The Work We Do: Reflecting on CARL’s Competencies for Librarians in Canadian Research Libraries

The CARL Competencies

How do you envision your role as an academic librarian? With your job description? The vision and mission statements of your library or institution? Direction from your supervisor or administration? And do you have the knowledge, skills, and values to support this work?

The Canadian Association of Research Libraries (CARL) developed a list of competencies for academic librarians, which were updated in 2020. CARL lists eight competencies including collaboration, leadership and vision, equity, diversity, and inclusion, curation, and assessment, among others.

I like how the 2020 CARL competencies spell out the difference between skills (“learning capacities to carry out specific tasks”), mindsets (“collection of attitudes, inclinations, or habits of mind useful in achieving an outcome”), values (beliefs and opinions that people hold regarding specific issues or ideas), and knowledge – and each competency has a combination of these listed. The CARL competencies are comprehensive because they combine hard and soft skills into each competency; I am learning both are integral to working as an academic librarian. For example, under collaboration, listed are skills to build relationships, knowledge of inter- and intra-institutional organization, knowledge of critical and scholarly engagement, and an understanding of how to work with and engage users of diverse backgrounds.

In searching for other academic librarianship-wide competencies, I noticed a lack from other large academic library organizations, such as ACRL or ARL.  There are the ACRL Standards for Libraries in Higher Education, the Medical Library Association’s specialized Professional Competencies,as well as the Reference and User Services Association’s Professional Competencies for Reference and User Services Librarians, but not profession-wide competencies.

Why competencies?

Competencies can be useful for envisioning the landscape of academic librarianship: what youshould know, where and how you should professionally develop, developing vision and mission statements, and what is included in LIS curricula.

I think competencies help guide our profession. Competencies give bounds to a profession, but do we need bounds? Who has the authority to define a profession? What do I care if a large library association says I need to collaborate, engage, and curate?

The point of competencies shouldn’t be to dictate what work we should be doing — whether that’s an opportunity that comes up (e.g. leading an association or chairing a committee) or something I propose and develop (e.g. a library symposium or new library service) — but if you need ideas for areas of growth, you have a guide, useful for early-career librarians. They could also be useful for mid- or late-career librarians, who feel directionless or adrift, or otherwise want to continue to develop in different areas. By their very nature professional competencies are broad, to capture the wide-ranging work we are involved in.

Competencies add professionalization to our field. Those looking at academic librarianship can see our values and skills. This begs the question, are competencies for us or are they for someone else? Are they to crystallize and focus our work or are they for the people we help, so they have a better idea of the work we do?

I am reminded of the public presentations held for entry-level librarian candidates at the University of Manitoba. Many of the candidates based their presentations around the CARL competencies in answering the assigned question on what is required of today’s academic librarian. I know I referenced the 2010 CARL competencies in my own interview in Fall 2019. Here you have new LIS graduates looking to the competencies to envision their work and publicly present their idea of an academic librarian. In this way, competencies help students and new graduates have an idea of the work of academic librarians.

Identify your values and meaningful work

I find competencies useful in identifying work that is meaningful to me. Another way I identified meaningful work was when I came across the idea of personal librarian philosophies after attending a 2021 WILU (Workshop in Library Use) pre-conference session on teaching philosophies. The instructors — Dr. Betsy Keating and Dr. Margie Clow Bohan — suggested while teaching philosophies can be helpful for librarians, it may be more useful to develop a librarian philosophy that could guide not only your teaching, but your entire professional practice, including goal setting.  

After the conference, I set out to write my own librarian philosophy. In my philosophy, I commit to building relationships and community, doing meaningful work, lifelong learning, and supporting myself and the work of others – both inside and outside the profession.

I am reminded of Christopher P. Long, the Dean of Arts & Letters at Michigan State University, and his idea of values-enacted leadership: identify core values that are meaningful to you so you can guide your work and check-in with yourself to ensure you are keeping to those values and infusing them throughout your work. My librarian philosophy identifies values that are meaningful to me and help guide decision-making and goal setting.

Our future as academic librarians

Does academic librarianship need more voices to tell us this is what we should be doing? On the one hand, I don’t think so since there’s so many voices already, and voices that need to be amplified. But on the other, we need new direction, vision, and leadership. Professional competencies can unite a profession, by identifying what work is important, or necessary, or meaningful.

By identifying and putting bounds on our work with competencies, we can envision what we’re doing now and where we want to go. Competencies give the profession a starting point, a place to think about the work we do. There won’t be unanimous agreement on which competencies to include. I think that’s okay. There’s something positive about looking inwards to identify the bounds of academic librarianship to expand and strengthen our profession. We need to continue to have discussions on the direction of academic librarianship, continue to identify what it is our work entails, and continue moving the profession forward to better support ourselves and our users.

