All posts by Maura Smale

About Maura Smale

Maura Smale is Chief Librarian and Department Chair, Library, at New York City College of Technology, City University of New York.

Changing College, Changing Library

One of the things I like most about my job is being part of my college and university community. CUNY (the City University of New York) is a unique institution — the largest urban public university system in the U.S. — and New York City College of Technology (typically referred to as City Tech), where I work, is unique within the CUNY system. The college’s history is interesting: founded in 1946 as the New York State Institute of Applied Sciences, it was renamed New York City Community College in 1953 — the first community college in NYC. City Tech joined the CUNY system in 1964, and the Voorhees Technical Institute merged into the college in 1971 (itself an institution with roots dating back to 1881). In 1983 City Tech became a comprehensive college and began to offer 4 year degrees as well as 2 year degrees. With 10 new baccalaureate programs added in the past 15 years, in 2013 the college began to graduate more bachelors than associates students.

Like the college, the library has gone and continues to go through changes. We’ve been lucky enough to add several faculty and staff lines in the library, which has helped as student enrollment has shot up from about 12,000 to over 17,000 in the past decade. We’ve been able to make more technology available for students and have increased our information literacy efforts as well, including single session instruction and two semester length courses. It’s apparent to library workers as well as the students, faculty, and staff at the college that the library needs more space, especially as the number of students on campus continues to grow. So we’ve been gathering data to help us make that case. A new building is going up on campus and, while the library’s not slated to move to new digs, we have lots of great ideas for how we can use some of the space that will be freed up to benefit our college community.

Historically our collections have been curriculum-driven, and they continue to be today. But as the curriculum changes to focus increasingly on baccalaureate students, how will our collections strategies need to change? As part of a large university we’re lucky to have access to many resources within the CUNY campus libraries, both by request and on-site (and the latter may not be as onerous as it sounds depending on what part of NYC you’re coming from and going to). City Tech is also home to several degree programs — Hospitality Management and Entertainment Technology, just to name two — in which the major coursework is highly hands-on and may rely less on the kinds of resources that academic libraries have traditionally offered access to.

On the other hand, with the rise in baccalaureate students we’ve also seen an expansion of opportunities for undergraduate research at City Tech. The advanced research strategies workshop we offer for our undergraduate honors research scholars (positions that pay a modest stipend to students) have slowly but surely become standing room only, and the student research poster session held at the end of each semester has overflowed the bounds of the rooms that once housed it, spilling out into hallways and lounge areas. For their specialized research with faculty mentors, these students may need access to resources and services that we haven’t always offered in our library, beyond what’s required for their coursework.

For a variety of reasons I’m not the biggest fan of conversations about the future of libraries. They too often seem to turn into techno-evangelism and can align closer with corporate interests than makes me comfortable. Our present — what’s happening right now at my library (and probably yours, too) — is much more interesting and exciting, and I’m enjoying the opportunity that my colleagues and I have to focus on meeting our students’ changing needs in real time.

Keeping Our Batteries Charged

Now that I’m in my second year as Chief Librarian, the questions about what I miss about my prior role as Instruction Coordinator come much less often. My answer is the same, though: I still miss teaching and reference, and the opportunities they offer to work with our students. I’d guess that’s common among folks with an instruction background who move to directorships — we’re no longer front of the house, actively working with patrons, to use a restaurant example (though we’re not really back of the house either, and some days it feels like we’re all over the house). We work for the students all the time, but that work can be behind the scenes and often doesn’t allow us to interact with students in the same way we did before.

It’s mid-semester, the library’s crowded, and my colleagues and I are busy, all working hard to make sure our students have what they need for their academic work. So of course that’s the best time to start on a new research project, right? In my quieter and ambitious moments at the beginning of last summer I thought “yes!” So here I am, hopping on the overcommitment train and speeding through the fall. (I’m not quite sure where this new, train-based metaphor is going — clearly I’ve exited the dining car — but it’s been a busy week so let’s keep it.)

My research continues work that I’ve done in the past to learn more about our students’ lived experiences: how, where, and when they do their academic work, and what tools they use, especially digital technologies. Which means that, among other things, I get to schedule interviews with 20 students on my campus to talk with them about what they do on a typical school day. It’s been tricky to schedule the interviews — we’re a commuter college so often our students only come to campus a few days each week, and my own schedule is typically on the meeting-heavy side.

