Professional Jurisdiction

One of the many things I love about my position is that I’m one of only 3 librarians.  This means I have a fairly liberal allowance for things I can get away with, professionally speaking.  If I want to create my own outreach events, my boss invariably says “Go for it!”  If I want to create video tutorials to teach students how to retrieve full-text articles from our databases, the idea is met with “How soon can you make it happen?”  In other words, I’m not bound by the same position-specific job roles other librarians in large institutions may have.  I’m the outreach, reference, systems, emerging technologies, and instruction librarian all at once.

One of the challenges of this position, though, is navigating my professional jurisdiction.  My institution is very small (less than 1000 enrolled students) but we pride ourselves on spectacular support services.  We have Master’s-degreed writing and math tutors whose schedules are always full; we librarians spend most of our days meeting one-on-one with students for research consultations or conducting information literacy workshops.  But every so often, we’ll be presented with a unique student need and not know who to defer it to.  Unlike most of my first year librarian counterparts, I typically interact with students much older than myself: the average age of a student at my university is 38.  This means that some of our students are behind the technological curve and need some help catching up with basic computer skills. Is this the job of the academic librarian?

Public, and likely community college, libraries offer several classes a month in basic computer literacy skills.  They offer courses on setting up Email, Internet 101, and basic office software.   In addition to teaching these necessary computer basics, the courses might also cover more “high concept” topics like internet privacy and the politics of the publishing industry.  Typically, though, academic libraries do not offer these types of courses; maybe because the average college student is a digital native, or maybe because the university is in a city with a robust public library where the librarians can refer students with this need.  So when I began noticing a real need for technology support I couldn’t find many academic libraries to use for models.  For some reason, computer literacy workshops just don’t seem to fit in the library’s purview.

The library as a concept and place is in flux.  The needs of our students, the format of our collections, and the media through which we interact with the campus are all changing.  This means that as librarians, we’re always challenged to say one step ahead: to try to figure out how to best utilize our limited budgets and resources to meet the needs of visitors, students, faculty, and colleagues.  In this case of my campus, maybe this means taking on some of the more basic computer training.  Did I get my Master’s to teach classes in Microsoft Word?  No, not really.  But I did get my Master’s to facilitate a love of auto didacticism and self-sufficiency and life-long learning in my community.   However, I don’t want to lose the value of libraries by being a “one-stop-shop” or step on other campus department’s toes.  The question that remains on my mind is, given the changing demographics and needs of campus communities, where do library services begin and end?

Has your library faced a similar challenge?  How do you navigate where the library’s professional jurisdiction begins and ends?  Leave a comment or respond via Twitter, @beccakatharine.

The Unexpected Benefits of a Varied Life

This post originally was about using my liberal arts social science background as a physical science librarian. But a comment from “Bob” on my last post got to me when he mentioned some “dead ends” in his background. So here’s a roundup of ways I’ve tapped by wealth of experience to perhaps demonstrate the use of dead ends.

1) The history degree

My first tour of duty in academia was as a history major at a small liberal arts college and I wrote my thesis on Japanese militarism in China. Forward 18 years, I was asked to find an old Japanese patent that just didn’t come up in the Japanese Patent Database. But via a lovely non-linear insight, it struck me that there should be a year at the beginning of the patent application and it quickly clicked that the patent used the imperial calendar. The patent was retrieved quickly and the speed was due to this degree.

Also, I had a request for articles on Greek cultural life in America. Akron’s nursing program requires students to investigate an ethnic community and social sciences literature remains unfamiliar to most of the students. Although not as smooth as an actual specialist librarian, I at least knew to recommend an anthropology database and we found something a bit quicker than if I had not taken a few anthro classes.

2) Used Book Buying

For about five years. I worked as a book buyer at Powell’s Books and during that time purchased and priced around a million. From this job I was able to tell a coworker how to unslant a book’s spine and how to get out mildew smell. One of my liaison departments had a very nice book set donated to them and wanted an appraisal to decide if it was worth dealing with the administrative red tape to sell it (being useful is essential for liaison work).  Finally, dealing with customers at bookstore information shifts was solid preparation for reference shifts.

3) Janitorial

I can change toilet paper rolls like a champ.

4) Lab Work

My job as a research technician and lab manager has allowed me to talk shop with some of the students (giving advice on how to plate bacterial transforms is something of an eyebrow-raiser at the reference desk). Understanding lab group social structure and communication dynamics developed an understanding of the pressures facing my various user communities. Running a facility gave me experience in spending, budgeting and dealing with vendors. Also, being a former equipment manager certainly helps when the printers get jammed.

There’s more, but librarianship requires and rewards a broad skill set and may offer a chance to resurrect some of those career dead ends. That said, I’m not sad that my years of restaurant experience have lain dormant … oh, wait … I volunteered to help plan the holiday party.

But what about you? Please share your stories of unexpected value from allegedly unrelated fields, I’m really curious.

Conference Highlights

A few weeks ago I attended the 2012 Library Assessment Conference in Charlottesville, VA. In addition to being a great opportunity to learn more about a huge variety of library assessment activities, LAC12 was also my first experience at a professional library conference.

After three straight days of listening to paper and plenary sessions, perusing posters, and chatting with librarians from around the country, I am just now digesting and synthesizing everything I learned. In addition to the many projects I would like to consider adapting to my library, there were several themes that resonated to me as a new academic librarian.

