First Year Reflections

This is my last post for ACRLog, and it’s a little hard to believe so much time has passed already. Not only is it the end of my term as a First Year Academic Librarian Experience writer for ACRLog, but last week marked the one year anniversary from when I started my current job. Looking back on the year, reflecting on what I’ve done and learned, and trying to sum it all up…well, it’s not that easy! I went from not really knowing what to do with my time, to feeling like there weren’t enough hours in the day (and thankfully settled somewhere in the middle). I’ve gone to local conferences in the Midwest and navigated ALA Midwinter and Annual for the first time. Focused on public servicecampus outreach, and library instruction, I’ve  learned so much about this school and community that was brand new to me a year ago. 

So what can I say about the past 365+ days? It’s way too much to try to sum up in one short post, but I’ll try to collect my thoughts into some “words of wisdom” that other early-career librarians can hopefully benefit from. Whether you’ve just started your first academic librarian job, have several years under your belt, or are in a job search, here’s the advice I would give:

Take your time. You probably have a lot of great ideas for things you want to do, but you don’t have to do them all right now. In fact, definitely don’t try to do them all at once! This seems to go against some common advice, such as “be open to trying new things” or “say yes to opportunities.” Absolutely, say yes to things! Go after opportunities and take on challenges, but be aware of taking on too much at the same time. Don’t test your limits to the point of breaking them; don’t let yourself turn great opportunities and challenges into burdens and struggles. In short, pace yourself.

Make friends. One of the greatest things about my job is that I am constantly learning from the people around me. By “make friends” I don’t mean to hang out with your co-workers on the weekends all the time, but remember that people usually want to help you out and want to see you succeed and do well. So don’t be afraid to ask for help, opinions, or mentorship from your colleagues! As a newer librarian, I not only find it valuable to learn from my colleagues’ years of experience, but the many different viewpoints and perspectives regardless of years in the profession. 

Look at the big picture. This is something I particularly have to keep in mind, as someone who tends to over-think, over-analyze, and get caught up in making every little detail *perfect* before I can move on. Take a step back and look at the big picture. What’s the main goal? What are you working towards? Does every little detail have to be perfect, or does it just have to get done, in order to move forward? Often I end up realizing that in perspective, something may not be as big of a deal as I’m making it out to be. This can apply to all sorts of situations.

Those are some general tips that helped me be successful in the past year, which presented many changes and new responsibilities. I have to say, I’m glad I volunteered to write this monthly blog post for ACRLog about my experiences in my first year as an academic librarian. It forced my to constantly reflect on my progress, goals, and ideas, and to sort out my thoughts to make them coherent. Now that I’m signing off, I hope I can keep up this habit of reflecting and writing!

Serenity Now, Insanity Later: why slow summers are only *sort of* a myth

Some say that the ‘summertime slowdown’ is a myth.  While that may be true for some librarians, I must admit that as I write these words I am taking an hour away from my desk to sit in my favorite campus coffee shop.  Unitasking, no less!  I can’t even imagine being able to do this during the academic year, and I’m grateful. But, as lovely as summer on the UW campus is, always in the back of my mind is a mantra that I heard once in a “Seinfeld” episode: “Serenity Now, Insanity Later!”

A brief summer calm before year 2 begins.
A brief summer calm before year 2 begins-image courtesy of NOAA Image Archive.

By which I mean, that every little thing I do now…every bit of forward planning that seems unnecessary, or that I could just as easily put off, will make things so much easier on me come October, when my job will inevitably get a little…crazy.

Anyway , given that things have slowed down a tad, now seems like a good time to review and reflect on my year.  This is my last “First Year Librarian Experience” post, so it’s time to wrap it up. But since it IS summer after all, I don’t quite feel like writing an article.  No, summer is the season for ‘listicles.’ And so, I bring you “7 Thoughts Every New Academic Librarian Has”..with apologies to Buzzfeed.

1. When you are offered your first Academic Librarian Job, you feel like, I’M JUST SO HAPPY TO BE HERE. Phew! You did it! Years of making small sacrifices, piling on student loan debt, doing jobs that weren’t quite perfect for you…OVER!

2. Well…maybe.

3. By December, the honeymoon period has worn off. Fall quarter, always lively, is drawing to a close, and you are starting to realize just how busy things can get.  You start thinking about how you are going to document all this stuff you’ve been doing.  Especially if you work in a non-traditional role or environment, you realize that there are going to be some challenges involved with documenting your activities when you go up for tenure, promotion, or a new job.