But it’s worth the persistence (and many, many, many emails) to plan the interviews, even during one of the busiest parts of the semester (so many emails). Because it’s incredibly energizing to talk to our students. In the past week I’ve heard students praise the library’s carrels for distraction-free studying, explain how they take the (free!) Ikea shuttle bus to play basketball with their cousin after classes, show me a book from our library about electronic surveillance that they’re reading for fun, and tell me that they prefer to use a desktop computer for “real research” rather than their tablet. Our students and the work they do here at City Tech are inspiring and amazing, and just having the chance to listen to their experiences has been a surprising — and needed — source of energy for me this semester.

Keeping ourselves focused and recharged during the semester can be tough, and while there are lots of outside-of-work examples of self-care that are important, I’ve found it helpful to think on those every(work)day energizing opportunities too. What helps you recharge your batteries during the mid-semester rush? Drop us a line in the comments.

Finding Your Niche and Establishing Yourself in the Academy: What You Didn’t Learn in Graduate School

Please welcome our new First Year Academic Librarian Experience blogger Callie Wiygul, Social Work Librarian at the University of Southern California.

Seven months ago, I started a new job as a social work librarian in a city thousands of miles from home fresh out of graduate school. Since then, I’ve been trying to find my niche within my new (and MUCH larger) university and the wider community of academic librarians. I’ve also been working to turn my MLIS project to something that will establish me within the academy. During graduate school I worked in a public library, and before that I worked for nearly a decade in the corporate sector. This journey from the corporate to public to academic world has uniquely positioned me as a flexible communicator, perceptive learner, and ambitious librarian. But are these traits and my MLIS portfolio enough to establish me within the highly competitive and often individualistic world of academia?

For months (years!) of uncertainty, I have struggled to claim a place within the community of academic professionals. There is no set path to this goal. There’s not even a defined starting line, nor is there a finish line and Jumbotron to announce “You can stop running now, Callie, you’ve made it!” I have also learned that librarians must fight to convey our value to our institutions, subject faculty, and even students. Even more, I have learned that we also must convey our value to each other–our colleagues in librarianship. The struggle is real, y’all!

Publication, programming, service, leadership: all of these are common ways through which librarians establish themselves on campus and within the larger library community. But how do you become an established librarian before you have discovered your niche within the profession?

It’s not like there’s not enough for a first-year librarian to worry about already: burnout, imposter syndrome, and navigating the idiosyncratic politics within academia. This doesn’t include the challenges of serving as the liaison to a body of approximately 1,200 graduate students and 100 faculty at four academic centers in Southern California. But when I feel overwhelmed I try to remember that my incredibly successful colleagues were all new librarians once, too! Shocking, right?! It’s a borderline platitude, but this sentiment gets lost in the chaos that is venturing out and making a dent in the universe (just watched the new Steve Jobs biopic, sorry!). Instead of seeing barriers, I choose to view this experience as it is: a) my job, and b) a huge opportunity.

I am a big fan of asking questions and soliciting advice from veteran and rookie colleagues alike. I began venturing forth from my comfort zone on Day One and met with colleagues over lunch. I asked for feedback on my manuscript draft, posited questions about the underpinnings of reference and instruction programs at my institution, volunteered to join campus committees, and vetted ideas about programs and events to colleagues both within and outside of my liaison area.

Of course, none of this was carried out without anxiety! I’m almost always terrified when anyone—even closest friends and family—reads my words or hears my ideas. But this going-out-on-a-limb experience has unequivocally made me a better writer and thinker. Reaching out to fellow instruction librarians and asking them if I could observe their instruction sessions has introduced me to lesson plans and teaching styles that have definitely made me a better educator. I apply for (what seems like) countless leadership programs, calls for proposals, and grants because I am hungry to explore my interests in leadership, programming, and instruction not only to establish myself as a professional, but to become a better librarian as well. And, honestly, I’ve been turned down more times that I care to admit. But, hey…it’s par for the course in academia.

So how do I find a niche to call my own and the academic bona fides to give weight to my name? In everything I do, I consistently ask myself “Is this marketing tool/program idea/reference answer/FAQ submission helping people? Do I truly feel compelled to do it? Is it only because it is a hot topic on Twitter?” These questions often help me parse out the crucial from the superfluous. They also provide insight into potential career interests and goals.

