Big Transitions: Changing Jobs within and between Libraries

ACRLog welcomes a guest post from Karen Sobel, Teaching & Learning Librarian, Auraria Library, Denver, CO.

Happy new year, everyone!

During the ACRL Webcast that I presented, titled “Making Yourself Marketable for Academic Librarian Positions” (12 November 2019), many attendees asked questions about transitions. In particular, they asked whether it’s possible to transfer from one type of library to another, or from one type of librarian position to another. The webcast organizers and I felt that those questions deserved thorough answers, along with some resources. Thus, here we are in the new year, ready to talk about creating change and working toward your goals. Let’s discuss the two questions one at a time.

Transitioning between Types of Libraries

Imagine that you’re working in one type of library – let’s say it’s your city’s public library. You’ve been there for a few years, and you realize that you want to find a job at another type of library. We’ll say that your new dream is to work at an academic library. Could you realistically make this transition happen?

The answer is yes – plenty of librarians have made this sort of change in the past. However, it does require careful preparation, and may not occur in a single move.

The most important aspect in making this sort of a shift is finding opportunities that align as closely as possible with your experience. Have you gathered experience in all of the required qualifications, and in some or all of the preferred qualifications for the position? If you begin searching for positions at a different type of institution from the one where you work, and you find that there are qualifications that you like, make a plan for developing that experience. You may need to get creative. Seek out experience at your own library. If you cannot develop the skills or experience that you need there, search for opportunities, or for professional development, elsewhere.

When you’re applying, highlight your experience honestly, echoing the language of the position posting. Different types of libraries may describe similar types of duties differently; make sure that your description will resonate with search committee members who will read your application. Your application will of course come across as “different” from those written by librarians whose experience comes closer to the job for which you are applying. Highlight the strengths that you have built which will set you apart. You would bring unusual positive qualities to the job.

Show that you truly understand what it would be like to work in the type of library where you wish to work. Talk with librarians who work in that type of library. Use the preferred language of that type of library in your application – and make sure to run your cover letter and CV or resume by librarians who work in that type of library. If you’re chosen for an in-person interview, research the library and the community it serves in great detail. Being able to discuss the context is important in rising to the top of the applicant pool.

Remember that different libraries and different positions will have different levels of competition. You could be one of three candidates for one position, and one of 200 candidates for another. That means that it may take several tries to make the leap from one type of library to another. Or that you may require a couple of leaps before you reach your dream job (which is true for most of us anyway). With careful planning and application, you can make the move from one type of library to another happen.

Transitioning between Types of Library Positions

Typically when librarians shape their career paths, they move from one position to another, built on a related set of skills and qualities. However, occasionally a librarian wishes to follow a career path that uses a dramatically new set of skills—moving from instruction to technical services, for example.

Building skills and experience are of course key to switching tracks within librarianship. If you already have your MLIS or similar degree and some experience, you’ve got an advantage. You just need to build credentials and experience specific to your new goals. Once you’ve decided to make the switch, it’s time to research the skills that you’ll need to build. Talk with professionals who already do the work that interests you. Read position postings and look for trends in required and preferred skills.

Once you’ve identified skills and experience that you need to build, think about what you could learn through on-the-job experience and what requires coursework or professional development. A lot of that is up to your judgment; you may want to seek out thoughts from professionals who already do that work. For example, you might decide that you’d learn skills for instruction most effectively through on-the-job practice at your institution. However, you’d probably learn the details of working with MARC records most efficiently through a course.

If you’re already working full- or part-time as a librarian, it’s well worth inquiring as to whether you can gain experience through making special arrangements in your own library. Interestingly, you may find that it’s easier to make this sort of arrangement in a smaller library, where each individual tends to have a broader range of duties. Think carefully about whether you can build this into your job, whether you can do the work as part of a full-time work schedule, or whether you may need to make adjustments to your arrangements in order to find time to support your goals.

It probably doesn’t need to be said, but you can likely be open with your colleagues regarding your changing intentions. New aspects of librarianship have sparked your interest. As long as you’re continuing to work hard at your current job, good colleagues tend to be supportive of your evolving dreams. Be open with your supervisor as well. Just like your other colleagues, your supervisor will likely be supportive as long as you continue to work hard. You may find that you need to request support, or to discuss the possibility of shifting some arrangements at work. Keeping your supervisor involved from early stages will only make this part easier.