The CARL Competencies for Librarians in Canadian Research Libraries are available at https://www.carl-abrc.ca/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/Competencies-Final-EN-1-2.pdf

Service as a Resident Librarian

Though I often heard about the importance of membership in a professional organization and had some exposure to the concept of service as a graduate student, professional service is something I wasn’t very familiar until my current position. Part of the orientation process for my current position consisted of my department head going over and explaining the criteria for my yearly evaluation. Lo and behold, service made up a significant portion of my evaluation. As a first-year librarian and a library resident, figuring out my approach to service work has made for an interesting journey.

My experiences with service during grad school, specifically librarians active in service work, were fairly varied. Of course, there was my school’s own Library and Information Sciences Student Association. Though I was only ever a very casual member (grad school, work, and my personal life were more than enough for me at the time), I was always surprised by the number of events held by the organization as well as the variety of librarians involved with said events. By volunteering to staff my area’s annual archives event, I got a small glimpse into just how small librarianship is as well as how easy it can be to meet other librarians. Looking back, I realize I probably volunteered for the event more out of hearing about the importance of volunteering rather than the relevance of what I volunteered for – archives is something I’ve never really had any interest in. Through the events I was required to attend as a Spectrum and Kaleidoscope Scholar, I got a glimpse into just how powerful mentorship and community with other librarians and library students of color can be. In retrospect, Spectrum and Kaleidoscope is where the potential of service work clicked for me – service doesn’t necessary always feel like work whenever it’s related to one’s passion.

Knowing that service was required of me, I decided to make sure that whatever service work I became involved with related to one of my areas of passion. After taking inventory of what those passion are – library instruction, BIPOC library organizations, supporting library students – I ultimately landed on a couple of organizations. REFORMA (The National Association to Promote Library & Information Services to Latinos & the Spanish Speaking) and ACRL’s Residency Interest Group (RIG) were where I first decided to try my hand at service work.

Through REFORMA and RIG, I realized that sometimes interest is really all that’s needed in order to get involved with a professional organization. Neither organizations asked for much to serve: REFORMA required an application while RIG brought to my attention a call for volunteers to help develop a program for library students. Through REFORMA, I was able to join the scholarship committee which assess applications and selects recipients of the two scholarships given out by the organization (as I’ve been working on this post, we’ve actually begun this work). After sending an email expressing interest in the RIG project for LIS students, I found myself in a small planning group consisting of four other library residents. After our initial meeting, we decided our program would be a panel series that would serve as an introduction to the world of academic libraries. The series, aptly named Into the Stacks: An Academic Libraries Panel Series, took place once a month from January to April with one resident taking charge of a panel each month. Admittedly, I was nervous to host a panel by myself, but luckily my panelist were librarians who are a part of my own journey through librarianship. As such, my nerves calmed down a bit after we got going. If anything, the panel just reinforced how much I really enjoy chatting about librarianship period.

Understanding that service work can function as a form of professional development turned out to be a surprise lesson for me. It was determined during my orientation that, due to the temporary nature of my position, my service work would have a national focus. This led me to seek out national service opportunities and this is where ALA’s Emerging Leaders program came in. Through the program, early career librarians like myself are given the opportunity to participate in a national working group with their peers. Once selected for the program, I was given a number of different options in regard to the type of project I would work on. Luckily for me, among the options was a working on a LibGuide over inclusive pedagogy. Through my working group’s discussions and the collection and evaluation of resources for our LibGuide, I’ve been able to further develop my knowledge of pedagogical best practices. This has allowed me to reflect on my current instruction praxis with an eye for ensuring said practices are as inclusive as possible.

Looking back on my introduction to service work, there are a handful of lessons I’ve come to learn. Planning ahead is crucial. For instance, whenever I initially applied for Emerging Leaders last Fall semester, I knew that the program and its project would end by June. Thus I made sure to apply for some ACRL committees, knowing that they would begin right around the time Emerging Leaders would end. Yet, perhaps my biggest takeaway is that aligning my service work with my passions has made the work itself far more enjoyable than I could’ve imagined. Though service is a typical requirement for academic librarians, framing that requirement as an opportunity to give back to a field I love has made the work all that much more gratifying.

The flyer for our panel series

Getting out of the funk

If I were in a movie, we would be at the part where the scene speeds up and you see me, moving through the weeks. My outfits change, and I move around my one-bedroom apartment, sitting and standing in all different places as I work and try to get my work done. Some days I use my second monitor and other days, I prop my laptop up on a shoebox to recreate the standing desk I deeply miss. In the middle of the montage, it cuts to me cutting my bangs, realizing they are cut at a slight angle, but they’re out of my face and I can go back to speeding around my apartment.

