When do new librarians start publishing anyway?

Confession: I’m 10 months into my first job in an academic library and I haven’t published anything. I haven’t been on a conference panel, and I haven’t given a full length presentation about my research. I’m not tenure track, so there’s no pressure to publish or perish; but conducting research, presenting ideas, and publishing papers is something that I definitely want to do.

Here’s the thing. I have a lot of ideas, and I know some of my research interests. I think I’m fairly lucky in that regard because creating a research agendas isn’t easy. I feel as if I’m just now getting the hang of things in my day-to-day professional life (learning my job, how this university functions, billions of acronyms) and can start to consider my next steps in regards to research. I’m settling in and thinking about what I can do next.

I’m not sure when new academic librarians publish their first paper or give their first presentation. Is there a typical timeline? Is this something everyone should do within the first year? The second year? These questions are probably coming from the little place where my imposter syndrome lives, but I’d genuinely like to know the answer to this as well. I follow a lot of prolific librarians on Twitter, so it seems like everyone is publishing and presenting all of the time, or like they walked out of the womb with a CV full of citations. It’s hard not to compare myself to others.  

That said, I’m glad that there are resources like The Librarian Parlor out there that help demystify this process, or else I’d be super lost. It’s also a place that addresses some of my questions. A recent article by Allison Rand really stuck with me because she talks about how hard the process is and what her beginnings as a researcher looked like. I’m trying to take this quote of hers to heart: “don’t let your past professional experience (or inexperience) define your professional path.” It’s good to remember that what I do next isn’t necessarily defined by what I’ve done before.

I’ve taken a few baby steps towards publications and presentations. For one, I’ve been writing for this blog, which is a helpful way to gather my ideas and write for a larger audience (quite frankly, this can be scary). I’ve started research projects with colleagues in the field and am putting some proposals out in the world. Even having informal conversations about research with others has been useful. I’ve also given a few lightning talks. Lightning talks are a low stakes way to begin presenting because you only have to prepare a 5-7 minute talk about a specific topic. I can talk about almost anything for 5 minutes. I presented two lightning talks locally, and am excited that my most recent lightning talk proposal will be presented at ACRL in April. This talk, and others that I’ve given are a stepping stone to what I envision will be a much larger conversation and research topic in the future.

And, for any other new librarians out there who aren’t sure if they’re on the right track with research, presentations, and publications, I feel you. We weren’t taught how to navigate the publishing field, and we haven’t had a lot of practice creating research studies; however, if we keep talking to each other about our research, are transparent about where we are and how we are doing, we’ll get there in the end.

When did you first publish or present your research?

Tales from an Unintentional Science Liaison

I’m sure this comes as a surprise to literally no one, but I have a B.A. in English Literature, which, along with History, is one of the most common, librarian backgrounds. Many of the librarians at my current workplace have a similar background to my own, though some librarians have second Master’s degrees in areas outside of librarianship. At my workplace, librarians are given collection development and liaison duties to different subject areas, and if you have a second Master’s degree in, say, Business Management, you’ll most likely be the liaison in that subject area. You’ll build relationships with faculty in that department, purchase materials related to that subject area, and teach information literacy to students taking classes in that subject. Librarians who have worked at the library for a while have obtained liaison duties in areas that fit their backgrounds or interests. As the newest librarian at my workplace, I was left with slim pickings, which is how I ended up as a liaison to biology and environmental science.

I have a tiny bit of background in environmental science from my work with both the National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management while getting my MLIS; however, it wasn’t the sciency stuff I was doing. I created online content and digital collections, which was super cool and in line with my library degree, but gave me no understanding of mechanical girdling and bark beetle fungi. As for biology, the last class I’d taken in that subject area was my freshman year of high school. Suffice it to say that these liaison subjects are not in my wheelhouse. Goodbye, Austen; hello, Darwin.

When I was first given biology and environmental science as liaison areas, I felt, and still do feel, that I would face some challenges establishing myself as the go-to person in these areas. For example, I was told that that library hadn’t done instruction in these subjects for a while, so it might be hard to get into classes. I had no idea how I was supposed to purchase books for biology because I wasn’t sure how to assess our current collection. Biology is basically every living thing ever, so it felt daunting to try and build a collection that encompassed all areas of life with such a limited budget. I also wasn’t sure how I’d connect to faculty with a PhD in areas I knew little about. At first I thought, maybe I’ll learn some stuff about plants so that I can contribute to a conversation. This turned out to be a bad idea because I can name about four houseplants while one faculty member was able to identify every type of grass on campus by sight. As Zoë recently talked about, the liaison imposter syndrome was real. How was I supposed to become a science liaison?

