Life, the Universe, and Everything

 I am looking forward to the coming months in many ways:  I finally have an Academic Library Job, I get to do a little bit of everything, and I am honored to be able to blog about my experiences here on the ACRLog.  On the flip side, I am also filled with deep concern and trepidation about the coming months: I am a one-person-library at a new branch campus of a regional community college, the library director AND his assistant have both just left for other positions, and I don’t want my posts to make ACRLog readers groan and ask, “who gave this nutcase a login here?”

Hopefully I’ll be able to bring a little bit of all these things to the table, and perhaps add a perspective that’s a bit unusual in the world of academic librarianship.  My greatest concern these days is not that I don’t currently have a boss down at the main campus – or even an administrative assistant who knows probably more than the boss did.  It’s not that I’m working in the brand new building of the brand new campus, struggling with the typical “start-up” issues that any new school facility might face.  No, my biggest worry is the fact that I’m *it* – I’m the lone librarian covering all the hours, handling all the responsibilities, answering all the questions, making all the collection development decisions… everything except the actual cataloging, which is handled elsewhere.  (But that’s a whole other post by this wanna-be cataloger!) 

I wonder how many one-person-libraries are out there these days?  I suppose I really can’t claim to be running the show solo – I do have colleagues at the other branches, and my books arrive already catalogued.  So I don’t actually do everything, just ALMOST everything.  But it’s still a struggle, even two months into the first semester.  I have to close the library to teach an instruction session.  I spend equal amounts of time showing students how to print from Word 2007 and teaching them how to do an effective database search.   I live in fear of the student who might come in with a complicated research problem, requiring all my time and concentration, only to be interrupted over and over to check out books, take money for printing, and to point the way to the copier.

So I hope that my posts will give encouragement to those in similar places, amusement to those who will laugh with me, and relief to those who are in better-staffed situations.  For me personally, I hope that these brief forays into my off-center mind will remind me continually that I really do love my job!  My current situation is overwhelming for someone fresh out of library school, but I will count enthusiasm (though not youth) in my favor, which makes it easy to get things done which really should be quite implausible.

8 thoughts on “Life, the Universe, and Everything

  1. I used to be you. Well, mostly. I had a Director who was gone most of the time to conferences, meetings, and the like, and a handful of student workers to shelve books and to man the desk while I had lunch. But I did all the reference, the cataloging, the instruction sessions, and the general library “stuff” that includes everything from policing the space to making sure things work–and then reporting them when they don’t.

    You’re going to learn a LOT really fast.

    For in-depth research issues, have students make appointments, and then meet them during the “dead times.” These usually tend to be early in the morning, or sometimes in the early evening. You’ll figure out when these times are pretty quickly, too.

    Hang in there, and welcome.

  2. Ow poor you! I came in a year ago at my university during a reorganisation, which resulted in nobody knowing what went were, and me trying to figure out what’s what (i didnt come out of librarian school and my job hadnt been done in a year and a half, so it was hard to find out what i was supposed to be doing). So although my situation was very different, i can totally relate.
    Hang in there, it’ll work out.
    Good luck and thank you for the fish.

  3. Cait, that’s a great idea! The student research papers assignment just went out, and I’m getting a lot of questions. So I think I’ll make a sign-up sheet with consultation times in early morning and late afternoon. You’re right – the “dead times” were obvious fairly quickly. It really is good to know that other folks have survived this! (Now if I could just get a student worker so I didn’t have to close the library for lunch… hmm…)

  4. This situation really could be overwhelming … but the flip side is that since you’re at a new branch campus there aren’t the same kind of “but the last librarian always…” expectations to fill. Within the guidelines of the larger institution, you’ve got lots of exciting possibilities to set the pace, create the traditions, and mold expectations. Wow! Good luck! Have fun, too!!

  5. Wow, nice blog post, Susanna Smith. You sound like one very busy new librarian. I’m impressed by your positive & energetic outlook, but I also feel your “deep concern and trepidation” is justifiable. I’m sure you will learn a tremendous amount this year, but I’m concerned with you being able to survive.

    Maybe your post is hitting too close to home. I’m a somewhat newer late career librarian and just finished my first year in a permanent academic librarian position. I also just submitted my faculty growth plan and I’m wondering if I’ll be able to reach my personal goal of not working over 50 hrs. per week. I doubt it. Though I should say that after reading your post here, I feel I should be thankful and not mutter a word of complaint. And of course in this economy I’m thankful to have a professional full-time position but…

    Questions for other librarians – what does this say about our profession? Is Susanna/my experience common? Are we the minority? I hope so, but why does this occur? What can be done to help others understand the need to support the work of librarians? I’m wondering if our poor economy will make this problem even worse…

  6. To go along with Robin’s post about the economic times, here’s one thing I didn’t mention: I’m only listed as a “Library Specialist” by the college – a mere paraprofessional. Us newbies to the profession often have to take whatever we can get, especially if we’re tied to a particular geographic area. So I knew what I was getting in to when I took the job at the main campus last November. And my “two year plan” then included an appeal for reclassification as soon as I hit my 24 month mark.

    But then I was offered this position – and I love it! Though I shudder to think what might have happened if they had hired a clerk out of secretarial school to do this job, which was all the job ad required – an AA in some field, any field. And then here’s a harder question to answer… am I wrong in “letting” the college take advantage of me now? They’re getting someone who can actually DO the job instead of someone who can check out books, but with no extra compensation. Part of me wants to scream and yell “I’m a LIBRARIAN, darn it! Give me faculty librarian status like the other branch heads have!” On the other hand, I went into this with eyes open, so really there’s no one to blame but myself. It’s something I’m pondering deeply as they interview folks for the director’s position. I don’t want to risk my job, but the extra 12k a year in salary would be a boon for our struggling family.

  7. That’s an incredible list of responsibilities, and I think you’re completely right to think about your workload vis-a-vis your job title as a potential reclassification issue for new directors. It reminds me of this Flickr image, which sort of speaks to Robin’s comment, too. And which is a roundabout way of suggesting that, if you’re not already, you document what you’re doing. Tasks throughout the day, time spent on each, # of attendees at instruction sessions, etc.

    Documenting your position, of course, only adds to your workload.

    I can also add that I had a similar position, though not so extreme, fresh out of library school and it was incredibly hectic. However, looking back, I was able to take on all sorts of projects (writing grants, maintaining PC labs, running the website, hiring and firing) that I wouldn’t normally have. It’s exhausting at the time, and not even remotely ideal, but two or three years down the road you will have much more high-level experience than normal.

    Best of luck to you.

  8. Best of luck to you as your write your posts this year (and adjust to being a one-person library)! I wrote this feature two years ago when I first started my job. I’m currently still in the same position (one of 3 academic librarians at a college), but I’ve grown in confidence and abilities. I’m sure that you will as well. I think that one of the best things about our profession is that there are plently of people to reach out to for advice, information, and support. I look forward to reading your comments as the school year progresses!

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