All posts by Maura Smale

About Maura Smale

Coordinator of Information Literacy and Library Instruction, New York City College of Technology, City University of New York

Fitting In Reading

It seems like every year one of my New Year’s resolutions is to read more. Read more? But I’m a librarian, I read all the time, right?

Over the 7 years that I’ve been a librarian I’ve heard that misconception all too often upon meeting new people. “Oh, you’re a librarian? You must read all the time/love to read/spend your days reading!” Of course the context of that statement ultimately determines my response (and I am always polite, even when slightly exasperated), but in truth the answers are no, yes, no. Of course I love to read, as I always have, even before I was a librarian. But the amount of long-form, focused reading that I typically do during my workday is very, very small. Not that other forms of reading don’t matter — I can usually keep up with my work-related RSS feed and the newspaper, and like most office workers I read many many MANY emails each day. But sit down in my office with a book? Not often.

While I’ve found blogs and other online sources to be useful in keeping up with the academic librarianship and higher education more generally, lots of scholarly research and practical information is published in books and journal articles, too. Reading a book about information literacy, or the latest issue of C&RL, or a book about student retention that specifically addresses commuter colleges is totally, 100% relevant to my job as Coordinator of Library Instruction at a non-residential college.

So why is there a stack of books and articles 8 inches high on my desk? And a book due back to ILL tomorrow that I haven’t even cracked open?

Reading, and especially reading in print, is tricky in an office environment. To me it has the appearance of being simultaneously uninterruptible and leisure-like, which I realize are somewhat at odds. The focus that someone reading a long-form text brings to the task, perhaps taking notes as they read, sometimes makes it seem almost rude to bother them. But that’s contrasted with the popular image of a professor with their feet up on their desk, surrounded by books, just waiting for students to stop in with questions. I’ve exaggerated both of these scenes, but I think there’s a grain of truth in each.

If I’m reading at work, will folks not stop in because I seem focused and they don’t want to interrupt me? Or, on the flip side, if folks do stop in will I lose track of the thread of the reading? And, perhaps the core of the issue, is reading “work” in the same way that other office-bound tasks we may do at our jobs are “work”? Or does reading at my desk make it seem like I’m not working, especially if there are other tasks that need doing on my to-do list? Alternatively, I could bring work-related reading home to tackle on evenings and weekends, but then I’m shortchanging my opportunities for leisure reading (which I never feel I have enough of anyway).

Keeping up with the scholarly and practical literature in my field is professional development, and as such it’s an important and worthwhile undertaking. So maybe it’s as simple as that — reading for professional development is a work-related task like any other, and I should add it to my to-do list for each day.

Do you read books and articles while at work? How do you find the time and space to keep up with longer form professional reading?

Expanding Our (Conference) Audience

The week before Thanksgiving I joined thousands of anthropologists and others who descended on Chicago for the American Anthropological Association conference. My research partner Mariana Regalado and I participated in a roundtable session with colleagues from four other institutions who are also doing ethnographic work in libraries and higher education: Andrew Asher, Lesley Gourlay, Lori Jahnke, and Donna Lanclos. Our session discussed the myriad ways that college and university students engage with technology, and how students’ lived experiences can add detail that may be missing from data collected to inform strategic plans and administrative initiatives. Also threaded throughout was an interrogation of the idea of the undergraduate as digital native, which of course academic librarians readily identify as problematic. Donna both blogged about and Storified the session well, if you’re interested in the details.

The roundtable format at the AAAs was new to me, and I have to admit that I was a bit nervous before the session in part because I was not quite sure what to expect. From what I could glean beforehand it seemed like roundtables are intended to be a bit like what many library conferences call panel sessions, though somewhat less formal. We didn’t have papers to present or a linear slide deck, but rather began with each of us describing our projects, using a Prezi to offer a few visuals, then jumped in with the six of us discussing broad themes and talking points we’d identified beforehand. We had just under two hours for the session and there was lots of discussion and conversation with our audience.

And our audience was delightful! As a group they were highly engaged, with multiple folks asking questions and offering discussion points from their own experiences. Though smallish in number, we were lucky enough to have attendees who inhabited different roles in the higher education: full-time faculty members, adjunct faculty, graduate students, and even a thoughtful, well-spoken undergraduate who asked terrific questions and readily shared her frustrations and challenges with academic technology with us. It was fascinating to hear from an adjunct who shared her story of being assigned a new classroom chock full of the latest tech tools, and her struggles to use the technology in the absence of thorough training. And the undergraduate noted that sometimes her professors assign tech-heavy projects seemingly without a full understanding of the time and effort involved in pulling them off, assuming that all students her age have loads of experience with any new tech tool.