4. By late winter, you might be facing an employee review.  Your first year is almost half over, and it’s time to take stock of what you’ve done so far and identify the gaps in your skills, knowledge and activities.

5. Just when you start to feel like you’ve got a handle on your job and can get things done all on your own, you start to realize the value of your work relationships and partnerships.  Wow, the people around you really do a lot…you couldn’t do any of this without them!

6. By late spring, things are looking up.  Sure, the end of Spring quarter (or semester) is crazy busy, but you can console yourself with the having a few completed projects, a few major successes under your belt for the year.  Perhaps you’ve even attended a conference or two. You are building job knowledge and expertise. The MLIS candidates you know are all graduating and on the job hunt, and you take a moment to congratulate them while saying a silent “thank you” to the universe that you aren’t in their shoes.  For just a second! Because then it’s back to work, and off to work on padding your CV or working on your documentation!

7.  Yesssss…..you made it to Summer! Finally, things are slowing down and you can relax and take a break.  Or can you?

Now return to the top of this article, and repeat until your retirement or the librocalypse…whichever comes first.

Thanks so much ARCLog for giving me the opportunity to share my random musings this year! It’s been a blast!

If At First You Don’t Assess, Try, Try Again

ACRLog welcomes a guest post from Katelyn Tucker & Alyssa Archer, Instruction Librarians at Radford University.

Instruction librarians are always looking for new & flashy ways to engage our students in the classroom. New teaching methods are exciting, but how do we know if they’re working? Here at Radford University, we’ve been flipping and using games for one-shot instruction sessions for a while, and our Assessment Librarian wasn’t going to accept anecdotal evidence of success any longer. We decided that the best way to see if our flipped and gamified lessons were accomplishing our goals was to evaluate the students’ completed assignments. We tried to think of every possible issue in designing the study. Our results, however, had issues that could have been prevented in hindsight. We want you to learn from our mistakes so you are not doomed to repeat them.

Our process

Identifying classes to include in this assessment of flipped versus gamified lessons was a no-brainer for us. A cohort of four sections of the same course that use identical assignment descriptions, assignment sheets, and grading rubrics meant that we had an optimal sample population. All students in the four sections created annotated bibliographies based on these same syllabi and assignment instructions. We randomly assigned two classes to receive flipped information literacy instruction and two to play a library game. After final grades had been submitted for the semester, the teaching faculty members of each section stripped identifying information from their students’ annotated bibliographies and sent them to us. We assigned each bibliography a number and then assigned two librarian coders to each paper. We felt confident that we had a failsafe study design.

Using a basic rubric (see image below, click to enlarge), librarians coded each bibliography for three outcomes using a binary scale. Since our curriculum lists APA documentation style, scholarly source evaluation, and search strategy as outcomes for the program, we coded for competency in these 3 areas. This process took about two months to complete, as coding student work is a time-consuming process.

assessmentchart

The challenges

After two librarians independently coded each bibliography, our assessment librarian ran inter-rater reliability statistics, and… we failed. We had previously used rubrics to code annotated bibliographies for another assessment project, so we didn’t spend any time explaining the process with our experienced coders. As we only hit around 30% agreement between coders, it is obvious that we should have done a better job with training.

Because we had such low agreement between coders, we weren’t confident in our success with each outcome. When we compared the flipped sections to the gamified ones, we didn’t find any significant differences in any of our outcomes. Students who played the game did just as well as those who were part of the flipped sections. However, our low inter-rater reliability threw a wrench in those results.

What we’ve learned

We came to understand the importance of norming, discussing among coders what the rubric means, and incorporating meaningful conversations on how to interpret assessment data into the norming process. Our inter-rater reliability issues could have been avoided with detailed training and discussion. Even though we thought we were safe on this project, because of earlier coding projects, the length of time between assessments created some large inconsistencies.

We haven’t given up on norming: including multiple coders may be time-intensive, but when done well, gives our team confidence in the results. The same applies to qualitative methodologies. As a side part of this project, one librarian looked at research narratives written by some participants, and decided to bravely go it alone on coding the students’ text using Dedoose. While it was an interesting experiment, the key point learned was to bring in more coders! While qualitative software can help identify patterns, it’s nothing compared to a partner looking at the same data and discussing as a team.

