In search of community

I’ve always felt a strong sense of professional community as a librarian. I had a close local cohort of friends in my distance MLIS program, a fantastic group of ALA Spectrum Scholars who helped me feel accepted and included, and great colleagues. I’ve been lucky to have worked at institutions that invest in the professional development of their librarians (especially early-career folks) and therefore have been able to attend conferences, leadership institutes, and other learning experiences. I joined the social media platform formerly known as Twitter in 2008 and shared thoughts there and via my personal blog, connecting with librarians across the country on everything from critical information literacy to elder millennial jams.

Then the pandemic hit. We still had all the finest web-based apps needed to maintain our ability to work, but something about connecting online didn’t feel right anymore. It was simultaneously too much and not enough. I missed grabbing dinner with friends, going to yoga class in person, and visiting family (among all of the comforts of having a “normal” day-to-day life). The isolation was crushing. All of the fledgling communities I had started to build in a new city crumbled and the long standing professional community in LIS was struggling. We all trickled back into our “normal” routines eventually, but things were markedly different. We were different, and the communities that sustained us throughout the years of isolation were not necessarily the same ones we relied on pre-pandemic.

I finally left what was then still Twitter in 2023, as did many of my colleagues and friends. I’ve struggled to feel motivated enough to attend conferences and professional activities in person given the number of free or low-cost online offerings (book a flight and wait to be reimbursed? in this economy?). But I do miss being able to catch up with colleagues at other institutions in person. I miss the serendipitous collaborations that sprung for venting sessions over coffee or lunch after a thought-provoking presentation. I miss getting to know people outside of their identities as librarians. I don’t know where the librarians are online anymore, but I know that I miss them! Occasionally we see one another in professional service organization meetings, private-chatting each other via Zoom, but of course, it’s not quite the same.

I am very curious to discover what community looks like now for folks in LIS, especially early-career folks. I will admit that moving into a management position and recognizing that I’ve been in libraries for 17 years(!!!!) have also contributed to a shift in community for me, but it hasn’t changed the fact that I need a community. I think we all do. We all want to feel understood and valued in our profession. So what does librarian community look like now, and what can we make it?

Navigating an Uncharted Path in Liaison Librarianship

Towards the end of fall 2023, the STEM Librarian stepped down from her position at CSU Northridge. Throughout her tenure, she covered liaison duties that spanned across many Science and Engineering departments. I heard about this news during a monthly department meeting. Our department chair requested support and asked us to reach out if interested in taking over the STEM liaison roles. Despite the fact that I have an academic background in the Humanities and Social Sciences, I recognized the urgency of the situation and offered my support. In the spirit of camaraderie, I contacted my chair and volunteered to help. Soon after, I was assigned to be the liaison for the single department of Chemistry & Biochemistry, which includes library instruction and collection development responsibilities.

When I started at CSU Northridge, I was initially assigned to be the Central American & Transborder Studies liaison. Due to my background in Ethnic Studies, particularly Chicana/o Studies and Latina/o Studies, I felt quite comfortable with this assignment. I felt at home as I taught information literacy sessions, facilitated research consultations, and performed my bibliographer duties for the department of Central American & Transborder Studies. It wasn’t until I became the liaison to Chemistry & Biochemistry that I began to feel like I was navigating an uncharted path.

Recently, I had to select publications to update the collection for Chemistry & Biochemistry. Since it was my first time performing my collection development duties for this department, I was out of my depth. As a liaison librarian, I must meet 3 important collection development deadlines throughout the academic school year. Just over a week ago, I met the second deadline and I spent 75% of all available funds. To be frank, this was easier said than done for an early career librarian without a STEM background. For more support, I reached out to several librarians in the Collection Access and Management Services (CAMS) department. Although I was already diving into book reviews and book spotlights offered by professional associations, I realized that I needed more guidance. As a result of my colleagues’ mentorship, I learned about ALMA analytics and I discovered how to search for slips in Gobi. These lessons allowed me to finalize my selections for Chemistry & Biochemistry.

