Category Archives: First Year Academic Librarian Experience

Stating Your Case: The Annual Review

This year marks my first year as a professional librarian and, as such, January 2016 is the due date of my first full performance review packet. Librarians at my university are considered faculty and are on a continuing appointment track, which is similar to tenure but different in structure. While this is the first full performance review I’ve ever encountered as a librarian, it is *not* the first time I’ve had to do a performance review. I was reviewed countless times during my former career in the corporate sector, and the outcomes of these reviews helped determine whether I received a raise, promotion, or additional opportunities within the company. I’ve always felt moderately confident going into these previous performance reviews because their expectations were clearly delineated and set. There were clear rubrics that determined an average score from an above average score. But my upcoming performance review as a faculty member has my head spinning.

First, I should explain that my university bases librarian performance on whether or not we meet the ever-amorphous “excellence in librarianship” and “impact” benchmarks as opposed to metrics or other formulas. So what determines excellence in librarianship? You tell me. Please!

Many of my colleagues at other universities have clear cut standards to which they are evaluated: thirty percent of their time is dedicated to service, thirty percent is dedicated to teaching, and thirty percent is dedicated to research, and so on. However, my employer has not established a standard for “excellence in librarianship.” There is no definitive standard for delineating what excellence could be for a reference and instruction librarian versus what is deemed excellence for a technical services librarian, for example. Some may argue that the lack of clear standards is a huge check in the plus column for librarians. We aren’t relegated to metrics, and we can showcase our efforts and tell our stories any way we want (at least theoretically). While numeric formulas may seem confining or even archaic, I have discovered that articulating and justifying my intangible, behind-the-scenes efforts, in addition to my standard job responsibilities, is difficult. It’s up to the librarian to strategically align their performance with the mission and vision of both the library and the university, which is what we should be doing anyway, but this lack of explanation does tangle the process.

My full performance review will be a partial year review. When it is submitted, I will have been with my university for ten months. The first six months of this job were spent becoming acculturated to my first academic job at a large R1 university in a major metropolitan area. This entailed a lot of instruction shadowing, meeting with students and faculty, and traveling to the other academic centers where I was assigned as liaison. Listening and observing was a huge part of my day-to-day work life. I kept a daily log of my activities, and submitted monthly activity reports to my reporting officer. These meticulous notes show lots of progress, including relationship building with colleagues, faculty, students, and stakeholders at my institution. In other words, I may not have loads of fancy workshops and sexy publications under my belt – yet – but I have laid significant ground work for future projects and programs that will potentially have a large impact of my daily work. But how do I showcase these in an annual review under the banner of “excellence in librarianship”? Are these considered “soft skills” even though this is what it takes to make a real impact?

Here are a few thoughts I’m using to guide my writing. I do not presume a one-size fits-all approach, but merely offer suggestions:

1. Soft skills have serious value. In fact, I posit that instructional academic librarianship as a whole is moving toward a more backstage model. Meaning, we – especially new librarians – may not have loads of workshops, programs, or events on our year-end activities report, but we are constantly working on the more understated areas of librarianship, such as cultivating relationships with community stakeholders, for future benefit. Based on both mine and my colleagues’ experiences (both at my institution and outside of it), our roles are changing. We spend more time working with faculty and colleagues on large, months-and-years spanning projects that fall outside realm of a brief bullet point or narrative paragraph. Mention these long-term planning events and relationship building in your review packet. Don’t be reticent to sell your soft skills.

2. Connect your activities to the strategic mission and vision of your library and institution. Obviously this should be incorporated into both short-term and long-term goal planning, but it also needs to be explicitly stated, especially in a performance review dossier. For example, I know my reporting officer understands how I connect my goals to the mission and vision of the libraries and the unique needs of my liaison department, but does my Dean know that? Or the Provost? How can I make it clear to them?

3. Marketing, marketing, marketing. Does that word conjure four-letter imagery for you? I get it, I really do. There are power structures and privilege inherent in traditional corporate marketing practices. I also understand that, for many of us, the term connotes with other corporate lingo such as customer service, traffic forecast, year-end results. They word is faulty, but, quite frankly, it is important to harness its power for our own use as librarians. Subvert the traditional use, and harness its power to your advantage.

