Category Archives: library careers

Crossing the Bridge: Library School to Library Job

Please welcome our new First Year Academic Librarian Experience blogger Nisha Mody, Health & Life Sciences Librarian at the Louise M. Darling Biomedical Library at the University of California, Los Angeles.

In the summer of 2016, I decided to start applying for librarian jobs. I wouldn’t graduate until May 2017 at the earliest, but a Health & Life Sciences Librarian position at UCLA immediately sparked my interest. Before getting my MLIS, I was a speech-language pathologist. And I love the sun. These two experiences convinced me that I was qualified for this position. I figured this would get me to start updating my resume and website (which now needs more updating). And it worked, I got the job! I was shocked and overjoyed.

Since I was applying to jobs on an earlier timeline, I also ended up starting my position before I finished my MLIS. Thankfully, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has an online learning option to complete an MLIS. So I moved out to La La Land in March 2017 to start my first real librarian job. I have been in my position for a little over 6 months now, and while it took me awhile to understand the myriad of UCLA acronyms, I am finally starting to feel that I have a decent grasp of how things work. However, this grasp has been very (or not very) informed by my experience in my MLIS classes and while working at the Communications Library. I was also able to chronicle several of my experiences and reflections while writing for Hack Library School. Similar to Abby, I took the advice to get as much library experience as possible. I tried my best given that this is my third career, I am in my mid-30s, and I honestly just wanted to get this show on the road.

Now that I have gotten that first library job, I am starting to see what I did learn in library school and working in a library – these lessons have helped me tremendously. However, I realized that there were some learning opportunities I missed. Yet one of the most enlightening aspects of my experience has nothing to do with library school. Rather, I see how the skills I obtained in my previous careers in IT consulting, IT recruiting, and speech-language pathology are transferring to library-land. I’ll outline each of these a bit right here:

What did I learn?

While working at the Communications Library, I gained knowledge about the importance of positive patron interactions (and how to communicate in not-so-positive interactions), outreach, library organization, the integrated library system, interlibrary loan, and the myriad of possibilities to be more critical in all of these areas (and more).

In library classes, I learned the value of intellectual freedom and how this related to control. I learned how various medium of books (print, electronic, and everything in between) are perceived and used. While I don’t ever see myself working in technical services, I gained knowledge about cataloging and metadata which have helped me understand how resources are categorized. My involvement in University of Illinois’ local Progressive Librarian’s Guild chapter allowed me to advocate for issues seemingly outside my immediate library space. I was also able to integrate experiences from library school to my work in a library through an independent study by starting a Human Library chapter.

All of these lessons (and probably more) were essential to how I view the library today. They have given me the framework for my work today and in the future, especially to never remain neutral as a librarian.

What did I miss?

One of the things I loved about my program was that there was a lot of freedom in the classes you could take. However, the downside of this is that I chose to take classes that looked oh so dreamy. As a result, some of the practical classes fell by the wayside. I wish I took classes around collection development and the administration and management of libraries. I never felt the urge to be a collection development librarian, but I do have to start making these decisions within my current role. I know I can learn this on the job, however, having a better foundation would have been helpful.

I am only now really seeing Ranganathan’s fifth law, “The library is a growing organism” in action. But, in my opinion, it is critical to really understand how different functions within a library relate to each other to see this organism in action. After being in less fulfilling careers, I was resolved to take the classes I was passionate about. And while I am happy I was able to do this, I forgot that I am also passionate about the library itself. This required me to have a grounded understanding in all of the different areas of librarianship whether I was to focus upon them or not.

What have I been able to transfer?

While I am thrilled to not directly be working in corporate culture (because, let’s be real, it is always integrated in our work), I did learn valuable skills regarding project management organizational structure, processes, and workflows, that I can infuse into my work today. I also dealt with various stakeholders in these positions; I see how these interpersonal skills have been beneficial when I interact with vendors now. These experiences have also given me critical thinking skills to analyze and navigate through a stakeholder’s motives and desires.