We also still believe in assessing output. As librarians, we don’t get too many opportunities to see how students use their information literacy skills in their written work. By assessing student output, we can actually track competency in our learning outcomes. We believe that students’ papers provide the best evidence of success or failure in the library classroom, and we feel lucky that our teaching faculty partners have given us access to graded work for our assessment projects.

Thinking Tenure Thoughts

Last week Meredith Farkas wrote a thoughtful post on her blog, Information Wants to Be Free, about tenure status for academic librarians. Spirited discussion ensued in Meredith’s blog comments and on libraryland Twitter (much of which Meredith Storified) which has continued to today. The conversation has included many varied perspectives on the advantages and disadvantages of tenure for academic librarians, including preparation for research and scholarship in graduate library programs, the perceptions of status and equality between academic librarians and faculty in other departments, salary parity, academic freedom, and the usefulness and rigor of the library literature.

I support tenure for academic librarians as I do for faculty in other departments primarily because I believe that tenure ensures academic freedom, which is as important in the library as it is in other disciplines. I also have concerns about the tenure system more generally, concerns that many academics in libraries and other departments also voice. One of my big concerns is that the pressure to publish can result in quantity over quality.

This conundrum was raised during the Twitter discussion of Meredith’s post and had me nodding vigorously as I read. I am absolutely in agreement that the tenure system as it currently stands has encouraged the publication of large amounts of scholarship that ranges from the excellent and thought-provoking, to the interesting if somewhat obvious, to the just not very good, to the occasionally completely wrong. Of course, this is a problem not just in academic librarianship but in other disciplines as well. The avalanche of scholarship resulting from the pressures to publish to gain tenure affects libraries and the broader academic enterprise in a variety of ways.

It takes time to write and publish, and time spent on that is less time to spend on doing research or reading the research that others have published, research that might be useful in our jobs as well as our own research. You might remember the article in the Guardian late last year in which Nobel Prize-winning physicist Peter Higgs suggested that he’d be unlikely to get tenure in today’s academic climate because he hasn’t published enough. I try to stay current on what’s being published in a handful of library journals, but like many of us my interests are interdisciplinary and there is no way I can read even a fraction of what’s relevant to my scholarly interests. And the more that’s published, the more difficult it can become to find the good stuff — something we see when we teach students to evaluate sources, but something that can stymie more experienced researchers as well.

There’s also a direct connection between the ever-increasing publication for tenure needs and academic library budgets. Those articles need to go somewhere, and journal publishers have been more than willing to create new journals to fill up with reports of academic research and sell back to libraries. Publishing in open access journals can help, as others including Barbara Fister have suggested.

But I think academic librarians with tenure can make an impact on the quality versus quantity problem, both in the library literature and in scholarly communication more widely. I’m coming up for tenure in the fall, and while I’ve published my research open access, it’s also true that I’ve submitted most of my work for publication in peer reviewed journals, primarily because that’s what “counts” most. I don’t know that I’ve written anything in the past 6 years that I wouldn’t have otherwise, but as Meredith and others noted in the Twitter conversation, without worries about what counts I probably wouldn’t have felt as much pressure to write as much as I have for peer reviewed journals, and might have spread my efforts more evenly between blogging or other forms of publication as well. I’ve also felt torn spending time on other work that I know isn’t as highly regarded as traditional scholarly publishing — work like conference organizing and article reviewing and blogging, for example.

I’m looking forward to coming up for tenure in part because I’d like to help work toward expanding the definition of scholarly productivity to include alternatives to peer-reviewed publication in journals, and to focus on quality over quantity. Some of this is work that librarians are already doing — work in promoting open access, for example, among faculty in other departments who may not realize that there are peer-reviewed, highly-regarded OA journals. As academic librarians we have a view of the scholarly publishing landscape that other faculty may not share, and I hope we can use this position to advocate for tenure requirements that take into account more of the possibilities for contributing to the creation and propagation of knowledge than peer review and impact factor alone.

Publishing!?

Scholarship and publishing: both the blessing and the curse of a tenure-track academic position. Of the three requirements for tenure and promotion, scholarship seems to be the most stressful requirement for many tenure-track librarians to meet. It is a frequent topic of conversation among younger faculty, reflective of the stress associated with this requirement. I feel that I’ve at least been able to keep up with this requirement (though others are far more active than I am) and so I’d like to share some of the things that have worked well for me. Furthermore, I want to follow my three points with some things I struggle with and am working on as a young librarian, as well as include a call to hear advice from readers.