At the beginning of the semester, I decided to individually email all faculty members in my liaison area to introduce myself, let them know I would buy them stuff, and offer to come to their classes and talk to their students about research. This kind of worked. I got some responses thanking me, some requesting a particular book, and one or two who seemed interested in having me come to a class. I found the most luck in a new faculty group. Any faculty member who was new to campus was invited to a retreat and a learning community so that we could get to know the university and each other. There were three biology faculty in this group, and I was able to talk to and get to know them over the course of several days. They later invited me to their classes. Building in-person relationships was valuable to establishing myself as a liaison.

Building relationships with faculty is important to me, but I really wanted to support students and their information needs. I was initially concerned that students would balk at my un-scientific background and I felt most nervous about teaching a Master’s in Biomedical Sciences class at the beginning of the semester. I was to talk to them about scientific, primary literature, which I know a lot about, but I definitely felt out of my element talking to students who were working in medical fields and knew much more about bio-med than I did. It turns out, I didn’t need to worry. After teaching the class, multiple students scheduled consultations with me, not because they needed my limited knowledge about biology, but because they were still not confident they could identify primary, scientific literature; weren’t sure how to narrow down their topics; needed help with APA; or wanted help organizing their research.

What I learned from these consultations is that I don’t need to be an expert in biology to talk about research and information literacy to biology students (though I know our field is divided about who gets to be qualified for science librarianship). This was true for master’s students, and I had one memorable consultation with a student where we were trying to find information on receptors, and both outwardly cringed at a very jargon-heavy article title. We were instantly on the same page; neither of us wanted to click on that article because the title sucked and we had no idea what it was talking about. For the freshman biology courses I taught, I needed even less subject-specific knowledge because I know about as much about biology as freshmen do. What does a biology freshman need to know about research anyway? Probably the same as freshmen in other fields, which includes finding, identifying, understanding, and synthesizing sources into their own research (amongst other information skills).

I also realized that I know more about my liaison areas than I thought I did. For instance, I may not be able to describe every scientific fact driving climate change, but I am familiar with the conversations surrounding climate change, the change in terminology over time, the contentious and political nature of the subject, and that there is a scientific consensus that climate change is happening. I also know that genetics, CBD receptors, concussions, maternal mortality in the US, polio reemergence, cancer immunotherapy, antibiotic resistance, and renewable energy are hot topics right now as well. Guess what students are writing about? If I remain up-to-date on scientific news and understand the general conversations surrounding those topics, I’ll know what students care about researching. If I don’t know something about a subject, students have been really cool about sharing their own knowledge about a topic, and I get to learn something new.

Remaining up-to-date with student work and research trends is something that I can do on my own campus as well. I think it’s important for me to support student and faculty scholarship, especially in my liaison areas. I recently attended an event where students in science departments shared posters of the research they’d conducted over the semester. Biology faculty were there and several students I’d worked with over the semester were sharing their work. They were very excited to talk to me about their research and some students recognized me from classes or consultations. In fact, one of the biology faculty members introduced me to a student as the biology librarian, and the student responded, “I know. She talked to my class about primary research.” I’m considering everything about that interaction as a win.

Though I’m achieving small victories and growing my confidence that I can be a good liaison, most days, I feel a little anxious and unsure about what I’m doing. Collection development is still tricky, but luckily, I have colleagues that know this subject area fairly well and can help, and faculty in biology have made their own requests for materials. There’s also subject lists and all sorts of resources to help me figure out what materials to purchase. I still haven’t connected with every faculty member in my liaison area, and I’m not sure if I’ll ever be able to. Despite the challenges, I’m enjoying science liaisonship more than I thought I would. I hope that my confidence continues to grow and I become even better at supporting the research needs of my institution.

Are you a subject liaison? What are your experiences with librarian liaison roles?