Like many people, these days I’m worn out. The pandemic continues, the racial injustices in our country continue to happen, and some days all I want is to be able to hug my friends again. My institution, like others around the county, grapples with how to “come back for the fall.” My library puts together a dozen committees to figure out how to reopen the libraries. We learn that ICE has new rules for our international students. We pass three million COVID-19 cases in the United States. 

For most of my (short) professional life, I’ve taken a lot of personal joy and satisfaction from my work. I like the work I do and I care about the undergraduates I work with and support. I try to build programs that are sustainable and ones that respond to community needs. I reflect regularly on my practice and learn from my colleagues and peers who I look up to. And I gain energy and excitement about being in a work environment where I can run into my friends and colleagues throughout the day. But recently, with everything I mentioned in the paragraph above, I’m not getting that same level of joy and satisfaction these days. My remote work looks different and what I do this fall, with and for students, will look different. The plan I have right now is most likely going to change, in a few weeks, in a month, and in a few months. This heightened uncertainty (far more visible and palpable these days) resulted in me feeling more irritable, negative, and frustrated, with a touch of hopelessness. My whole vibe of, “Hailley is jazzed about everything” was really lacking in the last few weeks. It hasn’t been great and it hasn’t been good for my work, personally or professionally. 

To combat this, I’ve realized that I’ve started to find ways to “get out of..”

  • My department, by holding space for time with my friends at other institutions. LibParlor meetings continue to be a source of joy, to know we’re in similar boats at each of our institutions, but can still support one another, either through a nice little vent session or energetic celebrations of good things.
  • My library, by seeking out webinars, presentations, conversations, and other readings. Highlights include Shifting the Center: Transforming Academic Libraries through Generous Accountability by McKensie Mack, discovering #LISPedagogyChat, and the newest issue of Communications in Information Literacy (what an amazing list of authors included). It has been helping to think about big ideas as a way to move away from hyperfocusing on the local. 
  • State College. I’m writing this blog post tucked away in a cabin several hours away from State College. I feel grateful for the chance to do this, safely, and could feel myself relaxing as I got into my car and drove away on Wednesday afternoon.
  • My job, by creating space to talk to friends not in the library world, and making time in my day to do non-work things. It has been so nice to catch up with old friends, get the scoop on people I went to college with, and laugh at a whole host of things.
  • My head. This one can be tough, but I’m learning. Embroidery is good for that, and so is taking a long walk around my neighborhood, or going for a morning paddleboard (when I’m near a body of water). This is usually away from screens and the buzzing of notifications. 

Finally, I’ve started to be more intentional about grounding myself before starting something. I’ve seen grounding exercises more recently when I watched my friend prepare for a job talk and at the opening remarks for the Advancing Racial Equity and Inclusion in the Workplace Symposium. It’s a small act, but personally, has helped me focus on what I’m trying to accomplish and hone in on what needs to be done, ignoring the other distractions. 

I’m curious about what others are doing during this time. Have you found strategies or techniques that work for you? How are you stepping away or changing your librarianship during this time? What has been difficult and what has been bringing you joy? 

For the Public Good: Social Distancing with Online Events

ACRLog welcomes a guest post from Verletta Kern, Digital Scholarship Librarian, and Madeline Mundt, Head of the Research Commons at University of Washington Libraries.

Everything was going smoothly! This was an event we had planned twice before–third time’s a charm, right? We had been planning since September and were just hitting our stride when news broke that the first case of coronavirus had made it to the US, just north of the city of Seattle where our university is located. It soon became clear that what started as one small case was turning into something more, as Seattle became the epicenter of the US coronavirus outbreak in early March. With less than a month before our event launch, we faced a tough decision–should we move forward with planning for an in-person event for 150 people? Was it even ethical to ask people to gather in a confined space given all that was going on? Should we postpone to an unknown future? Should we cancel? Should we move this event fully online? Could we move it fully online in 21 days? What if we moved forward with an in-person event and the University closed operations, leaving us to cancel and deal with the messy work of canceling catering contracts, etc.?

“Going Public: Opening Scholarship to All” was designed to be the third in our series of annual “Going Public” events, which encourage researchers to come together to learn about and exchange experiences communicating research openly beyond the walls of the academy. The 2020 focus was equity in the production of and access to scholarship and we were excited to bring this work to our campus community. We hoped that shifting online would allow us to reach a broader audience beyond the University of Washington. With the encouragement of our wonderful planning team and the support of our Libraries’ administration, we began the scramble to convert our event to an online format in 21 days. Shortly after we made this decision, the University of Washington became the first university in the country to suspend in-person instruction in favor of finishing the quarter online. 

