Category Archives: Professional Development

For announcement of professional development opportunities and for discussions of professional development in academic librarianship or higher education.

A Librarian at the MLA

I recently attended the Modern Language Association’s annual convention. The theme of the conference, “Avenues of Access,” encouraged reflection on how scholars, students, and publics access the humanities within institutions and on their margins. What does access mean for students when many American universities are eliminating humanities departments and programs? What does access mean for scholars when, according to the MLA’s own statistics, only about half of all doctorates in languages and literatures ever receive tenure-track positions?

As librarians, we might think of “Avenues of Access” in a different way – libraries are the central physical and digital avenues of access to the humanities on many campuses. How can attending MLA and other disciplinary conferences help us do our jobs better as librarians? Among the panels I attended, three stood out in offering ideas.

The roundtable “Theories and Practices of the Literary Lab” (abstracts) brought together six panelists discussing literary labs as campus centers for research, teaching, and discussion. Literary labs are spaces for distant (as opposed to close) reading, quantitative textual research, and collaborative projects open to experimentation and failure. As one panelist argued, book history and bibliography are often missing from the conversation (there were no librarians on the panel). How can librarians use our expertise to enhance literary lab scholarship? When I asked the group this question, the general consensus was just as faculty culture had to change to accept and nurture new kinds of literary research, library culture had to change – in particular, to be less proprietary about data – in order to participate.

The session “How Many Copies Is Enough? Libraries and Shared Monograph Archives,” arranged by the MLA’s Discussion Group on Libraries and Research in Language and Literature, asked “As libraries rely increasingly on digitized texts and on partnerships for archiving print volumes, how do libraries and scholars cooperate to ensure preservation of copies with artifactual value for scholarly purposes?” (abstracts and bibliography) Some questions from the discussion: How do consortial agreements about legacy collections affect bibliographers’ decision-making about current acquisitions? How can we add value to catalog records to identify print copies with artifactual value? How do we adapt the serendipity of browsing in the stacks to browsing in the digital environment? What criteria do we use to define “unique” in terms of a print copy? (A sidebar: We learned at this session that the MLA is revisiting the 1995 Statement on the Significance of Primary Records and the subsequent 1999 report Preserving Research Collections: A Collaboration Between Librarians and Scholars.)

My favorite session, overall, convened by the MLA’s president, Michael Bérubé, was “Avenues of Access: Digital Humanities and the Future of Scholarly Communication.” Inspired by the advent of MLACommons, a new social media platform for members, Matthew Kirschenbaum performed an archeology of his own digital presence, excavating material from Usenet, listservs, and early 1990s websites (complete with flashing graphics on the Geocities platform). He made three assertions about access. Access engenders power, he argued, in patterns of contact acceptance in social media platforms that parallel in-person networks in scholarly institutions like the MLA. Access entails risk: as a doctoral student, he posted drafts of his dissertation on his website, writing in the agora, hiding his ideas, like Poe’s purloined letter, in plain sight. And access requires time: we might envision a future where tenure and promotion are based on “cycles of attention” – the “likes” and retweets that make up the bibliometrics of social media. On the same panel, Bethany Nowviskie used William Morris’s statement that “you can’t have art without resistance in the materials” to make a case for the productive resistance on the margins of the profession. Those in adjunct positions and the alternative-academic movement, as well as librarians and technologists, are the translators and intermediaries, the generators of ideas and pedagogy in the digital humanities. By being generalists – jacks of all trades and masters of none – we enable the work of specialists and ensure access to scholarly communication for all.

One final note – as at most professional conferences, the MLA’s Twitter backchannel was a rich resource for commentary and discussion. Check it out at #mla13, and see my own comments at @laurabrarian

Reflections on Reflecting

As is custom around the end of May, the staff and faculty at my library are all working on our annual reviews.  Annual reviews can be a bit frustrating because they sometimes seem tedious and they’re not always the best tool for giving and receiving constructive feedback.  They are also intimidating political documents, which can dictate pay raises and other welcome or unwelcome changes.

I’m only on my second review at my institution, but I’ve already noticed a pattern while I write them—I vacillate between feeling completely overwhelmed to feeling cautiously optimistic.  I feel overwhelmed because I often struggle with clearly articulating my accomplishments.  Like many librarians, I’m not one to brag, but the annual review forces us to make a good argument for all that we did (or did not do).  After the initial struggle (and inevitable procrastination), the emotion of being overwhelmed dissipates and I begin to feel cautiously optimistic as I see all my accomplishments listed out in my Word document.

I think it is extremely important for us all to annually reflect on where we’ve come from, where we are now, where we would like to go in the future, and our impact on the organization.  Additionally, it’s a great opportunity to check and make sure we are actually doing what our job description says we should be doing. Nevertheless, I have mixed feelings when it comes to annual reviews.

