The best career guidance I’ve encountered derives from an unlikely source, a record I purchased at Extreme Noise in Minneapolis when I was 16:
You must learn to live with your own conscience, your own morality, your own decision, your own self. You alone can do it. There is no authority but yourself.
The conclusion to the fifth studio album by seminal British anarchist punk band Crass urges listeners to take up the challenge of personal responsibility. The exhaustion of vocalist Eve Libertine’s delivery emphasizes the message’s sincerity. I’ve often thought about this mantra as it pertains to the LIS field.
Information professionals in libraries, archives, and museums work in environments that expect them to do more with less. As we perform our regular duties, we participate in committee work, publish and present our research, network, and pursue professional development opportunities. If we are lucky, these activities are supported and rewarded by our institutions. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. Yet, the authority over our careers rests with us alone.
I recalled the agency of the individual recently while reading G. Kim Dority’s Rethinking Information Work: A Career Guide for Librarians and Other Information Professionals, an outstanding and highly recommended LIS career book. She writes:
The reality is that we can’t rely on an employer to pledge undying fealty—that is, lifetime employment—to us, because just like us, they have no idea what the future will hold. They may need to close our department, lay off staff because of mergers, cut our hours because of funding shortfalls, or transition us into positions that suit the organization’s needs rather than ours. None of this personal—it’s simply how organizations, including libraries, work.
Things change, life changes, we change. And approached with the right attitude, that can be terrific. The trick is to find a way to create a career that can match us change for change, can keep up with our growth, can continue to offer us new opportunities and new challenges. The key is to understand that, in the long run, we are all self-employed.
And believe it or not, this is good news. Because if we understand that regardless of our current employment situation we are solely responsible for the well-being of our careers and paychecks, that means that we can take control. We can focus not on lifetime employment but on lifetime employability (4-5).
Maximizing opportunities by developing and nurturing your career empowers you no matter what your current work situation is.
So whether you hear it from anarcho-punks or seasoned information specialists, remember and embrace: There is no authority but yourself.
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