Something’s Always Wrong – Depression and the First Year

I intended to write about something else entirely, but the past two months have been particularly difficult so I decided to share my story now.

To be clear, I am not depressed because I am a first-year librarian; I am a depressed person who is a first-year librarian. I was undiagnosed until my early twenties, but I had been experiencing symptoms of depression and panic disorder long before that. For almost as long as I can remember, both have been a part of my daily life. Now I am a first-year librarian at a large R1 university. So in addition to imposter syndrome, the stress associated with starting a new job in a new city, the crippling weight of student loan debt, and the endemic gender bias persistent higher education, I also grapple with major depression. That said, I know I’m not alone in this experience.

Depression is the leading cause of disability in the United States for ages people between the ages of 15 to 44 and is also more prevent in women than in men. Let that sink in for a moment. Depression is often accompanied with other mental health disorders. In my case it’s panic disorder, which, for me, means that I often experience sudden bouts of debilitating panic and fear. Approximately six million Americans have panic disorder and – you guessed it – women are more affected by it than men.

I’m fortunate enough to be in a position where I have been diagnosed and can start managing my mental health problems with the help of a good insurance policy. I have a treatment plan that includes therapy and an emotional support animal. I also have a very supportive reporting officer who is sensitive to the complexities of my mental health. I’ve begun establishing boundaries between the workplace and my personal life in order to manage stress. I’ve also started doing yoga, which helps.

Despite my best efforts and the resources available to me, depression and anxiety still play a major role in my day-to-day life. Depression isn’t something that is easily “cured,” in fact most of us spend our lives simply trying to manage it. Mental health, especially for women in the workplace, is a complex and layered problem. While awareness of these issues is increasing, it’s still treated somewhat like a taboo. We often talk about depression and anxiety in academia, but it’s often depersonalized.

That’s why I’m writing about this here. It’s very much accepted that depression and anxiety often take a toll on undergraduate and graduate students, but we often don’t talk about how it continues to effect people once they’ve graduated and accepted their first job. What I hope to share with you is the experience of one first-year academic librarian as she struggles to make manage these common mental health problems on top of the stresses of starting a new job.

Academia can be a harsh work environment. Here the myth of eighty hour work weeks still persists, the job search process can be particularly debasing, and new hires often feel overwhelmed by the feeling that they are falling behind or underperforming. Because of the nature of the work, many academics feel like they can never really escape their work. And then there are the pressures of pursuing tenure, which affixes another layer of anxiety and fear.

In the LIS world, Twitter is one of the main channels we use to build networks of support, circulate new or interesting articles, and engage in conversations about our work. But social media comes with its own pressures. I have found that my desire to engage with my online community has led to me Tweeting after working hours and on weekends — time which should be reserved for my non-librarian self and my family.

Lately, I’ve been struggling to balance my intense preoccupation with being grateful for my job, and unsatisfied and ambitious with my work – call it a sort of workplace Stockholm Syndrome. I feel so lucky to have a job, but also unsatisfied with many of the tacit pressures that underlie the job description. This, in turn, triggers panic and worsens my fears that I might appear ungrateful to observers, and that I may not fit into this world after all.

I’ve been reading a lot about mental health in academia. It’s probably too much to list here, but Google “mental health academia” or read some of the stories under the #lismentalhealth hashtag on Twitter and you’ll see how many people are talking about this issue. There are many powerful stories out there, and I’m grateful to be in such a supportive community where we are all bent on raising consciousness in this arena.

I often see suggestions like mediation, yoga, and finding hobbies as suggestions for combating these stressors. While they are great suggestions, I still worry that we are missing the point.

Until recently, mental health in academia was diluted to general statements like “every librarian needs a therapist,” or “we need to support our colleagues with depression or anxiety,” or “imposter syndrome is a real thing.” Of course it is tremendous that we are admitting these facts as community, and awareness is the first step toward a sea change. But, suggesting that exercise or picking up knitting are solutions to these problems is a step in the wrong direction.

But this is just my truth, and part of managing my own mental health is coming to grips with what works for me. Everyone has their own truth, and whatever yours is, don’t ever feel like it’s abnormal.

So, what solutions do I have? For me, navigating my depression in academia means that I set very sharp boundaries on my time. I have never been someone who can work ten or twelve hours straight. I don’t feel guilty about not working on the weekends (when I can help it). If I am not on email duty, I stop responding to email after 5:00-6:00 in the evening, and I’m gradually working on not checking it altogether after that time.

