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J Med Libr Assoc. 2010 July; 98(3): 263–264.
PMCID: PMC2901002

Taking Charge of Your Career: A Guide for Library and Information Professionals

Reviewed by Michael Heyd, MLS, AHIP

Joanna Ptolomey 
Taking Charge of Your Career: A Guide for Library and Information Professionals.
Oxford, UK: Chandos Publishing. 2009. 266 p. $110.00  ISBN: 978-1-84334-465-0.

When it comes to life's work, there are three kinds of people: those whose career just “happened”; those who decided what they wanted to do, planned their career paths, and followed them; and those people who want to move from group one to group two. Joanna Ptolomey has written this book for them. In the book's eleven main chapters, Ptolomey provides a “structure and methodology” for managing one's career in the library and information services (LIS) sector. This “personal strategic planning” approach is designed to help any information professional succeed at making a desired career change, at climbing the career ladder, or simply at being more productive and more satisfied in a current job. The author draws on her experiences in both the private and public sectors, including an early career as a planning engineer in the construction industry, a switch to the library field, and lastly, a successful career as an independent information professional.

Following the introductory chapter in which she explains her central themes and outlines the discussions to come, Ptolomey provides three chapters that lay the foundation for managing one's career. In chapter 2, she says to evaluate one's current situations by asking specific questions about one's career, identifying issues that may inhibit one from taking charge, and delineating career objectives. In chapter 3, she advises how to write “personal constitutions” that will help one to know who one is, to understand what matters both personally and professionally, to value one's assets, and to learn from failures. Chapter 4 discusses the library and information industry itself. Ptolomey describes the broad scope of the field, from traditional librarian jobs to roles in data management, information architecture, knowledge management, informatics, systems administration, and many more areas.

The book's second section offers “Everyday Tools for Taking Charge of Your Career.” Chapter 5 ranges from “attitude” to “work-life balance.” Ptolomey offers helpful tips on coping with change, networking, and professional reading, to name just a few. Chapter 6 reviews time-management concepts and techniques. These include being clear about what one is committed to doing, learning to prioritize, learning to say “no,” and replacing the endless “to do” list with a daily “must do” list. Ptolomey rouses the dragon of multitasking in this chapter and dispatches it with a few well-placed strokes. She concludes the section with a chapter on project management. Here, she details seven steps, from initial description to implementation and evaluation, that apply equally to the information professional's career development and to specific projects that one undertakes along the way.

The third section of the book has four chapters on various career stages. These chapters cover getting started when one is new to the LIS field, managing career interruptions, moving up to leadership or management roles, and becoming an independent health information professional. The final section sums up the preceding chapters and reviews the author's philosophy of career management.

This book is full of commonsense advice and practical tools. Change “why” questions (“Why can't I get my work done and leave on time?”) to “what” questions (“What could I change so I could finish my work day on time?”), the author advises (p. 76–7). Focus professional reading and get rid of the “junk,” she suggests on pages 88–90. Each chapter begins with learning objectives and contains one or more “Reflections” that review the key points covered. Ptolomey provides several “checklists” and templates that readers can use to implement her strategies. Each chapter in sections 2 and 3 includes a brief bibliography for further reading. The book ends with a useful glossary of project management terms and a rather minimal index.

The author admits in the introduction that much of the information she presents is not new. She may well be right, however, in claiming that the material has not previously been gathered and synthesized in a single book, especially one written for LIS professionals. Her style is deliberately informal and for the most part straightforward, although chapter 10 (“Managing and Leading”) seems to ramble more than the rest. The author is based in Scotland, and the book is published in the United Kingdom, so British spellings prevail and British slang occasionally pops up: “I was never going to read it… so I binned the whole lot” (p. 89).

Writing in the first person gives Ptolomey's discourse warmth and directness that serve her well. Sometimes she becomes too casual, though: She misuses “less” for “fewer” at least twice, and she consistently says “try and do” something, when “try to do” is more appropriate in professional writing. Reading the run-on sentence on pages 105 and 106 or the egregious disagreement of subject and verb on page 157, one wonders how carefully the editors read her manuscript. These grammatical gaffes, annoying as they are, do not make the book less useful, and it can be very useful indeed. The author intends this guide to be a handbook for the professional life, and as such she designed it to be referred to often. This is probably why she endlessly refers to other parts of the book in just about every section. Handling this differently, granting inclusive permission at the beginning to copy the checklists and templates, and tightening up the text in places would have made this a better (and shorter) book.

But it is good enough. Librarian or information professionals seeking to redirect their careers or to improve the quality of work life could benefit from the tools and advice that Ptolomey provides in this guide. (Making the forms available for download from the web would be a nice enhancement.) However, the book is expensive for a paperback. If you just read it and don't reflect on its advice or use the tools, you will be wasting your time (as the author points out in chapter 5) and your money. But if you buy this book and put it to use, your investment will be well repaid.


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