Tag Archives: professional development

Confessions on Owning and Honing Your Weaknesses

The month of June marks the ramp up to fiscal close in my neck of the library wood.  In the otherwise quiet summer of academia there is this corner of buzzing frenzy. Staff work though last minute orders, pay invoices, troubleshoot problems, answer questions about the various statuses of the cash flow, and pull and prepare data to estimate a new year’s allocations.  In my role, I mostly coordinate various inter-dependencies of the workflows and people that must align for these numbers to be properly reconciled. Thankfully for all I’m not responsible for the number-crunching.

You see, I’ve never had the intuitive ease with numbers accountants, or it seems an acquisitions librarian, is expected to have.  I prefer to visualize and think around things rather than operate in the linear calculus that numbers require.  My analytical mind loves to think about cause and effect, and even the many complex inversions and formulas that produce usable data and its visualization. But producing those inversions on the spot, even in simple arithmetic, doesn’t come easy for me.  It explains why I was always terrible at timed math tests, but loved algebra and geometry.  I struggle with sewing patterns that instruct from the inside out, but love cooking, where I can follow strict instructions and play with them to my taste.

When I worked in serials, calculations took on linguistic obscurity when it came to publication frequencies and title changes.  “Is twice a month semi-monthly or bi-monthly?” Does continues mean what a title it used to be? Or what it will be going forward?”

And to this day, when gardening,  “Do annuals mean I plant them every year, or that they come back every year?!”

What gets me in trouble in all of this is my strong preference to operate intuitively and efficiently. This means I am often impatient with the extra time it takes me to slowly think through cost comparisons and reports. I know that extra time is necessary for me, though, to make sure it is done right.  Understanding of my own strengths and weaknesses in this way allows me to recognize the need to rely on other tools, systems, and people.  Relying on the strengths of others is not an excuse to avoid your weaknesses. In fact, identifying and using your particular strengths can be a tool to overcome weaknesses, and it can mean talking about those vulnerabilities in more empowering ways.

This important skill is perhaps most practically applied in job interviews, where some variation of “What are your strengths and weaknesses?” is no doubt asked. The best interviewers do this using behavioral questioning or appreciative inquiry techniques, which often ask for examples that demonstrate direct personal experience with particular skill or trait.  My first ever job interview was as a senior in high school, and I had no previous work experience.  So I had to answer questions about what I find difficult when working with others using only my school experience.  Thinking of various show choirs and musicals, where I had to practice and perform with my ex-boyfriend (among other  characters), I answered:

“Sometimes I have a hard time separating my personal life from my work.”

*crickets chirping*

Surprise! I did not get the job.  Not knowing a lot about myself at 17, I failed to realize my strength as a performer was precisely the fact that I actually can and do work with others, even those with whom ‘it’s complicated’, probably better than the average person.   Even though inside it was a hormonally-charged tornado of difficult emotion, I could summon my inner Olivia Newton John and nail Grease’s  “You’re the One That I Want” number with a smile on my face. With each interview I got a little stronger at framing my skills.  When interviewing for a waitress position, in which I did have some experience, I shared my thoughts about an unreasonably disgruntled customer, but described how I worked foremost to best meet that customer’s need.

As I’ve learned more about how my own strengths help my weaknesses, I know I thrive in project management roles because there is a framework to breakdown milestones, tasks, and timelines.  I thrive on learning to use new tools because they help me be more efficient and accurate.  Perhaps most importantly, I rely the strengths of the people with whom I work.  What is painstaking for one person is often the effortless strength of another who is happy to be asked to contribute what they do best.  When dealing with numbers, as I must inevitably do in the day-to-day work of acquisitions and resource sharing, I strategize (a strength of mine) to build in the extra time to sit with, play with, and picture data (my analytic strength).  I am constantly using my learning strength not just to find new tools that can help me, but to know more about myself and others.  I also have an individual relational strength that allows me to know and connect with other people and the unique strengths they offer.

In my seventeenth year experiencing and third year overseeing the fiscal close, I’m putting my anxiety around the numbers in better perspective. I’ve come to see that working through vulnerabilities and getting help where you need it is not abnormal at all. It’s what a responsible adult person would do.

Please tell me your favorite job interview story!  What would you do over, if you could, from a position of strength?

