Category Archives: First Year Academic Librarian Experience

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.

The Sexy Librarian is (Un)Dead. OR I’m a rock star (and so are you).

gorgeous librarians
“Neon Librarian” by Karla Irwin is licensed under CC BY-SA. (Photo taken in Las Vegas, NV.)

For this blog post, I decided to take a break from my previous pattern of expressing librarian existentialist angst (i.e. professional identity issues) and instead focus on what makes us so awesome. Through this, I’ll be indirectly addressing those professional identity issues. I’ll also come to my eventual conclusions via a discussion of the infamous Librarian Stereotype. Again, like some of my other ACRLog post topics, these topics are discussed commonly already. That is the case for a reason – these topics are so important, and fun. Hopefully I can offer a fresh angle on them.

So, librarian stereotypes. I just watched an episode of iZombie on Hulu (spoiler alert) that flaunted some pretty scandalous librarian stereotypes. The show is about a functional zombie – a former medical student, Liv, who works in a morgue and has easy access to brains, which she needs to eat to stay functional, pass as a living person, and not transform into the grotesque, blood curdling version of “zombie.” When she eats the brains of a person, she acquires some of their memories and personality, and she uses those memories to help solve murder cases.

In this episode I just watched, “Fifty Shades of Grey Matter,” Liv eats the brains of a public librarian. Much to the chagrin of my librarian friends and I who watch this show, this particular personality was typecast as the “sexy librarian” – Yes, even an author of erotica literature who was constantly fantasizing about sex and had very little control over her sexual urges. So that’s great. Hyper-sexual librarians with little to no self-control? Again, just great. (Of course there are other stereotypes here that will go unnamed, mostly because they are NSFW (not suitable for work) and because they would necessitate a lengthier, more complex conversation about stereotypes going both ways.

The toned-down, broader version of “sexy librarian” is still damaging to the profession because it devalues and minimizes the hard, important professional work that we do. We want to be taken seriously, and we should be taken seriously! And the “sexy librarian” is an objectification and fetishization of our profession and of our embodied experience. For those who are perceived to fit that particular image of the sexy female librarian, it says that we are objects that serve to gratify the sexual and emotional needs of men, tantalized by our intellectual and physical charms and convinced of our maternal or feminine roles and functions. The sexy librarian serves as a placeholder – it is the one professional image that many people have of us, obscuring what we actually do; as others have suggested in works such as The Librarian Stereotype: Deconstructing Perceptions and Presentations of Information Work (ed. Nicole Pagowsky & Miriam Rigby, 2014), people largely don’t know what librarians do precisely because of these stereotypes. (See, for example, p. 5.)

The Librarian Stereotype might even limit others’ openness and receptiveness to persons who are librarians who do not fit the stereotype, to librarians who do not match the following characteristics: perfectly female-bodied, young, thin, sexy, usually white, conservatively yet fashionably dressed, with glasses, maybe a little rebellious or devious beneath the playfully conservative appearance – a tease. You know them all. And when librarians do not match those characteristics, we also might be judged or discriminated against. (“You’re a librarian? You don’t look like one!”) It’s a lose-lose situation for librarians. If we fit the stereotype, we’re not taken seriously because we are objectified and sexualized and our work is consequently devalued. If we do not fit the stereotype, we are judged and thus not taken as seriously because we do not look like the professional we are purported to be.

In fact, could it be possible that this limiting stereotype serves to keep some people out of the profession who do not fit the image, and perhaps attracts people to the profession who do (although there are infinite examples of librarians who defy the Librarian Stereotype, who “do not look like librarians.”)?

The other stereotypes – some of which, such as being punitive, may or may not accompany the aforementioned stereotype – and that we read all the time and shush people…these don’t have to be sexualized necessarily, and sometimes people have a stereotype of librarians in which we are desexualized – the frumpy, old, and stern librarian who wears long skirts, blouses buttoned all the way up, with a bun to boot. These stereotypes are also negative. They imply that we have nothing better to do but to enforce rules, judge others, and experience intellectual gratification or escapism, remaining alone and stubborn all the while. The old, stern, frumpy librarian lives in a bubble and is guarded and unapproachable.