My biggest frustration with annual reviews is that I believe there should be many more opportunities (informally and formally) for us to reflect.  Every month I take the time to jot down the highlights (and even low-lights) of the previous four weeks.  I find that taking the time to do a monthly reflection fosters an attitude of gratitude and perspective—especially when I’m feeling very stressed.  Additionally, looking back on my entries from the past year greatly helped me complete this year’s annual review.  If you’re interested in reflecting on a daily basis, the program iDoneThis might work for you (–it costs $3/month, but you can try it free for 30 days).  Every day it sends you an email asking what you accomplished that day.  After you reply, it dumps all the information into a calendar that you can login to look at whenever you like.  I gave this program on honest try.  It didn’t work for me, but I still think the concept is very cool.  My librarian idol, Char Booth, talked about using a three-question reflection after every teaching session in her ACRL keynote, “The Librarian as Situated Educator: Instructional Literacy and Participation in Communities of Practice.” Her three questions are,

  1. What went well?
  2. What did not go well?
  3. What is something that I should think about for next time?

I’m thinking about adopting this approach for the upcoming academic year.

Whether your style is to reflect daily, monthly, or after every teaching session, it is important to make it a regular practice so that when it comes time to do an annual review you armed with lots of things to say.

Do you have any tips or suggestions for reflecting on your professional work?

Reflections on the 2012 California Conference on Library Instruction

Last Friday I attended the California Conference on Library Instruction. This one-day conference featured three presentations centered on the theme, “Embedded Librarians: Reaching People Where They Learn.”  Cass Kvenild, Distance Learning Librarian at the University of Wyoming, spoke on best practices for embedded librarianship.  She explored all the different ways librarians could embed themselves—particularly within the course itself.  One of the biggest pointsI took from Cass’s presentation is that it is very important to clearly set expectations with the teaching faculty member that you are working when it comes to the issues such as assignments, grading, and the syllabus.  This is definitely a lesson I have learned the hard way.

Joshua Vossler, Information Literacy/Reference Librarian at Coastal Carolina University, gave an incredibly entertaining and energetic presentation on creating instructional videos. He believes that learning is dependent on focused attention; therefore, the instructional videos we create need to be dynamic and humorous.  Joshua provided a helpful list of best practices for creating instructional videos, such as “Use anything silly or weird, such as a chicken” and “Videos should be no longer than three minutes.” I highly recommend that you check out his videos here. He has certainly inspired me to brainstorm ways I can infuse more humor into my own instructional video series.

Lastly, Michael Brewer, Team Leader for Instruction Services at the University of Arizona, gave a presentation entitled “The embedded library: How the University of Arizona Libraries are taking it to their users.” Michael described how his library worked with various campus partners to get a library widget embedded in the University’s course management system.  Even if a course does not directly contain a library research component, students are linked to subject-specific guides within their course sites.  At this point, more statistics need to be gathered and analyzed to determine the number of times the students click the library links.  Nevertheless, Brewer believed that this was a successful project that more libraries should pursue.

There are thousands of ways librarians and libraries can be embedded.  This coming academic year, our reference librarians are embarking on a project where we plan to embed ourselves where our students are.  For example, I’m planning on holding office hours in the building where most of our music courses are taught. Are there any innovative and unusual ways your library is getting embedded?

Do You Have The Tao In Your Toolkit?

In his blog post, The Tao of Librarianship, Andy Burkhardt reminds us how we can apply the ancient wisdom of Taoism to library policies and services. Burkhardt addresses library food policies, space design, planned abandonment of outdated formats and services, and adapting to change through the lens of Taoist philosophy, which he summarizes as, “instead of struggling against everything all the time, Taoism states that humans should try to see how things actually are and live in harmony with them.”

Another more colloquial way of stating this is the expression, “go with the flow.” Going with the flow is more commonly associated with surfers and hippies than librarians. Traditionally as a profession we tend toward rules, policies, standards. We prefer to “get things under (bibliographic) control.” A tweet at a program at ACRL 2011 put it this way: “Control freak streak runs in the profession. Sadly, yes. #lettinggo #acrl2011.”

Burkhardt is right to suggest that Taoist principles could help us more effectively deal with the change in our world and in our libraries. In addition to the areas that Andy brings up, Taoist ideas can also be useful when it comes to collaboration within and outside the academic library. In their ACRL 2011 program, Letting Go: Giving Up Control to Improve First-year Information Literacy Programs, librarians Meghan Sitar, Cindy Fisher, Michele Ostrow, of the University of Texas Libraries explain the difficulties they faced and the concepts they had to embrace in order to give up control and collaborate with other faculty and professionals on campus.

One of the more beautiful metaphors in Taoism is the admonition that we should be like water, fluid and responsive (Tao 8). Is your library frozen like a glacier or flowing like a mountain stream? Are you part of the ice jam or part of the break up? Have you come to terms with your inner control freak? As a profession, how can we become less controlling, and what should we let go? Can the principles of Taoism help us?

There are many translations of the Tao Te Ching. An interesting one is The Tao of Leadership by John Heider.