I also vacillate between checking Twitter daily to not checking it for weeks. Social media (Twitter especially) is a precarious place for me. While I find it a great tool for connecting to others in the field, it engenders an overwhelming sense of Keeping up With the Joneses. When that happens, I take a break.

It is also pretty important for me to rely on family and friends who aren’t librarians. I can’t talk about being a librarian all the time and need a social life that isn’t connected to my job. I’m also becoming more comfortable with saying “no” and protecting my time. There’s a lot of pressure to volunteer for everything as a first-year faculty member, but I’ve learned to know my limits. This is both a professional and personal struggle, but I’m getting there.

This is just what works for me.

Mostly, I just think it’s important to keep this narrative open, so I’m taking this position of privilege to do it. So, on those days when I am crying before leaving for work, feeling like a total failure for not measuring up to my colleagues’ success, or comparing my student loan debt to my annual adjusted gross income, maybe writing about it here can help me find out that I’m not alone. Hopefully, it’ll do the same for you.

Academic Interviews from Both Sides

Brenna and Maura were asked to write collaboratively to explore academic interviews from both sides– job applicants and administrators. HLS is also featuring this post today.

Brenna is a student at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and managing editor of Hack Library School. She has a bachelor’s in English from the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). While working as an undergraduate at the Richard J. Daley library at UIC, she fell in love with all things library and has been there ever since. Her professional focus is academic librarianship with an interest in reference, collection development, and marketing/communications. Maura is the Chief Librarian at NYC College of Technology (City Tech) of the City University of New York, a large, public, commuter college in Brooklyn. She’s been at City Tech since 2008, first as instruction coordinator and as Chief Librarian since 2014. She’s also coordinator of ACRLog, and has been blogging there since 2009. Her research interests include undergraduate academic culture, critical information literacy and librarianship, open educational technologies, and game-based learning.

Cover Letters

Brenna:

The number one piece of advice library students receive in regards to cover letters is to find a way to stand out from the crowd. I totally get it: search committees have piles of cover letters from candidates and we all must start to blur together after a while. I try to find a couple of things that set me apart from other applicants and make sure to highlight them, but a lot of us come from similar backgrounds and it can be a daunting task. I’m also frequently advised to tailor cover letters to each individual job description. I realize why employers look for this, but it can be maddening when applying to many jobs at once. I’d love to hear some advice on how to stand out from other applicants and how to stay sane while writing multiple individualized cover letters.

Maura:

Brenna’s offered some great advice about cover letters, and I second all of it. It’s absolutely true that it’s time-consuming to tweak your cover letter to each job you apply for, but in my experience it’s also absolutely worth it. A cover letter that stands out to me connects your experience specifically with the job requirements listed in the position description. It’s also fine to highlight your relevant non-library experience here, and draw parallels between your background and the library or college. It might be helpful to make a quick list of what you find compelling about the job — pick one or two reasons from your list, and devote a few sentences in your cover letter to how your interest and experience would be beneficial if you were hired in that position.

Distance Interviews

Brenna:

Phone interviews are intimidating for me because I’m never really sure what to expect. Though I’ve yet to have a phone interview for an academic position, I’ve had a fair share for other jobs and they are always a surprise. Sometimes the interviewer mostly wants to share information about the job with me and other times they have a laundry list of questions to slog through. What kind of questions should be expected for a phone interview? Will we be interviewing with one person or several? How long should we set aside for the interview?

Everyone has different levels of comfort while speaking on the phone. Some things that have helped me feel confident include: dressing for the occasion, smiling (even though they can’t see me), finding somewhere quiet where I won’t be interrupted, and bringing a notebook to jot down notes and questions. Also, remember the names of your interviewers!

Maura:

In my library we typically have two rounds of interviews for library faculty positions, and if any of the applicants are not local we’ll do a phone interview for the first round. I’ve rarely heard anyone — candidates or search committee members — say that they love phone interviews, but with budget limitations it’s just not practical for us to bring in all first round candidates for a campus interview.

