Category Archives: First Year Academic Librarian Experience

Lost Time is Never Found

It was three months before I realized: each week I was working four hours on the reference desk, but my assignment sheet said I was supposed to be scheduled to work three. One hour – that’s not a big deal, right? I wrestled with this discovery for days! Should I speak up? Was I being petty to point out the discrepancy? I finally emailed one of the librarians that crafted my assignment sheet – he spoke to the desk scheduler and the discrepancy was resolved, no big deal. Only three hours a week on the desk from here on out!

It was one hour! Out of forty. ONLY forty! Never in my past life as a non-librarian would I have worried about a single hour, but since I’ve begun the tenure-track life, I measure each minute by productivity achieved, or lack-thereof. I identified completely when Erin Miller, the other (also tenure-track) FYAL blogger wrote, “I have never had to be so concerned with the minute-by-minute flow of each workday,” in her first blog post.

Time management! This is nobody’s favorite phrase. I felt little-to-no pressure in my past life as library staff to achieve Great Things. I usually had a few projects going, but deadlines were of my choosing. I’ve long been amused by people that stress how busy-busy-busy they are – especially when I read articles like this. Busy-ness is just another social competition. But as a tenure-track librarian, I now find myself falling into that trap! I’m just TOO BUSY these days! Do you realize what I could do with that extra hour each week? Great Things! And as Benjamin Franklin said, “lost time is never found again.” This is especially true on the tenure-track.

Managing Yourself

When I started my new job, I was basically left to my own devices on the afternoon of my first day. I was suddenly in a brave new world where I had to figure out what I was supposed to be doing and set my own schedule. I hereby admit that lack of structure makes me uncomfortable! So I made two decisions off-the-bat: I would work 8:30 to 5 every day and I started a work diary. I’ve had a lot of jobs in my life. (I once tried to count them all – somewhere around 12 or 15. All but two were hourly). I know that the first days of a new job can go by in a blur. And my job wasn’t just new to me – it’s a brand new position at my library. I didn’t want to feel like I was running on a hamster wheel with nothing to show for it. I decided that a work diary would help me see where my time went and what I accomplished.

And it has helped! My “work diary” is really simple – I set up a notebook in Microsoft OneNote and use a page for each month. I fill out a row in a simple table for each day: what time I worked and my accomplishments. It’s only a sentence or two for each day, but I can tell you how much I worked and what I worked on for any day since August 1st. I even started including what I did on the weekends, since I’m one of those people that can hardly remember what I ate for breakfast, let alone what I did on Saturday.

There are Four Reasons to Keep a Work Diary as listed by the Harvard Business Review: focus, patience, planning, and personal growth. Writing down what I do each day keeps me accountable and on track (focus) and also shows me that I am making progress on a project even if it doesn’t feel like it (patience). I can see how much time something takes, and that helps me set realistic expectations for deadlines (planning). The article recommends writing 100 words a day about your feelings – I don’t write nearly that much – but if I am feeling especially emotional one day, good or bad, I include that and when I re-read what I wrote I can remember those feelings and think about how I can avoid frustration or find more “wins” in the future (personal growth).

I happen to use Microsoft OneNote because it was already on my work computer, but I also like the way it looks and is organized, and that it syncs across platforms. Evernote is also a good choice, or even a simple Microsoft Word document.

15-Minute Rule

Keeping a work diary also showed me how heavy my workload was. Seeing how much (or how little) I could accomplish every day quickly helped me discover that I needed to do as much as possible in my work time or I was going to end up either (1) working too much, or, (2) not getting enough done. I love this job but I have no desire to work over my forty hours each week because I also love having a life. Only a month or so in, I was already stressing about all the projects that I wasn’t making any progress on!

Enter the 15-minute rule. Juggling multiple projects often means making progress on one or two to the detriment of the others. I committed to working at least 15-minutes a day (on average) on each of my ongoing projects. And guess what? I now get stuff done!

