Category Archives: First Year Academic Librarian Experience

A Year Down, 211 Miles to Go

This weekend* I’m leaving to hike the John Muir Trail. I’ll hike the 211 mile trail in about three weeks. While I’m hiking, my official one-year anniversary of working as an academic librarian will pass, so taking a break from work sounds like an excellent way to celebrate. While the trail will be physically demanding, I look forward to not having to think beyond putting one foot in front of the other. I’ve done more than enough thinking in my action-packed first year as an academic librarian.

When I accepted a new position as Instructional Design Librarian, I knew that I’d have my work cut out for me. It was a brand new position. It was my first librarian position and my first tenure-track position. And I was just finishing up a second master’s in Instructional Design, so I was new to this growing field as well. I would start my new position while my new library was undergoing major physical change: half the building was closed due to earthquake damage in 2014, making most of the stacks off-limits and cramming an overwhelming number of students into inadequate space. At the same time, library administration is planning a major renovation and we are undergoing reorganization.

Yikes.

About a month into my position, the new interim University Librarian met with each librarian to talk about our roles at the library and plans to grow our careers. When he asked me what my career goals were I stared blankly. Being a librarian was my career goal. I didn’t even understand my position yet, let alone have career plans beyond it.

A year later, I can tell you that my career goal is leadership. I want to be a leader in library instructional design. I’d like to be a Director of Online Teaching and Learning. I want to be a transformer, of sorts. I want to work in a library that is supportive and communicative, so I need to be the change that I want to see. I’ve benefited enormously from having mentors – so I want to be a mentor to others.

Making the shift from being library staff to a librarian was really difficult. I went from accomplishing daily and weekly tasks to working on months- and years-long projects, and to managing these projects as a team leader. I went from blue-collar to white-collar, a complete cultural shift. I think that sharing my experience might benefit others in similar positions and that I will have a lot to offer as a mentor in the future.

I learned this year to keep my “yesses” to a minimum. I learned to say “no” often. I learned that my priorities need to lie with projects that have the largest impacts, not on one-off tasks, the products of which may or may not ever be used. My priority is to be a leader at my library, as demonstrated by thoughtful and productive collaborations and a willingness to share my knowledge and offer constructive feedback. I’m still a newbie to my colleagues, with a new and strange job to boot, so my mission is to slowly win everyone over with my interpersonal skills and deep knowledge of instructional design.

I learned that my time management goals were terribly idealistic! Yet, also really helpful. I no longer faithfully keep a work diary, but keeping one for the first few months really helped me reflect on what my position, my priorities, and my projects should be. The work diary was a small outlet for the frustrations of figuring out something new all on my own. Now, I don’t always set aside the time to schedule out every hour of my work week. And when I do, I often don’t follow the schedule I set for myself. But the act of pondering what I need to accomplish each day, week, or month keeps momentum going on important projects, and keeps my little projects from falling through the cracks. The projects that do get left behind are the ones that don’t matter. It’s also really helpful to be able to look back at past weeks and see what I worked on, especially as I’m starting work on my first full RTP portfolio, due this September. The days sometimes go slow, but the weeks and months have flown by, and it’s really gratifying to be able to look back and see that my time was mostly well spent, and to be able to reflect on how I can better manage my time in the future.

Perhaps most importantly, I’ve learned that all that matters is my RTP portfolio. Right or wrong, the effort I put into my job will only be judged as reflected in my portfolio alone. I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished this year. I’m proud of the many hours I’ve spent on fruitful projects, and of the amazing things I’ve created collaboratively from those projects. I know that I have the evidence and the writing skills to put together a persuasive case for retaining me to the next year, and for the years beyond that until I achieve tenure. My portfolio is my boss – and I want to fill it with things that prove I’ve made this library, and this campus, and librarianship, a better place to be. Tenure, though, is still five years away. For the next three weeks, I’m just going to focus on one step at a time.

Lindsay’s first year as an academic librarian – by the numbers:

  • Offices occupied: 2
  • Emails sent: 2,248
  • Files created: 4,703
  • Reference questions answered: 723
  • Instruction sessions taught: 17
  • Students in my instruction sessions that agreed or strongly agreed I increased their confidence in doing research: 90.2%
  • Conference proposals: 5
  • Proposals accepted: 3
  • Miles bicycled to work: 1,043
  • Bicycle tubes: 5
  • Tube patches: Innumerable
  • Bad words muttered while fixing flats: Also innumerable
  • Sandwiches eaten at Which Wich: 19
  • Tweets: 1,612
  • Tweets about sandwiches: 4
  • Tweets about bicycles: 23
  • Degrees earned: 1 (Master of Education)
  • Times I’ve been asked if my RTP-required article is done yet: Numerous as the stars

Thanks for reading. See you on the trail!

