professionalism & self-presentation

Today I am pondering issues of professionalism. This has been tugging at my brain for a week or two now, but I’ve been running around at conferences (posts coming soon, hopefully) and haven’t had the clarity to really think it through until now.

These are my business cards. I had them made in January and I don’t think I ever shared them here on the blog.


I used VistaPrint. I carefully selected the font and the gray ink and the information I wanted to add. I remembered to switch “School of Library and Information Science” to “School of Informatics and Computing,” as will befit our official status as of July 1, 2013. I measured things and double checked the alignment because I am picky when it comes to design. Since this was before I had a professional headshot taken by the IU Libraries, I used a photo of myself from a few years ago.

I left some space on the right hand side to add washi tape. After seeing several washi tape business card tutorials on various crafting blogs, I had become fixated on the idea of adding washi tape to my own card. Perhaps you feel, as I do, that there’s a lot to love about washi tape.

I got the idea to put a picture on my card after the combination of a) The comments in Erin Dorney’s helpful post about business cards for library school students, and b) Coming home from conferences with stacks of cards and really having to wrack my brain to figure out who they were  — I ended up googling the names to remember their faces! So I decided to stick a black and white photo (classic, I thought) on my business card. While not a convention, it seemed like a good way to help people remember who I was.

So that’s the boring backstory of my business cards that you don’t really need to know. All you need to know is that I liked them and was excited to hand them out.

Can you guess what happens next? Probably. Two or three weeks ago–the halfway point of my conferencing month–I received an email from a mentor that shared the opinion that my business cards send the wrong message. Namely, that the washi tape implied that I might not take the profession seriously and that the picture could seem like vanity. Cute. Not professional.

Please know that I know that these are very valid opinions. It was very kind of her to bring this up to me because I can absolutely imagine some people judging me negatively based upon my business card. I had considered the factors she brought up when I created the cards–not so much the vanity part, which didn’t cross my mind, but certainly the thought that someone may see the pink and the polka dots and think I’m a kid. Or someone who values style over substance.

I still felt vaguely idiotic, though. Rebuked. Chastised. And ever since, I’ve been thinking about this idea of “professionalism.”

I had a fair amount of anxiety when I came to library school. It was the creeping, subtle kind. I felt weird writing on my blog, like I needed to write like a grown up, real, expert librarian–and I wasn’t any of those things. I thought I had to literally strip myself of personality and become neutral in every way because to me, serious equaled professional.

As I worked more and did more, I did a double-take. I thought back on that mindset, which is very easy to feel–you are new, naive, and want desperately to impress and to have something to add to this profession. Accept me! I’m not a kid, I’m an adult! I deserve to be here! All that jazz. I felt stifled and I realized that I needed to share my aesthetic and write and speak in my true voice, otherwise what’s the point? Kind of like this comic, which I warn you, is unprofessional (profanity alert!).

Anyway, I’ve come to believe that there is no one “professionalism.”

It comes down to personal preferences, opinions, even calculated risks. What one person considers fine another may consider unprofessional. You don’t need to go further than Hiring Librarians to see that. I understand why some people would choose not to have washi tape or an image on their business card. Better to be safe than sorry. I get that. The job market is tight. But I would rather be transparent from the get-go, and take ownership of myself. That’s fair to me and to my current and future employers.

These days, the librarians I meet have piercings, tattoos, dreadlocks and multicolored hair. I’ve seen mini business cards with crazy artwork and cards with technicolor cats. I’ve been inspired by places like ALA Think Tank, a fun, decidedly unstuffy group of librarians on Facebook, and Librarian Wardrobe, where having an interest in style isn’t shallow. Not to mention the digital media/humanist/alt ac world; they’re a hip bunch. I am sure someone out there thinks of these individuals/groups as unprofessional, but I’m a big fan. People who are open and expressive just seem happier–and make better colleagues, in my experience.

Final thoughts: anyone who judges my card harshly enough to preclude hiring me isn’t someone I would want to work with anyway. Not to be rude, I’m sure that person has their reasons, but for reals… if I can’t have a polka dot (or chevron, or striped, or floral) pattern on my pre-institutional business cards, I’ll pass! My CV speaks for itself.

When I was in Nashville this past weekend for LOEX, I went to a presentation given by my boss, mentor, and all-around amazing librarian Carrie Donovan and her colleague Jennifer Corbin of Tulane University. The presentation focused on how karaoke can inform your instructional practice. It was rad and participatory and quite the hoot.



The above slides, part of their presentation, refer to the tensions that exist on the journey to becoming our authentic selves.  (If/when the slides become public in any way I’ll link to them here.) Carrie and Jennifer discussed this (far more eloquently than I just put it) in the context of library instruction, but all I could think about was how it expresses the push-pull of choosing how to present oneself to the world. We are all different. The decision isn’t one-size-fits-all.

What are your thoughts on professionalism? How do you choose how to present yourself?


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