Think of it less as marketing, and more as conveying value: it is vital to convey our value to everyone – stakeholders, faulty, students, colleagues. And we convey this through marketing, whether we like it or not. The way you market yourself as a librarian could not be more important than during the full performance review. The action verbs you use to tell your story, the way your weave your story, how you present your reference/instruction/tutorial statistics (table, narrative, chart?), the structure of your reports – it’s all important. It makes you unique. I may be biased – my undergraduate degree is in marketing and I worked as a brand manager at an advertising agency prior to graduate school – but it’s important. Subvert and harness.

4. Clear and concise vs. verbose and extensive. I love a good, long narrative, but my full performance review is not the place to extol the minutiae of my daily activities. Rather, I choose to focus on an activity-impact model. I’m choosing a few points to tell my story. It’s the written equivalent of an elevator pitch: tell the story in two pages or less.

5. Get as much trusted and honest feedback as you feel comfortable with. I don’t trust a thing that I write until several trusted colleagues, mentors, or friends have proofread it.

Good luck and happy writing to every librarian writing their performance review in the throes of year-end chaos.

En/Countering a Cliché

One of the tools I use for my instruction sessions is a cartoon of a librarian sitting at the reference desk with her “Librarian” sign sticking out of the trash, replaced by a sign that says “Search Engine.” I use this as an attention grabber, both to insert a bit of self-deprecating humor as well as to make students think about what librarians actually do. Of course, it is also a chance to talk about the services that UNLV Libraries provides.

So it’s cute; librarians aren’t necessary anymore because now we have Google – it’s a cliché about librarianship, which many people might actually believe. In the age of ebooks and Google and remote access to databases and journals that are so user-friendly, with the pace of change in technology, do we really need actual people to help us find information? Clichés are clichés often because they contain some truth, and the truth in this case is disconcerting when this is your life’s work.

It seems that the library world does see changes in technology and in the public’s perceptions as a serious threat, or there wouldn’t be a need to continually re-invent ourselves and our profession, or talk so much about the future of libraries. Even some librarians believe outright that librarianship is dying. With all the marketing campaigns and headlines touting the benefits that we will see with the “Future of Libraries,” the library world is tacitly acknowledging the truth that the traditional services of libraries are becoming obsolete, at least to a certain extent.

So as I enter this profession full force – teaching instruction sessions, meeting with faculty and students, learning the collections, etc. – I find myself experiencing some doubts about my professional identity, especially as I realize that no, my services are not absolutely essential in order for professors to teach their classes effectively. Did I choose a career path that is still necessary and important today, one that will continue to be necessary and important in the future?

I know what you’re thinking…yet another blog post on the death of librarianship or its counterpart the “Future of Libraries.”

My contribution to this conversation – which I believe is unique– is that I think that we should embrace the “death of librarianship.” I think we should confront it head-on, rather than whisper about it amongst ourselves every time those outside the library world bring it up, or bemoan the decline in reference services, for example. In order to really educate others about librarianship, we need to acknowledge the elephant in the room. We should even have a sense of humor about it, for this is a way to cope with a painful reality. To the belief that librarianship is a dying profession, we should be able to say, “Yes, it is,” because librarianship in the traditional or historic sense is dying.

Then we should follow up that “Yes” with an “and.” I think acknowledgement and recognition that there is truth to this stereotype is the best first step towards devising a solution. Yes, librarianship as it has traditionally been practiced is dying, and actually it is in the process of reinventing itself into something else. Libraries/librarianship is emerging and will continue to emerge as a profession, a space, and a type of service that are still essential for society and for academia. What will this look like exactly? One thing is certain: we’re outgrowing many of the traditional aspects of librarianship, and things are going to look quite different.

I won’t rehash all the ways in which libraries are growing and changing; there are plenty of places to read about those. Data services is one area in academic librarianship in which lots of changes and growth are happening, and I’m getting to witness and participate in those changes at UNLV Libraries on the Data Team. What I do want to focus on, though, is the need for all libraries, academic and public (and special, too), to connect with their communities. This is one aspect of librarianship that is timeless. Yet now it is more important than ever that libraries fulfill this need to provide a common space that is centered on knowledge, really in order to help equip people with the knowledge that they need to make their lives better. We need to fight for this enduring truth about libraries even as we reinvent ourselves. It is a truth that, if upheld, will secure our future.

