First Day Reflections

Please welcome our new First Year Academic Librarian Experience blogger Kim Miller, Research and Instruction Librarian for Emerging Technologies at Towson University.

This fall, as new-student orientation and move-in wrapped up, the campus at my new institution was noticeably abuzz with the promise of a new start – a new semester, new students, and new faculty. As a life-long academic, there’s something about this time of year – those first few days of a new school year, as the weather turns and the leaves begin to change – that always makes me feel like anything is… possible.

Earlier this summer, I also started my first job as a newly minted, “real” academic librarian. That day, although I had just completed the rigorous academic interview and hiring process, not to mention moved myself and my family 600 miles to our new home, I felt more like “the new kid” in school than a recently hired professional.

The night before my first day, I tossed and turned, anxiously awaiting the moment my alarm would ring, telling me it was time to begin my day. As I showered, got dressed, and ate my breakfast, I worried about basic things the other kids librarians probably already knew – like where to park my bike car, which door to go in, where the “cool kids” other staff members eat lunch, and when the final bell rings everyone leaves for the day. As I drove my new 45 minute commute, carefully following the directions printed out the night before, I excitedly wondered if today, the pinnacle towards which I had been striving, would be all that I hoped it would be. And luckily, it was. That evening, about eight-and-a-half hours after I first walked over the library’s threshold, I drove home excited by all of the… possibilities.

As I now welcome new students to our campus, I find myself reflecting on my own first day. And just like being the “new kid” at school, I think there are a few basic tips for the new academic librarian:

  • Use the buddy system… and find a mentor. New places are instantly more welcoming if you explore them with someone else. Two extremely useful types of people are: other recent hires (if available), and more experienced librarian mentors. If librarians at your college or university are on the tenure or permanent status track, your “cohort” of newly hired librarians will become the people you “grow up” with throughout your career. They are likely as eager as you to begin researching, presenting, and publishing, probably with YOU. And some day, you’ll be each others support as you complete the dreaded promotion “dossier.”  Equally important are the “lifer” librarians – not just the people who’ve worked at the institution for a long time, but those who are integrated into the “why” and “how” of the library. They know the history, they’ve experienced successes and failures, and since they probably had a hand in hiring you, they are invested in your success. Having a hard time identifying a mentor at your own institution?  Look into the national organization’s mentorship programs to find one.
  • Raise your hand… and ask a lot of questions. Every library works differently – they have different policies, different philosophies, different users, and different cultures. No matter how long you’ve worked in libraries or how much research you do about your new library beforehand, there are some things you simply can’t learn until you experience and question them. Simple things like, “Where’s the printer paper?” to more complex, cultural questions like, “Am I allowed to post to my liaison department’s email list?” will require answers. You won’t know until you ask.
  • Join a club… or as academic librarians like to call them “professional organizations” and “committees.” Our profession is all about making connections. Professional organizations and committees are one of the best ways to connect with other librarians in your community. We are all too busy, too underfunded, and have too many interests to work solely by ourselves or even within our own institution. Finding like-minded professionals to learn from and collaborate with, forming our own “personal learning network,” helps us develop our professional identities while collaborating with other people who are interested in asking the same questions and solving the same problems we face daily. And if you’re not physically near a pocket of professionals, social media outlets are making it increasingly possible to develop and maintain your PLN from a distance.
  • Walk like a duck… so pretty soon, you’ll feel like a duck. It’s not uncommon for brand new professionals to feel something like an “imposter.” Although we have worked hard to finish our degrees, made it through (sometimes numerous) professional interviews, and celebrated our accomplishments with family and friends, we are also faced with severe self-doubt. Given a real position of authority, we’re afraid we’ll be exposed as a fraud – that somehow we’re clever magicians who’ve fooled the world into thinking we know anything about… well, anything. In these instances, the best thing for us to do is “fake it ’till you make it.” That is, after a while, that fear and self-doubt will be transformed into the confidence needed to accept success and bounce back from failures.
  • Enjoy “recess” and obey your bedtime… you’ll need the downtime. The excitement of starting a new career makes it easy to dive into your work so enthusiastically that you forget about everything else. But to be our best at work, we need to respect the work-life balance and make sure to take care of ourselves in the process. People sometimes scoff when I insist on enforcing my own bedtime, but getting rest is essential for top-quality everyday functioning. Lack of sleep makes it harder for us to focus, remember, and learn new skills, making us less effective workers. Sleep deprivation also makes us sick, increasing the likelihood we miss work, adding to our own stress. Respect your body and it will serve you well.

