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In fact, I think he completely missed the mark with his “There are no second acts in American lives” remark. On the contrary, we are completely capable of reinventing ourselves – and our careers – on an ongoing basis.

Sometimes it happens just by accident. You start out doing one job, and then you end up being the person who just happens to be good at that new thing that needed to be done, and your career takes off heading in a new direction. Or you volunteer for a project and then realize that you not only love the new work you’re doing, you’re also pretty darn good at it – so you keep doing it. Or you’re promoted into a position that at first feels way over your head but then ends up being a perfect match for your growing professional skills. In each instance, you’re reinventing your career.

Other times, however, reinventing yourself – creating that next act – becomes a purposeful choice. Perhaps you’ve simply outgrown the job you’ve been in for years, and are ready to explore the question of what type of work or work environment might re-engage you. Or perhaps a change in your job (new boss? new leadership? new expectations? new mission?) has left you feeling like it’s time to consider other, more rewarding, options. Or perhaps your personal circumstances have changed, so that what worked for you previously no longer meets your requirements.

For whatever reason, you’re ready to reinvent your career.

The question then becomes not so much can you reinvent yourself, but rather in what direction you’d like to reinvent yourself. The great news is that the LIS profession offers so many possible directions, you’ll have plenty of options to choose from. It’s simply a matter of figuring out what you’d like that second (or third, fourth, or fifth) act to look like, then plotting your strategy for getting from here to there.

Start Asking Questions

For starters, you need to ask yourself some questions, along the lines of:

  • Do I want to work in a library or apply my LIS skills outside of libraries?
  • If I want to work in a library, what type of library might I want to work in? In addition to public libraries, consider libraries in schools, government agencies, hospitals, academia, cultural institutions, law firms, corporations, think tanks, correctional institutions, trade associations, and…? Many, many choices here.
  • Do I want to do the same type of work I’m currently doing, or would I like to try something different? If so, what might that “different” be? Would if be applying my existing skills in a new way (“bridging”) or learning new skills?
  • If I want to apply my LIS skills outside of libraries, what types of work might I do? The central idea here is transferring skills, applying your LIS knowledge and expertise to non-library work activities. Basically, what do you know how to do, and who needs that knowledge?
  • You’ll probably be stumped by a number of these questions when you first start exploring them, so consider breaking them down into three parts: what am I trying to determine or learn more about, how will I find that out, and what actions will I take to do the “finding out” part.

    For example, if one of your questions is “would I like to try something different with my LIS skills,” you might find out by reading about other types of LIS work. The actions you might take would be to read A Day in the Life: Career Options in Library and Information Science by Priscilla K. Shontz and Richard A. Murray (2007, Libraries Unlimited) and back issues of Rachel Singer Gordon’s monthly e-newsletter Info Career Trends , which has great archives of articles that feature people talking about their jobs.

    So far you’ve focused on questions that consider job direction. But it also helps to ask yourself some questions that focus on who you are, and what brings you happiness. Some of those questions might include:

  • What have I enjoyed in my current job? What types of work, what types of working environment (e.g., public contact, team projects, opportunity to contribute new ideas, flexible hours)?
  • What have I disliked in my current job? Not enough direction or too much? Not enough colleague interaction or too much? Not enough challenge or too much?
  • What have I learned about myself in my current job? Strengths and weaknesses? Tolerance for stress? Importance of work/life balance? Areas to gain more knowledge? Other?
  • Exploring these and other similar questions will help you get at the key issue of reinventing your LIS career – how to make a change that’s built on positive knowledge. Often when you feel driven to reinvent your career, it’s to get away from an awful situation; no surprise, we’ve all been there. But a better solution is to take responsibility for your current circumstances, learn the lessons it offers, and then shift your emotional energy into creating a second act, your reinvented career, that’s more closely aligned with who you are and what you need.

    Second acts? Absolutely, especially since most of us will probably be working for forty or fifty years. Learning how to reinvent our careers as we (and our profession) continue to change may be the most effective skill we have for staying engaged and effective, regardless of how many acts we’ve seen.