When I got here, I told myself to take it easy and not sign up for everything that came my way. But, alas, I’m a compulsive overachiever and I stretched myself thin my first semester. I signed up for an online class through our Faculty Development Center on Universal Design for Learning and made zero progress on it the first two months. Funded by a grant, the facilitator sent out regular emails promising to enter course-finishers in monthly drawings for $100, but even regular promises of financial gain failed to spur me to action. Realizing I wasn’t getting anything done did. When I started scheduling 15-minute chunks to work on the class, I made progress and finished. And then I won that month’s drawing for $100. Personal satisfaction and monetary winnings: best week ever!

Schedule ALL the Hours

I used the 15-minute rule in conjunction with advice from academic Cal Newport, who runs the fantastic Study Hacks Blog. Newport recommends planning out every minute of your work week. I thought my schedule was packed when I first started here – so many meetings! And so many projects! Now, I spend a half-hour every Monday morning planning out my week. I have a recurring appointment with myself where I keep a list of all the tasks that need to be scheduled, and all the projects that I’m working on. Here’s what my schedule looks like now:

Weekly Schedule
My weekly schedule now. (ID means instructional design time!)

Okay, so I’m still working on not getting anxious just looking at my weekly schedules, but I’m constantly reminded to stay on track and to get work done. It also forces me to work on things I don’t want to – like doing collection development in GOBI. Scheduling time to work on it in little chunks has helped me make progress instead of waiting until the last minute to order, and now GOBI doesn’t seem so bad.

I also build myself in little buffers – like I’m not really going to spend an hour on email every day, but I’ll also use that time to catch up on my reading for professional development, or I’ll get started early on the next task. (Also, I’ve gotten really good at managing my email from attending one of librarian Anali Perry’s Inbox Zero presentations. HIGHLY recommend perusing her slide deck.)

Take a Walk

Finally, here’s a counter-intuitive tip: to better manage your time, take a walk. It’s been easy for me as new tenure-track faculty in a brand new position to feel overwhelmed, so whenever it gets too much, I go outside. Often by myself, sometimes with coworkers, and sometimes I grab coffee with coworkers. It helps me to step away from thinking so hard about what I need to do, and it also helps me to clear my mind and find inspiration.

Cal Newport talks about using this state of mind to manage your projects. He says to “forget your project ideas (until you can’t forget them).”

At first, in this position, I kept a list of projects I’d like to work on – then I’d look back at it and feel like I was already behind. But let’s be honest – I’m the only instructional designer at my library, and I only have so much time to dedicate just to design. Something like 8-12 hours a week in an average week. Not much! Now, I might sketch out an idea or two for a project on one of the scratch papers in my office, and then I forget about it. The things that really matter and I really want to accomplish never leave my mind. This tactic is especially coming in handy as I start to write my prospectus and need to clarify my research interests.

How about you? How do you stay sane and manage your time?

Apply Yourself

I have been thinking about the hiring process lately. Partly because I’ve so recently managed to get myself hired at the University of North Texas. I am also serving on a search committee for an open position here at UNT and so have spent some time reviewing applications, cover letters and curricula vitae. Finally, it’s on my mind because quite a few people I know were searching for jobs this year and I served as a reference (and occasional resume proofreader) for several former colleagues. And since the hiring process is on my mind that is is the topic I decided to write about today. In a future post it is very likely that I will be writing about the culmination of a successful application process – the dreaded and intense academic interview. But I will save that for another month.

Throughout my career I have had quite a bit of experience with hiring and so have spent a lots of hours reviewing resumes and applications. I’ve seen the difference between the application processes in corporate settings, secondary schools and now a university. While obviously the process varies it has been interesting to see that there are common mistakes made by applicants in each field. So here is some unsolicited but, I believe, critical advice for anyone looking to get hired into an academic library. It is a great field to get hired into, by the way, and I highly recommend it!

