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Reflections on my experience in a one-person library and the importance of networking

April 9, 2012

I completed the coursework for my MLIS in August 2011 and, throughout the time I was completing it, I had planned on working for an academic library. I didn’t care what size it was, I just knew I wanted an academic library where I would work with other librarians; I even worked in an academic library as an undergrad and tutored and taught at a community college while completing my degree. I was hoping to focus on reference, instruction, and outreach.

My post graduation plans didn’t work out quite as I had expected, and I’m now in a slightly different position than I pictured – I’m the one person in a one-person library, a small nursing school library that has a shoe string budget, no one to help me (not even an intern or a volunteer), and I’m also essentially a librarian who is “on call” when the medical center doctors need research assistance.

I never anticipated I would end up in a job like this, but when I accepted the position I knew it would be a challenge that would force me to grow and change and get out of my comfort zone, and I never shy away from a challenge. Also, the people I met the day of my interview were incredibly kind and enthusiastic and wanted to improve the library. So I put my skills to use managing all aspects of the library, and learning new things along the way.

Thankfully, while completing my undergraduate degree, I held multiple jobs in the university’s library. I had hands on knowledge in different areas than I focused on during my internship and coursework. But there was still so much I didn’t know, so much I didn’t have practical or classroom experience with, so much that, because I was so new, I just didn’t have time to gain experience with yet. Suddenly I was thrust into management and budgeting, collection development, purchasing recommendations, cataloging and classification, and computer and printer troubleshooting. And I was in the health sciences field, which I did not have much experience with. It was overwhelming to say the least, but what better way to learn everything than to have no choice but to jump right in?

I’m coming up on the end of my first complete semester here, and I have to say that I’ve learned a lot from my experience. I also learned some things that anyone working in a one-person library should know, especially since, with shrinking budgets, one-person libraries or libraries with a very small staff, are not exactly uncommon.

The Lone Wolf Librarian’s blog provides some highlights from anSLAwebinar that provided tips for the one-person library. Essentially, these highlights tell you that you must manage your “portfolio of services,” and understand what you should continue to do, what you should discontinue, and what services you should grow. You must also prioritize your duties and say, “No,” to low priority projects, promote your services without spending a lot of time and resources, form relationships with the “influencers” in your business, and view the library through the lens of “business terms.”

While those are very important tips, I’ve found one other to be extremely important – utilizing and expanding your professional network. My network has been invaluable during this time. When I started in my current position, the previous librarian had already retired, so I did not have anyone I could go to with library operations questions. Of course, I reached out to everyone in my organization to learn about how the library operated in the context of the organization, but when it came time to specific questions about topics like cataloging and classification, or which resources I should turn to when I needed to implement a budget-conscious initiative, I had to go outside of the organization.

Because of leaning on my professional network, I’ve learned the things I didn’t learn in school or in my previous work experience. Granted I learned those things in a “crash course” manner, but I also learned them within a real world context. Even something as simple as learning where to get cards I could run through the printer to print out cards for our real card catalog (yes, an actual print one!), was advice I got from a contact. In fact one of the biggest downfalls of my library school experience, and I believe this may be true for many, was not learning the non-automated way of doing things.

As I come to the end of my first full semester in this new library, I do realize how much I’ve grown and how much I’ve learned, and I see the value in learning how to do things in the non-automated fashions. I’ve had to adjust my expectations of what can and should be done because when you’re a one-person library, you have to learn there’s only so much one person can do. What I didn’t have to learn, but what I’ve had impressed upon me even greater than before, is the importance of leaning on that professional network. I will never get tired of seeing again and again how eager everyone is to help each other out in this profession, even when they are stretched thin and barely have enough time to get their own work done. With this in mind, I’m ready to face the challenges of next semester.

Bring it on, spring 2012!

Resources for one-person libraries:

Keogh, K. (2006, May). Solo librarianship: Unique challenges and opportunities for new librarians [Weblog]. Retrieved from

Leeder, K. (2011, November 30). Stories of 2011: One person’s (my) adventures in growing a new academic library [Weblog]. Retrieved from

Pitts, R.L. (1994). A generalist in the age of specialists: A profile of the one-person library director. Library Trends 43(1), 121-135. Retrieved from

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Judith A. Siess permalink
    July 22, 2012 7:04 pm

    I would recommend my publications to you:
    The One-Person Library : A Newsletter for Librarians and Management (no longer published, but copies available from me at
    The New OPL Sourcebook: A Guide for Small and Solo Libraries, Medford, New Jersey: Information Today, Inc., 2006
    The Essential OPL: 1998-2004: The Best of The One-Person Library Newsletter (with Jonathan Lorig), Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 2005.
    Plus articles in many library journals.

    Judith Siess
    First Chair, Solo Librarians Division, Special Libraries Association
    President, Information Bridges International, Inc.
    Editor/Publisher, The One-Person Library: A Newsletter for Librarians and Management

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