Final Words

I wish you the best in working toward your goals! Feel free to reach out to librarians in your network, including me, as you move forward: karen.sobel@ucdenver.edu.

Resources

Strategies for Changing Your Career Path within Librarianship:

“Adaptable Applicants: Preparing to Change Your Library Path,” by Lindsey Homol for the American Library Association New Members’ Round Table: http://www.ala.org/rt/nmrt/news/footnotes/february2014/adaptable-applicants-preparing-change-your-library-path

The richest source of information on how to prepare for a “big transition” (from one type of library to another, or between roles in libraries) is articles from scholarly and professional library publications. If you have access to LISTA, LISA, Library and Information Science Source, or other library and information science databases through your library, you may want to explore those. Google Scholar will also point you toward many of those articles.

Writing Effective Library Resumes/CVs and Cover Letters:

“Common Library/Info Science Action Verbs,” courtesy of the Massachusetts Library System: https://www.masslibsystem.org/wp-content/uploads/LIS-action-verbs.pdf Terms on this sheet are commonly used to describe librarians’ work. Read through the list & consider incorporating some of these words into your next cover letter, CV, or resume.

Breaking Big: Transitioning from Small to Large Academic Libraries

ACRLog welcomes a guest post from Michael Rodriguez, Electronic Resources Librarian at the University of Connecticut.

Navigating the transition from large to small academic library employers, or vice versa, can be challenging. Early-career librarians in particular can find themselves navigating radically new landscapes: specialized, bureaucratic, and complex.

Recently I moved from a small, career-focused, private, nonprofit institution in Florida, to a large, tier-one public research university in New England. Now six months along my new path, I am ready to share some generalizations and guidance about navigating the transition from small private to large public universities and libraries. (For the opposite path, check out Seven Keys to Switching from a Big Company to a Small One—yes, it’s a Harvard Business Review piece, but the advice applies equally to librarians.)

Scaling Size

Large public universities are vast and complex. Libraries can be six stories high and filled with millions of volumes. A hundred staff and student assistants may be working inside the building during business hours. Millions of dollars may be spent on collections and salaries. Contrast this with smaller universities, where the library may boast four staff, a $250,000 budget, and one big room lined with eighteen thousand volumes and branded “the library.” A difference of 25,000 students is another huge numerical contrast.

Imagine changing jobs from one to the other of these environments. Maybe you already have. Either way, this can be a stunning adjustment. Example 1: Walking from parking lot to office takes twenty times longer at my massive public university than it did at my small private university. Example 2: I still manage electronic resources, but my budget is fifty times larger. Example 3: I used to negotiate e-resource licenses solo; now we have attorneys who write five pages of state-mandated provisions into all new contracts.

How to thrive in a larger environment? Chunk your experience into bite-sized pieces. One hundred colleagues to get to know? Set up meetings with each of them in turn, and then allocate time each week to walk about and schmooze. Many complex projects to manage concurrently? Start using Evernote, Trello, a notepad, or other tracking tool to divide your projects into manageable tasks and triage them according to stakeholder impact. Rethink goals as forward momentum. Reassess priorities, eliminate redundancy and excess, and clean up data and processes. Like Thoreau, “simplify, simplify.”

Personalizing Bureaucracy

Small universities are intimate to the point of claustrophobic. You know a great many of the professors and students by name, you work closely with each colleague, and you run into the college president at the neighborhood bakery. In contrast, your large university is a bureaucracy, “effective through its mass rather than through its agility,” notes Peter Drucker. Generally you will need to navigate layer after layer of approval and mediation. Destroying 20-year-old papers requires permission from the state capital. Managers ask you to make appointments to see them. Implementing innovations can take way longer than they should because of the many stakeholders you must consult or persuade.

How to thrive amid bureaucracy? Accept that change is slower in complex environments and that large universities value consensus, whereas small organizations can just decide. So stay patient, but bring your enthusiasm and energy. Bureaucracy tends to sap drive from its members, so as a newcomer setting a faster pace, your drive adds value to the organization. And if you counter-interviewed your search committee as rigorously as they interviewed you, your new colleagues will appreciate you and your vitality.

This brings us to the key point: personalizing working relationships enables us to break through bureaucratic barriers. Be tough and hard-driving, on yourself above all, but be genuine, kind, and helpful too—and do not allow your frustration with the bureaucracy cause you to become frustrated with the people trapped in it. You’re new, and that fact will help you build positive relationships with even the most challenging personalities.

