Scared, but In a Good Way: Navigating My First Few Weeks as an Academic Librarian

Editor’s Note: Please join us in welcoming Katie Kuipers, Assistant Professor and Affordability & Digital Initiatives Librarian at St. Cloud State University, as a new First Year Academic Librarian Experience blogger for the 2023-2024 year here at ACRLog.

I spent the weeks following graduation in May as I imagine many graduates do: desperately applying for jobs.  With a Master of Library and Information Science degree in hand, I was eager to dive head-first into the world of professional librarianship.  As each rejection letter came, however, my excitement dwindled.  I decided to pivot my job search and focus on jobs that intrigued me rather than applying to any and every librarian job I found.  Although I had no experience working in an academic library, I took a course in grad school about the issues in the academic libraries and conducted research on first generation students and the information literacy skills of first-year students.  This led me to applying, interviewing, and accepting the job as the Affordability & Digital Initiatives Librarian at St. Cloud State University.

I packed my bags and excitedly moved from my home in North Dakota to St. Cloud, Minnesota.  A few weeks before the semester began, I received an email from the Dean asking if I would be interested in co-teaching a course for the fall and teaching it on my own for the spring.  Wanting to challenge myself, I replied that I could.  At St. Cloud State University, academic librarians are also faculty members.  Not only was I the Affordability & Digital Initiatives Librarian, but I was an Assistant Professor for the University Library as well.  I had no idea what this would mean until I showed up for the new faculty orientation on campus. 

New faculty orientation overwhelmed me.  Suddenly, I was inundated with acronyms I was unfamiliar with like “P&T” (promotion and tenure) and “PDP” (professional development plan).  While other new faculty were finalizing their syllabi and drafting their assignments for the semester, I was feeling massively underprepared and began developing imposter syndrome.  I returned to campus the next day unsure of what lay ahead of me.  After receiving my workload from the Dean, I had a clearer picture of what was expected of me; however, I was scared that I was in over my head.  Along with teaching, I was tasked with creating affordability workshops, designing an online affordability course, and supporting faculty adopting, adapting, and creating OER, all of which was new to me.

Once I met my colleagues, I realized I had a wonderful support network right in front of me.  Over the past couple weeks, they have caught me up to speed on the status of the Affordability Initiative at the university, explained numerous acronyms, shared their professional development plans from previous years, and checked in with me to see if I have any questions as I navigate my role.  My co-professor generously offered to take the reins for the beginning half of the semester to allow me to observe her teaching style.  We have been collaborating on discussion questions and class activities to ease me into the course.  Along the way, I have been making notes to prepare myself for my own course next semester.  The department chair has been instrumental in my adjustment to the position.  She shares her teaching experiences and is patient with me as I learn how to tackle library instruction and research appointments, another aspect of my workload.  Overall, the department has reassured me that everything will be okay.  I will encounter bumps throughout the year, but that is to be expected of a librarian fresh out of grad school.

Even though I am only a few weeks into my position, I can see a lifelong career in academic librarianship.  I enjoy getting to know my students and want to help them succeed.  I am adapting to the workload and drafting ideas to implement throughout the year.  Thanks to my colleagues, the imposter syndrome is starting to subdue, and I am feeling more confident in my position.  Am I still scared?  Absolutely… but in a good way. 

Keeping in Touch: Maintaining Work Relationships After Changing Jobs

In my non-work life, I can be a persistent friend. I like reaching out and saying hi, letting friends know I’m thinking about them. I love catching up over the phone, FaceTiming to work on an embroidery project and gossip, or when travel allows, visiting friends and seeing their favorite spots in their city. Keeping in touch isn’t an easy task, especially during a pandemic. And during 2021, I’ve reflected on my big friendships and have tried to figure out what type of communication works best for us to keep in touch. 

In changing jobs, I’m thinking a lot about how I want to stay in touch with former colleagues. This keeping in touch includes both work friendships (which I’ve talked about on ACRLog before) as well as professional relationships and collaborations. After five years at an institution, there were some folks where it still feels weird not to hear from regularly. Especially colleagues I frequently worked with or colleagues who were part of my day-to-day working life. I’ve been at my new institution long enough to have new day-to-day work colleagues, but I still miss some of those past work relationships. 