Keeping Track of Your Commitments

I’m not the first FYAL blogger to note this, but there are significant differences between professional and student life. Lindsay O’Neill previously wrote about the culture shock of academic life, as well as her techniques for time management, and how the amount of freedom you have to shape your own days is both liberating and overwhelming. I’ve noticed many similar differences. When you’re a student, the semester feels like a sprint towards the finish line. When I became a librarian, there was suddenly a vast amount of time stretching out before me, and it was up to me to figure out how to fill it. As a student, assignments and deadlines are clearly defined for you by somebody else. Now, a lot of the work I do is self-generated and much less defined in its contours.  In this post, I wanted to discuss some of the strategies and tools I’ve used to adjust to this environment.

Last year, I received the book Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen as a gift (and a subtle hint, perhaps). I’m naturally averse to most things that seem like they’d be found on a CEO’s bookshelf, but this book has actually proved to be helpful as I’ve transitioned into my new job. Although I was able to define some big picture projects and goals for myself when I started, I wasn’t quite sure how to accomplish them. When a goal is as loosely-defined as “figure out how to support graduate students” or “plan successful outreach initiatives”, the next steps are not immediately obvious. More than once, I found myself feeling stressed or anxious about projects I was working on outside of work or while I was falling asleep, without making much progress on them while at work because I wasn’t exactly sure how to move forward.

Allen posits that the stress most people experience comes from “inappropriately managed commitments they make or accept” (Allen 13). Whether these commitments are with yourself or someone else, they generate “open loops” that need to be attended to. His system for managing commitments requires three basic tasks:

  1. Capture anything that is unfinished in a collection tool.
  2. Clarify your commitment and what you have to do to make progress towards it.
  3. Keep reminders of the actions you need to take in a system you review regularly.

I decided to commit to Allen’s system. I downloaded the task management application Wunderlist, where I keep both a list of ongoing projects and a list of immediate to-do items. For any given project, I spend a few moments thinking about what a successful outcome would look like, what the next actionable step I can take to get there is, and capture it in my to-do list. Allen’s book helped me see that this kind of work — planning, clarifying, and prioritizing — is, actually, work. This was a revelation to me, as I had previously felt that unless I was producing something, I wasn’t really working.

This system makes it much more manageable to keep track of long-term or bigger projects by breaking them into smaller, actionable pieces. If the next step on a project requires action from another person, I can transfer that to-do item into my “waiting for” list, so that I know where the project stands, and that I’m not personally responsible for the next action. It’s helped me keep track of ongoing or informal responsibilities, too. For example, I have a recurring weekly reminder to input my reference and teaching stats, so I don’t forget and try to do them all at the end of the semester. If I say “oh, I’ll email that to you!” to someone, I put it on my to-do list so I don’t forget. I also have a space to keep track of the things that need doing in my personal life, like “schedule dentist appointment” or “oil change” (both real life items from my current to-do list — very glamorous).

Another thing I’ve learned about the pacing of academic life, and working life in general, is that you cannot work at your full capacity all of the time. There are natural dips in energy and motivation, and allowing for those is a necessary part of avoiding burnout. I select items to work on from my to-do list based on how I’m feeling and how much time I have before the next meeting or appointment. On a Friday afternoon, when I’m feeling bleary and my brain is turning off, I might choose to update links on a LibGuide. On a Monday afternoon, when I’ve just had my post-lunch coffee, I’ll tackle a writing project or draft a particularly complicated email. Having a list of all the things I’m on the hook for helps me make those decisions more easily.

Breaking bigger projects down into actionable items and writing down what those next steps are has helped me immeasurably. If this is sounding very common sense to you, I imagine you are a more naturally organized person than I am. My personal organizational system prior to reading this book was to keep about five different to-do lists at any time, scattered throughout different notebooks and digital spaces. I generally used to-do lists as a tool to review my commitments in that current moment, but rarely referred back to them. The mental energy I was expending on storing all of the things I had to do in my brain was enormous, and not particularly efficient or effective. Now, I’ve outsourced this memory work, and it’s helped me feel more at ease with long-term or big picture projects. For any given project, I’ve identified a next step, and it’s on my to-do list.

What are your techniques for moving forward with gooey projects? How do you manage your time and stay productive in a less regimented environment?

Works Cited

Allen, David. Getting things done: The art of stress-free productivity. Penguin, 2015.