 

 

Second Semesters: Meeting Expectations and Setting Goals

Classes started this week. Utah State University  seems to go back to school earlier than other institutions I’ve been associated with, whether this is a truth or just a feeling based on my always busy and never resting natural state I can’t know. As you might recall from my first post on ACRLog,  I felt the pressure of freedom hanging over my head as I approached my first tenure meetings and class sessions. As I look back on the goals I set, I can’t help but be a little disappointed that I didn’t get the large projects I had planned finished or even near completed. Sometimes I set the bar too high, and sometimes other priorities took important parts of my time. While I stressed about what I could do in the time I had, I didn’t know what it was like to work in this environment despite my degree.

Going with the flow is difficult when you feel the need to justify your existence. When I started, there was an urgency, self-imposed, on hitting the ground running. Freedom, as well as a new job, breeds deflated self-worth and a need to prove myself. I was lucky to start with two fantastic new librarians, who, much like me, felt a need to contribute and change the world in that first month. Our worth was already ( probably) proved and our anxieties over changing the world probably caused us too many sleepless nights in the first semester.

I often read  that employers “made the right choice” when they chose you. I never really believed it when it came to me, and that is why I set outrageous goals for my first 6 months many of which were impossible.

Hope springs eternal, and while a new semester means new challenges from our students it means a second chance for planning and goal setting. The key thing I learned in my first semester is that there will always be a second semester. I’m setting goals and expectations to reflect that, here is what I learned:

  1. I learned about writing and research goals.

I came to Utah State with four years of graduate school behind me. That means 8 semesters of seminar classes, with article length sojourns into the deepest recesses of popular cultural memory and library sciences. I spent much of the summer attempting to fit the projects I worked on in classes into what I needed for my tenure dossier. Try to change the world of libraries with a paper on paranormal manifestations of Abraham Lincoln and you’ll see what I’m talking about. I struggled to come up with new topics, in part because I didn’t want to abandon these ideas and papers. I talked to mentors about following these strings to their natural conclusions, but it seemed like more of an outside hobby than a true tenure quality research portfolio. These were the projects I had and I felt desperate to have logs in the fire.

Putting these projects on the shelf was one of the best decisions I’ve made. There might be a day when I can work on them again, but by taking a single breath and looking around me I found colleagues who were open to sharing their ideas and building projects together. By letting the research come to me in my day-to-day library world I found myself producing better research, thinking better ideas, and learning about new approaches to my work than I ever would have had I focused on what I had previously done. Everyone in academic libraries is intellectually curious, and as such, the job sparks interest in new approaches and problems. When I calmed down, research projects hit me directly in the face through the natural course of my work.

  1. I learned about learning goals.

Many new librarians complain about their library schools; “ I didn’t take the right classes” or “I didn’t learn how to do this” are common refrains on both twitter and in the real world. Nothing in library school can prepare you for the specific things required in your new job in your first year. We all come with either theoretical approaches or with experiences from our grad schools. While I have drawn from my experiences as a graduate assistant and as a student (especially in metadata and digital preservation classes), the real library is different from the one we apprentice in.

This isn’t to say that this isn’t valuable, or that library school is not something that helped me get to where I am, but believing that it was the end-all be-all of libraries and that graduating from the top library school in the country meant that I didn’t have anything to learn was a mistake. I basically had to re-learn everything. Learning is an expected part of our jobs and being ok with not knowing all the answers or solutions is ok.

Each library has its own politics and policies that hinder and promote our lives as librarians. Library school teaches us about the ideal library (a mixture of Ranganathan and Borges), but the library we work in, far from ideal, is the one we have to navigate. No class can teach you about what Utah State University Libraries needs today or tomorrow. But the people I work with are more than willing to welcome me into this world. I learned on the job, and I’m still learning on the job.

  1. There’s always room for saying no.

I came to Utah by myself and decided, socially at least, to say yes to everything. I’m an introvert and an only child as a result I like to be alone and by myself. But…I’ve been to Pioneer Day Parades, Porch Crawls, I’ve watched fireworks with families, I’ve hiked several mountain passes, I’ve driven to the lake 45 minutes away ( I don’t swim). I didn’t make a whole lot of friends in graduate school and I knew that this time needed to be different. Saying yes to everything worked socially, but I found very quickly that it didn’t work so well at work.