In some ways the session was like a mini-focus group, with the end result that the six of us on the roundtable left energized and enthusiastic for future research and collaboration. Since then I’ve been thinking not only about our research but also about the audience. At academic library conferences we tend to talk to and amongst ourselves — fellow academic librarians. Sometimes graduate students attend, but conferences are expensive, and since academic librarianship doesn’t have the strong tradition of the conference job interview the way many scholarly associations do, there’s perhaps not as much of a reason for MLIS students to attend conferences while still in graduate school.

But wouldn’t it be fabulous to have conversations — both formal presentations and informal — with faculty, students, and others who use and have a stake in academic libraries at our conferences? Of course we can hold focus groups at our own institutions, but there’s a different dynamic at conferences, in addition to the opportunity to speak with folks from other colleges and universities. I’m not sure that there’s enough relevant content for faculty and students from outside the library to come to a conference geared towards academic librarians, though. Have you been to any library conferences that drew attendees from outside of the world of academic libraries? Other than inviting non-library folks to present with us, are there other ways we could encourage them to attend?

Jumping In

Please welcome our new First Year Academic Librarian Experience blogger Ariana Santiago, Undergraduate Services Resident Librarian at the University of Iowa.

How did I get here? I find myself wondering this sometimes. I moved from Florida to Iowa for my first academic librarian position, to someplace I never imagined I would be, and in a career field that just a few years ago I hadn’t thought of as an option for myself. Of course, I know how I got here, it’s just amazing to think how much has changed recently.

I didn’t exactly do my research on the librarian job market before deciding to get an MLIS degree, but at some point during graduate school I became well aware of the fact that jobs are scarce and the competition to get one would likely be tough. With that information in mind, I did what I could to get the most out of my time as a student so that I could hopefully be well prepared for the job search and life after graduation.

I wasn’t always a perfect student or academic over-achiever, but I fortunately was able to get a good deal of valuable experience working in an academic library. I started as a full-time student with no other job, then got a part-time job in Special Collections while in school, then a full-time job in Interlibrary Loan, then also began taking classes towards a second master’s degree (the fate of my involvement in the second master’s program is yet to be decided!). Those various work experiences were instrumental in complementing my education, and combined with the support of my mentors and previous coworkers, that has all led me to where I am now – three months into my new job as an Undergraduate Services Resident Librarian at the University of Iowa.

I started in August, just in time for the rush of the Fall semester. My first day on the job was just two weeks before students would be in their first day of class. It was also two weeks before the opening of the new Learning Commons in the Main Library. This meant that in addition to being the “new kid” and everything that goes along with that, there was an additional element of excitement and energy at the time for everyone. The library was abuzz about the major renovations, students trickled in (and then appeared en masse), and the entire campus was gearing up for the coming academic year.

As for the Learning Commons and newly consolidated Service Desk that would open with the start of Fall classes, all units involved were diligently preparing, but no one knew exactly what to expect when the changes would be put into motion. Rather than panic, dread, or apprehension, the attitude I picked up from the people around me was a positive one: jump right in, but be ready to be flexible and adapt. And jump right in I did – namely, to various first-year student orientation events, representing the Library along with a colleague. It was intimidating at first, seeing as I wasn’t fully oriented myself, but I kept in mind that “roll with the punches” attitude.

Although librarians and library staff were intoning that mantra in anticipation of the unknowns of the changing Service Desk, it can be applied to so much more. Talking to students about the library that I was still learning about myself. Getting in front of a class and giving instruction for the first time. Attending events in the community. Meeting people and making friends outside of work. The list goes on. The first step is often the hardest one to make, but it will be made all the easier by maintaining open-mindedness and adaptability. It definitely helped me keep a positive attitude through adjustments to my all new surroundings and environment: work, home, people, even the weather (yes, I am about to go through my first real winter, and I truly enjoyed the first snowfall earlier this week).

Jump right in, but be ready to be flexible and adapt. Three months in and that is one of my main takeaways so far. So, I can reflect incredulously on how I got here and the effort it took, and I can think forward to what will come next. Either way, I’m glad “here” is where I ended up, because I think it”s a pretty great place to be.

Strategies for That Time Again

It’s that time of the semester again, the time when I find myself responding to requests by saying “When is this due? It’s that time again.” And beginning conversations with the same phrase: “How are you?” “Busy,” is usually the response. “Me too — it’s that time again.”

At my university the weeks between Halloween and Thanksgiving are usually the busiest time for library instruction, the time just after midterms and when students are beginning to work on their final research assignments. This year enrollment is up at the college so we have an unexpectedly large number of library sessions for our introductory English Comp course. It’s a good thing — we love it when students come to the library! — though our Instruction Team is perhaps stretched a bit thin this semester, our classroom nearly constantly booked.

