Autumn and New Beginnings

Please welcome our new First Year Academic Librarian Experience blogger Jason Dean, Assistant Librarian and Head of Special Formats Cataloging at the University of Arkansas.

It was only after I started in my new tenure-track position at the University of Arkansas Libraries that I learned how scarce these positions are in academia. Almost every issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education that crosses my desk has an essay or an article on the reduction in tenure-track faculty in higher education about the reduction in tenure-track teaching and faculty jobs in higher education. This made me even more humbled that I am in a faculty, tenure-track position

To be frank, I felt a bit like a pretender. Yes, I have a master’s degree from a top-ranked library school, and I had several presentations and one peer-reviewed article published, but my fellow faculty members at the university are titans of their fields. One colleague comes to mind – he is teaching at Oxford this semester, and has published several books to much acclaim. In the library, there are faculty who have published widely, and to great recognition – so I felt a bit like a pretender, much like many other first year tenure track faculty.

But, they hired me. There was a national search and some of the most rigorous interviews I have had in my professional career. After that rigorous process, they selected me to fill the position. People seem to be very happy to have me here, and more than that, I feel as though I belong here as a faculty member.

And in the six months since I started this position, I feel as though I’ve blossomed here. Unlike Moses, I do not presume to deliver you wisdom from the mountain, but instead, reflections on why I feel at home here, and why I feel that I can succeed in tenure and promotion amidst such august colleagues – and furthermore – which of these thoughts might be pertinent to my fellow first year academic librarians.

The first reflection is that one should listen. Listen to senior library faculty, and to senior faculty in general. It seems that new librarians have a reputation for disregarding how things were done in the past, the general history of the library, and the collective memory of your colleagues who have far more service – let’s set out to change that reputation, shall we? Having that institutional and social memory helps you formulate new ideas and place them in an appropriate context and forum. Indeed, knowing when and where to share ideas is important – as is being collegial. One of my interesting discoveries in this process has been the Library Handbook for Students of 1949, pictured below:


Second – the currency of the realm in academia is the written word. It behooves the new faculty member to write well, and often. Write in a private journal, blog for yourself, or for others, and work on your tenure-related publications. You have interests you would like to research – pursue those. Write about things that you see that intrigue you, or spark your objection. Write well-crafted emails. Many times the first impression of a new faculty member is not made in-person, but through the medium of their writing – so make that as good as it can be, and continually improve through practice and criticism.

A natural complement to writing is reading. You should read. Ravenously. Read blogs, journals, and newspapers that you enjoy and that are pertinent to your field. Here at the library, faculty members can be “routed” on new publications, and I am probably on the list for more than is logical – but it exposes me to a wide array of journals it would cost me thousands of dollars to subscribe to. Journals of rare books, librarianship, and history are on my list. Read widely, talk about what you’ve read, and connect your reading to your job, or your research.

Excel and exceed. The tenure and promotion process here at the University of Arkansas and for librarians specifically is quite clear, thankfully. Find out what the requirements for tenure and promotion are – and though the requirements are high, exceed them. One publication a year? Do two. Start serving on national and international committees. Publish with colleagues outside the library in your institution and beyond. And do these things well.

When does one do all of these things? Well, perhaps that’s a topic for another post.

I want to close with a picture – a picture from the University of Arkansas’ campus that shows why fall is the most magical time of year on college campuses – that it is a time of new beginnings, and one of lovely color.


Author: Maura Smale

Maura Smale is Chief Librarian at The Graduate Center, City University of New York.

6 thoughts on “Autumn and New Beginnings”

  1. I’m excited for this series, as I’m just starting out in my first year in an academic library. Can’t wait to read more!

  2. Well said, Jason. With such a clear-minded and positive approach I feel sure you will be successful. The concept of “publish or perish” frames writing and publication morbidly as exercises of desperation within a “do or die” mentality. Your approach is much more common-sensical, balanced and, ultimately, effective.

    Also, I love that you are browsing old library manuals for the historical perspective such things provide. And I agree that Fall in the Ozarks is one of the great wonders of nature. Spring is pretty good as well.

    Great start on this blog!

  3. I’m excited for this series, as I’m just starting out in my first year in an academic library. Can’t wait to read more!
    I love that you are browsing old library manuals for the historical perspective such things provide
    work at Magestore

  4. Harry, John, and Kate – thanks so much for your kind words! As a matter of fact, your comments have given me an idea for my next post here, so thank you!

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