With growing inequalities in the US, the racial tensions that are making the news every day, and the many other oppressive systems around the globe, libraries, as free public spaces, are necessary. I recently had a conversation via email with my Political Science professor from my MA program about the importance of libraries, and he actually put it a lot better than I could have myself, so I include his quote here with his permission:

“I think the stronger case for libraries is to be developed in a social argument. In some way, the defense of libraries is like the defense of public space, that is, like the defense of a commons or commonwealth. In other words, both the library and the librarian find their strongest defense in the guardianship of a commonwealth of knowledge, produced by a diverse collectivity, and for the sharing and intergenerational transmission of that knowledge.” – Richard Gilman-Opalsky

A public space, a commons, which is centered on knowledge – what could be more important and vital to a society than that? Realizing this, I can then ask how it applies to me and my situation here at UNLV. UNLV Libraries may be focused on helping students get the grade, but it supports students in other ways as well. With its extended hours, UNLV Libraries provides common spaces for students to go when they have nowhere else to go. The Libraries provides some of the most popular spaces on campus. The Lied Library building was even open on Veterans Day and will be open for most of Winter Break. In providing this common space, the Libraries encourages the pursuit of knowledge by all students equally, including those who do not have access to computers at home or those who have no other place to go that is free from distraction.

Besides this, there are other steps I can take to make sure that my services support and fulfill this crucial mission of libraries. In my instruction sessions and research consultations, I can ask: am I operating under this kind of ethos that I espouse as a librarian? I can engage in self-reflective practices and examine my assumptions that I make about students, and even professors from cultures other than my own, to make sure that I am a part of creating this kind of environment in which all are equally free to pursue, create, and disseminate knowledge. My beliefs about other people affect how I approach the class and engage students and others, and hidden biases and prejudice seep through, often in very subtle ways. I like to think that I am self-aware and free from prejudice, but I know that neither of those things is completely possible. I can deliberately work to challenge those assumptions that I make, through self-reflection, dialogue with, and mentorship by, colleagues, and quite simply, additional practice – through my actions towards others. I’ll conclude with a quote from Pedagogy of the Oppressed:

“Dialogue further requires an intense faith in humankind, faith in their power to make and remake, to create and re-create, faith in their vocation to be more fully human (which is not the privilege of an elite, but the birthright of all). Faith in people is an a priori requirement for dialogue […]” (p. 90).

I strive to have faith, faith in my students and other users as well as in myself – that we are capable and worthy human beings – both for its own sake and because it is a requirement for the ethos of social justice – and critical librarianship – to inform and infuse my practice.

If we simply cater to the elite and the privileged, if we simply conform to the status quo, allowing the systematic oppression that surrounds us, we will surely lose our relevance and our importance faster than the changes in technology that threaten traditional librarianship. On the other hand, if we fight to make our profession socially just, which is necessary for ensuring that all can participate in this commonwealth of knowledge, and if we treat others with the dignity that is rightfully theirs, we will secure a future and thrive. Libraries will become vital again.

Finding Your Niche and Establishing Yourself in the Academy: What You Didn’t Learn in Graduate School

Please welcome our new First Year Academic Librarian Experience blogger Callie Wiygul, Social Work Librarian at the University of Southern California.

Seven months ago, I started a new job as a social work librarian in a city thousands of miles from home fresh out of graduate school. Since then, I’ve been trying to find my niche within my new (and MUCH larger) university and the wider community of academic librarians. I’ve also been working to turn my MLIS project to something that will establish me within the academy. During graduate school I worked in a public library, and before that I worked for nearly a decade in the corporate sector. This journey from the corporate to public to academic world has uniquely positioned me as a flexible communicator, perceptive learner, and ambitious librarian. But are these traits and my MLIS portfolio enough to establish me within the highly competitive and often individualistic world of academia?

