Jumping In

Please welcome our new First Year Academic Librarian Experience blogger Ariana Santiago, Undergraduate Services Resident Librarian at the University of Iowa.

How did I get here? I find myself wondering this sometimes. I moved from Florida to Iowa for my first academic librarian position, to someplace I never imagined I would be, and in a career field that just a few years ago I hadn’t thought of as an option for myself. Of course, I know how I got here, it’s just amazing to think how much has changed recently.

I didn’t exactly do my research on the librarian job market before deciding to get an MLIS degree, but at some point during graduate school I became well aware of the fact that jobs are scarce and the competition to get one would likely be tough. With that information in mind, I did what I could to get the most out of my time as a student so that I could hopefully be well prepared for the job search and life after graduation.

I wasn’t always a perfect student or academic over-achiever, but I fortunately was able to get a good deal of valuable experience working in an academic library. I started as a full-time student with no other job, then got a part-time job in Special Collections while in school, then a full-time job in Interlibrary Loan, then also began taking classes towards a second master’s degree (the fate of my involvement in the second master’s program is yet to be decided!). Those various work experiences were instrumental in complementing my education, and combined with the support of my mentors and previous coworkers, that has all led me to where I am now – three months into my new job as an Undergraduate Services Resident Librarian at the University of Iowa.

I started in August, just in time for the rush of the Fall semester. My first day on the job was just two weeks before students would be in their first day of class. It was also two weeks before the opening of the new Learning Commons in the Main Library. This meant that in addition to being the “new kid” and everything that goes along with that, there was an additional element of excitement and energy at the time for everyone. The library was abuzz about the major renovations, students trickled in (and then appeared en masse), and the entire campus was gearing up for the coming academic year.

As for the Learning Commons and newly consolidated Service Desk that would open with the start of Fall classes, all units involved were diligently preparing, but no one knew exactly what to expect when the changes would be put into motion. Rather than panic, dread, or apprehension, the attitude I picked up from the people around me was a positive one: jump right in, but be ready to be flexible and adapt. And jump right in I did – namely, to various first-year student orientation events, representing the Library along with a colleague. It was intimidating at first, seeing as I wasn’t fully oriented myself, but I kept in mind that “roll with the punches” attitude.

Although librarians and library staff were intoning that mantra in anticipation of the unknowns of the changing Service Desk, it can be applied to so much more. Talking to students about the library that I was still learning about myself. Getting in front of a class and giving instruction for the first time. Attending events in the community. Meeting people and making friends outside of work. The list goes on. The first step is often the hardest one to make, but it will be made all the easier by maintaining open-mindedness and adaptability. It definitely helped me keep a positive attitude through adjustments to my all new surroundings and environment: work, home, people, even the weather (yes, I am about to go through my first real winter, and I truly enjoyed the first snowfall earlier this week).

Jump right in, but be ready to be flexible and adapt. Three months in and that is one of my main takeaways so far. So, I can reflect incredulously on how I got here and the effort it took, and I can think forward to what will come next. Either way, I’m glad “here” is where I ended up, because I think it”s a pretty great place to be.

Starting To See the Light

Please welcome our new First Year Academic Librarian Experience blogger Chloe Horning, Assistant Research Commons Librarian at the University of Washington.

It’s a bright cold day in November and the clocks are striking…9 A.M. As I hurry across campus towards my office, my boot heels crunching in the newly fallen leaves, I can’t help but break out into a ridiculous grin. It’s 9 A.M. and I’m heading to work.

In order to make you understand why I’m so excited, I have to back up a little bit. In the spring of 2011, I received my Master’s diploma in Library and Information Science. My husband proudly had it matted in purple and framed with a delicate pattern of gold laurel leaves. But I didn’t have an office wall to hang it on…not yet. While many of my MLIS cohort were engaged in a national job search, being snapped up by farflung institutions, I was tied for personal reasons to the Seattle area. In other words, the kiss of death in a flooded job market, according to many of my Information School peers and advisors. Nevertheless, I flung myself wholeheartedly into a job search, vowing to take any job that provided practical experience.

Before too long, I had a job offer, and it was much better than I could have hoped for–the job had the enviable advantage of being at the University of Washington, where I had been a MLIS student, and where many a librarian wished to remain. It was a full-time, library staff position, a few ranks above the entry level, with great benefits. It offered the opportunity to lead and manage staff and facilities and to take a leadership role in the provision of public services. Sure, I wasn’t a REAL librarian yet, but it was a start.