Digging for Gratitude

A little over a year ago, I took a flight to Los Angeles to interview for my job at UCLA – it was the night before the election. At the time, natives and their allies were fighting to re-route Dakota Access Pipeline. I found out towards the end of my flight to LA, that the gentlemen in the aisle seat of my row was from North Dakota and thought natives were “making a big deal” out of it. I woke up the next morning to learn that my less preferred candidate won the election, and I cried in disbelief. I had no idea how I was going to get through my interview.

A year later, I am in my position at UCLA, and recent news of the Keystone Pipeline 210,000 gallon oil spill has come to light days before Thanksgiving, a holiday based upon the false notion of unity between natives and colonizers. I don’t mean to be a Debbie Downer, but I just wanted to place this article in it’s appropriate historical context of my life as a first-year librarian. While I am beyond grateful for my job, my amazing colleagues, and the sunny skies around me, I started in this profession during, what I believe is, a grave time in global history.

I approached librarianship as a career because I loved being able to provide individuals information. However, as I mentioned in my first post, I also embraced the critical possibilities within the profession. I would be lying if I said I have been able to sustain the enthusiasm for deneutralizing the library because between moving across the country, starting a new job, and the current political climate, I am emotionally exhausted.

The good news is I have still found outlets that affirm my place in this field. So here is a list of what has kept me going. I want to share this for anyone else feeling a lack of hope and/or motivation to keep sticking with the fight:

  • Multiple students have approached me with a research question that focuses upon a marginalized population.
  • The UCLA Medical Education Committee held a retreat to discuss diversity, inclusion and equity in medical education. This included speakers that used words such as “racism”, “oppression”, and “microaggressions”.
  • I have been able to collaborate with amazing South Asian women librarians for an upcoming chapter in Pushing the Margins: Women of Color and Intersectionality in LIS. On top of it, my co-authors and I were able to share our experiences about being South Asian women in librarianship in a panel at a symposium at UCLA. And even better, I was able to meet and listen to the other incredible authors that will be included in this book!
  • My colleagues and I were able to create an in-person and virtual exhibit to highlight Immigrants in the Sciences in response to the DACA reversal and the White nationalist march in Charlottesville.
  • UCLA’s Powell Library held a successful Conversation Cafe for International Education Week.
  • I attended a fulfilling professional development opportunity about systematic reviews.
  • I have shared tears and memories with several other LIS students through the ARL IRDW and Spectrum Scholar program.
  • I was able to visit Seattle for the first time and attend my first (of many) Medical Library Association conference.
  • I gained a mentor and friend.
  • Every time I teach, I learn something new about active learning, teaching methodology, and how to teach to specific audiences. Most importantly, I feel like I am truly in my element.
  • I met the Librarian of Congress! #swoon
  • I inherited two precious cats (librarian status achieved).
  • I’m way less clueless about being a librarian than I was when I started in April!
  • And now I am able to share my first-year experiences through ACRLog!

This is not an exhaustive list, however, it proves that in less than 8 months of working in my position, I have been blessed to create, pursue, attend, and feel a part of unique opportunities within my profession, especially at my institution. So while I might feel disillusioned and hopeless because of the world and its inequities, I have to admit that there have been several upsides.

Thank you for reading, and I hope you too can discover these golden nuggets amongst the rubble around us.

Second Semesters: Meeting Expectations and Setting Goals

Classes started this week. Utah State University  seems to go back to school earlier than other institutions I’ve been associated with, whether this is a truth or just a feeling based on my always busy and never resting natural state I can’t know. As you might recall from my first post on ACRLog,  I felt the pressure of freedom hanging over my head as I approached my first tenure meetings and class sessions. As I look back on the goals I set, I can’t help but be a little disappointed that I didn’t get the large projects I had planned finished or even near completed. Sometimes I set the bar too high, and sometimes other priorities took important parts of my time. While I stressed about what I could do in the time I had, I didn’t know what it was like to work in this environment despite my degree.

Going with the flow is difficult when you feel the need to justify your existence. When I started, there was an urgency, self-imposed, on hitting the ground running. Freedom, as well as a new job, breeds deflated self-worth and a need to prove myself. I was lucky to start with two fantastic new librarians, who, much like me, felt a need to contribute and change the world in that first month. Our worth was already ( probably) proved and our anxieties over changing the world probably caused us too many sleepless nights in the first semester.