The shift wasn’t easy! We needed to confirm our presenters were still okay with presenting online and to talk with them about the possibility of recording their sessions and sharing them following the event. We revisited conversations with our five event co-sponsors to see if they would still be willing to co-sponsor an online event. We negotiated the purchase of a zoom webinar license to protect the privacy of attendees. We set up live captioning for the event to provide equitable access to all. And then we tested. And we tested. And we tested the technology more. We tested it ourselves. We tested it with our speakers to make sure they were comfortable. We assigned chat moderators to moderate the question and answer period. And with two weeks remaining before our event, we felt confident enough to launch registration!

Without the constraints of a physical space capacity to worry about, we opened registration with 450 spots, assuming somewhere around our normal 120 people would register. To our surprise, numbers rose quickly and by the time we closed registration 24 hours before the event we were at 269 attendees! Our largest group of registrants were graduate students, followed by staff and faculty. About two-thirds were affiliated with the UW. While our marketing campaign was not so different from a normal Going Public campaign in its content, it was conducted entirely online at a time when we were all beginning to look for ways to engage remotely rather than in person. Many face-to-face events at the UW and in Seattle were canceled in early March, and we suspect our event may have stood out as a rare online option at the time.

All 269 attendees received an email with a Zoom Webinar link about 24 hours before the event; this email cautioned them to refrain from sharing that link with colleagues (who could instead contact us to register). We hoped that by sharing the link in this restricted way, we would head off any “Zoom-bombing” or other malicious activity–things that were just beginning to hit the news. Then, on March 26th, they joined public scholars, librarians, and experts Nikkita Oliver, Chris Coward, Jason Young, Negeen Aghassibake, Lauren Ray, Gillian Harkins, Clarita Lefthand-Begay, and Linda Ko for a keynote, short talks, and a panel on inclusive research design. Sessions covered topics from libraries as spaces for public engagement (Oliver) to equity in research data visualization (Aghassibake).

Although our link-sharing strategy worked to prevent Zoom-bombing, we did belatedly learn the importance of creating a code of conduct for online events like ours when a UW attendee began making inappropriate comments in the webinar chat. Going forward, we will use event codes of conduct based on our UW Libraries Code of Conduct, with procedures in place to make sure all attendees understand our expectations and what will happen if harassment occurs. 

Along with the importance of a code of conduct and other tools to address malicious use of Zoom, we also learned the importance of timing for online events like ours. We originally planned a six hour in-person event with simultaneous talks attendees could choose between and workshops scheduled over the lunch hour. To make the shift to online manageable, we cut the workshops and decided to run the day’s event from a single zoom webinar account. As a result, we were able to cut the event down to five hours. We limited ourselves to very short breaks between sessions, reasoning that attendees wouldn’t need to move between breakout session venues. While this was true, we learned that people wanted longer breaks to combat the draining nature of starting a screen for hours on end. Although we traded off moderating chat, the length of the online event proved exhausting for our symposium planning team as well. In future online symposia, we will build in 10-15 minute breaks and stick to a three to four hour event. Overall, the hours selected for the event seemed to be accessible across multiple time zones as registrants from the west and east coasts as well as the Midwest attended.

Credit for the successful online shift of “Going Public: Opening Scholarship to All” is due to the creativity, enthusiasm and hard work of our planning team along with the support of our Libraries’ administration and our wonderful event co-sponsors. Thanks in particular go to our planning team: Joanne Chern, Robin Chin Roemer, Beth Lytle, Sarah Schroeder, Elliott Stevens, Sarah Stone, and Christine Tawatao. Due to this collaborative effort, we were able to successfully social distance yet still share our message of equity in the production of and access to scholarship to a wide audience at a time where research communication and access is more important than ever.  

Emerging as a Community-Engaged Librarian: Reflections on the Emerging Engagement Scholars Workshop

Context of the workshop

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to participate in the Emerging Engagement Scholars Workshop (EESW), sponsored by the Engagement Scholarship Consortium. This workshop is meant for PhD students and junior faculty who consider themselves engaged scholars or aspire to be engaged scholars. For those who don’t know about engaged scholarship, just look up Ernest Boyer, he’s the guy around this topic. At its core, engaged scholarship is about academia collaborating with the local community to share and leverage expertise and ultimately, make social change.

