Category Archives: Professional Development

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

Your To-Do List: Print, Digital, Hybrid

The start of a new year is a time for resolutions, and getting more organized and getting things done (GTD) is right there at the top of many resolution lists. For many of us, the common “to-do” list is our go-to indispensable tool for accomplishing both tasks. There are lots of different approaches to compiling and maintaining a basic to-do list. You can simply write things done on a piece of paper and tape it to your computer monitor or pin it on your bulletin board, or you can try to be more systematic – and there are more sophisticated (and sometimes fee-based) programs and software out there to aid in the process.

A colleague recently shared wanting to get back to a more rigorous GTD regimen, and I provided some supportive words on the value of making that commitment. It’s easy to get overloaded with things to do, and it helps to have a systematic approach to staying organized and on top of projects. So I shared this photo:
A look at StevenB's approach to the to-do list

You can see that I employ a hybrid approach, using both paper and digital. But there is a system at work. Paper is for more immediate things I have to do – today or in the next few days. My iGoogle to-do widget is where I keep upcoming projects that are broader in scope, such a paper or presentation. That helps me to keep those bigger projects on my radar screen. I can modify them by low, medium or high priority, but it would be nice to have something a bit more sophisticated for tracking the progress of each project. Do I need to get started or have I already done that? Which projects are near completion? I will add deadline dates when appropriate.

I sent this photo to my colleague to show him how I’m approaching my to-do list. He replied to let me know he’s no longer using paper at all, and is totally digital. Indicating that since his iPhone is a constant companion, it made sense to keep the GTD to-do list there using an app made just for this purpose. It looks (at least one screen) like this:

An all-digital approach to a to-do list

An all-digital approach to a to-do list

I think this looks like an interesting system, and I imagine it has some of the sophistication I’d like to have. But as I shared with my colleague, for my to-do list to work for me – it really has to be in front of my face all day. My Droid is also a constant companion, but I don’t have it sitting on my desk all day, and I find it much faster to use a pencil to modify a listed item or cross out a completed project. I’d get bogged down having to constantly get into the software to edit or add to my list.

The bottom line is that it’s a good thing to have some sort of systematic approach to your to-do list for GTD. Whether you prefer paper or digital or some combination is up to you – as long as it’s a system that works for you and keeps you on top of your projects so that you control them and not the other way around.

How Much Is Enough?

I’ve been hearing more and more, recently, about people dropping out of service and professional development opportunities because they cannot secure funding from their institutions to attend. A member of a statewide committee I am on said this fall her continued membership would be contingent on her institution’s ability to pay for her travel to the meetings (since this is Ohio, that only ever involves driving, and her institution is only 25 miles away from where meetings are held). My ALA committee recently accepted a proposal for a panelist at a Midwinter discussion forum, but the panelist just e mailed me to say her institution would not provide her with funding to go, and were there any funding opportunities for her? I asked a coworker just this morning if she was going to Midwinter or not and she said no, and that the reason she wasn’t was because of funding. “Our travel stipend only pays for most of a trip to Chicago,” she said.

Well, she’s right about that: my official faculty stipend is $500 a year (though after you add in the extras it can be as much as $1500). And professional travel is not cheap. Someone planning to go to Midwinter next month can expect to spend well over $1,000: $165 for registration, $129/night (plus 12.5% tax) for the cheapest hotel on the official list, $71 per diem for meals (according to the U.S. General Services Administration). My flight from Ohio cost $405, airport transportation via the Super Shuttle in San Diego is $16 round trip, and airport parking back home is $10/day.

I find conferences energizing. At them I get great ideas, stay on top of what’s going on in the field and always meet interesting people. I learn lots, sleep little, and talk talk talk. But what are our institutions’ obligations to pay for this kind of professional development? What’s the payoff to them when we attend? A tight-fisted fiscal officer would point out that service can be done locally and research can be presented through publications rather than presentations. To learn new things, people can take webinars from the comfort of their own offices. And, while librarians who do national service and presentation may see it come back to them in the form of slight pay increases, it’s not enough to offset the cost of the travel itself. I don’t attend national conferences merely for my own benefit (do I?). Are we really supposed to do this just for the love of it? While no administrator has ever come out and asked me to quantify the institutional benefits of my professional development, is it really only a matter of time?