So far, my strategies for keeping in touch have included the tried and true update email, finding time for a Zoom catch-up, brainstorming a conference proposal together, connecting them with new colleagues when interests match, and seeking out their expertise and perspective as I settle into my middle manager role. I’ve also appreciated colleagues who have reached out to check in, propose collaborative projects, and or share news.

Ultimately, I feel strongly that keeping in touch with folks from previous jobs is important. While my role and responsibilities might have changed, I like to imagine new ways former colleagues and I can collaborate and learn from one another. Just like any friendship, it’s exciting to see work relationships evolve and change as we grow into new positions and people. I also feel strongly that intentionally working across institutions through maintaining past work relationships is crucial. Working across institutions means we can always learn from each other and see how different situations play out based on student populations and institutional context. 

Something that’s tough for me in friendships is knowing when a friendship has changed. The same goes for former colleagues: not everyone is someone you have to keep in touch with. You grow apart and this can be especially true if you no longer see each other in your work ecosystem. I’m always reminded of wisdom I got from a professor at my college during my senior year: she told the graduating class we would only keep in touch with a couple of friends from our time at college. She told us that she knew we didn’t believe her (we optimistically thought we would stay close friends with everyone) but she was totally right. There’s only so much we can do to maintain friendships or work relationships. You can’t keep in touch with everyone and that’s okay. I’m hoping as in-person conferences return in the next few years, that will be a good space to reconnect and see those colleagues.

For me, I hope to apply a lot of my out-of-work friendship practices to maintaining former colleague relationships. Just like any friendship, keeping in touch requires a willingness from both parties and an understanding of what kind of communication works best for where we are now. I don’t know about you, but I think I’ve got a few catch-up emails to send out!


Featured image by Volodymyr Hryshchenko on Unsplash

The impossibility of tying up loose ends

This week, I’m writing this blog post from a new location and from a new job. Since April, things have been hectic and frantic and frankly, (not to be dramatic but) life-changing. I wrapped up a job I had been in for four years, moved eight hours to a new city, and started a new job. I survived the first week and am excited about what week two will bring. 

As I was packing up and getting ready to leave, I was struck by all the things I could do and felt like I should do in preparation for my exit. This pressure also came from the legacy of those who had left my institution in prior years; I thought of the laments and frustrations and eye rolls colleagues (including myself) had when someone left pieces without instructions. I wanted so badly to do right by my job, the projects I had started, and most importantly, by my colleagues and the students involved in our work. 

In the month I had remaining at my former institution, I was appreciative to have Jenny Ferretti’s tweet thread from a few months ago when she changed roles. I spent time writing out the context, the stakeholders, the dreams, and the processes for my work. I connected colleagues and reassured folks that my job during that final month was to make sure all the pieces were in place for future success. I created new SharePoints, walked people through past reports and systems, and set up meetings to talk about these transitions. 

At the beginning of that final month, I felt on top of things. I finally had some space to work on some projects I had set aside for the time being. My calendar wasn’t filling up with new appointments and requests for future work. However, the closer we got to those final days, the less energy I had to devote to tying up work projects. I was moving and had all the things a move creates — new addresses, cancelling services, starting new services, reserving UHauls, seeing old friends before you go, and deciding what stuff I wanted to move. I just didn’t have the brain space to tie EVERY single loose end. 

On my final days of work at my former institution, I tweeted about the loose end emails I knew I would have.

It was comforting to hear folks affirm that tying all the loose ends is impossible and that others were going through similar transitions. I hope that things go okay for the projects at my former institution and that my colleagues there will give me grace for the things I might have missed. 

So now it’s onto a new chapter. I’ve got a small inbox and a clearer calendar. Excited to dive into my new role and thankful for the work I was able to do at my former institution. Can’t wait to share more about my work as a department head on ACRLog in the coming months. 


