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Finishing up a Library Residency: My Final Thoughts

It has been almost three years since I moved to Washington DC for the Resident Librarian position at American University. My contract was for three years and this July, that contract will end. As I am preparing for my next steps, applying to jobs, and going through life changes, I am inclined to reflect on my residency and the residencies I have seen show up in our field over the past three years. Most of it positive, but some that has me left with questions.

Let’s start with the good:

I was the very first Resident Librarian at American University and while the first year was a little unstructured and we were all still learning, I have to say that the past two years have been productive and joyful. Not only is my residency more structured, but I also received so much support for developing as a professional. The support and success I have had has to do with the following:

Professional development funds: Here at AU, we have funds set aside for each librarian, which we can use to attend conferences or other professional development events. With this support, I have been able to present at conferences all over the country (National Diversity in Libraries Conference, ALA Annual, and ACRL NEC 2018) and meet other fellow resident librarians. Presenting and traveling to these conferences are essential, especially to an early career librarian who is looking to meet new professionals and get their name out there.

Peer-mentorship: As I was able to travel to conferences and get involved in the ACRL Residency Interest Group, I was able to network. A whole new world of resident librarianship opened up to me. I am glad and proud to say that I found a supportive, kind, and ambitious community in resident librarians, as well as other early-career librarians.

Formal mentorship: Many of you have heard me rave about my mentorship experience, but I will repeat it once more. At the beginning of my residency, I was paired with my mentor, Nikhat Ghouse. She has been a librarian for about 20 years, is a former resident librarian, and someone who has guided me, trusted in me, and pushed me to fulfill my full potential. Along with my formal mentor, I had others who have guided and advised me throughout my residency. I have learned so much from them and am grateful to have them in my life. They know who they are and without them, I would not have had such a productive time during my residency.

American University colleagues: Last, but not least, I have had amazing colleagues. My colleagues at American University immediately made me feel welcomed and part of the faculty. Throughout these three years, I felt like the administrators put their trust in me, especially when it came to taking on a larger teaching load, interim liaison duties, and participating in service throughout the university. I have heard of so many residents who say they did not receive much support throughout their residencies, so I am grateful to have a great group of librarians and mentors at American University. I try not to think about it, but when I leave in July, I will be sad to leave them. However, I know that they are colleagues for life.

Let’s talk about the…questionable things:

Goals of a residency: Over the past three years, I have spoken to and interacted with people who still do not know what the point of a residency program is. Some seem to have the idea that a residency is a type of internship. I will say that this accounts for very few people I have interacted with. It causes me to think if we as a profession have not done a great job at effectively communicating what a residency is or if the goals and definition of a residency are so vague, that it is hard for some to comprehend.

Rotational Residencies: This might be unpopular, but I am not a fan of rotational residencies. When American University posted their job description for their very first resident librarian, they advertised it as a position that would focus on reference and instruction. They also added in the description that the resident librarian would have the opportunity to work with other departments. While the freedom to explore other departments was appreciated, I knew going in that I wanted to work in public services. I knew that I wanted to improve my teaching and work with first year students. When I voiced these interests, I was able to take on duties that allowed me to work with incoming freshman and first year students.

I personally believe that if an institution is going to have a rotational residency, then they should plan this with the incoming resident librarian. At the very least, allow the incoming resident the freedom to be embedded in one department, but also have opportunities and freedom to work (or not work) with other departments. If a resident prefers one department to another and chooses to work with them, then this is going to make their residency more productive. Let us remember that many of these residencies tend to be two-year terms and that is actually a very short time to get significant experience, so that you’re able to get a job you want after you leave your residency.

Lack of support from an institution: Most, if not all residencies are promoted as positions that will provide you the opportunity to become immersed in academic libraries. These institutions also might promise support in the form of mentorship and professional development opportunities. It is unfortunate that I have spoken to resident librarians that are frustrated in their residency, because they are not getting the support and guidance that they were promised. As an example, I received an email about a year ago from a resident librarian I have known for a couple of years. They had emailed me because they were now in the instruction portion of their residency rotation and had taught their first class. This resident felt like it had not gone well and needed some advice. In their email, they mentioned that they had not received enough training. While I shared my advice on instruction, it was disturbing to me that an institution would let a resident librarian, who did not have much instruction experience go out and teach a class without basic training. Had there not been an observation of how other librarians teach? Was the resident librarian able to co-teach before teaching a class on their own? It is disappointing, but while it is an institutions job to make sure that a resident librarian gets the proper training, the responsibility tends to fall on the resident librarian to keep their institution accountable.