As for library instruction, the fall semester will start tomorrow, so I have not taught any information literary sessions for Chemistry & Biochemistry. However, I already received 3 instruction requests from a professor teaching CHEM 464L – Principles of Biochemistry. To prepare, I have been exploring the already established CHEM 464L LibGuide. So far, I have set my focus on current topics and the American Chemical Society (ACS) citation style. Additionally, I intend to contact the former Science and Engineering Librarian with the hopes that she will be open to sharing her Google Slides, instructional handouts, and/or other resources. My intention is to learn as much as possible to help students locate the proper library resources. While I recognize that I have immersed myself into a completely different academic discipline, I am reassured by own professional experience, particularly my 10-year trajectory as an educator.  I am learning to trust the process, so that I may rely on my own skillset, which includes teaching topics like keyword selection, information evaluation, citation practices, and database search mechanics.

As I wrap up this blog post, I would like to encourage other liaison librarians to please reach out if you’ve had a similar experience. What were some of your approaches? How did you become familiarized with your new role? I would definitely appreciate guidance as I continue to dive into science liaison librarianship.

Your Invisible Board of Directors: Support Networks in Academic Librarianship

Someone much more perceptive and experienced than I once told me to imagine I have an invisible board of directors in my life and career. There are people sitting at your table who have profound effect on your professional and personal life. These are people who offer you support, guidance, advice, perspective, empathy. They may not know they have such a meaningful relationship for you (but they probably do). Think about who is sitting at your table, whether they know they are or not. 

My knowledge of board of directors doesn’t go much further than the many boardroom scenes I’ve seen in Succession [warning: strong language from Logan Roy]. I do know a board of directors sets strategies, develops goals, and advises on the overall vision of the company (the company – in this metaphor – is you!). 

I’m a big advocate of mentorship, whether formally or informally. I believe that professional (and personal) support networks are one of the fundamental pieces to a rewarding life and career. Mentors help with so much: all aspects of job searching, how promotion or tenure work at your institution, understanding work culture, what professional development opportunities to take on, someone to provide perspective on issues you’re struggling with – the list is endless. I’m lucky enough to have a wonderfully supportive mentor at the U of Manitoba, who shares insightful perspective, incisive advice, and endless encouragement.  

Think about seeking out support networks that are available – through your institution or library associations, but also know opportunities will present themselves, whether formally or informally. The whole idea is you build a support network, based on connection and relationship with others, whether that’s others you work with or near. Maybe it includes your colleagues, your supervisor, someone in library administration, someone at a different institution, someone you went to school with, or someone in a different city altogether that you’ve met and gotten to know. 

I recently read an interesting article that identified six types of mentors: personal guide, personal advisor, full-service mentor, career advisor, career guide, and role model. Some guides, advisors, or mentors may offer more professional support, some more psychosocial support, and some a mix of both. Some may be short-term, long-term, or span the length of your entire career. 

I’ve found that your directors may change and that’s okay. As you move throughout your career, you will have different people that are meaningful to you. In the American Psychological Association’s Introduction to Mentoring, the authors note it is common to have multiple guides and advisors over the course of your career, able to address different needs depending on your stage of career or individual needs, and in effect, creating a developmental network. Different people can address different aspects of your professional life. I find mentors promote a sense of meaning in your work, give direction to areas where you’re otherwise directionless, and use their experience to inform your own. 

I’ve written in the past about the power of connection and I strongly encourage you to seek support from colleagues or to take on opportunities for mentorship that you find. Whether you find the board of directors metaphor useful or not, give some thought to who is at the table of your personal board of directors, and let’s just hope – for your sake – there are no boardroom coups or hostile takeovers.

Mentoring Musing

We are still in the winter intersession at the college where I work, and I’m trying to use some of these quieter January days to work on projects that take a bit more focus (though I admit that focus is definitely a challenge right now with so much Covid uncertainty). I’m working with several colleagues across my university on plans for a pilot mentoring initiative, which has got me reading about and thinking about mentoring in all its forms — formal and informal, peer and nonpeer, the roles of mentor and mentee — more than usual.

