Category Archives: Academia

Mentorship in your first year

Entering a new workplace is scary. Entering a new profession, environment, and career all at the same time, is scarier. However, with a little help, the transition can be smooth.

Before I even began my position at American University, I was assigned a mentor, another librarian at the AU Library. I had never had one and did not know what to expect.

As a first year librarian, I will be honest, I was not expecting a mentor, but I knew I would need one. I did not know the importance of having a mentor until I had one. However, as I dove into my new job, got involved in service, and started going to conferences, I realized that mentorship is very important.

Mentorship is essential because it not only provides guidance and confidence in yourself, it is also important in terms of retention in the profession for the coming years.

For guidance, as a new professional, you’re going to have questions that are not just “where is the best place to eat?” Instead, you might be curious about faculty governance or advice about a possible research project. I often found myself bouncing ideas off of my mentor or expressing concern or anxiety about my career path. The first couple of months were a time of getting to do new things, but also observing everyone around me and thinking about the possible career paths that are ahead of me.

The most important aspect of a mentor-mentee relationship is the relationship between you and your mentor. This relationship is reciprocal. By this, I mean that a mutual respect grows and that they are also learning from you.

Because I think this is a very important topic, I wanted to share how I go about it, because it’s also new to me as well. I do not pretend to know everything about mentorship, but as I go through this process, I continue to learn more. Here are a couple of “best practices” that I recommend for in order to get the most out of this experience.

-There must be some structure. My mentor and I see each other almost every day at work, so we always have short conversations about work, research/scholarship, plans, etc. However, we always find a time for either coffee, lunch, or dinner to further discuss these topics and to also put a plan in motion (if necessary). This block of time is just for the two of us and allows us to speak freely and express our thoughts and ideas. As I said before, the relationship between a mentor and a mentee is a two-way street. You both should benefit from this relationship.

How so? You should be able to teach your mentor new things, whether it’s about your interests or bringing a new perspective. Learning from your mentor about their career experiences and observations should also be beneficial to you.

-There will always be challenges in not only the workplace, but in your research agenda, service, or other aspects on your career. Have honest conversations, because if you can’t have these conversations about career struggles or successes, then who can you have them with?

-Write everything down. Even if you’re having coffee or lunch with your mentor, it is still a meeting about your career, your research plans, etc. I always have my notebook and pen with me and it’s also useful to have when you and your mentor are bouncing ideas off of each other.

-Have a plan and take the initiative yourself. Before having coffee or lunch/dinner with my mentor, I like to have a good idea of what my next plans are. For example, the Spring semester is coming to an end and our department has been discussing summer projects. Along with summer tasks/projects, I also have to work on presentations for a conference in August. Having an update and a timeline for my mentor is helpful for myself because I can get feedback.

The mentor-mentee relationship is what you make of it! This also brings up another question. What if you don’t have a mentor, but you would like one? There are a couple ways you could go about this.

Depending on your institution, the library might have a mentorship program in place already. Ask about the program(s) and find out what it consists of. Would you get paired? Or be able to choose your own mentor? What are your research interests? Ask questions!

The other option would be finding a mentor on your own. I’m glad I didn’t have to do this because I would feel intimidated. However, if there is someone that you feel would be a good fit, ask them if they would be willing to mentor you. I am not the expert at this, so I cannot say much. However, I would urge anyone to do their research on how to approach this subject. There are a couple of good articles out there for further reading into the subject. For example, “Are you my mentor? New perspectives and Research on Informal Mentorship” written by Julie James, Ashley Rayner, and Jeannette Bruno provides insight into informal mentorship, and how it might be the preferred method.

Another option would be to research the mentorship programs within professional library organizations. ACRL and ALA have mentoring programs to fit different interests and needs. It’s all about finding out what your options are!

On a personal note, I am very grateful for the mentor I have right now. This experience has been more than I imagined and I hope to continue growing, as well as updating you all!

A Tip of the Hat to Tenure: Realizations in my First Year

Recently, I’m discovering more and more that there are certain advantages to being tenure-track, and this affects my professional identity in multiple ways. It is causing me to take on responsibilities that I wouldn’t normally volunteer for, and allowing me to do research that is challenging and significant. I’m realizing that my decision to apply for a tenure-track position was really a great decision for me personally.