I asked if ALA had any funds to tap into for my committee’s speaker, and the answer was that “there is a long-standing ALA policy against providing stipends to librarians.” I’m sure the reasoning is that librarians should support the work of the organization and the development of our professional colleagues, but, facing financial pressures and funding shortfalls, it seems like many librarians are opting out.

According to my calculations, I spent over $1800 of my own money attending conferences and meetings this calendar year after all my reimbursements (which were well over $1500 due to a generous conference scholarship and part of the pot of travel money not used by my tenured colleagues). For me, it’s money well spent, but it’s also a lot of money, and I know it’s a lot more than many can afford. I don’t think our institutions are trying to send the message that professional development is not important, but I wonder if more and more of the rising cost of conference attendance has been shifting to the individual over the last decade and, with the economy being what it is, we’ve reached a kind of breaking point. Is conference attendance going down? I looked at the attendance for several conferences over the past few years, and it’s inconclusive: NASIG attendance has gone down, but ALA attendance has fluctuated and ER&L conference attendance is up. But I know ALA sections are worried about declining participation in committees and have been promoting virtual participation. Is this the answer?

It seems like the strategy of self-funding conference attendance, on top of membership and section fees, is not viable for the long term, though I’m not sure what the answer is – giving more breaks to presenters and other participants, upping virtual opportunities, or consolidating our opportunities so we get the most bang for our conference dollars.

Like many, my take-home pay is going down on January 1. But my rent isn’t going down, and neither is my student loan payment or the price of gas or any number of other essentials, so I am going to have to find other places in my personal budget to cut back. I’m not sitting out San Diego, but I wonder how many of my ALA committee members will make it.

Interview Questions Are A Two Way Street

If there’s one thing current and prospective academic librarians are always looking for it’s advice about job interviews. One of the most important parts of the interview process are the questions. You know you’ll be getting them, and you already know to anticipate them and be as prepared as possible. For example, you know someone is going to ask (probably more than once) “Why do you want to work here?”. You should have a good message prepared that communicates your passion for the position in a sticky way – so what you have to say is remembered.

When you are the one conducting the interview you need good questions to help get at the candidate’s potential for success at the position. As the job candidate, you should demonstrate the ability to ask thoughtful questions that reveal your intellectual curiosity. So interview questions are a two-way street, and no matter which of the two roles you are playing, coming up with good questions can be a challenge.

One of the non-library columns I like to follow that is a good read for anyone interested in leadership and management issues is the NYT’s Corner Office. Each week a different business executive is interviewed, and the questions typically seek to reveal that executive’s advice for aspiring and experienced leaders and managers. At least one question is usually related to hiring matters, such as “what do you look for in job candidates”, and occasionally the column editor will ask what question(s) the executive likes to ask in job interviews. I’ve found some interesting examples there.

Here are a few from recent columns:

Tell me where you are right now and why you are looking to change?

Can you do the job, and would I enjoy spending time with you?

What do you think you’re really good at?

Tell me about a challenge you’ve overcome, and don’t tell me a work challenge — in life, what’s a challenge you’ve overcome, either as a child or as an adult?

There are five animals — a lion, a cow, a horse, a monkey and a rabbit. If you were asked to leave one behind, which one would you leave behind? I admit the prospects of being asked this one are slim, but if this has gotten you curious take a look to find out what your answer would suggest to an interviewer.

And I saw this one mentioned elsewhere that I’ll paraphrase here because it’s a good one – certainly a challenge: What are you doing now – or something you have done – that will be looked back on five years or more from now and still be considered of importance or value (and interviewees could turn that around as a question for their potential employers – what are they doing now that will still be considered of value to the institution five years or more in the future).

