A Day (or 3) in the Life

Yesterday I spent an hour going through my inbox, turning each email that needs attention into a task, saving the ones that I need into relevant folders on a shared drive, deleting some, categorizing some and then dropping some into an inbox folder so that I can keyword search them if I ever need them again. It was so satisfying. Now my inbox has exactly one (ONE!!) message in it and that message has been in my inbox since my first week here at UNT. I guess I’m saving it for a rainy day. Of course, now my task list is longer than it was before I started doing inbox organizing so…

Anyway, looking at my ever-evolving task list made me realize how varied my days really are. I am preparing for a presentation at the Electronic Resources & Libraries Conference at the end of this month. For the introduction to my presentation I am writing a description of a “day in the life” of an Electronic Resources Librarian in an academic library. I am struggling a bit to do so, however, simply because no two days are alike. That is one of the really great things about my job as an academic librarian, actually! There is very little down time and things are different every day, always interesting. Seriously, if you get bored doing this job then you are not doing it right!

Instead of writing about ONE typical day I thought I would do three days. That way I can summarize a “typical” (really, though, there is not a “typical”) day spent mostly at my computer, a “typical” day that involves more collaboration/meetings with members of my division and a “typical” day that involves more work outside of the division. I would say that a majority of my time is spent working fairly independently or interacting with others mainly online. Interspersed with that, though, are days where I go from one meeting to the next. And one day a week I office in the main library at a desk in Research and Instruction instead of at my official desk in the Collection Management building off campus. So here are my never-typical three days:

Day One: Let’s pretend that this is a Monday. Actually, I just looked at my calendar and completed-task list to see what I did last Monday. (So: Last Monday):
•   Pulled a list of ebooks that were recently added to one of our online reference collections; created a spreadsheet to organize the titles by subject areas and subject librarians; emailed each subject librarian to let them know about our new acquisitions.
•   Spent 30 minutes trying to answer a seemingly-simple question from a professor about ebooks that, as ebook questions usually do, got complicated and involved emails between myself and, eventually, five other librarians before the question “How much of an ebook can be put on course reserve and in what format?” was finally answered.
•   Spent another hour or so trying to answer more seemingly-simple questions, these from a student who was having trouble understanding how our ebooks work and how to interact with the various ebook platforms. The question “How do you check out an ebook from the UNT Library?” seems so simple…but, trust, it is not simple to answer.
•   Learned that one of my collaborators on a presentation for the upcoming ER&L Conference is not attending the conference or interested in participating in the presentation at all. Began working on a new outline to restructure the presentation to include content from two instead of three presenters. (Sigh).
•   Fielded some random promotional emails from vendors, decided which products being promoted might be of benefit to various people or departments in the library, emailed various people in various departments to determine if there was interest. Saved all feedback in appropriate files for future product evaluations.
•   Pulled usage statistics for a Graduate Library Assistant to add to our ever-growing database of statistics.
•   Updated the Promotions Workflow. Part of my job is promoting our electronic resources – because what is the point of buying them if nobody knows about them. Another important part of my job is creating workflows for what I do because, in some ways, I’m creating my job every day. I document processes for everything and I keep these updated constantly.

Day Two (What I Did on Wednesday):
•   On Wednesdays I office in the main library with some of the Research & Instruction Librarians. This gives me an opportunity to have some face time with colleagues that I otherwise only communicate with by email and/or phone.
•   Established an inter-departmental workflow for cataloging, maintaining and promoting electronic resources purchased by a faculty support department.
•   Spent a frustrating amount of time trying to figure out if IP authentication was working for a new database and, if not, why not.
•   Chatted with several subject librarians about various ER-related issues including how to get access to the images in a specific journal when the digital access we have only includes text, a possible future research/publication collaboration, and several upcoming trials that were requested by faculty.
•   Created a LibGuide modules for a database trial that went live and communicated the availability and parameters of that trial to various subject librarians.
•   Did some last-minute confirmations and planning with a vendor who spent the day at UNT on Thursday.
•   Emailed my student mentees to check in with them, see how their spring semester is going.
•   Attended a meeting of the University Undergraduate Curriculum Committee of which I am a member. Was surprised and pleased to see that there were pastries!