1. Update your Resume
Of course, if you are applying for academic positions your probably have a curriculum vitae instead of a resume but many institutions will accept either and resume is more generic so I’m going with that. Anyway, it seems that some people feel as though a standard one-size-fits-all resume is sufficient — but each position you apply for is different so you should highlight different skill sets and/or experience. If you are applying for a Reference & Instruction position highlight the time you spent staffing the desk during grad school. If you are applying for a position as the Electronic Resources Librarian highlight any experience you have working with vendors or maintaining a website. If you are applying at a non-tenure track institution you might only mention a few key past publications and presentations; for a tenure-track position you might go into more detail. It is unlikely that you have to create a totally new resume. Simply tweak the content so that it corresponds to each specific position you apply for and, obviously, make sure everything is up-to-date and includes your most recent work

2. Write a Cover Letter
Let me emphasize: write a cover letter. Don’t change the heading on a generic letter that you wrote during your final semester of grad school. Go further than simply changing the last paragraph to include a mention of the institution to which you are applying. In my opinion, originality in this portion of your application is even more important than the reworking you do to your resume. Use your cover letter as an opportunity to show that you understand the position you are applying for and that you are interested not just in any old job but in that job specifically. What drove you to apply for this position? Even more broadly, what drove you to become a librarian (hint: not the salary!)? Also use your cover letter to express what makes you an excellent candidate. Don’t be boring and restate your resume; look at the job posting to see what qualifications they are looking for and then write a paragraph or two stating the ways in which you fulfill those specific qualifications. Now just make sure to keep things brief and your cover letter will be golden!

3. Read the Instructions
Seriously, read the instructions. Then, once you have read them – read them again. If you have a hard time focusing on details and following nitpicky online instructions then get somebody else to read them out loud to you. It is truly amazing how many people miss what should be obvious when they are completing a resume. Are you supposed to list three professional and two personal references? Don’t provide contact information for your five favorite cousins. Are you being asked to provide a philosophical statement related to the job you are applying for? Don’t upload a copy of your transcripts. These are just a couple of the mistakes I’ve seen and it is certainly not just academic librarians making them – this kind of oversight was common in both the corporate and the secondary school environments. Missing a detail or two when completing an online application is an easy mistake to make. Luckily, if you are careful, it is also an easy mistake to avoid.

4. Follow Your Own Advice
Proofread! You are a librarian so I know that you know the power of careful editing. Chances are that you have provided some sort of proofreading advice or assistance to library users. So why do so many resumes contain misspelled words, run-on sentences, inconsistent verb tense and other errors that running a quick check in your document software should catch? In addition, check your formatting. Wouldn’t it be sad to know that your resume was set aside simply because you randomly and accidentally switched font sizes several times? One of the things that has become apparent to me over the years is that organizations miss out on interviewing – and potentially hiring – some great people simply because those candidates didn’t take the time to proofread. If you are seriously interested in a position take the time to check, double check, and then have someone else check your work.

5. Be Positive…
…but be honest. You might be the most amazing librarian on the planet, universally admired and highly successful but if you don’t market yourself that way in your application it won’t help you get a job. Not including as many of your excellent qualifications as you can fit in a resume is another easy-to-make mistake that might get your resume shuffled to the bottom of the pile. Even worse than being ignored for not tooting your own horn loudly enough, however, is dishonesty. Just don’t do it. In one job that I had in the past we flew in a candidate for an all-day interview – during which it became obvious that this candidate was totally unqualified and that their resume greatly exaggerated both their knowledge of and experience in the field. What a huge waste of time and money that was! A typical interview at a university is a grueling, one-or-even-two day process. If your reality doesn’t match your resume it will become evident and how embarrassing is that?!

Here at UNT we use a rubric to judge applications so that the process is as objective as possible. It would be really interesting to go back over my own applications from the past decade with a rubric to see how well I measure up to my own standards. I know for sure that I have made several of the mistakes mentioned in this post. I guess the best thing about being able to participate in hiring others is that it has helped me become a better applicant myself.

Transition: Making it as a librarian

When do you become a librarian? When you get your MLIS? When you start your first professional librarian job? Debates can rage over this, but I didn’t start calling myself a librarian until I started my current position.

I earned my MLIS in May 2011 and was hired into my first paid library staff position mid-2012. As a paraprofessional with an MLIS, I had a coworker refer to me periodically as a “librarian” but I didn’t see myself as such, especially when about half of the staff at that library held library degrees, and most MLIS-holders I knew were unemployed or underemployed.