One thing I’ll note before diving in is that I realize tenure is not for everybody, and non-tenure-track positions have their own advantages. For more on the advantages and disadvantages of being tenure-track, read Meredith Farkas’s blog post on the topic. I just hope that this particular post will prompt others to consider how their roles and responsibilities are unique and exciting, whether or not they are tenure-track. I also hope that this might add something to LIS students’ and early or mid-career librarians’ discussions and decision-making processes when it comes to applying for tenure-track jobs or switching from a non-tenure-track position to a tenure-track position. There is such a vast range of opportunities and types of positions in librarianship, and tenure is one factor that one must seriously consider when choosing what types of academic positions for which to apply. I realize not everyone may share my perspective.

So, to begin, there’s that adage that if you’re tenure-track, you say yes to everything. Now some might perceive this to be a disadvantage of being tenure-track, as you can get roped into things you wouldn’t otherwise do or might not like. However, I see it as a positive thing, because I am forced to do work outside of my comfort zone – work that my supervisors and other more senior librarians believe might benefit me and help me grow as a professional, work that also is suited to my specific liaison role and my unique skill sets and areas of interest and expertise. For example, I recently began the planning process for a couple political events for the fall. Along with a Political Science faculty member, I’m going to be co-moderating a student panel in the fall called “Your Vote, Your Voice” on what (and who) is on the ballot in Nevada, as well as how the students themselves are involved in the political process. The context for this event is that UNLV will be the site of the final presidential debate, which will be a monumental event for the campus, bringing in millions of dollars of free advertising and putting us in the national spotlight. This student panel will be a campus Debate event, attracting the attention of national media.

I will also be the representative librarian co-moderating a presidential election event – an expert panel gathered by Brookings Mountain West, a partnership between UNLV and the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. The event, “Why Las Vegas Matters in National Elections,” will reflect our metro region’s significance in a swing state. Las Vegas is the largest metropolitan area in Nevada, and is ranked 29th in the U.S. Issues important to Las Vegas are relevant to other large, diverse metros in the region and the nation. The 2 million people in the Las Vegas metro area includes a diverse population, and UNLV is the second most diverse public university in the nation. Panelists will address local and national issues important to Las Vegas, with consideration of their national implications.

How did my involvement in these events come to be? Well, essentially I got roped into it. My direct supervisor had the idea that the Libraries should be involved in some political events for the fall, which aligns with our mission of empowering students and other campus community members, encouraging them to vote and providing access to knowledge they need in order to be educated voters. As political science liaison, naturally I should be involved. So I went to an expert on campaigns and elections in the Political Science department on campus and got some ideas from him, then ran with them. One outcome of this is that it has allowed me the opportunity to collaborate with faculty in one of my departments, as well faculty from Brookings Mountain West on campus and experts from the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C.

Normally, I would probably never volunteer for such events. I’m not really political – at least when it comes to the electoral process – and I’m really intimidated by the body of knowledge of experts in this area. My justification and rationale for my disinterestedness in politics was based on my belief that electoral politics is a poor substitute for direct democracy, which interests me more, in addition to political theory. However, now I’m developing an interest in practical politics and seeing more intersections between political theory and practical politics. I have a Twitter feed of political scientists and political news sources that I’m keeping up with. I’m reading the books and articles by the experts who will be on the expert panel. I’m showing an interest, because I have to, and because now I live in a swing state which makes the process a lot more interesting, too. What I’m learning is proving to be quite fascinating, and it is stuff that I wouldn’t have otherwise cared too much to learn about. And this is all because of tenure.

There are other things I couldn’t say no to, that I’m now very passionate and excited about. For instance, I’m curating an exhibit for the Libraries on student activism on campus, especially through the media – specifically the Rebel Yell, the campus newspaper (which is incidentally undergoing a name change presently – a student decision). For this exhibit, I’m doing extensive research through which a very interesting narrative about UNLV students is emerging. I’m getting to exercise my creativity and innovativeness in giving voice to this narrative. I’m learning a lot about current students and am making connections with current and former students, senior faculty on campus, and community members to acquire memorabilia and learn about student experiences. Normally I wouldn’t seek out such opportunities. I’m not an archivist. I’ve never done anything like this before; I’ve never even done research with archives or special collections. This particular project was initially intimidating to me, and I knew it would be extremely time consuming. I might not have said yes quite so immediately and eagerly had I not felt a sense of obligation because of tenure. Yet this is a real opportunity – to do research for the first time in special collections and archives, contributing to my professional growth; to have my own research featured in an exhibit; and to highlight the amazing work of student activists here, both current and historical – All because of tenure.