Day Three (Finally Friday):
•   Spent a fair amount of time on email communicating with vendors (got set up for a trial of several interdisciplinary databases we are looking at, followed up on some invoicing issues, etc).
•   Checked in with librarians in my department to determine how close we are to completing recent orders for electronic resources. It is my job to ensure that once an order is begun the process is completed within a reasonable amount of time. Orders involve, at minimum, two other librarians in the division. Noted expected dates of availability and scheduled times to follow up if necessary.
•   Typed up notes from vendor demonstrations I participated in on Thursday.
•   Meeting before lunch to talk about how our budget plan is being implemented and plan for future communications, purchases, reporting, etc.
•   Lunch at a restaurant with librarians from a part of the UNT library world that I don’t typically work closely with: new connections, yay!.
•   Meeting after lunch to coordinate a comprehensive evaluation of one of our largest electronic resources, one that we rely on heavily in our day-to-day collection management tasks.
•   Weekly Friday activity of going through my task list in Outlook to make sure I didn’t miss anything, finishing up tasks as possible and marking them complete, changing dates or adding reminders to upcoming tasks as needed.

Obviously, there are many, many details that I did not mention about these days – phone calls, conversations, emails, the unceasing attempt to keep the massive amount of electronic resource information and data organized in a useful fashion, etc. But you get the idea. A day in the life of an Electronic Resources Librarian is a bit unpredictable. Even more interesting is the fact that no two ERLs seem to have the same job descriptions but that may be a topic for another post.

Low Self-Esteem and the Academic Librarian. Maybe it is just me. It is probably just me.

Until I actually started writing my FYAL entry for January my plan was to write about academic interviews – how they are horrible (they kind of are!) but also what I like about them. However, I am really focusing on something else right now, still related to getting and keeping a faculty position: the curriculum vitae (vita or CV for short). It’s on my mind because I’m busy putting mine together. Honestly, it isn’t all that different from a traditional resume. Pretty much what you’d expect in academia – it is heavily focused on scholarly achievements rather than just work experience.

The most difficult part about writing mine is that it is giving me a bit of low self-esteem.

 

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In order to get a good feel for what is included in a vita I went snooping around on my colleague’s faculty webpages (note to self: I need to get my faculty profile on the website asap). And then I went back to the faculty directory of the University of Kentucky School of Library and Information Science to get a sense for what the CV of teaching faculty should look like. And I am humbled. My little vita is so…concise. So…well, lacking much beyond education and work experience. And if I’m honest, I actually feel pretty good about how my resume stacks up against other professional librarian’s resumes. I started working in libraries before attending grad school, did multiple internships while in grad school and then have been incredibly fortunate finding jobs that allow me to do what I love – which is to say, jobs working as a librarian. So my resume is pretty good, no employment gaps to explain or toxic workplaces to gloss over, plenty of experience to highlight since all of it applies to jobs in the library world which are the only jobs I’m interested in.

Turning my two-page and totally sufficient resume into a three-page and rather insufficient CV is giving me low self-esteem, though. Last September, just a couple of months after starting out at UNT, one of my colleagues scheduled a webinar on “Imposter Syndrome” that I attended. The full title was actually “Managing the Imposter Syndrome in Academia: How to Overcome Self-Doubt.” At the time, I was skeptical. ‘Why’, I thought to myself, ‘would there be enough self-doubt in academia to warrant a webinar?’ Academics are educated, respected, published…so why wouldn’t they be confident? ‘I am certainly feeling confident,’ I continued thinking to myself; ‘I’ve got this academia thing in that bag,’ I might have muttered.