Although there is no one-size-fits-all formula to surviving your first few days as an academic librarian, I hope we are all filled with the sense of possibilities the new beginning brings.

Did you start a new job recently? What are your tips and tricks for thriving in the first few months as a new librarian?

Image by Vipal

A New Career

Please welcome our new First Year Academic Librarian Experience blogger Ian McCullough, Physical Sciences Librarian at the University of Akron.

Librarianship seems like a career that many come to later, after some career missteps or dead ends. My career path falls into this broad category as I’ve switched from a relatively promising career in lab management into my current role as physical sciences librarian for the University of Akron. In my last job I received frequent praise, backed up with financial compensation. Funding was as secure as it gets in biomedical research (i.e. not grant funded) and a big promotion was being discussed. My users treated me with respect and genuine warmth.

So why did I switch careers? Some mundane reasons contributed, like years of irritation at chemicals eating holes in my clothing. But at heart I wanted more intellectual freedom. I have faculty status here and will get to do research and
pursue my intellectual curiosity. I still get to train users, which was the best part of my previous career. But also, looking at the next thirty years or so, I just couldn’t see myself doing facilities management into my old age. I’d like to say it was a surprise that so many equipment and facilities issues have surfaced this first month. But I’ve worked in academia for nine years and realize infrastructure problems are a fact of life.

My library has leaks. We have a brick exterior with some old mortar that allows water in during driving rain and a few weeks ago Akron enjoyed a torrential downpour. Leaks appeared over the computers, above some journals, along my window, in the bathroom, and in the halls. From my coworkers, I found this was the worst round of leaks in recent memory. We set up buckets, later called the physical plant, and have some new tiles coming. But the bottom line is that fixing the exterior would be incredibly expensive and they (A mysterious cabal of upper administrators? You got me.) may or may not want to erect a new building. So in the near term, we will have leaks.

At my first staff meeting there was some discussion of the leaks, and my boss asked whether I would have come if I had known about the leaks beforehand. “Yes” I answered, because it didn’t change anything. I used to deal with maintenance issues in my last job — some things can be fixed, some cannot and it’s always about budget. Over the long term, leaks can be patched, mortar tuck-pointed, books replaced, and buckets dumped. But intellectual freedom is not something I could get with a work order.

Onellums’s last FYALE post, short and sweet

When I tried to reflect on my first year of academic librarianship and what I should include as advice for other new librarians in my final post here at ACRLog, platitudes such as “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” kept popping into my head. So I thought I’d start with a short list of the somewhat obvious qualities that I repeatedly found helpful at work: 

1) Maintaining a positive attitude 
2) Persistence 
3) Cooperativeness

Then I thought of some more personal advice I would give (that I learned the hard way):

1) A workplace is a political minefield. Best do your homework before putting your foot in it.
2) It is better to be flexible than cavalier. Youth and energy are not endearing to everyone.
3) Leave your desk to have human conversations every once in a while. Librarians are perhaps more prone to use email and other text-based media, but I cannot count the number of times a solution has been more forthcoming when I approached people directly. 

And because I am writing this during performance review season, here is a sprinkling of self-criticism and future goals:

1) As Susanna mentioned in her last post, I too am realizing that I might not be fit for a lifelong career in public services. I may not have the requisite gift of patience, and I am noticing that the areas of my job I find most enjoyable involve making systems and processes simpler and more efficient. When I moved to New Jersey last August I lacked the confidence to apply for systems librarian jobs, but now I am motivated to learn more programming and pursue work in that direction. 
2) I would like to publish in the professional literature. Publishing informally online is great, but I am going to try and shoot for something more rigorous and official. 
3) I would like to continue to interact and participate with this and other communities of librarians. They (we?) are wonderful. I hope some day I can be as useful to them as they currently are to me.  

Thanks for reading and commenting — I have really enjoyed writing here! If anyone wants to continue to follow my thoughts, I post weekly to my personal blog, the librarian’s commute. And it would be great to meet you in person if you are going to ALA next week!