Broadening Scope

Isolation is a byproduct of specialization in large, complex organizations. Small-library staff may do reference, instruction, web design, budgets, resource management, etc. Large-library staff are generally hired for a specialized role. This is fine. The problem is that you can do your job without interacting much with folks outside your immediate working group. This is true for instruction librarians as much as it is for catalogers.

This hyper-specialization is ultimately pernicious. If you do not collaborate or socialize with a broad spectrum of colleagues, or understand how users engage with the services you provide, then you are isolated, not specialized. Isolation’s effects can be personal, such as loneliness and loss of motivation. Or they can be work-related. If people do not know you, they will not know to respect you. You will (A) lack control over the direction of your work, and (B) fail to exercise influence outside your cubicle walls.

The key is to broaden the scope of your specialized work. Start by applying or acquiring expertise in areas related to your specialization. For example, if you manage eresources, then get a handle on user experience. If you teach, then study up on open educational resources. Do not try to take over other people’s jobs—rather, identify service gaps of which to take ownership. Wrangle appointments to committees and task forces beyond the scope of your immediate duties. Gently, persistently remind your supervisors of the intersections between your work and others’. Communicate openly and frequently. Be transparent with internal stakeholders. Embrace interconnectivity. You’ll thrive.

Michael Rodriguez is an Electronic Resources Librarian at the University of Connecticut in Storrs, which has fifteen times as many students and fifty times the operating budget of Hodges University in Florida, where he formerly served as E-Learning Librarian.

The Slow Gradual Veer to Academic Librarianship

Check out our post on HLS today too! Jen Jarson, ACRLog blogger, reflects on the importance of place and work environment in “Room to Grow?” See more information about the HLS/ ACRLog collaboration here

Hailley Fargo is a second year masters student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. When she’s not in school, Hailley is an avid oatmeal connoisseur, baseball scorekeeper, bike rider, and reader of memoirs. She also likes to live tweet every once and a while (check out @hailthefargoats). Hailley was asked to write about why she’s interested in academic librarianship.

When I decided to come to graduate school, my heart was not set on academic librarianship. After working summers with children at my hometown public library and then working with all sorts of people at New York Public Library as a community outreach intern, I figured my place was with the communities at your local public library. I came into my graduate program dead set on children and youth services. The classes I first took at the University of Illinois pushed me away from that end-all-be-all focus and I ended up in the world of community informatics, digital literacy, and public libraries.

My second year in graduate school provided two opportunities that helped me to make the slow, gradual veer into academic librarianship. The first was my assistantship, as a library supervisor in our residence hall libraries. My job gives me the best of all library jobs – supervision, collection development, programming, and community building. I felt like I had finally plugged back into the college life – during my office hours I felt the energy of undergrads that I realized I missed when I entered graduate school. I was able to apply all my community engagement theories into actual lived experience and I found myself fully immersed. The job has given me challenges too, such as new projects for this spring and thinking through what undergraduates actually know about the library. What I love about this job is the daily work – there’s always something to do and I actually get to be out in the libraries, meeting students (and trying to relate to them), working with the clerks I supervise, and helping students and staff find information. It’s incredibly rewarding and I kept thinking to myself, “How can I stay in this sort of environment?”

The second opportunity was taking library instruction this fall. Our main lens to look into instruction was through academic librarianship. While the class was helpful in thinking through instruction to the elementary students I work with, reading books like Maria Accardi’s Feminist Pedagogy for Library Instruction and the collection of critical library instruction essays compiled by Emily Drabinski and company, got me thinking through what instruction for undergraduates might look like. My final instructional design project was focused on keyword searching for freshman and sophomores living in the residence halls my libraries are at. As I turned in my final PDF of the project I asked the same sort of question when I was in the residence hall libraries, “This is fun and challenging. How can I keep doing this?”      

To me, academic librarianship seems to be about balance as you attempt to put together an intricate puzzle. You are trying to serve so many different groups across the campus. From the bright-eyed freshman to senioritis seniors to student research rockstars and then a faculty with wide-ranging and diverse interests. Of course one can’t forget about all the other people with access to the library, such as staff, other members of the institution, and sometimes even the public. I get so excited about trying to help them all and finding ways to connect these groups, not only with each other, but with other aspects of campus. Academic librarianship seems to provide this unique community engagement opportunity because you have access to a community that (sometimes) lives very close and who have a constant need for information (two to four years of coursework). I see the chance to be the spokesperson, to engage outside the library walls to help faculty understand why library instruction is, and to remind students the library is an important presence to have (and to take advantage of). Perhaps I’m being a little too idealistic and ignoring the actual reality of academic libraries. However, based on my experience at the residence hall libraries, it’s possible, it just takes time and lots of relationship building.