If you’re contacted for a phone interview, try to schedule it for a time when you can be on the phone in a quiet location, as Brenna suggests. Have a pen and paper ready so that you can take notes if you need to. It’s fine to ask the committee to repeat questions if you have trouble hearing them — we hold interviews in our conference room via speakerphone and not everyone can sit right next to the phone. (Years ago I did an interview on my cellphone in an alley behind the office where I was then working, so I’m very sympathetic to phone interview issues. But if I could do it over again for that interview, I’d have found a different way for sure.)

To speak more specifically to Brenna’s questions, I make sure to share as much information as possible with the candidate while scheduling the phone interview: that it will be with our full search committee (typically 5-6 librarians), and that we anticipate it lasting about 30 minutes. It’s fine to ask those questions if that information isn’t shared when you’re scheduling the interview. We do have a list of questions to go through — the same for all candidates; I also briefly introduce the job responsibilities and budget time for the candidate to ask questions at the end.

In-Person Interviews

Brenna:

I’ve been advised (read: warned) time and again in library school about the full-day interview. As a new professional, the pressure to make a good first impression on a search committee can be overwhelming. I know that interviewees meet with the search committee and sometimes give a presentation, but everything else seems to vary depending on the institution. One thing that would put me at ease is having a schedule so I know what to expect. For students, I’d recommend reaching out to the career advisors at your school in preparation for your interview. They can provide you with guidance not only for the interview, but for the whole process.

One thing I’d like to know is what to expect from the presentation: what should we be conscious of as candidates? what kind of things are the search committee looking for? Also, what should we expect from the shorter interviews?

Maura:

In-person interviews at academic libraries can vary in length — I’ve seen anything from a few hours to a full day or more. The search committee should share the schedule details with you, and you should definitely ask if you have any questions. If you’re traveling from out of town, the search committee and/or college administration should be able to help with travel arrangements and/or reimbursement. Unfortunately not all colleges and universities have funding to support bringing in out of town candidates for a position — if you’re applying for positions outside your local area I’d suggest asking about travel reimbursement before scheduling the interview. And for those of us on hiring committees, it’s best for us to be up front about whether we can support travel for out-of-town candidates before we schedule interviews.

My understanding is that the most common components of an on-campus interview are a meeting with the search committee and an opportunity to make a presentation with all librarians in attendance. Other possibilities include meeting with one or more library departments or units, meeting with other offices or departments at the college or university, and lunch or dinner with the search committee or others. Interviews with individual departments or offices might focus specifically on what those departments or offices do, while the search committee may ask the typical interview questions and discuss the responsibilities listed in the job ad.

I’ve heard (and suggested) a range of presentation possibilities for job candidates. In my library we usually ask instruction librarian candidates to present on how they would teach a specific topic in our library course; for technical services and technology candidates we typically ask candidates to look at our library’s strategic plan and consider one or more goals related to their position. We do ask all candidates to give presentations, not just instruction librarians — all of our librarians will likely make a presentation at a conference or on campus at some point, and we also use the presentation as an opportunity for our entire department to meet and ask questions of the candidate.

Institutional Culture

Brenna:

It seems that a major part of the on-campus interview is to determine if the candidate is a good fit for the institutional culture. Though it’s tempting for recent grads to jump at the first job opportunity we see, it’s quite possible that we may interview somewhere and find we would not want to work there. Some things I look out for are lack of mobility and limited professional development opportunities. I want my career goals to match up with the opportunities the institution provides their employees. What do search committees look for in a candidate that tells them they will fit in? What should candidates look for to see if they are a good fit for the institution?

Maura:

Institutional culture is varied and can be difficult to get a handle on in just the time allotted for an interview (or even multiple interviews). My experience is that you can’t really know, you can only make your best guess. However, your best guess will be better if you dig into some research beforehand.

Browse through the library’s website to see how the library is organized and what services and resources the library offers. Search the internet to learn more about the librarians who work there: are they active in professional organizations? do they publish or present at conferences? Look through the college or university’s website as well, which can help you get a sense of the institution. Some sections to look out for include any policies that apply to librarians, including support for travel or professional development. If the college or university has a union that includes librarians, you might find information about contracts and salaries on their website.

During the interview you should have time to ask questions about the work culture in the library, and to see how the search committee interacts with each other. While I hope this happens infrequently, if search committee members: make disparaging comments about their colleagues or the institution, ask questions they’re not allowed to, or you experience microagressions — those are red flags that you’ll want to consider. As Brenna notes, during the interview process you may realize that you don’t want to work at that institution, and it’s okay to withdraw from the search if so.

