Library Residency Programs: The pros and cons of residency positions as written by a current resident

This past Friday, I had the pleasure of attending the 2016 Conference on Diversity and Inclusion in Library Science (CIDLIS). I was able to not only attend, but to present. I was lucky enough to be put in the same group with LaVerne Gray, whose presentation “Outsider-Within Blues: Black feminist auto-ethnographic critique of diversity librarian recruitment and retention programs” hit home.

For me, library residency programs seem so new and so “in.” It seems like everyone wants a resident at their library. However, we must remember that residency programs have been around for a while. One of the earliest residencies being the Mary P. Key Diversity Residency Program that began in 1989.

Ms. LaVerne Gray was a former resident at the University of Tennessee from 2005-2007. Her talk at CIDLIS was about her time as a resident and her experience as a black woman in a residency program. She read aloud her critique and in some instances, looked over to me and smiled. I knew this smile, because we knew that we had shared experiences. No matter what year it was, where the residency took place, we knew that we had both faced similar challenges and joys of being a resident librarian.

It caused me to think about my experience, not only a woman of color in academia, but as a resident librarian at American University. The job market is going to start up again soon and librarians and/or library students will start to apply to jobs. So far, my residency has been a great part of not only my entrance into librarianship, but it’s been a rewarding experience in my life. I have experienced moving to a city that’s rich in culture, politics, and diversity. I have also had the opportunity to work with amazing colleagues who have been nothing but supportive since I have started at American University. Over the past year and a half-ish, I have taught multiple library instructions, worked with great faculty and staff, worked on projects that have allowed me to gain experience in collection development and cataloging, been on search committees that have allowed me to reflect on the job hunting process, and the most important thing of all, it has allowed me to work with a mentor that I admire to the fullest extent.

When I began applying to library positions, I had no idea what residencies were.  It was by pure luck that I found the job posting for the residency position at American University. While residencies have been getting a little more popular and widespread, I am aware that some people do not know that residencies even exist.

For this ACRLog post, I want to encourage library students or early career librarians to truly think about a residency position as a way to gain more experience with the various facets of academic librarianship. Like many things, residency programs have their pros and cons. The following information is based on not only my own experience, but other experiences that I have heard from other residents.

I am going to start with the cons, because I want to get these out of the way and I think that the pros outweigh the cons (of course, I may be a little biased when it comes to this opinion).

Cons:

  1. I have heard from some residents that they are seen as “interns” from other people in the library or institution. Your title is “resident librarian” and it may cause people to think that you’re sitting around shelving books or something.
  2. Contract. As I state below, this may be a con or a pro. It might be a con if you’re not a fan of moving around every couple years. Most residencies tend to be two or three years. So, you might have a year or two to work and then the following year, would have to begin the job process. Time passes quickly, so this may not be ideal for everyone.
  3. Resistance within the institution or library for a resident. A lot of the times, these residencies tend to be for “diversity residents” which can mean many things to many people. People may have resistance to the job title itself, the position, or what they think a position like this represents.
  4. Being a “token.” The reality is that you will experience this. The title “Diversity Resident” may carry burdens that you may feel. Whether it’s feeling pressured to say certain things about diversity or acting a different way, it’s going to happen. You know what? This residency is about YOU. It’s about the professional experience that YOU will gain and the places that YOU will go. Haters gonna hate.

Pros:

  1. Depending on how your residency is structured, you will be able to gain experience in various areas of academic librarianship. You might go in for more experience in instruction and leave with an interest in special collections/archives.
  2. You have this time to learn about how things work in not only academic librarianship, but academia itself. I know that I have learned from just observing and talking to other librarians and faculty from other departments.
  3. Take this time to build a research agenda. Starting a new job is overwhelming, but having to dive into research and scholarship is scary. Although I am required to do scholarly/research with my position, the emphasis was finding out what I liked and getting experience presenting at conferences and working with other librarians.
  4. You’re on a contract. Depending on the person and/or situation, this may be a con. However, it’s a pro for me. My contract is for 3 years and while I love my job, I am not a city girl. I enjoy what DC has to offer, but it’s an expensive city and my commute is an hour.
  5. You have a network of current and past resident librarians. An important aspect of a job is to network, but especially with resident positions. As you meet past and current residents, you are able to have this network of people who are/were in the same position and those who have successfully transition from a resident position to a non residency position in academia.
  6. The purpose of a residency is for you to gain experience in various parts of academic librarianship and for you to contribute to your institution. However, it’s also a great opportunity to pad your resume as much as you can. Take advantage of this!
  7. Exploration. I have repeated this many times, but this is probably the most important. I came into this residency with my mind set on reference and instruction as future job titles, but as I worked with various events throughout the library, I have found a love for student outreach.
  8. Because it’s a wonderful experience. OK, so, this is more of a personal statement, but let me explain. When I talk and interact with past and current residents, I am inspired by their work and their contributions to librarianship. Did you know that Courtney Young was a former resident? Or Mark Puente? Or other librarians like Isabel Gonzalez-Smith and Annie Pho? Or my friend Anastasia Chiu? And my mentor, Nikhat Ghouse. So many amazing librarians have followed in the residency footsteps and contributed to the world of librarianship. This will only continue and I am proud to be part of this.

