Prepared? Reflecting on grad school after 3.5 months on the job

Lately, I’ve been thinking about how well my MS/LIS degree and its related experiences prepared me for my job now as a Research and Instructional Services Librarian. It’s important to note that I worked in my undergraduate library for three years while receiving my bachelors. I also worked in my hometown public library for a year before heading off to graduate school. I’d worked at a physical reference desk before, had worked with LibChat, and had a base knowledge of databases. I had more library experience than some, and therefore had a better idea of what classes I needed to be taking to become an academic librarian.   

I feel like a broken record saying this, but my graduate experience was quite different and chaotic at best; my first year, I was entirely online (unplanned), assistantship and all. Online classes weren’t necessarily a surprise, given my alma mater’s strong online MS/LIS program, but setting foot in the library I worked for exactly once during the 2020-2021 school year wasn’t something I was expecting. I did chat and email reference, team meetings, and taught workshops all from my tiny bedroom in Urbana, IL. I’d moved to Illinois specifically to have an in-person program, but alas – Covid ruined those plans. My supervisor and the other librarians I worked with did their best to train my cohort remotely, but as you can imagine, the physical reference desk is a whole other beast compared to a virtual one. Even when we went back in person in summer 2021, things felt constantly up in the air. Policies were changing left and right as folks tried to reconcile COVID-19 restrictions with being back in person. If anything, my “chaos cohort” of other graduate assistants were prepared to be adaptable! 

collection development

With that being said, one aspect of my degree that might seem controversial to some is that I actively chose not to take collection development, despite never having done that in any of the previously mentioned library jobs. This was based on some of my friends’ experiences in the class; it was useful, for sure, but there were other classes they’d wanted to take that they couldn’t as a result. I had the thought too that wherever I ended up, they would “do” collections differently. I’d have to learn new processes no matter what classes I took. Now that I’m here at Salisbury, I am responsible for collections in areas like Environmental Studies, Public Health, and Exercise Science, to name a few. I lean on my faculty for book recommendations, as well as Choice Reviews from ACRL and book reviews in journals. I am also part of our Leisure Reading committee, where our main responsibility is to develop our leisure collections for students, faculty and staff. Here, the collection development is a group effort. Personally, I don’t feel like I’ve missed out on too much; I’ve learned how to use GOBI on the job, and my university has a great faculty request system in place.  

instruction

A theme I have noticed in literature regarding the master’s degree is that many academic librarians feel they weren’t adequately prepared to take on instruction. It’s also been written about on ACRLog before. This is something I felt fairly confident about, as I took the class “Instructional Strategies and Techniques for Information Professionals” with Merinda Hensley. We created a lesson plan, struggled through writing learning outcomes (emphasis on the struggle), and wrote teaching philosophies. I also took “E-Learning” with Melissa Wong, which gave me language and strategies for teaching virtually. On top of all of this, I was teaching for the UIUC library via my graduate assistantship. So when setting up instruction sessions with my faculty at Salisbury, I felt confident. I’m always going to be nervous before teaching, but it’s never been because I have no idea what I’m doing.  

faculty communication

Where I feel shaky in regards to my job duties is in communication with faculty. Some of this is to be expected with a new librarian, but where I find myself unsure is how many emails to send, how to reach faculty that don’t already request library instruction… essentially, I am struggling in this aspect of “proving” myself and my job to other faculty at the university. I attended the CLAPS (Critical Librarianship & Pedagogy Symposium) two weeks ago, and Baharak Yousefi’s closing keynote has really stuck with me. Some of these tweets capture the essence of this powerful keynote, which had some focus on one-shot instruction:  

“No physicist, historian, or geographer on our campus teaches this way – going around begging for the right to teach in a one-off manner.” (tweeted by @lydia_zv)  

“We are deprofessionalized by being given work we can’t do well, and the very fact that we can’t do it well makes us reluctant to resist the condition of our de-professionalization” (tweeted by @RoxanneShirazi) 

