Milestone

Photo by Kyle Peyton on Unsplash

During an especially busy Fall—especially in my professional life—I got sick and took some days off work. During this time, along with not feeling great, I felt the crush of my busy Fall. I took time to reflect on what was all going on at work and where I could re-prioritize.

I was talking with a colleague, and she suggested focusing or reflecting on some good part of my day, big or small, which gives reprieve from focusing on work. It could be watching the sunrise, an especially good meal, or taking time to read an intriguing book, to give some examples.  

There are other good parts, though, good parts at work: the casual conversation with library staff, the feeling after a reference consultation that you’ve helped a student, an especially rewarding library instructional session.

There’s a big milestone for me—professionally—coming up next Spring as I complete my probationary period of two years and (hopefully) am offered a continuing position at my institution. But in a lot of ways, I feel this Fall has been a milestone, a precursor to what’s to come in my career.

Along with appreciating the small (or big) positive things in life, I found it helpful to reflect on progress I’ve made. I want to take the time to note a couple things I’ve learned, or been reminded of, over the past few months.

  1. Make Small Steps Toward Comfortability

As a liaison librarian who is relatively new to their subject areas, I’ve been hustling to get to know faculty and students in my departments. It takes time and this is something I’ve been having to acknowledge. Was Rome built in a day? I don’t think so and neither is my liaison outreach (but possibly just as impressive as the city of Rome).

You make slow progress; some increased in-class instruction, more student questions, faculty coming to you for help. It takes time to build connections and to learn your subject areas but pays off in a multitude of ways.

  1. Learn New Skills

As academic librarians, I feel a lot of us love to continually learn new things. We’re in a profession that makes it easy to do this; there’s so many webinars to attend, certificates to get, and conferences to go to. There’s many niche areas of academic librarianship and services that we offer (or could offer) that make it easy to learn something new. This semester I’ve been learning the basics of LaTeX and referencing with BibTeX, which is great to offer to help students, along with exploring different scholarly generative AI tools. Learning new skills not only benefits your students and faculty but feels rewarding to challenge yourself.

  1. You Don’t Have to Do It All

I really like being busy as an academic librarian and filling up my days with my liaison duties, service, and research. I find a lot of our job rewarding in different ways and being involved in different individual and collaborative work is great. But I’m learning to commit to what I can reasonably do; having enough time and capacity to take something on. No sense burning out early in your career (no sense burning out in any stage of your career!).

  1. Encourage Your Friends at Work (and Vice-Versa)

There’s something great about the power of friends at work. I feel fortunate to work with some great people, people to talk to about challenges, successes, or the latest episode you watched last night. I’ve written about this in the past and I still think it’s true; developing and sustaining friends is rewarding in so many ways. Not only does working with people you’re friendly with lead to better, more enjoyable work, but it’s fun.

I think even though we’re all really busy and try to put forward the best work we can, taking time to reflect on all you’ve done and learned helps get through the tougher, more challenging times. I know it’s helped me.

From Technician to Librarian

I graduated with my Library & Information Technology diploma in Spring 2013. I went to Red River College in Winnipeg, Manitoba, being the only library-related program in the province. I can remember, in a pre-interview to the program, one of the instructors asking me, “how come you don’t you get your MLIS instead?” Good question–I had thought about it, but there isn’t a graduate-level library school in my area, in my province even; I would’ve had to move.

I started in academic libraries as a library technician (‘library assistant’) in January 2015 at the University of Manitoba, and soon after began thinking about completing my Master’s degree. Two years prior, in 2013, the University of Alberta began an online, course-based MLIS program that students could complete entirely online. This program opened a door for me, where I could complete the degree part-time while continuing to work at the University of Manitoba full-time. I applied in Winter 2016 and started my Master’s program in Fall 2016. Of course, this was a busy time for me, working full-time, mainly evenings and weekends, going to grad school part-time, and with the birth of my son in 2017, my plate was full, but it was worth it—as after I graduated, I was doing the work I wanted to be doing.

Why had I been thinking of getting my MLIS so soon after starting work as an academic library tech? Immediately I saw the separation in job responsibilities of library assistants and librarians, and I knew I wanted to be a librarian to do the work of a librarian, things like library instruction and working on my own research.