Well, clearly that was before I knew how much I didn’t know. I have been gradually getting a better view of what is expected of academic librarians since then – the publishing, the outreach, the service, the presenting, the research, etc. Yes, it is challenging – but I am thrilled to be so challenged! I can do this! I still felt confident, not just of my ability to manage the workload and fulfill my job duties but to do so by working hard but not so hard that I forget how to enjoy my weekends.

Until now, until writing my first CV and comparing it to the CVs of other academic librarians made me suddenly realize that I am barely even out of the gate in this race. SO, while I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I’m overwhelmingly intimidated I have to admit that I’ve wondered more than once in the past few days how I even got here in the first place. I mean…I’ve never been published in even one peer-reviewed journal…I attend conferences but never bothered to present at them…my vita is only two and half pages long for gods sake most of the CVs I’ve looked at are at least – at least ten pages long.

‘Oh, wow,’ I’ve thought to myself, ‘what if somebody notices that they hired a non-academic?’

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And suddenly it hit me – this is what people mean when they talk about Imposter Syndrome. This is a totally new feeling for me and I have to think it is a “syndrome” that is fairly common in academia, partly because I’ve never experienced this sense of being less-qualified-than-most before. But also because I never heard about the Imposter Syndrome in the public library, library vendor and school library communities that I worked in previously. So now my question is, how do I make this realization work for me instead of against me? I think just being aware of the phenomena is helpful – to know that this imposter syndrome thing is not uncommon, it is not “just me” and it isn’t even really about low self –esteem. Imposter syndrome can hold people back for years.

In my case it would probably tend to “hold me back” by making me work ten times as hard as I actually need to in order to succeed.

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Working too hard or working just to fulfill the perceived expectations of others results in missed opportunities, not to mention how it diminishes the enjoyment that you should be getting out of your work. So, success is, for me at least, about setting reasonable goals that meet or exceed expectations but are definitely attainable. No, I’m not going to publish 5 papers, present at 10 conferences and write a book chapter this year. But I can work toward doing what I need to do to attain those goals. I can write some reviews and present at 2 or 3 conferences. I can learn as much as possible about the research/publication process and look for opportunities.

Recognizing that I am a beginner is helpful. In some ways moving into an academic position is like starting over as a librarian, as one of my colleagues pointed recently. You might have 10 years or more of professional library experience but – here you are, on square one in the tenure process. And that’s okay; being a beginner has advantages. It is exciting and you have many paths open to you because you haven’t chosen a track yet. I have been reminding myself that I am fully capable of doing the things I need to do to achieve tenure (someday, some faraway day from now…), it’s just that I haven’t done them yet. I even looked at the dates on a few highly accomplished CVs to get a feel for a timeline and I noticed that many people started working in an academic library one or even more years before they starting adding significant scholarly achievements to their work history. Nobody comes into this with a 30 page CV, everybody starts exactly where I am – at the beginning.

Apply Yourself

I have been thinking about the hiring process lately. Partly because I’ve so recently managed to get myself hired at the University of North Texas. I am also serving on a search committee for an open position here at UNT and so have spent some time reviewing applications, cover letters and curricula vitae. Finally, it’s on my mind because quite a few people I know were searching for jobs this year and I served as a reference (and occasional resume proofreader) for several former colleagues. And since the hiring process is on my mind that is is the topic I decided to write about today. In a future post it is very likely that I will be writing about the culmination of a successful application process – the dreaded and intense academic interview. But I will save that for another month.

Throughout my career I have had quite a bit of experience with hiring and so have spent a lots of hours reviewing resumes and applications. I’ve seen the difference between the application processes in corporate settings, secondary schools and now a university. While obviously the process varies it has been interesting to see that there are common mistakes made by applicants in each field. So here is some unsolicited but, I believe, critical advice for anyone looking to get hired into an academic library. It is a great field to get hired into, by the way, and I highly recommend it!