What Questions to Ask

Brenna:

Preparing questions ahead of time is a necessity for jobs of any kind. I usually peruse the library and institution’s websites to gather as much information as I can. I also look for a strategic plan, if it’s available, as well as news stories about the institution and faculty biographies. From these sources I come up with a list of questions to ask — I usually have quite a few in case some of them are covered during the interview. I also come up with questions as the interview goes on.

I’d definitely like to hear some advice on talking about salaries. It’s a touchy subject and it can be hard to determine the appropriate time to bring it up. If the salary is not listed in the job posting, when should you ask about it? I know that negotiation is generally expected once the job offer has been extended, but what should we know about making a counter-offer? Is it better to ask over the phone or via email?

Maura:

While it sounds somewhat trite, it’s absolutely true: when you’re on a job interview you are interviewing the search committee and library, too. It’s important to have questions to ask during the interview — not only will it help you learn more about the position and institution, but it also signals your interest in the job. Brenna’s given some great advice about questions, some of which may come out of your research before coming into the interview. Definitely ask about anything that’s not clear in the job ad. Other questions to ask include how often and by whom you’ll be evaluated, and what are the requirements for reappointment, promotion, and tenure (if relevant to the specific job). You might want to ask about other possible benefits, for example, funding for conference travel or opportunities for continuing education.

Salary questions are fine to ask during the interview, as far as I’m concerned, though the search committee may not be able to answer as specifically as you’d like. Library faculty at my library are in a union (with other faculty) which publishes salary ranges, so that’s a starting point. Brenna’s right that negotiation begins after an offer has been made — if you’re negotiating for a higher offer, focus on the experience you bring to the position. Follow the lead of the search committee re: negotiating via phone or email. While I definitely advocate for candidates to negotiate for a higher salary, typically salaries are a function of multiple factors, including how many/what kinds of other job searches are ongoing both within the library and across the institution, and ultimately there may not be much flexibility.

What Search Committees Are Really Looking For

Brenna:

After all the preparation, hard work, and anxiety that goes into the job search process, it seems the best thing we can do as applicants is to be genuine and hope that things work out. Though I’m an introvert, I used to pretend I was super outgoing in job interviews because I thought that was what employers were looking for. After some reflection, I realized that I may not be the first to stand up and give my opinion in a meeting, but I will take time to contemplate larger issues and put effort into seeing things from different perspectives. I have found a way to sell my introversion as an asset. The ability to play up your strengths and provide concrete examples or successes seems to be the best thing a candidate can bring to an interview.

What kind of things should candidates absolutely not say in an interview?

Maura:

One of the things that’s been most important on the search committees I’ve served on is a clear feeling from the candidate that they want this job, the position that we are offering. I’ve been on the job market enough to know that often when we’re looking for jobs, we need a job, and thus we may apply for range of jobs that are not all the same. That’s okay, but during the interview it’s important to speak convincingly about what interests you about working in *this* job at *this* place. When I’m on a search committee I also want to see that candidates understand the responsibilities for the job (and that’s where asking questions can come in). Since librarians are tenure-track faculty at my college with the same service and scholarship requirements as other faculty, we are especially interested in whether our candidates are interested in service and scholarship.

I’m also looking for a positive outlook in the candidates we interview. This is not necessarily synonymous with extroversion — introverts are positive, too. Red flags for me include disparaging comments about prior colleagues and workplaces. I acknowledge that there are real issues with toxic work environments and that there are good reasons for leaving a job in a toxic work environment. However, a focus on your hopes for this job, for your work, and for libraries is much more compelling during a job interview. Brenna’s suggestion to have a few specific examples in mind of successful work in other jobs is a great one, and will help the search committee learn more about the strengths you could bring to the position.

Stating Your Case: The Annual Review

This year marks my first year as a professional librarian and, as such, January 2016 is the due date of my first full performance review packet. Librarians at my university are considered faculty and are on a continuing appointment track, which is similar to tenure but different in structure. While this is the first full performance review I’ve ever encountered as a librarian, it is *not* the first time I’ve had to do a performance review. I was reviewed countless times during my former career in the corporate sector, and the outcomes of these reviews helped determine whether I received a raise, promotion, or additional opportunities within the company. I’ve always felt moderately confident going into these previous performance reviews because their expectations were clearly delineated and set. There were clear rubrics that determined an average score from an above average score. But my upcoming performance review as a faculty member has my head spinning.