*I scheduled this post to run 7/20, and I actually left for the JMT on 7/18. Sneaky, sneaky!

No Longer an FYAL

Exactly 365 days ago I was exactly ten days into my job as the Electronic Resources Librarian at the University of North Texas. Well, actually – 365 days ago from today, July 13, 2015, was a Sunday (not a Monday) and I was flying to Texas after a belated going-away party back home. How do I know that? By visiting my Facebook profile and flipping through the events of that last year until I found the photos and posts from July 13, 2014. Seeing everything all at once like that was a bit disorienting. It’s so easy to get caught up in the day-to-day and miss the big picture…especially, I think, when the “big picture” involves change that is both large and small.

A year ago I was excited about becoming an academic librarian and looking forward to learning all that entails – and here I am, a year later, still excited and still looking forward to learning. I’d have to say – of all the things I enjoy about being an academic librarian this might be the absolute best. Personal development, at least at UNT, is valued and encouraged. There are opportunities to follow your interests in so many different directions – whether you want to publish original writing, participate in statewide organizations or even take classes (at a steep discount!). I will never get enough of these types of opportunities.

For example: recently I decided to pursue a degree from UNT’s Interdisciplinary Information Science PhD program and so for the last month or so I’ve been taking classes. I am absolutely loving what I’m reading, writing and thinking about in that program and am so happy to be there – and I can’t honestly say that I ever would had had the courage to pursue this dream if it weren’t for having a job where continuing education is valued and supported. In the near future I will also begin a really cool new mentoring program called “Revving up for Research” that the Career Development Group in the UNT Libraries set up for new-ish librarians like myself. With a focus on scholarship, this is yet another opportunity that makes me grateful to be an academic librarian. And these are just the new experiences I’m most grateful for at the moment – there are definitely more, too many to list.

In addition to the changes I’ve experienced, everything from moving cross-country and starting a job in a new field to adopting a new dog, some things are still the same. After a year as an academic librarian I am still passionate about the value of libraries and the important role of libraries (and librarians!) in education. And, in spite of having a decade of professional library experience that includes a year spent finding my place at UNT and getting to know academia, I still feel like a new librarian. I’m starting to wonder – at what point does one stop being a “new” academic librarian? After two years? Five years? Is it an attitude – ‘you are only as new as you feel’? If so then I hope to remain a “new” librarian with lots to learn for the rest of my life.

The New Dog. Very excited to see what's next.
The New Dog. Very excited to see what’s next.

One important lesson learned in the last 365 days that there is not enough time in any given day. All of this growth that I am so excited about does come with challenges – most obviously, being able to balance daily tasks with writing and service and learning. This has pushed me to reevaluate my time-management as well as information-management skills because organizing your files/emails/tasks goes hand-in-hand with good time management. It also led me to reflect on staying focused, which I wrote about in an earlier FYAL post. With so many opportunities available in academic librarianship who has time to waste time? Not this ERL (electronic resources librarian), that’s for sure.

This is a somewhat rambling post, I realize. It is difficult to summarize 365 days that have been so full of change, new experiences and personal growth. I am grateful to have had the chance to write for the ACRLog this year. Doing so forced me to take inventory and do some reflection that I might otherwise not have made time for. Sharing my experience has hopefully been insightful to other new academic librarians and possibly even inspirational to librarians who are considering a career in academia – and to you I say go for it – it’s a great career path that will open doors that you don’t even know exist yet.

The Old Dog and the New Dog. Looking forward to interesting, fulfilling careers.
The Old Dog and the New Dog. Looking forward to interesting, fulfilling careers as academic librarian buddies who are paid in dog food and leash time.

Culture Shock! and Other Discoveries of a New Academic Librarian

Academia is weird. I did three academic library internships and worked as two years as academic library staff before becoming an academic librarian at Cal State Fullerton. But I didn’t truly realize how weird academic was until I became, well, an academic. Now that I’ve achieved a full (academic) year of librarianship, I thought that it would be fun to reflect on my challenges, frustrations, and discoveries.

First off, in academia, you don’t have coworkers. You have colleagues! After a lifetime of hourly jobs and coworkers, I’ve really had to retrain my brain to start saying colleagues. Colleagues, colleagues, colleagues. And we librarians are basically flat hierarchically. Since we are all autonomous, I’ve had to do a lot of detective work to figure out who-does-what and who can (and is also willing) to help me on projects.

