Last week, I did my first conference presentation as a tenure-track academic librarian! I’m actively resisting the urge to qualify or minimize that statement – it was virtual, it wasn’t about my own hardcore research, etc. I did it, and I’m proud of that! It got me thinking about professional activity as it relates to tenure (or in Salisbury University’s case for librarians, permanent status). I am not someone who comes from a family of academics; I distinctly remember getting “librarian” on one of those career profiles in high school, and immediately thinking, “Oh, no. That requires a master’s degree.” I never thought I’d be here, entrenched in academia and needing to think about publishing research. I’ll talk a bit about my most recent presentation, then some of my broader thoughts.
Thank you to the North American Virtual Reference Conference for the opportunity to speak. My talk was titled, Supervisor at a distance: supporting undergraduate reference workers. At Salisbury University, I am the Research Help Desk Coordinator. I am responsible for hiring and supervising 4-5 student workers in a given semester; they are tasked with answering all sorts of questions, including reference and research help ones. The presentation focused on current training and feedback strategies as well as initiatives I’d like to implement in the future. I don’t ever work on the desk with them – the research help desk only has one person at any given time, which is why I refer to myself as “at a distance.” I am not that far removed from my own student worker experience, so I’m constantly thinking about what I had or wished I had for their experience, too. For this first year, I made some minor changes – giving students more consistent feedback on their work and implementing a “Chat Transcript of the Month” email – but for the most part, I’ve been trying to see how the desk runs now before making drastic changes. These are my slides and references, though I’m happy to talk and answer any questions.
What was cool about this particular conference was that I’d actually presented here before; my supervisor as a graduate assistant gave me the opportunity to co-present here about my own entirely remote training as a result of COVID. Additionally, while I was a senior in undergrad, I presented at a statewide conference for writing centers. I hope to offer a similar collaboration to my student workers at some point. I try to make sure they know that I’m invested in their success, not just as workers but also as students. I’m positive that having that previous experience as a student gave me the confidence to submit now.
Even still, I find it hard sometimes to pursue broader research opportunities. Publishing in something like a journal still feels enigmatic or nebulous, even though I am intimately familiar with different publications, given the nature of my daily work as a research librarian. I think part of this is personal; I can be a true champion of others’ work and cheer on students and faculty alike with their research topics, but when it comes to my own, it’s harder to do. The imposter syndrome can be really intense. My inner critic questions how I could possibly add to the already bustling academic conversation, or my attempts at writing something like a journal article get held up in the research phase, wherein I try to consume everything possible about the topic. (My Zotero library is… robust, to say the least. Thank goodness for collections!) I also have so many different interests that it’s hard to narrow my focus on one research topic; I’ve heard this sentiment over and over from librarians, too. I often set out to learn more about one thing and find myself down an entirely different pathway.
In that vein, I’d like to turn it over to you, readers: what did your first foray into research or conferences look like? How did it come about? Did you have collaborators, or was it a solo venture? Do you have advice for new academic librarians who are navigating what “professional activity” means for them in their job expectations?