Introducing Yourself When You’re a New Librarian

Please welcome our new First Year Academic Librarian Experience blogger Yoonhee Lee, Learning & Curriculum Support Librarian at McLaughlin Library at the University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada.

“So, tell me about yourself…” is a question that I dread. Whether it’s in an interview situation or when you’re meeting someone for the first time in a professional or personal setting, I struggle with how to introduce myself in a succinct but engaging way. I’ve been introducing myself a lot the last couple months, as I’ve started my first academic librarian job. I’ve been meeting library colleagues, faculty, staff, and students in the hallway, meetings, orientation events, and classrooms. Depending on who I was talking to and the situation, I introduced myself in various ways, ranging from just saying my name to talking about my job as a Learning & Curriculum Support Librarian.

While in library school the importance of having a 30-second elevator pitch was stressed throughout my studies, particularly in relation to looking for work and networking. I’ve tried to hone my “I’m a library student looking for a library job” pitch while participating in networking events, attending library conferences, and going to interviews. Fumbling through answering questions about my new role, I realized that I needed to develop something similar for my new professional identity as an academic librarian. But I found it challenging to sum up what I do when I wasn’t sure or comfortable with this new identity yet. Even saying “I’m a librarian” still felt foreign to me.

A lot of the questions I have surrounding how to introduce myself is rooted in anxieties about my newness. Not only was I new, but due to my appearance, I’m often mistaken as a student. I wanted to present myself as someone who is confident and authoritative, particularly when I was talking to faculty about coming into their classrooms and providing library instruction. Trying to transition from library student to a professional librarian, I was super focused on presenting myself professionally.

Fortunately, I had the opportunity to think about introductions differently during an orientation session for new faculty. In the morning, we did typical introductions, which involved going around the room sharing our name, department, and field of research. Many folks also shared their academic history, including previous institutions, degrees, and current projects. Feeling a bit conscious about not having research interests yet (imposter syndrome strikes again!), I quickly said my name and the subject areas I support. Later in the afternoon, during a session with the Office of Teaching and Learning, we were asked to reintroduced ourselves to the person sitting beside us. But, instead of listing our research interests, we were asked to introduce ourselves through discussing our parents and grandparents. This exercise was an intimate experience, as we shared our personal lives and journeys with one another. It was both thrilling and terrifying at the same time.

I felt awkward sharing about my Korean immigrant parents, which usually only my close friends know about — not my work colleagues. I felt vulnerable and a bit exposed. My family, however, is an integral part of who I am and how I view the world, not just personally but as a librarian too.

I’ve been inspired by the many librarians who’ve been discussing vulnerability, like sharing personal experiences or practicing supported vulnerability. Engaged and transformative learning involves taking risks and being vulnerable. In my library instruction classes (and at the reference desk), I ask students to share their previous experiences with library research, including challenges they’ve faced. I ask them to share what they already know and what they don’t know. I’m asking students to be vulnerable. But I also understand that I can’t ask students to be vulnerable without being vulnerable myself.

I’m not sure how to incorporate all this when I introduce myself at the beginning of class. I believe in teaching with your whole self and that my teaching is influenced by who I am, my position in the world, and my worldview. Some of who I am can be gleaned from my name and my appearance. Other aspects of myself, like the fact that I’m a new academic librarian that was a student just a few months ago, I would need to explicitly share. Usually, you gradually share yourself as you get to know someone better. With my library colleagues, as I develop relationships, they’ll get to know me beyond my name and job title and work. But with students in a classroom, I might only see them one time in a one-shot class. How do I introduce my authentic self? How can I share but also set boundaries? How do I share what I don’t know without undermining myself?

I don’t have the answers. Maybe I’ll have a better idea once I’m more confident in my role as a new academic librarian, or maybe I won’t. But I’m super excited to continue to think and reflect on this throughout my career and hone my “I’m a librarian who can help you, but also I don’t know everything, and I’m here to learn with you — also I’m a whole person with varying knowledge and lived experience just like you” pitch to students.

Being “Human” In the Classroom: A Case for Personal Testimony in Pedagogy

I’m three months into my first year as an academic librarian and it has been a whirlwind. Conversations with many of my LIS friends confirm that the transition to professional librarianship presents invigorating ups as well as exhausting downs. Something I have been trying to focus on is embracing the ups and moving quickly and gracefully past the downs (with a little reflection). In the spirit of trying to get better at this, I’d like to share the best “up” I’ve found in my short three months as an Information Literacy Librarian.