First, I should explain that my university bases librarian performance on whether or not we meet the ever-amorphous “excellence in librarianship” and “impact” benchmarks as opposed to metrics or other formulas. So what determines excellence in librarianship? You tell me. Please!

Many of my colleagues at other universities have clear cut standards to which they are evaluated: thirty percent of their time is dedicated to service, thirty percent is dedicated to teaching, and thirty percent is dedicated to research, and so on. However, my employer has not established a standard for “excellence in librarianship.” There is no definitive standard for delineating what excellence could be for a reference and instruction librarian versus what is deemed excellence for a technical services librarian, for example. Some may argue that the lack of clear standards is a huge check in the plus column for librarians. We aren’t relegated to metrics, and we can showcase our efforts and tell our stories any way we want (at least theoretically). While numeric formulas may seem confining or even archaic, I have discovered that articulating and justifying my intangible, behind-the-scenes efforts, in addition to my standard job responsibilities, is difficult. It’s up to the librarian to strategically align their performance with the mission and vision of both the library and the university, which is what we should be doing anyway, but this lack of explanation does tangle the process.

My full performance review will be a partial year review. When it is submitted, I will have been with my university for ten months. The first six months of this job were spent becoming acculturated to my first academic job at a large R1 university in a major metropolitan area. This entailed a lot of instruction shadowing, meeting with students and faculty, and traveling to the other academic centers where I was assigned as liaison. Listening and observing was a huge part of my day-to-day work life. I kept a daily log of my activities, and submitted monthly activity reports to my reporting officer. These meticulous notes show lots of progress, including relationship building with colleagues, faculty, students, and stakeholders at my institution. In other words, I may not have loads of fancy workshops and sexy publications under my belt – yet – but I have laid significant ground work for future projects and programs that will potentially have a large impact of my daily work. But how do I showcase these in an annual review under the banner of “excellence in librarianship”? Are these considered “soft skills” even though this is what it takes to make a real impact?

Here are a few thoughts I’m using to guide my writing. I do not presume a one-size fits-all approach, but merely offer suggestions:

1. Soft skills have serious value. In fact, I posit that instructional academic librarianship as a whole is moving toward a more backstage model. Meaning, we – especially new librarians – may not have loads of workshops, programs, or events on our year-end activities report, but we are constantly working on the more understated areas of librarianship, such as cultivating relationships with community stakeholders, for future benefit. Based on both mine and my colleagues’ experiences (both at my institution and outside of it), our roles are changing. We spend more time working with faculty and colleagues on large, months-and-years spanning projects that fall outside realm of a brief bullet point or narrative paragraph. Mention these long-term planning events and relationship building in your review packet. Don’t be reticent to sell your soft skills.

2. Connect your activities to the strategic mission and vision of your library and institution. Obviously this should be incorporated into both short-term and long-term goal planning, but it also needs to be explicitly stated, especially in a performance review dossier. For example, I know my reporting officer understands how I connect my goals to the mission and vision of the libraries and the unique needs of my liaison department, but does my Dean know that? Or the Provost? How can I make it clear to them?

3. Marketing, marketing, marketing. Does that word conjure four-letter imagery for you? I get it, I really do. There are power structures and privilege inherent in traditional corporate marketing practices. I also understand that, for many of us, the term connotes with other corporate lingo such as customer service, traffic forecast, year-end results. They word is faulty, but, quite frankly, it is important to harness its power for our own use as librarians. Subvert the traditional use, and harness its power to your advantage.

Think of it less as marketing, and more as conveying value: it is vital to convey our value to everyone – stakeholders, faulty, students, colleagues. And we convey this through marketing, whether we like it or not. The way you market yourself as a librarian could not be more important than during the full performance review. The action verbs you use to tell your story, the way your weave your story, how you present your reference/instruction/tutorial statistics (table, narrative, chart?), the structure of your reports – it’s all important. It makes you unique. I may be biased – my undergraduate degree is in marketing and I worked as a brand manager at an advertising agency prior to graduate school – but it’s important. Subvert and harness.

4. Clear and concise vs. verbose and extensive. I love a good, long narrative, but my full performance review is not the place to extol the minutiae of my daily activities. Rather, I choose to focus on an activity-impact model. I’m choosing a few points to tell my story. It’s the written equivalent of an elevator pitch: tell the story in two pages or less.