So, have I convinced you? If so, here are some places where you can keep a lookout for these types of positions.

Residency Interest Program (RIG)

ALA Joblist

LibGig

INALJ (I need a library job)

Don’t be afraid to reach out to former and current residents! (there is a list of them on the RIG webpage) If anyone has any questions, please feel free to contact me via the comments below or my Twitter. I firmly believe that residency programs can be very beneficial and a good experience and would be willing to talk to you about them.

Director at the Desk

This week I’m trying something I’ve never done before: I’m working one evening and one weekend shift at our Reference Desk. All librarians in the library where I work take a few short Friday evening shifts, including me, but until this semester I’d not yet done reference up to our later weeknight closing or all day on Saturday (though in the past I’ve taught classes at both times).

My main interest in taking these shifts is to learn more about what the library’s like during our evening and Saturday hours. We do a full headcount multiple times each semester of everyone using the library, and keep the usual statistics about reference transactions, circulation, and printing, so we do have some sense of how the library’s used when the full-timers aren’t there. And of course our evening and Saturday library faculty and staff share any concerns or news with us, too. But as both a library director and a researcher interested in how students do their academic work, I’ve been more and more curious to see for myself. How are students using the library outside of the standard work week? What areas of the library see the most use, and are there bottlenecks (if any)? Are there services or sections of the library that aren’t used in these off-hours?

I admit that I was somewhat nervous in the run up to this week. It’s not that I’m concerned about making grave errors — our work is important, but the library’s not an emergency room. But since I’m not on the desk often I feel like my reference skills are somewhat rusty. Our discovery layer was added after I became a director (and stopped teaching regularly), so I’m much less practiced at using it than I was with our online catalog. Technology questions can be tricky, too; I’m grateful that we’ve added a dedicated tech support staff member at the reference desk, which is a huge help for the inevitable questions about campus wifi or using the LMS, not to mention printer jams.

I drafted this post during the second half of my evening shift, and I was delighted to be there! I’m a little bit out of practice in explaining the research process clearly and concisely, but I’m getting better with each question. Midterms are only just over a week away so I’ve had a fair number of research consultations in between requests for the stapler and scanners. It’s been interesting to see the ebbs and flows — we are really, really busy during the 5-6pm class break, especially with students printing out assignments and readings before class, but then things slow down considerably. The quiet floor is quieter than during the day, and the talking floor is quieter, too. I still miss the regular interaction with students that I had before I became Chief Librarian, and it’s been great to have that experience again this week.

Other than scheduling enough time for me to eat before my shift started (which was entirely my own fault), I’m chalking up my stint at reference earlier this week as a success. Tomorrow’s Saturday, and I’m looking forward to going back for more.

What does open pedagogy for information literacy look like?

We’re launching Domain of One’s Own at my institution this year. If you haven’t heard of Domains, it’s a program that helps institutions offer students, faculty, and staff online spaces that they control. Domains grew out of a project at the University of Mary Washington (UMW). Co-founders Jim Groom and Tim Owens have since spun it into a venture all its own. Their company, Reclaim Hosting, has so far launched Domains programs at over 40 institutions. At my institution, our Domains initiative will enable members of our campus community to publish, curate, and share their work online. They will be able to register their own domain names, associate them with a hosted web space, and easily install a variety of applications in order to experiment with both digital tools and digital literacy practices. Digital identity and data ownership are at the core of Domains; it’s about understanding the data that makes up your digital presence, developing facility with digital tools and spaces, and defining who you are online.

We’re launching a few key initiatives as part of our Domains kickoff, most notably a faculty learning community and a cohort of students training to become digital learning assistants. As part of our Domains launch, co-founder Jim Groom came to campus for a series of kickoff events last week. (My colleague Lora Taub-Pervizpour, who has spearheaded Domains on our campus, wrote a great post about Jim’s visit that you might find interesting.) While on campus, Jim talked about how his work at UMW grew into Domains and was, at least in part, motivated by the frustrations of learning management systems. In restricted spaces like Blackboard, Moodle, and Canvas, student learning and work products are locked down and immobile. In “The Web We Need to Give Students,” Audrey Watters wrote about how Domains, by contrast, permits students to work in their own spaces. “And then—contrary to what happens at most schools, where a student’s work exists only inside a learning management system and cannot be accessed once the semester is over—the domain and all its content are the student’s to take with them. It is, after all, their education, their intellectual development, their work.” (For some more good reading on Domains, see “A Domain of One’s Own in a Post-Ownership Society” again by Audrey Watters, as well as “Do I Own My Domain If You Grade It?” by Andrew Rikard.)