I haven’t firmly settled on academic librarianship. But it’s calling to me. As I start my job search, I seem to more drawn to the job descriptions I’m seeing at colleges across the United States. Reading through those job descriptions are exciting and I’m going to apply to some of them. Two years ago, I would have never suspected that academic libraries would have been on my librarianship path. Now, I feel the opportunity is available to me and I feel my experiences this spring will help to decide what I decide to pursue next.  

Thank you to the ARCLog and Hack Library School for the opportunity to write this post.

Academic Interviews from Both Sides

Brenna and Maura were asked to write collaboratively to explore academic interviews from both sides– job applicants and administrators. HLS is also featuring this post today.

Brenna is a student at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and managing editor of Hack Library School. She has a bachelor’s in English from the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). While working as an undergraduate at the Richard J. Daley library at UIC, she fell in love with all things library and has been there ever since. Her professional focus is academic librarianship with an interest in reference, collection development, and marketing/communications. Maura is the Chief Librarian at NYC College of Technology (City Tech) of the City University of New York, a large, public, commuter college in Brooklyn. She’s been at City Tech since 2008, first as instruction coordinator and as Chief Librarian since 2014. She’s also coordinator of ACRLog, and has been blogging there since 2009. Her research interests include undergraduate academic culture, critical information literacy and librarianship, open educational technologies, and game-based learning.

Cover Letters

Brenna:

The number one piece of advice library students receive in regards to cover letters is to find a way to stand out from the crowd. I totally get it: search committees have piles of cover letters from candidates and we all must start to blur together after a while. I try to find a couple of things that set me apart from other applicants and make sure to highlight them, but a lot of us come from similar backgrounds and it can be a daunting task. I’m also frequently advised to tailor cover letters to each individual job description. I realize why employers look for this, but it can be maddening when applying to many jobs at once. I’d love to hear some advice on how to stand out from other applicants and how to stay sane while writing multiple individualized cover letters.

Maura:

Brenna’s offered some great advice about cover letters, and I second all of it. It’s absolutely true that it’s time-consuming to tweak your cover letter to each job you apply for, but in my experience it’s also absolutely worth it. A cover letter that stands out to me connects your experience specifically with the job requirements listed in the position description. It’s also fine to highlight your relevant non-library experience here, and draw parallels between your background and the library or college. It might be helpful to make a quick list of what you find compelling about the job — pick one or two reasons from your list, and devote a few sentences in your cover letter to how your interest and experience would be beneficial if you were hired in that position.

Distance Interviews

Brenna:

Phone interviews are intimidating for me because I’m never really sure what to expect. Though I’ve yet to have a phone interview for an academic position, I’ve had a fair share for other jobs and they are always a surprise. Sometimes the interviewer mostly wants to share information about the job with me and other times they have a laundry list of questions to slog through. What kind of questions should be expected for a phone interview? Will we be interviewing with one person or several? How long should we set aside for the interview?

Everyone has different levels of comfort while speaking on the phone. Some things that have helped me feel confident include: dressing for the occasion, smiling (even though they can’t see me), finding somewhere quiet where I won’t be interrupted, and bringing a notebook to jot down notes and questions. Also, remember the names of your interviewers!

Maura:

In my library we typically have two rounds of interviews for library faculty positions, and if any of the applicants are not local we’ll do a phone interview for the first round. I’ve rarely heard anyone — candidates or search committee members — say that they love phone interviews, but with budget limitations it’s just not practical for us to bring in all first round candidates for a campus interview.

If you’re contacted for a phone interview, try to schedule it for a time when you can be on the phone in a quiet location, as Brenna suggests. Have a pen and paper ready so that you can take notes if you need to. It’s fine to ask the committee to repeat questions if you have trouble hearing them — we hold interviews in our conference room via speakerphone and not everyone can sit right next to the phone. (Years ago I did an interview on my cellphone in an alley behind the office where I was then working, so I’m very sympathetic to phone interview issues. But if I could do it over again for that interview, I’d have found a different way for sure.)

