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Advice to New Librarians

Congratulations! You have completed your course work in Information Resources and Library Science and now have your degrees. These degrees, presumably, have something to do with the work you will be doing in your future. So let’s think about your life and your jobs. Assume you sleep eight hours per day. Assume you will be working at a job a minimum of eight hours a day. That leaves eight hours for everything else—raising children, travel, cooking dinner, study, brushing your teeth, riding a bike, etc. But it is likely that for much of your working life you will be working more than eight hours. Sometimes nine to twelve hours, especially if you add in work-related study. So the obvious point here is that your jobs will be a major, major part of your life. Misery here will translate to a miserable life. Therefore let’s pay attention to the type of work associated with the degree you just received.

You are or will be hustling for jobs. Libraries are under tight budgets for the foreseeable future. How are you going to ride the rapids? It is likely your current jobs will not exist in 20 years and that the institutions that house your current jobs will be radically different. I have been working in libraries since I was in high school—on and off, but primarily for the past 33 years. I am now the program director for the Biodiversity Heritage Library at the Smithsonian Institution Libraries. So, while I am here to congratulate you, I am also here to encourage you to think BIG, to think differently and to think widely. I am encouraging you to think less of institutions, job categories, organization charts, different media, or delivery formats.

6a00e54f95d5fc883300e5520a81778834-800wi Thomas Garnett, Director, Biodiversity Heritage Library

Many of you are already employed in libraries, which are institutions embedded in a larger ecology of knowledge. Aside from some curmudgeonly advice, if I can get you to remember one thing today it is to frame your job and career in larger terms. I want you to see the knowledge ecology in which you are and will be embedded. Not seeing this knowledge ecology will block your understanding and drain meaning from what will be a major part of your life. “Meaning?” “What good is that?” It’s better than easy work, it’s better than job security, it’s better than convenience. Beyond a certain level, it’s better than bucks. But it is as much something to be discovered, as it is something to create. (To be continued … part 2 will run tomorrow.)

Thomas Garnett, Director, Biodiversity Heritage Library

Photos from Smithsonian Libraries flickr.


  1. Stefanie

    I will graduating this semester and I am looking forward to working as a librarian. I have no idea what area I will be working in as of right now but I do know that whatever area I will be I will enjoy because I knew that whatever career I chose I want to make sure it is something that I like doing. And becoming a librarian is just that!

  2. Trevor Ford

    I was just going to ask if you could tell me how much librarians make who work for you
    yours truely
    Trevor Ford

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