Category Archives: First Year Academic Librarian Experience

Being “Human” In the Classroom: A Case for Personal Testimony in Pedagogy

I’m three months into my first year as an academic librarian and it has been a whirlwind. Conversations with many of my LIS friends confirm that the transition to professional librarianship presents invigorating ups as well as exhausting downs. Something I have been trying to focus on is embracing the ups and moving quickly and gracefully past the downs (with a little reflection). In the spirit of trying to get better at this, I’d like to share the best “up” I’ve found in my short three months as an Information Literacy Librarian.

If you have the opportunity, use your personal experience in the classroom. I know that this is incredibly scary. Being vulnerable as a (new!) instructor is terrifying. Further, balancing vulnerability with expertise can sometimes be a challenge. Yet, Maria Accardi recently gave a brilliant keynote on library burnout in which she held, “I think to truly see each other, to respect and care for the souls of students, means aligning the emotionally vulnerable parts of your self to the corresponding parts of the student” (p. 13). Moments of vulnerability in the classroom, while intimidating, can foster unbelievably rich and meaningful dialogue. I’ve even had students approach me after class to ask me about a specific part of the testimony I shared, which can lead to subsequent conversations about their own research. I’m still struggling to figure out exactly why this happens, but a recent Twitter conversation sparked some ideas:

sharing experience tweet

why does it work tweet

april's response- connects learning to experience

I so appreciate April’s observation that it creates a stronger connection between experience and learning. Accardi adds that students are whole people in the classroom and that they “bring with them all of the things that make them human—their stories, their beliefs, their filters, their talents, their challenges, their emotional baggage, everything” (p. 12). Why can’t librarians be whole people too? Why can’t we bring the same baggage into the classroom? And doesn’t being “whole” make us more approachable? Doesn’t it make research more approachable?

I believe that it does. So how does one even start to integrate more personal experience into their teaching? Many of the tactics I have tried stem from an intensive research project I’m currently doing. I’m completing my first peer-reviewed article for In the Library with the Leadpipe and I have found that this provides rich testimony for many different research issues.

For example, I recently asked students to articulate what their research process looks like. They spent a few minutes drawing their process, from the time a research project is assigned to the time that they turn it in. We then tried to combine their ideas into one complex research process on the board. I was currently going through my own research process and I used this opportunity to challenge them with trials I had faced. I asked the students questions like “but what happens if you’re tracking down citations and you suddenly realize someone has already written the paper you’re writing?” and “how is research continually part of the writing process?,” often providing tangible examples from my article along the way. Before we knew it, the board was covered in arrows, illustrating the iteration necessary to do quality research. After the class, the professor came to my office to thank me. She said that she thought that the activity might have been the first time her students have had to articulate exactly what their process looks like. She said that she thought it would definitely help the students be more thoughtful researchers. I also believe that it made iteration and revision “okay” and maybe even reduced some library anxiety.

research process

My sample research process that I use as a starting point for this activity (adapted from NCSU’s “Picking Your Topic IS Research” video)

I have also used my experience with Leadpipe to facilitate conversations about how peer review works, blind vs. open and more collaborative forms of peer review, and the time it takes to complete vetting processes. This often sparks a more thoughtful and nuanced conversation about the pros and cons of peer review, which moves students away from peer-reviewed-equals-good-and-popular-sources-equals-bad conversation.

I have also plugged our citation management system, Zotero, in these conversations. I have a single-spaced twenty-five page document of notes and draft citations for my article (no, this is, unfortunately, not a joke). I might risk compromising my “expertise” with students by sharing this fact and letting them know that I wish I would have used Zotero at the beginning of my project. Again, it is definitely nerve-wracking to be vulnerable in this moment. But I think it makes me more human and illustrates to students that research is a continual learning process, even for librarians.

Sharing your experience can be as simple as sharing tidbits about how you approach research. How do you figure out what the scholarly conversation is? What tools do you use to start your research? Do these change after you know the important scholars or disciplines for your topic? For example, I often share that one of my favorite ways of entering the scholarly conversation is by reading more about my general topic area and then finding claims I’d like to challenge or push back on and doing citation tracking from there. You can even reflect on the research you did in undergrad or graduate school. How did you use class readings to guide your thesis development? How did you organize your research? The point is not to show that you’re perfect. The point is to show that imperfect research can be successful too and that librarians can help guide students through this process because we’ve been there.

