(Academic) Library of Things

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I get really excited when I see an article about “The Most Interesting Things You Didn’t Know You Could Check Out at Your Library,” or some similarly clickbaity title. It’s a sure way to get me to click on a link, if I’m being honest; Libraries of Things fascinate me. But these articles are always about public libraries.

Not that I mind terribly; I’m an avid user of public libraries, too. I just wish more academic libraries were hopping aboard this particular bandwagon.

That’s not to say that there are no academic libraries circulating anything “unusual” or interesting. At my library, we circulate headphones, four kinds of chargers, a compact video camera, packs of dry erase markers for our study room walls, board games, and bone boxes (I should take this opportunity to remind you that I’m at the College of Medicine, so that isn’t quite as weird as it sounds). Some of these things are fairly standard; many libraries circulate headphones, for example. There probably aren’t as many with banker’s boxes of numbered bones on the shelves, but I highly doubt we’re the only ones. Many college and university libraries circulate iPads, laptops, or Chromebooks, or audiovisual equipment (though sometimes this falls under the umbrella of an IT department or elsewhere).

The reasoning behind the Weird Things Your Library Circulates (or, more formally, the Library of Things) is to provide access to something that library users would not otherwise have access to… like we already do with books and DVDs and articles, but with physical objects. The “Things” in “Library of Things” are often a piece of technology (like video game consoles or telescopes) or a luxury that would be prohibitively expensive for a user to buy outright (like sporting equipment, museum passes, and musical instruments) or an item that is intended for infrequent or one-time use, and therefore not worth the money for an individual user to buy (like specialty cake pans, Santa suits, or prom dresses). With the popularity of living minimally and the KonMari method, the last thing most people – even the ones who can afford these items – want is a large, infrequently-used, expensive item taking up valuable real estate in their living room. Some of the more specialized “weird” collections include seed libraries (check out seeds, grow the plant, and bring back new seeds), art lending libraries (borrow wall art to hang up at home for the duration of the checkout period), and human or living libraries (borrow a person and have a conversation or hear their stories).

Some of the “unusual” things public libraries circulate would not make much sense in most academic libraries: American Girl dolls, for example, would likely not have a high circulation rate at your average university. Snow shovels and tools might not be as popular among a population of students living in dorms who don’t have to do their own maintenance work. But this brings me to two points: One, some of the things they circulate would likely be popular at the right college or university. (Video game consoles and board games immediately come to mind, but kitchen appliances where dorms have kitchenettes, musical instruments, and sports/recreation equipment or passes appropriate to the local area would also all have piqued my interest as a student, personally.) And two, we don’t have to circulate the same “unusual” stuff as public libraries (though, honestly, it’s getting hard to think of something they haven’t tried already).

So why don’t more college and university libraries circulate “unusual” items? I can’t answer for everyone, but I have some guesses. One big one (that seems to be behind the answers to most “why don’t we…?” questions) is probably budget. It might be hard to explain to students and faculty why they can check out a ukulele and a Rothko print for their wall when we don’t provide access to their very expensive math textbook, or a full classroom set of The Tempest. Another reason I find pretty likely is that most colleges and universities have other spaces that are intended to fill these kinds of roles for students: Student centers might have game rooms, event spaces, and clubs that can provide leisure activity items, the music department often provides lender instruments for their students, and the gym has exercise and recreation equipment, so for the library to do something similar might seem redundant or out of place. The student center at my previous institution loaned out board games to students, so if the library had started to loan out board games, it might have been confusing or unnecessary.

What does your library loan out that isn’t your run-of-the-mill library holdings? How do you feel about it? What do you wish your library loaned out (either for selfish reasons, or in the interest of your students)?