If you’ve struggled in the past with interview questions, either as the employerl posing the questions or the candidate who’ll be answering them, be aware that there are many sources of help found on the Internet (e.g., search “good interview questions”). As an interviewer you want to be asking questions that will ascertain the candidate’s capacity for success. The recommended way to do that is to determine what, in the candidate’s job history, provides a good example of those qualities needed for success. You’ll no doubt also want to ask a few questions to help you get to know the candidate better as a person – to get a sense of how well he or she will fit into the organization.

As a candidate, you absolutely want to avoid having no questions at all, as in “No, I can’t think of anything in particular to ask you.” Don’t think this doesn’t happen – I’ve experienced it more than a few times. As you are doing your advance preparation and research, jot down some questions as they occur to you. Keep them handy during the interview process. Here’s an example: “How do you think your website will evolve to encourage use of your new discovery engine?” Not too difficult to come up with those sort of questions, right. One way to develop good questions is to review the website, the strategic planning document (if a recent one is available) or other content that will help you compose a few questions in advance.

If all else fails, try the one about the lion, horse, monkey, rabbit and cow. That should start an interesting conversation. Of course, just hope the other person is not a reader of ACRLog.

Not Halfway But It Could Be A Start

Are you attending ALA Midwinter – assuming you still think there should even be a Midwinter conference? How about ACRL 2011 in Philadelphia? A west coast colleague recently asked me for some advice on getting to the Convention Center from the airport. It made me realize ACRL 2011 is not that far off if the west coasters are already planning their trip east – as I recently did for my trip to San Diego.

As I was making my Midwinter conference plans I came across John Berry’s editorial in the October 1, 2010 issue of Library Journal titled “Half Way to ALA”. Basically the column is about the inequity in our profession (I’m sure it’s common in other professions too) whereby administrators and senior librarians are much more likely to be subsidized for conference travel than their newer and possibly younger colleagues. Berry admits this is nothing new, and recalls that when he was coming up in the sixties a friend of his suggested the “half way” solution. What was it? To help their newer-to-the-profession colleagues to attend the national conferences, the friend thought administrators should subsidize half of their expenses. I’m guessing that one never got past the idea stage. Andy Woodworth is also thinking about the “Half Way” idea over at his blog, and he wonders if there are other ways to sponsor the newer-to-the-profession librarians so they can attend the big conferences.

Woodworth and those who commented on his post provide the new-to-the-profession librarian’s perspective on Berry’s opinion piece. Let me offer a reaction from a not-so-new-to-the-profession librarian. I have a suggestion that might help this situation, though it’s not quite as “out there” as half-way – maybe it’s more like a tenth of the way – but we need to start taking action somewhere – not just talk about the problem. If enough of us senior folks helped out even to a small extent it could provide subsidies to far more academic librarians to at least attend ACRL 2011. I can’t say enough about how important that is, not only for their professional development, but simply for the fact that it adds a vibrancy and dynamic dimension to our conferences, and that makes it a far better experience for everyone. At least that was the way I felt after Seattle in 2009.

And I can’t make the point strongly enough that we must avoid turning this into some sort of generational conflict issue. It isn’t about newer-to-the-profession colleagues being at the conference instead of us senior folks because we won’t get as much out of it as our newer colleagues would. That’s nonsense.This is about having good representation from across our entire professional demographic. That’s what will make the conferences a better experience – not another US versus THEM debate.