To speak more specifically to Brenna’s questions, I make sure to share as much information as possible with the candidate while scheduling the phone interview: that it will be with our full search committee (typically 5-6 librarians), and that we anticipate it lasting about 30 minutes. It’s fine to ask those questions if that information isn’t shared when you’re scheduling the interview. We do have a list of questions to go through — the same for all candidates; I also briefly introduce the job responsibilities and budget time for the candidate to ask questions at the end.

In-Person Interviews

Brenna:

I’ve been advised (read: warned) time and again in library school about the full-day interview. As a new professional, the pressure to make a good first impression on a search committee can be overwhelming. I know that interviewees meet with the search committee and sometimes give a presentation, but everything else seems to vary depending on the institution. One thing that would put me at ease is having a schedule so I know what to expect. For students, I’d recommend reaching out to the career advisors at your school in preparation for your interview. They can provide you with guidance not only for the interview, but for the whole process.

One thing I’d like to know is what to expect from the presentation: what should we be conscious of as candidates? what kind of things are the search committee looking for? Also, what should we expect from the shorter interviews?

Maura:

In-person interviews at academic libraries can vary in length — I’ve seen anything from a few hours to a full day or more. The search committee should share the schedule details with you, and you should definitely ask if you have any questions. If you’re traveling from out of town, the search committee and/or college administration should be able to help with travel arrangements and/or reimbursement. Unfortunately not all colleges and universities have funding to support bringing in out of town candidates for a position — if you’re applying for positions outside your local area I’d suggest asking about travel reimbursement before scheduling the interview. And for those of us on hiring committees, it’s best for us to be up front about whether we can support travel for out-of-town candidates before we schedule interviews.

My understanding is that the most common components of an on-campus interview are a meeting with the search committee and an opportunity to make a presentation with all librarians in attendance. Other possibilities include meeting with one or more library departments or units, meeting with other offices or departments at the college or university, and lunch or dinner with the search committee or others. Interviews with individual departments or offices might focus specifically on what those departments or offices do, while the search committee may ask the typical interview questions and discuss the responsibilities listed in the job ad.

I’ve heard (and suggested) a range of presentation possibilities for job candidates. In my library we usually ask instruction librarian candidates to present on how they would teach a specific topic in our library course; for technical services and technology candidates we typically ask candidates to look at our library’s strategic plan and consider one or more goals related to their position. We do ask all candidates to give presentations, not just instruction librarians — all of our librarians will likely make a presentation at a conference or on campus at some point, and we also use the presentation as an opportunity for our entire department to meet and ask questions of the candidate.

Institutional Culture

Brenna:

It seems that a major part of the on-campus interview is to determine if the candidate is a good fit for the institutional culture. Though it’s tempting for recent grads to jump at the first job opportunity we see, it’s quite possible that we may interview somewhere and find we would not want to work there. Some things I look out for are lack of mobility and limited professional development opportunities. I want my career goals to match up with the opportunities the institution provides their employees. What do search committees look for in a candidate that tells them they will fit in? What should candidates look for to see if they are a good fit for the institution?

Maura:

Institutional culture is varied and can be difficult to get a handle on in just the time allotted for an interview (or even multiple interviews). My experience is that you can’t really know, you can only make your best guess. However, your best guess will be better if you dig into some research beforehand.

Browse through the library’s website to see how the library is organized and what services and resources the library offers. Search the internet to learn more about the librarians who work there: are they active in professional organizations? do they publish or present at conferences? Look through the college or university’s website as well, which can help you get a sense of the institution. Some sections to look out for include any policies that apply to librarians, including support for travel or professional development. If the college or university has a union that includes librarians, you might find information about contracts and salaries on their website.

During the interview you should have time to ask questions about the work culture in the library, and to see how the search committee interacts with each other. While I hope this happens infrequently, if search committee members: make disparaging comments about their colleagues or the institution, ask questions they’re not allowed to, or you experience microagressions — those are red flags that you’ll want to consider. As Brenna notes, during the interview process you may realize that you don’t want to work at that institution, and it’s okay to withdraw from the search if so.

What Questions to Ask

Brenna:

Preparing questions ahead of time is a necessity for jobs of any kind. I usually peruse the library and institution’s websites to gather as much information as I can. I also look for a strategic plan, if it’s available, as well as news stories about the institution and faculty biographies. From these sources I come up with a list of questions to ask — I usually have quite a few in case some of them are covered during the interview. I also come up with questions as the interview goes on.

