With the calendar year winding down and the semester wrapped up, I wanted to take a quick moment on behalf of the ACRLog team to share our best wishes with you, our readers. Thanks for reading, commenting, tweeting, retweeting, and sharing our ACRLog posts this year. We hope everyone’s getting some time to rest and relax during the semester break. We’ve got big plans for next year here on ACRLog, so stay tuned. Happy Holidays!
This year marks my first year as a professional librarian and, as such, January 2016 is the due date of my first full performance review packet. Librarians at my university are considered faculty and are on a continuing appointment track, which is similar to tenure but different in structure. While this is the first full performance review I’ve ever encountered as a librarian, it is *not* the first time I’ve had to do a performance review. I was reviewed countless times during my former career in the corporate sector, and the outcomes of these reviews helped determine whether I received a raise, promotion, or additional opportunities within the company. I’ve always felt moderately confident going into these previous performance reviews because their expectations were clearly delineated and set. There were clear rubrics that determined an average score from an above average score. But my upcoming performance review as a faculty member has my head spinning.
First, I should explain that my university bases librarian performance on whether or not we meet the ever-amorphous “excellence in librarianship” and “impact” benchmarks as opposed to metrics or other formulas. So what determines excellence in librarianship? You tell me. Please!
Many of my colleagues at other universities have clear cut standards to which they are evaluated: thirty percent of their time is dedicated to service, thirty percent is dedicated to teaching, and thirty percent is dedicated to research, and so on. However, my employer has not established a standard for “excellence in librarianship.” There is no definitive standard for delineating what excellence could be for a reference and instruction librarian versus what is deemed excellence for a technical services librarian, for example. Some may argue that the lack of clear standards is a huge check in the plus column for librarians. We aren’t relegated to metrics, and we can showcase our efforts and tell our stories any way we want (at least theoretically). While numeric formulas may seem confining or even archaic, I have discovered that articulating and justifying my intangible, behind-the-scenes efforts, in addition to my standard job responsibilities, is difficult. It’s up to the librarian to strategically align their performance with the mission and vision of both the library and the university, which is what we should be doing anyway, but this lack of explanation does tangle the process.
My full performance review will be a partial year review. When it is submitted, I will have been with my university for ten months. The first six months of this job were spent becoming acculturated to my first academic job at a large R1 university in a major metropolitan area. This entailed a lot of instruction shadowing, meeting with students and faculty, and traveling to the other academic centers where I was assigned as liaison. Listening and observing was a huge part of my day-to-day work life. I kept a daily log of my activities, and submitted monthly activity reports to my reporting officer. These meticulous notes show lots of progress, including relationship building with colleagues, faculty, students, and stakeholders at my institution. In other words, I may not have loads of fancy workshops and sexy publications under my belt – yet – but I have laid significant ground work for future projects and programs that will potentially have a large impact of my daily work. But how do I showcase these in an annual review under the banner of “excellence in librarianship”? Are these considered “soft skills” even though this is what it takes to make a real impact?
Here are a few thoughts I’m using to guide my writing. I do not presume a one-size fits-all approach, but merely offer suggestions:
1. Soft skills have serious value. In fact, I posit that instructional academic librarianship as a whole is moving toward a more backstage model. Meaning, we – especially new librarians – may not have loads of workshops, programs, or events on our year-end activities report, but we are constantly working on the more understated areas of librarianship, such as cultivating relationships with community stakeholders, for future benefit. Based on both mine and my colleagues’ experiences (both at my institution and outside of it), our roles are changing. We spend more time working with faculty and colleagues on large, months-and-years spanning projects that fall outside realm of a brief bullet point or narrative paragraph. Mention these long-term planning events and relationship building in your review packet. Don’t be reticent to sell your soft skills.
2. Connect your activities to the strategic mission and vision of your library and institution. Obviously this should be incorporated into both short-term and long-term goal planning, but it also needs to be explicitly stated, especially in a performance review dossier. For example, I know my reporting officer understands how I connect my goals to the mission and vision of the libraries and the unique needs of my liaison department, but does my Dean know that? Or the Provost? How can I make it clear to them?