There’s a major difference in the assigned duties to library technicians versus librarians. One of the major differences was technician duties were focused on day-to-day tasks, like staffing the public service desk, book pickup requests, and managing the reserves collection. As a tech, I would spend time making analytics reports in our ILS, Ex Libris’ Alma or contacting patrons with overdue fines. I also spent a lot of time troubleshooting and solving patron questions, either during shifts at the public service desk, on virtual reference, or helping a coworker. Sometimes these questions weren’t library-related, but I would do my best to find the right campus service or department that the patron needed; I don’t get those types of questions nearly as often as a librarian.

Librarians have day-to-day duties, of course, but in contrast, there’s a lot more long-term planning and project work; you’re removed, in a lot of ways, from the on-the-ground functioning of the library. There’s a lot more meetings, a lot more opportunities to plan or change how the library works, and a lot less of ‘keeping the lights on.’

There’s increased decision-making throughout my role as a librarian. I would often as a technician defer challenging or difficult questions to my supervisor. Now, I have the latitude to make judgement calls on my own. When I was working as a public-facing technician, there was a real team aspect to the work. We would debrief about challenging reference questions or give background to something we anticipated in the coming days or weeks, things like popular reserve items or students needing to complete an assignment by speaking with a particular librarian.  

Although I work as part of a team of science librarians, there’s much more independence in how you structure your week/month/year as a librarian—not to mention the lack of shift work. Independence makes it natural to look ahead to advancing throughout your career, with my professional performance, professional development, research, and service as a major function of this. I have more of a growth mindset as a librarian, compared to my work as a technician.

I can remember helping to put together our health sciences’ library newsletter, with several librarians. After a year or so of this work, one of the librarians thanked me profusely for my help, and asked if she could write me a formal thank you letter if that would be useful. As a library technician, I declined as I didn’t think it would be useful. As a librarian, I look for those physical acknowledgements of volunteerism and accomplishment, to use in future performance reviews and promotion packages. As a technician, I didn’t have that mindset since those formal processes of career advancement weren’t a part of the job. But thinking back on that offer, a physical recognition of dutiful and intentional work, even as a technician, should’ve been a priority of mine. Technicians can have growth mindsets as well, and advance through their career, even if there aren’t the same institutional markers, like promotion in rank, available.

I wanted to become a librarian not only because of the differences in duties and type of work, but I wanted to challenge myself. Like most people in our profession, I’m a lifelong learner, always wanting to learn something new and to challenge myself. And because I’m challenged more often, I have increased job satisfaction as a librarian, in addition to the differences I outlined above: independence, decision-making in my work and the work of my library system, and career advancement.

Claire Hill (2014), in her study exploring work relationships between library technicians and librarians, found 77% of survey respondents mention a need to improve relationships between the two groups. Examples from respondents include a need for mutual respect (regardless of educational qualification), more library technician professional development, and modern reworking of library technician scope-of-work and career advancement. Based on my experience, I never felt a lack of mutual respect—in fact I felt recognized by my librarian peers for my work as a technician, such as the librarian offering to write me a thank you letter for my work. I do think there could be more technician-focused professional development, but it’s out there if you look for it (and if you have the time and/or funding).  

But there certainly could be more done in rethinking technician work and career advancement. Personally, I think along with rethinking technician scope-of-work, there needs to be a shift from seeing library technicians as “paraprofessionals,” only useful to assist librarians. I’m a big fan of the phrase “library worker,” to encompass technicians and librarians alike.

New models of academic librarianship, such as the functional specialist model, threaten to sideline library technicians, disrupting their work as the academic library shifts to prioritize and restructure librarian work, and putting aside library technicians. This is an area where technicians can be involved in decision-making, and by extension, demonstrate mutual respect. Technicians can bring their professional interests and expertise to the forefront of functional work. As argued by Hoffmann and Carlisle-Johnston (2021) who write about librarians, but certainly can encompass technicians as well, in current or future reorganization, we can keep in mind foundations of liaison library work by “building relationships, anticipating and meeting needs, and drawing on specialized expertise” (Conclusion section, para. 1).

While it has now been some time since I worked as a technician, I still draw upon those experiences as a librarian; and of course, I remember the dull and gruelling shift work in the late evening and over the weekend. I certainly won’t forget the work or those I worked closely with any time soon.

How many of you are library technicians? Once were library technicians? It’s a surprisingly common career trajectory for librarians to have been library techs. Leave a comment, I’d be happy to hear from you. If you’re a library tech thinking about getting your MLIS and want to talk more, get in touch!