On the other hand, there may be a positive side to the existence of strong librarian stereotypes.

We are also rock stars! I can’t tell you how many times people have said to me, “Whoa, you’re a librarian? That is so cool! I wanted to be a librarian when I grew up…” etc. etc. I’m sure you’ve had similar experiences. People venerate and idolize librarians! Because our job is awesome! We have *all* the things…everything that contains information! – the books, the journals, the ephemera, the manuscripts, the papers of famous and important people…etc., etc.!

And that really simply means we are responsible for preserving the scholarly record. People do know what librarians do, they just aren’t familiar with our day-to-day tasks.

What do we actually do on a day to day basis? Preserving the scholarly record means a whole lot of things.

My Dean, Patty Iannuzzi, recently held a workshop for library faculty and some staff on the scholarly record. (I had to be late due to teaching a class; it was probably better that way because I hear she talked about me and our previous conversations on professional identity before I got there.) The workshop was a planning workshop for future services that the Libraries may offer to the campus community. There were spreadsheets – lots of spreadsheets – of possible services, and we were to decide which ones we should be offering. They included everything from author’s rights and copyright consultation and assistance, piloting ORCID IDs, generating citation reports and advising on bibliometrics and altmetrics, and publishing Open Access journals to research data management and storage services. In our discussions, everyone thought we should offer services in virtually every area. The disagreements were really over wording that made it sound like librarians would be doing things for campus community members instead of consulting or collaborating with them.

This is so exciting to me – that so many of these important services do fall within the realm of what librarians do, that faculty and students trust that we will have expertise in these areas, because, in many of the areas, liaisons, especially, are already the point persons for exploring and providing such services. At UNLV, librarians are actually leading the way towards our campus’s Top Tier goal, and it is because we are responsible for the scholarly record and all the duties and objectives associated with it. We truly are rock stars!

I could continue to rant and whine about how people don’t know what it means to be a librarian – how I especially don’t know what it means to be a librarian, at least right now in my first year. But really, there are reasons why it is so hard to pinpoint what our professional identity is. It is because it is so simple, that it is easy to devalue or minimize (preserving the scholarly record=having all the books=reading all day and shushing people, all the while being a sexy young female-bodied person). It is also because it is so complex at the same time, it encompasses so many different types of activities. As a liaison, I know this…I help with anything and everything that faculty and students might need surrounding sources of information. That’s a lot! And those who have narrower focuses – their jobs are super important as well, just more focused on particular aspects of librarianship, such as the institutional repository and Open Access, or other technical services such as cataloging – these services are so important, so people can actually find the perfect materials that suit their scholarly needs. I’ll also mention public librarians here, to bring in the iZombie episode once again; they play an incredibly important role, especially through providing information access to communities who might not be able to access that information through other means.

Finally, as technology, culture and society change, so too our job descriptions and responsibilities are always changing. And that’s exciting! People are trusting us to lead the way!

So, I am a rock star, and so are you.

The Sexy Librarian is a zombie, after all. Long live the Smart & Savvy, Nonconformist Rock Star Librarian who has it all (…all the information, that is)!

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.

Peer Mentoring in the Profession

 

I talk a lot about peer mentoring and my network in some of my other ACRLog posts (see “Don’t Underestimate Your Peers” in my tips for LIS students post). The last few months of being a new librarian, publishing my first peer-reviewed article, and presenting at conferences—all of which I couldn’t have done without the support of my peers—have convinced me that this topic deserves its own post.