This work is not always easy. I have definitely noticed that sharing personal experience in the classroom can be harder or easier because of class dynamics, faculty involvement, or even student level. The reality is that it is difficult to build trust in the classroom when sometimes the space doesn’t even feel like your own. I hope to continue to brainstorm how sharing personal experience can go beyond the one-shot session. For example, I am currently thinking through how I might use some of this testimony in my research consultations with students.

How do you incorporate your personal experience into your teaching?

What Happens in Vegas… How My Location (and all the Vegas Truisms) Impact My Job

Please welcome our new First Year Academic Librarian Experience blogger Heidi Johnson, Social Sciences Librarian at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

gamblers
Photograph of gamblers at a craps table in the El Rancho Vegas (Las Vegas), 1950s, courtesy of UNLV Libraries Digital Collections.

When I first accepted my position as Social Sciences Librarian at University of Nevada, Las Vegas, I thought to myself, “How cool is this. I will be living in the ‘entertainment capital of the world,’ which also happens to be a beautiful desert surrounded by mountains.” I looked forward to living somewhere, well, really ‘interesting,’ to put it in the most generic yet suitable of terms.

Other than imagining potential weekend excursions hiking or camping, or taking advantage of some of the many cheap buffets in the city, (which aren’t so cheap anymore, by the way) and, ok, maybe trying a slot machine so I could say I’ve gambled once in my life, I didn’t really think much about how the physical location might affect me in my new situation. To me, considerations about the community were for community engagement and outreach librarians or public librarians, and maybe – at least in Vegas – special collections librarians.

Rather than thinking of the community, I was focused on academics. To me, academic environments were sheltered environments. I imagined the students that I would work with would be defined primarily by the nature and content of their studies rather than their backgrounds. Their backgrounds – which, in my mind, meant their upbringings and culture experienced within nuclear families – I assumed, would be of little concern to me, as my job was to support their academic work.

Once I started my job, I quickly discovered that these views and assumptions were wrong. To understand the academics at UNLV, it is also necessary to understand the community. UNLV is a microcosm that reflects the geography, economy, culture, and politics of the larger locale of Vegas. In fact, one cannot understand the academic environment at UNLV without having at least a basic understanding of the community.

So how does ‘Sin City’ impact, infuse, and invigorate UNLV? There are so many ways… For one, the student body is largely made-up of first generation students from underrepresented populations. Recently ranked 2nd most diverse campus in the nation by US News & World Report, UNLV is a designated Minority Serving Institution (MSI), with over half of the student population reporting being part of a racial or ethnic minority. Hispanic students make up the largest minority group, and UNLV also has a designation as an Asian American, Native American, and Pacific Islander-Serving Institution (AANAPISI). Different groups from neighboring states, the Midwest, and Asia and Latin America have migrated to Nevada for the cheap housing and job and business opportunities. In fact, between 2000 and 2007, the state of Nevada grew by 28.4 percent – making Nevada the fastest growing state.[i] Religious groups also have a presence in Sin City; 77 percent of Las Vegas residents say they are religious. And of course, yes, there is also plenty of secularism in Vegas. Fact: In 2010, the United Church of Bacon (UBC) was founded here. (UBC would be the least of Sin City’s concerns about secularism, I suppose, although this atheist group with legal standing as a church has demanded to be taken seriously.)

The Las Vegas community has needs that UNLV is oftentimes able to meet. For instance, there is a shortage of doctors in the Las Vegas valley and in Nevada, and now UNLV is building a medical school. Professors and students also use their expertise to address issues that arise within the community. For example, UNLV Engineering professors and students 3D-printed a prosthetic hand for a 4-year-old child in the community who was born with a rare birth defect.