My work as a speech-language pathologist has first and foremost amplified my empathy. Invisible disabilities are real, and I have learned to never assume anything about a colleague and/or patron. While working in the schools, I learned about a lot of economic, family, and social obstacles that many of my students faced. Everyone has a story, and this has been important for me to keep in mind as a librarian. Additionally, being a speech-language pathologist requires one to create tangible goals for patients/students/clients to measure progress. This has easily translated into learning outcomes for library instruction. I realized that I have always been a teacher of sorts, and while the setting is different, the skills are transferable.

I am truly looking forward to contributing to this blog, and I hope that my skills and knowledge are ever-increasing – building upon the past and supporting a growing organism.

HLS/ACRlog: How to Encourage and Assist New Subject Librarians

Today we welcome a post by Zoë McLaughlin as part of our collaboration with Hack Library School . Zoë McLaughlin is a Master’s student at the University of Michigan’s School of Information.  She plans to become an area studies librarian focused on Southeast Asia.  Her main area of focus is Indonesia, though lately she spends a lot of her time cataloging Malay-language books and learning Thai.  In her spare time, she translates Indonesian fiction and poetry, writes fiction, reads everything she can get her hands on, and dances.  Find her on Twitter, LinkedIn, or at her personal blog.

 

This summer, I attended a meeting that brought together a number of people with an interest in Southeast Asia, including subject librarians.  During the meeting, someone brought up the question of how to encourage and assist people who might want to become Southeast Asia subject librarians themselves.  I did not have any answers at the time, but I’ve since done some thinking about institutional memory, my current precarious-feeling position in the field, and what the future might hold.  With this in mind, I’d like to present some suggestions for encouraging and helping newcomers to Southeast Asia librarianship and to subject librarianship more broadly.

  1. Provide short-term opportunities

The internships I’ve completed have been invaluable in learning about a specialized field.  I can acquire general knowledge of library science in my classes, but working in a real working environment teaches new skills that I cannot learn anywhere else.  I’ve learned about Romanization tables and how to acquire government publications.  We didn’t talk about this in library school.

If you have a short-term project and you could use some help, please circulate that information.  While paid internships and other short-term opportunities are obviously ideal, publicize unpaid opportunities as well—I might be able to find the funding on my own.  This way, I can learn from you; you can get help with a project; and the commitment required from both of us is specific and relatively small.

  1. Provide extended opportunities

Again, I recognize that finding funding for anything, particularly something long-term, can be a challenge.  However, this is the most direct way to influence my professional trajectory and pass on institutional knowledge.  As I begin my own job search, I am considering applying to residencies as a way to get this sort of experience for myself.  That said, residencies are few and far between, especially ones with an area studies focus.

But imagine a residency geared specifically toward training new subject librarians.  This would provide space for new librarians to learn and for seasoned librarians to teach, while removing the pressures of working in what can often be a solitary subject librarian position.

A program such as this would take work to pull off, which leads me to my next point:

  1. Advocate from within your institution

Situated within a university, you are already positioned to advocate for change in a way that I am not.  Propose the creation of learning opportunities—short- and long-term—for emerging professionals to learn the intricacies of the field.  Large, institutional changes need to come from within.  Push for the creation of new residency programs or formalized internship programs.  Present your concerns about the future of the field to your library and ask for help in finding solutions.

  1. Provide guidance

If you are not in a position to provide large or extensive opportunities, your guidance and advice is still invaluable.  Let me know about conferences, meetings, and other events that you think might interest me or might benefit my professional growth.  I cannot stress how important it was when my mentor offhandedly mentioned that I might want to attend the Association for Asian Studies conference.  Not only did I learn much more about the profession simply from attending meetings at the conference, I also made contacts that led me to securing my summer internship.

Small conversations can also benefit me greatly: tell me about the path that led to your current job, tell me about how you track down hard-to-find books, tell me about useful contacts that you’ve made over the years and how you managed to make them.  Informal conversations can be as helpful as more formal opportunities.