Are You Thinking About Going Corporate

I had two jobs before I started my first academic library position. Going through library school I was thinking special libraries. I never really thought much about academic librarianship as a career option. The prospects of working on more in depth research projects for others appealed to me. One of the special library jobs was in a nonprofit, but the other was corporate. Both were good jobs where I learned lots of useful skills, and worked with exactly no other librarians – but many other interesting colleagues with diverse professional backgrounds.

As I became more professionally active in local associations I got to know a few academic librarians. I really liked the ideas they were sharing and the work they were doing. It became more clear in my mind that working in a one-person library setting was inhibiting my professional growth – I wasn’t learning from library colleagues nor was there any advancement opportunity. The possibilities of being engaged in the teaching and learning process began to carry greater appeal than performing the research for other professionals, however challenging it was. I started applying for academic library positions, and was frequently rejected. I had absolutely no experience working in an academic library. Eventually, thanks to the business research skills I developed in my corporate special library job, I was able to make the transition to a business library at a research university. I’ve never looked back.

What about going in the opposite direction? I actually cannot recall even a single academic librarian who has left academia to transition to a position in a corporate library. I’m sure it happens more often than we know. An academic librarian could get burnt out on dealing with students and faculty. He or she might decide to get off the tenure track, or tire of dealing with library co-workers. A forced relocation may take someone to a town where the only opportunity is in the corporate sector. And yes, corporate/special library positions often have higher salaries. There are any number of reasons why an academic librarian might want to go corporate.

That was the topic of a thread at the BUSLIB-L discussion list where there are many corporate and academic librarians exchanging information and advice. The conversation was started by an academic librarian who inquired about the possibilities for going corporate. Wondering whether it was time to pursue opportunities outside of higher education, this academic librarian asked others to share the pros and cons of their jobs in academic or corporate libraries. The conversation generated quite a few responses, and here is a summarized list of the pros and cons for each type of library position:

PROS – Corporate Librarianship

* Less of the committee work that often comes with academic librarianship, and less need to juggle multiple opinions and multiple constituencies, so to speak
* More opportunities to be an independent operator; self-starters would find the corporate environment stimulating
* No publishing requirements
* Focused, directed work process aimed at a specific outcome; less of the “fuzzy” goals that sometimes characterize academia
* research and analysis-driven, rather than teaching-oriented

PROS – Academic Librarianship

* Work in a highly collaborative environment
* Persons around to back you up and mentor you if/when needed
* Opportunities to teach and nurture students and library patrons
* You show people how to research, rather than doing all the research yourself
* A more laid-back environment than corporate; can wear jeans to work

CONS: Corporate Librarianship

* A driven, hectic pace; work must be completed speedily and efficiently with little space for lengthy rumination; “pressure cooker” environment
* Corporate librarians are often solo operators; no-one to back you up when you’re sick or need to take time away from work
* Constant need to reaffirm your worth to the corporation (that’s worth in monetary terms); corporate librarians are easily laid off in bad economies
* Must constantly network and liaise with persons within and without the company

CONS: Academic Librarianship

- The requirement to solicit and consider opinions from many persons and many different bailiwicks prior to making decisions; the collaborative environment is not always the most efficient
- “Publish or perish;” tenure/continuing status pressures
- Generally lower salaries

As with most lists of pros and cons, someone’s “pro” is another person’s “con”. I don’t see the need to publish as a drawback in academic librarianship. If you like to research and write, share your ideas, enjoy the rewards of publications, etc., it’s great to be in an environment that supports and potentially expects you to publish (bear in mind that approximately half of all academic libraries have no tenure or publishing requirements, so if you don’t like the publish or perish environment it can be avoided). The work environment also comes up here. Do you like to work with other librarians or would you rather be a one-person librarian? No one mentioned the potential advantages of working with a group of non-librarians. I always learned a great deal from the social workers, fundraisers, planners, marketers, tech wizards and other non-librarians I worked with – and in academic librarianship we get to work with many non-librarian colleagues in student services, residential life or administrative services.

What would I add? For me a pro of academic librarianship is tuition remission and access to further education. I would never have earned my doctorate had I stayed in the corporate world. Not only did I have access to a program right on my own campus, but the bulk of the tuition was covered. Corporate librarians could counter that by suggesting one doesn’t necessarily need advanced degrees in their world (although a business librarian in the corporate sector can certainly appreciate having an MBA). And let’s not forget tuition benefits for children and other family members. With the cost of college today, tuition support for family members is a fantastic benefit, and almost worth putting up with any “con” of academic librarianship. I am aware that many corporations do offer tuition reimbursement to their employees, but I suspect the number that help pay for dependents’ education is quite small.

Although this conversation focused primarily on going from academia to the corporate world, I’d suggest that academic librarians seeking to transition out of higher education think of it as academic versus special. Most of the “pros” for corporate librarianship apply to nonprofit sector special library positions. This is a good option for those who might want a one-person library position that doesn’t require going corporate – or the need for business librarianship skills. Of course, I hope academic librarians will always seek to stay committed to a career in higher education, but personal goals change and sometimes life’s circumstances require us to shift career paths when we least expect it.

So what pro or con would you add to these lists? And just for the record – I have never worn jeans to work.