If you have the opportunity, use your personal experience in the classroom. I know that this is incredibly scary. Being vulnerable as a (new!) instructor is terrifying. Further, balancing vulnerability with expertise can sometimes be a challenge. Yet, Maria Accardi recently gave a brilliant keynote on library burnout in which she held, “I think to truly see each other, to respect and care for the souls of students, means aligning the emotionally vulnerable parts of your self to the corresponding parts of the student” (p. 13). Moments of vulnerability in the classroom, while intimidating, can foster unbelievably rich and meaningful dialogue. I’ve even had students approach me after class to ask me about a specific part of the testimony I shared, which can lead to subsequent conversations about their own research. I’m still struggling to figure out exactly why this happens, but a recent Twitter conversation sparked some ideas:

sharing experience tweet

why does it work tweet

april's response- connects learning to experience

I so appreciate April’s observation that it creates a stronger connection between experience and learning. Accardi adds that students are whole people in the classroom and that they “bring with them all of the things that make them human—their stories, their beliefs, their filters, their talents, their challenges, their emotional baggage, everything” (p. 12). Why can’t librarians be whole people too? Why can’t we bring the same baggage into the classroom? And doesn’t being “whole” make us more approachable? Doesn’t it make research more approachable?

I believe that it does. So how does one even start to integrate more personal experience into their teaching? Many of the tactics I have tried stem from an intensive research project I’m currently doing. I’m completing my first peer-reviewed article for In the Library with the Leadpipe and I have found that this provides rich testimony for many different research issues.

For example, I recently asked students to articulate what their research process looks like. They spent a few minutes drawing their process, from the time a research project is assigned to the time that they turn it in. We then tried to combine their ideas into one complex research process on the board. I was currently going through my own research process and I used this opportunity to challenge them with trials I had faced. I asked the students questions like “but what happens if you’re tracking down citations and you suddenly realize someone has already written the paper you’re writing?” and “how is research continually part of the writing process?,” often providing tangible examples from my article along the way. Before we knew it, the board was covered in arrows, illustrating the iteration necessary to do quality research. After the class, the professor came to my office to thank me. She said that she thought that the activity might have been the first time her students have had to articulate exactly what their process looks like. She said that she thought it would definitely help the students be more thoughtful researchers. I also believe that it made iteration and revision “okay” and maybe even reduced some library anxiety.

research process

My sample research process that I use as a starting point for this activity (adapted from NCSU’s “Picking Your Topic IS Research” video)

I have also used my experience with Leadpipe to facilitate conversations about how peer review works, blind vs. open and more collaborative forms of peer review, and the time it takes to complete vetting processes. This often sparks a more thoughtful and nuanced conversation about the pros and cons of peer review, which moves students away from peer-reviewed-equals-good-and-popular-sources-equals-bad conversation.

I have also plugged our citation management system, Zotero, in these conversations. I have a single-spaced twenty-five page document of notes and draft citations for my article (no, this is, unfortunately, not a joke). I might risk compromising my “expertise” with students by sharing this fact and letting them know that I wish I would have used Zotero at the beginning of my project. Again, it is definitely nerve-wracking to be vulnerable in this moment. But I think it makes me more human and illustrates to students that research is a continual learning process, even for librarians.

Sharing your experience can be as simple as sharing tidbits about how you approach research. How do you figure out what the scholarly conversation is? What tools do you use to start your research? Do these change after you know the important scholars or disciplines for your topic? For example, I often share that one of my favorite ways of entering the scholarly conversation is by reading more about my general topic area and then finding claims I’d like to challenge or push back on and doing citation tracking from there. You can even reflect on the research you did in undergrad or graduate school. How did you use class readings to guide your thesis development? How did you organize your research? The point is not to show that you’re perfect. The point is to show that imperfect research can be successful too and that librarians can help guide students through this process because we’ve been there.

This work is not always easy. I have definitely noticed that sharing personal experience in the classroom can be harder or easier because of class dynamics, faculty involvement, or even student level. The reality is that it is difficult to build trust in the classroom when sometimes the space doesn’t even feel like your own. I hope to continue to brainstorm how sharing personal experience can go beyond the one-shot session. For example, I am currently thinking through how I might use some of this testimony in my research consultations with students.

How do you incorporate your personal experience into your teaching?