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

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.

Autumn and New Beginnings

Please welcome our new First Year Academic Librarian Experience blogger Jason Dean, Assistant Librarian and Head of Special Formats Cataloging at the University of Arkansas.

It was only after I started in my new tenure-track position at the University of Arkansas Libraries that I learned how scarce these positions are in academia. Almost every issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education that crosses my desk has an essay or an article on the reduction in tenure-track faculty in higher education about the reduction in tenure-track teaching and faculty jobs in higher education. This made me even more humbled that I am in a faculty, tenure-track position

To be frank, I felt a bit like a pretender. Yes, I have a master’s degree from a top-ranked library school, and I had several presentations and one peer-reviewed article published, but my fellow faculty members at the university are titans of their fields. One colleague comes to mind – he is teaching at Oxford this semester, and has published several books to much acclaim. In the library, there are faculty who have published widely, and to great recognition – so I felt a bit like a pretender, much like many other first year tenure track faculty.

But, they hired me. There was a national search and some of the most rigorous interviews I have had in my professional career. After that rigorous process, they selected me to fill the position. People seem to be very happy to have me here, and more than that, I feel as though I belong here as a faculty member.

And in the six months since I started this position, I feel as though I’ve blossomed here. Unlike Moses, I do not presume to deliver you wisdom from the mountain, but instead, reflections on why I feel at home here, and why I feel that I can succeed in tenure and promotion amidst such august colleagues – and furthermore – which of these thoughts might be pertinent to my fellow first year academic librarians.

The first reflection is that one should listen. Listen to senior library faculty, and to senior faculty in general. It seems that new librarians have a reputation for disregarding how things were done in the past, the general history of the library, and the collective memory of your colleagues who have far more service – let’s set out to change that reputation, shall we? Having that institutional and social memory helps you formulate new ideas and place them in an appropriate context and forum. Indeed, knowing when and where to share ideas is important – as is being collegial. One of my interesting discoveries in this process has been the Library Handbook for Students of 1949, pictured below:

UAHandbook

Second – the currency of the realm in academia is the written word. It behooves the new faculty member to write well, and often. Write in a private journal, blog for yourself, or for others, and work on your tenure-related publications. You have interests you would like to research – pursue those. Write about things that you see that intrigue you, or spark your objection. Write well-crafted emails. Many times the first impression of a new faculty member is not made in-person, but through the medium of their writing – so make that as good as it can be, and continually improve through practice and criticism.

A natural complement to writing is reading. You should read. Ravenously. Read blogs, journals, and newspapers that you enjoy and that are pertinent to your field. Here at the library, faculty members can be “routed” on new publications, and I am probably on the list for more than is logical – but it exposes me to a wide array of journals it would cost me thousands of dollars to subscribe to. Journals of rare books, librarianship, and history are on my list. Read widely, talk about what you’ve read, and connect your reading to your job, or your research.

Excel and exceed. The tenure and promotion process here at the University of Arkansas and for librarians specifically is quite clear, thankfully. Find out what the requirements for tenure and promotion are – and though the requirements are high, exceed them. One publication a year? Do two. Start serving on national and international committees. Publish with colleagues outside the library in your institution and beyond. And do these things well.

When does one do all of these things? Well, perhaps that’s a topic for another post.

I want to close with a picture – a picture from the University of Arkansas’ campus that shows why fall is the most magical time of year on college campuses – that it is a time of new beginnings, and one of lovely color.

fall