I didn’t have the words for what I was feeling, but Yousefi has captured it perfectly. I was hired at Salisbury to perform a job, I have faculty status, and yet, it sometimes feels like I need to prove the merit of library instruction. I’ve got some great faculty who know the value of a librarian for their students, but even then, I’m in front of them maybe once a semester. If the timing of our session isn’t quite right, students won’t see the value of what I teach yet or won’t want to re-do their research based on what I’ve shown them. I imagine that confidence in faculty communication will come with time and effort; is this even something an MS/LIS could prepare a new librarian for? I’m inclined to say no. We can perhaps be warned about the phenomenon by professors and mentors, but it strikes me as something a librarian has to experience and address themselves at their institutions.  

These are just a few things I’ve been pondering since graduating. How did your MS/LIS prepare you for your library position? How did it not? Feel free to sound off below. This post by Sarah Crissinger on tips for graduate school might be of interest too. 

Call for FYAL Bloggers!

With the new academic year coming up soon (or perhaps, for some of you, already begun!), we’re looking to bring on a few new bloggers here at ACRLog. We’d like to thank our 2021-2022 FYAL bloggers Ramón García and Heather Bobrowicz . We’d also like to encourage new academic librarians — those who are just beginning in their first position at an academic library — to blog with us during their first year.

FYAL bloggers typically publish posts monthly during the academic year. If you’re interested in applying to be a FYAL blogger here at ACRLog, applications are due by Tuesday, September 6. Send an email (please include “ACRLog FYAL” in the subject line) to aharrington@pennstatehealth.psu.edu that includes:

– a sample blog post

– a brief note describing your job and your interest in blogging at ACRLog

Proposals are evaluated by the ACRLog blog team. When selecting FYAL bloggers we consider:

  • Diversity of race/ethnicity/gender/sexual orientation/ability
  • Voices from a range of academic institutions (for example, community colleges, research universities, etc.) and job responsibilities within academic libraries (for example, instruction, cataloging, scholarly communications, etc.)
  • Clear and compelling writing style
  • Connection between day-to-day work and bigger conversations around theory, practice, criticism, LIS education, and other issues

Please send any questions to aharrington@pennstatehealth.psu.edu. We’re looking forward to hearing from you!

Looking Back: A Yearly Wrap-Up

I’ve (almost) made it! As of May, I’m eleven months into my first not-so-new-anymore academic librarian position. Looking back on my first year in an academic library, there are a handful of lessons, moments, and people that come to mind – including just how fast time flies while working at a university. In the spirit of growth, this month’s post reflects back on my various lessons from this academic year.

Teaching a library credit-course has always loomed rather large for my first position. So, it makes sense that there’s more to be said about teaching than I have space for (see my January post, for example). That being said, here are couple of lessons from the library classroom.

Proper Preparation

I’m going to let you in on a little-known secret – I get nervous each and every single time I have to teach. It doesn’t matter how many years of teaching I have under my belt, it doesn’t matter if it’s a one-shot lesson I’ve delivered ten times. I always get at least a little nervous whenever I have to teach, and it took me a while to realize that that’s okay.  There’s something that’s always stuck with me from my alternative teacher certification days that still holds true for me to this day – proper preparation prevents pitiful performance. Aside from being an impressive example of alliteration, this maxim has become something I live by when it comes to teaching. 

Teaching is stressful. Each class, each lecture, each activity comes with its laundry list like number of considerations to think about. Activating students’ prior knowledge, preparing mini-lectures, creating opportunities for students to practice new skills, assessing those skills; these are just some of the few things an instructor has to take into consideration whenever planning an instruction session. Granted, some level of stress is unavoidable when teaching, but craving time out each day to prepare and plan instruction has made teaching a lot more manageable for me.