Then, of course, there’s the research requirement for tenure. This means I’m supported to do research that challenges me and makes me learn, as a scholar and a librarian. I definitely wouldn’t do research if there wasn’t this kind of support for it – I’m too much in favor of work-life balance to even do much of any reading when I’m not working, so I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be motivated to do research if this 20 percent of my time on the job wasn’t devoted to it. And I’m so excited about these opportunities. My exhibit will count as a creative activity in my tenure case. I’m also collaborating with a Sociology faculty member long-term doing research on teaching, providing library support, and assessing student learning in a course with a heavy critical service learning component. The students’ library research for this course is really impactful. They are using library sources to support advocacy work and things like providing trainings and annotated bibliographies for refugee women representing themselves in their own asylum cases. The students are all using different types of library resources and legal resources for this work. They are also learning first-hand about information privilege, with licensing agreements oftentimes prohibiting them from giving resources directly to community members, considered to be third parties unaffiliated with the university. Anna (Dr. Anna C. Smedley-López) – the Sociology professor and I – are going to do some writing about this aspect of the students’ education for this course. Our first project will be to write a book chapter for a new ACRL-published book called: Disciplinary Applications of Information Literacy Threshold Concepts (edited by Samantha Godbey, Sue Wainscott, and Xan Goodman of UNLV). Our chapter, the proposal for which was recently accepted for this publication, is called “Serving Up Library Resources?: Information Privilege in the Context of Community Engagement in Sociology.” What an opportunity this is for me – to be a research partner with a faculty member in one of my disciplines and to be essentially embedded in this service learning program and course in which students are doing truly significant, social-justice oriented library research. Again, all because of tenure.

I feel exhausted just writing this. I’ve definitely got my work cut out for me. These opportunities will challenge me and make me grow as a professional, as a librarian and scholar. And I have tenure to thank.

Saying No

No. A word in the English language that we probably use every single day. The definition is “a negative used to express dissent, denial, or refusal, as in response to a question or request.”

We use it in our everyday life. However, when it comes to the workplace, it can be hard saying “no.” As a first year librarian, many people have given me their advice on the first year, settling in at a new institution, etc. I have been grateful for all the advice I have been given, but the one piece that stood out was “you don’t always have to say yes to everything.”

I understood what this meant. However, this is a little easier said than done. As a new academic librarian, I was ready to dive in. I found myself getting a lot of opportunities in terms of scholarship, service, and projects in other library departments. As I took on more projects, my schedule became busier and my workload increased. I felt that this was a good thing; after all, I wanted to be completely immersed in academic libraries.

I tend to have the habit of piling things, and working on them at the last minute. The workload piled up during the same time period. I would rush to get everything done and ended up being tired all the time. This is a result of taking on too much, but even when I knew I had a lot on my plate, I would take on more.

Why? There were a couple of reasons. The first reason was fear of missing out on valuable opportunities–not only opportunities that would allow me to gain valuable experience, but opportunities that would benefit me in terms of being able to get a tenure-track position in the future. I also did not want to say no because I did not want to disappoint anyone. Many of the opportunities that appeared, did not do so magically. Colleagues, friends, my mentor, and my supervisor let me know about them. Whether it was something they saw through email or something that they were working on, I did not want to seem ungrateful by rejecting them.

Further, as someone trying to put her name out there, I had the mindset that I could not afford to say no. It has been a little over 6 months since I have started my position, and it feels like a lifetime ago that I began this new job. The saying goes, “live and learn” Let me tell you, I have (and still have more to learn).

 

Now that I have been at my job for half a year, here are some lessons learned:

-As you go through your job duties, you will learn your workload limit. If you go past it, be prepared to work harder and know that it will be a stressful time. You alone know your limits.

-Plan ahead and schedule everything. My calendar is filled with proposal deadlines, conferences I am attending, web meetings, and dates of when projects are due. Not only does this include work and scholarship related dates, but it also includes vacation days and my research days or working from home. The reality is that sometimes I have to get work done during my own time, but keeping track of everything helps me budget my time. I have found that I rely very heavily on my Google calendar. Without it, I would be lost.

-There are times when you will feel overwhelmed. For moments like these, I like to make lists. I make a list for daily tasks and tasks/events that are coming up soon. Being able to cross off things on my list make me feel like I have been productive and makes me feel like my workload gets a little bit lighter.

-There were times where I saw all the scholarship that other colleagues were doing and made me question whether I truly want to go down the tenure-track in the future. For the first couple of months, I began to doubt whether this was something I wanted to do. Something that helped immensely was talking to my mentor. I spoke to her about my doubts and fears. When it came down to it, I just needed to talk about it to someone that had already been through the process.