  1. Foster partnerships between institutions

Especially in a field as small as Southeast Asian studies, we are spread out between institutions and locations.  New librarians are just at the beginning of their careers while others are retiring; the retention of institutional memory extends beyond a single university’s walls.  Working together, we can share knowledge and collaborate on projects larger than those within a single institution.  This can ensure broad continuity and smoother transitions moving forward.

Reach out and we can work together!  Ultimately, we’re both interested in furthering knowledge about our specific field, so let’s figure out ways to make that happen!

HLS/ACRLog: First Generation College Students and the Job Search with an MLIS

Today we welcome a post by Chloe Waryan as part of our collaboration with Hack Library School . Chloe Waryan is a MLIS candidate at the University of Iowa. She entered into the library field by way of urban public libraries, as a patron, a volunteer, and eventually an employee. She now works as a technical editor for an academic journal. Chloe’s professional interests include access, preservation, and outreach.

I am not sure if any time is “the best time” to choose to go to graduate school for library and information science, but 2016 was definitely an interesting choice. Growing up, I knew very few professionals with college degrees, so I was not prepared for the relative poverty that most graduate students live in today. Like many of my classmates, paying for library school is constantly on my mind, as it is the biggest purchase I’ve ever made. There is an immense privilege attached to going to college, yet it comes with an extreme price tag. Despite our oversharing culture, high tuition has become the new normal and it is hardly ever discussed. It’s a confusing time. Is it hypocritical for academics to complain about high tuition? Can students be against degree inflation while still being supportive of the education we are receiving? The hardest part of starting library school last year wasn’t the coursework or the final exams. It was attempting to wrestle with the value and the values of my soon-to-be-obtained MLIS.

 

We’ve all heard the phrase: “the college degree is becoming the new high school diploma!” This means that despite the high tuition, the college students today are not the elite. Students from all economic classes are awarded the great opportunity to attend college, with help from scholarships and loans. According to the 2010 study from the Department of Education, an estimated 50% of all college students currently enrolled are first generation college students (including myself), who are statistically at a greater risk for dropping out due to many factors, one being imposter syndrome.

 

Have you ever hesitated to apply for a job because you think you’re not qualified? That is imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome has the potential to follow students not only through their bachelor’s programs, but their graduate programs and job search.  According to many postings on the ALAJoblist, one must have an MLIS to become an academic librarian. Often time, a second master’s degree or Ph.D. is preferred. Amidst the ever-changing environment of higher education, we are no longer advocating towards lifelong learning as “a key to longer, healthier, more satisfying and productive lives,” (Education and Continuous Learning, ALA) but rather, pushing “lifelong learning to stay employed,” (Kim, 2). If degree inflation continues in this rate, a Ph.D. will be required to hold a librarian position. If that becomes the case, who will we be excluding?

 

I admire librarians who have decades of library experience but no college degree. When I graduate, they will still be far more experienced than I. They are the toughest, smartest, kindest professionals, and I consider them pioneers in their field. My hero librarians have gained their expertise by working in a professional environment, taking classes as non-degree seeking students, critically thinking on their own, and of course, through reading books. They do not see gaining a library job as an endgame, but rather as an opportunity to potentially learn what they were not afforded to learn in college. If they applied for another job either laterally or higher up, they would not get the position because of their lack of formal education. Potential employers would be missing out on their creativity, productivity, and entrepreneurial spirit. I have also known librarians who have Ph.D.s who have seem to forgotten the core values of librarianship. We are working with two different sets of standards: one set is formal education and one set is experience. Hiring committees should be able to reflect in their postings that both sets have merit. If anyone can compromise between two different sets of standards, a librarian can.

