When I look around at the activities of information professional groups, it seems that there’s a disparity. There’s quite often a lot of support and funding available for those who’re just starting out in the profession, but a desert of nothingness for those of us who’re “just getting on with it”.
If you’re a new professional, you have lots of groups to support you as you progress in your early career, various prize funds available for essay and report writing, access to bursaries for conference attendance, eligibility for awards for being new and enthusiastic. But what do you get when you’re past that bright-eyed-and-bushy-tailed first 5 years (5 years seems to be the approximate cut-off point for becoming “established” and no longer new).
What happens when you’ve already received a bursary from an organisation earlier in your career and so wouldn’t be eligible for one now, meaning you’re not able to attend events or training? When you’re heavily involved in a project but not at project manager level, so will never be visible as a leader or receive recognition for that? When you’re voluntarily acting as a mentor to other professionals, but not in a formal manner? When you’re motoring along in the middle, not frantically aiming to rule the library world, but just wishing for a bit more support for your “I’m not shouting about this, overall I’m quite satisfied with my current role, but I could do with some help in a few areas” feelings. When you’re doing your day to day work, and wondering how to keep yourself motivated and interested in the wider profession?
It feels to me that I’m entering the normal-career wilderness. I would say mid-career, but I’ve got at least another 30 years of working days ahead of me, so being only 12 or so years into my career I can’t really say I’m in the middle yet! But already I’m feeling it to be much harder to summon up enthusiasm for doing things outside my own core work duties than it was five years ago. I’ve mostly stopped attending things in my own time that previously I would have gone along to, especially those further afield, as it costs me both time and money that I could be spending on myself rather than work activities. I have spent many years doing a lot of things in my spare time to enable and support others in their careers: sitting on committees, organising training and social events, writing articles, mentoring people in various ways. But I’m looking around now, and I’m wondering: who’s doing this for me? I recently revalidated – unlike the Chartership process, this doesn’t require the involvement of a mentor. So somehow, now that I’m not new and have been through an approximation of the system once, I’m meant to be perfectly happy to do this process myself, with no support or interaction from anyone else? Luckily, I organised with a great professional to informally fill this role for me, but again, that was down to me, and involved further effort on my part and theirs rather than any involvement or support that I was being given by the system.
It feels like the profession has sort of gone “well, you’re not new and shiny any more, so on you go, sort yourself out”. But I’m tired, and I just don’t have the ability to endlessly maintain my own enthusiasm in the face of constantly seeing things that I can’t be involved in because I’m “too old/too experienced”. Where’s the ethos that to be a good professional you must constantly evolve and learn? We don’t stop needing that when we stop being new professionals, but it seems that the structures that work for new professionals vaporise when you progress beyond that point.
I’m not all moany – I do get a lot of support from other information professionals on Twitter, and it’s through them that I’ve gained most of my professional involvement over the last few years, but it’s not the same as feeling that there’s some sort of formal structure to support those just getting on with it, and regularly coming up against various issues along the way. And I don’t know what the answer is to this, but I just know that, because I’m neither a “thought leader”, “acknowledged expert” or happy to do conference presentations, I feel that somehow I’m regarded as having less value the longer that I go on in this profession.