Along with my struggles to prove myself I wanted to be a “team player” and take whatever share of the load that was offered to me. I ignored warnings of burnouts and back aches as I took all that I could. Somewhat legendarily I took 7 freshmen orientation sessions this Fall (everyone else did no more than 3 and even that was a lot). You need someone on Saturday to give tours? I’ll be there. You need a desk shift covered? I got it.

I don’t’ regret doing these things, and I don’t think it was detrimental to my mental or physical health but saying no is as healthy as saying yes to social engagements. I learned that saying no today left a yes for tomorrow. My colleagues set boundaries for themselves primarily because our time is limited. Doing a dozen things half way isn’t helping anyone. Along with the research goals, there is always another day, week, or month to accomplish tasks. I don’t advocate putting important tasks off, but I truly believe that pacing myself is going to lead to more gains and more triumphs tomorrow than losing sleep tonight.

I’ll be the first to admit that I barely take this advice or have learned completely from these moments.  But second semesters are opportunities to start again and start fresh. I have a mountain of tasks ahead of me, classes to teach, and papers to present. I’m more comfortable today with the job ahead. All it took was time and another go around.

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.

Reflections on the past year

It’s been almost one year since I moved to Washington DC and began my residency position at American University. Last year, for my very first ACRLog post, I wrote a little about my job description as a Resident Librarian. Next month will mark my one year anniversary at American University.

I am glad to say that my first year has been fantastic. I have great colleagues and amazing support from the library. I have also had the opportunity to participate in symposiums, attend conferences, contribute to university service, and meet great people from outside the library and around the university.

Beyond my work at American University, I have been blessed to be able to write for ACRLog and obtain other opportunities through ACRL. While it’s been a great year, I have learned a couple of things that will make me a better librarian in the long run. I believe that even if you’ve had positive experiences, there are always new things to learn and ways to improve as a librarian.

Here are some things that I have learned the past year:

-Go outside your comfort zone. I know that for myself, I can be a bit shy. However, I know that I am also a professional and that going outside of your comfort zone and experiencing new things is vital for not only personal growth, but professional growth. For me, going outside my comfort zone means talking and interacting to people outside the library. I am currently working on a project where I have reached out to different departments in the university. Through those email exchanges and meetings, I have learned more about our students and the challenges that lie for incoming freshman.

-Participate when you can! One of the great things about my residency is that I have the opportunity to work with other departments, such as technical services or access services. I also participate in the marketing and social media groups, which has not only librarians, but other staff members from departments within the library. These are great opportunities to meet new people and learn about what others do at the library and what their interests are.

-Prioritize conferences. As a new librarian, I was excited about all the conferences and all the great locations they would be held at. However, these conferences cost money and with airfare, hotel, and food, it can get expensive! I am lucky enough to have professional development funds through my position. I also know that not everyone has funds through their place of employment and so they cannot attend many (if any) conferences that are not in their area. I would suggest looking within your own place of employment and finding workshops or small symposiums taking place. I have found these events very informative, especially since they relate to that specific environment. As I have been fortunate enough to attend a couple of conferences this past year, I have learned the immense talent that the librarianship profession has. One of my  favorite parts of conferences is meeting new people and finding out what everyone is working on.

In terms of prioritizing conferences, it is going to be different for everyone. Personally, I like to go to conferences that have an emphasis in my own interests and my future career plans.

-Rejection is not the end of the world. Like my residency position ACRLog post, I also wrote one about rejection. While it hurts for a little while, you must learn from it and continue. It might have been the first time, but it won’t be the last time. So, how do we move forward? Over the course of a year, I have focused on a couple things. First, working with people on proposals is helpful. It allows you to not only write, but learn from others and different styles. Second, write for yourself. When I do this, I do not write about work. I write about my life, my dreams, and anything that pops into my head. What is important is that you move forward and try again.

-Volunteer. When I arrived in DC, I promised myself that I would take the time to volunteer. Specifically, I wanted to work with English as a Second Language speakers (ESL). However, I wanted to wait until I got settled in DC.  A couple months ago, I started co-teaching ESL classes once a week. It’s very rewarding when a student who struggled at the beginning, begins to improve every week. Although this is separate than my library work, this experience has shaped how I teach. The ESL program that I am part of is very informal. Teachers have the freedom to either use the ESL book that has been provided with lesson plans or use their own content and design it their way.