Final Thoughts:

Our field of librarianship puts a lot of emphasis on the recruitment of librarians of color and from underrepresented groups, but once you get a resident librarian at your institution, that institution now bears some of the responsibility of retaining that person. If a resident librarian is not getting the training and experience that was promised and important to their career, then how can we expect them to want to stay in academic librarianship?

All of this brings me to my final point. In the past three years I have been a resident librarian, I have voiced my opinions and concerns, along with many other librarians about some of the issues with residency programs. While there are many in our field who truly care about improving the residency experience, there are some, who are involved in forming these residencies or coordinating residents, that are willing to listen to our residency feedback, but are not willing to address it and take action. When this happens, the issues are ignored, not taken seriously, or scoffed at. This is not helping anyone and I predict that these issues will begin to stack up and affect retention rates of these resident librarians and residency programs.

My last piece of advice would be for resident librarians. If you find yourself in a not-so-great situation at your institute, please know that there are people who are willing to listen to you and support you. Groups such as ACRL Residency Interest Group, We Here, or a long list of former resident librarians. Your experience is important, your concerns are important, and your success is important.

Classroom Woes: What to do when class does not go as planned

As librarians and teachers, there have been times in the classroom where we have encountered testing situations. We have all had our good and not-so-good classes, but for the most part, we come out of those classrooms feeling confident that we showed and taught students the resources that will be most useful to them. We have also interacted with students and faculty of different backgrounds and different personalities.

However, what happens when you walk into a classroom and can immediately sense the tension between the students and professor? The sense of distrust and disrespect that both sides have for each other?

At that moment, what do you do?

  • Assert yourself and take control of the room, because it is obvious that the professor is not going to.
  • This type of control will be different for every librarian, but for me, it is about having a strong tone of voice that you are comfortable in, making sure that all the students feel involved in the conversation, and not letting the side conversations take over.
  • If it’s not in your personality to be strict or harsh, then don’t.
  • Put your frustration aside, because at this moment, it is not productive or useful to anyone.

Some would say that it is the professor’s responsibility to make sure that their class is respectful and attentive. However, when it is clear that it is not the case, the responsibility is on you.

So, what happens after? What do we learn? As someone who was put in this position a short time ago, here is what I did.

  • You cannot blame yourself for the atmosphere. Sometimes librarians get caught in the middle of these bad situations and we cannot do much except do our job.
  • Reflect on the situation. I keep a personal log to reflect on my library instruction sessions. I have found it useful in keeping track of what I have taught and my progress as a teacher.
  • Do not feel pressured into having more library sessions for this professor.

With everything being said, I was glad to have experienced this situation. Even though I was not happy in that moment, it allowed me think quickly on my feet. All my previous teaching experienced allowed me to quickly gauge the situation and prevent it from getting worst. Has anyone else experienced something like this? What was your reaction in the moment?

 

 

 

 

 

Developing a Peer Support Group

There’s been a lot written here on ACRLog about the importance of mentorship, and I echo what many others have said: there is enormous value in learning from and being supporting by experienced librarians. There’s a separate kind of mentorship, one that doesn’t necessarily fall under the traditional mentor-mentee model, that has also been hugely beneficial to me as a first-year librarian: peer support. Quetzalli wrote a few weeks ago about the value of peer-to-peer relationships, and it inspired me to reflect on my own experience as a member of a newly formed Early to Mid-Career Librarian Support Group at my library.  

Last semester, a few of my colleagues at the University of Virginia convened a group for early- to mid-career librarians to share advice, ideas, and support. The group operates autonomously and informally. We meet every few weeks for a discussion, and anyone can contribute to the agenda or propose a project.  Our first meeting was a chance to introduce ourselves and discuss our career trajectory and what we wanted to get out of the group. While some people were looking simply for camaraderie and support, others were looking for more concrete advice on how to do to do things like pursue a research agenda or how to more purposefully develop their career. These early conversations have informed the direction the group has since gone. We’ve surveyed group members about their research interests, invited senior administrators to discuss professional development, and coalesced around some bigger documentation projects that I will discuss below.

