Every Year is Someone’s First Year in Academic Librarianship

With all of the changes in our work over the past year, I know I’m not the only one who’s spent lots of time recently thinking about both the pre-pandemic past as well as the always uncertain future. This historical turn has had the ACRLog blogteam thinking about the past and future of our First Year Academic Librarian Experience series, and we concluded that the slower summer months mark an opportune time for a retrospective FYAL post.

First initiated by ACRLoggers Marc Meola, Steven Bell, and Barbara Fister, the FYAL series began way back in the 2008-2009 academic year, with founding FYALers Olivia Nellums and Susanna Smith. Looking in on their terrific posts from that year it’s so interesting to see that while some things have changed, many, many other aspects of their time as early career librarians over a decade ago have stayed the same. Olivia’s post that touches on “other duties as assigned,” those times in our jobs when we’re doing work we never expected to do, seems especially resonant to me here in the second year of a global pandemic. I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling that the category of “other duties” has sometimes been even more time-consuming since last spring than our usual job responsibilities. I have similar feelings on re-reading Susanna’s consideration of the challenges of collection development with constrained budgets, especially for smaller libraries, a persistent issue even before we had to grapple with increased requests for ebooks as our physical spaces were made inaccessible last year.

After a short hiatus, the FYAL series restarted in the 2012-2013 academic year with FYALers Rebecca Halpern, Ian McCullough, and Kim Miller. Their first posts for the year also highlight themes in early-career academic librarianship that are evergreen: managing a career change (because one constant about academic librarianship is that almost everyone’s path to here is unique), working through the new job jitters (relevant at every stage of our careers, I think), and the transition from graduate school to a library position.

In subsequent years our 2-4 annual FYALers have blogged about a huge range of topics. Learning and getting comfortable with their new academic library job is a common theme, including the experience of some who are in a newly-created position, as was Lindsay O’Neill when she was hired as an instructional design librarian. Many of our FYAL bloggers have come from the instruction and reference side of the house, and we’ve heard from Ariana Santiago on the overlaps between outreach and instruction, and from Sarah Hare about bringing our whole selves into the classroom. On our regular blogteam we usually have fewer folx on the technical services side of the house, and I always appreciate hearing those perspectives on librarianship from our FYALers. Jason Dean shared his experiences as head of a cataloging unit, and Erin Miller took us through a few days in the life of an eresources librarian.

Conference wrapups and discussions about aspects of the research and writing process also make frequent appearances in the corpus of FYAL posts over the years, hardly a surprise since professional service and scholarship is required in many academic library positions. While certainly the biannual ACRL conference shows up in our ACRLog archives, we’ve also appreciated posts on other conferences of interest to academic librarians, including Zoe McLaughlin’s notes on the Joint Conference of Librarians of Color, and Nisha Mody’s thoughts on the annual meeting of the Medical Library Association. Many new academic librarians are in tenure-track positions, and Heidi Johnson shared her appreciation of the different aspects of her tenure-track role. Of course, research and writing isn’t the exclusive domain of those on the tenure track, and we heard from Abby Flanigan about her experiences getting started with scholarly writing. And one sure advantage that academic librarians have in our research process is our familiarity with the tools of the trade, as Lily Troia reminds us in her post discussing using Hypothes.is for web annotation

Our FYALers have also tackled more difficult topics while blogging with us. It can be hard to talk about rejection and failure, in any context and at any stage in our lives, and probably more so for folx who are new in their careers. I truly appreciated reading Quetzalli Barrientos’ post on rejection in librarianship, and Dylan Burns’ take on failure and when things don’t go as we hoped they would. Struggles with work-life balance are not unusual in the first year in a new position, and in higher education jobs more generally, and Chloe Horning reminds us to take opportunities for reflection and recalibration when possible. The stress of a new and demanding job can take a toll on our mental health, in our first year and beyond. I have so much gratitude for Callie Wiygul Branstiter’s post about the impacts of depression on our jobs, and Melissa DeWitt‘s sharing some of the ways she prioritizes her mental health; both posts are full of insightful truths for all of us, whether we’re in our first year or Nth year as academic librarians.

Our most recent FYALers have had the difficult challenges of the covid19 pandemic to grapple with along with all of the other aspects of their new careers. As the pandemic was beginning to shut everything down in North America last March, Yoonhee Lee walked us through her new normal during remote work. And while the pandemic reshaped our academic librarian workplaces and practices more than we could have anticipated, there are constants in our work and in our FYALers’ experiences too. Valerie Moore shared honestly about her thoughts as she progresses on the tenure track, while Kevin Adams reminds us that collaboration is and continues to be critical in our work, and offers some strategies for success when we collaborate.

Finally, I know I speak for the entire ACRLog blogteam when I express my heartfelt appreciation to Jen Jarson for wrangling our Where Are They Now? Former FYALs Reflect series. Thanks to Jen’s outreach there were 10 former FYALers who participated in this yearlong series during what ended up being the covid19 pandemic (the first post in the series was published on March 17, 2020). It was lovely to catch up with everyone who contributed a Where Are They Now? post, and to read their reflections on how their careers — both inside and outside academic libraries — have evolved.

It’s been so much fun for me to review our First Year Academic Librarian Experience series over the years, thanks for reading if you’ve made it this far! And if you’re starting your first year as an academic librarian we’d love to have you join us on ACRLog for next year as a FYAL blogger — keep an eye out for a call for applications to come later this summer.

Author: Maura Smale

Maura Smale is Chief Librarian at New York City College of Technology, City University of New York.

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