Second off, where is my boss? I’m partly kidding, but the level of autonomy I have and continue to have is astonishing. I think it’s partly a function of having a brand new position in a field with which my colleagues are unfamiliar, but on my first day I was basically shown my office and left alone. Being a brand new librarian in a new and growing field has been really challenging. I’m interested and engaged in all my work because I get to choose what I work on, but I’ve also had to learn to say “no” to many requests so that my workload is not unmanageable.

That leads to my third point: I am never bored. Never ever ever. For the first time in my life, I have engaging work to fill my hours well beyond the forty-hour work week. If I screw around at work, I’m only harming myself! My work now is also largely project-based rather than daily, weekly, or one-off tasks. I’ve had to learn to become a project manager, and project management continues to be a developing skill for me. Remember how I wrote that post on time management a few months back? I followed my own tips for quite a while, but it’s become a regular struggle to dedicate the time to better manage my time. Ironic?

Fourth, working as an academic sometimes feels like I’ve betrayed my working-class roots. I’m the only person in my family to have a college degree, let alone two graduate degrees. I come from a blue-collar background. My dad was a truck driver, my mom was a secretary, and my sister is a waitress. I’ve spent years waiting tables and loading trucks. It’s hard to explain what I do as an academic librarian to my family. Academia is also a strange world where colleagues take their children on college tours (you mean you can choose where you go to college?), and who also tend to assume a commonality of life experience (I’ve had to google some of the upper-middle-class things my colleagues talk about). Naturally, as a librarian, when faced with unfamiliar situations in life I do some research to find kindred spirits. Fortunately there are wonderful books like This fine place so far from home: Voices of academics from the working class, and, Limbo: Blue-collar roots, white-collar dreams. I also really like the blog Tenure, she wrote. I also get excited about critical pedagogy and critical librarianship, which I didn’t know existed before I was a librarian.

But finally, let’s not forget about all the buzzwords (aka alphabet soup) in academic libraries. HIPs, FYE, ACRL IL Framework, Retention, Student Success, 508 Compliance, OERs, OA. I’ve had a crash course in HIPs (high impact practices) and even attended a HIPs institute this month as a librarian representative on a campus team. I subscribe to several library-related listservs but still can’t tell you what LITA or LIRT stand for, or what the difference is between INFOLIT and ili-l. However, I fondly refer to information literacy as IL, and am baffled when non-librarians don’t know what I’m talking about. QP is QuestionPoint, ILL is my favorite thing ever, OPAC is often used incorrectly here, and any day now we’re going to get an IR. Meanwhile, I’ll get back to trying to sell my colleagues on a learning object repository where we can store all of the DLOs (digital learning objects) that we’re going to create together!

What are some of the things you found surprising about being an academic librarian?

It Takes All Kinds

I am a huge sucker for personality tests. It started young, I think – I’ve known I was an INFJ/ENFJ since I was a kid. Over the years I’ve branched out from the Myers-Briggs and taken a wide variety of tests, usually in either a school or work setting. Most recently the Collection Management division at UNT did the True Colors personality test. In this one you are ranked in four colors which each represent personality traits: blue, green orange, gold. I was skeptical, honestly, because the assessment seemed too simple. It consists of just five rows of attributes organized into four columns that you score as most-to-least accurate personal descriptors. And, of course, I became even more skeptical because I first scored everything backwards so my results ended up being way off. But once I got things straightened out (it was funny to see my coworkers disbelieving faces when I announced I was a gold which I am certainly NOT) the results were surprisingly accurate.

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The point is that this was a valuable exercise in self-awareness as well as team building. I learned about what motivates and what irritates my coworkers and what different skills sets each of us possess and value. However, I learned the most not from the test results themselves but from hearing feedback and opinions of my colleagues as we analyzed ourselves and discussed in which ways we fit the different categories (colors). It would be interesting to design a personality test that is wildly inaccurate but designed to foster conversation and collaborative skill analysis – I bet that would be just as valuable as something like this. All this to say – I love categorizing people through personality tests because I think it is a fun as well as professionally valuable activity. Among other things, it can help you understand why some tasks are difficult or unpleasant while other people excel at them. That being said, I really dislike personality tests that are used to categorize people into specific careers. This is commonly done in college and high school and, while it can be interesting, these tests simplify careers to the point that the test results are pointless and even harmful because they might keep someone from following a certain career path that might be a perfect fit for them.