But this is not (meant to be) a post about Domains really. Instead, all this Domains talk has me thinking about pedagogy and learning. Because Domains is also about openness and transparency.

The success of Domains, Jim said in his keynote, is not about technology. Instead, its success is the openness it facilitates: thinking out loud, engaging in reflective practice with a community of peers. As part of the Domains story, Jim shared his experiences creating ds106, an open, online course on digital storytelling. As described on the site, the course was “part storytelling workshop, part technology training, and, most importantly, part critical interrogation of the digital landscape that is ever increasingly mediating how we communicate with one another.” The course embodied openness in many ways. UMW students enrolled in the semester-long course and served as its core community, but the course was open to anyone who wanted to participate alongside the UMW students. But the part that piqued my interest most was its open pedagogy; Jim talked about how he did the assignments with the students and also described how students created the assignments. “The only reason it worked,” Jim said, “was because we built an open ecosystem for it to thrive.”

This prompted me to reflect on what open pedagogy means, what potential it holds. (Check out “‘Open’ for the Public: Using Open Education to Build a Case for Public Higher Ed”, “Open Pedagogy: Connection, Community, and Transparency”, and “Eight Qualities of Open Pedagogy” for some quick, getting-started readings on open pedagogy.) To me, open pedagogy is an invitation for learning. What grabs me most are the qualities of transparency, community, and responsiveness at its core.

In information literacy teaching and learning, for example, fostering transparency in the classroom might happen when we simply articulate the learning goals for a class or uncover research strategies to expose the what, how, and why of our processes. Open pedagogy means helping students think metacognitively about the strategy of their work to make learning more meaningful and transferable. It also means making the method and purpose of our teaching transparent to students.

Open pedagogy is also about community, inviting students to co-construct learning experiences. Whether asking students to design their own assignments as in Jim’s ds106 case or developing activities grounded in constructivist and self-regulated learning theories or even just asking students about their habits, perspectives, and approaches before telling them what they should do, co-constructed learning increases student agency and investment.

Open pedagogy is about being flexible and responsive. It means meeting learners where they are, rather than where we think they are or should be.

I’m interested to recognize the small ways I’m practicing open pedagogy, but I’m still more interested to identify the opportunities–big and small–that I haven’t yet grabbed hold of. What does open pedagogy for information literacy look like for you? I’m eager to hear your thoughts in the comments.

When is the Struggle TOO Real?

One of the advantages of having a partner who happens to be a math professor is that we can talk academic shop. A few weeks ago, over a serious dishwasher unloading, we started talking about a recurring theme manifesting itself in our college’s faculty Facebook group: toughening up college students. From debates about trigger warnings to conversations about cultivating students’ grit and comfort with failure, our colleagues are consistently inconsistent about how we should help college students succeed in academia and life. I’ll lump myself and my partner into this group, too. As a faculty we want to be sensitive to student needs and life experiences, but we also don’t want them to fall apart if they get a bad grade on an exam. We want them to make a real attempt at solving a difficult problem or tackling a challenging project on their own before asking for help, but we also recognize that many students have serious outside stressors (economic, familial, emotional, etc.) that might prevent them from giving their all to their studies.

For years librarians have been chanting that “failure is good” because it is a signal of attempted innovation, creative practice, and learning (particularly when applied to information literacy instruction). We want our students to learn from their mistakes, which means they have to make them first. Math education is no different. There’s a small but mighty push for experiential and problem-based learning within the discipline that wants students to learn from their mistakes. As my partner and I discussed this we couldn’t help but wonder:

At what point is the struggle too much?

Earlier in the day he’d met with a student who claimed she was working on one homework problem for 4 hours. Earlier that semester I’d met with a student who spent an entire weekend looking for research in the wrong places with the wrong search terms. I’m all for giving it the old college try, but in both cases, this just plain excessive struggle for little reward. As a librarian who has been doing this job for a while, I have a good sense of when I’ve tapped my intellectual well. I know when to ask for help. My partner does, too. Most academics know when to take a step back, take another approach, or ask a colleague for suggestions. But this is a learned skill. We like to think of it as tacit knowledge–students have to experience failure to know when they are failing the right way as opposed to just struggling unnecessarily–but is it really? Does the experience alone help them gain this knowledge? Or can the struggle just be too real for some students, leading them to eventually equate math or research with pointless stress?