It’s easy to fall down the proverbial rabbit hole of following others. So many librarians are superstars at what they do and have become “library famous” for their achievements. I’ve learned that as a new librarian, you can get caught in the vacuum of trying to follow every Twitter chat, read every article mentioned in said Twitter chat, while blogging about being a librarian, applying for grants, and developing new ideas. The Digital Age can be just as dizzying and disheartening as it can be nurturing and inspiring. Here is where I believe perspective can bring things into focus.

Instead of guiding my work with the intent on being a superstar, I guide my work by focusing on my growth as a librarian. I must find ways to design programs and ideas that will help faculty and students attain their research goals. At the same time, I must develop the confidence to create my own ideas and take advantage of my own abilities. That is MY goal. It has to be, because if my actions are simply founded on the desire to be library famous or earn the respect of the academy, they won’t be meaningful. I’d rather cultivate my niche and excel at it in a way that is both personally fulfilling and helpful to my students, colleagues, and university. Finding a niche and establishing myself won’t happen overnight, but it will if I stay focused on the bigger things and keep my fears and ego in check.

A Midwestern Girl in the Land of Politics

Please welcome our new First Year Academic Librarian Experience blogger Quetzalli Barrientos, Resident Librarian at American University.

American University History Photograph and Print Collection
Bender Library Under Construction, courtesy of the American University History Photograph and Print Collection

I have been at my new job for two and half months as the current Resident Librarian at American University (located in Washington, DC). My main job duties consist of reference and instruction, with the freedom to pursue some of my own interests. Like a lot of you might be thinking, what is a residency position? Is it like an internship? What exactly does it entail? I’ll admit that before getting this position, I was also not familiar with the term “residency.” However, I’m getting ahead of myself. I have to go back to before I got this position.

As I began my last semester of library school in the Spring of 2015, I began to apply to jobs. A lot of jobs. To say that the job-hunting process is stressful is an understatement. While I was focusing on mostly reference and instruction positions in academic libraries, I also applied to outreach and community engagement positions. As anyone who has been on the library job-hunt (or starting) can tell you, the job description and requirements are a very important part. While applying, I saw a fair share of job descriptions. A lot of them were detailed and gave the applicant a good sense of what the job entailed…and there were some job descriptions that had three or four sentences.

One particular job announcement caught my eye. The position was for a Resident Librarian for American University in Washington, DC. By that time, I had been applying to jobs for about three months and this was the first time I had encountered a “residency” position. I’ll admit that I was a bit confused about the term “residency,”- but I am glad to say that the job description answered my questions. “American University Library invites early-career librarians to apply for its Resident Librarian Program. The program is a fixed-term appointment of three years and designed to provide an immersion into academic librarianship.”

As I read through the job posting, I saw that the responsibilities would include reference and instruction, just what I wanted! I quickly applied and waited. As you may now have realized, I got the job. However, I want to go more in depth about the residency position, its structure, and its place in the library.

My residency position is part of the Diversity Alliance Institute. The purpose of the program is to bring diverse set of entry-level librarians into academic librarianship. The Diversity Alliance has partnered with the University of Iowa, West Virginia University, and Virginia Tech (and obviously American University). By having the resident librarians immersed in academic librarianship, they are given the opportunity to explore their interests.

Recently, all the residents involved in the Diversity Alliance Program gathered at the campus of West Virginia University. I had the pleasure of meeting the other residents, their supervisors, and the people who made this event possible. This conference was meant to do a couple of things. First, it was meant for the residents to meet the people who came together to make the Diversity Institute possible. Second, it was meant for everyone, but especially the residents to network and interact with people from the various universities in attendance. Third, and this the most important in my opinion, is for the residents to meet each other and be able to exchange ideas and collaborate.

Having met the people who are in the same position, I feel like I am not alone. I was also able to get to know them, their backgrounds, what their interests are, and how their residencies are shaped and organized.

