January and the first part of February is usually a tricky time of year for me. I’m both buoyed by the promise of a new year and bogged down by the weather and amount of daylight available to me. January feels like a slog; I’m just trying to make it through. There are moments during the first days of the year where I feel like my motivation is at an all time high. I see the connections between work projects, I see the direction for the department, and I see the impact we can have. There are other moments where I feel stuck and there’s so much coming at me I’m not sure what to pick up next.
I think this January has also been an interesting time to be at my university. Similar to other colleges and universities, we are facing budgetary challenges and declining enrollment. We also recently named an interim president and are settling into new leadership. There’s a lot of uncertainty that you can feel every time you step foot on campus. When I talk with my colleagues about May, the summer, even the fall, there’s always an unspoken (or sometimes spoken) phrase of, “But who knows what the context will be then.” The uncertainty makes it hard to move forward confidently. We might decide to go left only to learn we’ll need to loop around to go right a few months later.
All of these things – the slog, the uncertainty, the potential opportunities – has made me think a lot more about prioritization. How do we decide on what is a priority? How do we have those conversations? How do we make the tough decisions? How do we pivot? And how do we accept the change we know is coming but aren’t sure what it will look like yet? I don’t have any answers but I know that getting through the January slog means having the space to work through these questions and figure out where to step next.
And in these moments, when my head is turning, I am so thankful to have a network of support. The friends and colleagues I turn to get through the slog, hold the uncertainty, and celebrate the successes. I’ve been so appreciative to have fellow department heads at other institutions to talk to, a research group to get excited about and hold me accountable to research, my various text message threads with friends who send funny gifs, screenshots, all the emojis, and voice messages, my colleagues within the library to strategize with, and my colleagues across the institution who I can get coffee with and chat about what we can do together.
I feel that I’ve emerged from the January fog and that feels wonderful. What about you? How are you getting through these first couple of months? What’s been on your mind and who has been there to help support you?
Recently, Facebook reminded me of a picture I posted when I was in undergrad. It’s a picture of my Google calendar, in the fall of 2012. I was a busy undergrad, especially that fall, but my caption when I reposted this picture was something like, “If only 2012 Hailley knew what 2019 Hailley’s calendar would look like.”
Between working in Admissions, being a writing tutor, sitting on two committees, being a part of student government and a literary journal, taking four classes, and clarinet lessons, I was never bored. Back in 2012, it was normal for days to stretch from 8 AM until 9 PM. The day wasn’t even officially done at 9 PM: that just meant it was time for readings, homework, or hanging out with friends. I felt busy, and at times, busier than than my friends, but overall, the pace of my schedule felt normal and what it should be like as an undergrad.
These days, a meeting ending at 9 PM seems “late.” I was on campus walking with friends to a play and overheard a student say they had a meeting starting at 9 PM. My friends and I shared a look that said, “I would not want to start a meeting at 9.” College can be a time when traditional 9-5 is lost. If you’re awake, a meeting can happen.
As the Student Engagement Coordinator, working with undergraduates is a fundamental part of my job. It has always felt normal for me to stay late, to host a workshop after dinner, meet with a student group, or run a Pop Up Library. And when I saw that Facebook memory pop up this time, I started to think about who else (faculty, staff) had to stay late when I was in college to support my student engagement. In some ways, it’s all coming full circle, as I stay late to support a new group of students.
I also feel like there is an expectation that I’ll stay late. Part of that pressure is internal, because I remember what it was like to be a student and trying to find time to meet with faculty or advisors during the day (see calendar above). Part of that is my personality, and the ways that I let my personal and professional life bleed together. Part of that also comes from my first experience at Penn State, where I worked from 1-10 PM and saw how the library changed after 5 PM, when the “day folks” left and something new settled in its place. Part of that pressure comes from my conditioning to be helpful, as a woman in a service-orientated profession (Harris, 1992; Hicks, 2014) and some of that pressure is probably imagined.
Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about this pressure and how my ability to stay late is partially built on my identity. I’m a young, single lady with no dependents. I’m often (in both positive and negative connotations) told that I have a lot of energy. The undercurrent of some of these statements imply that with that energy I’m well-suited to work with undergraduates. I feel that these characteristics make people think that of course, I’ll always stay late, handle that evening workshop, or be okay with an after-dinner meeting. They assume that my lack of any dependents means my evenings are always open. If this is the logic, what does it mean when my life inevitably changes? Does the pressure go away? Do I stop staying late or doing workshops on the weekends? Is it implied that eventually I’ll move away from “after hours”? If I move away from that work, will I lose touch with the undergraduates I serve? And if I do stop staying late, how will that change my work (and impact) with undergraduate students?
