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Are we too occupied with our personal identities? Why do we bother?

According to an article in American Libraries, we’ve been cultivating our professional images for decades.  Librarians are guilty of this, too. We want to have the right librarian image. Practical librarian, traditional librarian, rebel guy librarian, nerdy librarian, Zooey-Deschanel-ish quirky librarian, techy librarian – we’re all working on our image, right? Or are we?

At least when we’re not in the workplace, we do this on a regular basis (and might I add, women are particularly guilty of this; sorry!). We buy the right clothes, have our hair cut a certain way, and some of us even make sure we wear only this season’s nail polish shade. Was it only a matter of time before we applied this to our professional lives as well? And what does it really matter? When we lock ourselves into one image, are we eliminating ourselves from positions that we might otherwise be qualified for? And what does it take to change our image?

Rocking the “Sexy Librarian” look may (or may not) hurt your career chances. Image courtesy of the Wikiality Librarian page, which is comedic all by itself: http://wikiality.wikia.com/Librarian.

I’d like to know: who’s crossed the line, from one image to the other? I’ll never forget my first professional librarian job: children’s librarian. Let’s just say, this was just not a successful transition for me. Going from working in an academic library (although not as a librarian, but still), I was under the very strict impression that suits were required. Suits, by the way… not really the children’s librarian uniform. Did you know that? I did not. Thankfully, my stint as a children’s librarian was short-lived, and hopefully no children were scarred by my over-dressed appearance. Article author Karen Schneider had a similar experience:

New librarians seeking a clear personal brand should also take note that many librarians graduate from library school certain that they are headed in a particular professional direction, only to be surprised early on by new interests and opportunities—sometimes more than once in a career. I started out as a children’s librarian, a role that lasted exactly six months before I found myself bumping along a path loosely defined by technology and administration. (Within a year, the corduroy and denim jumpers I had sewn the last semester of library school went into the Goodwill box.) If I had overinvested in my “children’s librarian” brand—a great career path in theory, a poor match for me in practice—it would have been much harder to change course not once but several times over the past two decades.

The article does go on to discuss other, more serious things, like how your personal brand affects you in the workplace, and ends with “Five Useful Questions to Ask Yourself”:

  • What would an employer learn if he or she googled me?
  • What kind of job am I looking for?
  • What’s my personal mantra?
  • If I asked my friends to describe me, what would they say?
  • How can I make myself stand out in a crowded field?
So… how do you make yourself stand out in your field? (If it’s wearing suits as a children’s librarian… I say: rock those suits. The kids might love ’em!)

 

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