Reflection

Planning takes time, but actual instruction sessions themselves fly by. It’s because of this that reflection has become a staple of my pedagogical praxis. Thanks to my lovely colleagues who introduced me to the concept, I now have a journal specifically for both planning out my classes but also reflecting on each instruction session. Having a space for reflecting on each class session has afforded me a variety of insights. Something I learned early on about teaching is that classes don’t always turn out the way we image, so having a journal filled with the ups and downs of instruction helps me better plan for future sessions. In a way, my reflection journal works as a form of self-assessment, but it also serves as a marker of progress – comparing my notes from the first week of Fall classes to this Spring lets me know I’ve come a long way as both a librarian and an instructor.

Working Out a Workflow

Prior to my current position, my old workflow consisted of notes in a very lovely planner that I would consistently forget to regularly check. I regretfully admit that, because of my lax scheduling, there are a handful of work and nonwork related events that I missed. But, I’m happy to report that since starting at my current institution, I’ve become the type of person who lives by their Outlook calendar. My last to-do every day before leaving the office is taking a look at my calendar for the next day and locking in exactly what I need to be working on and when. More importantly, I’ve grown into the habit of setting my calendar up in advance as often as possible. This means that sometimes I place an event or deadline on my calendar months in advance but, thanks to my calendar’s reminders function, the likelihood of me forgetting to prep for that event or deadline is much smaller than it has ever been.

Outreach

It seems to me that figuring out your approach to outreach is an almost universal librarian experience. Each library and each campus come with their own set of distinct factors to take into consideration when planning outreach. Because of that, I think it’s safe to say that there’s no one hard and fast rule for conducting outreach to your campus community. What I’ve come to learn about outreach is that most of all it requires time and visibility.

Connecting with students has quickly become one of the most rewarding parts of my position. But, like that phrase about Rome, those connections aren’t built in a day. Whether it’s in the classroom or a campus cultural center, building relationships with students and the on-campus organizations that serve them require an investment of time and presence. My biggest success story in this regard has been my outreach to my campus’ César Chávez Cultural Center (I touched on this in my March post) which led to me being personally sought out by students.

Service

Service to the library, service to the university, service to the profession at large – service period is something I didn’t have much experience with till this year. Much like the other lessons, figuring out my approach to service work has taken time. Though it seems like a requirement typical of most academic libraries, service seems like the type of work that can either become an additional burden or a fulfilling joy. My approach to service has consisted of finding opportunities aligned to my passions. For example, back in March I took part in two training sessions with the library internship program I was in during grad school. During the sessions, I had the opportunity to discuss my experiences in the job market and my transition from intern to full-time librarian with current interns. Maybe it’s something to do with the type of people this profession attracts, but I’ve found that incoming librarians tend to be very responsive and appreciative of hearing earnest advice about the profession to which I usually reply with, “this is one of the fun parts about my job” – and, it’s true. I’ve found that sharing the experiences and advice I’ve received along my path to the profession thus far to be immensely gratifying. Doing so has made my service feel a lots less like work and more like giving back.

Friendship

Last and most certainly not least, friendship. Having people that you know that you can lean-on, as well as making space for those people to lean-on you, goes a long way for me in my personal life. But, I’ve come to learn that that’s also the case for me at work. I know, I know – librarians typical tend to identify as introverts (myself included) but having a close-knit circle of work friends has been huge for me. All of us have our fair share of bad days, but not everyone has someone that they can lean on during those times. Being open and vulnerable with my circle at work has gotten me through some of my roughest days at the library.

In a lot of ways, I feel like I’ve finally gotten adjusted to my new career. I fully recognize I still have much to learn but reflecting back on my first year has allowed to realize just how far I’ve come in a relatively short period of time. Though I’m happy to report that I’ll be taking some time off this Summer – I’m really excited to catch Rage Against the Machine and Kendrick Lamar in July – I’m looking forward to all the new lessons and challenges the coming academic year will bring.

