Stating Your Case: The Annual Review

This year marks my first year as a professional librarian and, as such, January 2016 is the due date of my first full performance review packet. Librarians at my university are considered faculty and are on a continuing appointment track, which is similar to tenure but different in structure. While this is the first full performance review I’ve ever encountered as a librarian, it is *not* the first time I’ve had to do a performance review. I was reviewed countless times during my former career in the corporate sector, and the outcomes of these reviews helped determine whether I received a raise, promotion, or additional opportunities within the company. I’ve always felt moderately confident going into these previous performance reviews because their expectations were clearly delineated and set. There were clear rubrics that determined an average score from an above average score. But my upcoming performance review as a faculty member has my head spinning.

First, I should explain that my university bases librarian performance on whether or not we meet the ever-amorphous “excellence in librarianship” and “impact” benchmarks as opposed to metrics or other formulas. So what determines excellence in librarianship? You tell me. Please!

Many of my colleagues at other universities have clear cut standards to which they are evaluated: thirty percent of their time is dedicated to service, thirty percent is dedicated to teaching, and thirty percent is dedicated to research, and so on. However, my employer has not established a standard for “excellence in librarianship.” There is no definitive standard for delineating what excellence could be for a reference and instruction librarian versus what is deemed excellence for a technical services librarian, for example. Some may argue that the lack of clear standards is a huge check in the plus column for librarians. We aren’t relegated to metrics, and we can showcase our efforts and tell our stories any way we want (at least theoretically). While numeric formulas may seem confining or even archaic, I have discovered that articulating and justifying my intangible, behind-the-scenes efforts, in addition to my standard job responsibilities, is difficult. It’s up to the librarian to strategically align their performance with the mission and vision of both the library and the university, which is what we should be doing anyway, but this lack of explanation does tangle the process.

My full performance review will be a partial year review. When it is submitted, I will have been with my university for ten months. The first six months of this job were spent becoming acculturated to my first academic job at a large R1 university in a major metropolitan area. This entailed a lot of instruction shadowing, meeting with students and faculty, and traveling to the other academic centers where I was assigned as liaison. Listening and observing was a huge part of my day-to-day work life. I kept a daily log of my activities, and submitted monthly activity reports to my reporting officer. These meticulous notes show lots of progress, including relationship building with colleagues, faculty, students, and stakeholders at my institution. In other words, I may not have loads of fancy workshops and sexy publications under my belt – yet – but I have laid significant ground work for future projects and programs that will potentially have a large impact of my daily work. But how do I showcase these in an annual review under the banner of “excellence in librarianship”? Are these considered “soft skills” even though this is what it takes to make a real impact?

Here are a few thoughts I’m using to guide my writing. I do not presume a one-size fits-all approach, but merely offer suggestions:

1. Soft skills have serious value. In fact, I posit that instructional academic librarianship as a whole is moving toward a more backstage model. Meaning, we – especially new librarians – may not have loads of workshops, programs, or events on our year-end activities report, but we are constantly working on the more understated areas of librarianship, such as cultivating relationships with community stakeholders, for future benefit. Based on both mine and my colleagues’ experiences (both at my institution and outside of it), our roles are changing. We spend more time working with faculty and colleagues on large, months-and-years spanning projects that fall outside realm of a brief bullet point or narrative paragraph. Mention these long-term planning events and relationship building in your review packet. Don’t be reticent to sell your soft skills.

2. Connect your activities to the strategic mission and vision of your library and institution. Obviously this should be incorporated into both short-term and long-term goal planning, but it also needs to be explicitly stated, especially in a performance review dossier. For example, I know my reporting officer understands how I connect my goals to the mission and vision of the libraries and the unique needs of my liaison department, but does my Dean know that? Or the Provost? How can I make it clear to them?

3. Marketing, marketing, marketing. Does that word conjure four-letter imagery for you? I get it, I really do. There are power structures and privilege inherent in traditional corporate marketing practices. I also understand that, for many of us, the term connotes with other corporate lingo such as customer service, traffic forecast, year-end results. They word is faulty, but, quite frankly, it is important to harness its power for our own use as librarians. Subvert the traditional use, and harness its power to your advantage.

Think of it less as marketing, and more as conveying value: it is vital to convey our value to everyone – stakeholders, faulty, students, colleagues. And we convey this through marketing, whether we like it or not. The way you market yourself as a librarian could not be more important than during the full performance review. The action verbs you use to tell your story, the way your weave your story, how you present your reference/instruction/tutorial statistics (table, narrative, chart?), the structure of your reports – it’s all important. It makes you unique. I may be biased – my undergraduate degree is in marketing and I worked as a brand manager at an advertising agency prior to graduate school – but it’s important. Subvert and harness.

4. Clear and concise vs. verbose and extensive. I love a good, long narrative, but my full performance review is not the place to extol the minutiae of my daily activities. Rather, I choose to focus on an activity-impact model. I’m choosing a few points to tell my story. It’s the written equivalent of an elevator pitch: tell the story in two pages or less.

5. Get as much trusted and honest feedback as you feel comfortable with. I don’t trust a thing that I write until several trusted colleagues, mentors, or friends have proofread it.

Good luck and happy writing to every librarian writing their performance review in the throes of year-end chaos.

One thought on “Stating Your Case: The Annual Review

  1. Great tips, Callie, thank you. I agree it’s hard when there are no official standards or rubrics. That’s the situation at my library too for annual reviews as well as reappointment and tenure votes (although that might change soon as we work on finally adding rank to our system).

    Mentoring can also be really useful. This could be formal or informal, but getting advice from others and seeing what others write themselves really helps. I guess this is a variation on your point 5.

    (I like the definition of marketing as “understanding the needs of your customers/patrons/users”. So progressive libraries have to do marketing; otherwise the library probably becomes librarian-centered. “Promotion” is another matter!)

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