In a long ago post/cry for help, I promised to write a description of what I did to settle in to my first professional librarian position (at Small Town Library). I had trouble finding other people's accounts of their experiences, or advice about what I ought to be doing, so I thought I should write my own in case it could offer a small amount of help to another new librarian worrying about the same things. I'm not saying this was a good strategy, but it was what I did. Now almost ten months into the job I have finally finished my write-up.
I spent the first week in actual training. I got an extensive tour of the building and took care of administrative things like tax forms and how to fill out my time sheet. I read through the official policy manual. I spent some time sitting at the reference desk observing another librarian work. I spent an hour at the circulation desk learning circ basics. I didn't have to make a lot of decisions about how to spend my time during the first week or two; my supervisor had planned out most of it. I also spent one afternoon sitting at a computer looking over our staff intranet, and opening any folder that sounded like it had information I should know about.
Starting in the second week, I started to work the occasional hour or two alone on the reference desk. In between patrons, I looked through all the drawers in the desk and read all the files, notes, and other miscellaneous documents I could find. I eavesdropped on the circulation desk a lot to learn how it was normal for staff to talk to patrons, and vice versa. I paid particular attention to what the rules were for patrons. While there is a formal code of conduct and list of procedures, those things are never the same as how people are actually treated. I started to learn which "rules" existed only on paper and were not enforced.
This was also when I was assigned my areas of responsibility for collection management--the Dewey 000s (General Works, Computer Science, and Information, mostly computer books in our collection), 100s (Philosophy and Psychology, mostly self-help in small public library collections), and 700s (Arts and Recreation) and hardcover fiction by authors whose names start with M-Z. I learned how to use our collection management tools to show me a list of what we had in each collection, along with basic information like publication date and number of checkouts.
Weeding the collection was my first project. I was lucky to have that option because it didn't require a whole lot of knowledge of the specific library--a 10 year-old computer book doesn't belong in any public library, no matter its user base, so there was a lot that I could do right away. Making weed lists kept me entertained on the desk when it wasn't busy, and spending time in the stacks helped me get to know my collection and also gave me something to do on my off-desk time. Library managers don't tend to be very active, so I definitely needed to come up with something to do on my own. My manager 'trained me' in the first two weeks and then kind of left me to my own devices, because even assigning me projects took some of her time up front, so it took her a while to get around to that.
I also learned our acquisitions system and started ordering at the same time as I was weeding. At first I found that this took a lot of concentration and I had to do it off-desk, but by the end of the three months I was doing some ordering during desk shifts as well. I think I under-ordered for all of my collection areas at first, because I was afraid I would waste the library's money. That did make our New Books area look sparse for a little while, but fortunately I had a grace period because things my predecessor had ordered continued to come in during the first month or so, and we had a standing order plan in place for popular fiction authors.
My library is very program-oriented so it felt weird to be left out of programming at first and it was hard not to jump right in. Fortunately, I didn't have the option to create programs right away because they have to be published in the quarterly calendar so they are scheduled pretty far ahead of time. While this annoyed me at the time, in retrospect it was a good thing because it enabled me to understand my new community more and create programs that would be in demand. That was good not only for the library but also for me, because it helped protect my reputation among the other staff--I didn't get a reputation as 'the librarian whose weird program ideas always flop' as I might have if I had been able to dive right in.
Overall, I think things went well. It felt kind of stressful and isolating, but my coworkers thought I was doing a decent-or-better job, so I think the feeling was a reflection of my insecurity and of an initial lack of feedback rather than a reflection of actual poor performance. The main thing I wish I had done differently was asked more questions. I didn't want to seem high-maintenance or needy to my supervisor, or clueless to my colleagues, so I made mistakes that could have been avoided if I had asked for help. Looking back, making the mistakes ended up making me feel worse than asking questions would have, even though asking questions would have felt difficult at first.
I'm very glad that I found a project (weeding) that I could work on safely--I needed it not to feel adrift, and it left me in really good shape later because I could focus on other things when I got busy knowing that I had plenty of space in my collection areas for new materials. I was a little worried that I would get a reputation for getting rid of library materials rather than adding to the collection, and I sort of did, but not in the negative way I was expecting. My librarian coworkers didn't pay much attention at all, but the clerks and the pages (who have to pull items on hold and reshelve materials, and thus don't appreciate overfilled shelves) noticed my work and as a result I started out on good terms with them right away. The carts of discarded books also provided tasks for some underworked volunteers, so our volunteer coordinator appreciated my work as well. It turned out to be an excellent way to make good connections with people who it might have taken me a while to get to know.
If anyone else wants to share their experience in a new librarian position, or offer some best practices, I would love to hear it!