Berry’s “half-way” idea should really get us senior academic librarians and admin types thinking about this issue and what we can do to improve our conferences by making sure our newer colleagues are well represented and getting the opportunity for professional development. If we are committed to the future and sustainability of our libraries and our profession don’t we have an obligation to make sure the next generation is well prepared to take this enterprise into that future? I think Berry ignores a solution we already have in place – at least for ACRL. The solution is becoming a Friend of ACRL, and donating money to the organization and scholarship funds. According to the Friends page, there were 15 scholarships for the 2009 ACRL Conference valued at about $9,000. For an organization of this size with the average member age at approximately 48 – that’s abysmal. I believe ACRL currently has about 13,000 members. Let’s assume just 1,000 of those are senior librarians making decent salaries – and getting a subsidy to the conference (yes, I fall into that category). If each one gave just $100 a year – that’s $100,000 for scholarships so instead of just 15 we could subsidize another 75 newer academic librarians. Now we’re talking some real representation at the next generation at an ACRL conference.

I just renewed my ALA membership. I once again made a contribution to maintain my Friend of ACRL status, and gave extra for the scholarship fund. I’m encouraging you to do the same the next time you renew your ALA membership. I know there are lots of charities and causes that need our help, and you only have so much to give. But give some thought to Berry’s editorial. I think you’ll agree we senior librarians need to do our part to bulk up the scholarship fund to an amount that reflects how we really feel about this profession – and our commitment to help our newer colleagues get to the conferences.

I know this isn’t quite what Berry was hoping for – it’s sure not half-way, but it’s a start. I sure hope this brightens up his day.

Earning Full Citizenship: A Response To “Seeking Full Citizenship”

Editor’s Note: ACRLog is pleased to offer a guest post on the long-debated topic of the appropriateness of tenure for academic librarians. In this post, Karen G. Schneider, Director of the Cushing Library at Holy Names University, responds to an article that appears in the September 2010 issue of College & Research Libraries titled “Seeking Full Citizenship: A Defense of Tenure Faculty Status for Librarians“. Many thanks to Ms. Schneider for her contribution to ACRLog.

“Seeking Full Citizenship” (Coker et al., College and Research Libraries, September 2010) notes that faculty status for librarians has been discussed for over a century. Nothing said in that article or this response will abate that discussion. But I knew I had to wade into these muddy waters when I opened an electronic copy of the article and searched its text, confirming my suspicion that nowhere in this article does the word “student” arise.

Any argument for a change to my status or the status of those I manage has to first meet this very high bar: does it work toward the higher good of the institution we serve?

As a library director (my third time in this role, though the first time in academia), my first priority is service to our institution—not just the library, but the entire campus, and by extension, all of higher education and librarianship and beyond. Every student who walks through the doors of this university deserves the very best service our library can provide, and that is our true north, the direction in which our compass-arrow quivers. Even our service to faculty, which we also take very seriously, is an extension of that primary responsibility to students (and I am betting my institution’s faculty would agree with that statement).

Therefore, by this standard, any argument for a change in status to a major demographic in higher education would presumably, at some point, explain how this change benefited the institution it serves—not as an ancillary outcome, but as a central transformation. Yet in “Seeking Full Citizenship,” the argument that there is a relationship between “elevated professional status and effectiveness in the discipline” went entirely unsupported. (And are we really so needy for proof that we are “real” academics that we must use phrases such as “elevated professional status”?)

Instead, “Seeking Full Citizenship” focuses on academic freedom (“[t]he primary protection that tenure gives all tenured faculty members”), job security, the ability to purchase risqué books (I can do that too, by the way), and (between the lines) the assuagement of our personal insecurities about rank and class.

Academic freedom may indeed serve a higher good by exposing our academic communities to ideas that might otherwise not have a voice, therefore contributing to the benefit of our students, faculty, and society–but “Seeking Full Citizenship” doesn’t make this argument. It’s all about the personal advantage of academic freedom—an argument largely unpersuasive to anyone outside the library itself.

I must also shake my head at the solipsism of an argument that ignores the growing tenure crisis in higher education today. As “Seeking Full Citizenship” acknowledges, tenure for librarians really only gained steam in the mid-1970s, a time when the non-tenured teaching workforce began quietly but rapidly growing. Leave it to librarians to embrace a system at the very moment in history when it is shaking itself apart.

