Category Archives: First Year Academic Librarian Experience

Bit of a Steep Learning Curve

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Managing the Overwhelm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First Year Reflections

This is my last post for ACRLog, and it’s a little hard to believe so much time has passed already. Not only is it the end of my term as a First Year Academic Librarian Experience writer for ACRLog, but last week marked the one year anniversary from when I started my current job. Looking back on the year, reflecting on what I’ve done and learned, and trying to sum it all up…well, it’s not that easy! I went from not really knowing what to do with my time, to feeling like there weren’t enough hours in the day (and thankfully settled somewhere in the middle). I’ve gone to local conferences in the Midwest and navigated ALA Midwinter and Annual for the first time. Focused on public servicecampus outreach, and library instruction, I’ve  learned so much about this school and community that was brand new to me a year ago. 

So what can I say about the past 365+ days? It’s way too much to try to sum up in one short post, but I’ll try to collect my thoughts into some “words of wisdom” that other early-career librarians can hopefully benefit from. Whether you’ve just started your first academic librarian job, have several years under your belt, or are in a job search, here’s the advice I would give:

Take your time. You probably have a lot of great ideas for things you want to do, but you don’t have to do them all right now. In fact, definitely don’t try to do them all at once! This seems to go against some common advice, such as “be open to trying new things” or “say yes to opportunities.” Absolutely, say yes to things! Go after opportunities and take on challenges, but be aware of taking on too much at the same time. Don’t test your limits to the point of breaking them; don’t let yourself turn great opportunities and challenges into burdens and struggles. In short, pace yourself.

Make friends. One of the greatest things about my job is that I am constantly learning from the people around me. By “make friends” I don’t mean to hang out with your co-workers on the weekends all the time, but remember that people usually want to help you out and want to see you succeed and do well. So don’t be afraid to ask for help, opinions, or mentorship from your colleagues! As a newer librarian, I not only find it valuable to learn from my colleagues’ years of experience, but the many different viewpoints and perspectives regardless of years in the profession. 

Look at the big picture. This is something I particularly have to keep in mind, as someone who tends to over-think, over-analyze, and get caught up in making every little detail *perfect* before I can move on. Take a step back and look at the big picture. What’s the main goal? What are you working towards? Does every little detail have to be perfect, or does it just have to get done, in order to move forward? Often I end up realizing that in perspective, something may not be as big of a deal as I’m making it out to be. This can apply to all sorts of situations.

Those are some general tips that helped me be successful in the past year, which presented many changes and new responsibilities. I have to say, I’m glad I volunteered to write this monthly blog post for ACRLog about my experiences in my first year as an academic librarian. It forced my to constantly reflect on my progress, goals, and ideas, and to sort out my thoughts to make them coherent. Now that I’m signing off, I hope I can keep up this habit of reflecting and writing!

Serenity Now, Insanity Later: why slow summers are only *sort of* a myth

Some say that the ‘summertime slowdown’ is a myth.  While that may be true for some librarians, I must admit that as I write these words I am taking an hour away from my desk to sit in my favorite campus coffee shop.  Unitasking, no less!  I can’t even imagine being able to do this during the academic year, and I’m grateful. But, as lovely as summer on the UW campus is, always in the back of my mind is a mantra that I heard once in a “Seinfeld” episode: “Serenity Now, Insanity Later!”

A brief summer calm before year 2 begins.
A brief summer calm before year 2 begins-image courtesy of NOAA Image Archive.

By which I mean, that every little thing I do now…every bit of forward planning that seems unnecessary, or that I could just as easily put off, will make things so much easier on me come October, when my job will inevitably get a little…crazy.

Anyway , given that things have slowed down a tad, now seems like a good time to review and reflect on my year.  This is my last “First Year Librarian Experience” post, so it’s time to wrap it up. But since it IS summer after all, I don’t quite feel like writing an article.  No, summer is the season for ‘listicles.’ And so, I bring you “7 Thoughts Every New Academic Librarian Has”..with apologies to Buzzfeed.

1. When you are offered your first Academic Librarian Job, you feel like, I’M JUST SO HAPPY TO BE HERE. Phew! You did it! Years of making small sacrifices, piling on student loan debt, doing jobs that weren’t quite perfect for you…OVER!

2. Well…maybe.

3. By December, the honeymoon period has worn off. Fall quarter, always lively, is drawing to a close, and you are starting to realize just how busy things can get.  You start thinking about how you are going to document all this stuff you’ve been doing.  Especially if you work in a non-traditional role or environment, you realize that there are going to be some challenges involved with documenting your activities when you go up for tenure, promotion, or a new job.

4. By late winter, you might be facing an employee review.  Your first year is almost half over, and it’s time to take stock of what you’ve done so far and identify the gaps in your skills, knowledge and activities.

5. Just when you start to feel like you’ve got a handle on your job and can get things done all on your own, you start to realize the value of your work relationships and partnerships.  Wow, the people around you really do a lot…you couldn’t do any of this without them!

6. By late spring, things are looking up.  Sure, the end of Spring quarter (or semester) is crazy busy, but you can console yourself with the having a few completed projects, a few major successes under your belt for the year.  Perhaps you’ve even attended a conference or two. You are building job knowledge and expertise. The MLIS candidates you know are all graduating and on the job hunt, and you take a moment to congratulate them while saying a silent “thank you” to the universe that you aren’t in their shoes.  For just a second! Because then it’s back to work, and off to work on padding your CV or working on your documentation!