I think the key in the library classroom is not to focus on failure but to focus on process: Model, practice, repeat–over and over again. It’s a challenge when so much of students’ grades depend on a final product (an exam, a paper, a presentation, etc.) and often requires a shift in emphasis from the professor. By modeling a process–a step I think we (and I know I) often overlook in our attempts to make our classrooms spaces for active learning–we give students a sense of what struggle can look like. Granted, there’s no one standard process for research, and we don’t want to imply that there is one, but making our thinking and doing visible to our students can go a long way towards demystifying research. We get stuck, we back-track, we try again, we struggle, but we are never alone when we do so. It’s something I try to stress to all my students in hopes that they too feel like they never have to struggle alone.

Taming Tenure as a Newbrarian

Please welcome our new First Year Academic Librarian Experience blogger Dylan Burns, Digital Scholarship Librarian at Utah State University.

This month I’ll end my first “year” at Utah State University, only about 3 months in real human time. That is when my tenure calendar, which trudged on before I was a glint in the eye of my search committee, ends the first year. Given the short amount of time I’ve been in Logan I believe I’ve done well in my position as Digital Scholarship Librarian, but the tenure dossier and meeting I schedule in few weeks still makes me think about the tenure process and what it means for librarians.

How am I approaching tenure?

A common refrain amongst faculty librarians is the “failed academic” route to our success. Many of us dreamed of being on campus albeit as research or teaching faculty rather than where we landed in the library. This doesn’t mean that the library wasn’t ultimately the spot in academia that fit my interests and goals the best; In fact, I will say that I should have been shooting for librarianship for a longer time that I actually was. We all hear stories from kids in library school (I can say that now right? Since I’m library #adulting?) where they knew from a young age that librarianship was their be-all end-all, but I wasn’t one of them.

What this means is that in my prior grad school life, I had a completely different set of research interests and projects which may or may not fit in my life as a librarian (depending on how much you squint). In my previous program I presented and published on gendered bananas in advertising and American diplomacy as well as the end of the world in country music. While the end products of my research, strange discussions of cultural politics of bananas aside, fit well in many humanities departments across the country, these aren’t the research projects that librarians need to make themselves better and improve the larger discipline.

What I do think these prior flights of fancy in scholarship give me is a larger context for the work I ultimately am doing as an academic librarian. In my meetings with faculty I can share these experiences with them and draw from my own previous life as a researcher to better design a digital scholarship unit at Utah State which confronts problems and assuages fears.

In a larger context though, I find that academic librarianship allows us to see the larger picture of both the University but the entire scholarly world. Scholars on campus are brilliantly narrow in their pursuits, a necessity of the current state of academia. Librarians, on the other hand, are interdisciplinary to their core.

This leads to a potential pitfall that all of us face. With the new brand of freedom granted by not having to take classes or read assigned texts I’m left with the burden of this freedom. I guide my own path, with the guidance of experienced librarians and my committee. I chose what to read and what skills to learn. This is a great freedom but also a deep frustration: What I am going to do now? In a lot of ways we are experts in gaining expertise. We guide researchers to their own information needs and goals. How do we do this for ourselves?

With my short year concluding I felt a lot of pressure to hit the ground running. I think that is a burden that all first year librarians feel. We see colleagues doing great work and we judge ourselves against what they’ve been able to do in years rather than weeks. Remembering that we’re new and these connections and projects take time to develop is key to early success. Sometimes we come to our jobs with projects in mind, I have some on the backburner, but when confronted with new environments and new colleagues it is imperative that we jettison those projects if new ones come along. I have taken every single opportunity to work with my new friends and colleagues on projects essential to the future of our library.

What I idealized as the Baudelairian scholar or poet in the tower who worked on scholarship as a singular and lonely force is ultimately the wrong approach. Librarianship is one where we can all work on projects together to further the field. Being open to collaborations and being interested in forming these connections has been one of the most important things I’ve learned thus far.

Furthermore, after decades of school, I think I tend to view most of interactions as competitions. Competitions for grads or grants or for articles or conferences or graduate assistantships and jobs. It is easy to carry this competitive edge into the job and tenure does not discourage that kind of thinking. But I remind myself every day that I am in competition only with myself and any opportunity to cooperate and collaborate carries everyone forward together.

In some ways tenure in library circles mirror current debates about accreditation for library schools, in that these are larger discussions over the professionalization of our occupation. How do we as academic librarians view our status at the university? There are some librarians who believe that we are second class citizens at the university, and I think this, unfortunately, might be more reality than fiction at some schools. What tenure and faculty status allows is a gravitas to our work and our status at the university.

As a first year faculty member, I have been attending workshops and classes with new teaching faculty, and I must pause and take heart that while I’m not a doctor I have the same role in the larger university machine. This is a hard thing for faculty librarians, including myself, to fully cure. But there are opportunities to find common minds in these interactions and I am thankful that faculty status allows me this kind of in with new professors. I research and they research. I teach and they teach. Even in my short time at Utah State some of my most rewarding experiences have been with working with faculty members as equals in the university’s mission.