HLS/ACRlog: How to Encourage and Assist New Subject Librarians

Today we welcome a post by Zoë McLaughlin as part of our collaboration with Hack Library School . Zoë McLaughlin is a Master’s student at the University of Michigan’s School of Information.  She plans to become an area studies librarian focused on Southeast Asia.  Her main area of focus is Indonesia, though lately she spends a lot of her time cataloging Malay-language books and learning Thai.  In her spare time, she translates Indonesian fiction and poetry, writes fiction, reads everything she can get her hands on, and dances.  Find her on Twitter, LinkedIn, or at her personal blog.

 

This summer, I attended a meeting that brought together a number of people with an interest in Southeast Asia, including subject librarians.  During the meeting, someone brought up the question of how to encourage and assist people who might want to become Southeast Asia subject librarians themselves.  I did not have any answers at the time, but I’ve since done some thinking about institutional memory, my current precarious-feeling position in the field, and what the future might hold.  With this in mind, I’d like to present some suggestions for encouraging and helping newcomers to Southeast Asia librarianship and to subject librarianship more broadly.

  1. Provide short-term opportunities

The internships I’ve completed have been invaluable in learning about a specialized field.  I can acquire general knowledge of library science in my classes, but working in a real working environment teaches new skills that I cannot learn anywhere else.  I’ve learned about Romanization tables and how to acquire government publications.  We didn’t talk about this in library school.

If you have a short-term project and you could use some help, please circulate that information.  While paid internships and other short-term opportunities are obviously ideal, publicize unpaid opportunities as well—I might be able to find the funding on my own.  This way, I can learn from you; you can get help with a project; and the commitment required from both of us is specific and relatively small.

  1. Provide extended opportunities

Again, I recognize that finding funding for anything, particularly something long-term, can be a challenge.  However, this is the most direct way to influence my professional trajectory and pass on institutional knowledge.  As I begin my own job search, I am considering applying to residencies as a way to get this sort of experience for myself.  That said, residencies are few and far between, especially ones with an area studies focus.

But imagine a residency geared specifically toward training new subject librarians.  This would provide space for new librarians to learn and for seasoned librarians to teach, while removing the pressures of working in what can often be a solitary subject librarian position.

A program such as this would take work to pull off, which leads me to my next point:

  1. Advocate from within your institution

Situated within a university, you are already positioned to advocate for change in a way that I am not.  Propose the creation of learning opportunities—short- and long-term—for emerging professionals to learn the intricacies of the field.  Large, institutional changes need to come from within.  Push for the creation of new residency programs or formalized internship programs.  Present your concerns about the future of the field to your library and ask for help in finding solutions.

  1. Provide guidance

If you are not in a position to provide large or extensive opportunities, your guidance and advice is still invaluable.  Let me know about conferences, meetings, and other events that you think might interest me or might benefit my professional growth.  I cannot stress how important it was when my mentor offhandedly mentioned that I might want to attend the Association for Asian Studies conference.  Not only did I learn much more about the profession simply from attending meetings at the conference, I also made contacts that led me to securing my summer internship.

Small conversations can also benefit me greatly: tell me about the path that led to your current job, tell me about how you track down hard-to-find books, tell me about useful contacts that you’ve made over the years and how you managed to make them.  Informal conversations can be as helpful as more formal opportunities.

  1. Foster partnerships between institutions

Especially in a field as small as Southeast Asian studies, we are spread out between institutions and locations.  New librarians are just at the beginning of their careers while others are retiring; the retention of institutional memory extends beyond a single university’s walls.  Working together, we can share knowledge and collaborate on projects larger than those within a single institution.  This can ensure broad continuity and smoother transitions moving forward.

Reach out and we can work together!  Ultimately, we’re both interested in furthering knowledge about our specific field, so let’s figure out ways to make that happen!

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