A little bit about my position. I am part of American University Library’s Research, Teaching, and Learning (RTL) Division. As a member of this division, I do reference at our Research Desk and help students, faculty, and staff with their research needs. I also do instruction for the College Writing Program at AU. This consists of communicating and reaching out to faculty members who teach these classes and organizing and planning a library instruction session for their class. I also have the opportunity to get involved in projects that reflect my interest. I participate in social media and marketing within the RTL Division and the AU Library.

Like some of the other residents, my job will have a “rotation” aspect to it. What does this mean? This means that I will be rotating around departments within the library. However, while I am doing the project or tasks within a certain department as part of the rotation, I still have my duties to reference, instruction, and anything else I might be involved with.

As I was talking to the rest of the residents, I was interested to see how their residency had been organized. For example, Virginia Tech University has their residency broken down by year.

“In the first year, the Resident will serve in three or four functional areas, determined mutually by the Resident’s interests and the needs of the Libraries.”

“In the second year, the resident will begin to specialize by contributing to one or two functional areas of his or her choosing, in consultation with the Library’s Resident Program Coordinator and directors in charge of the functional areas. The resident will then begin to formulate the basis for a capstone project.”

Among the choices were Learning Division, Data Curation, Assessment, and Scholarly Communications, to name a few.

“In the optional third and final year, the Resident will continue to specialize and will complete a capstone project, preferably suitable for publication, which incorporates the expertise and perspectives gained during the residency.”

I have recently started a project with Technical Services at the AU Library, but it feels good to have a home in the Research, Teaching, and Learning Division. Throughout my time as a blogger for ACRLog, I will be writing a bit about my residency job, adventures, and other cool things that might pop up. Most importantly, I want to hear from you and I look forward to getting to know you!

What Happens in Vegas… How My Location (and all the Vegas Truisms) Impact My Job

Please welcome our new First Year Academic Librarian Experience blogger Heidi Johnson, Social Sciences Librarian at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Photograph of gamblers at a craps table in the El Rancho Vegas (Las Vegas), 1950s, courtesy of UNLV Libraries Digital Collections.

When I first accepted my position as Social Sciences Librarian at University of Nevada, Las Vegas, I thought to myself, “How cool is this. I will be living in the ‘entertainment capital of the world,’ which also happens to be a beautiful desert surrounded by mountains.” I looked forward to living somewhere, well, really ‘interesting,’ to put it in the most generic yet suitable of terms.

Other than imagining potential weekend excursions hiking or camping, or taking advantage of some of the many cheap buffets in the city, (which aren’t so cheap anymore, by the way) and, ok, maybe trying a slot machine so I could say I’ve gambled once in my life, I didn’t really think much about how the physical location might affect me in my new situation. To me, considerations about the community were for community engagement and outreach librarians or public librarians, and maybe – at least in Vegas – special collections librarians.

Rather than thinking of the community, I was focused on academics. To me, academic environments were sheltered environments. I imagined the students that I would work with would be defined primarily by the nature and content of their studies rather than their backgrounds. Their backgrounds – which, in my mind, meant their upbringings and culture experienced within nuclear families – I assumed, would be of little concern to me, as my job was to support their academic work.

Once I started my job, I quickly discovered that these views and assumptions were wrong. To understand the academics at UNLV, it is also necessary to understand the community. UNLV is a microcosm that reflects the geography, economy, culture, and politics of the larger locale of Vegas. In fact, one cannot understand the academic environment at UNLV without having at least a basic understanding of the community.

So how does ‘Sin City’ impact, infuse, and invigorate UNLV? There are so many ways… For one, the student body is largely made-up of first generation students from underrepresented populations. Recently ranked 2nd most diverse campus in the nation by US News & World Report, UNLV is a designated Minority Serving Institution (MSI), with over half of the student population reporting being part of a racial or ethnic minority. Hispanic students make up the largest minority group, and UNLV also has a designation as an Asian American, Native American, and Pacific Islander-Serving Institution (AANAPISI). Different groups from neighboring states, the Midwest, and Asia and Latin America have migrated to Nevada for the cheap housing and job and business opportunities. In fact, between 2000 and 2007, the state of Nevada grew by 28.4 percent – making Nevada the fastest growing state.[i] Religious groups also have a presence in Sin City; 77 percent of Las Vegas residents say they are religious. And of course, yes, there is also plenty of secularism in Vegas. Fact: In 2010, the United Church of Bacon (UBC) was founded here. (UBC would be the least of Sin City’s concerns about secularism, I suppose, although this atheist group with legal standing as a church has demanded to be taken seriously.)

