It has been almost three years since I moved to Washington DC for the Resident Librarian position at American University. My contract was for three years and this July, that contract will end. As I am preparing for my next steps, applying to jobs, and going through life changes, I am inclined to reflect on my residency and the residencies I have seen show up in our field over the past three years. Most of it positive, but some that has me left with questions.
Let’s start with the good:
I was the very first Resident Librarian at American University and while the first year was a little unstructured and we were all still learning, I have to say that the past two years have been productive and joyful. Not only is my residency more structured, but I also received so much support for developing as a professional. The support and success I have had has to do with the following:
Professional development funds: Here at AU, we have funds set aside for each librarian, which we can use to attend conferences or other professional development events. With this support, I have been able to present at conferences all over the country (National Diversity in Libraries Conference, ALA Annual, and ACRL NEC 2018) and meet other fellow resident librarians. Presenting and traveling to these conferences are essential, especially to an early career librarian who is looking to meet new professionals and get their name out there.
Peer-mentorship: As I was able to travel to conferences and get involved in the ACRL Residency Interest Group, I was able to network. A whole new world of resident librarianship opened up to me. I am glad and proud to say that I found a supportive, kind, and ambitious community in resident librarians, as well as other early-career librarians.
Formal mentorship: Many of you have heard me rave about my mentorship experience, but I will repeat it once more. At the beginning of my residency, I was paired with my mentor, Nikhat Ghouse. She has been a librarian for about 20 years, is a former resident librarian, and someone who has guided me, trusted in me, and pushed me to fulfill my full potential. Along with my formal mentor, I had others who have guided and advised me throughout my residency. I have learned so much from them and am grateful to have them in my life. They know who they are and without them, I would not have had such a productive time during my residency.
American University colleagues: Last, but not least, I have had amazing colleagues. My colleagues at American University immediately made me feel welcomed and part of the faculty. Throughout these three years, I felt like the administrators put their trust in me, especially when it came to taking on a larger teaching load, interim liaison duties, and participating in service throughout the university. I have heard of so many residents who say they did not receive much support throughout their residencies, so I am grateful to have a great group of librarians and mentors at American University. I try not to think about it, but when I leave in July, I will be sad to leave them. However, I know that they are colleagues for life.
Let’s talk about the…questionable things:
Goals of a residency: Over the past three years, I have spoken to and interacted with people who still do not know what the point of a residency program is. Some seem to have the idea that a residency is a type of internship. I will say that this accounts for very few people I have interacted with. It causes me to think if we as a profession have not done a great job at effectively communicating what a residency is or if the goals and definition of a residency are so vague, that it is hard for some to comprehend.
Rotational Residencies: This might be unpopular, but I am not a fan of rotational residencies. When American University posted their job description for their very first resident librarian, they advertised it as a position that would focus on reference and instruction. They also added in the description that the resident librarian would have the opportunity to work with other departments. While the freedom to explore other departments was appreciated, I knew going in that I wanted to work in public services. I knew that I wanted to improve my teaching and work with first year students. When I voiced these interests, I was able to take on duties that allowed me to work with incoming freshman and first year students.
I personally believe that if an institution is going to have a rotational residency, then they should plan this with the incoming resident librarian. At the very least, allow the incoming resident the freedom to be embedded in one department, but also have opportunities and freedom to work (or not work) with other departments. If a resident prefers one department to another and chooses to work with them, then this is going to make their residency more productive. Let us remember that many of these residencies tend to be two-year terms and that is actually a very short time to get significant experience, so that you’re able to get a job you want after you leave your residency.
Lack of support from an institution: Most, if not all residencies are promoted as positions that will provide you the opportunity to become immersed in academic libraries. These institutions also might promise support in the form of mentorship and professional development opportunities. It is unfortunate that I have spoken to resident librarians that are frustrated in their residency, because they are not getting the support and guidance that they were promised. As an example, I received an email about a year ago from a resident librarian I have known for a couple of years. They had emailed me because they were now in the instruction portion of their residency rotation and had taught their first class. This resident felt like it had not gone well and needed some advice. In their email, they mentioned that they had not received enough training. While I shared my advice on instruction, it was disturbing to me that an institution would let a resident librarian, who did not have much instruction experience go out and teach a class without basic training. Had there not been an observation of how other librarians teach? Was the resident librarian able to co-teach before teaching a class on their own? It is disappointing, but while it is an institutions job to make sure that a resident librarian gets the proper training, the responsibility tends to fall on the resident librarian to keep their institution accountable.
Our field of librarianship puts a lot of emphasis on the recruitment of librarians of color and from underrepresented groups, but once you get a resident librarian at your institution, that institution now bears some of the responsibility of retaining that person. If a resident librarian is not getting the training and experience that was promised and important to their career, then how can we expect them to want to stay in academic librarianship?
All of this brings me to my final point. In the past three years I have been a resident librarian, I have voiced my opinions and concerns, along with many other librarians about some of the issues with residency programs. While there are many in our field who truly care about improving the residency experience, there are some, who are involved in forming these residencies or coordinating residents, that are willing to listen to our residency feedback, but are not willing to address it and take action. When this happens, the issues are ignored, not taken seriously, or scoffed at. This is not helping anyone and I predict that these issues will begin to stack up and affect retention rates of these resident librarians and residency programs.
My last piece of advice would be for resident librarians. If you find yourself in a not-so-great situation at your institute, please know that there are people who are willing to listen to you and support you. Groups such as ACRL Residency Interest Group, We Here, or a long list of former resident librarians. Your experience is important, your concerns are important, and your success is important.