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September 24, 2012 / bethan

My first month: Madeleine Smith, NHS

What’s it really like to start work as a new professional? In this series of guest blog posts, we’ll hear from new professionals about their first month in a new job. What have they learned? How have they fitted in? What’s been the best (and the worst!) thing? If you’d like to contribute the story of your first month, get in touch!

Being promoted into your first management role is never easy – and even less so if restructuring moves you into a role you haven’t been properly trained for. Madeleine Smith tells us how she managed her service and her development through a challenging time of change.

I was promoted into my first professional role about a year ago, while still finishing my library school qualification.  The role was formed as part of a corporate restructure and basically merged the librarian and senior library assistant (my old job) tasks and responsibilities.   Unfortunately this meant that the previous librarian lost their job when I moved into the new role and so as you can probably imagine, there was a pretty bad atmosphere for a while.

We were not able to close the library during the transition phase, so I focused on training my new library assistant to enable us to stay up and running. Maybe it’s a “librarian thing” to focus on the needs of others, but I totally neglected the fact that I needed training on the aspects of the new job that had been the librarian’s domain.   So when the librarian left, I was expected to get on with the job at hand, and it was assumed I had been given a handover.

While I was confident in my abilities in about half the job (the half that had been in my previous job description), I thought that it would be a very steep learning curve for the other half.

In the end, it turned out that some aspects were challenging but quickly achievable (like presenting a funding bid to the Board with 2 days notice!), but that some small things were really frustrating and took much longer to complete.  I had to write to every supplier to let them know the situation, and that I needed access to the admin sites for their resources, and no, I didn’t have any customer account numbers or anything like that.  This took ages to sort out and was especially unhelpful since the restructure came in the middle of journal renewal season so I had deadlines to meet. The other major challenge was that there was no business documentation in place, like strategies, policies or up to date operating procedures.  This was where the management modules I’d studied at library school came in very handy.

At the end of the first month in the post, while myself and my new library assistant were settling down into the new roles, we were told that there was to be another restructure and our directorate would be merging with another in the organisation. Again the management modules at library school came in useful here to deal with working through this process.  Change like this is a huge part of any organisation in the current financial climate and so one of the key skills that any new professional, in any sector, can learn is the ability to deal well with change.  It is a stressful process, and it can take a while for the fall-out to settle, but if change is implemented well and you can communicate openly with your managers and your teams, it can bring so many opportunities and benefits to you and your work environment.

Working in this role also highlighted the gaps in the library school curriculum, and made me think long and hard about whether I had made the right decision to take on this job in an NHS library.  My initial thoughts were that I needed to leave as soon as possible but on reflection I realised how much I enjoy this job and would probably not enjoy working in another sector quite as much.  Decision to stay made, I then focused on how I could access the training I needed to develop my role and fill in the knowledge gaps.  I felt embarrassed to ask for help from the local librarians, and in a way felt I’d be badmouthing the previous librarian if I did.  The most useful thing I did in the first month of this post was to get over it and ask for help.  This profession is built on helping people so to assume that my colleagues wouldn’t want or be able to help me was absurd.  I found getting a mentor and working on the CILIP qualifications really beneficial and this only expanded my support network of colleagues further.  It has shown me the large range of training opportunities both formally and informally available.  Taking advantage of the help this training can provide has allowed me to develop my library service in new and exciting ways, while building up my CV in case I do decide to leave this role/sector.

There are heaps of opportunities out there for new professionals and taking part where you can is one of the best ways to develop skills for your role and stay enthusiastic about what you do.

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