Thoughts From A Search Committee Chair Running Two Searches

This spring, I’m chairing concurrent searches for two new librarians role in my department. I’m thrilled to lead these search committees and bring new colleagues to the team. These roles opened up due to faculty retirements and gave the department and I a chance to reflect on what our institution needs right now. 

For weeks, I’ve been thinking about how to write a blog post about this experience. At my past institution, I didn’t get too close to faculty librarian searches. I was at a large organization and had a supervisor who had me focus on other work priorities. I hired student interns and research assistants, but I was relatively removed from other searches. At my current institution, we are a smaller shop and as a department head, I have a different responsibility and focus on things like searches. While these two searches aren’t my first time chairing a search at my current institution, I feel a different search chair pressure since these are colleagues joining our department. This pressure is probably mostly internal pressure I’m putting on myself, but with every search, I feel there’s pressure for it to go well and find a successful candidate. 

Instead of continuing to spin my proverbial wheels about how to write this post, I’m going to share a few highlights. These are big ideas or themes that continue to stay top of mind. As always, I’m curious if these ideas and themes resonate with others! 

The Library Job Search + Emotions

In 2018-19, I collaborated with former ACRLogger Dylan Burns on a research project around emotions in the library job search. Dylan and I met in graduate school and noticed that during the second year of our on-campus program, there was a new energy in the air. A competitive and sometimes secretive energy as we all went on the job search. Our research was inspired by that experience and the emotions we felt as we went on the job market. We sent a survey out and had over 1,000 people start our survey! The paper we eventually wrote explored the themes we saw along with focus groups we conducted with survey participants. This research project was informative in so many ways, beyond learning so much about survey design, this research really solidified for me the challenges and struggles librarians experience. There’s such a black box when you apply for a job; you put your materials out there, invest time and energy in crafting a compelling cover letter and thinking about a potential institute that might employ you, and hope you hear something. As I navigate this search from the position of search chair, this paper is top of mind. I do what I can to communicate and move things along as quickly as I can. But I’ve also seen the various ways the systems and structures (or lack of those structures) slow a search down and rely on the chair and hiring manager to be organized. 

Not everyone is invested or as tuned into the search as you are

Everyone has different capacity levels to think about these searches. As the chair, I feel like I’m really in it but that’s not the same for everyone around me. I continue to remind myself that it is my responsibility to pave the way and make it easy for folks to engage with our candidates. And part of that means I have to keep articulating what these jobs will do, and how the folks in the room might interact/collaborate/rely on these roles.    

Searching for new people means less time to think about your current people

Something I’ve thought a lot about is how I’m refocusing my energy into bringing new folks into the department. That means something has to give and that has been some of the energy I’ve been able to put into the people on the current team. I feel fortunate these searches are happening almost three years into my time as a department head; I have a better sense of what folks need and they have a better sense of how to get feedback/support from me, especially when my time is in high demand. This also means when the searches wrap up, I can refocus my energy on the current department. Ultimately, just because I’m running a search doesn’t mean I have double the emotional energy. I’m still working through this, but try to be aware of what I can give and where I need to pull back. 

Bottom line: searches take time and energy

For the past three months, I feel like I’ve been thinking about these searches constantly. I might be brainstorming questions, finalizing finalist interview schedules, noting strengths and opportunities for growth, or scheduling meetings. I’m pouring a lot of energy to prepare for finalist interviews and t once that interview week comes, I’m tuned in to running smooth interview days. I keep thinking of the comment my high school band director told us in the pit orchestra – the best pit orchestra is the one where people don’t even realize there’s a pit orchestra right in front of them. To me, a good search feels like that; it’s running and people are comfortable and supported but don’t necessarily see all the work spinning in the background. But that of course, takes time and energy, and weeks of planning and coordinating!

What happens after the search

I also think frequently about what happens after the search – a successful candidate joins the team. That naturally spurs a bunch of follow up questions: What will onboarding look like? How is the department involved? What are scoped projects I can give these folks to get acclimated to the organization and feel a sense of progress within the first six to eight months on the job? I keep reminding myself to finish the searches and then worry about what’s next. One step at a time. 