Supporting the other side

So far in my research career, I’ve put a lot of stock, energy, and passion around the benefits of hiring and supporting student employment in the library. It’s the topic that gets me most fired up at conferences, the thing I’ll tweet about until I can’t tweet anymore, and one part of my job that I keep coming back to, regardless of my job title. I believe in the potential of undergraduate employees to be crucial part of the library. I believe that if you set the bar high, undergraduates will rise to the occasion. But recently, I’ve realized that in that belief, I had forgotten about the other side: the role of the supervisor.

A few months ago, I worked with a colleague to put together a landscape survey around student employment in our libraries. The goal was to discover who in the library was supervising students and if we could find areas of synergy. We asked questions around hiring, on-boarding, continual training, and barriers to success. As we reviewed the answers, the one I remember the most clearly mentioned that as a supervisor, they felt unprepared because the rules and policies around hiring, training, and supporting student employees were unclear. It’s one of those things they never give you a manual for, you’re just suppose to know. And of course, any manual that might exist is in pieces, scattered throughout HR websites, the library’s intranet pages, and library legends told to you by your colleagues. This stuff isn’t clear or transparent and often requires lots of time to figure out. This was the first moment where I thought, “Okay, building a program is more than just for the students. The supervisors also are an audience to consider.”

Recently, I’ve been reminded of this fact when I was leading an informational session on our internship program. In the session, as we talked about the components of the program, including a new community of practice group I’m building, one participant asked, “Will the supervisors also meet regularly, just like the students?”

After a small beat, I nodded. “Of course.” I was reminded of the survey and once again reminded of my own assumptions around supervision. In reflecting on that situation, I think I assume that people who had studente employees for a long time just knew how to do in a meaningful way. But it’s becoming more clear that just because you have student employees, doesn’t mean that you know everything or feel supported.

And upon even further reflection, I realized that since I started trying to create some program structures for our interns, I’ve done my share of complaining about how I never hear from some interns and that I can’t seem to get through to some of their supervisors. I often chalk it up to structural issues, or a desire for an official announcement to the library about my role with our interns. However, the more I think about this angle, the more I realize part of the problem is that while I logically understand having an intern takes a ton of time and energy, I’m not valuing that idea in practice. I’m not recognizing or finding ways to support my colleagues who do this work. In other aspects of my job, I talk about how I am there to support my colleagues who do student engagement, and this also applies to student employees and their supervisors. This support can happens in many ways — from having intern community of practice meetings to getting the supervisors together to let them know they’re not alone in this. I’m a coordinator and that means both for students and for my colleagues.

For every program that we create to support our student employees, we are also responsible for creating the necessary structures and support for our supervisors. If we want unified programs, complimentary training modules, and a shared vision for student employment in the libraries, we have to create the network for our supervisors. This lines up so nicely with George Kuh’s definition of student engagement, where institutions must be willing to provides the resources and support for these opportunities. If we want meaningful internships or purposeful part-time employment, we have to be willing to provide the support (through professional development, regular meetings, and honest conversations) to our supervisors. Neither the students nor supervisors can do this work alone and both groups need to feel supported in this endeavor.

So where do I go from here? I’m trying to be more intentional and start thinking of how I can help build those structures in my role. I’ve started using the word “support” in talking to supervisors about my role with our interns. I’ll probably add monthly intern supervisor meetings to my calendar this fall, and start to note down obstacles that this group might face (and how we can problem solve together). As the moderator for both groups (students and supervisors), I’m in the best position to provide feedback to either group and translate each other’s needs to one another.  

At your library, how do you (or others) support the supervisors who oversee your student employees? Do supervisors meet on a regular basis? Are they given chances for professional development or ways to gain new supervisory skills? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter!

Scholarship, Service and Scholarly Growth as a First Year Academic Librarian

ACRLog welcomes a guest post from Megan Donnelly, Adjunct Research Librarian at the Millersville University of Pennsylvania.