Nowhere in this discussion does the article acknowledge the trembling faultlines of the lopsided two-tier system that divides the teaching ecology between the dwindling percentage of tenured faculty—with their viable salaries, benefits, and job security—and the adjunct, graduate-student, and non-tenure track workforce that now supplies over 70 percent of the actual teaching in higher education. No solution has emerged, but there is at least tentative consensus in higher education that the current model is not sustainable.

Then there is the question of where we fit in the larger higher education ecology. The very title of the article is a rather telling admission of class anxiety, but it also begs the question: if untenured librarians feel like second-class citizens, what does that make the other workers in higher education? If there is truly an argument to be made for “elevated professional status and effectiveness in the discipline,” why not align with the academic majority—“Allons enfants de la Patrie!”–and advocate for better pay, benefits, and working conditions for all who serve institutions of higher education in such critical roles? Are these employees not our brothers and sisters, and does a rising tide not lift all boats?

Furthermore, much as I respect and enjoy the contributions of our tenured faculty, in terms of the library’s strategic vision, it is highly advantageous to be a peer with the other non-faculty academic staff, all of whom play central roles in the work of recruitment, retention, revenue generation, strategic direction, information technology, infrastructure management, and the other services and initiatives that keep a university as an entity fueled and on-track. That peer relationship is crucial for achieving our objectives, particularly in an environment of competing priorities. I would be embarrassed to learn that my peers in other departments had stumbled across an article insisting that librarians, lone among the academic bureaucracy, are endowed with numinous, ineffable qualities that justify their “elevation” to faculty status.

Finally, as long as I’m setting myself up as a piñata for faculty-status advocates, I will admit that the lack of faculty status at our library was one more selling point for taking this job. Having had experience in other academic environments, I was seeking an environment where I “interview for my job every day,” as one of my peer department heads puts it, and where others are equally challenged toward excellence. The very point of tenure is to make it “purposely difficult” (in the words of the American Federation of Teachers) to remove an employee—a limitation I did not want (not even for myself), and one that in fact steered me toward one position over another.

However well tenure has worked for the teaching profession, it is a questionable model for modern library administration—not only for individual libraries, but for our profession as a whole. I admit to a fondness for the romantic vision of the librarian-scholar steeped in contemplative and scholarly activities, but the reality is that the shape-shifting changes that have happened in librarianship in the last two decades mean we are all running startups, and we need all hands on deck for our organizations to continually reassert our relevance while we undergo (and ideally, lead) the massive shift from print to digital and from a focus on collections to a focus on services. We need to come to work every day driven by a sense of urgency and a push toward immediate excellence; we cannot afford anything less.

If your library has faculty status, so be it; I am not advocating the dismantling of any system in place—in any event, I predict the larger forces at work in higher education will take care of that. But not long ago, when asked how her library had moved from stodgy to innovative over a decade, a colleague responded, “Tenure was eliminated.” This is anecdotal evidence, but no worse than what is forwarded for the other side of this argument in “Seeking Full Citizenship.”

When I hear new librarians arguing for tenure status (and I was once one of them), I wish I had a time machine to push them twenty years forward for a week, where as administrators they will be coping with the outcomes of the system they helped create. At the very least, I carry this message from the future: you’re already a full citizen—now do everything you can for the rest of your career to warrant that status.

1. U.S. Department of Education, NCES, 2007 Fall Staff Survey, quoted in American Federation of Teachers, “Academic Staffing Crisis,” http://www.aft.org/issues/highered/acadstaffing.cfm

2. American Federation of Teachers, “The Truth about Tenure in Higher Education,” http://www.aft.org/issues/highered/truthtenure.cfm

3. For a cogent argument that tenure status is also a poor fit for librarians because our work organizations are team-based, see Steve McKinzie, “Tenure for Academic Librarians: Why it has to Go,” Against the Grain, September 2010, p. 60.