While plenty of opportunities for collaboration and support arise naturally throughout the course of my daily work, having a more formalized avenue for this kind of peer support is especially valuable. Because of the size of my organization, there are people I still haven’t met yet, particularly in departments that I don’t work with closely. This group allowed me to connect with people across areas of the library that I wouldn’t normally encounter in the course of my workday. It’s also a great way for me to avoid some of the isolation that I can sometimes experience in a small branch library. Because meetings are kept collegial and informal, I’m able to start building some of the relationships that happen more easily if you see someone in an office every day.

Finally, conversations in this group have led to projects that would be overwhelming undertakings without the support of many people. For example, one of the most consistent themes that came from our early conversations was a desire for more robust documentation, especially among newer employees of the library. As we compared our on-boarding experiences, it became clear that we had all experienced some version of the same thing: not feeling sure how to do something and asking around until being directed to email a certain person or pointed towards documentation somewhere we never would have thought to look. As a group, we decided to pool our collective knowledge and document everything we wish we had known for future new employees. Working together, we compiled information about the University, the Library, digital spaces, physical spaces, money, time, and travel, for future employees to reference during the on-boarding process. The resulting document lists basic information like where to find forms or how to get access to certain pieces of software, but it also explicitly outlines some of the library’s conventions, like when to use which communication tool, that are not immediately obvious to people who are new to the organization.

While this type of documentation is often compiled by supervisors or administrators, it was actually really useful for it to be generated by people so close to the experience of being new, because we were able to remember what we had to figure out on our own. It’s easy to forget how overwhelming it is to be brand new to an organization, and easy to forget all the things we expect people to know without explicitly telling them.  The group dynamic also really helped us flesh out this document, since we all had overlapping but not quite identical lists of things we thought needed to go into it. Whether or not documentation like this already exists at your institution, I think there is value in asking newer employees what they wish had been spelled out for them when they started and sharing it with new hires. Having a pre-formed group that you can consult with will make this process that much easier.

Creating space in your organization for peer support groups can lead to collaborative projects, like this one, that might not have happened without all of us getting together and talking through some of the challenges we’ve experienced as early career librarians. It can also make employees who work in isolation, physical or otherwise, feel less alone, and open up space for us to ask questions and bounce ideas off each that we might not yet feel comfortable discussing with mentors who are more experienced. I imagine it could also be a useful concept to apply at all levels of experience, such as first-time managers or administrators, as they navigate new challenges. Do you have a peer support group, formal or informal, at your institution?

You say you want a resolution…keep going!

Is it too late in January to talk about New Year’s Resolutions? Because, strangely, I don’t recall hearing much from friends or social media feeds about any of it, did you? January seemed to just slip into 2018 unobtrusively.  I investigated news sources citing “New Year’s Resolutions” for a more statistical snapshot, and looky there, a decline indeed!

Maybe all the obvious and tremendous work to be done in the world is too overwhelming. Is there a list even capable of containing it? The very concept of a list — resolution, checklist, done, contained, control – feels inadequate in the face of such chaos. We should learn better that our work here is never done.

In the spirit of one of those new year’s articles, I too am doing away with resolutions, preferring to work where I am with what I’ve got.  What I’ve got is a need for perpetual action.  Revolutions, if you will, marked by a sense of continuity, evolving, moving, growing.  Where what counts is not volume amassed, nor time spent, but meaningful motion.  A way to keep going through the change I wish to see in the world, and through the inevitable blocks that judgement and insecurity so often bring.  While it may frustrate me and bore you to repeatedly use these path-finding, me-centering approaches to problem-solving, repetition plays an important part in my New Year’s revolution.

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In my early library days, when introversion prevailed, I habitually avoided eye contact and small talk. Strangers, acquaintances, colleagues, it didn’t matter.  Better, I thought, just to keep my head down. Sometimes, I’d vary it by looking over at something that [hadn’t] distracted me just then, or up as if trying to remember something I’d [not really] forgotten. Always with a twinge of guilty knowing. For the sake of professional collegiality and my actual desire to make new friends, I gradually chipped away at this habit through repetition.  I still do avoid sometimes, and then I remember to begin again.  One step at a time.  That kind repetition led to other, larger personal growth in my work.  This year’s revolution takes that growth to places and relationships in my life that need work.  The revolution comes by recognizing work-life balance as in motion, arriving, and moving again.