 

By putting a college degree on a pedestal, we exclude others who have chosen not to get or who are barred from getting the education with which we are privileged. If degree inflation continues, I predict that the LIS field will include those who feel comfortable in an academic setting, thus excluding the first generation college students currently enrolled in America (which, as a reminder, is half of everyone currently enrolled in college). Why are we not hiring people who accurately represent the demographics of our school? I will add that this is not necessarily all our fault, as much of this comes from administration and union restraints, from the competitive job market and from our fear-driven economy. The anxiety and fear we face as library professionals in America right now is overwhelming. We can only try to be more welcoming to those who offer unique perspectives.

 

To be clear, I do not think that the MLIS isn’t valuable. It is a huge accomplishment. Aside from luck, convenience and privilege, I work towards a master’s degree because I want a job that I enjoy, and I want to prepare myself for that job through a combination of schooling and work. However, I must admit that the thought of applying for a job as an academic library is incredibly intimidating. I have heard stories about the all-day interviews. I have been told to save a few thousand dollars to travel to interviews. I have also been told to brush up on my dining etiquette because the casual lunch “counts.” Even after overcoming the struggles of a first generation college student, I fear that I am unemployable. As academic librarians, you have a responsibility to your students and your applicants. It is your responsibility to show these new faces that they have unique perspectives needed in their respective fields, their institution is proud to be represented by them, continuing education is something to be admired and it is never a burden to ask for help. You also have a responsibility to yourself. Show that the journey doesn’t end with the completion of the degree. Welcome and learn from your coworkers. Despite the larger issues in America, patience and compassion towards everyone, no matter what socioeconomic background, can create a new era in which everyone will want to become librarians.

Thank you to ACRLog and Hack Library School for this opportunity.  

 

References:

 

Cardoza, Kavitha. “First-Generation College Students Are Not Succeeding in College, and

Money Isn’t the Problem.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 20 Jan. 2016, www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2016/01/20/first-generation-college-students-are-not-succeeding-in-college-and-money-isnt-the-problem/?utm_term=.d26f3ac65369.

 

“Education and Continuous Learning.” About ALA, American Library Association, 13 May 2013, www.ala.org/aboutala/missionhistory/keyactionareas/educationaction/educationcontinuing.

 

“Home.” First Generation Foundation, First Generation Foundation, 2013, www.firstgenerationfoundation.org/.

 

Kim, Bohyun. “Higher ‘Professional’ Ed, Lifelong Learning to Stay Employed, Quantified Self, and Libraries.” ACRLog, ACRL, 1 Apr. 2014, acrlog.org/2014/04/01/higher-professional-ed-lifelong-learning-to-stay-employed-quantified-self-and-libraries/.

HLS/ACRLog: Academic Librarianship: alt-ac and plan A, all in one

Today we welcome a post by Ian Harmon as part of our collaboration with Hack Library School . Ian Harmon is an MSLIS student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a Graduate Assistant in the Scholarly Commons, the University Library’s digital scholarship center. Prior to entering library school, he earned a PhD in Philosophy at Illinois and taught philosophy at Rice University. Ian is interested in digital humanities and scholarly communication, specifically the ways in which technology impacts research and the dissemination of scholarship. He enjoys teaching, and hopes to work in an academic setting that will allow him to work directly with students and other researchers. Ian is also passionate about the role that libraries serve as central institutions of the public sphere and supporters of the common good.

 

The easy way to describe my pursuit of a career in academic librarianship would be as a Plan B. Nevertheless, I avoid describing it as such because the expression suggests that it’s my second choice, or that I’m settling for something less. This couldn’t be further from the truth. As I begin the second year of my LIS program, I’m more confident that I’m on the right path than I ever was while following my “Plan A.” And when I find myself thinking that I should have considered a career in libraries earlier on, I remind myself that, had I not taken my long path to librarianship, I might never have gotten on the path at all.