Featured image by Nathalia Segato on Unsplash

We’re All Ears: Learning By Listening

This post has been co-authored by Maura Smale and Jen Jarson.

The context

Jen: I started a new job at a new institution about two and a half weeks ago after 11 years at my previous institution. This new institution is rather different than my former one. That was a residential, small liberal arts college. This is a small commuter campus that’s part of a huge system. My new job has more administrative responsibilities, too. I learned new things every day in my previous position, of course, but there is something quite different about the blank slate of coming in to a new institution and a new position. So much to learn, so much to do, and so little context or history to help light the way.

Maura: I’ve been a library faculty member at my college for 9 years, three of those as director of the library. But like Jen, right now I find myself in a period of settling in to something changed. I was out on a research sabbatical for six months–most of this calendar year–beginning in early February and returning to the library just last week. I’m in the same job and institution, though the day to day rhythm of my work is vastly different than it was a few weeks ago. As I’ve been settling back in (and trying to remember where I left things in the folders and drawers in my office) I’ve been struck by the similarities to starting a new job. I still have my institutional and historical context, but there’s lots for me to learn (and relearn), too.

What are (the right) questions to ask when you’re trying to (re)learn about a job/institution?

Maura: Since I got back I’ve been arranging meetings with my colleagues to catch up on last semester and their work, and sometimes feel like the questions I’ve asked are quite similar to those I asked when I first became Chief Librarian. What have you been working on? How’re your projects, research, and other work going? Have you hit any roadblocks? Is there any support I can offer? I’m grateful to all of my colleagues, especially my colleague who served as interim director when I was out, for keeping everything running in the Spring. But because nothing is ever truly static there were a few unexpected situations and opportunities that came up while I was away. Learning about those really is like having a new job (though in the same organizational context), especially coming up to speed on new projects in the library for this academic year that hadn’t yet appeared on the horizon before I left on leave.

Jen: I, too, am trying to meet with as many of my new colleagues as I can. For me, that includes library and non-library folks at my local campus, as well as folks in the libraries at other campuses. To prepare for each meeting, I take stock of my running list of questions and choose those that seem most relevant to that person or group. As I look over this list now, I recognize that the questions are a mix of specific (such as, what assessments of student learning outcomes have been done recently?) and open-ended (for example, tell me about your work and responsibilities, how do you think students perceive the library?, what could the library be doing to better meet students’ needs?). Both types of questions provide me with useful information and open avenues for exploration. While the nature or phrasing of some lines of inquiry are likely more productive than others, just showing a sincere interest in others’ goals and challenges and seeking opportunities for alignment and collaboration feels like an important part of what makes this kind of outreach fruitful.

What should we listen for when in meetings, either individually or with committees or teams, both inside and outside the library?

Maura: Listening is important–I’m always working to improve my listening skills (and I think it’s a lifelong process, at least for me). In coming back after sabbatical I’m reminding myself to listen as much as I can: in one on one meetings, in committees, in casual conversations. I’ve been spending some time walking around the library and campus to listen, too, though since our semester hasn’t begun yet it’s still fairly quiet. Typically in conversations we focus on the topic at hand, and I’m reminding myself to listen with both ears open. I’m trying to pay extra attention, not just to the specific task being discussed but to projects and processes in the library as a whole.

Jen: Like Maura, I’m trying to listen on a number of levels. I’m listening for actionable improvements and opportunities, whether in the here-and-now or in the near or distant future. I’m also listening to uncover further questions I should be asking, those that I haven’t yet been able to fathom. I’m listening to understand priorities and goals and challenges and how the library plays a role in supporting or addressing them. I’m listening to figure out how the many moving parts of this large organization fit together and how to navigate and communicate best within and across it. I’m trying to listen for what the other person is really saying, rather than only what I expect or assume they’re telling me. I’m listening for the moments and places where our interests intersect and where we can best collaborate to advance student learning.

What questions do you think are most important to ask when you start a new position or return after time away? What do you wish a new/returning colleague would ask you? What do you find most important to listen for? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.