I am an Adjunct Research Librarian at the Millersville University of Pennsylvania’s Francine G. McNairy Library and Learning Forum, where I have worked for the past year. My role is public services focused. I teach information literacy instruction, conduct outreach and provide research assistance. Scholarship, service and scholarly growth are also explicit requirements of my job, clearly stated responsibilities in my job description, because librarians are tenure-track faculty at my institution. Librarians here have the ability to gain tenure, like professors in the academic disciplines do. As an adjunct faculty member, I do not have the ability to gain tenure because my position is temporary. However, I am still required to engage in scholarship, service and scholarly growth but without the parameters and end goal of tenure.

At my institution, activities that fall under the category for scholarship are researching, publishing, presenting and continuing education. Service encompasses service to the library and the university. This takes the form of service to committees, boards and community organizations. Scholarly growth is fulfilled by staying up to date in the profession via professional development and service to outside professional organizations. I understand that criteria and activities for tenure can differ at each institution.

A large learning curve for me as a first year academic librarian was how librarians are classified in the academy and how scholarship, service and scholarly growth apply to these classifications. In my last quarter of graduate school I started applying for professional positions. I observed phrases in faculty librarian job postings such as, “Record of professional scholarship and service,” “Evidence of a professional record,” and “Willingness to stay up-to-date and improve skills.” I had an idea of what these criteria meant but it wasn’t until I was hired as adjunct faculty at my institution that I understood the role they play in the tenure and promotion process, the many benefits they offer, and the implications they have on my personal life.

As an entry level academic librarian, without prior professional academic experience, my first stab at scholarship has proven to be both a complicated and valuable learning experience. Although scholarship is a requirement of my job, I am given a very small annual professional development fund. This implies that I need to apply for grants to fund my professional development such as faculty grants and grants from outside organizations. This past Fall 2018 semester, I gave my first presentation at the Florida ACRL Annual 2018 Conference, in Fort Myers, Florida. This required a flight from PA to Florida, putting me well over my small annual professional development fund. Thus, I was introduced to the grant application process. Faculty grants at my institution are internal grants from the university used to support research, publications, travel to present, special academic activities, and released time. Attempting to secure funding this way was difficult to grapple with at first, on top of the stress of my first presentation, but it grew to be an incredibly beneficial experience. I can now say that I know how to apply for a grant and I can list the grants I have been awarded on my CV to aid me in securing a permanent position in the future.

My institution also has a flat hierarchy, so this also gave me opportunities to communicate with my colleagues to ask for advice. I learned quite a bit from each of them, not only about the procedure for faculty grant application at our institution, but also about their experiences with grants at their previous institutions. Communicating with my colleagues to learn more about scholarship was critical to my success, and collaborating with two of my colleagues on my first presentation really helped me learn the ropes.

I fulfill the service requirement of my position primarily by serving on library, as well as university wide, committees. My position is designed to give entry-level librarians professional experience so they are able to secure a permanent position in the future. It is also designed to allow entry-level librarians to make informed decisions regarding which areas and types of positions in the field they would like to pursue. I have the opportunity to choose which library committees I would like to serve on to gain experience, and am a member of: the Teaching and Learning Committee, Information Literacy Assessment Committee, Communication and Connection Team, Digital Assets Committee, Collection Development Committee, and the Research Fellows Committee. I am also a member of the university wide Open Education Resources Working Group and the Made in Millersville Conference Planning Committee. Service has taught me what it means to collaborate with others at a professional level, what I consider to be the single most valuable skill for academic librarians. It has also taught me how to communicate effectively. Service provides an outline of the work that I do so I am able to organize my skill set into comprehensive categories and better communicate my capabilities to future employers. I strongly recommend that first year academic librarians consider participating in service opportunities.

Scholarly growth has proven to be the most inspiring of the three requirements I have discussed in this post. I fulfill my responsibilities to scholarly growth by serving on the board of ACRL Delaware Valley Chapter as blog editor, as well as attending conferences, programs, workshops, webinars and internal professional development opportunities. These experiences have provided me with access to innovative practices in librarianship that I can use to grow as a professional and contribute to the advancement of my library and institution. They have also provided me with essential networking skills and opportunities. Serving on the board of ACRL DVC has really opened this door for me. Since my position is temporary, networking in this way has given me access to news of vacancies at my colleagues’ institutions as soon as they are posted, if not before. It has opened my eyes to what types of positions I will feel most fulfilled serving in, as well as what these positions may look like at other institutions.