For months (years!) of uncertainty, I have struggled to claim a place within the community of academic professionals. There is no set path to this goal. There’s not even a defined starting line, nor is there a finish line and Jumbotron to announce “You can stop running now, Callie, you’ve made it!” I have also learned that librarians must fight to convey our value to our institutions, subject faculty, and even students. Even more, I have learned that we also must convey our value to each other–our colleagues in librarianship. The struggle is real, y’all!

Publication, programming, service, leadership: all of these are common ways through which librarians establish themselves on campus and within the larger library community. But how do you become an established librarian before you have discovered your niche within the profession?

It’s not like there’s not enough for a first-year librarian to worry about already: burnout, imposter syndrome, and navigating the idiosyncratic politics within academia. This doesn’t include the challenges of serving as the liaison to a body of approximately 1,200 graduate students and 100 faculty at four academic centers in Southern California. But when I feel overwhelmed I try to remember that my incredibly successful colleagues were all new librarians once, too! Shocking, right?! It’s a borderline platitude, but this sentiment gets lost in the chaos that is venturing out and making a dent in the universe (just watched the new Steve Jobs biopic, sorry!). Instead of seeing barriers, I choose to view this experience as it is: a) my job, and b) a huge opportunity.

I am a big fan of asking questions and soliciting advice from veteran and rookie colleagues alike. I began venturing forth from my comfort zone on Day One and met with colleagues over lunch. I asked for feedback on my manuscript draft, posited questions about the underpinnings of reference and instruction programs at my institution, volunteered to join campus committees, and vetted ideas about programs and events to colleagues both within and outside of my liaison area.

Of course, none of this was carried out without anxiety! I’m almost always terrified when anyone—even closest friends and family—reads my words or hears my ideas. But this going-out-on-a-limb experience has unequivocally made me a better writer and thinker. Reaching out to fellow instruction librarians and asking them if I could observe their instruction sessions has introduced me to lesson plans and teaching styles that have definitely made me a better educator. I apply for (what seems like) countless leadership programs, calls for proposals, and grants because I am hungry to explore my interests in leadership, programming, and instruction not only to establish myself as a professional, but to become a better librarian as well. And, honestly, I’ve been turned down more times that I care to admit. But, hey…it’s par for the course in academia.

So how do I find a niche to call my own and the academic bona fides to give weight to my name? In everything I do, I consistently ask myself “Is this marketing tool/program idea/reference answer/FAQ submission helping people? Do I truly feel compelled to do it? Is it only because it is a hot topic on Twitter?” These questions often help me parse out the crucial from the superfluous. They also provide insight into potential career interests and goals.

It’s easy to fall down the proverbial rabbit hole of following others. So many librarians are superstars at what they do and have become “library famous” for their achievements. I’ve learned that as a new librarian, you can get caught in the vacuum of trying to follow every Twitter chat, read every article mentioned in said Twitter chat, while blogging about being a librarian, applying for grants, and developing new ideas. The Digital Age can be just as dizzying and disheartening as it can be nurturing and inspiring. Here is where I believe perspective can bring things into focus.

Instead of guiding my work with the intent on being a superstar, I guide my work by focusing on my growth as a librarian. I must find ways to design programs and ideas that will help faculty and students attain their research goals. At the same time, I must develop the confidence to create my own ideas and take advantage of my own abilities. That is MY goal. It has to be, because if my actions are simply founded on the desire to be library famous or earn the respect of the academy, they won’t be meaningful. I’d rather cultivate my niche and excel at it in a way that is both personally fulfilling and helpful to my students, colleagues, and university. Finding a niche and establishing myself won’t happen overnight, but it will if I stay focused on the bigger things and keep my fears and ego in check.

A Midwestern Girl in the Land of Politics

Please welcome our new First Year Academic Librarian Experience blogger Quetzalli Barrientos, Resident Librarian at American University.

American University History Photograph and Print Collection
Bender Library Under Construction, courtesy of the American University History Photograph and Print Collection

I have been at my new job for two and half months as the current Resident Librarian at American University (located in Washington, DC). My main job duties consist of reference and instruction, with the freedom to pursue some of my own interests. Like a lot of you might be thinking, what is a residency position? Is it like an internship? What exactly does it entail? I’ll admit that before getting this position, I was also not familiar with the term “residency.” However, I’m getting ahead of myself. I have to go back to before I got this position.