1. Update your Resume
Of course, if you are applying for academic positions your probably have a curriculum vitae instead of a resume but many institutions will accept either and resume is more generic so I’m going with that. Anyway, it seems that some people feel as though a standard one-size-fits-all resume is sufficient — but each position you apply for is different so you should highlight different skill sets and/or experience. If you are applying for a Reference & Instruction position highlight the time you spent staffing the desk during grad school. If you are applying for a position as the Electronic Resources Librarian highlight any experience you have working with vendors or maintaining a website. If you are applying at a non-tenure track institution you might only mention a few key past publications and presentations; for a tenure-track position you might go into more detail. It is unlikely that you have to create a totally new resume. Simply tweak the content so that it corresponds to each specific position you apply for and, obviously, make sure everything is up-to-date and includes your most recent work

2. Write a Cover Letter
Let me emphasize: write a cover letter. Don’t change the heading on a generic letter that you wrote during your final semester of grad school. Go further than simply changing the last paragraph to include a mention of the institution to which you are applying. In my opinion, originality in this portion of your application is even more important than the reworking you do to your resume. Use your cover letter as an opportunity to show that you understand the position you are applying for and that you are interested not just in any old job but in that job specifically. What drove you to apply for this position? Even more broadly, what drove you to become a librarian (hint: not the salary!)? Also use your cover letter to express what makes you an excellent candidate. Don’t be boring and restate your resume; look at the job posting to see what qualifications they are looking for and then write a paragraph or two stating the ways in which you fulfill those specific qualifications. Now just make sure to keep things brief and your cover letter will be golden!

3. Read the Instructions
Seriously, read the instructions. Then, once you have read them – read them again. If you have a hard time focusing on details and following nitpicky online instructions then get somebody else to read them out loud to you. It is truly amazing how many people miss what should be obvious when they are completing a resume. Are you supposed to list three professional and two personal references? Don’t provide contact information for your five favorite cousins. Are you being asked to provide a philosophical statement related to the job you are applying for? Don’t upload a copy of your transcripts. These are just a couple of the mistakes I’ve seen and it is certainly not just academic librarians making them – this kind of oversight was common in both the corporate and the secondary school environments. Missing a detail or two when completing an online application is an easy mistake to make. Luckily, if you are careful, it is also an easy mistake to avoid.

4. Follow Your Own Advice
Proofread! You are a librarian so I know that you know the power of careful editing. Chances are that you have provided some sort of proofreading advice or assistance to library users. So why do so many resumes contain misspelled words, run-on sentences, inconsistent verb tense and other errors that running a quick check in your document software should catch? In addition, check your formatting. Wouldn’t it be sad to know that your resume was set aside simply because you randomly and accidentally switched font sizes several times? One of the things that has become apparent to me over the years is that organizations miss out on interviewing – and potentially hiring – some great people simply because those candidates didn’t take the time to proofread. If you are seriously interested in a position take the time to check, double check, and then have someone else check your work.

5. Be Positive…
…but be honest. You might be the most amazing librarian on the planet, universally admired and highly successful but if you don’t market yourself that way in your application it won’t help you get a job. Not including as many of your excellent qualifications as you can fit in a resume is another easy-to-make mistake that might get your resume shuffled to the bottom of the pile. Even worse than being ignored for not tooting your own horn loudly enough, however, is dishonesty. Just don’t do it. In one job that I had in the past we flew in a candidate for an all-day interview – during which it became obvious that this candidate was totally unqualified and that their resume greatly exaggerated both their knowledge of and experience in the field. What a huge waste of time and money that was! A typical interview at a university is a grueling, one-or-even-two day process. If your reality doesn’t match your resume it will become evident and how embarrassing is that?!

Here at UNT we use a rubric to judge applications so that the process is as objective as possible. It would be really interesting to go back over my own applications from the past decade with a rubric to see how well I measure up to my own standards. I know for sure that I have made several of the mistakes mentioned in this post. I guess the best thing about being able to participate in hiring others is that it has helped me become a better applicant myself.