 

My Plan A was to be a philosophy professor. I became a philosophy major my sophomore year of college, after having taken a couple of electives in the field during my freshman year. As a 20 year old, I wasn’t concerned with things like making money, finding a job, or learning “practical skills.” Rather, I was interested in doing something I enjoyed, and I assumed that everything else would take care of itself. But even though I was a philosophy major for the majority of my college career, I never really thought about what I was going to do after graduation. By the time I was a senior, I supposed that I should probably go to graduate school (what else was I going to do with a philosophy degree?), and then become a professor.

 

I didn’t have a clue what I was doing as I applied to grad school, but I was fortunate enough to wind up at a strong MA program at the University of Wyoming. There, I really began to learn about philosophy the profession, as opposed to the field of study. While I wouldn’t admit it at the time, the more I learned about the philosophy profession, the less sure I felt that I was pursuing a path that would lead me to a career that I would enjoy. The warnings about the competitive nature of the field had been too abstract for me to take seriously as an undergrad. But things became more concrete during my Master’s, as I applied to PhD programs and received rejection after rejection.

 

Looking back, it stands out that I never once considered exploring other careers. I felt too far invested in philosophy to make a change, and the thought of doing so seemed like it would be an admission of failure. So I pushed on, completed my thesis and was eventually accepted to the PhD program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (where I am now an MSLIS student). It felt like I had made it past an important milestone, but this would only serve to foster the development of some major imposter syndrome as I began my new program. My insecurities aside, I continued to do well, and started to think that maybe I was doing the right thing after all. Moreover, I started thinking I would be one of the fortunate few who would actually get a tenure-track job after graduation.

 

Despite my success within the PhD program, the job market proved to be the nightmare that had always been promised to me. But as fate would have it, I was able to put off considerations of an alternative to philosophy for a bit longer, as in April of my final year I was offered a one year position in the Philosophy Department at Rice University. No, it wasn’t a tenure track job, but surely, I thought, it would serve as a great springboard for more permanent opportunities.

 

I enjoyed my time at Rice, but I began to feel a sense of isolation that I hadn’t encountered as a graduate student. Outside of my teaching duties, most of my work hours were spent alone in my office, or surrounded by strangers at a coffee shop. These experiences helped me to discover that what I enjoyed the most about academia was interacting with other people, whether through teaching or conversing with colleagues or fellow grad students.

 

Meanwhile I wasn’t having any luck on the tenure-track job market, and early in the Spring semester of my year in Houston I decided it was time to make a change. I started exploring alternative careers, but initially, I just needed some way to pay the bills. Unfortunately, nothing really jumped out at me. Libraries finally entered the picture when my aunt, a public librarian, suggested that I consider pursuing an MSLIS. The idea of working at a library appealed to me, but I was hesitant to go back to school, having spent less than a year of my adult life as a non-student. But my aunt had planted the seed of an idea in my head that would continue to grow.

 

After finishing the year at Rice, I moved back to Champaign, Illinois, where I had a support network of friends (and a fiancee who is now my wife), and began looking for work. I spent the summer as a meat clerk at a grocery store, when my mom mentioned a position she’d seen at the University Library that she thought I should apply for. This would prove to be the break I needed, as I was fortunate enough to land the job and become the Office Manager of the Scholarly Commons, the U of I Library’s digital scholarship center. Needless to say, I loved the job. I loved the collegiality throughout the library and the collaborative nature of the work. I loved the fact that I was learning new things everyday, and most importantly, that the main purpose of my job was to help other people.

 

Long story short, I’m finally on the career path that’s right for me. I have to admit that, at times, it feels like I wasted a lot of time during my short lived philosophy career. But ultimately, I have no regrets. I won’t be a philosophy professor, and that’s okay because I don’t want to be a philosophy professor. Contrary to what someone once told me, if I was offered such a job, I wouldn’t take it, because that’s not my Plan A.

 

Academic librarianship is my Plan A. It’s not what I thought my Plan A was for a long time, and it’s a lengthier plan that I realized. But it’s mine, and I stand by it.

We’re All Ears: Learning By Listening

This post has been co-authored by Maura Smale and Jen Jarson.