I’d definitely like to hear some advice on talking about salaries. It’s a touchy subject and it can be hard to determine the appropriate time to bring it up. If the salary is not listed in the job posting, when should you ask about it? I know that negotiation is generally expected once the job offer has been extended, but what should we know about making a counter-offer? Is it better to ask over the phone or via email?

Maura:

While it sounds somewhat trite, it’s absolutely true: when you’re on a job interview you are interviewing the search committee and library, too. It’s important to have questions to ask during the interview — not only will it help you learn more about the position and institution, but it also signals your interest in the job. Brenna’s given some great advice about questions, some of which may come out of your research before coming into the interview. Definitely ask about anything that’s not clear in the job ad. Other questions to ask include how often and by whom you’ll be evaluated, and what are the requirements for reappointment, promotion, and tenure (if relevant to the specific job). You might want to ask about other possible benefits, for example, funding for conference travel or opportunities for continuing education.

Salary questions are fine to ask during the interview, as far as I’m concerned, though the search committee may not be able to answer as specifically as you’d like. Library faculty at my library are in a union (with other faculty) which publishes salary ranges, so that’s a starting point. Brenna’s right that negotiation begins after an offer has been made — if you’re negotiating for a higher offer, focus on the experience you bring to the position. Follow the lead of the search committee re: negotiating via phone or email. While I definitely advocate for candidates to negotiate for a higher salary, typically salaries are a function of multiple factors, including how many/what kinds of other job searches are ongoing both within the library and across the institution, and ultimately there may not be much flexibility.

What Search Committees Are Really Looking For

Brenna:

After all the preparation, hard work, and anxiety that goes into the job search process, it seems the best thing we can do as applicants is to be genuine and hope that things work out. Though I’m an introvert, I used to pretend I was super outgoing in job interviews because I thought that was what employers were looking for. After some reflection, I realized that I may not be the first to stand up and give my opinion in a meeting, but I will take time to contemplate larger issues and put effort into seeing things from different perspectives. I have found a way to sell my introversion as an asset. The ability to play up your strengths and provide concrete examples or successes seems to be the best thing a candidate can bring to an interview.

What kind of things should candidates absolutely not say in an interview?

Maura:

One of the things that’s been most important on the search committees I’ve served on is a clear feeling from the candidate that they want this job, the position that we are offering. I’ve been on the job market enough to know that often when we’re looking for jobs, we need a job, and thus we may apply for range of jobs that are not all the same. That’s okay, but during the interview it’s important to speak convincingly about what interests you about working in *this* job at *this* place. When I’m on a search committee I also want to see that candidates understand the responsibilities for the job (and that’s where asking questions can come in). Since librarians are tenure-track faculty at my college with the same service and scholarship requirements as other faculty, we are especially interested in whether our candidates are interested in service and scholarship.

I’m also looking for a positive outlook in the candidates we interview. This is not necessarily synonymous with extroversion — introverts are positive, too. Red flags for me include disparaging comments about prior colleagues and workplaces. I acknowledge that there are real issues with toxic work environments and that there are good reasons for leaving a job in a toxic work environment. However, a focus on your hopes for this job, for your work, and for libraries is much more compelling during a job interview. Brenna’s suggestion to have a few specific examples in mind of successful work in other jobs is a great one, and will help the search committee learn more about the strengths you could bring to the position.

(Un)Written Tips for New LIS Students (Or, What I Learned In Grad School)

It’s mid-April and so many things are wrapping up. Most of my class projects have been turned in. I’m calculating the last hours I owe at each graduate assistantship. I just landed my first professional position! And—maybe most excitingly—one of my largest projects, the 2015 Symposium on LIS Education just happened last weekend. I’m finding myself with more free time (thank you, Lord) but also more anxiety about the future of my career.

Why not take a minute to look in the rear view mirror and reflect on the past instead of getting caught up on the “what ifs” of the future? I’ve said this before but I’ll say it again. Because I am the only graduate student voice on ACRLog right now, I feel an obligation to speak to graduate students’ needs and concerns. Thus, I thought I would write a short reflection on what I have learned in graduate school—the good, the bad, and the ugly. Fair warning: my experience in no way represents all LIS students’ experiences. My hope is that this reflection will give those just starting an LIS program or thinking about starting one some information about what it was like and what I might do differently if I had the chance. Hindsight is 20/20 so why shouldn’t we give others the space to learn from our misunderstandings and mistakes?