I presented with a few of my closest friends last month at ALISE. Our panel was about three different student-led initiatives and how LIS schools can more systematically involve students in decision-making. When we received questions from the audience, we would sometimes ask each other to answer a specific question because of that person’s unique perspective or experience. We fed off of each other’s energy. I had somehow forgotten how much they always challenge me, both professionally and personally. It was invigorating to hear their answers—answers that provided a critical lens and held that students were qualified stakeholders that deserved a spot at the table. The panel brought me back to the energy that keeps me going as a librarian.

Right after the panel, a collaboration I facilitated with a peer, Dylan Burns, went live. The ACRLog team had composed a list of questions for Hack Library School and ACRLog writers to address. We had no idea what the posts would look like and if we’d receive provocative, coherent posts from the prompts we created. Almost everyone that wrote for the collaboration was one of my peers and—full disclosure—several of the people posting were my friends. I was awed by the quality of every post. This collaboration pushed me to question my work/life balance, how I treated (and continue to treat) accepting my current job as the “finish line,” and the complexity of my professional identity. Most importantly, the posts made me really consider how much I try to create space for others on this blog and in other places that I have privilege and opportunity. One post in particular made me question how we reward (and, often, condemn) vulnerability and honesty within LIS. The collaboration and the conversation and comments it created took me on a rollercoaster of ups and downs, through joy and even disappointment. But I never stopped thinking. Every post made me think.

That’s what my peer mentors do. They make me think. They challenge me. They teach me. And I, in turn, become a better librarian, teacher, friend, and writer through mentoring them. If someone were to ask me what I like most about being a librarian, I don’t think I would say that it’s working with faculty or students. I don’t think that I would even say that it’s that I get to learn something new every day. I love those things about librarianship. But to be brutally honest, it’s the community that keeps me coming back day after day. My accomplishments are my peers’ and vice versa. Every success is something we’ve worked through together, through the literature or Twitter or personal relationships; every failure is something we can debate and contemplate further.

I thought about my peer mentor relationships a lot when I was writing an article for In the Library with the Leadpipe last October. I respected my reviewers so much that I was afraid to send them a very rough first draft of my article. I asked a few of my closest peers to read the draft and give me feedback. Some of their feedback was harsh but every piece of it was helpful. All of their notes and suggestions helped me restructure the article, find my unique voice, and make my argument more coherent. I sent a revised first draft to reviewers and one of them, an expert in critical open education whom I deeply admire, said “I am grateful that this was written and that it will be published, and I am honored to have been asked to be a small part of it!” I don’t say this to boast about myself or my writing. The draft that she read would have never existed if my peers hadn’t read a much less refined version of it and still seen enough potential to suggest improvements. Moreover, I would have never even submitted an idea to Leadpipe if I didn’t have the encouragement and support of my peers. That comment is as much theirs as it is mine.

I’d like to be clear here: peer mentoring is so much more than giving feedback. I recently read a powerful book about faith and doubt by Rachel Held Evans called Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church. The book, which was actually suggested to me by an LIS peer I know through Twitter, begins every chapter with a salient quote. The opening quote for Chapter 30 (pg. 206) was:

When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand.

– Henri Nouwen

This is what peer mentoring looks like, especially in times of transition. My first year of librarianship has consisted of my peer mentors mostly listening and empathizing. It is a lot more complex than coming up with a list of suggestions.

The only experience that I have to draw from is my own. But I wonder if this side of peer mentoring—providing comfort and compassion for others in times of transition—is as foundational for, say, a new library director or librarians new to middle management. In a recent post, entitled “Lost in Librarianship: Where I Wonder Where and If I Still Belong,” Michelle reflects on the challenges of being a new library administrator. She writes,

Now, I have found a few like-minded peers. Thank goodness. I mean, I’d be nuts already without them. But, is there more to library administration than a handful of friends that I trust? Again, where is the community?