References
Hill, C. (2014). The professional divide: Examining workplace relationships between librarians and library technicians. The Australian Library Journal, 63(1), 23-34. https://doi.org/10.1080/00049670.2014.890020

Hoffmann, K. & Carlisle-Johnston, E. (2021, March 26). “Just like when i was a liaison”: Applying a liaison approach to functional library models. The Journal of Creative Library Practice. https://creativelibrarypractice.org/2021/03/26/just-like-when-i-was-a-liaison-applying-a-liaison-approach-to-functional-library-models/

ALA’s 2023 Emerging Leaders Program

Over this past year, I have been in ALA’s Emerging Leaders’ program, for the class of 2023. I consider myself very fortunate to have been selected to be a part of this year’s Emerging Leaders; it’s been a transformative experience. The people involved in putting this program on do an amazing job, and the people I met through the Emerging Leader program show me the future of librarianship is bright. I wanted to write a reflection on Emerging Leaders so others can think about taking part in a program to increase their library community of peers and enhance their leadership skills.

ALA Emerging Leaders, Class of 2023

Overview

The ALA Emerging Leaders program is a leadership program for librarians with less than five years professional experience, intended to gain leadership skills through working groups and introduce participants to the ALA governance structure to use leadership skills through future ALA volunteerism.

ALA Emerging Leaders attend LibLearnX (previously called ALA Midwinter) and ALA Annual to meet with their group and the other leaders, work on projects, hear from guest speakers, make connections, and ultimately present their project work with a poster presentation at ALA Annual.

I found the program useful for three main reasons: leadership development (ALA-specific and librarianship more generally), working on an ALA division or section-sponsored project, and making lasting connections.

Leadership Development

The motivation for my application to Emerging Leaders was to develop my leadership skills. I want to continue to develop as a librarian and as a leader, both formally and informally. While the program does not offer in-depth leadership training, you develop leadership skills through collaborative working groups and other settings throughout the program. You work closely with your group throughout the first-half of the year, working as a team to accomplish the goals of your group’s project.

Through this collaborative working group, there’s the typical leadership skills you’ve likely encountered while working in groups throughout grad school or at your library—things like organizing, delegating, time management, communication, and ensuring group members are meeting their deadlines.

There are also guest speakers that present to the Leaders at both LibLearnX and Annual, and webinars between the conferences. These speakers address a variety of topics, but you can learn a lot about what it takes to be a library leader, both at their library and throughout ALA. While some speakers were more relevant and engaging than others, I appreciated the time they took to speak to our group, and I took away something from every speaker.

Group Project

One of the main goals of the program is for participants to contribute to projects proposed by ALA divisions and sections. Between LibLearnX and Annual, Leaders are put into working groups and work on one of that year’s projects. In this way, the Emerging Leaders give back to ALA throughout the program. There were ten projects to choose from for 2023, some examples were examining censorship to update statistics and informational material, developing new membership onboarding, documenting forty years of the Asian Pacific American Librarians Association (APALA), and engaging library community members to vote.

Group B: Chris Vaughn (Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary), Justin Fuhr (me!), Kelli Anne Gecawich (Georgia Southern University), Julia Martyniuk (University of Toronto), and Lee Bareford (Georgia Southern University) (L-R)

I selected a project by my sponsoring section, ACRL’s Distance and Online Learning Section, to develop and publish a survey to gain insight into accessible online learning tools that academic librarians are using.

This involved:

  • Scanning the literature to find research on accessibility issues and universal design,
  • Developing survey questions and creating a draft in Qualtrics,
  • Piloting the survey and implementing feedback, and
  • Presenting our work through a poster, video, and written report.

To see our group’s work, it’s available at http://hdl.handle.net/1993/37407.

Lasting Connections

One of the greatest benefits of the program, at least for me, was meeting people: meeting my working group members, meeting the program coordinators and hosts (special shout out to Beatrice Calvin, Christina Fuller-Gregory, and Libby Holtmann!), meeting Chimene Tucker and other members of ACRL’s Distance and Online Learning Section, and attendees of ALA LibLearnX and Annual.

But along with this great group of people, there are the other Emerging Leaders. The 2023 class of leaders were an eager, productive, fun-loving group of future library leaders. These are people who I believe will end up leading our libraries and leading ALA; they’re inspirational and you know they’re headed towards great things in librarianship. We came from all corners of the continent, from all types of libraries.

I can remember in the week leading up to LibLearnX, one of the members of our cohort created a collab Google doc to arrange carpooling from the airport. I put my name on there, along with when I was arriving, and I got a text in the week leading up to LibLearnX asking if I wanted to share a ride into the city, with a couple other people. I didn’t know it at the time, but the two people I shared a ride with – we spent nearly the entire conference together, along with others from our cohort.