This year both my father and mother experienced serious health events, throwing me way off balance.  This meant gathering siblings, uncomfortable conversations, and a lot of travel.  Just as in work (e.g. meetings, uncomfortable conversations, and conference travel), I’ve struggled to navigate the boundaries of our respective competing needs, expectations, and disappointments.  Moving through this new reality has meant accepting each of my parents where they are (which I’m pretty good at), and also staying regularly connected with them (which I’m not really good at).  When I slow down my thinking of the ends, and go through the process of the means, as I often do at work, I find that I’m actually quite good at connection.  For me, the focus on initiation is what unlocks the door to connection.  When I apply my strengths as an activator with individualization to this more personal context, it allows me to examine my own expectations and ask, “What is enough for me?”  That revelation clears the way for initiating those connections each time, and time again.

There remains a necessary element in this, which is more physical at its core.  This year’s resurgence of two movements, #MeToo and The Body is not an Apology,  have a hand in my thinking on this.   So, too, did seeing my father, once a tall, towering cowboy, confined to the limited view and mobility of a wheel chair.  As my own body grows old, I’m also confronted with physical realities that no longer respond to introverted solutions of my youth.  In fact, those solutions manifest all manner of outward, physical ailments.  No surprise, as New Year’s resolutions go; this requires more moving of my body. My advice for revolutionizing exercise comes down to — you guessed it — initiating.  Finding physical continuity, less in regularity than in ongoing beginnings.  Each time you stop, start again. Initiate more physical connections with friends, family, and colleagues, whether in something as small as a touch of hand in greeting or conversation, to something  as large as a constant, even pestering, persistence to schedule a meal with friends at my actual dinner table (rather than Instagram).

Straight to the soul and thighs with this Sunday #supp

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Bringing this around full circle to my library, its current strategic areas of focus share a need for acts of initiation.  It only just occurs to me, the intention for calling this a strategic focus map (not a strategic plan) carries that revolutionary quality of shifting in and out, adjusting, and constant motion.  Hidden within these focus areas, I see specific calls for my own initiation. While I often talk about better communication, collaboration, and the breaking down of silos in the library, my experience shows individual initiation more powerfully connects people and ideas together.  Initiating these kinds of connections in very real, physical space and time serves not only this strategic work, but creates relationships of trust, well being, and workplaces that continue growing.

 

From Mentor to Mentee: Navigating Peer-to-Peer Relationships

As I am writing this blog, I am sitting in my bedroom. It’s an odd combination of the hot air coming from the vents, but the freezing air coming from the window. Like everyone and their grandmas, the pipes at our house have frozen a couple times this week. Living in DC, we don’t experience much single digit weather, but we make do. As I have been wallowing in self pity of my household woes, I caught up with a friend who is currently in her last semester of library school and applying to jobs. 

However, this blog is not about the job hunt, it’s about informal peer-to-peer mentorship. While there are many formal programs, relationships, or structures to this type of mentorship, a lot of us “fall” into it. When I got my first job at American University, this particular friend was thinking about going to library school and I found myself being giving her the information and mentorship that I wish I had gotten before starting library school.

Almost two years have passed since my friend entered library school and our friendship has evolved in many ways. While we are experiencing different phases of our lives, our conversations changed from the topic of library school and recommended classes, to the very first job search and the stress and anxiety that comes with that.

In the midst of sharing my own interview tips, I was caught by surprise. I noticed that the roles had flipped. She was now mentoring and giving her assurance to me. Seeing as how I am geographically bound on my current job search, she was sending me job posts and assuring me that the job market would pick up. She was telling me that everything was going to be alright. 

This type of informal peer-to-peer mentorship relationship is important because it helps the next generation of librarians, but also because of the shared experiences the two of you might encounter and share, both positive and negative. Peer-to-peer mentorship relationships are an integral part of your growth as a librarian.

Anyone can share their experiences in library land, their journey through that first job hunt, or any other helpful information. However, there are some topics that may be a little hard to discuss and share with just anyone. 

I believe that the foundation of a good mentorship relationship of any kind is trust, empathy, and respect. It takes these three things to be able to talk openly about some difficult topics in librarianship. Topics such as being the very few women of color at your workplace, microaggressions, unspoken rules of interviewing for a job, or navigating difficult relationships.

Having these conversations allows for reflection, discussion, and action. The great thing about this relationship is that you’re able to see the growth of the other person, both personally and professionally. It’s almost as if you’ve grown up together and become adults. I encourage everyone to cherish these relationships because your education as a librarian is never over. The best teachers are the ones closest to you.