When I first started at the college where I work almost 14 (!) years ago as Head of Instruction, there was a formal mentoring program for new faculty in the Library and other departments. I participated in that during my first year — I was paired for a few lunches and meetings with a tenured faculty member in another department, and it was useful to learn from her perspectives on the college. While the college no longer has the same formal mentoring program, a new faculty orientation program has been developed that I think meets many of the same mentoring goals. Faculty in the Library and other departments move through a daylong orientation in late summer, and come back together for several additional meetings with more experienced faculty throughout their first year. This programming helps new faculty learn more about the expectations for their work, including service and scholarship, and also helps build a cohort of faculty from different departments in the college, which I think is especially valuable for Library faculty.

In my own work in the Library as a supervisor, mentoring is a huge component of my job and something that I really enjoy. We don’t have a formal mentoring program in the library, in part because there are many folx in our library who are a department of one, and it’s proven more useful for librarians in those roles to connect with colleagues at the other libraries in our consortial university who do similar work. My colleagues and I all engage in informal peer mentoring — I’ve written a bit in the past on the ways we try to support library faculty research and scholarship — and we discuss service opportunities (and challenges) both formally during my meetings with colleagues and informally in department meetings or otherwise. I try to plan a meeting at least once a year to check in and see where folx are at in their mentoring wants and needs, and to talk about changes we might make to help meet them.

As I draft these plans for the pilot mentoring initiative I’ve also been paying more attention to myself as a mentee or potential mentee. At this point in my career there seems to be lots of overlap between mentoring and networking (maybe that Venn diagram is trending toward a circle?). I have definitely appreciated colleagues in leadership roles who’ve discussed their and my careers with me, discussions that do have a mentoring feel to them. And while I admit that Twitter’s been more challenging than usual for me recently (see above re: Covid uncertainty), as a longtime Twitter user I’m so appreciative of Library Twitter which I think can also allow for informal mentoring (and mentee-ing). I try to be available on Twitter in that way, especially when jobs are posted at my college or university.

I’m excited about the pilot mentoring program my colleagues and I are planning, and am looking forward to moving it forward this semester. Have you had good (or even not so good) experiences as a mentor or mentee? We’d love to hear about them in the comments.

We Have Already Made It

I’ve spent the last few weeks of what has been an unusually hectic start to the semester thinking lots about Emily’s post from last month, Breaking the “Fake It” Habit. If you haven’t read it yet, I recommend that you head on over and do, I can wait. Emily writes about fear of not knowing at work, especially topics or workflows that it seems like everyone else knows, and feeling the pressure to present ourselves as knowledgeable and competent (imposter syndrome, for example).

Emily’s terrific post hit home for me, and I’m planning to share it with all of my colleagues in the library where I work. As the director I strive to create an environment where all library workers in all of our various titles and full-time/part-time status can feel comfortable asking questions, making mistakes, learning and adding to our skill sets. I also struggle with the embarrassment that I’ve felt and feel when I make mistakes, am asked a question I don’t know the answer to, or realize that others around me seem to know something that I don’t. In my best moments I can stall for a bit of composure-regaining time with that classic reference interview opener, “that’s a good question!” But not-knowing is hard: it can make us feel exposed and unworthy, which is an uncomfortable place to be.

In trying to build a habit of being gentle with myself when I’m in that uncomfortable space, I’ve found it helpful to remember that our patrons likely have these same experiences. When we don’t know something we are just like our students, when they come to the library for the first time and aren’t sure how to find what they need. Or our faculty colleagues, who may be newly-hired with prior experience at very different institutions from our own, or who are so busy with their work that they haven’t been able to keep up with announcements about library resources and services.

The university system my college is part of is in the midst of our library services platform migration this year, which, while stressful in many ways, could give all of us the opportunity to build stamina around not-knowing. The system will be new to all of us and used by all of us, from the folx hired just this year to those with 30+ years under their belts, for public services and technical services and everything else our small but mighty library does. No one knows everything, and there are always opportunities for learning in library work. With the migration here I’m hoping we can all — myself included — ask questions when we need to learn more, ask for help when we need it, and be gentle with ourselves, our colleagues, and our patrons.

Emily concludes her post by discussing a new opportunity she’s taking on at her library, and vowing to ask questions and stand in the uncomfortable space of not-knowing. I’m drawing inspiration from her, pushing back on “fake it til you make it,” and reminding myself that we have already made it, because asking questions is part of the job.