It’s important to give some context first. I have had what some might call an abnormal LIS graduate student experience. I attended the University of Illinois’ Graduate School of Library and Information Science (GSLIS) where I focused on instruction and scholarly communication. I finished the program in two years. During the course of my forty credit hours, I took only four online courses. Throughout my time at GSLIS, I held 1-2 graduate assistantships, either in our reference or instruction department. This means that all of my classes were supplemented with practical, tangible experience, including fielding reference questions, performing assessments, instructing workshops, providing internal education, and even attending committee meetings. I was extremely blessed to have these experiences. I was extremely blessed to have the mentorship that these experiences inherently provide. I am a white female in the LIS field and I undoubtedly have privileges others do not. I had support and freedom to uproot my life and move to Illinois and many others do not. It’s important to acknowledge these differences and work to change the structural issues in our current LIS education system to include more diversity, in terms of prior experiences, race, ethnicity, age, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic/ first generation status, and library training.

Below are my tips, in a nutshell. I have to admit that these were influenced by the recent Symposium on LIS Education Keynote (recording forthcoming) by Micah Vandegrift, Brianna Marshall, and Annie Pho entitled “Go Forth- OR- Community is Easy, Change is Difficult”. I’d like to thank them for giving me the courage to share both my successes and my failures.

Don’t underestimate your peers

I can’t overemphasize this enough. I came to GSLIS thinking that I would only really learn from my instructors and my supervisors. While I did end up learning a lot from these people, I learned just as much (if not more) from my peers. These peers—everyone from my colleagues at the information desk to the committee I worked with to plan the symposium—pushed me to think more critically about librarianship as a profession. They challenged me to think in new and complicated ways, through Twitter or weekly coffee breaks. They learned right alongside me, often sharing their newfound knowledge and developing projects with me so that I had some level of fluency in digital humanities or critical pedagogy or some other area I might have never been exposed to. By not only sparking my interest in these topics but also challenging my long-held conceptions about librarianship, they made me a better student, graduate assistant, job candidate, and (I hope) librarian.

Don’t get me wrong. I would advise you to ask your supervisor about their first job. Ask your instructor more about their experience with that topic. But don’t underestimate your peers—near or far. They know what you’re going through. They are trying to digest and grasp all of these new experiences too. Lean on each other. Mentor each other. Complain to each other! But make sure you develop relationships with the students around you. They are the future of this profession and your connection with them will be invaluable.

In short, I think my friend Kyle says it best:

tweet  

Push yourself

When I moved to Illinois, I didn’t know a single person in the entire state. I left Ohio for professional and personal reasons and I thought moving two states away would fix most everything. All of that sounds great on paper. But when you arrive, you realize that it’s overwhelming and isolating. The first few months were lonely and, frankly, depressing. But I pushed myself. I pushed myself to meet people. I pushed myself to attend community events and get familiar with GSLIS.

After awhile, I found my footing. Eventually, I was able to push myself in new and exciting ways. I took classes that were outside of my comfort zone. I led more workshops and instructional sessions. I took on a more challenging assistantship. I took an international LIS class and met LIS students from around the world. While all of these decisions mean that I have more experience, I also believe they have made me more thoughtful. I can relate to others’ positions more now. I am more willing to try new things and take risks. Everyone has to follow the path that makes the most sense for them. I would just encourage you to find ways to get outside of your comfort zone while you’re on that path.

Take your own stance/ Push your teachers, mentors, and colleagues

You’re going to have a lot of different people tell you a lot of different things. Everyone has a different opinion on everything, from teaching methods to the best tools to use for a specific project. Moreover, many people—even within our small library world—take different high-level stances on things like theory and ethics. These people are people you look up to. They have been in the field for decades and they have professional experiences you won’t have for a long time. Take their wisdom seriously and let it shape and challenge you.

At the same time, hold your own! You have a voice! You are becoming a professional and an expert. They can learn from your experience too. I know it’s challenging and even scary to take a different stance then someone you look up to, but our profession will never grow if you don’t.

A quick note: I have to again emphasize that I have privileges that others do not. I am in no way advocating that this is feasible for everyone. We have bills we have to pay and sometimes challenging someone—especially if they have some level of authority over you—is not feasible. In short, if you have the privilege and space to challenge some of the issues in our profession, think about doing so, especially if they affect people that can’t have a voice.