7.  Yesssss…..you made it to Summer! Finally, things are slowing down and you can relax and take a break.  Or can you?

Now return to the top of this article, and repeat until your retirement or the librocalypse…whichever comes first.

Thanks so much ARCLog for giving me the opportunity to share my random musings this year! It’s been a blast!

Publishing!?

Scholarship and publishing: both the blessing and the curse of a tenure-track academic position. Of the three requirements for tenure and promotion, scholarship seems to be the most stressful requirement for many tenure-track librarians to meet. It is a frequent topic of conversation among younger faculty, reflective of the stress associated with this requirement. I feel that I’ve at least been able to keep up with this requirement (though others are far more active than I am) and so I’d like to share some of the things that have worked well for me. Furthermore, I want to follow my three points with some things I struggle with and am working on as a young librarian, as well as include a call to hear advice from readers.

First, write about that which interests you. There is so much literature in the library and information science profession that is just not of interest to many people. Some of the best and most interesting writing comes from authors who are interested in and excited by their work – be one of those writers! Perhaps it’s some topic which is interesting, or an innovation or novel process that you are implementing at your library – whatever it is, write about it and find a good journal for it. Chances are that you enjoy your career as a librarian, but have a wide variety of other interests (we are a profession with broad passions and curiosities). Where do your professional and personal interests align? Last month, I attended a panel at which Jessica Pigza spoke about her book BiblioCraft – which is an example of what great things can happen when you find the intersections between your professional and personal interests – and then write about it!

Second, though being sole author of articles is important for tenure and promotion, equally important to me has been collaboration on articles and other peer reviewed work. I feel very fortunate to have worked with some great folks on publications and presentations – and that collaboration made the finished product far stronger. Much of the work I’ve done collaboratively really could not have been done alone. Thinking about my first point, being passionate about what you write, it occurs to me that you might have some great, big idea piece you’d like to write. Part of it is very much in your area of expertise, but much of it is not. This is a perfect opportunity for collaboration. Invite the person that can speak to the areas where you feel less knowledgeable to be a co-author. I’ve met some great people this way, and have vastly expanded my own knowledge. It’s also a great way for a new professional to get one’s name on a wider stage.

Third, managing my writing and publication has been key for me. It’s important to always be writing, and to show progress, so that at the end of the tenure clock you aren’t trying to write a multitude of articles and hoping they will be accepted and published. For me, this means I am trying always to be active on three tasks: waiting on review of articles I have submitted, actively writing an article, and developing ideas and collaborations. Having some kind of sequencing like that is helpful, but presentations and articles don’t write themselves, and don’t appear magically out of the air. Perhaps sharing how I write and craft new ideas will be helpful to you, reader, and will also prompt you to share ideas with me (and the wider audience) that will improve our writing processes.

For me, writing begins with a very rough idea. It might come from something I read, an art work, a presentation, or even a movie. Always being open to blending things in and outside libraries has really expanded the pale of what I write about. Drawing parallels between libraries, and say, the work of Wes Anderson (I’d love to read that article) for example. When I have an idea, though, I need to write it down before it vanishes from my mind. Next for me is refining that idea by talking informally with knowledgeable people in and outside of the library. What things are interesting to people? What things work? Listen, and be willing to adjust your original idea – or abandon it altogether. When I feel like I have an idea a bit more refined, I am usually very excited to start writing – and that’s exactly what I do. Riding those waves of inspiration and excitement gets the majority of my first draft finished – but deadlines for draft submission (and tenure requirements) help. Blocking out time when you are writing is essential to me (as is having a clean workspace). When the writing is finished, my first draft is typically awful – and I try to step away from it. Give it to some people you trust to look at – for me revision is key in refining my flow and points.  I try to listen earnestly to the feedback, and swallow my pride and address the comments – even if that means a very thorough revision. Repeat the process of review and revision a few times, and something approaching a finished article or presentation is the result.

As I mentioned above, it’s not all quite dancing and happy times when I am writing (and I am certainly no Gene Kelly). My first point above was about finding where your interests overlap, which seems fairly simple prima facie. However, finding the area of overlap between your personal interests and the expectations for areas to publish about in scholarly journals is a bit more difficult for me. It’s especially hard for me – blending the tenure expectations of my job with writing for my PhD and then finding where that small area overlaps with my personal interests is very difficult. I would be really interested to hear what ideas you readers might have about that, and more broadly where, and how, you find positive overlap for scholarship.

Beyond finding that intersection of personal and professional interests, follow-through is also a problem for me. I have a hard time after the initial blush of interest starting to write. How do you all bridge the gap from idea to actually writing?

Finally, I frequently have ideas for scholarship that are broad (and inspired by people that inspired me) that I need to invite collaborators. It can be hard for me to swallow my pride and ask people who I deeply respect (and am a bit in awe of) to work with me. Do you all have any strategies on asking people to collaborate, and doing that collaboration in the best way?

I’d like to conclude with an invitation to you, reader, to share what works well for you (and what doesn’t) in the scholarship arena! Perhaps together we can reduce the stress we all feel about this area of tenure and promotion!