Mentorship in your first year

Entering a new workplace is scary. Entering a new profession, environment, and career all at the same time, is scarier. However, with a little help, the transition can be smooth.

Before I even began my position at American University, I was assigned a mentor, another librarian at the AU Library. I had never had one and did not know what to expect.

As a first year librarian, I will be honest, I was not expecting a mentor, but I knew I would need one. I did not know the importance of having a mentor until I had one. However, as I dove into my new job, got involved in service, and started going to conferences, I realized that mentorship is very important.

Mentorship is essential because it not only provides guidance and confidence in yourself, it is also important in terms of retention in the profession for the coming years.

For guidance, as a new professional, you’re going to have questions that are not just “where is the best place to eat?” Instead, you might be curious about faculty governance or advice about a possible research project. I often found myself bouncing ideas off of my mentor or expressing concern or anxiety about my career path. The first couple of months were a time of getting to do new things, but also observing everyone around me and thinking about the possible career paths that are ahead of me.

The most important aspect of a mentor-mentee relationship is the relationship between you and your mentor. This relationship is reciprocal. By this, I mean that a mutual respect grows and that they are also learning from you.

Because I think this is a very important topic, I wanted to share how I go about it, because it’s also new to me as well. I do not pretend to know everything about mentorship, but as I go through this process, I continue to learn more. Here are a couple of “best practices” that I recommend for in order to get the most out of this experience.

-There must be some structure. My mentor and I see each other almost every day at work, so we always have short conversations about work, research/scholarship, plans, etc. However, we always find a time for either coffee, lunch, or dinner to further discuss these topics and to also put a plan in motion (if necessary). This block of time is just for the two of us and allows us to speak freely and express our thoughts and ideas. As I said before, the relationship between a mentor and a mentee is a two-way street. You both should benefit from this relationship.

How so? You should be able to teach your mentor new things, whether it’s about your interests or bringing a new perspective. Learning from your mentor about their career experiences and observations should also be beneficial to you.

-There will always be challenges in not only the workplace, but in your research agenda, service, or other aspects on your career. Have honest conversations, because if you can’t have these conversations about career struggles or successes, then who can you have them with?

-Write everything down. Even if you’re having coffee or lunch with your mentor, it is still a meeting about your career, your research plans, etc. I always have my notebook and pen with me and it’s also useful to have when you and your mentor are bouncing ideas off of each other.

-Have a plan and take the initiative yourself. Before having coffee or lunch/dinner with my mentor, I like to have a good idea of what my next plans are. For example, the Spring semester is coming to an end and our department has been discussing summer projects. Along with summer tasks/projects, I also have to work on presentations for a conference in August. Having an update and a timeline for my mentor is helpful for myself because I can get feedback.

The mentor-mentee relationship is what you make of it! This also brings up another question. What if you don’t have a mentor, but you would like one? There are a couple ways you could go about this.

Depending on your institution, the library might have a mentorship program in place already. Ask about the program(s) and find out what it consists of. Would you get paired? Or be able to choose your own mentor? What are your research interests? Ask questions!

The other option would be finding a mentor on your own. I’m glad I didn’t have to do this because I would feel intimidated. However, if there is someone that you feel would be a good fit, ask them if they would be willing to mentor you. I am not the expert at this, so I cannot say much. However, I would urge anyone to do their research on how to approach this subject. There are a couple of good articles out there for further reading into the subject. For example, “Are you my mentor? New perspectives and Research on Informal Mentorship” written by Julie James, Ashley Rayner, and Jeannette Bruno provides insight into informal mentorship, and how it might be the preferred method.

Another option would be to research the mentorship programs within professional library organizations. ACRL and ALA have mentoring programs to fit different interests and needs. It’s all about finding out what your options are!

On a personal note, I am very grateful for the mentor I have right now. This experience has been more than I imagined and I hope to continue growing, as well as updating you all!

Saying No

No. A word in the English language that we probably use every single day. The definition is “a negative used to express dissent, denial, or refusal, as in response to a question or request.”

We use it in our everyday life. However, when it comes to the workplace, it can be hard saying “no.” As a first year librarian, many people have given me their advice on the first year, settling in at a new institution, etc. I have been grateful for all the advice I have been given, but the one piece that stood out was “you don’t always have to say yes to everything.”

I understood what this meant. However, this is a little easier said than done. As a new academic librarian, I was ready to dive in. I found myself getting a lot of opportunities in terms of scholarship, service, and projects in other library departments. As I took on more projects, my schedule became busier and my workload increased. I felt that this was a good thing; after all, I wanted to be completely immersed in academic libraries.

I tend to have the habit of piling things, and working on them at the last minute. The workload piled up during the same time period. I would rush to get everything done and ended up being tired all the time. This is a result of taking on too much, but even when I knew I had a lot on my plate, I would take on more.

