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

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:


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.


Happy Open Access Week!

AskmeaboutOpenAccessThe 6th annual international Open Access Week is here! This has been another banner year for open access publishing — as reported on Science Insider (a blog at Science), over half of all scholarly papers are now available open access and free of charge no later than 24 months after they’re first published. That’s a milestone worth celebrating!

I’m looking forward to the events this week happening at my college and university, as well as living vicariously through the events happening elsewhere via Twitter and the blogosphere. I’m sure there’s loads of great stuff going on all over; here are a couple of events and thoughts that have caught my eye.

Open Access Button

This project from a group of European students and researchers seems like a great one: channel the frustration we all feel when we hit a paywall into research and action. In their own words, here’s their goal for the open access button:

This idea was a browser-based tool which tracks how often readers are denied access to academic research, where in the world they were or their profession and why they were looking for that research. The tool would aggregate this information into one place and would create a real time, worldwide, interactive picture of the problem. The integration of social media and mapping technology would allow us to make this problem visible to the world. Lastly, we want to help the person gain access to the paper they’d been denied access to in the first place. Through incentivising use and opening the barriers to knowledge, this can be really powerful.

Today, in honor of Open Access Week, they announced their beta launch date: November 18th. Sign up to be a beta tester here.

DigiNole Upload-A-Thon

Florida State University Libraries are hosting an interesting event this year — a workshop to encourage and guide faculty and researchers through the process of uploading their work to the university’s institutional repository. Called the Upload-A-Thon, they’re striving to have at least one faculty member from each department at the university to upload at least one article that’s already been published. I really like this idea — in addition to the catchy name, it sets out a modest goal and aims to help demystify open access for those new to the concept. I’ll be interested to hear how it goes.

What about book chapters?

I eavesdropped on an interesting conversation on Twitter over the weekend. Most folks think of journal articles when they think of open access publishing, but what about book chapters? Books tend to be less of a focus of OA activism, though as some of the folks I listened in on pointed out, interlibrary loan isn’t always possible, so maybe books should play a bigger part in OA advocacy efforts.

Lots of publishing librarians publish their work as part of a book, myself included — can we make these chapters OA post publication as many articles are? It’s a great question and one that likely has many answers depending on which publishers we’re working with. I have several pieces that appear in books and have let this question go unanswered for myself for far too long, so this year for OA Week I’m going to take the time to dig out those old contracts and see what I can free.

What are you doing to celebrate Open Access Week this year? Are you attending or presenting in any workshops or programs? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments!

Curiouser and Curiouser: Guiding Students through the Information Wonderland

This week I taught a research instruction session for a learning community that pairs an introductory English Composition course with a Speech course. I love teaching this class because I get to work with colleagues in our English and Humanities Departments with whom I’ve long collaborated; we have a good rapport in the classroom and the students always seem to get a lot out of the class. Because the library session runs for twice as long as usual — we use the class periods for both classes — we always have lots of time for students to practice doing research. Because the students are usually more engaged in learning communities and there are 3 instructors in the classroom, we also typically get into discussions about topics in information literacy that we often don’t have room for in the other sessions I teach.

This time around we found something very interesting. The students were researching the Brooklyn Theater Fire, an infamous late 19th-century disaster that happened just steps from our college’s campus. We’d been using the library catalog to look for books on Brooklyn and New York City history, talking about the kinds of keywords that work best for broad or narrow topics, the usual. Recently I’ve noticed that during the internet research part of my instruction sessions students sometimes find books on commercial sites like Amazon, so I’ve started to suggest that students note down the author and title of books they find on those sites and search for them in the library catalog. I recommended that to this class, too, and a student called me over to help him do the search in our library’s catalog for a book he found on Barnes & Noble.

The student was trying to search by ISBN in the keyword search field, but that wasn’t really the problem. The problem was that our library (and our university system) doesn’t own the book. And, actually, we’ll never own the book, because the book he was looking for was a book of Brooklyn historical information pulled directly from Wikipedia. It took a few minutes of poking around on the B&N website to figure that out, and then we all (as a class) found a long list of books “published” by the company LLC Books:


(Hey, at least they’re relatively inexpensive, right?)

This phenomenon is not new, nor is it restricted to Wikipedia content — I remember hearing a few years ago about a similar “publisher” printing up and selling dissertations without their authors’ knowledge. And it’s pretty easy for us to discard these kinds of books from our own searches online. The listing the student found actually cites Source: Wikipedia as the author, but even those that don’t are highly suspicious: they’re on a huge variety of topics with very similar covers each with an image of a flower on it which is not at all relevant to the book’s content. Red flags everywhere, right?

But first year undergraduates are not librarians, and the student I worked with was, I think, legitimately confused by this book, especially seeing it in a set of search results that included traditionally published, “real” books. We ended up having a great conversation with the entire class about who owns the content on Wikipedia (and an introduction to open access and Creative Commons-licensed content), how print-on-demand publishing technology is changing information production, and why it’s important to evaluate information in all formats, not just online.

It was a great class; I left happy that we’d been able to cover such complex topics and hopeful that the students will continue to think critically about information the way they did in the class. However, I worry about other students, the ones in all of the classes that don’t have an extra-long library session, in which we don’t have time to get to print-on-demand Wikipedia scam books as well as everything else we need to cover. While not about library sources, I think this is important content that’s well worth discussing in our classes. But it’s tricky to accommodate all of the nuances of the information landscape in our instruction, especially when it’s both/and: real books both in print and electronic (both in the library and on the internet), and fake books, and… How do you incorporate new (and evolving) information literacy issues into your instruction?

ISO New Academic and Research Librarians!

With the onset of cardigan weather we’re settling into a new academic year, and that’s got us thinking about colleagues who are embarking on their first library jobs.

Did you just begin a position as an academic or research librarian? We’re looking for a few folks to blog about their experiences each month during the 2013-2014 academic year.

If you started in your first job as an academic or research librarian anytime after July 1, and are interested in becoming a First Year Academic Librarian blogger for ACRLog, let us know! Use the ACRLog Tip Page to send us:

- a sample blog post
- a brief note describing your job and your interest in blogging at ACRLog

Applications will be accepted through Monday, October 7th. Questions? Leave a comment or drop us a line on the Tip Page.