Providing Career Growth at All Levels of the Library

By Allison C. Reeve Davis, Library Manager, Littler Mendelson

Three years ago, we started discussing ways to provide career growth opportunities in Littler Mendelson’s library. As our library grows, new positions are often entry-level. Promotions to more advanced positions come along less frequently, even when a dedicated employee has learned, grown, and proven their skills for advancement. Here, we provide tactics for retaining valued employees and offering career growth, even without the availability of senior librarian positions.

The Problem

Over the years, law librarians have expressed concern and discouragement with the lack of senior librarian positions available in the job market. The danger for managers and directors is that they will lose their best talent to senior positions open at other institutions. Effective leaders provide their staff with professional development opportunities, challenging projects, and rewards for succeeding in career growth. Finding a solution to the conundrum of limited promotional opportunities for rising star librarians requires creativity and assessment of the library’s goals in advancement of the firm’s mission.

The Solution

Career advancement opportunities will look different at every institution. Our project may not fit everyone’s needs exactly, but the foundations hopefully provide all library leaders with a jumping off point.

Evaluation of current roles and the skills and tasks necessary to complete them is the first step. We looked at projects and tasks completed by all of our Assistant and Research Librarians and listed out the requisite skills employed. This was accomplished thinking in terms of job descriptions. For example, familiarity with legal research databases allows librarians to pull requested documents and train users on using the tools. Expertise with legal information sources expands the research and analysis capabilities necessary for a librarian to perform advanced legal research projects.

With all of the library’s work laid before us, we identified projects that wouldn’t necessarily require the expertise of a Research Librarian but that need expertise beyond an early-career employee. Those we designated as mid-level, or transitional skills: ones attained after an Assistant Librarian has mastered more than entry-level skills, but when they do not have enough experience to move into a more senior position. We also evaluated the extraordinary projects and contributions of Research Librarians, asking ourselves what it looks like when a Research Librarian has performed beyond their job description.

We knew that we wanted to create second-tier positions within both of our original librarian designations, Assistant and Research Librarian. So, with our skills identified, we wrote new position descriptions for Assistant and Research Librarian II positions, obtained feedback from librarians, and sent the descriptions to Human Resources for approval. In 2018, we moved our first employees into a mid-level position, titled, Assistant Librarian II. Since then we promoted another Assistant Librarian and a Research Librarian received the ‘II’ designation as well.

The Benefits

Adding two new positions in the library allows our employees to see the opportunities available within the organization and drives their professional and skill development goals. Our senior librarians have also been relieved of projects that didn’t necessarily require expertise, freeing their time for complex initiatives and project management. We have been able to take on new projects for the firm as we recognize librarian skills available within all levels of our organization structure. The firm also sees the wide range of legal information professional skills and abilities, entrusting our highly capable and experienced team with valuable projects that elevate the firm’s stance in the market.

In Summary

Law librarians are curious, ambitious, and knowledgeable. Managers are responsible for providing space for them to learn and develop their careers. Without opportunity within the current institution, librarians may look for opportunity to elevate careers elsewhere. An investment in and strategic approach to career development at the institution helps librarians see their path in your library and provides chances for elevation before more senior promotional opportunities arise. Additionally, the creation of a detailed map of librarian skills and their application highlights the possibilities of the information center to firm leadership and elevates the library’s stance.

Checklist for Career Development

  • Assess the skills for necessary for existing positions.
  • Identify transitional or mid-level skills required for existing projects.
  • Plan for new projects that align within all skill levels.
  • Obtain approval from Human Resources to ensure formal acknowledgement and compensation of new titles.
  • Continue assessment and evaluation of your career growth program.

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