5. Get as much trusted and honest feedback as you feel comfortable with. I don’t trust a thing that I write until several trusted colleagues, mentors, or friends have proofread it.

Good luck and happy writing to every librarian writing their performance review in the throes of year-end chaos.

Transition: Making it as a librarian

When do you become a librarian? When you get your MLIS? When you start your first professional librarian job? Debates can rage over this, but I didn’t start calling myself a librarian until I started my current position.

I earned my MLIS in May 2011 and was hired into my first paid library staff position mid-2012. As a paraprofessional with an MLIS, I had a coworker refer to me periodically as a “librarian” but I didn’t see myself as such, especially when about half of the staff at that library held library degrees, and most MLIS-holders I knew were unemployed or underemployed.

Takes an MLIS to be library staff

Of course, without my MLIS I never would have been hired even as library staff. Too many library school graduates and too few librarian (and related) jobs equals a glut of library degree holders struggling to make a living. Ironically, even finding unpaid internships was difficult – in an era of library cutbacks it seemed like a lot of libraries just didn’t (don’t?) have the time to supervise interns. I did manage to find and serve three internships, though, and I credit those experiences and resulting networking for helping move my career forward. I am ever so grateful to the librarians that I met through my internships that continue to mentor me.

In my first library job as a staff person, I was delighted to finally hold a paid library job and to take on resume-building responsibilities that used to fall solely on librarians’ shoulders: reference, instruction, and outreach. I did reference for the specialized collection in which I worked: government documents. I also did a regular hour or two at the main library reference desk, a regular chat reference hour, scattered library instruction sessions for English classes, and I volunteered an occasional evening or Saturday to work the library table at a library or university special event. As an employee with a regular 8 to 5 schedule, I didn’t get paid for any work outside that schedule.  Nor did I get comp time. And as a library staff person, I was certainly not getting paid extra for MLIS-level work.

Anyone that works in a library knows how large the stacks of applications are for library pages and assistants, and how generally overqualified the applicants. I once drove 300 miles back to my home town to take one of those public service tests for a library assistant job only to discover a room filled with over a hundred people taking the same test, all applying for a single opening (I didn’t even make it into the interview pool!). I’m sure you’ve got horror stories, too!

For me to become a librarian, an actual librarian with title and salary, it took a couple hundred job applications, three internships, a second master’s degree, and a willingness to move (luckily back to my home state). Basically, the quest to become a librarian was like having a second job. Mid-2014: here I am at Cal State Fullerton, finally, a full-fledged librarian. Now I call myself a librarian.

Librarians: “Don’t complain, you’ve got it easy”

However, when I was a library staff-person, librarians (actual librarians) told me I should be grateful to be staff and work a regular 8 to 5 schedule, because being a salaried librarian meant that they worked some long days.

Little did they know, I have a history of working long days! I spent years loading trucks, waiting tables, and one extra wet winter shoveling snow. I spent years in the hospitality industry refining my customer service smile and people skills. There’s no exhaustion like when you sit down after being on your feet for ten to twelve hours and discover that standing up again just isn’t going to happen.

Three months into this job I’ve come in weekends and worked long days. I work hard and predict the work will get harder. But I will tell you now – I will work any number of long days for this salary, and for this job, and for the ability to come in late if I worked late the night before, because I am SO happy to be a librarian doing the work that I am.

Transition from staff to librarian

Of course being a librarian is certainly a big change from being a staff person. I was dubious how different it could be no matter how many librarians told me so – but it is quite and very different. As a new tenure-track librarian, my day-to-day schedule is now packed, and publish-or-perish is now a real threat. I was hired as an instructional design librarian, but I’ve got so much work besides, I feel like I hardly have time to design! Don’t even mention the professional development, the scholarly and creative activities, and the various categories of service I’m supposed to be performing. Oh, and I also have liaison duties with a few academic departments.

The biggest challenge for me when I started here was figuring out how the library worked and where I fit into it. And then, how the tenure process works (the six year clock is ticking!) and figuring out areas of research interest and how I can start writing articles to hopefully publish in peer-reviewed journals. Currently I’m still working on time and project management – I’ve got limited hours each week to work on instructional design and research projects – so I’ve got to make every minute count.