3. Marketing, marketing, marketing. Does that word conjure four-letter imagery for you? I get it, I really do. There are power structures and privilege inherent in traditional corporate marketing practices. I also understand that, for many of us, the term connotes with other corporate lingo such as customer service, traffic forecast, year-end results. They word is faulty, but, quite frankly, it is important to harness its power for our own use as librarians. Subvert the traditional use, and harness its power to your advantage.
Think of it less as marketing, and more as conveying value: it is vital to convey our value to everyone – stakeholders, faulty, students, colleagues. And we convey this through marketing, whether we like it or not. The way you market yourself as a librarian could not be more important than during the full performance review. The action verbs you use to tell your story, the way your weave your story, how you present your reference/instruction/tutorial statistics (table, narrative, chart?), the structure of your reports – it’s all important. It makes you unique. I may be biased – my undergraduate degree is in marketing and I worked as a brand manager at an advertising agency prior to graduate school – but it’s important. Subvert and harness.
4. Clear and concise vs. verbose and extensive. I love a good, long narrative, but my full performance review is not the place to extol the minutiae of my daily activities. Rather, I choose to focus on an activity-impact model. I’m choosing a few points to tell my story. It’s the written equivalent of an elevator pitch: tell the story in two pages or less.
5. Get as much trusted and honest feedback as you feel comfortable with. I don’t trust a thing that I write until several trusted colleagues, mentors, or friends have proofread it.
Good luck and happy writing to every librarian writing their performance review in the throes of year-end chaos.
As December begins, my first semester as an academic librarian comes to an end. This fall semester, I was able to do instruction sessions, participate in a panel, collaborate with colleagues on projects, and gained experience with submitting proposals. Most importantly, I was able to do the thing that I love best–talk with students about their research topics, and help them brainstorm.
It has been a busy semester, with new experiences and meeting new people. Not only that, but I moved about 695 miles to begin a new job. I mentioned in my previous post that I am originally from Central Illinois. Making the move from Champaign to DC was stressful and went by quickly. Being an unfamiliar city, living with roommates for the first time, and commuting to work are just a couple of new things that I have experienced during my four (almost 5) months in DC.
For the first two months, I found myself very tired after every workday. It was a kind of tired that I had not expected. I had not gotten used to my sleeping schedule, but that changed after a couple of months on the job. I was used to my work schedule, and as I got to know the other librarians, I found myself myself struggling with keeping a work/life balance. I will admit, I had (and still do have) trouble adulting. As a recent graduate, I had had to deal with work/school/life balance. However, I will admit that I was not the greatest at keeping these things separate. I would take work home, I would take school to work and all the other combinations you could think of. By the end of each semester at school, I would find myself anxious about work piling up, and making plans to go home. This is something I went through and it is something that most of us (if not all) go through.
While I would rarely take work home (now that I am no longer a student), I would find myself thinking of an instruction class outline, proposal ideas, and other work related thoughts.
I felt guilty at times. Guilty because I did not check my work email during the weekend, guilty because I did not do the last thing on “my-to-do” list, and guilty because I left an hour earlier than I usually do from work.
However, it’s also important to be realistic. There will be times when you have to take work home. Submission deadlines and projects are things that may creep up on you and it will be necessary to work on them during the weekend.
So, what to do? Here are a couple of things that have worked for my work/life balance:
- Relax. It’s easy to sit in front of your laptop and stream Netflix for the next 5 hours (I am guilty of this), but having a nap or reading is a great way to relax and calm your mind.
- Take up a hobby. Those who know me know that I am not exactly the best cook (I know how to make some great guacamole though). I decided to try out a new recipe every week. It gives me the opportunity to get out of my room and experiment with different ingredients.
- Take care of your health. I had to remember that first and foremost, I had to look out for myself.
For me, it’s about loving yourself and drawing lines where there should be some. Thank you for reading and if you have any tips on maintaining a work/life balance, share them!
Until I actually started writing my FYAL entry for January my plan was to write about academic interviews – how they are horrible (they kind of are!) but also what I like about them. However, I am really focusing on something else right now, still related to getting and keeping a faculty position: the curriculum vitae (vita or CV for short). It’s on my mind because I’m busy putting mine together. Honestly, it isn’t all that different from a traditional resume. Pretty much what you’d expect in academia – it is heavily focused on scholarly achievements rather than just work experience.