Why? There were a couple of reasons. The first reason was fear of missing out on valuable opportunities–not only opportunities that would allow me to gain valuable experience, but opportunities that would benefit me in terms of being able to get a tenure-track position in the future. I also did not want to say no because I did not want to disappoint anyone. Many of the opportunities that appeared, did not do so magically. Colleagues, friends, my mentor, and my supervisor let me know about them. Whether it was something they saw through email or something that they were working on, I did not want to seem ungrateful by rejecting them.

Further, as someone trying to put her name out there, I had the mindset that I could not afford to say no. It has been a little over 6 months since I have started my position, and it feels like a lifetime ago that I began this new job. The saying goes, “live and learn” Let me tell you, I have (and still have more to learn).

 

Now that I have been at my job for half a year, here are some lessons learned:

-As you go through your job duties, you will learn your workload limit. If you go past it, be prepared to work harder and know that it will be a stressful time. You alone know your limits.

-Plan ahead and schedule everything. My calendar is filled with proposal deadlines, conferences I am attending, web meetings, and dates of when projects are due. Not only does this include work and scholarship related dates, but it also includes vacation days and my research days or working from home. The reality is that sometimes I have to get work done during my own time, but keeping track of everything helps me budget my time. I have found that I rely very heavily on my Google calendar. Without it, I would be lost.

-There are times when you will feel overwhelmed. For moments like these, I like to make lists. I make a list for daily tasks and tasks/events that are coming up soon. Being able to cross off things on my list make me feel like I have been productive and makes me feel like my workload gets a little bit lighter.

-There were times where I saw all the scholarship that other colleagues were doing and made me question whether I truly want to go down the tenure-track in the future. For the first couple of months, I began to doubt whether this was something I wanted to do. Something that helped immensely was talking to my mentor. I spoke to her about my doubts and fears. When it came down to it, I just needed to talk about it to someone that had already been through the process.

-It’s easy to feel like you’re not doing enough or you feel that you could be doing more. I like to observe other people and how they go about their scholarship process. However, in the end, it is about your own work and your own process.

-I saw that when I took too much on, the quality of my work was not the quality that I had expected or hoped for. This caused many revisions and extra time spend on a project. I now have my own personal rule: if I am not willing to give 110% to a project, then will it be worth it to me in the end?

-Always be on the lookout for proposals or possible projects. It’s not just for ALA or ACRL, but there are other specialized conferences that might be a better fit for you. Look at the topics and dates and plan accordingly.

With these experiences in my first year, I have learned that it’s not just about yes or no. It is about learning your limits, exploring scholarly endeavors, and discovering new research interests. I still put too much on my plate, but I am learning as I go along. I think it is safe to assume that this will be a lifelong process.

Getting rejected in the library world. What now?

I would like to address something that might be slightly uncomfortable topic for some. Rejection.  I know it’s definitely uncomfortable for me. I had planned to write about this topic, but I had planned to write about it near the end of my tenure at ACRLog.

Rejection comes in many forms, but the rejection that I am talking about is the type you get in this profession. Rejection of a proposal, job-position, book chapter, grant, or article. As a first-year academic librarian, the first year (so far) has been great, stressful, and eye-opening. I would not trade this for the world, but that also means accepting what comes with it.

I submitted an article for an academic journal and in less than 24 hours, I got a rejection. Now, a rejection stings, but it stings even more when you read the comments.

“this draft would not be publishable as a scholarly article. It is really a rambling excessively personal  recollection of various experiences, without a clear thesis or focus. “

Ouch (to say the least). I had to go back into my email and fetch the rejection and copy and paste it into this blog post…and that alone was hard. I was crushed, sad, lost, and many other things that I cannot find the words for. I was still at work and it was right before my hour at the reference desk. I had to keep it together and keep myself from staring at the computer screen. Now, rejection is different for everyone. For the first couple of hours, I felt frustration and like the wind had been knocked out of me.

This frustration was not towards the journal or the reviewers, but it was frustration and anger towards myself. “This is my fault”, “I knew I wasn’t ready,” “This was my responsibility” were the thoughts in my head.

A lot of students in library school present at conferences or get their feet wet. I, however, did not get my feet wet. I did not have any experience with presenting or publishing, but I was eager to do so. It was a lot harder than I thought, but I knew that if one day I wanted to work as a tenure-track librarian, then I needed to get my act together. This was my first submission and the first rejection. Needless to say, it stung.

Now what? What was next? I needed to move past this and continue with my professional life.

“Moving past” are the keywords. It is not “getting over it.” No one wants to feel what I felt, but I believe it’s important to keep moving forward.

My first thought and question was if anyone had written about his or her rejections. At the time of my rejection, I would have never published my experience. I was too embarrassed and too ashamed.

