Friday, August 25, 2006

2789 Social Capital in Librarianship, pt. 1

On "Take your daughter to Work Day" I was surprised to see how many middle school students thought librarianship would be an interesting career path. Although I'd worked in public and academic libraries as a teenager, I didn't really think about a career in that field. At these presentations, I'd tell the wannabees what I'd missed--it had gone right over my head for years: that social capital will end up being more important than human capital no matter what career you choose. If I'd known in high school and college that committee work and networking were critical in life, perhaps I would have joined more organizations, committees and "teams" early on just to watch and observe the folks for whom it comes naturally.

According to people who study things like organizations and employment, "human capital" is your education, work experience, on the job training, and all the knowledge and skills you've developed over your lifetime. For instance, I have a B.S., and an M.L.S. and numerous post-grad courses and workshops, but I've also clerked in a drug store, detasseled corn, babysat, owned a horse and I've always liked to write and draw. All that prepared me for my library career, but it is quantifiable, and not dissimilar to that of many librarians. I can put it on paper (or a computer document) and you'd figure it out.

Social capital, according to the experts, is an intangible, unquantifiable asset that includes your contacts, networks and work relationships, and it is different for everyone. But eventually, it's your social capital that moves you ahead. Social capital requires collaboration, volunteering, team work, treating others with respect (especially clients and customers) and at least occasionally attending social functions and meetings you don't care about and pretending you do. At review or promotion time, someone has to know who you are! Someone other than your immediate supervisor and your employees. Every time you send an e-mail, volunteer to write up a task force report, gossip, chip in for a gift, or go to lunch or play golf with a colleague, you are putting something into your social capital account.

If possibilities to grow your account are slim to none where you work, there are always local, state or national professional organizations. Fortunately for me, there was a large professional organization other than the American Library Association--the Medical Library Association--and it had a small sub-section (under 100 people) for veterinary medicine librarians. They were the nicest, most helpful group of people I met in my career. We had a camaraderie I never had in my day-to-day position. They made it easy to be a joiner and a participant. As long as I focused my energy on things that would directly benefit my small group, I was happy. I was able to put a little social capital in my bank of life with their help. So when it was promotion time in my own institution, there was a little input from around the country, and from other countries.

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