Time flies … or does it?

I’m always hearing people say things like “I can’t believe how fast [xxx] has gone” or “It’s that time already??” And I’m sometimes one of those people. In a few short days it will be June. That puts me only two and a half months from my one year library anniversary. In fact, at this exact time last year, I was interviewing for my job. I’m tempted to say that time has flown, and I can’t believe that I’ve already survived two full semesters of being an academic librarian. But as I look back on the past year, in some ways it has seemed excruciatingly slow. I’ve made the leap into librarianship fairly well, all things considering: I’ve joined committees, volunteered for programs, taken a swing at professional writing (thanks, ACRLog!), and faithfully continued my professional development. It’s my actual job that has slowed me down at times. There have been so many things to learn and figure out, and at times it has seemed overwhelming at best.

As I was thinking about this today, I happened to open my College & Research Libraries journal, and I came across a very timely and relevant article: “Adjusting to the Workplace: Transitions Faced by New Academic Librarians” by Joanne Oud (in the May 2008 volume, page 252). This article follows the experiences of librarians in their first years (three or less) as new academic librarians in Canada, and discusses things like pre-existing knowledge vs. reality in relation to issues such as job skills.

I found many of the comments from the librarians to be very familiar to my thought processes over the past year. One part of the study looked at differences from expectations prior to employment. Among the surprises, flexibility of duties and unstructured work days were frequently mentioned. For some, this was a good thing, for others, it was a struggle to know how best to fill up their “free” time. I’ve felt both ways since starting my job, and, again, it’s caused time to seemingly fly or drag. On the one hand, when I have projects to work on, I hardly look at the clock until quitting time. But other days, when things are a little slow, I have occasionally felt completely confused and at a loss as to what is expected of me. Luckily, I’m of the type that usually does more than is asked, and I’m not especially fond of just sitting around. So the “minutes ticking by” days are, for the most part, few and far between.

The study also asked new librarians the open-ended question, “What was the hardest thing for you to learn?” The most common responses ranged from “how to say no to assignments/projects” to “how to express disagreement effectively” to “getting things done.” I’ve always had trouble with refusing things (especially if a person asks nicely), but I know this is something I should get better at, as there are only so many things I can pile on my plate. Likewise, I need to work on properly expressing myself when I disagree with someone or something (and doing so without apologizing profusely). I do think I have the “getting things done” part down; thanks to my love of crossing things off the many to-do lists plastered around my desk.

I’d be interested in hearing comments by others who have read Oud’s article. If you’re a new librarian, do you agree with the comments in the study? If you’ve been in the profession longer than 3 years, do you remember these types of issues from your first years? I suspect the answer, for both questions, will be a resounding “yes.”

3 thoughts on “Time flies … or does it?”

  1. Coming from film and television, my biggest adjustment was to the glacial speed of libraries and setting more realistic expectations on time frames for projects and responses to emails.

  2. Unfortunately, I don’t get C&RL anymore (I let my membership lapse; bad librarian – no cookie!). But, interestingly, I was just reflecting on this on my own blog. I’m now in my 4th year of being an academic librarian (landing the job with precisely ZERO experience), and the thing that still remains a challenge is the fact that it is an unstructured job. My experience is much like yours, though – on days when my brain won’t seem to engage, it can feel like a very empty time. On days when I’ve got major projects and work going on, time flies.

    It sounds almost like the study respondents were telling my story: learning when to decline assignments or additional duties; handling the disagreements and minefields of academic politics. One thing that isn’t mentioned in your post (again, I haven’t read the article) is the weight placed on “paying your dues” in the position, too – here, seniority matters, and dues are to be paid, and battles chosen.

    Finally, let me say that Ellie’s comment, above, is also true – I came from a job providing office support to a high-tech R&D department, and libraries (and higher-ed institutions) move slow.

  3. This is something I’ve been dealing with since January, in my first position. It’s a brand-new position to the library, and so in addition to what seems to be a universal experience of what to do with the unstructured free time, I also think there’s just simply not enough to do for the actual job I have. Hopefully that will change in the next few months, but we’ll see!

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