I found a blog post that detailed the writer’s rejection with a well-respect library position in this country. In “We need to share our rejections,” Brianna Marshall aspired to become a candidate for the North Carolina State University Fellowship Program (NCSU). As it turns out, Brianna was not part of the pool of final candidates.

“It was hard to feel good about myself. Instead, I felt deeply disappointed and humiliated.” As I read these words, I instantly felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I knew I was not alone. I was so grateful that someone had been brave enough to write about their experience and to have the courage to put it out there for all to see.

“I remind myself that moving forward is a good thing even if it’s not always easy.” And so this is what I needed to do. I needed to pick myself up, make a plan, and move ahead. I had told myself that it was going to be alright, but for the first time, I actually believed it.

I believe that people can succeed on their own. However, when they fail, the help of others is absolutely essential. The rejection had sunk in and reading Brianna’s blog suddenly brought a moment of clarity. I do not know about you all, but when I experience these moments, I cannot sit still. I have to make a plan, I have to take action.

So, if anyone is in this position, here are a few things that helped.

  • Take some time for yourself and let it sink in
  • I strongly recommend reading Brianna Marshall’s Blog post “We need to share our rejections.” It made me feel so much better and I hope it can do the same for you
  • Once you feel a little better, make a list of goals. Both short and long term. What do you want to accomplish this semester? who can help you? How can you do it?

For myself, I find it therapeutic and important that I keep myself busy, especially after a rejection.

And here is the most important thing. Keep applying. Don’t stop. It could be hard to write something else or apply for a conference because of the fear of rejection. Not applying because of that fear would be worse.

 

To my surprise, many good things came out of this rejection. They were determination, acceptance, patience, and a feeling that maybe I should not be so hard on myself. I think this is definitely a situation where you can learn from your mistakes, but I also think that once all the harsh feelings pass, you can move on. That’s what I did, I submitted proposals for a conference and a symposium, and guess what? I got a panel proposal accepted for a national conference in California and a symposium for critical libraries and pedagogy.

I am proud of myself and know that rejection is a part of life, but that doesn’t mean stopping and giving up. It means moving forward and doing work that you can be proud of.

I know scholarship will be a difficult and long process for me, but I think I can do it. I hope that this post serves as a way for others to see that it’s not the end of the road if you get rejected, and most importantly, that we can and should talk about this topic.

Achieving a work/Life balance: A little harder than it sounds

As December begins, my first semester as an academic librarian comes to an end. This fall semester, I was able to do instruction sessions, participate in a panel, collaborate with colleagues on projects, and gained experience with submitting proposals. Most importantly, I was able to do the thing that I love best–talk with students about their research topics, and help them brainstorm.

It has been a busy semester, with new experiences and meeting new people. Not only that, but I moved about 695 miles to begin a new job. I mentioned in my previous post that I am originally from Central Illinois. Making the move from Champaign to DC was stressful and went by quickly. Being an unfamiliar city, living with roommates for the first time, and commuting to work are just a couple of new things that I have experienced during my four (almost 5) months in DC.

For the first two months, I found myself very tired after every workday. It was a kind of tired that I had not expected. I had not gotten used to my sleeping schedule, but that changed after a couple of months on the job. I was used to my work schedule, and as I got to know the other librarians, I found myself myself struggling with keeping a work/life balance. I will admit, I had (and still do have) trouble adulting. As a recent graduate, I had had to deal with work/school/life balance. However, I will admit that I was not the greatest at keeping these things separate. I would take work home, I would take school to work and all the other combinations you could think of. By the end of each semester at school, I would find myself anxious about work piling up, and making plans to go home. This is something I went through and it is something that most of us (if not all) go through.

While I would rarely take work home (now that I am no longer a student), I would find myself thinking of an instruction class outline, proposal ideas, and other work related thoughts.

I felt guilty at times. Guilty because I did not check my work email during the weekend, guilty because I did not do the last thing on “my-to-do” list, and guilty because I left an hour earlier than I usually do from work.

However, it’s also important to be realistic. There will be times when you have to take work home. Submission deadlines and projects are things that may creep up on you and it will be necessary to work on them during the weekend.

So, what to do? Here are a couple of things that have worked for my work/life balance:

  1. Relax. It’s easy to sit in front of your laptop and stream Netflix for the next 5 hours (I am guilty of this), but having a nap or reading is a great way to relax and calm your mind.
  2. Take up a hobby. Those who know me know that I am not exactly the best cook (I know how to make some great guacamole though). I decided to try out a new recipe every week. It gives me the opportunity to get out of my room and experiment with different ingredients.
  3. Take care of your health. I had to remember that first and foremost, I had to look out for myself.

For me, it’s about loving yourself and drawing lines where there should be some. Thank you for reading and if you have any tips on maintaining a work/life balance, share them!