-It’s easy to feel like you’re not doing enough or you feel that you could be doing more. I like to observe other people and how they go about their scholarship process. However, in the end, it is about your own work and your own process.

-I saw that when I took too much on, the quality of my work was not the quality that I had expected or hoped for. This caused many revisions and extra time spend on a project. I now have my own personal rule: if I am not willing to give 110% to a project, then will it be worth it to me in the end?

-Always be on the lookout for proposals or possible projects. It’s not just for ALA or ACRL, but there are other specialized conferences that might be a better fit for you. Look at the topics and dates and plan accordingly.

With these experiences in my first year, I have learned that it’s not just about yes or no. It is about learning your limits, exploring scholarly endeavors, and discovering new research interests. I still put too much on my plate, but I am learning as I go along. I think it is safe to assume that this will be a lifelong process.

More Than Just Meetings: Thinking about Service to the Institution

Today was a Friday full of meetings for me that mostly took place outside of the library. I started out in the morning at the monthly(-ish) meeting of my college’s General Education Committee, along with other faculty and administrators from departments across the college. The college where I work is just beginning our preparation for an accreditation visit in a couple of years, so today we worked in small groups to consider the General Education course offerings for our students (among other tasks). After a brief stop in my office to answer a bit of email and grab my backpack, I hopped the subway to travel to my university’s central office for a training session on the new procedures for Chairs of the Faculty Student Disciplinary Committee on each campus. Lucky for me (and my fellow midday subway commuters), the second meeting came with lunch.

In my time as an academic librarian, both as Instruction Coordinator and as Chief Librarian, I’ve done and continue to do a fair amount of academic service work outside of the library. I’ve blogged previously about my work directing a major grant-funded project at my college. Though my current service load is not nearly as heavy as it was then, it’s definitely the case that college and university service commitments can take me out of the library for chunks of time. And it can sometimes be challenging to balance service responsibilities with library work.

Despite the time management challenges (and I readily confess that I’m looking forward to a meeting-free weekend), there’s much to value in college and university service for academic librarians. In joining a couple of college and university committees fairly soon after I started at City Tech I was able to learn a lot about how the college and university work. Many of the committees outside the library involve decisions and processes that involve or affect the library. For example, at my college all proposals for new courses and programs go through our College Council (like a Faculty Senate) Curriculum Committee. While there is a form within the proposal package that each library subject specialist completes, it’s also useful for library faculty to see the inner workings of the curriculum process and to help evaluate proposals. Beyond curriculum and collections, college service can help familiarize library faculty with the processes that affect students in their careers at the college. At our Reference and Circulation Desks we field lots of questions from students that don’t technically have to do with library services and resources — especially for new students who might not be sure where to go to ask a question, our service desks can be a first stop.

College service especially can be an opportunity to meet faculty and staff in departments and offices outside of the library. My college does a great job in orienting new faculty, which usually results in a strong cohort of folks who’ve been hired around the same time. But service commitments can offer the chance to meet faculty in all departments and at all ranks — from untenured Assistant Professors to tenured Professors with a deep institutional memory. This can be useful in our library work as we consult or partner with faculty around library services and resources. And, if you’re in a tenure-track or promotable position, committee work can introduce you to some of the folks who may be on the evaluation committees when you put in for tenure or promotion. In my personal experience it’s a relief to walk into that promotion interview and see a few familiar faces around the table.

What kinds of extra-library service are you expected (or do you sign up) to do at your job? What have you learned in your college service that’s useful for your library work and career? Drop us a line in the comments.

Something’s Always Wrong – Depression and the First Year

I intended to write about something else entirely, but the past two months have been particularly difficult so I decided to share my story now.

To be clear, I am not depressed because I am a first-year librarian; I am a depressed person who is a first-year librarian. I was undiagnosed until my early twenties, but I had been experiencing symptoms of depression and panic disorder long before that. For almost as long as I can remember, both have been a part of my daily life. Now I am a first-year librarian at a large R1 university. So in addition to imposter syndrome, the stress associated with starting a new job in a new city, the crippling weight of student loan debt, and the endemic gender bias persistent higher education, I also grapple with major depression. That said, I know I’m not alone in this experience.

Depression is the leading cause of disability in the United States for ages people between the ages of 15 to 44 and is also more prevent in women than in men. Let that sink in for a moment. Depression is often accompanied with other mental health disorders. In my case it’s panic disorder, which, for me, means that I often experience sudden bouts of debilitating panic and fear. Approximately six million Americans have panic disorder and – you guessed it – women are more affected by it than men.