In a recent study, Lily Todorinova (2018) examined job position descriptions for undergraduate and first year librarian positions. In this process, she discovered that between 2014 and 2016, these types of positions were on the rise. Many of those positions were listed as entry-level and were offered entry-level salaries, for example, lower than the average salary in 2016 (Todorinova, 2018, p. 209). What does this trend mean for the profession? If we want these positions to recognize and respond to movements within higher education and find ways to integrate the library (broadly: information literacy, instruction, services, etc.) more meaningfully into student life, how are we supporting these new professionals? And how are we being flexible in that support, so that these colleagues are not regularly working 12 hour days, as they accommodate both the traditional work hours and the student hours? Do we allow for time to be flexed in these positions? Do we force our colleagues in these positions to “grow” out of them?
These structures and this tension aren’t limited to academic librarians in engagement and first-year positions; student affairs professionals also have a high burnout rate (Marshall, Gardner, Hughes, & Lowery, 2016; Mullen, Malone, Denney, & Dietz, 2018). Many of the reasons why student affairs professionals leave are due to long hours and the struggle to maintain a work-life balance (Marshall et al., 2016). In a study done on new student affairs professionals, one respondent mentioned the long hours were a sacrifice that would result in long-term payoffs (Renn & Jessup-Anger, 2008). But that also feels problematic, especially in thinking of a library setting: if I set a precedent, what structure am I putting into place for those who do this work after me? Is that a tradition I want to instill?
So, what helps keep you student-centered, while setting boundaries and without it consuming your entire schedule? My thinking these days is remembering what it was like to be a student, who posted that picture of her calendar on Facebook because she was feeling overwhelmed, personally and academically. To remember those people who supported me in college and find ways to give that back, to a new group of students. And probably most importantly, to keep asking questions to the students I work with about their day-to-day. What does it mean to be a college student at Penn State? As Todorinova discovered, many librarians in engagement positions feel that they responsibility is to leverage student experiences (something I strongly agree with), and there has to be a way to get that insight, both within traditional working hours and sometimes, after 5.
At the end of the day, students will still meet at the end of their day. In wanting to support students, folks in these positions will work outside the bounds of 9-5. What we can do, both as employees and supervisors of these types of positions? I don’t have any firm answers but I do have a lot of thoughts. Currently they include:
Articulate our values and how those plays out in our work. If we want to be student-centered, what does that look like, for us as an organization?
Understand that just because you have “engagement” or “first-year” in your title, doesn’t mean that you’re the only person who can support the entire student population. This work has to be done collectively and not placed solely on one individual.
Recognition that everyone’s time (ours, others, students, etc.) is valuable. It’s not a competition of who works the most, but instead an understanding that we all have things we care about and want to pursue outside our work responsibilities.
Identify your colleagues that work outside the bounds of 9-5. Articulate why that is (position type, job description, population to serve, etc.) and reflect on something you’re doing to support their schedule. If you’re not sure of your answer, ask that person what’s one new way you can support their schedule.
I see and feel the tension, and don’t know exactly how those feelings and tension will change over the next few years. But I’m reflecting on these structures and trying to sort it out. I’m curious about what others think about these ideas and strategies around this topic.
Harris, R.M. (1992). Librarianship: The Erosion of a Woman’s Profession. Norwood, NJ: Ablex Pub. Corp.
Hicks, D. (2014). The Construction of Librarians’ Professional Identities: A Discourse Analysis / La construction de l’identité professionnelle du bibliothécaire?: Une analyse de discours. Canadian Journal of Information and Library Science, 38(4), 251–270. https://doi.org/10.1353/ils.2014.0017
Marshall, S. M., Gardner, M. M., Hughes, C., & Lowery, U. (2016). Attrition from Student Affairs: Perspectives from Those Who Exited the Profession. Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice, 53(2), 146–159. https://doi.org/10.1080/19496591.2016.1147359
Mullen, P. R., Malone, A., Denney, A., & Dietz, S. S. (2018). Job Stress, Burnout, Job Satisfaction, and Turnover Intention Among Student Affairs Professionals. College Student Affairs Journal, 36(1), 94–108. https://doi.org/10.1353/csj.2018.0006
Renn, K. A., & Jessup-Anger, E. R. (2008). Preparing New Professionals: Lessons for Graduate Preparation Programs from the National Study of New Professionals in Student Affairs. Journal of College Student Development, 49(4), 319–335. https://doi.org/10.1353/csd.0.0022
Todorinova, L. (2018). A Mixed-Method Study of Undergraduate and First Year Librarian Positions in Academic Libraries in the United States. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 44(2), 207–215. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.acalib.2018.02.005
I was intrigued by this new initiative created by the folks at Inside Higher Ed and the Association for the Study of Higher Education. It allows anyone to submit a 1,000 word, well-researched and documented essay on any news story published by Inside Higher Ed. While some essays must be based on a set of pre-selected stories, others can be proposed by potential authors. Because the content is targeted to faculty and graduate students in higher education administration programs, as well as current higher education administrators, this seems like an excellent opportunity for academic librarians to share their perspective on library-related news stories and essays that appear in Inside Higher Ed. Doing so could help to influence and shape how future higher education administrators perceive the academic library.
