(Academic) Year 1: Complete

Well, that’s about it; we’re on the tail end of finals at Salisbury University, commencement ceremonies start on Wednesday night, and that’s a wrap on my first academic year as a librarian. It’s gone incredibly fast, and as I’ve been working on my first annual evaluation packet, I realize how much I accomplished this year. I know that other institutions do this in January, but for us at SU Libraries, it’s from May to May. I thought it might help others in the evaluation process to see how mine is framed, as well as the experience of gathering it all. As I am many hours deep into playing Nintendo’s newest Zelda title, Tears of the Kingdom, I thought I might set up this post in video game terms. Please forgive the nerdiness to follow. 🙂 

Mainline Quests

I had two individual goals this year. They focus on the key aspects of my job as I settled into the position; they were threaded throughout my typical work week. My philosophy here is that I wanted to get to know my responsibilities before making (big) changes to how I conduct them. Of course, reasonable changes arose (especially with my student supervising duties) but overall, I was learning the controls. Completing the tutorial area, so to speak. These were the goals my chair and I came up with:  

  1. Get to know liaison area faculty and establish relationships. 
  1. Get to know the Research Help Desk policies and student workers with updates as needed. 

I do feel that I’ve sufficiently accomplished both objectives. Putting the number of instruction sessions, instructors I’ve worked with, and the students reached really puts the work into perspective. I don’t see this when I’m in the thick of my instruction season and doing one-shots left and right. Two of my Public Health professors are working with me more extensively for their classes next year, so relationship building is definitely happening! 

With the Research Help Desk, I made the schedule and supervised our undergraduate workers. Since I was once a student worker at my undergrad library, this was a nice full circle moment for me to become a supervisor and mentor. One thing I implemented for everyone that staffs chat is a “Chat Transcript of the Month” email, where I highlight certain questions and the excellent patron service.  

Side Adventures

Shorter than main quests, but longer than side quests are the side adventures. This involves our department goals and my role in those, but also some of my projects over the year. This included being on a student survey committee, which had the concrete steps of writing the survey about the library, determining our rollout strategy, and coming back together to discuss those results. Another department goal was to create a learning object repository for all instruction librarians, which is fully set up and starting to be populated with handouts and worksheets we can all share amongst ourselves.  

This goes beyond the library, too. I have been deeply involved in the Environmental Studies department this past year, as they’re one of my subject areas. I’m on a committee to plan an “ENVR Major for a Day” program for high schoolers sometime next fall, to hopefully bring more students to the environmental programs at SU. This has been a good way to both get to know the faculty in that area; there’s many who are affiliated, but not necessarily under the Environmental Studies department because it’s so interdisciplinary.  

Side Quests

These are something that took maybe a week or less, but still required my time. A perfect type of side quest could be my attendance at the ACRL 2023 conference – only 3 days, technically, but a large undertaking nonetheless. Additionally, some of the proposals I’ve sent in for conferences and one book chapter could be considered a “side quest” – not part of my job description explicitly, but something I am expected to do given my status as faculty. They’re also the totally random stuff that comes up on a day-to-day basis, like making signs for the on-call librarians at the reference desk over winter break, for example. Something like that isn’t listed in my annual evaluation of course; that would be practically impossible unless I was taking detailed notes of my day-to-day. But as I run with this video game framing, it’s kind of the “other duties as assigned” part of many job descriptions.  

My “dump document”

Around August 2022, I started throwing everything I was doing that could go in the annual evaluation in a document on my OneDrive. I went to a webinar? Thrown in there, it can go under my “professional development” section later. Helped with move-in day? Noted for service (and especially the 6am-10am part…). I also went back through my calendar to pull anything I may have forgotten. In hindsight, I’ll just start my next annual evaluation document now, filling things in as I go; it did create more work to organize that initial dump document into our eval template. I’ve also vowed to myself not to simply title something “Webinar” in my calendar.  

Final thoughts

This was the first time that I compiled an annual evaluation like this. In all my past jobs, it took the form of a check-in with my supervisor. Even though the process is a bit tedious, I found it rewarding to dig into the details of how much I actually accomplished as a first-year academic librarian. There’s a lot to celebrate there, and I invite you all to celebrate your own accomplishments from the past academic year – sound off in the comments if you have any you’d like to share, whether it’s a main quest, side adventure, or side quest. 

Getting started with professional development

Last week, I did my first conference presentation as a tenure-track academic librarian! I’m actively resisting the urge to qualify or minimize that statement – it was virtual, it wasn’t about my own hardcore research, etc. I did it, and I’m proud of that! It got me thinking about professional activity as it relates to tenure (or in Salisbury University’s case for librarians, permanent status). I am not someone who comes from a family of academics; I distinctly remember getting “librarian” on one of those career profiles in high school, and immediately thinking, “Oh, no. That requires a master’s degree.” I never thought I’d be here, entrenched in academia and needing to think about publishing research. I’ll talk a bit about my most recent presentation, then some of my broader thoughts.  

Thank you to the North American Virtual Reference Conference for the opportunity to speak. My talk was titled, Supervisor at a distance: supporting undergraduate reference workers. At Salisbury University, I am the Research Help Desk Coordinator. I am responsible for hiring and supervising 4-5 student workers in a given semester; they are tasked with answering all sorts of questions, including reference and research help ones. The presentation focused on current training and feedback strategies as well as initiatives I’d like to implement in the future. I don’t ever work on the desk with them – the research help desk only has one person at any given time, which is why I refer to myself as “at a distance.” I am not that far removed from my own student worker experience, so I’m constantly thinking about what I had or wished I had for their experience, too. For this first year, I made some minor changes – giving students more consistent feedback on their work and implementing a “Chat Transcript of the Month” email – but for the most part, I’ve been trying to see how the desk runs now before making drastic changes. These are my slides and references, though I’m happy to talk and answer any questions.  

What was cool about this particular conference was that I’d actually presented here before; my supervisor as a graduate assistant gave me the opportunity to co-present here about my own entirely remote training as a result of COVID.  Additionally, while I was a senior in undergrad, I presented at a statewide conference for writing centers. I hope to offer a similar collaboration to my student workers at some point. I try to make sure they know that I’m invested in their success, not just as workers but also as students. I’m positive that having that previous experience as a student gave me the confidence to submit now.  

Even still, I find it hard sometimes to pursue broader research opportunities. Publishing in something like a journal still feels enigmatic or nebulous, even though I am intimately familiar with different publications, given the nature of my daily work as a research librarian. I think part of this is personal; I can be a true champion of others’ work and cheer on students and faculty alike with their research topics, but when it comes to my own, it’s harder to do. The imposter syndrome can be really intense. My inner critic questions how I could possibly add to the already bustling academic conversation, or my attempts at writing something like a journal article get held up in the research phase, wherein I try to consume everything possible about the topic. (My Zotero library is… robust, to say the least. Thank goodness for collections!) I also have so many different interests that it’s hard to narrow my focus on one research topic; I’ve heard this sentiment over and over from librarians, too. I often set out to learn more about one thing and find myself down an entirely different pathway. 

In that vein, I’d like to turn it over to you, readers: what did your first foray into research or conferences look like? How did it come about? Did you have collaborators, or was it a solo venture? Do you have advice for new academic librarians who are navigating what “professional activity” means for them in their job expectations?