At the end of the day, I’m really excited for what’s ahead. I feel like I’m learning and I’m growing in this double search chair role. I’m also going to be very thankful for when these searches wrap up!

Supervising a Makerspace: Musings from the Fall

This semester, Stego Studio, our library’s makerspace, moved into the department I oversee. This makerspace opened up around the time I arrived at my institution (fall 2021) and I’ve watched, from a distance, as the studio has grown and evolved. I was excited but also slightly overwhelmed when I was asked to oversee this space (and supervise our makerspace coordinator). It has been a semester of learning and stretching and I’m excited for what’s to come. As we wrap up this year, I wanted to share some thoughts I’ve had this fall as the makerspace takes up more and more of my work brain.

My past experiences with makerspaces

Before Stego Studio, when I thought about makerspaces, I thought about my graduate work. During my first year in graduate school, I was part of a grant that focused on digital literacy in the local community. One of the partners on the grant was the local FabLab. I myself worked at a community space and would negotiate with the FabLab about technology the community space needed. As I got started on the grant, I spent some time in the FabLab, trying to learn more about their technologies and space. In particular, I had no knowledge of 3D printing and couldn’t quite wrap my mind around what you do with 3D printing. During those first visits, I felt excluded in the space. I didn’t have the expertise to join the conversations happening around me and I didn’t feel like my own making experience was valued. In the end, I stuck to more work around using the Cricut and using a laser cutter. This level of making ended up working best with the community center and students in that space.

Since that first experience with a FabLab, I’ve continued to make in my own way. I embroider and I make zines and I learned more about makerspaces that contained textile equipment like sewing machines and other paper crafts. I also learned more about 3D printing when I worked at Penn State and was working next to our Media Commons (which housed over 30 printers!). I still couldn’t quite see the use case for me, but I finally started to have a better sense of how the technology worked and the language I needed to be a part of the conversation.  

I’m thinking so much about my past experiences because now I have a chance to help shape how our community interacts with our makerspace. I want to help folks understand the power of these spaces and be able to understand what they can do in this space. And I want to make sure the work of the makerspace is communicated in a way that resonates with folks. I think my past experiences help guide me in how to talk about this work and how to connect it to folks who might be new to this area. 

Information Literacy & Maker Literacies

As we wrap up the semester, I’m thinking a lot about the intersections between makerspace instruction and one-shot information literacy instruction. How do we as a department weave these two instruction programs together? How do we collectively talk about teaching that spans from discussing Google’s algorithm, to slicing a 3D model before we print it, to using keywords to find peer-reviewed sources, to evaluating the worthiness of an article or even a design we might print or laser cut? And how does the team of educators in this department learn from our makerspace coordinator and vice versa? I see a long runway here and am itching to really dig into these conversations and connections and ideas.  

Student Impact

Our makerspace has also had some great news coverage recently (story 1 and story 2). Stego Studio has been collaborating with an Honors class and a local community organization, Clovernook, to 3D print objects that help tell a story to blind and visually impaired students in Africa. For these stories, I was down in the makerspace, listening to our students talk about their work and their learning. Many students had wanted to learn about 3D printing but hadn’t had the chance to learn. This class not only provided them an opportunity to support a larger community, but also gain those skills through trial and error. As I watched one student explain, in-depth, how they took different models and modeled them together, I was reminded of the impact this space has. And the potential this space has if we are able to create more learning opportunities, both curricular and co-curricular

What’s Ahead

It’s time for me to jump more fully into makerspaces in 2024. We’re building infrastructure, processes, and expanding our awareness across campus. Those things (infrastructure, process, and outreach) feel like skills I have and am good at. What I’m less confident in is my language around what happens inside makerspaces. I am grateful I’m entering a niche within the field where so much has been done and discussed. I’ve picked up Re-Making the Library Makerspace: Critical Theories, Reflections, & Practices  and look forward to engaging with the ideas presented in the chapters and learning from folks across the field. I’m grateful for an enthusiastic and creative makerspace coordinator who I’m learning from each day. I’m also grateful for a supportive supervisor (whose work is featured in a Re-Making the Library Makerspace chapter) who has experience in this area and is coaching me on how to do this work. I’m excited to have gotten the chance to work with makerspaces again and look forward to what’s to come in the new year.