Service as a Resident Librarian

Though I often heard about the importance of membership in a professional organization and had some exposure to the concept of service as a graduate student, professional service is something I wasn’t very familiar until my current position. Part of the orientation process for my current position consisted of my department head going over and explaining the criteria for my yearly evaluation. Lo and behold, service made up a significant portion of my evaluation. As a first-year librarian and a library resident, figuring out my approach to service work has made for an interesting journey.

My experiences with service during grad school, specifically librarians active in service work, were fairly varied. Of course, there was my school’s own Library and Information Sciences Student Association. Though I was only ever a very casual member (grad school, work, and my personal life were more than enough for me at the time), I was always surprised by the number of events held by the organization as well as the variety of librarians involved with said events. By volunteering to staff my area’s annual archives event, I got a small glimpse into just how small librarianship is as well as how easy it can be to meet other librarians. Looking back, I realize I probably volunteered for the event more out of hearing about the importance of volunteering rather than the relevance of what I volunteered for – archives is something I’ve never really had any interest in. Through the events I was required to attend as a Spectrum and Kaleidoscope Scholar, I got a glimpse into just how powerful mentorship and community with other librarians and library students of color can be. In retrospect, Spectrum and Kaleidoscope is where the potential of service work clicked for me – service doesn’t necessary always feel like work whenever it’s related to one’s passion.

Knowing that service was required of me, I decided to make sure that whatever service work I became involved with related to one of my areas of passion. After taking inventory of what those passion are – library instruction, BIPOC library organizations, supporting library students – I ultimately landed on a couple of organizations. REFORMA (The National Association to Promote Library & Information Services to Latinos & the Spanish Speaking) and ACRL’s Residency Interest Group (RIG) were where I first decided to try my hand at service work.

Through REFORMA and RIG, I realized that sometimes interest is really all that’s needed in order to get involved with a professional organization. Neither organizations asked for much to serve: REFORMA required an application while RIG brought to my attention a call for volunteers to help develop a program for library students. Through REFORMA, I was able to join the scholarship committee which assess applications and selects recipients of the two scholarships given out by the organization (as I’ve been working on this post, we’ve actually begun this work). After sending an email expressing interest in the RIG project for LIS students, I found myself in a small planning group consisting of four other library residents. After our initial meeting, we decided our program would be a panel series that would serve as an introduction to the world of academic libraries. The series, aptly named Into the Stacks: An Academic Libraries Panel Series, took place once a month from January to April with one resident taking charge of a panel each month. Admittedly, I was nervous to host a panel by myself, but luckily my panelist were librarians who are a part of my own journey through librarianship. As such, my nerves calmed down a bit after we got going. If anything, the panel just reinforced how much I really enjoy chatting about librarianship period.

Understanding that service work can function as a form of professional development turned out to be a surprise lesson for me. It was determined during my orientation that, due to the temporary nature of my position, my service work would have a national focus. This led me to seek out national service opportunities and this is where ALA’s Emerging Leaders program came in. Through the program, early career librarians like myself are given the opportunity to participate in a national working group with their peers. Once selected for the program, I was given a number of different options in regard to the type of project I would work on. Luckily for me, among the options was a working on a LibGuide over inclusive pedagogy. Through my working group’s discussions and the collection and evaluation of resources for our LibGuide, I’ve been able to further develop my knowledge of pedagogical best practices. This has allowed me to reflect on my current instruction praxis with an eye for ensuring said practices are as inclusive as possible.

Looking back on my introduction to service work, there are a handful of lessons I’ve come to learn. Planning ahead is crucial. For instance, whenever I initially applied for Emerging Leaders last Fall semester, I knew that the program and its project would end by June. Thus I made sure to apply for some ACRL committees, knowing that they would begin right around the time Emerging Leaders would end. Yet, perhaps my biggest takeaway is that aligning my service work with my passions has made the work itself far more enjoyable than I could’ve imagined. Though service is a typical requirement for academic librarians, framing that requirement as an opportunity to give back to a field I love has made the work all that much more gratifying.