As I began my last semester of library school in the Spring of 2015, I began to apply to jobs. A lot of jobs. To say that the job-hunting process is stressful is an understatement. While I was focusing on mostly reference and instruction positions in academic libraries, I also applied to outreach and community engagement positions. As anyone who has been on the library job-hunt (or starting) can tell you, the job description and requirements are a very important part. While applying, I saw a fair share of job descriptions. A lot of them were detailed and gave the applicant a good sense of what the job entailed…and there were some job descriptions that had three or four sentences.

One particular job announcement caught my eye. The position was for a Resident Librarian for American University in Washington, DC. By that time, I had been applying to jobs for about three months and this was the first time I had encountered a “residency” position. I’ll admit that I was a bit confused about the term “residency,”- but I am glad to say that the job description answered my questions. “American University Library invites early-career librarians to apply for its Resident Librarian Program. The program is a fixed-term appointment of three years and designed to provide an immersion into academic librarianship.”

As I read through the job posting, I saw that the responsibilities would include reference and instruction, just what I wanted! I quickly applied and waited. As you may now have realized, I got the job. However, I want to go more in depth about the residency position, its structure, and its place in the library.

My residency position is part of the Diversity Alliance Institute. The purpose of the program is to bring diverse set of entry-level librarians into academic librarianship. The Diversity Alliance has partnered with the University of Iowa, West Virginia University, and Virginia Tech (and obviously American University). By having the resident librarians immersed in academic librarianship, they are given the opportunity to explore their interests.

Recently, all the residents involved in the Diversity Alliance Program gathered at the campus of West Virginia University. I had the pleasure of meeting the other residents, their supervisors, and the people who made this event possible. This conference was meant to do a couple of things. First, it was meant for the residents to meet the people who came together to make the Diversity Institute possible. Second, it was meant for everyone, but especially the residents to network and interact with people from the various universities in attendance. Third, and this the most important in my opinion, is for the residents to meet each other and be able to exchange ideas and collaborate.

Having met the people who are in the same position, I feel like I am not alone. I was also able to get to know them, their backgrounds, what their interests are, and how their residencies are shaped and organized.

A little bit about my position. I am part of American University Library’s Research, Teaching, and Learning (RTL) Division. As a member of this division, I do reference at our Research Desk and help students, faculty, and staff with their research needs. I also do instruction for the College Writing Program at AU. This consists of communicating and reaching out to faculty members who teach these classes and organizing and planning a library instruction session for their class. I also have the opportunity to get involved in projects that reflect my interest. I participate in social media and marketing within the RTL Division and the AU Library.

Like some of the other residents, my job will have a “rotation” aspect to it. What does this mean? This means that I will be rotating around departments within the library. However, while I am doing the project or tasks within a certain department as part of the rotation, I still have my duties to reference, instruction, and anything else I might be involved with.

As I was talking to the rest of the residents, I was interested to see how their residency had been organized. For example, Virginia Tech University has their residency broken down by year.

“In the first year, the Resident will serve in three or four functional areas, determined mutually by the Resident’s interests and the needs of the Libraries.”

“In the second year, the resident will begin to specialize by contributing to one or two functional areas of his or her choosing, in consultation with the Library’s Resident Program Coordinator and directors in charge of the functional areas. The resident will then begin to formulate the basis for a capstone project.”

Among the choices were Learning Division, Data Curation, Assessment, and Scholarly Communications, to name a few.

“In the optional third and final year, the Resident will continue to specialize and will complete a capstone project, preferably suitable for publication, which incorporates the expertise and perspectives gained during the residency.”

I have recently started a project with Technical Services at the AU Library, but it feels good to have a home in the Research, Teaching, and Learning Division. Throughout my time as a blogger for ACRLog, I will be writing a bit about my residency job, adventures, and other cool things that might pop up. Most importantly, I want to hear from you and I look forward to getting to know you!

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?