Seeking 2023-24 First Year Academic Librarian Bloggers

As we enter a new academic year, we’re looking to bring on a few new bloggers here at ACRLog. We’d like to thank our 2022-2023 FYAL bloggers Rosemary Medrano and Emily Zerrenner for their terrific posts this past year in our First Year Academic Librarian Experience series. We’d also like to encourage new academic librarians — those who are just beginning in their first position at an academic library — to blog with us during their first year.

FYAL bloggers typically publish posts monthly during the academic year. If you’re interested in applying to be a FYAL blogger here at ACRLog, applications are due by Sunday, September 10, 2023. Please submit an application through this Google Form.

Proposals are evaluated by the ACRLog blog team. When selecting FYAL bloggers we consider:

  • Diversity of race/ethnicity/sexual orientation/ability
  • Voices from a range of academic institutions (for example, community colleges, research universities, etc.) and job responsibilities within academic libraries (for example, instruction, cataloging, scholarly communications, etc.)
  • Clear and compelling writing style
  • Connection between day-to-day work and bigger conversations around theory, practice, criticism, LIS education, and other issues

Please send any questions to ACRLog’s Technical Coordinator, Hailley Fargo at fargoh1@nku.edu. We’re looking forward to hearing from you!

Digging In: Reflecting on a Work Anniversary

This week, I celebrated my two year work anniversary. I feel like I say this a lot, but I both can’t believe I’ve been here two years and also feel like I just started. A lot has happened in a short amount of time! In addition to this anniversary, I’ve also spent most of July compiling my dossier for tenure consideration this fall. Naturally, I’m spending a lot of time taking stock of how I got here, what I’ve accomplished, and what’s next.

When I think about my two years at my current institution, I see a different focus each year. My first year was focused on getting to know my team, understanding the dynamics of the library, and figuring out the type of supervisor I wanted to be. I felt very internal, but knew I wanted to establish a strong foundation before trying to face more externally. My second year was focused on getting out of the library and building relationships with folks across campus. This external relationships piece is one of my favorite parts of the job. I like to represent the library, hear about challenges and successes across campus, and seek out intersections for collaboration. These days, I find that I’m more comfortable walking around campus, seeing people I know, and getting together to figure out what’s next. I can only hope that year three will be a nice mix of work happening inside the library and collaboration with folks across campus.

The thing I’ve been thinking about a lot is the “figuring out what’s next” piece. During my meetings this summer, I felt like I was working with folks and we were laying out ideas that spanned more than just this upcoming academic year. I found myself referencing AY 24-25 or even AY 25-26! As I left those meetings, I thought about the ways I am “digging in” to the work. I’m envisioning a future at this institution for many years. This isn’t something I’ve experienced before. I’m both a little scared of this feeling and also excited about what it means for me.

While I was at my former institution for five years, I can’t place a time where I felt this “digging in.” Sure, I thought about the future of my work, but I don’t think I saw it as clearly on the horizon as I do right now. I can’t quite parse if that’s because I’m in a department head role and I naturally think forward multiple years, or if there’s something different about this role and location where I feel comfortable thinking ahead like that. In some ways, I think it is a combo of being wearing that department head and the location where I’m living. I genuinely enjoy living in Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky and I have a community around me that feels permanent in a way that I didn’t always feel in other spots, where everyone around me felt transient. 

Of course the other factor that could play into this “digging in” feeling is tenure. At my former institution, I left before I encountered my sixth year dossier. Now, it’s right there on the horizon. This summer, it was so satisfying to put all my work together and shape the narrative of my career trajectory. I found more parallels between my work as the Student Engagement Coordinator and as a department head. I could more clearly see the shifts in my thinking and my scholarship. I see my growth and I hope I’ve articulated that in a way that everyone can see. For me, achieving tenure doesn’t feel like stopping at the top of the mountain, but instead, gates opening up onto a new space, full of possibilities and options. 