The flyer for our panel series

Outreach as a Resident Librarian

Being a library resident has made my first year as an academic librarian an interesting experience to say the least. Through my residency, I have a level of autonomy I’ve come to realize isn’t afford to every first-year librarian. Some of my responsibilities are non-negotiable. Being an information literacy librarian on a campus where librarians are considered faculty means I have to teach a credit course, I have to publish, and I have to complete service work. Aside from teaching, I have a significant say in what the other aspects of my position look like.

Though my position didn’t come with any predesignated liaison areas, I’m still responsible for conducting outreach to my institution’s community. My autonomy has allowed me to think about the areas and populations I’m passionate about and focus my outreach efforts there. I ultimately decided that I wanted my outreach work to benefit others from similar backgrounds as mine. This meant that my outreach would be geared towards undergraduate, underserved, first-generation students. Since I wasn’t able to get much outreach experience during grad school – the second year of my program and internship was entirely remote – I knew I had to seek out advice and guidance from other librarians.

Luckily for me, my wonderful campus mentor was already working with several of the groups I was interested in supporting. More importantly, he was more than willing to let me collaborate with him in his outreach efforts. My mentor’s outreach areas include our institution’s McNair Scholars Program and the Center for Human Enrichment (CHE), another TRiO program focused on first-generation college students.

Our outreach to McNair and CHE takes on a variety of forms, but the overall strategy consists of being present during the times students will most likely be on campus. For example, both my mentor and I staff monthly office hours for each individual group. For CHE, they take place during their monthly study nights – students in the program are required to attend a certain number of CHE sponsored events each semester. For McNair, office hours are held an hour before their class starts in the McNair office. In addition to office hours, we also provide both groups with library instruction sessions. For CHE, this took the form of a library services session during orientation for the newest cohort. For McNair, instruction was more hands-on. For these students, we taught three separate sessions covering a variety of topics such as library research services, writing a literature review, and an overview of citation styles. That being said, our involvement with these groups isn’t limited to academics.

My library mentor introduced me to the idea of attending the events of your liaison groups. Though it may seem like a small gesture, I’ve come to realize that being present and participating in the social aspects of students’ lives is not only beneficial for their social-emotional wellbeing, but also demonstrates that librarians care about more than just academics. For example, this past Fall semester, my mentor and I both attended CHE’s student employee orientation and McNair’s Annual Awards Banquet. Attending these events allowed me the opportunity to get to better know the students we work with and vice-versa. Though I’m still new at my institution, I’ve quickly come to realize just how much more willing students are to meet with and ask for help from librarians they regularly see and interact with versus approaching a stranger at the reference desk. The outreach I’ve done for our campus’ César Chávez Cultural Center has served to reinforce this realization.

My institution is home to eight different cultural centers. From the Marcus Garvey Cultural Center to Veteran’s Services, each center focuses on one of the various populations present on campus. It’s important to note that resources like cultural centers can be crucial to supporting the success of underserved students, especially since BIPOC students account for half of all first-generation students. This, along with my desire to give back to and support students from my background, is why I provide outreach to my institution’s César Chávez Cultural Center.

My outreach to the Chávez Center is not that different than the outreach my colleague and I provide CHE and McNair. The Chávez Center typically hosts support events during both mid-terms and finals. In order to meet students where they’ll be, I work with the Chávez Center’s director and graduate assistant to coordinate office hours to coincide with other mid-term/finals week events held at the Center. When possible, I also do my best to attend cultural events held by the Center such as their annual Latinx Heritage Month Celebration Kickoff.

Like all good things, I’ve come to learn that building healthy outreach relationships takes time. Earning the trust of campus partners, especially those focused on supporting traditionally underserved students, doesn’t happen overnight. Assessing the fruits of that trust can be tricky but, for me, being recognized by students outside their respective social spaces serves as a significant marker of success. In one such instance, a cultural fraternity recognized me from the Chávez Center and used that connection to request a library session for the brothers themselves. Though I’m still crafting my outreach methods, being specifically sought out by students has been among my proudest moments as a first-year librarian.