Scholarship, Service and Scholarly Growth as a First Year Academic Librarian

ACRLog welcomes a guest post from Megan Donnelly, Adjunct Research Librarian at the Millersville University of Pennsylvania.

I am an Adjunct Research Librarian at the Millersville University of Pennsylvania’s Francine G. McNairy Library and Learning Forum, where I have worked for the past year. My role is public services focused. I teach information literacy instruction, conduct outreach and provide research assistance. Scholarship, service and scholarly growth are also explicit requirements of my job, clearly stated responsibilities in my job description, because librarians are tenure-track faculty at my institution. Librarians here have the ability to gain tenure, like professors in the academic disciplines do. As an adjunct faculty member, I do not have the ability to gain tenure because my position is temporary. However, I am still required to engage in scholarship, service and scholarly growth but without the parameters and end goal of tenure.

At my institution, activities that fall under the category for scholarship are researching, publishing, presenting and continuing education. Service encompasses service to the library and the university. This takes the form of service to committees, boards and community organizations. Scholarly growth is fulfilled by staying up to date in the profession via professional development and service to outside professional organizations. I understand that criteria and activities for tenure can differ at each institution.

A large learning curve for me as a first year academic librarian was how librarians are classified in the academy and how scholarship, service and scholarly growth apply to these classifications. In my last quarter of graduate school I started applying for professional positions. I observed phrases in faculty librarian job postings such as, “Record of professional scholarship and service,” “Evidence of a professional record,” and “Willingness to stay up-to-date and improve skills.” I had an idea of what these criteria meant but it wasn’t until I was hired as adjunct faculty at my institution that I understood the role they play in the tenure and promotion process, the many benefits they offer, and the implications they have on my personal life.

As an entry level academic librarian, without prior professional academic experience, my first stab at scholarship has proven to be both a complicated and valuable learning experience. Although scholarship is a requirement of my job, I am given a very small annual professional development fund. This implies that I need to apply for grants to fund my professional development such as faculty grants and grants from outside organizations. This past Fall 2018 semester, I gave my first presentation at the Florida ACRL Annual 2018 Conference, in Fort Myers, Florida. This required a flight from PA to Florida, putting me well over my small annual professional development fund. Thus, I was introduced to the grant application process. Faculty grants at my institution are internal grants from the university used to support research, publications, travel to present, special academic activities, and released time. Attempting to secure funding this way was difficult to grapple with at first, on top of the stress of my first presentation, but it grew to be an incredibly beneficial experience. I can now say that I know how to apply for a grant and I can list the grants I have been awarded on my CV to aid me in securing a permanent position in the future.

My institution also has a flat hierarchy, so this also gave me opportunities to communicate with my colleagues to ask for advice. I learned quite a bit from each of them, not only about the procedure for faculty grant application at our institution, but also about their experiences with grants at their previous institutions. Communicating with my colleagues to learn more about scholarship was critical to my success, and collaborating with two of my colleagues on my first presentation really helped me learn the ropes.

I fulfill the service requirement of my position primarily by serving on library, as well as university wide, committees. My position is designed to give entry-level librarians professional experience so they are able to secure a permanent position in the future. It is also designed to allow entry-level librarians to make informed decisions regarding which areas and types of positions in the field they would like to pursue. I have the opportunity to choose which library committees I would like to serve on to gain experience, and am a member of: the Teaching and Learning Committee, Information Literacy Assessment Committee, Communication and Connection Team, Digital Assets Committee, Collection Development Committee, and the Research Fellows Committee. I am also a member of the university wide Open Education Resources Working Group and the Made in Millersville Conference Planning Committee. Service has taught me what it means to collaborate with others at a professional level, what I consider to be the single most valuable skill for academic librarians. It has also taught me how to communicate effectively. Service provides an outline of the work that I do so I am able to organize my skill set into comprehensive categories and better communicate my capabilities to future employers. I strongly recommend that first year academic librarians consider participating in service opportunities.

Scholarly growth has proven to be the most inspiring of the three requirements I have discussed in this post. I fulfill my responsibilities to scholarly growth by serving on the board of ACRL Delaware Valley Chapter as blog editor, as well as attending conferences, programs, workshops, webinars and internal professional development opportunities. These experiences have provided me with access to innovative practices in librarianship that I can use to grow as a professional and contribute to the advancement of my library and institution. They have also provided me with essential networking skills and opportunities. Serving on the board of ACRL DVC has really opened this door for me. Since my position is temporary, networking in this way has given me access to news of vacancies at my colleagues’ institutions as soon as they are posted, if not before. It has opened my eyes to what types of positions I will feel most fulfilled serving in, as well as what these positions may look like at other institutions.

Scholarship, service and scholarly growth have taken their toll on my personal life. Sometimes preparation for a presentation, collaborating to publish with a colleague and board member responsibilities bleed into my personal time. As a twenty-something millennial, it’s difficult to see my friends in entry level positions excel in their careers without the pressure of these responsibilities. I am still learning how to balance these activities in addition to my other responsibilities at work and my personal goals. This has materialized through trial and error, but also from the knowledge I have gained from communicating with my colleagues and scholarly growth activities. This webinar, for example, was a great launching point for thinking of work/life balance within the context of scholarship, service and scholarly growth. The presenters also speak to how these activities fit into the tenure process. It helped me significantly as a first year academic librarian.

Thinking to the future, I often wonder what scholarship and service will look like in my life once I secure a permanent, tenure-track position. I think about what implications they will have on marriage, family planning, personal finances and how I relate to friends and family outside of academia. What was/is your experience with scholarship, service and scholarly as a first year academic librarian?

2 thoughts on “Scholarship, Service and Scholarly Growth as a First Year Academic Librarian”

  1. Good afternoon Ms. Donnelly,

    I am a university student working toward an MLS degree, so I realize that the question at the end of your post was not directed to someone like me. Nevertheless, I feel the need to respond, since I, an individual preparing to enter a career as an academic librarian, gained much from what you offered. Your insights concerning some of the issues I will encounter, particularly as a first year librarian, are wise. Your information concerning the resources I may utilize for professional development, in terms of information and individuals I may seek support from, is helpful. Your insights concerning the expectations of librarians–scholarship, service, and scholarly growth–are confirmation that I’ve been on the right track where development in these areas are concerned.

    Thank you again for sharing the yield of your experiences, and I wish you further success in your career as a librarian.

    Respectfully,

    Jo Anna Rohrbaugh
    MLS candidate

  2. My first professional position was not one with faculty status and scholarship and service weren’t officially part of the job. Even so, participating on campus committees was expected, and there was also an expectation of continued professional development. It wasn’t until I was in my third librarian position that I had faculty status. I was already writing and publishing because I wanted to, but I struggled with the idea of having a research agenda. I didn’t learn research methods in a meaningful way in grad school and wasn’t introduced to the idea that librarians could also be researchers. I’ve presented and published enough to play the tenure game but I still feel like I don’t have a solid research agenda or area of deep expertise. I sometimes think this is a weakness of my library school program and it brings that imposter syndrome to life in a big way. After 10 years as a librarian I feel like I’m just starting to figure out what I’m doing. 🙂

    I am surprised your institution requires adjuncts to do service and scholarship. I think that’s fairly unusual, but good to get the experience! We could do better as librarians about developing young professionals as researchers, especially those without a social sciences background.

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