First, write about that which interests you. There is so much literature in the library and information science profession that is just not of interest to many people. Some of the best and most interesting writing comes from authors who are interested in and excited by their work – be one of those writers! Perhaps it’s some topic which is interesting, or an innovation or novel process that you are implementing at your library – whatever it is, write about it and find a good journal for it. Chances are that you enjoy your career as a librarian, but have a wide variety of other interests (we are a profession with broad passions and curiosities). Where do your professional and personal interests align? Last month, I attended a panel at which Jessica Pigza spoke about her book BiblioCraft – which is an example of what great things can happen when you find the intersections between your professional and personal interests – and then write about it!

Second, though being sole author of articles is important for tenure and promotion, equally important to me has been collaboration on articles and other peer reviewed work. I feel very fortunate to have worked with some great folks on publications and presentations – and that collaboration made the finished product far stronger. Much of the work I’ve done collaboratively really could not have been done alone. Thinking about my first point, being passionate about what you write, it occurs to me that you might have some great, big idea piece you’d like to write. Part of it is very much in your area of expertise, but much of it is not. This is a perfect opportunity for collaboration. Invite the person that can speak to the areas where you feel less knowledgeable to be a co-author. I’ve met some great people this way, and have vastly expanded my own knowledge. It’s also a great way for a new professional to get one’s name on a wider stage.

Third, managing my writing and publication has been key for me. It’s important to always be writing, and to show progress, so that at the end of the tenure clock you aren’t trying to write a multitude of articles and hoping they will be accepted and published. For me, this means I am trying always to be active on three tasks: waiting on review of articles I have submitted, actively writing an article, and developing ideas and collaborations. Having some kind of sequencing like that is helpful, but presentations and articles don’t write themselves, and don’t appear magically out of the air. Perhaps sharing how I write and craft new ideas will be helpful to you, reader, and will also prompt you to share ideas with me (and the wider audience) that will improve our writing processes.

For me, writing begins with a very rough idea. It might come from something I read, an art work, a presentation, or even a movie. Always being open to blending things in and outside libraries has really expanded the pale of what I write about. Drawing parallels between libraries, and say, the work of Wes Anderson (I’d love to read that article) for example. When I have an idea, though, I need to write it down before it vanishes from my mind. Next for me is refining that idea by talking informally with knowledgeable people in and outside of the library. What things are interesting to people? What things work? Listen, and be willing to adjust your original idea – or abandon it altogether. When I feel like I have an idea a bit more refined, I am usually very excited to start writing – and that’s exactly what I do. Riding those waves of inspiration and excitement gets the majority of my first draft finished – but deadlines for draft submission (and tenure requirements) help. Blocking out time when you are writing is essential to me (as is having a clean workspace). When the writing is finished, my first draft is typically awful – and I try to step away from it. Give it to some people you trust to look at – for me revision is key in refining my flow and points.  I try to listen earnestly to the feedback, and swallow my pride and address the comments – even if that means a very thorough revision. Repeat the process of review and revision a few times, and something approaching a finished article or presentation is the result.

As I mentioned above, it’s not all quite dancing and happy times when I am writing (and I am certainly no Gene Kelly). My first point above was about finding where your interests overlap, which seems fairly simple prima facie. However, finding the area of overlap between your personal interests and the expectations for areas to publish about in scholarly journals is a bit more difficult for me. It’s especially hard for me – blending the tenure expectations of my job with writing for my PhD and then finding where that small area overlaps with my personal interests is very difficult. I would be really interested to hear what ideas you readers might have about that, and more broadly where, and how, you find positive overlap for scholarship.

Beyond finding that intersection of personal and professional interests, follow-through is also a problem for me. I have a hard time after the initial blush of interest starting to write. How do you all bridge the gap from idea to actually writing?

Finally, I frequently have ideas for scholarship that are broad (and inspired by people that inspired me) that I need to invite collaborators. It can be hard for me to swallow my pride and ask people who I deeply respect (and am a bit in awe of) to work with me. Do you all have any strategies on asking people to collaborate, and doing that collaboration in the best way?

I’d like to conclude with an invitation to you, reader, to share what works well for you (and what doesn’t) in the scholarship arena! Perhaps together we can reduce the stress we all feel about this area of tenure and promotion!