Of course there was a catch. There’s always a catch. My new job was in UW’s 24 hour Undergraduate Library. My workday started at 10 P.M. and ended sometime around 6:30 in the morning.

Over the last two years, I’ve received so many incredulous responses from other library folk about my improbable schedule that I’ve learned to just shrug and say brightly, “It’s not as bad as you think!” And it really isn’t. I mean, sure, working overnight had its low points and its challenges; getting cornered by a pack of overfed raccoons while walking between campus buildings at 2 A.M., or forking over a sizable chunk of one’s paycheck to buy blackout curtains spring to mind. On a more serious note, I often found it frustrating that my schedule made it nearly impossible for me to attend departmental meetings, even when the policy decisions made at those meetings directly impacted my work.

But I learned a lot from those two years too. I learned how to be self-sufficient in all sorts of minor crises and to manage my time effectively in the absence of direct leadership. I learned to seek out asynchronous opportunities for professional development and to make them work for me. I loved my job, my library, and the people I worked with.

So, when the opportunity arose for me to temporarily shift gears at my library to fill in the vacant role of Administrative Program Assistant (a daytime position) during the summer months, I was wary. Taking the assignment meant coming out of the shadows, both literally and figuratively, stepping out of my comfort zone in terms of my job responsibilities and giving up the routine I had established. However, it also meant adding new skills to my resume, allowing myself to be seen by the administration, and to put the word out that I was an MLIS looking for a professional position.

Taking the risk turned out to be worth it. By the end of the summer, I was asked to interview for, and was offered, a newly created Librarian position at my University. Ultimately, my success at finding a shiny new librarian job was attributable to two, sometimes contradictory forces, that I would not been able to reconcile if I had not been flexible about the type of work that I was willing to do. I proved that I was willing to work in the shadows, as it were, paying my dues, and doing what was necessary to keep library operations going. I also showed that I could represent my library publicly and support the administration and librarians. Both of these skillsets proved to be important for my new librarian job. Flexibility and an adaptable nature are necessary qualities for any library professional these days, and for my job in particular (more about that soon!)

Fast forward to this morning, at 9 A.M., when I practically skipped into work. Okay, I might be exaggerating a little…I’m still a night owl at heart who needs gallons of coffee before skipping can occur. But I do love my new job. I love being on campus during regular work hours. I have seen the light.

Must Teaching and Learning Research Skills be Boring?

Olivia Nellums blogs about her first year experience as a Reference and Instruction Librarian at Camden County College in New Jersey.

Even though I’m a young librarian, I can’t remember not knowing how to use the library. I learned gradually, through a process of trial and error, and then by going to library school.

This leaves me in a curious spot as an instruction librarian: A class comes to the library to learn how to do research for a particular assignment, and basically I communicate what I’ve learned so far about how to effectively use a library. Then, unless they find me later at the reference desk, I don’t see them again. Broadly speaking, library instruction seems to be regarded as skills-based: The librarian demonstrates the skills, and the students are supposed to absorb them in that traditional way that equates their brains with sponges. The library is relevant to them only in the context of their course, and I can tell they’d like me to hurry up and get it over with so they can get back to the competing concerns of their class.

So, as many instruction librarians before me, I’ve turned to learning theories for guidance. Here’s what I’m gathering:
-I should leave students wanting to strike out independently to learn more about information and information-gathering, but without omitting essential points in my lecture.
-I should encourage students to be curious about how to solve an information problem. Also I should nurture them into reconsidering what they think they know about information.
-I should assist with the above in a patient, encouraging, and overall enthusiastic manner.

Now, before I started this job my biggest worries were that I talk too fast and might be mistaken for a student rather than a librarian. On the bright side, I’m glad to see I can set aside those trivialities. I’m also glad that the ideas above are really part of information literacy, which seems to be getting an increasing amount of attention from the academy at large.

As for other past concerns – mainly that I’m in charge of helping students learn every little thing about the library, and that it’s a personal failure if they don’t get it – maybe what I ought to be supporting is a framework of information and the basics of how to find it. So, here’s my summary of that earlier list (borrowing slightly from Ken Bain‘s What the Best College Teachers Do):
-I should promote a natural critical learning environment where students can confront beautiful and intriguing information problems, yet not make it so theoretical that they throw rotten tomatoes at me.

I’m on it.