On Monday Dani wrote a great post reflecting on her first full year as a bona fide professional librarian and we thought it would be fun to offer two different perspectives on the topic, so here’s my thoughts on my first year as a professional librarian working in an academic library:
Before I say anything else, let me say that the above picture was me, sometime around April 2013, in my apartment in Chapel Hill, working on this. The reason I post this is to assure LIS students that your life after you get your first real job will be exactly that: a life. One of the best things about not being a grad student anymore, and not having to work a bunch of different jobs while taking classes, is that you’ll actually have time to do stuff, and money to do stuff with. If you work hard during library school, and get the right kind of work experience, there will be a ridiculous upside to doing so. In some ways this year was really hard, but it’s also been really great, and one of the main reasons for that is I have the free time after work to do whatever I want to do. I’ve rarely had to take work home with me; the only time I’ve had to do so is when I’ve taken on extra writing projects that needed to be completed at home. If you’re a person who is also interested in having a nice life outside of work, librarianship may be the career for you. Now about that career …
On The First Real Librarian Job
Like Dani mentions in her post, I quickly went from “I can’t believe I got a job I wanted” to, on my first day, “Wait, so like … what should I, like, … do?”
Part of the reason for this has to do with the job I chose. There were positions I was excited about that had what I suppose might be more “entry level” responsibilities for someone right out of library school, where I’d, e.g., be part of an instruction team, or where I’d be teaching semester-long info lit courses. These stressed me out a lot less than the position I chose, as I saw them as providing more of a safety net against the possibility of failure. On the one hand, as a member of an instruction team, I’d be allowed to let some crafty veterans take the lead and just do my thing teaching info lit classes (which would be quite like my experience during library school); on the other, I’d previously taught many semester long courses, and doing so again would be something I would be very comfortable with. This stuff would have been good, because I knew I knew how to do it. It was much more of a daunting possibility, however, to consider the prospect of essentially creating an information literacy program from the ground up. I’d had a lot of success, I think, teaching IL sessions during library school, but the programs and the requests were already in place – I didn’t have to generate interest and create requests myself. But in the position I chose, I’d be the one responsible for getting program off the ground, creating interest in the program, and even setting out what the program would be. And I knew I’d have to move all the way across the country to do it. It was, to be honest, kind of scary. But I knew I had to do it. And you know what? I was more than fine. I created a new information literacy program in a way that made sense to me; got in touch and built relationships with faculty members; and had a great first year.
This is the part I probably had the most confidence about going in, and probably came away with the least confidence, coming out. The thing is this: it’s a different world coming from a really great library school that has many years of success with working with faculty and grad instructors on library instruction, to a new place where that relationship is still in the process of being built. I never had to do much convincing of people that library instruction was worth it; they tended to just see it as valuable. And I never had to convince anyone that substantive information literacy instruction – rather than showing students the databases – was worthwhile, either. But as a professional I’ve had to do those things, and it’s not always necessarily the conversation you want to be having, but I do think it continues to hold true that if you can offer creative solutions to the problems faculty members see students having with research, you can get a lot of really great buy in, and really move away from pointing and clicking. Every institution is different and things will be received differently at different places. The challenge is to see what the needs of this department are, rather than trying to impose some model of what information literacy is on a department. You need to maintain your vision while at the same time being adaptable. It’s the same as student-centered teaching. We want to take students where they’re at, and tailor our instruction accordingly. The same goes for your departments and university. Like Dani says in her post on the topic, you learn to be patient. This is definitely a learning curve; like Jay-Z, I got no patience, and I hate waitin’. That being said, sometimes I can’t believe how many faculty place such an important value on information literacy, how important my university treats it, and how open students are to information literacy instruction when they see how it can actually be useful to them.
One thing I can’t stress enough for LIS students interested in being instruction librarians is to take courses in pedagogy during library school. Having that background has afforded me amazing opportunities at my university: I’ve been able to participate in (compensated) reading groups on teaching with other faculty in various departments; I was able to use that knowledge to write and be awarded a grant for teaching critical thinking through information literacy to improve student success at our university; and was recently invited to be a board member for our Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT). It’s really helped me be involved with teaching and learning at my university in ways that are good for the library and, hopefully, for our students; an interest in pedagogy and how students learn that I tried to pursue with formal coursework during library school has really make a major difference here during my first year. When you express an interest and have a passion for something, seem to know what you’re talking about, and maybe have one or two things going for you to back it up, the title “librarian” creates very little barrier between you and other faculty.
On Research and Professional Development
One of the most pleasant surprises of the year is the time and proclivity I have for professional development-type stuff. This was something I’d never really considered when I thought about being a librarian; in fact, when it came up that I’d have to do this when I spoke with academic librarians while applying to library school, it was the thing I most dreaded. Nevertheless, I love it; it’s turned out to be one of my favorite aspects of my job. I’ve had three articles and a couple chapters accepted for publication this year and done several presentations, and it’s been really awesome. I love having the opportunity to reflect on our work, to explore areas of interest like psychology and education, and to try to apply them to librarianship in interesting ways. And it’s cool to know that some people and conferences and journals are taking these ideas seriously. I’ve also been lucky enough to write for Ethos, which has been an enormous amount of fun. I think one of the best things about librarianship is precisely how much freedom you have to explore ideas that interest you, and would encourage LIS students who think they might be interested in publishing to seek out tenure track jobs in the field.
On the Profession
Well, here we go.
Everything Dani said about this topic in her post is something I can’t endorse enough, so I’m going try to touch on some other areas.
The people I really like and are really drawn to in the profession at large are people who aren’t stuck in their ways, who are trying to do new, creative things, and are the ones who stick with stuff that’s proven to work. I like teaching librarians who are interested in teaching, who care about how students learn, who are curious and always want better themselves. This is one of the reasons I’ve really enjoyed conferences and stuff like that, because folks doing interesting stuff tend to congregate there. We’ve also had some great experiences meeting cool librarians and having had librarians reach out to us through the blog. That stuff is continuously awesome. Less awesome – and, perhaps naively on my part, really unexpected – is how much it attracts haters, and how much it can make people who you thought were on your team suddenly demand a trade. We’ve had a lot of disappointing experiences in this regard that aren’t worth going into. What I can tell you, though, is that I am pretty sensitive and this year made me much tougher. The thing I am happy about, perhaps even proud of, is that although I’ve become tougher, I think I’ve probably become even more vulnerable: less inclined to keep my feelings hid, more inclined to comment on things the way I see them. The results, I suspect, will continue to be something like this:
As Nietzsche once said,
The great epochs of our life are the occasions when we gain the courage to rebaptize our evil qualities as our best qualities.
If that’s the truth, this year has been pretty epic, and I look forward to many more as well.