I often read  that employers “made the right choice” when they chose you. I never really believed it when it came to me, and that is why I set outrageous goals for my first 6 months many of which were impossible.

Hope springs eternal, and while a new semester means new challenges from our students it means a second chance for planning and goal setting. The key thing I learned in my first semester is that there will always be a second semester. I’m setting goals and expectations to reflect that, here is what I learned:

  1. I learned about writing and research goals.

I came to Utah State with four years of graduate school behind me. That means 8 semesters of seminar classes, with article length sojourns into the deepest recesses of popular cultural memory and library sciences. I spent much of the summer attempting to fit the projects I worked on in classes into what I needed for my tenure dossier. Try to change the world of libraries with a paper on paranormal manifestations of Abraham Lincoln and you’ll see what I’m talking about. I struggled to come up with new topics, in part because I didn’t want to abandon these ideas and papers. I talked to mentors about following these strings to their natural conclusions, but it seemed like more of an outside hobby than a true tenure quality research portfolio. These were the projects I had and I felt desperate to have logs in the fire.

Putting these projects on the shelf was one of the best decisions I’ve made. There might be a day when I can work on them again, but by taking a single breath and looking around me I found colleagues who were open to sharing their ideas and building projects together. By letting the research come to me in my day-to-day library world I found myself producing better research, thinking better ideas, and learning about new approaches to my work than I ever would have had I focused on what I had previously done. Everyone in academic libraries is intellectually curious, and as such, the job sparks interest in new approaches and problems. When I calmed down, research projects hit me directly in the face through the natural course of my work.

  1. I learned about learning goals.

Many new librarians complain about their library schools; “ I didn’t take the right classes” or “I didn’t learn how to do this” are common refrains on both twitter and in the real world. Nothing in library school can prepare you for the specific things required in your new job in your first year. We all come with either theoretical approaches or with experiences from our grad schools. While I have drawn from my experiences as a graduate assistant and as a student (especially in metadata and digital preservation classes), the real library is different from the one we apprentice in.

This isn’t to say that this isn’t valuable, or that library school is not something that helped me get to where I am, but believing that it was the end-all be-all of libraries and that graduating from the top library school in the country meant that I didn’t have anything to learn was a mistake. I basically had to re-learn everything. Learning is an expected part of our jobs and being ok with not knowing all the answers or solutions is ok.

Each library has its own politics and policies that hinder and promote our lives as librarians. Library school teaches us about the ideal library (a mixture of Ranganathan and Borges), but the library we work in, far from ideal, is the one we have to navigate. No class can teach you about what Utah State University Libraries needs today or tomorrow. But the people I work with are more than willing to welcome me into this world. I learned on the job, and I’m still learning on the job.

  1. There’s always room for saying no.

I came to Utah by myself and decided, socially at least, to say yes to everything. I’m an introvert and an only child as a result I like to be alone and by myself. But…I’ve been to Pioneer Day Parades, Porch Crawls, I’ve watched fireworks with families, I’ve hiked several mountain passes, I’ve driven to the lake 45 minutes away ( I don’t swim). I didn’t make a whole lot of friends in graduate school and I knew that this time needed to be different. Saying yes to everything worked socially, but I found very quickly that it didn’t work so well at work.

Along with my struggles to prove myself I wanted to be a “team player” and take whatever share of the load that was offered to me. I ignored warnings of burnouts and back aches as I took all that I could. Somewhat legendarily I took 7 freshmen orientation sessions this Fall (everyone else did no more than 3 and even that was a lot). You need someone on Saturday to give tours? I’ll be there. You need a desk shift covered? I got it.

I don’t’ regret doing these things, and I don’t think it was detrimental to my mental or physical health but saying no is as healthy as saying yes to social engagements. I learned that saying no today left a yes for tomorrow. My colleagues set boundaries for themselves primarily because our time is limited. Doing a dozen things half way isn’t helping anyone. Along with the research goals, there is always another day, week, or month to accomplish tasks. I don’t advocate putting important tasks off, but I truly believe that pacing myself is going to lead to more gains and more triumphs tomorrow than losing sleep tonight.

I’ll be the first to admit that I barely take this advice or have learned completely from these moments.  But second semesters are opportunities to start again and start fresh. I have a mountain of tasks ahead of me, classes to teach, and papers to present. I’m more comfortable today with the job ahead. All it took was time and another go around.