The Las Vegas community has needs that UNLV is oftentimes able to meet. For instance, there is a shortage of doctors in the Las Vegas valley and in Nevada, and now UNLV is building a medical school. Professors and students also use their expertise to address issues that arise within the community. For example, UNLV Engineering professors and students 3D-printed a prosthetic hand for a 4-year-old child in the community who was born with a rare birth defect.

The academic programs and research interests of faculty and students also reflect this cultural and ethnic diversity, as well as many other aspects that characterize this urban environment and the wider region/state. I have worked with the class of a Sociology professor who studies legal prostitution in Nevada. This work is significant and fills a gap in societal knowledge and values; the book that she co-authored, The State of Sex: Tourism, Sex, and Sin in the New American Heartland, might even have the effect of restoring dignity to sex work and fighting stigma, while at the same time examining problems within the system. While not solely about Las Vegas – prostitution is illegal in Las Vegas itself – the book demonstrates how place impacts the social phenomena that scholars study. The brothels have been in Nevada since the mid to late 1800s,[ii] but it is likely the political and cultural climate in the state that has guaranteed their legality and longevity until today. After all, “Nevada built a tourist industry on turning deviance into leisure.”[iii]

Tourism isn’t just a topic of study in Sociology. People come here to learn how to work in the tourist industry, too. UNLV has a hotel college – the William F. Harrah College of Hotel Administration – and a hospitality liaison librarian. Yes, people do come here to study gaming; there is even a Center for Gaming Research with a collection of historic books about gaming. We even have an antique slot machine up in Special Collections.

In all of my many experiences as a student at five different academic institutions (it’s been a long journey), I have never encountered a situation where the school has had such close ties to the community. It makes sense, given that it is, after all, Vegas we’re talking about here. Yet, my time here so far has allowed me to reflect on these experiences, and on the backgrounds of the students at my former institutions, more carefully. As an undergraduate at North Park University in Chicago – which is the only school affiliated with the Swedish-American Evangelical Covenant Church – I, by and large, was surrounded by people who looked a lot like me – blue eyes, blondish hair – with Swedish or Scandinavian ancestry, who had similar religious upbringings in middle class families. The school offered a major in Scandinavian studies and a study-abroad experience in Sweden, and the library’s holdings and archives also reflected this heritage. As for the religious heritage, all full time professors were required to sign a statement of faith and incorporate their Christian beliefs into their teaching in some way. But being in the city, in one of the most diverse neighborhoods at that, there were many commuter students from various other ethnic and religious backgrounds. Their perspectives certainly mixed things up a bit at this predominantly white, evangelical Christian university that also took pride in its urban setting.

Another of my alma maters, University of Illinois, is defined by its student population, with many students from Chicago and many international students. And students I met at the European Graduate School were from all over the world – many different continents – which was definitely reflected in their unique perspectives. Finally, the academics at Loyola University Chicago, a Jesuit school where I studied philosophy, were also impacted by the type of community that it was. Social justice was emphasized at the school in general, and Continental (European, as opposed to Anglo-American) philosophy was a major focus of the philosophy program, in large part, I think, because it was a Catholic school. At all of these institutions, my academic trajectory (and personal journey) was largely determined by the history, geography, beliefs and values, and politics and culture of the schools.

Now as I move forward in my new job, I can be more aware of the differences among students, and why they think certain ways or have certain beliefs, values, or skill sets. I can be more aware of the reasons why professors and students choose certain topics to research and not others. Not only that – not only does this knowledge help me understand difference – it can also help be a more sensitive and empathetic librarian and teacher knowing that all of my students, and professors with whom I liaise, come from a place – a rich, complex background that has informed and, ultimately, shaped them to be who they are today.

Place matters. Vegas matters. To this job, to me, to the UNLV community.

[i] See p. 3 and Note 8, p. 245. Brents, B. G., Jackson, C. A., & Hausbeck, K. (2010). The State of Sex: Tourism, Sex, and Sin in the New American Heartland. New York, NY: Routledge.

[ii] See p. 6, Brents, Jackson, and Hausbeck.

[iii] Ibid, p. 2.