But this job is AWESOME. I’m independent – but collaborative projects abound. I get my own office (with a view!). I get to set my own schedule, and I get to be all kinds of creative. Since my position is also a brand new position, I get to shape what it’s going to be, and decide how I can best spend my time to contribute to my library and to the academic library community. I like the workplace culture at my library – there’s a lot of encouragement to come up with big ideas and go after them. This campus is diverse in just about every way and I feel like I fit right in. I love going to work every day!

The hustle of internships, volunteering, and endless job applications was the real preparation for becoming a librarian. My background in hospitality prepared me for working with colleagues with strong personalities, panicking grad students, and demanding faculty. Attending school for two master’s degrees while working full-time was my study in time management, essential to being a good librarian. The MLIS? Perhaps just a theoretical study in librarianship.

Thinking Tenure Thoughts

Last week Meredith Farkas wrote a thoughtful post on her blog, Information Wants to Be Free, about tenure status for academic librarians. Spirited discussion ensued in Meredith’s blog comments and on libraryland Twitter (much of which Meredith Storified) which has continued to today. The conversation has included many varied perspectives on the advantages and disadvantages of tenure for academic librarians, including preparation for research and scholarship in graduate library programs, the perceptions of status and equality between academic librarians and faculty in other departments, salary parity, academic freedom, and the usefulness and rigor of the library literature.

I support tenure for academic librarians as I do for faculty in other departments primarily because I believe that tenure ensures academic freedom, which is as important in the library as it is in other disciplines. I also have concerns about the tenure system more generally, concerns that many academics in libraries and other departments also voice. One of my big concerns is that the pressure to publish can result in quantity over quality.

This conundrum was raised during the Twitter discussion of Meredith’s post and had me nodding vigorously as I read. I am absolutely in agreement that the tenure system as it currently stands has encouraged the publication of large amounts of scholarship that ranges from the excellent and thought-provoking, to the interesting if somewhat obvious, to the just not very good, to the occasionally completely wrong. Of course, this is a problem not just in academic librarianship but in other disciplines as well. The avalanche of scholarship resulting from the pressures to publish to gain tenure affects libraries and the broader academic enterprise in a variety of ways.

It takes time to write and publish, and time spent on that is less time to spend on doing research or reading the research that others have published, research that might be useful in our jobs as well as our own research. You might remember the article in the Guardian late last year in which Nobel Prize-winning physicist Peter Higgs suggested that he’d be unlikely to get tenure in today’s academic climate because he hasn’t published enough. I try to stay current on what’s being published in a handful of library journals, but like many of us my interests are interdisciplinary and there is no way I can read even a fraction of what’s relevant to my scholarly interests. And the more that’s published, the more difficult it can become to find the good stuff — something we see when we teach students to evaluate sources, but something that can stymie more experienced researchers as well.

There’s also a direct connection between the ever-increasing publication for tenure needs and academic library budgets. Those articles need to go somewhere, and journal publishers have been more than willing to create new journals to fill up with reports of academic research and sell back to libraries. Publishing in open access journals can help, as others including Barbara Fister have suggested.

But I think academic librarians with tenure can make an impact on the quality versus quantity problem, both in the library literature and in scholarly communication more widely. I’m coming up for tenure in the fall, and while I’ve published my research open access, it’s also true that I’ve submitted most of my work for publication in peer reviewed journals, primarily because that’s what “counts” most. I don’t know that I’ve written anything in the past 6 years that I wouldn’t have otherwise, but as Meredith and others noted in the Twitter conversation, without worries about what counts I probably wouldn’t have felt as much pressure to write as much as I have for peer reviewed journals, and might have spread my efforts more evenly between blogging or other forms of publication as well. I’ve also felt torn spending time on other work that I know isn’t as highly regarded as traditional scholarly publishing — work like conference organizing and article reviewing and blogging, for example.

I’m looking forward to coming up for tenure in part because I’d like to help work toward expanding the definition of scholarly productivity to include alternatives to peer-reviewed publication in journals, and to focus on quality over quantity. Some of this is work that librarians are already doing — work in promoting open access, for example, among faculty in other departments who may not realize that there are peer-reviewed, highly-regarded OA journals. As academic librarians we have a view of the scholarly publishing landscape that other faculty may not share, and I hope we can use this position to advocate for tenure requirements that take into account more of the possibilities for contributing to the creation and propagation of knowledge than peer review and impact factor alone.