I have been using a mix of two, but most importantly, I have learned how to better improvise. During the classes, students will begin to ask questions that cause myself and the co-teacher to further explain a topic. For example, we had a lesson about food and it turned out that a lot of students were unfamiliar with breakfast food vocabulary. So, after the break, the other co-teacher and I decided to do an activity to familiarize the students with that vocabulary.

I think that any instruction experience can serve to improve your teaching and having a diverse set of students will only help you improve and better understand different ways of learning and comprehension.

Finally, I always like to remember that my residency position and my colleagues are the reason that I have had great opportunities over the past year. I am also glad to say that I will continue with ACRLog for another year and look forward to writing more about my residency and the projects I am participating in, as well as collaboration within and outside of the library.

Professional Development as a Student

Check out our post on HLS today too! Quetzalli Barrientos, ACRLog FYAL blogger, reflects on her job search in “Job Search Tips.” See more information about the HLS/ ACRLog collaboration here.

Emily Minehart is a second year MSLIS student pursuing a Certificate in Special Collections at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She is a Graduate Assistant at Illinois’ Rare Book & Manuscript Library, where she is processing the Gwendolyn Brooks papers. Emily is currently an SAA Students and New Archives Professionals Roundtable steering committee member-at-large. Emily was asked to write about professional development as a student and how she stays in conversation with practicing librarians.

Professional involvement has been one of the foundational pieces of my library education, and I have benefited greatly from having a mentor who is involved in the profession. Classroom experience is important, but I feel as though I have learned more through interacting with practicing archivists and librarians than in my coursework. I am studying archives at the University of Illinois GSLIS, and have been lucky to work in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library (RBML) there for the past year and a half. My direct supervisor and professional mentor, the RBML’s archivist Megan Hixon, has taught me more than I can convey about archives, their relationship to a rare book library, and how to address problems (75 dead bugs falling out of a folder all over my desk is my favorite example) in a large academic library. She has allowed me to communicate with other involved parties, like preservation librarians. Learning how librarians and archivists from different units interact while having different backgrounds and approaches is an important part of academic librarianship and something that seems very difficult to teach in the classroom.

In my experience, the most significant lessons I have learned have come when I asked for help, more responsibility, or for specific experience. This goes beyond the workplace and classroom. It is important for students to seek out ways to become involved in the profession if they want a more holistic education. I am a student steering committee member of SAA’s Students and New Archives Professionals (SNAP) Roundtable. Being in contact with new archivists and other archives students has been reassuring and has challenged me to engage directly with the decisions SAA is making. Being involved with a professional organization as a student helps me to better understand the career in front of me, and it feels as though I have agency over my future and the futures of my peers; that makes some of the drudgery of library school feel valuable and more widely relevant.

Unfortunately, I have not yet been able to attend a conference. GSLIS is accommodating of conferences (they offer travel stipends and professors are understanding of missed class time), but the idea of presenting remains intimidating. SNAP is working very seriously to make SAA’s annual conference less daunting to students. We, as a committee, are trying to facilitate conversation between student SAA chapters with national SAA, and we are brainstorming ways to welcome students and first-time attendees to the conference. Still, presenting seems overwhelming. I think the best way to overcome that is to have a mentor; my supervisor attends conferences and will be part of a program at the Midwest Archives Conference this year. Hearing her talk through the process has been reassuring, and knowing that I will be able to find her at the conference itself is comforting.

Professional development as a student has both broadened and deepened my education, and I feel more qualified to enter the field this spring because of it. While groups like SNAP are doing great work to facilitate a connection between students and professional organizations, I feel strongly that there is no better way to become involved and feel supported than to have a mentor who also participates in professional development. Librarians at Illinois are extremely generous and approachable, and GSLIS students benefit from their graciousness. Knowing the general character of librarians, I imagine this is true in other library schools as well. However, I believe that an institutionalized mentorship program would help students approach conferences more confidently and would ease the transition into the profession after library school. SNAP certainly assists new archivists, and many ALA groups provide online resources, like those published by the RBMS Membership and Professional Development Committee, but there is still something more tangible about having a person to speak to directly. A profession-wide mentorship program across library schools would boost student confidence and professional participation, and would lead to better-prepared and more involved professionals entering the field. Certainly such a program would not be easy to execute, especially in the case of distance learning programs, but I believe it would be widely beneficial.