All too often when these stories appear, be they informative or controversial, librarians engage in discussion among themselves on their discussion lists and twitter feeds, or they leave insightful comments to the stories, but rarely is there any organized follow up. In the end those who need to hear what we bring to the conversation most likely never have that opportunity. This new program changes that. Take for example two recent IHE articles, one a news item on “bookless libraries” and the other an essay on “Reviving the Academic Library“. Both generated considerable discussion in the library community, but who knows what message reached the academic administrators who decide on the library budget or whether or not to commit funds to a new library facility.
What do these essays look like? If you go to the detailed information page there is an example that provides a good picture of what’s expected. In addition to the essay authors should develop a set of questions that faculty could use to lead a discussion on the topic. Academic librarians should keep this new program in mind for the next time that Inside Higher Ed publishes an article or essay that could use a balanced and authoritative response from our profession. To not do so allows authors who may have an outdated interpretation or inaccurate understanding of the mission and operation of the contemporary academic library to unduly influence the thinking of academic administrators.
There’s nothing like putting yourself out there with some bold predictions for the future, especially when they pertain to higher education and libraries. For example, let’s say I predict that robots will makeup 30% of all faculty by the year 2050. You might say I have no idea whether that will ever really happen, but on the other hand you might not be 100% comfortable saying it never will happen. So my attention was captured by an article titled “25 Predictions for the University of the Future”. By future I assume the author means 10 or 20 years out there, maybe more. I’m expecting some bold ideas. Maybe even some that involve robots, flying cars or librarians as university presidents (Ok, that last one never will happen).
Instead, as I perused the list I did a whole lot of eyeball rolling. Maybe by future the author meant tomorrow. Put another way, whoever came up with this list didn’t seem to want to put him or herself too far out on a limb with these predictions. Let me share a few and you can decide for yourself.
There will be more of an emphasis on distance learning: Whoa! That one is a shocker. There’s absolutely nothing going on in higher education right now that would possibly suggest that higher education institutions, in the future, will focus on education for people who aren’t right on campus. But it’s just crazy enough of an idea to actually happen. (See also prediction #4 on students taking a mix of online and in-class courses – now there’s a wacky idea – maybe they’ll call it “blended learning” in the future).
Technology innovation will be a priority: It’s quite possible that in the future, in order to survive, higher education institutions will finally have to start finding innovative ways to use technology. Let’s hope most of us get over our luddite ways so that we can get the technology innovation started before it’s too late.
Libraries will continue to become more tech-focused: I often complain that libraries are left out of these higher education projects, but now I’m finally able to proudly say that the author of this list didn’t ignore us with this bold and futuristic vision of academic libraries becoming tech-focused. I think that means using more technology. Imagine that – a future where academic libraries leverage technology to support teaching, learning and research. I hope I’m still around when it happens because it sure sounds exciting.
Universities will have a more global perspective: Perhaps in the future we’ll see American universities opening campuses in other countries, and then encouraging their faculty and students to travel abroad to gain a global perspective. We might even see students from foreign countries add global diversity to domestic higher education. This sounds like it could really improve the quality of higher education.
Reading these 25 futuristic predictions has put me in the mood to make some predictions of my own, which is something I tend to avoid at all costs. I’ll usually prefer to say something like “we need to create our own preferred future” which gets me off the hook. But here are a few things I think we can expect in our future:
Academic librarians will communicate with their users via mobile devices. In the future many students will carry handheld devices and use them to send messages to each other. When it happens we want to be where the students are.
Academic libraries will become social centers on campus: Innovative academic libraries of the future will offer amenities like cafes and lounge areas where students can hang out and socialize. It doesn’t have to be all about books and research chores. Some may even allow students to eat food in the stacks and make a little noise.
Academic librarians will be more involved in teaching: I know I’m just dreaming here but I can’t help but believe that someday in the future forward-thinking faculty will finally believe collaboration with academic librarians is a good thing and can actually help students achieve better quality research and writing.
Students will increasingly start their research using Google and Wikipedia: Despite the high quality resources provided by academic libraries, for reasons that will not immediately be well understood, students will prefer to head for free Internet resources to begin or even complete their research tasks.
I hope my daring predictions left you stunned and amazed. It sure was a challenge to step out on a limb and do some truly visionary thinking about the future of academic librarianship. For those of you who will soon be planning your spring 2010 programs, I’m available for presentations about the future of academic librarianship. You never know what I’ll be predicting next.