A recent “Inside Higher Education” post on Why Mentor Matches Fail calls for faculty to move away from a guru-mentor model to a network-mentor model, which is very similar to what I describe above. The guru-mentor model relies on chemistry and the mentor having enough free time to advise the mentee (para 6). The network-mentor model recognizes that there common needs that all new faculty have: “professional development, emotional support, intellectual community, role models, safe space, accountability for what really matters, sponsorship, access to opportunities, and substantive feedback” (para 11) and that these needs should be met through a variety of mentors and a “network of support” (para 12). This echoes Michelle’s point: where does one find a variety of mentors and colleagues? I also wonder, when does a relationship go beyond a trusted friendship to a peer mentorship? Are they the same? What does true “community” look like?

The first answer that comes to my mind is Twitter. Some of the mentors I have access to through Twitter are “gurus,” but many are peers. Not everyone has access to the peer mentor network that I’ve built. I had the great privilege of attending an active LIS school in-person and having a graduate assistantship that encouraged peer to peer learning at the reference desk and through project work. So the question becomes, how can we use new means to build networks or make our current “network-mentor model” more rich? How can we continue to actively invite others into our network in a meaningful way, particularly when we know that they need access?

I don’t have all of the answers. I’d like to leave you with something that I do know, though. My favorite line of the “Inside Higher Education” piece is: “Let’s face it: mentoring is time-intensive, invisible and unrewarded labor” (para 7). My friend Elizabeth Lieutenant also tweeted about this recently. Peer mentoring is often hurling an unbelievable amount of emotional, uncompensated, invisible labor into the abyss, all while hoping that you’re helping your colleague as much as they’ve helped you. But it is, truly, the most rewarding, fulfilling, and engaging thing that I do.

Thank you to my many peer mentors who inspired this post and who continue to invest in me.

dinosaur from zine- you'll find that your GSLIS friends are your best mentors

My page from the Hello GSLIS Zine, created collaboratively on May 15, 2015

Librarianship Doesn’t Need Professionals

Check out our post on HLS today too! Heidi Johnson, ACRLog FYAL blogger, reflects on the greatest differences between grad school and professional life in “Structuring My Time.” See more information about the HLS/ ACRLog collaboration here

Madison Sullivan is a NCSU Libraries Fellow at North Carolina State University, where she is a librarian for Research and Information Services, and External Relations. Madison received her MSLIS in from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2015 and is a 2016 American Library Association Emerging Leader. Her views are her own, not her employer’s.

I’m supposed to write about professionalism from the perspective of a new librarian. How to be taken seriously as a “new professional,” and how to “be yourself” at the same time. Here’s the deal – it’s a total mystery to me how people manage it.

a lot of professionals are crackpots

A derivative of Jenny Holzer stickers by nadja robot, licensed under a CC BY-NC 2.0

I question what is it to be a professional every single day. I’m not sure I know what professionalism means or what it looks like. Perhaps I do, but the idea of it makes me nauseous.

It makes me nauseous because what if who I am, and who I’d like to be in the workplace, doesn’t align with other people’s definition of what a professional is? It makes me nauseous when I think about the advice, or implied advice, other people have given me about how I should go about being a professional. “Keep your head down. Don’t make waves. Don’t question anyone or anything, especially not your superiors. Keep your mouth shut. Emotions don’t have a place at work. Don’t tell anyone anything personal. Remember to smile.”

In the past, this advice limited my capacity to share my humanness and individuality with my coworkers, and impaired my ability to connect with others. Fear of being perceived as “unprofessional” or naïve has led me to being silent during meetings, and timid to my coworkers and supervisors. Performing professionalism left me feeling robotic and so not myself. Whose rules were these, really?

I know the kind of work environment I want to be a part of. I know the kinds of people I want to work and collaborate with. Much of the commentary surrounding professionalism wasn’t matching up with what I had envisioned and hoped for. If this was advice for being a professional, then perhaps I didn’t want to be one.

