Library Residency Programs: The pros and cons of residency positions as written by a current resident

This past Friday, I had the pleasure of attending the 2016 Conference on Diversity and Inclusion in Library Science (CIDLIS). I was able to not only attend, but to present. I was lucky enough to be put in the same group with LaVerne Gray, whose presentation “Outsider-Within Blues: Black feminist auto-ethnographic critique of diversity librarian recruitment and retention programs” hit home.

For me, library residency programs seem so new and so “in.” It seems like everyone wants a resident at their library. However, we must remember that residency programs have been around for a while. One of the earliest residencies being the Mary P. Key Diversity Residency Program that began in 1989.

Ms. LaVerne Gray was a former resident at the University of Tennessee from 2005-2007. Her talk at CIDLIS was about her time as a resident and her experience as a black woman in a residency program. She read aloud her critique and in some instances, looked over to me and smiled. I knew this smile, because we knew that we had shared experiences. No matter what year it was, where the residency took place, we knew that we had both faced similar challenges and joys of being a resident librarian.

It caused me to think about my experience, not only a woman of color in academia, but as a resident librarian at American University. The job market is going to start up again soon and librarians and/or library students will start to apply to jobs. So far, my residency has been a great part of not only my entrance into librarianship, but it’s been a rewarding experience in my life. I have experienced moving to a city that’s rich in culture, politics, and diversity. I have also had the opportunity to work with amazing colleagues who have been nothing but supportive since I have started at American University. Over the past year and a half-ish, I have taught multiple library instructions, worked with great faculty and staff, worked on projects that have allowed me to gain experience in collection development and cataloging, been on search committees that have allowed me to reflect on the job hunting process, and the most important thing of all, it has allowed me to work with a mentor that I admire to the fullest extent.

When I began applying to library positions, I had no idea what residencies were.  It was by pure luck that I found the job posting for the residency position at American University. While residencies have been getting a little more popular and widespread, I am aware that some people do not know that residencies even exist.

For this ACRLog post, I want to encourage library students or early career librarians to truly think about a residency position as a way to gain more experience with the various facets of academic librarianship. Like many things, residency programs have their pros and cons. The following information is based on not only my own experience, but other experiences that I have heard from other residents.

I am going to start with the cons, because I want to get these out of the way and I think that the pros outweigh the cons (of course, I may be a little biased when it comes to this opinion).

Cons:

  1. I have heard from some residents that they are seen as “interns” from other people in the library or institution. Your title is “resident librarian” and it may cause people to think that you’re sitting around shelving books or something.
  2. Contract. As I state below, this may be a con or a pro. It might be a con if you’re not a fan of moving around every couple years. Most residencies tend to be two or three years. So, you might have a year or two to work and then the following year, would have to begin the job process. Time passes quickly, so this may not be ideal for everyone.
  3. Resistance within the institution or library for a resident. A lot of the times, these residencies tend to be for “diversity residents” which can mean many things to many people. People may have resistance to the job title itself, the position, or what they think a position like this represents.
  4. Being a “token.” The reality is that you will experience this. The title “Diversity Resident” may carry burdens that you may feel. Whether it’s feeling pressured to say certain things about diversity or acting a different way, it’s going to happen. You know what? This residency is about YOU. It’s about the professional experience that YOU will gain and the places that YOU will go. Haters gonna hate.

Pros:

  1. Depending on how your residency is structured, you will be able to gain experience in various areas of academic librarianship. You might go in for more experience in instruction and leave with an interest in special collections/archives.
  2. You have this time to learn about how things work in not only academic librarianship, but academia itself. I know that I have learned from just observing and talking to other librarians and faculty from other departments.
  3. Take this time to build a research agenda. Starting a new job is overwhelming, but having to dive into research and scholarship is scary. Although I am required to do scholarly/research with my position, the emphasis was finding out what I liked and getting experience presenting at conferences and working with other librarians.
  4. You’re on a contract. Depending on the person and/or situation, this may be a con. However, it’s a pro for me. My contract is for 3 years and while I love my job, I am not a city girl. I enjoy what DC has to offer, but it’s an expensive city and my commute is an hour.
  5. You have a network of current and past resident librarians. An important aspect of a job is to network, but especially with resident positions. As you meet past and current residents, you are able to have this network of people who are/were in the same position and those who have successfully transition from a resident position to a non residency position in academia.
  6. The purpose of a residency is for you to gain experience in various parts of academic librarianship and for you to contribute to your institution. However, it’s also a great opportunity to pad your resume as much as you can. Take advantage of this!
  7. Exploration. I have repeated this many times, but this is probably the most important. I came into this residency with my mind set on reference and instruction as future job titles, but as I worked with various events throughout the library, I have found a love for student outreach.
  8. Because it’s a wonderful experience. OK, so, this is more of a personal statement, but let me explain. When I talk and interact with past and current residents, I am inspired by their work and their contributions to librarianship. Did you know that Courtney Young was a former resident? Or Mark Puente? Or other librarians like Isabel Gonzalez-Smith and Annie Pho? Or my friend Anastasia Chiu? And my mentor, Nikhat Ghouse. So many amazing librarians have followed in the residency footsteps and contributed to the world of librarianship. This will only continue and I am proud to be part of this.

So, have I convinced you? If so, here are some places where you can keep a lookout for these types of positions.

Residency Interest Program (RIG)

ALA Joblist

LibGig

INALJ (I need a library job)

Don’t be afraid to reach out to former and current residents! (there is a list of them on the RIG webpage) If anyone has any questions, please feel free to contact me via the comments below or my Twitter. I firmly believe that residency programs can be very beneficial and a good experience and would be willing to talk to you about them.

2 thoughts on “Library Residency Programs: The pros and cons of residency positions as written by a current resident

  1. A terrific article on Residency Programs. I am thrilled to know that my colleagues in the profession: Nikhat Ghouse (my fellow ARL-LCDP colleague/sista) is your Mentor; that you got to know my other ARL-LCDP colleague/sista, LaVerne Gray at this conference. I would be remiss if I didn’t mentioned the GREAT Mark Puente who led us well with our ARL-LCDP Luminary Co-hort from 2011-2012. Your experiences are invaluable and will serve you well in your pursuits as an Academic Librarian. The Residency is ultimately about YOU, and what you desire to contribute to our illustrious profession. Stay encouraged by the examples of “support” you mentioned. My best regards!

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