Scholarship, service and scholarly growth have taken their toll on my personal life. Sometimes preparation for a presentation, collaborating to publish with a colleague and board member responsibilities bleed into my personal time. As a twenty-something millennial, it’s difficult to see my friends in entry level positions excel in their careers without the pressure of these responsibilities. I am still learning how to balance these activities in addition to my other responsibilities at work and my personal goals. This has materialized through trial and error, but also from the knowledge I have gained from communicating with my colleagues and scholarly growth activities. This webinar, for example, was a great launching point for thinking of work/life balance within the context of scholarship, service and scholarly growth. The presenters also speak to how these activities fit into the tenure process. It helped me significantly as a first year academic librarian.

Thinking to the future, I often wonder what scholarship and service will look like in my life once I secure a permanent, tenure-track position. I think about what implications they will have on marriage, family planning, personal finances and how I relate to friends and family outside of academia. What was/is your experience with scholarship, service and scholarly as a first year academic librarian?

Thoughts on the DISC assessment

Earlier this year, everyone in my little division of the library, area studies, took a DISC assessment in order to learn more about dynamics within our group. The DISC assessment (trademarked DiSC for the particular version that we took) is based off the William Moulton Marston’s 1928 book Emotions of Normal People. Marston posited that people present one of three personality traits: dominance, inducement, submission, or compliance. In 1956, Walter Vernon Clarke developed a behavioral assessment tool based on Marston’s model. Over the years, this assessment has been further developed, and marketed to organizations as a tool to discover how people act at work, why they act that way, and how they can be encouraged to work more effectively with each other. The categories have also been changed to (the perhaps more appealing) dominance, influence, steadiness, and conscientiousness.

I’m a fan of personality tests as a rule, especially ones that tell me which book character I am, but I don’t take them too seriously and was fairly skeptical of the test in general. However, it was stressed to us that this was not a personality test but instead a test that would show how we act in the workplace, so I answered the questions with an open mind and waited for my results. And let me tell you, when my results came back they were dead on. I tend to be timid, I avoid conflict, I love routines, and all of that was there in my results. I was impressed. Of course, the categories are very general, so it likely is easy to find yourself in your results.

That said, in discussing with others, there were definitely characteristics embedded within results that some of my co-workers did not feel resonated with themselves or their work styles. Our facilitators were quick to suggest that we cross out any terms we felt did not fit and change them to other adjectives that better described us. I appreciated this flexibility: even if it did not change our overall result, it did allow for some fluidity within the more detailed report and afforded it a bit more of a personal touch.

Depending on how the test is administered, there may be the opportunity for further reports to be generated to compare you to other people on your team. This is what we opted to do, and this meant that I received reports detailing areas where I would likely find the most difference between myself and my co-workers. The reports also gave us advice about how best to interact with each of our co-workers. With more discussion or group activities, this could be developed into an interesting exercise to discuss and improve upon group dynamics.

However, I do not see the DISC assessment as an immediate fix for teams. It might be a place to start, but it would take more work to build upon the results and create a constructive space within a group to discuss how to work together. It also seems that results could easily come out skewed, which might hamper further discussions. We were instructed to answer the questions while imagining work settings, which helps get at how you behave in work situations and not in your personal life (which might be very different). However, when taking the test, it would be easy to answer the questions based on how you aspire to act and not how you actually act, because we aren’t always aware of some of our faults or some of strengths. This, of course, could change your results and then change the baseline you’re starting from in any further discussions.