Try Saying “Yes.” Originally, LAC12 wasn’t even on my radar.  But due to some unexpected staff change-over just a few weeks before the conference, I was asked to attend. Although there were some stressful last-minute travel arrangements, planning for time away from work, and a poster-presentation to get up to speed on, (oh and, as it turned out, Hurricane Sandy to prep for), I decided to say “Yes.” And I’m glad I did. It turned out I learned a lot not only about library assessment activities, but also about being flexible, taking chances, and exploring deeper domains without hesitating to ask questions. While we’re all operating with a limited amount of time and attention, I think in the transition to a new career it’s particularly important not to cut oneself off from unexpected opportunities.

Own the Change. John Lombardi gave an interesting keynote about the transition to the “library cloud” in which he told us to “own the change.” Not only is it important for us to “own” the future of librarianship, but it’s also crucial to remember during any transition, personal or professional. When I started my new job, other librarians advised that it could take 6 months to a year for me to consistently feel like I know what I’m doing on a day-to-day basis. One thing I’ve found to help with the transition from student to professional is simply to “own the change.” I feel lucky to be in a profession and a position that, to a large extent, allows me to shape my future and follow my interests. Finding the edges of my job, exploring my new city and, as one of my fellow FYALE bloggers mentioned, trying to figure out what to do with my new-found spare time are all opportunities to take ownership over the student-to-professional transition.

Collaboration is Key. One comment I received on my previous post is that collaboration is not limited to working with library colleagues, but should also extend to colleagues across campus. While this has been stressed during new faculty sessions on campus and in my work building relationships with faculty in my instruction and subject liaison areas, it also came up over and over again during presentations at LAC12. In each session I attended, at least one presenter mentioned collaborating with someone outside of the library. Have an instruction theory or technique you want to test? Find a faculty member who is interested in shaking up their instruction or classroom activities. Not sure the best way to design your study or run those pesky statistical tests? Contact your computer science, mathematics, social science, etc. department to seek advice and potentially find collaborators. Equally important to remember – collaboration can be key in seeking grant funding. As a new librarian, I’ve found it’s extremely easy to stay busy and never leave the library. This conference helped remind me that forging relationships outside of the library is an important part of my daily job.

Finally, after chatting with my colleagues a bit after the conference, it was clear that we all identified slightly different important “take-aways.” And so I’m curious –  have you recently attended a conference? What were your big take-aways, professional and personal?

The Transition

Please welcome our new First Year Academic Librarian Experience blogger Rebecca Halpern, Reference and Instruction Librarian at Antioch University Los Angeles.

I very recently began my position as a reference and instruction librarian (though all opinions herein are entirely my own). Our library is teeny-tiny and I’m part of only a two-person librarian team. The position brings a lot of challenges and opportunities which I’m looking forward to sharing here, but lately I’ve struggled with something unique to being a first year librarian, something no one had really prepared me for, something that should have been obvious: not being a student any longer.

Like a lot of my colleagues, I really enjoyed school. I loathed snow days, felt cheated when my teachers showed movies, and always finished my homework early. Is nerd the right word to describe me? I think I prefer academically-minded. I went straight to the University of Michigan after high school and took only a year off between undergrad and enrolling in my MSIS program at the University of Texas. For the past 25 years, I’ve identified as a student and had come to really appreciate the lifestyle studenthood brought. Like many of my classmates, I worked, had internships, presented at conferences, and took a full class load. My weekends were hardly restful; indeed, I used weekends to catch up on projects and pick up work hours. I often went weeks at a time without having a “day off.” Crazy as it may seem in hindsight, I liked being extraordinarily busy, filling my free time with homework and volunteering and internships.

Though I’m sure my boyfriend and family appreciate that I now have a regular 5-day schedule, I’m finding it difficult to feel fulfilled with my weekends. Two-plus decades of being a full-time student kind of interfered with my development of non-academic hobbies. I find myself pacing around my apartment at times, not sure what to do with myself. Sure, I like to read and exercise with my dog and spend time with loved ones, but no longer living my life at a breakneck pace feels kind of…dull. I’m still looking for ways to fill my time that feel as satisfying as finishing off a collaborative school project. Transitioning out of student life has meant, for me, that I get to explore new interests and develop new skills. But in the meantime, that transition has been slow, frustrating–and dare I say–scary.

It seems kind of silly to complain about free time, doesn’t it? When I thought about joining the FYALE blogging team, I was excited to start writing for a blog again. And the first year of any job, let alone an academic librarian job, is sure to bring a certain amount of adventure. Blogging creates communities and professional communities are very important to me. But for this first post, I wanted to go off-the-beaten track just a bit and remind myself (and all of you) that we have lives outside of our professional roles–and indeed, part of being a first year librarian is finessing how to balance our professional selves with the rest of us. We all had to balance the professional and the personal in grad school to be sure, but at least for me, I found those two worlds to be blissfully intertwined. Now that I have non-librarian friends who want to do non-library school activities, that balance is a bit harder to achieve.

What has been the biggest surprise for you since leaving grad school and joining the professional world? How have you handled your own transition? Share your story with me in comments or on Twitter, @beccakatharine.

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?

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