I’m fortunate enough to be in a position where I have been diagnosed and can start managing my mental health problems with the help of a good insurance policy. I have a treatment plan that includes therapy and an emotional support animal. I also have a very supportive reporting officer who is sensitive to the complexities of my mental health. I’ve begun establishing boundaries between the workplace and my personal life in order to manage stress. I’ve also started doing yoga, which helps.

Despite my best efforts and the resources available to me, depression and anxiety still play a major role in my day-to-day life. Depression isn’t something that is easily “cured,” in fact most of us spend our lives simply trying to manage it. Mental health, especially for women in the workplace, is a complex and layered problem. While awareness of these issues is increasing, it’s still treated somewhat like a taboo. We often talk about depression and anxiety in academia, but it’s often depersonalized.

That’s why I’m writing about this here. It’s very much accepted that depression and anxiety often take a toll on undergraduate and graduate students, but we often don’t talk about how it continues to effect people once they’ve graduated and accepted their first job. What I hope to share with you is the experience of one first-year academic librarian as she struggles to make manage these common mental health problems on top of the stresses of starting a new job.

Academia can be a harsh work environment. Here the myth of eighty hour work weeks still persists, the job search process can be particularly debasing, and new hires often feel overwhelmed by the feeling that they are falling behind or underperforming. Because of the nature of the work, many academics feel like they can never really escape their work. And then there are the pressures of pursuing tenure, which affixes another layer of anxiety and fear.

In the LIS world, Twitter is one of the main channels we use to build networks of support, circulate new or interesting articles, and engage in conversations about our work. But social media comes with its own pressures. I have found that my desire to engage with my online community has led to me Tweeting after working hours and on weekends — time which should be reserved for my non-librarian self and my family.

Lately, I’ve been struggling to balance my intense preoccupation with being grateful for my job, and unsatisfied and ambitious with my work – call it a sort of workplace Stockholm Syndrome. I feel so lucky to have a job, but also unsatisfied with many of the tacit pressures that underlie the job description. This, in turn, triggers panic and worsens my fears that I might appear ungrateful to observers, and that I may not fit into this world after all.

I’ve been reading a lot about mental health in academia. It’s probably too much to list here, but Google “mental health academia” or read some of the stories under the #lismentalhealth hashtag on Twitter and you’ll see how many people are talking about this issue. There are many powerful stories out there, and I’m grateful to be in such a supportive community where we are all bent on raising consciousness in this arena.

I often see suggestions like mediation, yoga, and finding hobbies as suggestions for combating these stressors. While they are great suggestions, I still worry that we are missing the point.

Until recently, mental health in academia was diluted to general statements like “every librarian needs a therapist,” or “we need to support our colleagues with depression or anxiety,” or “imposter syndrome is a real thing.” Of course it is tremendous that we are admitting these facts as community, and awareness is the first step toward a sea change. But, suggesting that exercise or picking up knitting are solutions to these problems is a step in the wrong direction.

But this is just my truth, and part of managing my own mental health is coming to grips with what works for me. Everyone has their own truth, and whatever yours is, don’t ever feel like it’s abnormal.

So, what solutions do I have? For me, navigating my depression in academia means that I set very sharp boundaries on my time. I have never been someone who can work ten or twelve hours straight. I don’t feel guilty about not working on the weekends (when I can help it). If I am not on email duty, I stop responding to email after 5:00-6:00 in the evening, and I’m gradually working on not checking it altogether after that time.

I also vacillate between checking Twitter daily to not checking it for weeks. Social media (Twitter especially) is a precarious place for me. While I find it a great tool for connecting to others in the field, it engenders an overwhelming sense of Keeping up With the Joneses. When that happens, I take a break.

It is also pretty important for me to rely on family and friends who aren’t librarians. I can’t talk about being a librarian all the time and need a social life that isn’t connected to my job. I’m also becoming more comfortable with saying “no” and protecting my time. There’s a lot of pressure to volunteer for everything as a first-year faculty member, but I’ve learned to know my limits. This is both a professional and personal struggle, but I’m getting there.

This is just what works for me.

Mostly, I just think it’s important to keep this narrative open, so I’m taking this position of privilege to do it. So, on those days when I am crying before leaving for work, feeling like a total failure for not measuring up to my colleagues’ success, or comparing my student loan debt to my annual adjusted gross income, maybe writing about it here can help me find out that I’m not alone. Hopefully, it’ll do the same for you.