Another major qualm I have with the DISC assessment—brought up during our meeting by one of my co-workers—is that it does not address cultural differences. While it would be easy to claim that the test is not biased, this is an assessment based in the United States and it is therefore going to be relying on the norms and values of mainstream American culture. This especially applies when considering comparisons: how a person coming from one culture views their interactions with others could be very different than a person from another culture. There could be more value placed on being forthcoming or, conversely, more value placed on being tactful.

For me, I especially considered these ideas when answering the questions in the assessment and considering a work environment. I kept wondering what sort of work environment. I had my first serious job overseas in an office where fitting in and maintaining the status quo was very important, so I quickly learned not to allow any conflicts to surface and instead to work on them behind the scenes. While I know American work environments are much more up-front than this, I sometimes still slip into these patterns because I became good at interacting with others in these ways. Can the DISC assessment account for this sort of flexibility?

If your library is considering a DISC assessment, I think the biggest takeaway from my experience is to know what to expect. Learning everyone’s profile, even with comparison reports, will not in and of itself address conflicts or instances of miscommunication. To do this, you will still need to put in the work to have discussions about norms, expectations, and methods of communication. Do you need the DISC assessment to facilitate this? Certainly not, but if you’re finding that other methods aren’t working, this may be one way to get the conversation started.


If you’re interested in taking the DISC assessment, there are several free versions available online.

Have you ever taken a similar assessment in a work environment? What did you think of it?

When do new librarians start publishing anyway?

Confession: I’m 10 months into my first job in an academic library and I haven’t published anything. I haven’t been on a conference panel, and I haven’t given a full length presentation about my research. I’m not tenure track, so there’s no pressure to publish or perish; but conducting research, presenting ideas, and publishing papers is something that I definitely want to do.

Here’s the thing. I have a lot of ideas, and I know some of my research interests. I think I’m fairly lucky in that regard because creating a research agendas isn’t easy. I feel as if I’m just now getting the hang of things in my day-to-day professional life (learning my job, how this university functions, billions of acronyms) and can start to consider my next steps in regards to research. I’m settling in and thinking about what I can do next.

I’m not sure when new academic librarians publish their first paper or give their first presentation. Is there a typical timeline? Is this something everyone should do within the first year? The second year? These questions are probably coming from the little place where my imposter syndrome lives, but I’d genuinely like to know the answer to this as well. I follow a lot of prolific librarians on Twitter, so it seems like everyone is publishing and presenting all of the time, or like they walked out of the womb with a CV full of citations. It’s hard not to compare myself to others.  

That said, I’m glad that there are resources like The Librarian Parlor out there that help demystify this process, or else I’d be super lost. It’s also a place that addresses some of my questions. A recent article by Allison Rand really stuck with me because she talks about how hard the process is and what her beginnings as a researcher looked like. I’m trying to take this quote of hers to heart: “don’t let your past professional experience (or inexperience) define your professional path.” It’s good to remember that what I do next isn’t necessarily defined by what I’ve done before.

I’ve taken a few baby steps towards publications and presentations. For one, I’ve been writing for this blog, which is a helpful way to gather my ideas and write for a larger audience (quite frankly, this can be scary). I’ve started research projects with colleagues in the field and am putting some proposals out in the world. Even having informal conversations about research with others has been useful. I’ve also given a few lightning talks. Lightning talks are a low stakes way to begin presenting because you only have to prepare a 5-7 minute talk about a specific topic. I can talk about almost anything for 5 minutes. I presented two lightning talks locally, and am excited that my most recent lightning talk proposal will be presented at ACRL in April. This talk, and others that I’ve given are a stepping stone to what I envision will be a much larger conversation and research topic in the future.

And, for any other new librarians out there who aren’t sure if they’re on the right track with research, presentations, and publications, I feel you. We weren’t taught how to navigate the publishing field, and we haven’t had a lot of practice creating research studies; however, if we keep talking to each other about our research, are transparent about where we are and how we are doing, we’ll get there in the end.

When did you first publish or present your research?