People say, “you need to be more professional” when what they really mean to say is “you need to fall in line” or “I don’t like that tattoo” or “hey, tuck in that shirt!” Professionalism is a word people use to maintain and enforce the status quo. Professionalism doesn’t take risks; it encourages conformity. Can you simultaneously call yourself a professional and advocate for radical change? Professionalism is safe and it is boring. I’d also argue that professionalism plays a part in reinforcing the illusion of library neutrality.

I don’t want professionalism to mean putting a façade or a veneer around ourselves before we walk into work everyday. But it does. And I don’t know what we can do about that. The illusion that our lives outside of work stops the second we enter the workplace has never made sense to me. I don’t know what we can do about that, either. It’s an exhausting charade.

Maybe, I think we can love one another. I think we can comfort each other and let our coworkers know it’s safe to share and express themselves. As a new employee, I have to see vulnerability first before I’m comfortable doing the same. I think we’re capable of that. Less judgment. Fewer assumptions. Is this professionalism in practice? I’d like it to be.

For me, the most difficult thing with any new job is that almost everything is unknown at the start. It can be a solitary, unsettling time in a person’s life, even if you haven’t relocated. You have to figure out the boundaries, the culture, your users, and the people you work with. You have to figure out what is acceptable, when it’s acceptable, and around whom. You have to discern how much of yourself is appropriate to bring into this new territory. Which parts of yourself do you hide, which parts do you let people in on? Who can you trust with your worries and your anxieties as you work through starting somewhere new?

I’ll be honest with you. I finished library school in May and have been in my first position as a new librarian for six months. It’s the most exciting thing in the world, and also the most terrifying. I still don’t feel like I’ve figured everything out, and I’m not incredibly comfortable being vulnerable yet. Even though I have been given so much love and support, I’m still trying to “fit in” in some respects. As a new librarian, it can be difficult to express yourself and let your guard down when you want to be respected, valued, and have your ideas taken seriously. You want to show everyone that you can do a good job and that they made the right choice when they hired you.

Learning how to “put a face on” was not something that ever came naturally to me – even after working almost a decade in customer service. As a woman, I’ve been told to think, behave, and act a certain way from a variety of sources and institutions. As a professional, we’ve been given a whole other set of rules to live by  (gendered expectations abound!). I’d like for librarians, especially those in leadership roles, to question what professionalism means and what it looks like. Are we taking a humanistic approach in helping to shape new professionals, in assisting our users, and impacting our profession for the better? Some libraries have done this well, and I feel so fortunate to work where I do.

It’s clear to me that professionalism is a performance. It is, among other things, a gendered term, attributed more often to those with a good deal of privilege. It’s a complex word. Those who successfully perform the role of The Professional are afforded more respect and responsibility in the workplace. Yet the traits I value in other human beings (vulnerability, emotional intelligence, authenticity, empathy) don’t often seem to fit into a typical professional construct.

I want library professionals to have real, open relationships with the people they work with. Is this an unprofessional idea? I want library workers and managers to recognize the humanity of their users, their coworkers, and their staff. We need library professionals who question the ethics of our institutions, and our commitment, or lack of commitment, to diversity. We need librarians who stand up for access to information, patron privacy, and intellectual freedom, even when it is hard to do. I want librarians to feel comfortable challenging “the way we’ve always done things.” Does your organization encourage performing professionalism more than it encourages questioning the status quo?

Librarianship doesn’t need more professionals. Librarianship needs people who can look critically at our field and feel compelled to bring about change. We need leadership that actively encourages this. How can we create work cultures conducive to this?

I’m a passionate and idealistic individual. Sometimes I’m overly enthusiastic when it comes to my work. To some, I may come off as completely unprofessional. I love being a librarian and I love this profession, and I’m usually not too shy about expressing it. It’s been difficult to write this blog despite my own insecurities (what if I sound GASP – unprofessional?!). I’m genuinely interested in knowing how others have approached professionalism within librarianship – feel free to share your thoughts below.