Now this post isn’t meant to imply that everything is great. My institution is facing issues similar to other colleges and universities; enrollment challenges, budget concerns, and smaller staff/faculty numbers. We’re searching for new leadership and colleagues across the institution are stepping into interim roles while we wait to see how things pan out. We’ve definitely got our work cut out for us this year. I come to work every day, wondering what will happen next. As a supervisor, I’m trying to find ways to share information, hear questions, concerns, and fears from the team, and focus on the things we have in our control. Despite the uncertainty, I feel ready to dig in. Looking forward to seeing what’s next in year three. 


Featured image by Hadija on Unsplash

Feeling Connected & Supported: An End of Academic Year Reflection

It’s summer here on campus. The library is quiet and I feel a sense of calm as I look at the things I want to accomplish this summer. As each academic year comes to a close, I find myself naturally reflecting on the year, to identify common themes, big successes, and challenges.

One thing that stood out to me as I thought back on this academic year was the way in which connections with others played a big role in me feeling supported. Within this “connections” theme, I see three subcategories. In this post, I want to take a minute to expand on these subcategories.

Opportunities outside the library

During the past academic year, I had the chance to participate in two opportunities that existed outside of the library (and didn’t have any other library colleagues involved in them). I was part of an inaugural Leadership Institute and participated in a mentoring circle for 3rd and 4th year tenure-track faculty. I appreciated the opportunities to connect with other colleagues across campus and to sort of pave my own path as I was the only library faculty member in these groups.

The Leadership Institute was a newly developed program on campus to bring together leaders across campus to discuss issues, challenges, and opportunities within higher education. I have previously written a little about this program when we took the leadership orientations questionnaire. Overall, I found the group to be a nice touchstone each month. With changes happening on campus, having this group to check in, talk about what was happening, and hear from other leaders and administrators across campus was really useful. In many ways, being in this group confirmed my desire to continue in leadership and administrator roles. I feel that this group helped me connect with colleagues and also continued to give me the language and resources as I grow in this space. 

The mentoring circle was also a monthly commitment. Each month our mentor would bring us together to discuss campus resources, bring in speakers from different units, share insight on the tenure and promotion process, and create space to talk about what was happening with the university. I looked forward to these meetings each month because I appreciated the opportunity to be with others on the tenure-track. I’m currently the only person in the library on the tenure-track, so having others across campus navigating this campus process felt so supportive. I also appreciated our mentor, who was kind, took time to get to know us, and provided so many words of encouragement. I didn’t realize how much I needed to hear from someone, outside of the library, that I was doing well and on the right track with my work towards tenure. 

The departmental team

Within the library, the department I lead (Education & Outreach Services, EOS for short), was another important spot of connection. As I mentioned in my one-year job anniversary post, I love the team I lead and especially the ways we laugh and enjoy our time together. This year the laughter continued and so did our work. Countless times during the fall and spring semesters I would leave a department meeting and feel such excitement for how we were all working together. I appreciated the moments where someone on the team poised an idea or next step that was in line with where I was leading the team. It felt good to assign projects to the department and watch them come to life. I feel like my relationships with each member in the department continue to grow and having that sense of community has been so grounding.

My network

The final subcategory that contributed to me being connected and supported was my personal network. From the group texts, the weekly Zoom lunches, the regular check-ins, Teams messages, and the in-person meets up at ACRL, I felt lucky to have a great group of colleagues and friends by my side. I was especially thankful for my regular check-ins with other teaching and learning department heads at other libraries (shout out to Charissa and Rosan). It was so nice to have colleagues leading similar teams to discuss our challenges, our opportunities, and support one another. As I think back on the year, I couldn’t have done what I did without this network of support and encouragement. 

Overall, I feel like I’m headed into the summer with two feet firmly on the ground, ready to take on some big projects. I’m going to continue to create space to sustain these connections and seek out more opportunities to build and be in community. 

I’d love to hear from you – who helped you feel connected and supported this past year? What other themes did you see from this past academic year? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments of this post. 


Featured image by Conny Schneider on Unsplash