After walking down Frenchmen Street in New Orleans with daiquiris in hand, well, I like to think we’ve solved librarianship. Not quite, but I did bond with my cohort and now have a strong network of inspirational future library leaders who are so fun to talk with and very, very supportive.

Beth Jarrell (Sanibel Public Library), Stacey Akahoshi (Maricopa County Library District), Justin Fuhr (me!), and Laura Tadena (Austin Public Library) (L-R) at Jackson Square, New Orleans, LA

While the Emerging Leaders program consist of librarians from all types of libraries, these were mainly public librarians that I was talking to and walking around New Orleans with. This was so nice because I’m often stuck in academic libraryland, talking with other academic librarians about very important and very serious issues in academic librarianship. It is nice to have a close group of friends who are public librarians, to expand our connections throughout librarianship, and hear new perspectives. To hear from these librarians about their experiences both inside and outside the library, from their personal and professional lives, I can say these people are role models. I’m so thankful to have met them.

Then there was my working group, a group of academic librarians working on our project. Unlike some projects I encountered while at library school (so sorry, University of Alberta SLIS alumni!), this was a highly motivated group, eager to meet our goals with work that we’re all proud of. Our group of academic librarians met regularly between the conferences, and before and after our working meetings, we’d chat about the weather (who knew it varied so much across the continent?!) and catch up with what’s going in in our lives. These were great moments, and it was an honour to work with the others in my group.

The Memory of The Time

Overall, the Emerging Leaders program is a fantastic leadership development initiative and one I took away a lot from. With elements of leadership development, ALA volunteerism fast-tracking, creating deliverables for ALA’s divisions and sections, and making lasting connections, there’s so much to the Emerging Leaders program. I’ve enriched myself and set myself up for future stages of my library career. This was a group of future library leaders who—knowing nothing about each other—left the program as friends.

I am so thankful I was accepted to the program, that my library, supervisor, and library director were supportive of my attendance, that I was sponsored by ARCL’s Distance and Online Learning Section, and that I was privileged enough to attend conferences in New Orleans and Chicago.

If you’re able and eligible, I highly recommend considering applying. Applications are now open for the Class of 2024 Emerging Leaders program. The deadline to apply is September 9, 2023. If anyone has any questions about Emerging Leaders, or is considering putting together an application and wants some advice, please reach out to me! I’d be happy to share.

Joy is at the Heart of All Meaningful Work: Finding Meaning in Academic Librarianship

“Joy is at the heart of all meaningful work.”
Christopher P. Long

I read this quotation by Christopher P. Long in early Spring 2022 and it stuck with me. Long is the Dean of the College of Arts and Letters at Michigan State University. He’s an advocate of what he calls ethical candor (“the cultivated disposition to be honest with yourself”) and values-based practice (“aligning our core values with the practices that shape academic life”). And the line quoted above struck me because I’ve been thinking about meaningful work as an academic librarian recently.

My friend Mary Greenshields gave a presentation with Sandra Cowan at the 2022 CAPAL (Canadian Association of Professional Academic Librarians) Conference on compassion and love in academic librarianship, which Mary later published with Sarah Polkinghorne in Library Trends’ special issue on the joy of information (‘Love is a lens: Locating love in library and information studies’). They’re not talking about romantic love, but filial love, or a love of connectedness, of friends, of family.And for me, this forms part of why I find my work as an academic librarian meaningful: there’s so many connections! I think about all of the coworkers that I genuinely care about, and the brief yet meaningful interactions with students and faculty.

I say brief interactions as I’m fairly new in my current role as a science liaison librarian, having worked in the position for just over a year. This is an area where I’m developing, cultivating meaningful relationships with faculty and students. It takes time, I know, to grow as a liaison librarian in your subject areas. It’s something I’m actively working on, trying different avenues to establish myself, and get to know the people in my subjects. For me I find those connections some of the most joyful and meaningful work that academic librarians engage in. Even though it can seem daunting at times to establish myself in my departments, I look ahead to not only what I could accomplish, but that makes me content in my role at my library.

But putting aside liaising, for others, there might be other things that are meaningful for you in academic librarianship and related fields – a well-organized and developed library collection, preserving individuals’ archival records, nailing that meeting that you’re chairing, teaching to hundreds about a topic you’re passionate about, giving your time to a library association you care deeply about, and on, and on.