The context

Jen: I started a new job at a new institution about two and a half weeks ago after 11 years at my previous institution. This new institution is rather different than my former one. That was a residential, small liberal arts college. This is a small commuter campus that’s part of a huge system. My new job has more administrative responsibilities, too. I learned new things every day in my previous position, of course, but there is something quite different about the blank slate of coming in to a new institution and a new position. So much to learn, so much to do, and so little context or history to help light the way.

Maura: I’ve been a library faculty member at my college for 9 years, three of those as director of the library. But like Jen, right now I find myself in a period of settling in to something changed. I was out on a research sabbatical for six months–most of this calendar year–beginning in early February and returning to the library just last week. I’m in the same job and institution, though the day to day rhythm of my work is vastly different than it was a few weeks ago. As I’ve been settling back in (and trying to remember where I left things in the folders and drawers in my office) I’ve been struck by the similarities to starting a new job. I still have my institutional and historical context, but there’s lots for me to learn (and relearn), too.

What are (the right) questions to ask when you’re trying to (re)learn about a job/institution?

Maura: Since I got back I’ve been arranging meetings with my colleagues to catch up on last semester and their work, and sometimes feel like the questions I’ve asked are quite similar to those I asked when I first became Chief Librarian. What have you been working on? How’re your projects, research, and other work going? Have you hit any roadblocks? Is there any support I can offer? I’m grateful to all of my colleagues, especially my colleague who served as interim director when I was out, for keeping everything running in the Spring. But because nothing is ever truly static there were a few unexpected situations and opportunities that came up while I was away. Learning about those really is like having a new job (though in the same organizational context), especially coming up to speed on new projects in the library for this academic year that hadn’t yet appeared on the horizon before I left on leave.

Jen: I, too, am trying to meet with as many of my new colleagues as I can. For me, that includes library and non-library folks at my local campus, as well as folks in the libraries at other campuses. To prepare for each meeting, I take stock of my running list of questions and choose those that seem most relevant to that person or group. As I look over this list now, I recognize that the questions are a mix of specific (such as, what assessments of student learning outcomes have been done recently?) and open-ended (for example, tell me about your work and responsibilities, how do you think students perceive the library?, what could the library be doing to better meet students’ needs?). Both types of questions provide me with useful information and open avenues for exploration. While the nature or phrasing of some lines of inquiry are likely more productive than others, just showing a sincere interest in others’ goals and challenges and seeking opportunities for alignment and collaboration feels like an important part of what makes this kind of outreach fruitful.

What should we listen for when in meetings, either individually or with committees or teams, both inside and outside the library?

Maura: Listening is important–I’m always working to improve my listening skills (and I think it’s a lifelong process, at least for me). In coming back after sabbatical I’m reminding myself to listen as much as I can: in one on one meetings, in committees, in casual conversations. I’ve been spending some time walking around the library and campus to listen, too, though since our semester hasn’t begun yet it’s still fairly quiet. Typically in conversations we focus on the topic at hand, and I’m reminding myself to listen with both ears open. I’m trying to pay extra attention, not just to the specific task being discussed but to projects and processes in the library as a whole.

Jen: Like Maura, I’m trying to listen on a number of levels. I’m listening for actionable improvements and opportunities, whether in the here-and-now or in the near or distant future. I’m also listening to uncover further questions I should be asking, those that I haven’t yet been able to fathom. I’m listening to understand priorities and goals and challenges and how the library plays a role in supporting or addressing them. I’m listening to figure out how the many moving parts of this large organization fit together and how to navigate and communicate best within and across it. I’m trying to listen for what the other person is really saying, rather than only what I expect or assume they’re telling me. I’m listening for the moments and places where our interests intersect and where we can best collaborate to advance student learning.

What questions do you think are most important to ask when you start a new position or return after time away? What do you wish a new/returning colleague would ask you? What do you find most important to listen for? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.