to it. So I went for the more generic title. But I can’t wait until I can call this column “Trials and Tribulations of a Cruising Law Librarian!” Now there’s a catchy title.