Take time to identify areas of your work that bring you joy; get as much as you can out of these moments. I think it’s important to find your work meaningful in some way – even if that’s just one aspect of your role (but hopefully it’s more than that) – that it’s valuable, that you’re contributing to something, that you feel motivated and engaged to do good work. Maybe that something is bigger than just you, bigger than your library, your institution even.

I’m reminded of Stephen Brookfield in The Skillful Teacher. In it, he writes of teaching that it “is about making some kind of dent in the world so that the world is different than it was before you practiced your craft. Knowing clearly what kind of dent you want to make in the world means that you must continually ask yourself the most fundamental evaluative questions of all – What effect am I having on students and on their learning?”

I think you can apply this to our teaching, to our collections development, to reference, to all of our library services. What kind of dent in the world are you making? And what effect am I having on students [and faculty, and your colleagues, and …]?

But how do you really know? Think about the ways you assess your success, value, and impact as a librarian. Are you writing annual performance reviews? Do you have a list of goals for the year? Do you keep a teaching journal? Do you track statistics on your reference or other work? Look to these, sure, but consider looking beyond a number or measurement to find out where those areas are that you’re passionate about, those things that bring you happiness in your job.

For me, it’s about connections, supporting our library staff, faculty, and students, and making those dents in the world, making a difference. That brings me joy in academic librarianship, and along with it, meaningful work. Find those moments of joy, revel in them, and bring them to life intentionally throughout your work.

I hope that you can find your work meaningful, that you’re making your dents in the world, and that joy is at the heart of it.

Sharing Our Work With Each Other

As the spring and summer terms begin, we enter conference season. Recently I’ve been thinking about the ways that academic librarians share their work with one another. In terms of traditional, formal sharing, this happens at conferences, webinars, or other sorts of lectures, and of course, through publications. But there’s so many more opportunities to talk about your research or other work you’re doing. I find sharing your work, knowledge, and experiences with your colleagues increases workplace culture and community, and lets you get to know your colleagues more closely. 

I remember attending the Ontario Library Association’s Super Conference last year and attending one of my coworker’s sessions. I loved hearing her share about the great work and research she’d been doing, but I couldn’t help but think, it took attending a library conference from a different province to hear about it. I never knew my coworkers were working on such interesting research projects! It just had not come up in our conversations.

At the University of Manitoba Libraries (UML), there is an annual Librarians’ Research Symposium, where our librarians can share brief presentations about their research. While the Research Symposium hasn’t been held since the pandemic, our library also hosts a series of brown bag lunch presentations called “UML Presents,” where presenters can talk about their research, fellowships, or anything else they would like to share. We also have a monthly newsletter that highlights librarian publications and other accolades. These spaces give a chance for anyone who wants to share about their work and let their coworkers in on the great work they’re doing.

I’ve noticed other associations host these small, informal events as well. A local library association that I’m a part of, the Manitoba Association of Health Information Providers, hosted their own research symposium last year. It was a chance for members to present lightning talks about the research they’re working on – or thinking about starting up. It was a low-stakes way to let others in on your work that might never be seen by those you work alongside.

I’ve always loved sharing my work with others and hearing about the work my colleagues do. And it’s not just sharing research, it’s all parts of our job: teaching, collections management, liaison duties, and on and on. It leads to new perspectives and ways of completing your work. I know that I have reconsidered how I’ve done something because I’ve heard of a different (and oftentimes quicker!) way of doing it. It can also lead to collaboration, whether that’s on a research project, co-teaching, or something else entirely. One of the best ways to get a coworker involved in a project is to know their interests. Outside of the people who read your article or scholarly work, sharing your work in formal or informal ways connects you in a way you might never otherwise have the chance.

If you know what your coworkers are instructing on, or researching, or involved in, it lends itself to letting others know about things that might interest them, like calls for proposals, conferences, interesting journal or news articles, or communities of practice. Not to mention, you can celebrate the work of your coworkers and be proud of the work that we’re all doing.

I’m always looking for places to share my work. I don’t know about you, but I have a puny number of Twitter followers—which is pretty much the only social media I use to post about my work as an academic librarian—so if I get the chance, I’ll think long and hard about volunteering to speak. What are the ways you share your work with your colleagues? Conferences? Communities of practice? Over coffee or a walk? Feel free to share below.

I encourage you to find ways to share your work with others. It can start a conversation, and you might never know what you’ll learn or where it will lead.