Explaining Authority (Part 2)

After writing my previous post, our library director brought this report to my attention: “The Changing Nature of Intellectual Authority” by Peter Nicholson, presented at the 148th ARL meeting in Ottawa, Ontario, May 17-19 2006. Apparently I was “scooped” by a good three years, as the ideas in the report are similar enough to my own (albeit worded more eloquently) that I should have been aware of and acknowledged it. Better late than never, right?

One way of thinking about the problem of authority that Nicholson suggests, and which Emily described in my post’s Comments using slightly different terms, is that there are various species of information, with differing niches. For example, when you have a ‘good enough’ mentality, wikipedia is usually fine, but there are other times when you will demand and value peer-reviewed sources.

And so I have begun to think that when librarians teach information literacy, the underlying question to encourage students to ask should be “Why was this information generated?” That can be unclear, so the question becomes “Why COULD this information have been generated?” It is easy to become paranoid when searching for this answer, but I like to think that misinformation is usually caught, and when it is not, it is a source of outrage, or at least newsworthy.

Deliberate propagation of misinformation is greeted with protest rather than resignation, at least in this country. Whether we work in information professions or not, everyone is responsible for paying attention, and because of the abundance of critical minds, we can count on someone to call out untruths, mistakes, biases, and sinister influences.

As Nicholson points out, institutions suffer as a result of a breakdown in rules about authority. I do work for an institution, with all that implies. As I proceed blithely ahead, attempting to teach students information literacy and how to use the traditionally accepted, scholarly resources that the library provides, perhaps I will best serve them if I bear all of the above in mind. I should be pleased if they are skeptical of me and my message. At least, if students stop to consider where information I recommend is coming from, they can take personal responsibility and have a personal stake in the information they choose to rely on.

If I can make all this clear in my library instruction sessions, while still being relevant to the task or assignment at hand, I will consider my job well done.

*     *     *

P.S. The next post will be my last as a First Year Academic Librarian here on ACRLog. Technically this should have been my final post, but the administrators kindly granted me one extra.

Memories, Dreams, Reflections

This has been an interesting first year for me, and certainly not what I expected.  I’ve learned a lot about bureaucracy, and how to make the best of a clunky administrative system.  I’ve learned that what a librarian requests and what the library actually receives can be two vastly different things.  I’ve learned that without a library director to “go to bat” for you, you have to be very persistent to accomplish anything that requires permission or approval. And I’ve learned that working as a one-person-library is stressful, mind-warping, challenging, and tons of fun.

As a library student, I dreamed of helping students with complicated reference questions, and rabbit-trail search quests.  I dreamed of becoming proficient in the myriad databases and technological bits that the library utilizes. Ultimately, though, I dreamed of being a Tech Services librarian and working with collection development and cataloging.  I never dreamed I’d become a computer instructor, assisting students as they struggle with Blackboard or formatting an English paper.  I never dreamed I’d become a printer technician, troubleshooting and solving issues because it’s so hard to get the service guy to come to this campus.  I never dreamed I’d stand in front of a classroom full of bored students and get them (well, at least *some* of them) excited about library resources.  And I certainly never dreamed of doing any kind of presentation at a professional conference.

But upon reflection, some of my best memories from this year are just those things I never dreamed I’d do.  I’m an introvert, and getting in front of a class terrified me.  But it was fun!  I really got a kick out of seeing the “ah-ha moment” in a student’s eyes, as the complicated procedure about sending attachments suddenly becomes crystal clear.  Granted, I still don’t love the bureaucracy, but I’ve learned to worked the system and now I can repair my own books and do my own collection development and make most of the day-to-day decisions that impact everything that goes on in this space.  I get the reference questions and the database questions and the citation questions.  I’ve presented a poster session at the Alabama Library Association conference.  I’ve encouraged some new readers, and found some new authors for my “we love books” crowd.

I think I’d still like to go into tech services, but now that I’ve been an “everything librarian” for a year, I’d have to have a position where I can spend time with students too.  Because I’ve realized that the students are what make the job unexpected, intriguing, frustrating, and completely worthwhile.

So thanks for letting me post here this year as a First Year Blogger – this too has been a great learning experience.  I’ve really enjoyed being a part of the blog, and I know I’ll be back for regular visits to see what hot new topics are being discussed!