Instant Ideas and Collaboration

Feature #13b : When to go beyond your job description

Please welcome our second guest writer, Lauren LaTulip (@ltulip), a secondary school librarian with a varied background in the LIS world, for our second feature article about the upcoming chat on Tuesday 6 May on Classifying the librarian.

The objectives of this article are to:

  1. Provoke reflection on whether you expect too little or too much of yourself relative to your job description.
  2. Present a series of practical questions to use when considering stretching your role.
  3. Stimulate discussion on whether stretching your job role is a valid entrepreneurial way to move forward professionally.

The beginning of my career was working in Human Resources at the New York Public Library, hiring librarians. During interviews successful librarians often described their job descriptions, not as boundaries, but as reference points for exploration.

Now a librarian myself, I’ve found motivation and benefit in stretching my role beyond the details of the job description. At the London Borough of Barnet, I worked creatively to establish the Conversation Café adult literacy programme i and an extended IT provision in partnership with mental health organisations.

Recognize that consciously stretching the borders of your role is different to instinctively changing the way you work on an ad hoc basis. Stretching your role in a responsible manner requires support from your manager and co-workers.

Here are reasons you may want to stretch your role:

  • improve the performance and reputation of the organisation
  • use a wider range of your abilities
  • work toward a continuing professional development (CPD) qualification or learn new skills
  • gain recognition from employers, co-workers, users
  • re-invigorate a long-term job or one with little mobility

Here are potential dangers to be considered when stretching your role:

  • failure to meet the basic requirements of your role
  • inability to master a new skill
  • generating extra work for colleagues
  • increasing user expectations without a plan for sustainability
  • permanently adding to your duties without removing anything

Thinking through the following questions should minimize the dangers.
‘Have you been in the job a year or are you widely recognized for doing an excellent job?’
If you can answer yes, safe to proceed. Otherwise bide your time until you’ve built goodwill capital in your current role ii.

‘Everyone has a lot on their plate, why do you want to add more?’
You need to be able to answer yes to all of these to proceed:

I have identified a specific service need.
I have the skills (or can acquire/access the skills) to address the need.
I am a valued employee and filling this need meshes with my professional interests.
I can fill this need without putting my overall performance at risk.

‘There are a lot of needs out there, why should we prioritize this one?’
Research the following questions and discuss with your manager:

How does the need mesh with specific organizational priorities or objectives?
Is the need is widespread and significant?
Is the need is addressed by partner organisations or other functional areas?
Do the benefits of filling this need outweigh the risks? (present an analysis)
Can you fill this need without putting your overall performance at risk?

‘How does your boundary stretching effect the team and operational needs?’
Consider your colleagues’ concerns:

Discuss your ideas with colleagues and solicit involvement.
If at all possible, carry out a trial for a limited period (a month or a term.)
Plan the extra work for a less busy period.
Sort out with your manager how you will manage your normal responsibilities.
Balance manager’s and colleagues’ response to your proposal with how strongly you feel about the need before committing to action.

‘Did you plan for failure?’
You are trying something new, beyond your basic job role, and you and your manager should agree in advance that failure is acceptable. As our organisations become entrepreneurial and faster moving, the need for experimentation is increasing. Evaluate the trial and you have a tremendous CPD experience and an excellent talking point.

‘Did you plan for success?’
You and your manager should sketch out in advance the possibilities for sustaining positive change.
Will other staff or partners be involved?
How will your work be prioritized?

Lauren LaTulip Bio:
Lauren LaTulip worked in HR at the New York Public Library. Inspired by the librarians there, Lauren completed her Master’s in Library and Information Science. She worked as a librarian for the London Borough of Barnet and completed Chartership before moving to her current position as a secondary school librarian. Lauren tweets at @ltulip and is on LinkedIn



i For details see Sumbal Bukhari and Lauren LaTulip “Conversation Café”, which looks at the support for English language learners in Barnet Libraries [pp38-40] in CILIP Update August 2012


ii I am in a new position in school libraries, so am focusing on the basic job requirements and my mantra is ‘children reading’. My recent attendance at CILIP’s SLG conference ‘Enquiring Minds’ highlighted the philosophic underpinning of our approaches to librarianship. Listen to the presentation Francis Gilbert made at the conference if you feel like stretching your mind around post-modern librarianship.

About gabyklib

Gaby has been a librarian in a public library in the UK since 2004. Her current role is covers working with all library customers through project work, reports, outreach and promotion including website maintenance and social media. Previously she was a children's librarian with particular focus on Teens.

2 comments on “Feature #13b : When to go beyond your job description

  1. pshah2919
    April 30, 2014

    Great article Lauren, inviting a lot of reflection in my current role as assitant librarian. When I think back to how I have learnt new skills in order to progress and what impact it has had on the overall service, I am suprised at my own creativity. When in charge of a sixth form library, I was often asked to look at UCAS statements, advice on career paths and what universities to choose, personal relationship problems, and numerous teenage anxities which I supported beyond my job description. When we moved to a new site, I thought about how to advocate our library as an important individual faculty within the school and went about creating our own logo (through competitions) which is now engrained in all our correspondence. Similiarly, we had no presence on the VLE and I took charge of ensuring we have a page of our own to promote our resources and took various training to achieve that. There are numerous examples of when we consciously or unconsciously all strive to go beyond our job descriptions to deliver a service worthy of our profession, however this is a wonderful article to jog our memories on when we have done that.
    Mrs P Shah

  2. Reblogged this on talesbehindtheclassroomdoor and commented:
    A nice mention for my talk about being a post-modern librarian.

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This entry was posted on April 29, 2014 by in Feature and tagged , , .


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