Know your value

This is especially true in the job search. You’ll hear that jobs are difficult to land and they are. But you have worked really, really hard to be where you’re at. Recognize how incredibly intelligent, talented, and unique you are. I know that the job market is tight and you really just need to get your foot in the door. But remember why you came to library school in the first place—to do interesting, rewarding work. Think less about what kind of job you want and more about what kind of work you want to do. If a position doesn’t seem to give you space to do that work, seriously think about whether it’s right for you. This is all to say that if you believe you are a great library professional, others will often start to believe you are too. Don’t feel like you have to work somewhere were the work is mediocre, the pay is unfair, and the leadership isn’t active (often all in a region where you won’t be happy). You have to be realistic but  you should also realize that you are the best advocate you have.

Reflect

All of the things you’re learning are new and exciting. You’re reading new topics and scholars in your courses, you are developing new relationships, and you might even be teaching or programming or doing some other exciting activity for the first time. It all happens so quickly. You will blink and forget those first experiences. In some ways, this is great. You get to improve without ruminating on some the stumbling blocks you had to get over.

At the same time, you risk being able to tangibly see how far you’ve come. Take some time, either weekly, monthly, or even once a semester, and think about all of the skills you have learned and all of the connections you have made. Often writing, discussing, or critiquing something we have done allows us to digest it. We gain new insights and are better able to identify successes and failures, all of which make us better practitioners the next time we do something.

Start healthy practices now

I hope that this doesn’t sound preachy but this is so important! Grad school is a stressful time—financially and emotionally. If you work and attend classes, you have little to no free time. I get all of that. I have lived it. But that doesn’t mean you can’t set boundaries. At some point, you and your needs have to come first. If you don’t set boundaries now, it will be even more difficult to suddenly start setting them when you start your professional life.

I know you’d really like to be part of that new project. Or you think it might not be that big of a deal to take on one more hourly project. Maybe you think you can pick up the slack for your group for an assignment. Habits are hard to break! Think critically about how you like to work. Do you lead? Do you let someone else lead? Are you a perfectionist? Think critically about how you communicate. Do you say what you think directly? Are you sometimes passive aggressive? It might sound silly but take note of all of these now. The better you know yourself, the better you can advocate for yourself and your time. The more transparent you can be with yourself (and with others), the more successful and healthy your life will be.

My advice is simple. Be intentional and realistic about how much time you have. SAY NO! You never want to be in a position where you really care about something you volunteered for but you can’t actually do what you said you would. Put your needs first. Realize that you have an identity outside of your professional interests and that’s okay. You are an entire person—with a family, hobbies, and interests. Embrace that now and set boundaries when you can so you can enjoy all of the aspects of your life, personal and professional.

Embrace rejection

Last fall, my proposal for a large international conference was rejected. Many of my friends were attending and I felt foolish for not getting in. When asked about it, I glossed over it like it wasn’t a big deal. The truth is that talking about it more would have helped me grow. I would have been able to think about the quality of my proposal sooner and more effectively. Moreover, this wasn’t a career changer! I can still submit an improved proposal to another conference. I can take their feedback and use it constructively to challenge myself. (Also, sometimes there are just a lot of awesome proposals and the planning committee can only pick so many. Now that I have gone through this process myself, I realize how difficult choosing really is!).

Failure is hard, especially when you care as deeply about the profession as many people do. But see it as an opportunity to learn, grow, and reflect. Embrace it, stand back up, and try again!

Be kind to yourself

I’m not sure if I’m qualified to write about this because I’m not the best at it. It’s a goal I’m working toward. Be patient with yourself. Remember that learning and growth takes time. Remember that you can’t do it all. You can, however, acknowledge your successes and be proud of how far you’ve come. You deserve it.

More Resources Worth Exploring:

Brianna Marshall, Professionalism and Self- Presentation

Brianna Marshall, We Need to Share our Rejections

Jennifer Guiliano, Time, Money, and the Academy

Gennie Gebhart, Five Mistakes I Made in My First Quarter of Library School

Amanda Hope Davis, A Librarian’s Approach to Self-Care

Lix McGlynn, On Overcommitting

Brianna Marshall, Library School Life Lessons

Robin Camille, Hello from New York! My new job, how I got here, and the value of my MLIS