The academic programs and research interests of faculty and students also reflect this cultural and ethnic diversity, as well as many other aspects that characterize this urban environment and the wider region/state. I have worked with the class of a Sociology professor who studies legal prostitution in Nevada. This work is significant and fills a gap in societal knowledge and values; the book that she co-authored, The State of Sex: Tourism, Sex, and Sin in the New American Heartland, might even have the effect of restoring dignity to sex work and fighting stigma, while at the same time examining problems within the system. While not solely about Las Vegas – prostitution is illegal in Las Vegas itself – the book demonstrates how place impacts the social phenomena that scholars study. The brothels have been in Nevada since the mid to late 1800s,[ii] but it is likely the political and cultural climate in the state that has guaranteed their legality and longevity until today. After all, “Nevada built a tourist industry on turning deviance into leisure.”[iii]

Tourism isn’t just a topic of study in Sociology. People come here to learn how to work in the tourist industry, too. UNLV has a hotel college – the William F. Harrah College of Hotel Administration – and a hospitality liaison librarian. Yes, people do come here to study gaming; there is even a Center for Gaming Research with a collection of historic books about gaming. We even have an antique slot machine up in Special Collections.

In all of my many experiences as a student at five different academic institutions (it’s been a long journey), I have never encountered a situation where the school has had such close ties to the community. It makes sense, given that it is, after all, Vegas we’re talking about here. Yet, my time here so far has allowed me to reflect on these experiences, and on the backgrounds of the students at my former institutions, more carefully. As an undergraduate at North Park University in Chicago – which is the only school affiliated with the Swedish-American Evangelical Covenant Church – I, by and large, was surrounded by people who looked a lot like me – blue eyes, blondish hair – with Swedish or Scandinavian ancestry, who had similar religious upbringings in middle class families. The school offered a major in Scandinavian studies and a study-abroad experience in Sweden, and the library’s holdings and archives also reflected this heritage. As for the religious heritage, all full time professors were required to sign a statement of faith and incorporate their Christian beliefs into their teaching in some way. But being in the city, in one of the most diverse neighborhoods at that, there were many commuter students from various other ethnic and religious backgrounds. Their perspectives certainly mixed things up a bit at this predominantly white, evangelical Christian university that also took pride in its urban setting.

Another of my alma maters, University of Illinois, is defined by its student population, with many students from Chicago and many international students. And students I met at the European Graduate School were from all over the world – many different continents – which was definitely reflected in their unique perspectives. Finally, the academics at Loyola University Chicago, a Jesuit school where I studied philosophy, were also impacted by the type of community that it was. Social justice was emphasized at the school in general, and Continental (European, as opposed to Anglo-American) philosophy was a major focus of the philosophy program, in large part, I think, because it was a Catholic school. At all of these institutions, my academic trajectory (and personal journey) was largely determined by the history, geography, beliefs and values, and politics and culture of the schools.

Now as I move forward in my new job, I can be more aware of the differences among students, and why they think certain ways or have certain beliefs, values, or skill sets. I can be more aware of the reasons why professors and students choose certain topics to research and not others. Not only that – not only does this knowledge help me understand difference – it can also help be a more sensitive and empathetic librarian and teacher knowing that all of my students, and professors with whom I liaise, come from a place – a rich, complex background that has informed and, ultimately, shaped them to be who they are today.

Place matters. Vegas matters. To this job, to me, to the UNLV community.

[i] See p. 3 and Note 8, p. 245. Brents, B. G., Jackson, C. A., & Hausbeck, K. (2010). The State of Sex: Tourism, Sex, and Sin in the New American Heartland. New York, NY: Routledge.

[ii] See p. 6, Brents, Jackson, and Hausbeck.

[iii] Ibid, p. 2.

In Search of First Year Academic Librarian Bloggers

A new academic year is just around the corner, and we’re looking to bring on a few new bloggers here at ACRLog. We’d like to thank Erin Miller and Lindsay O’Neill for their terrific posts this past year in our First Year Academic Librarian Experience series, and we’d like to encourage new academic librarians — those who are just beginning in their first position at an academic library — to blog with us during their first year.

If you’re interested in applying to be a FYAL blogger here at ACRLog, please use the ACRLog Tip Page to contact us by September 15. Along with your contact info, please send:

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

Please send any questions to msmale@citytech.cuny.edu. We’re looking forward to hearing from you!

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.