The workshop is meant to give participants an inside scoop on the history and current context of the field, connect them with their peers and mentors, and in general, get jazzed around doing community engaged scholarship. All workshop participants brought in a community project, and we had several hours of dedicated mentor time to talk through these projects and make some strides forward. I decided to explore building a community of practice for the undergraduate interns at our library (more on that later).

I have been wanting to participate in this workshop for a few years now, mainly based on a recommendation from my graduate school mentor, Martin Wolske.  I’d say Martin was the one who showed me what community engaged scholarship could like for librarians. He did that through his day-to-day work as a community member and librarian and by bringing me on as a Community Ambassador for the grant, Digital Literacy for ALL Learners, where community-engaged scholarship was the first outside the class thing I did in graduate school.

Overall, the workshop, and corresponding conference, was great. I did learn a lot, found some new language to talk about my job, and connected with new people. While I made an initial stab at my thoughts post workshop on Twitter, below is an expanded version of what I took away from participating in EESW.

Questions of identity

The workshop was billed as a space for PhD students and junior faculty (me). PhD students outnumbered junior faculty at least 2-1, which was not usually the case at previous iterations of this workshop. I was also the only librarian at the workshop, which meant I got to have a lot of conversations about what I do and why I was a participant with EESW.

At times I felt a little out of place. As with any space where you’re the sole librarian, there are questions about what we’re doing in that academic space. Do we actually do scholarship? What does an LIS research agenda look like? Can we really achieve tenure? As expected, talking about my faculty status, my ability to achieve tenure, and my research interests was the way in, and I definitely opened up some eyes. I will say that this space was incredibly welcoming; I had thoughtful peers who wanted to ask questions about my job and share experiences they have had with their subject librarians. My assigned mentor, Diane Doberneck, was also amazing. She’s doing great work at Michigan State and had such insightful feedback for my project around building a community of practice.

This workshop also reminded me that I do know a lot, more than I give myself credit. For example, we spent one section of the workshop talking about the tenure process and how to write about engaged scholarship in your dossier. While some PhD students had never discussed what tenure looks like, I felt prepared for the conversations and actually made good strides on my dossier (draft due soon!). Or, in one of our mentoring sessions, we talked about frameworks that supported our community projects and I was able to share reading suggestions (like Dorothea Kleine’s Choice Framework and Kimberlé Crenshaw’s many articles on intersectionality). In those moments, I felt like a librarian, passing along information, while also showcasing a bit of my expertise.   

Where do I want to go? And why am I doing this work?

As the workshop progressed, a few questions kept popping up for me. The first was, “Where do I want to go with this work?” And that question was quickly followed by “Why am I doing this work?”

Bottomline, I want to be a community-engaged librarian scholar. In learning about librarianship, it has always been in relation to communities – the community of Mt. Horeb, Wisconsin, New York City, Urbana, IL, and now, Penn State. As a librarian, I do my job better when I listen, include, leverage, and support communities. Decisions about services, resources, and programs should be made with the community, not on behalf of the community. Communities can be vibrant, complex, come with a lot of baggage, embrace a rich history and traditions, or be ready for change. I love discovering all those threads as a librarian.

Furthermore, I see community engaged scholarship as a foundation of my research agenda. The work I’ve been doing as the Student Engagement Librarian has been building relationships, getting to know the various communities I engage with; these relationships will allow us to conduct meaningful research. To be a community-engaged librarian scholar means that understanding and working with communities not only drive forward my day-to-day, but influence and shape my research. Everything I do should be in service to or connected to the communities.

Finding the language and lingo

Recently, as my second-year tenure documentation due date looms, I’ve been low key freaking out. Some of the freak out was due to the me wanting to be intentional about how I build my dossier and the words I use to describe my work. I wanted to paint of picture that both my tenure colleagues AND my non-librarian colleagues can understand. This pressure, totally put on by myself, stopped me cold from getting some of that legwork for my dossier completed.

This workshop was exactly the push I needed to think about that language again. Our pre-readings and then workshop conversations highlighted how I could use community-engaged scholarship lingo to describe my work. I am grounded in community, and for me, I define and work mainly with communities connected to Penn State – undergraduate students, library student employees, undergraduate and student affairs professionals, and my Commonwealth library colleagues. I am hoping framing my work through a community engaged scholarship lens will resonate with others (we shall see!).  

What’s next?

Well, I have emerged as an engaged (librarian) scholar. I’m glad I had the opportunity to participate in the workshop and know those conversations will stick with me for the next few months. I would encourage others to consider applying and attending this workshop, especially for those who work closely with communities, in academia or with the local community. Does anyone else do engaged scholarship at your institution and if so, what does it look like? I’m always trying to find more community engaged librarians!  


Featured image by Park Troopers on Unsplash