For example, this infographic popped up on the ALA Facebook page this week (click to view):

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My initial response was irritation that it simplifies librarians into one role – that of an Organizer. That old-fashioned idea that librarians spend all their putting books on shelves using the Dewey Decimal system and maintaining a catalog. It wouldn’t surprise me to find out that the largest percentage of librarians are actually ‘Helpers’ not ‘Organizers’. This is probably especially true in school and public libraries but also in academic libraries – particularly librarians in Reference & Instruction or Public Services. Some academic librarians are Persuaders – they often end up as deans or other administrators and there are definitely Thinkers in the academic library. And we definitely have and need Creatives in the academic library – to support the art students and faculty or run the music library, among other things. But then I started thinking about the other careers mentioned. Couldn’t someone become a physician out of a desire to be a help people rather than practice science? Programmers, in my experience, are often more like Builders than Organizers – they are just building digital objects or applications instead of doing carpentry. So maybe this kind of categorization is useless all around, not just for librarians? Or are librarians just especially hard to categorize because we, as I’ve heard said, “wear lots of hats” – especially, perhaps in the academic environment?

Screen shot 2015-06-10 at 10.27.33 PM

 

 

Let’s Assess!

The California State University system has been considering a move to performance-based funding. Librarians here have expressed a lot of consternation about how we can show we’re worth funding, let alone why we should have to show it at all. At the same time, Cal State Fullerton is making a big push towards implementing and assessing High Impact Practices (HIPs) as part of our focus on increasing student engagement, retention, and graduation, so as a library we have to figure out how we can incorporate HIPs as well.

I think there’s a tendency for librarians to worry a lot about how we’re going to assess what we do, both because it’s not something we’ve done formally and we’re inexperienced with it, and because librarians worry that their academic freedom is going to be impinged.

As an Instructional Design Librarian, I see the push towards assessment a little more optimistically (though I’m not at all onboard with performance-based funding!). However, I am interested in being effective at what I do, whether facilitating student learning, or providing outreach at campus events. I want to know if I’m making a difference. I also feel pretty well equipped to perform assessment activities since instructional design is my specialty.

What do you want to know?

Before we should start worrying about how we’re going to assess what we do, we have to decide what we want to assess. I think that there are two paths to decide on what we want to assess. There are our campus priorities, which of course we have to support, especially with the possibility of performance-based funding. There are also our own priorities – what kind of library do we want to be? What kinds of services and collections do we want to provide? What do we want students to learn from our one-shots?

I’m an Instructional Design Librarian, so naturally my assessment focus has an instructional bent. I like to write learning objectives for every session I teach, and each learning object that I create. Learning objectives ought to be SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and (sometimes) Time-bound. I write objectives for one-shots like “students will be able to give two examples of why a scholarly database is a better choice for university research than Google,” or they’ll be able to “describe the process for finding books using the Books & eBooks tab on the Pollak Library home page.” I’m not likely to demand that students write essays on how to search for books at our library so that I can formally measure their mastery, but I am likely to do an informal assessment to verify that students are learning.

Both formal and informal assessment will give us useful information on what works and what doesn’t, possibly saving us from using time and money on instructional efforts that aren’t effective. Formal assessment is just the quizzes and tests we give, or other graded assignments from which we can collect data. Informal assessment might just consist of chatting with your students to see if they “get it,” or if students are actually accomplishing a given task that they were assigned. I use a lot of informal assessment in my one-shot sessions due to limited time. However, I’m also working on a couple of assessment-related projects at my university that will yield useful data.

ID Workshops, ACRL Assessment in Action, and Badges

As this post falls under the cateogory “First Year Academic Librarian Experience,” you might assume that I’m still a new librarian. You’d be correct. That means I haven’t yet accomplished any meaningful assessment efforts, but I’m on my way. Last month I planned and delivered an instructional design workshop for librarians, wherein I introduced the concepts of Backward Design and how to write learning objectives. We definitely need to work more on writing measurable learning objectives, and I plan to deliver more workshops in the future. (FYI, I assessed my “students’” learning through Plickrs and Padlets in the class, but it was definitely informal assessment). I want to help librarians discover ways they can be as effective as possible in their work.

I’ll be doing some major assessing for the next 14 months since I’m now the proud Librarian Team Leader of the Pollak Library Assessment in Action (AiA) Team, part of the third cohort of ACRL’s AiA program. We’re going to embed our Human Services Librarian into an online class this fall, and assess his impact on student learning. This particular Human Services class used to come in for in-person instruction, but since it’s gone totally online the instructors have done without library instruction. This is a trend at our university, so I’d like to learn how we can better serve our online students and now just let them fall off our radar.

Finally, I’m contemplating the mechanics of implementing a badges program here at our university. I recently managed to get a really simple (beta) eLearning webpage going for us on a WordPress platform. There are several WordPress plugins that can be purchased that turn your WordPress site into an LMS – like LearnDash and Sensei. With the site magically transformed into an LMS, we can award badges based on quiz and tutorial completion. How cool would it be to tally up the number of Super Searcher badge-holders? If we were able to track our badge-holding students’ retention and graduation rates, we’d have some really nice information on the library’s correlation with student success!