Takes an MLIS to be library staff

Of course, without my MLIS I never would have been hired even as library staff. Too many library school graduates and too few librarian (and related) jobs equals a glut of library degree holders struggling to make a living. Ironically, even finding unpaid internships was difficult – in an era of library cutbacks it seemed like a lot of libraries just didn’t (don’t?) have the time to supervise interns. I did manage to find and serve three internships, though, and I credit those experiences and resulting networking for helping move my career forward. I am ever so grateful to the librarians that I met through my internships that continue to mentor me.

In my first library job as a staff person, I was delighted to finally hold a paid library job and to take on resume-building responsibilities that used to fall solely on librarians’ shoulders: reference, instruction, and outreach. I did reference for the specialized collection in which I worked: government documents. I also did a regular hour or two at the main library reference desk, a regular chat reference hour, scattered library instruction sessions for English classes, and I volunteered an occasional evening or Saturday to work the library table at a library or university special event. As an employee with a regular 8 to 5 schedule, I didn’t get paid for any work outside that schedule.  Nor did I get comp time. And as a library staff person, I was certainly not getting paid extra for MLIS-level work.

Anyone that works in a library knows how large the stacks of applications are for library pages and assistants, and how generally overqualified the applicants. I once drove 300 miles back to my home town to take one of those public service tests for a library assistant job only to discover a room filled with over a hundred people taking the same test, all applying for a single opening (I didn’t even make it into the interview pool!). I’m sure you’ve got horror stories, too!

For me to become a librarian, an actual librarian with title and salary, it took a couple hundred job applications, three internships, a second master’s degree, and a willingness to move (luckily back to my home state). Basically, the quest to become a librarian was like having a second job. Mid-2014: here I am at Cal State Fullerton, finally, a full-fledged librarian. Now I call myself a librarian.

Librarians: “Don’t complain, you’ve got it easy”

However, when I was a library staff-person, librarians (actual librarians) told me I should be grateful to be staff and work a regular 8 to 5 schedule, because being a salaried librarian meant that they worked some long days.

Little did they know, I have a history of working long days! I spent years loading trucks, waiting tables, and one extra wet winter shoveling snow. I spent years in the hospitality industry refining my customer service smile and people skills. There’s no exhaustion like when you sit down after being on your feet for ten to twelve hours and discover that standing up again just isn’t going to happen.

Three months into this job I’ve come in weekends and worked long days. I work hard and predict the work will get harder. But I will tell you now – I will work any number of long days for this salary, and for this job, and for the ability to come in late if I worked late the night before, because I am SO happy to be a librarian doing the work that I am.

Transition from staff to librarian

Of course being a librarian is certainly a big change from being a staff person. I was dubious how different it could be no matter how many librarians told me so – but it is quite and very different. As a new tenure-track librarian, my day-to-day schedule is now packed, and publish-or-perish is now a real threat. I was hired as an instructional design librarian, but I’ve got so much work besides, I feel like I hardly have time to design! Don’t even mention the professional development, the scholarly and creative activities, and the various categories of service I’m supposed to be performing. Oh, and I also have liaison duties with a few academic departments.

The biggest challenge for me when I started here was figuring out how the library worked and where I fit into it. And then, how the tenure process works (the six year clock is ticking!) and figuring out areas of research interest and how I can start writing articles to hopefully publish in peer-reviewed journals. Currently I’m still working on time and project management – I’ve got limited hours each week to work on instructional design and research projects – so I’ve got to make every minute count.

But this job is AWESOME. I’m independent – but collaborative projects abound. I get my own office (with a view!). I get to set my own schedule, and I get to be all kinds of creative. Since my position is also a brand new position, I get to shape what it’s going to be, and decide how I can best spend my time to contribute to my library and to the academic library community. I like the workplace culture at my library – there’s a lot of encouragement to come up with big ideas and go after them. This campus is diverse in just about every way and I feel like I fit right in. I love going to work every day!