The most difficult part about writing mine is that it is giving me a bit of low self-esteem.
In order to get a good feel for what is included in a vita I went snooping around on my colleague’s faculty webpages (note to self: I need to get my faculty profile on the website asap). And then I went back to the faculty directory of the University of Kentucky School of Library and Information Science to get a sense for what the CV of teaching faculty should look like. And I am humbled. My little vita is so…concise. So…well, lacking much beyond education and work experience. And if I’m honest, I actually feel pretty good about how my resume stacks up against other professional librarian’s resumes. I started working in libraries before attending grad school, did multiple internships while in grad school and then have been incredibly fortunate finding jobs that allow me to do what I love – which is to say, jobs working as a librarian. So my resume is pretty good, no employment gaps to explain or toxic workplaces to gloss over, plenty of experience to highlight since all of it applies to jobs in the library world which are the only jobs I’m interested in.
Turning my two-page and totally sufficient resume into a three-page and rather insufficient CV is giving me low self-esteem, though. Last September, just a couple of months after starting out at UNT, one of my colleagues scheduled a webinar on “Imposter Syndrome” that I attended. The full title was actually “Managing the Imposter Syndrome in Academia: How to Overcome Self-Doubt.” At the time, I was skeptical. ‘Why’, I thought to myself, ‘would there be enough self-doubt in academia to warrant a webinar?’ Academics are educated, respected, published…so why wouldn’t they be confident? ‘I am certainly feeling confident,’ I continued thinking to myself; ‘I’ve got this academia thing in that bag,’ I might have muttered.
Well, clearly that was before I knew how much I didn’t know. I have been gradually getting a better view of what is expected of academic librarians since then – the publishing, the outreach, the service, the presenting, the research, etc. Yes, it is challenging – but I am thrilled to be so challenged! I can do this! I still felt confident, not just of my ability to manage the workload and fulfill my job duties but to do so by working hard but not so hard that I forget how to enjoy my weekends.
Until now, until writing my first CV and comparing it to the CVs of other academic librarians made me suddenly realize that I am barely even out of the gate in this race. SO, while I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I’m overwhelmingly intimidated I have to admit that I’ve wondered more than once in the past few days how I even got here in the first place. I mean…I’ve never been published in even one peer-reviewed journal…I attend conferences but never bothered to present at them…my vita is only two and half pages long for gods sake most of the CVs I’ve looked at are at least – at least ten pages long.
‘Oh, wow,’ I’ve thought to myself, ‘what if somebody notices that they hired a non-academic?’
And suddenly it hit me – this is what people mean when they talk about Imposter Syndrome. This is a totally new feeling for me and I have to think it is a “syndrome” that is fairly common in academia, partly because I’ve never experienced this sense of being less-qualified-than-most before. But also because I never heard about the Imposter Syndrome in the public library, library vendor and school library communities that I worked in previously. So now my question is, how do I make this realization work for me instead of against me? I think just being aware of the phenomena is helpful – to know that this imposter syndrome thing is not uncommon, it is not “just me” and it isn’t even really about low self –esteem. Imposter syndrome can hold people back for years.
In my case it would probably tend to “hold me back” by making me work ten times as hard as I actually need to in order to succeed.
Working too hard or working just to fulfill the perceived expectations of others results in missed opportunities, not to mention how it diminishes the enjoyment that you should be getting out of your work. So, success is, for me at least, about setting reasonable goals that meet or exceed expectations but are definitely attainable. No, I’m not going to publish 5 papers, present at 10 conferences and write a book chapter this year. But I can work toward doing what I need to do to attain those goals. I can write some reviews and present at 2 or 3 conferences. I can learn as much as possible about the research/publication process and look for opportunities.
