Goal Setting: Build a Better Library and Become a Better Librarian

It’s late September. The temperature is starting to become bearable (at least at night…maybe), the kids are back in school and summer reading is a distant memory. Things are settling down and you’ve had a chance to catch your breath and reflect. Whether you are a freshly minted librarian or a veteran of the field, or serve teens in a public, school or other type of library, it’s a good time to take a moment and take stock of where you’ve come from, where you are, and where you want to go next. Maybe you want to revamp your collection. Pursue a PhD. Start a new program. Or maybe you want to find a new job.

Set aside an hour or two create some goals. It doesn’t have to be in one block. It can be 10 minutes one day. 10 another. And then a longer block of time when you’re really feeling motivated to GSD.

Reflection: Where You’ve Been

This is a little bit like writing your resume. Even if you’ve been in you job for some time and aren’t planning to look elsewhere, this is critical.  What education, certifications, training and work experience do you have? Is there something you’ve achieved that you are particularly proud of? Or maybe something that you used to be passionate about that’s fallen by the wayside. As you do so, reflect on why you entered librarianship and the kind of librarian you wanted to become. Have things changed?

Observation: Where You Are

Come up with five words that best describe you. Don’t think too hard about these. They should be obvious. Write a brief narrative that encapsulates your motivation and/or vision for your work. It’s not a long essay. Rather, it’s just a few sentences where you lay out why you do what you do and what difference or meaning you want to make.

Action: Where You’re Headed

Finally. It’s time to look to the future make some goals. And there’s an acronym to help you make some deliciously meaty goals! I like to make what are called SMART goals. There are a few slightly different interpretations for what each of the letters stands for, but here’s how I do it:

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Sometimes you’ll hear people talk about “ambitious, yet feasible” goals. This is basically the same thing. You don’t want to aim so high that you’ll never get there. But you don’t want your goals to be things you were going to do anyway. Stretch yourself a bit.

A SPECIFIC goal is one that has direction. Instead of “read” it should be “read YA novels” or “read professional publications” or “read nonfiction” or “read Asian-American authors.”

MEASURABLE goals are quantifiable. Don’t just say you’ll “read more books by Asian-American authors.” Commit. “Read one book per month by an Asian-American author.”

Before you get too comfortable, think: Is this ATTAINABLE? Will you really have time to “read one book per month by an Asian-American author? Would 8 books over the course of the year be a bit more realistic, given the fact that you’re currently averaging only 4 or 5 books by Asian-American authors?

And speaking of, why do you suddenly want to up the number of books by Asian-American authors that you’re reading? Maybe you’ve identified that you tend to read mostly white authors and it’s time to shake things up a bit and see what else is out there. Make sure your goal is RELEVANT. If you want to add some diversity to your reading, Asian-American authors are a great start. You could also read all of the Pura Belpré Award winner and honor books from the last few years. Or all of the books on the WNDB Young Adult End of the Year Booklist to catch up on what you missed. Whatever you decide, make sure it makes sense and actually relates to the underlying reason you created the goal in the first place.

You can go on reading forever and still not have enough time to read everything out there. Set yourself a hard deadline for meeting your goal. Making your goal TIME-BASED gives a bit of gentle pressure to keep you striving toward a finish line.

Within that final deadline, you’re probably also going to want to set some milestones. If your goal includes reading 24 specific books that are outside your regular reading routine, and getting it done by the end of August, you’re going to want to pace yourself. Set a milestone of 2 books per month and it’ll be easier to check your progress and stay on top of things.

Rumination: What Stands In Your Way

Not sure about this whole goal-setting thing? Can’t figure out what kind of goals to set? Maybe you think the goals you have in mind aren’t “good enough” or aren’t the “right” ones to get you where you want to be as a professional. Or that you don’t have the right supports or resources in place to even get out of the starting block. Some ideas on how to keep yourself moving in the right direction:

  • Write your goals as questions. This might seem weird at first, but it helps! Questions beg to be answered. If you’re thinking about a goal centering on reading more diversely, ask yourself “How can I change my reading habits to ensure that I am reading a wide, representative variety of materials that reflect the reading habits and diversity of materials available to young adults?”
  • Talk about your goals with a colleague or friend. Maybe they have a similar vision for themselves. Or maybe they’ve been there before and have some helpful hints on how to make your goals happen.
  • Visit a library or librarian that has/does what you want. Do an informational interview to find out the backstory.
  • Get a mentor! Have a librarian idol? Study them. Interview them. Share your vision with them and see if they can help you realize your path.
  • Read a book. There are so many great professional development books out there. A book doesn’t have to be specifically about libraries to helpful. I love reading “Business” and “Self-Help” books like Smarter Faster Better by Charles Duhigg, 168 Hours by Padma Venkatraman, and Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath.
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