The hustle of internships, volunteering, and endless job applications was the real preparation for becoming a librarian. My background in hospitality prepared me for working with colleagues with strong personalities, panicking grad students, and demanding faculty. Attending school for two master’s degrees while working full-time was my study in time management, essential to being a good librarian. The MLIS? Perhaps just a theoretical study in librarianship.

Bit of a Steep Learning Curve

Please welcome our new First Year Academic Librarian Experience blogger Erin Miller, Electronic Resources Librarian at the University of North Texas.

Having worked as a librarian for more than a decade I feel fairly confident in my ability to navigate the various paths through my chosen profession. Before attending the School of Library & Information Science at the University of Kentucky I worked part time in Circulation at the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County. During grad school I was a student assistant in the Appalachian Archives, creating finding aids and organizing collections. My first job with an MLS was as a Content Manager for SirsiDynix, working with a team to design and develop a totally new research tool and content management system. Next stop was the library of a private high school in Cincinnati where I managed every aspect of the library, from circulation to database instruction, from supervising volunteers to collection and budget management. I also organized a small library in Peru – in Spanish­ – as a service-oriented project during several weeks I spent in the Andes. Luckily, I like learning new things and adapting to new situations because in each of these library settings there has been a learning curve…but none quite so steep as there has been here at the University of North Texas.

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Some of the learning curve is to be expected at any new job and mostly involves both unfamiliar technological and unfamiliar geographic landscapes. For example, here at UNT our ILS is Sierra from Integrated Interfaces, Inc. while both the public library and the high school library ran on SirsiDynix. Similarly, we use a different content management system for web content. Being extremely directionally challenged, for me any new job (much less new city) results in what can be a very frustrating process of wrong turns and time consuming, usually useless, conversations with Siri about where on campus is that d@#! building in which my meeting starts in five minutes, etc. These are all part of the expected learning curve and, as such, do not cause me much stress. I ask lots of questions and have made it to almost every meeting on time (except the ones that happened during my first month – pretty sure I was late to every single on-campus meeting for the first few weeks).

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However, some things here at UNT are so new to me that I find myself looking not only for directions but also re-evaluating the ways that I have worked successfully for the past ten years. For one thing, librarians at UNT are faculty-equivalent which means we are expected not only to be responsible for keeping the library running smoothly, but are also expected to publish in peer-reviewed journals, to present at conferences and to serve in various ways at various levels, from within the library to university wide to national organizations. While none of these things are inherently difficult on their own, I do find it challenging to have so many more balls in the air at any one time. I can easily fill up a 40-hour-and-then-some week with just day-to-day tasks…how in the world do I find time to write a proposal for a conference or to meet with the students I’m mentoring, etc.? This pressure has already forced me to evaluate my time management skills and to reassess how well I use tools like Outlook to improve my own efficiency. Additionally, because of the intensive tenure-track evaluation process I’m also spending valuable work time keeping track of what I do on an ongoing basis. Other than the brief time I spent as a consultant with billable hours while I was at SirsiDynix I have never had to be so concerned with the minute-by-minute flow of each workday. Let’s just say that keeping track involves multiple spreadsheets, a Word document and a very detailed Outlook task list.

Then there is the new-to-me challenge of having to figure out where I fit in to the department workflow. With all of my previously-held library positions there were specific and easily visible responsibilities. At my last job it was very clear – if I didn’t do it, nobody did! Here we have a fairly good-sized collection management department and people tend to work collaboratively – which is great, even though sometimes I’m not sure if I am responsible for something or if somebody else is already working on it. For example, the process for ordering a new electronic resource involves different people being involved at different stages of the process, from decision-making to order records to contracts to invoicing to cataloging. When it comes to a straightforward new order I think I’ve gotten my role figured out…but if the order is for something a bit different – say, for converting a standing print order to a series of ongoing firm ebook orders – well, it can be confusing. Thankfully, I have colleagues that are willing to work together to figure out how to move forward in such situations!