Recognizing that I am a beginner is helpful. In some ways moving into an academic position is like starting over as a librarian, as one of my colleagues pointed recently. You might have 10 years or more of professional library experience but – here you are, on square one in the tenure process. And that’s okay; being a beginner has advantages. It is exciting and you have many paths open to you because you haven’t chosen a track yet. I have been reminding myself that I am fully capable of doing the things I need to do to achieve tenure (someday, some faraway day from now…), it’s just that I haven’t done them yet. I even looked at the dates on a few highly accomplished CVs to get a feel for a timeline and I noticed that many people started working in an academic library one or even more years before they starting adding significant scholarly achievements to their work history. Nobody comes into this with a 30 page CV, everybody starts exactly where I am – at the beginning.
At my college reunion last month, I watched an energetic crop of newly minted liberal arts graduates receive their diplomas from my east coast alma mater. The University of Washington operates on a quarter system and our students graduate in June, so now that I’m back at my post I get to watch the whole thing play out a second time for the seniors and graduate students of my acquaintance.
I know that when this cohort of graduates leaves the Information School at the University of Washington and information schools around the country, a handful will find a job that is a great fit, right out of school. A few will never end up working as professional librarians. Most of those students, however, will take a middle path. They won’t find their dream job right away. They might make sacrifices in location, schedule, salary or job description. They will experience bewildering inconsistencies–like being turned down for a part time page position one week and offered a salaried job the next. They will be expected to take on additional unpaid work or expensive training in order to get a shot at the jobs they want.
It turns out, the post-graduate school job search and subsequent first few years of work are, like just about every aspect of adult life that I’ve experienced so far, about a hundred times more difficult than I imagined. As I’ve mentioned here before, I worked for a couple of years in an academic library job that I really enjoyed, but I had a crazy schedule and no professional status. My current position is temporary and not tenure-track, so the learning curve is far from over for me.
For example: at the moment, we are working on hiring next year’s crop of graduate student assistants in the Research Commons, and I have found that I can learn a lot from their poise and professionalism. The iSchool at UW admits great students, and it seems like every year the cohort gets savvier and more competitive, but I was still surprised by the level of scrutiny that we needed to apply to these students in order to choose between many qualified applicants. It freaked me out to realize that when I must pursue the next step in my career, that scrutiny will be turned in my direction.
There’s no doubt about it; the cost of a MLIS degree is high and the job market is uncertain. I don’t want to trivialize the very real challenges that new grads face, because it certainly seems that the stakes are higher for them than ever before. It’s very important to put some significant thought into how you are going to manage the financial aspects of your librarian endeavor, particularly if you might not be able to go directly into a well-paying job. These inevitabilities are frustrating, but even in my most cynical moments, I’ve never regretted my decision to get my MLIS. I love being able to tell people “I’m a librarian!” It’s a part of my identity now, and one that I’m unreasonably proud of. I have tons of loyalty and affection for the members of my MLIS cohort as well. They are an awesome group of people, with whom I completed two years of challenging academic work. A little bit of magical thinking, or creative self-visualization, can help you get through the moments of doubt. When I’m feeling philosophical, or dire, I like to imagine that, even if there were no libraries left to run, I’d still be a librarian in the core of my being; that I’d be helping people find reliable sources of information in the post-apocalyptic wasteland, or telling half remembered novel plots around the campfire to a group of other zombie survivors. Heck yes!
From time to time, friends have asked me whether I think they should pursue an MLIS. That’s a really hard question to answer. It seems to me that the most successful information professionals are the ones that embody a series of paradoxes. It’s important, for example, to be very invested in your work and let your commitment show; but if you’re slavishly devoted, people will take advantage of that and you’ll end up burning out. You want to have compelling interests outside of your library work; but if a prospective employer senses that this is just a ‘day job’ and that you’d rather be doing something else, you probably won’t get hired. And, in my experience, the hardest part of forming my professional persona has been figuring out how much to diversify. I greatly enjoy multiple (and sometimes competing) aspects of the library profession. I treated my graduate course schedule like an all-you-can-eat buffet, and when I graduated, I could see myself in several types of professional environments. A few years in the field have narrowed my focus somewhat, but I still feel conflicted between competing urges to specialize and diversify my librarian skillset. That conflict has tripped me up more often than not. So, I’m not sure how well I’m doing at embodying paradoxes. At this point, I’m just finally getting a handle on embodying myself, thanks very much!
So this is it…a work in progress. When you get it all figured out, let me know. I’ll see you around the campfire.