With so much instruction this semester it’s easy to feel somewhat out of control, like we’re spending our time being more reactive than active and less intentional about instruction than we’d like. Our Instruction Team’s usual strategy for instruction is to tie it closely to students’ course assignment, to allow students time to work on their course-related research during the library session, to try to incorporate active learning whenever possible. But when things get busy it can be challenging to meet these goals. With all of the additional sections there are a large number of adjunct faculty who are new to the college, and it can sometimes be difficult to get in touch with them to discuss the session beforehand. Sometimes an instructor’s schedule will change; what seemed at the beginning of the semester like a library session date that fit well with students’ work on research assignments suddenly isn’t anymore. And sometimes, despite our best efforts, a class comes in without an assignment, the instructor requesting an orientation lecture that’s not closely tied to their research for the course.

My colleagues and I have given lots of thought to these intro English Comp sessions, the backbone of our library instruction program. We’ve created student learning outcomes, we have a short assessment, we think hard about how the session can meet the needs of our students as they begin to build their information literacy competencies in college. But when the classroom is booked straight through from 9am-5pm most weekdays, when we can’t find an hour during the week for our whole team to meet, I wonder how we can preserve some time for reflection and intention. What strategies do you use to build in time for thinking on and discussing instruction at your library, even when the semester’s at its most scheduled?

Starting To See the Light

Please welcome our new First Year Academic Librarian Experience blogger Chloe Horning, Assistant Research Commons Librarian at the University of Washington.

It’s a bright cold day in November and the clocks are striking…9 A.M. As I hurry across campus towards my office, my boot heels crunching in the newly fallen leaves, I can’t help but break out into a ridiculous grin. It’s 9 A.M. and I’m heading to work.

In order to make you understand why I’m so excited, I have to back up a little bit. In the spring of 2011, I received my Master’s diploma in Library and Information Science. My husband proudly had it matted in purple and framed with a delicate pattern of gold laurel leaves. But I didn’t have an office wall to hang it on…not yet. While many of my MLIS cohort were engaged in a national job search, being snapped up by farflung institutions, I was tied for personal reasons to the Seattle area. In other words, the kiss of death in a flooded job market, according to many of my Information School peers and advisors. Nevertheless, I flung myself wholeheartedly into a job search, vowing to take any job that provided practical experience.

Before too long, I had a job offer, and it was much better than I could have hoped for–the job had the enviable advantage of being at the University of Washington, where I had been a MLIS student, and where many a librarian wished to remain. It was a full-time, library staff position, a few ranks above the entry level, with great benefits. It offered the opportunity to lead and manage staff and facilities and to take a leadership role in the provision of public services. Sure, I wasn’t a REAL librarian yet, but it was a start.

Of course there was a catch. There’s always a catch. My new job was in UW’s 24 hour Undergraduate Library. My workday started at 10 P.M. and ended sometime around 6:30 in the morning.

Over the last two years, I’ve received so many incredulous responses from other library folk about my improbable schedule that I’ve learned to just shrug and say brightly, “It’s not as bad as you think!” And it really isn’t. I mean, sure, working overnight had its low points and its challenges; getting cornered by a pack of overfed raccoons while walking between campus buildings at 2 A.M., or forking over a sizable chunk of one’s paycheck to buy blackout curtains spring to mind. On a more serious note, I often found it frustrating that my schedule made it nearly impossible for me to attend departmental meetings, even when the policy decisions made at those meetings directly impacted my work.

But I learned a lot from those two years too. I learned how to be self-sufficient in all sorts of minor crises and to manage my time effectively in the absence of direct leadership. I learned to seek out asynchronous opportunities for professional development and to make them work for me. I loved my job, my library, and the people I worked with.

So, when the opportunity arose for me to temporarily shift gears at my library to fill in the vacant role of Administrative Program Assistant (a daytime position) during the summer months, I was wary. Taking the assignment meant coming out of the shadows, both literally and figuratively, stepping out of my comfort zone in terms of my job responsibilities and giving up the routine I had established. However, it also meant adding new skills to my resume, allowing myself to be seen by the administration, and to put the word out that I was an MLIS looking for a professional position.

Taking the risk turned out to be worth it. By the end of the summer, I was asked to interview for, and was offered, a newly created Librarian position at my University. Ultimately, my success at finding a shiny new librarian job was attributable to two, sometimes contradictory forces, that I would not been able to reconcile if I had not been flexible about the type of work that I was willing to do. I proved that I was willing to work in the shadows, as it were, paying my dues, and doing what was necessary to keep library operations going. I also showed that I could represent my library publicly and support the administration and librarians. Both of these skillsets proved to be important for my new librarian job. Flexibility and an adaptable nature are necessary qualities for any library professional these days, and for my job in particular (more about that soon!)

Fast forward to this morning, at 9 A.M., when I practically skipped into work. Okay, I might be exaggerating a little…I’m still a night owl at heart who needs gallons of coffee before skipping can occur. But I do love my new job. I love being on campus during regular work hours. I have seen the light.