I just don’t have time to list everything I’ve learned so far at UNT. I haven’t even gotten to the part about what it’s like being an Electronic Resources Librarian, a position relatively new to the library and lacking a universal job description (the ERLs I know all have widely disparate responsibilities). I will save that discussion for the presentation called ‘Fake it Til you Make It’ that I’m hoping to do at the ER&L Conference in Austin. Just to be clear, I am not complaining! I am very grateful for these new opportunities, enjoying the challenges, loving the personal growth I’m experiencing…and I even like Texas, especially the great big Texas skies.

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Managing the Overwhelm

Please welcome our new First Year Academic Librarian Experience blogger Lindsay O’Neill, Instructional Design Librarian at California State University, Fullerton.

The minute I accepted Cal State Fullerton’s offer to become a tenure-track librarian at Pollak Library, I entered The Overwhelm. I had to negotiate an out-of-state move with my partner (who had recently returned home from a year-long deployment), quit my job, resign as president and help find a replacement for my Toastmasters club, pack up our home, find a place to live, and start all over in a new place trying to make new friends while figuring out what an Instructional Design Librarian was supposed to do in a library that just created the position, while also finishing a second graduate degree.

I had almost exactly six weeks from offer to start date – in a new state! Fortunately California is right next door to Arizona; I can’t imagine having to make a cross-country move. When my first day finally arrived, I had mostly settled into my new apartment and was ready to work, and felt like if I could get through those six weeks of moving stress, I could get through anything. However, the tenure-track comes with its own special set of challenges, and these will last at least six years. Before I started, I don’t think I truly processed how much work a tenure-track position would be, and I kept hearing this word “research.” What is this “research” I’m supposed to perform, anyway? I think I spent the first month of work in a daze.

A contributing factor to The Overwhelm (a great term I got from this article) is the fact that I’m brand new to librarianship. I earned my MLIS in 2011 after working on it for three and a half years while I was employed full-time at a resort in Yosemite National Park. I interned several times and was a finalist for several out-of-state librarian jobs that didn’t pan out before I landed a staff position at Arizona State University’s Hayden Library in 2012.

After three library internships, I was delighted to be getting paid for my labors – in a full-time position with benefits, no less! As a staff-person I was lucky to have a supportive boss that encouraged me to do committee work, pitch in with freshman instruction sessions, and promote our department through displays and a Twitter account. Working in a library allowed me expanded access to networking and professional development. I had the opportunity to attend two Arizona State Library Association annual conferences, which so far are the only conferences I’ve been able to attend. I even presented a poster at last year’s on using Twitter to promote unique collections.

What was really great about working at a university was being able to take advantage of the employee tuition waiver to pursue a second master’s degree in Instructional Design. I’m finishing it up this semester and I’m delighted that I landed a job that uses both of my graduate degrees. Heck, it uses my English degree, too. What are the odds?

In my brief experience so far as a shiny new librarian, I’ve discovered that being a librarian means a lot more collaboration and a lot less working in a silo, and figuring out most of your job yourself rather than being handed set duties. I was granted my very own office with a computer and a gorgeous view and then basically left to myself. I spent my first month attending trainings, meeting new people, and trying to keep my head from spinning as I crammed more and more information about my new workplace into it.

Figuring out my job really meant figuring out who I should talk to, and asking lots of questions. I listened carefully when I was introduced to someone new. It seemed like everyone had a different idea about what I would be working on (Video tutorials? LibGuides redesign? Learning badges? Assessment? All of the above?). I also spent a lot of quality time exploring the library’s online presence in particular to help me decide where the library’s instructional needs lay – and decided to start with video tutorials, since the library’s YouTube offerings were sparse and a little dated. For my in-person interview, they asked me to teach them to create a learning object in a short twenty-minute lesson, so that’s a natural direction to take in my first year.

I’m happy to report that the first month at my new job was the hardest (so far). In the second month I started to emerge from The Overwhelm. Couldn’t say the same for my partner – he split his time between here and Arizona for months until he found something local. But he’s really happy with his new position (new commute, not so much) and while he’s dealing with his own Overwhelm now, I have nothing but optimism that his job hunt and my new career will be successful.