So, Where Am I Going, Anyway?

In reference to my last post, and maybe in continuation of it, I’m asking a question about the rest of my career. This is also a continuation of the question that I first asked in my earliest blog posts,”Why do I want to be a librarian, anyway?” While my official job title may not say so, I’ve effectively reached my primary career goal coming out of library school: Become a Head of Access Services at an academic library. Great! Success! Now what?

What is the career path for someone in my position? My two previous supervisors became a head liaison librarian and a university librarian. Both would be remarkable and unrealistic jumps for me. My only publications are a promotional story about the library in a student newspaper and this blog. My two presentations were good, but not of the substance to show real professional staying power. Whatever is next for me, it will be hard for me to be taken seriously as a candidate without some highfalutin street cred.

I happen to work in a professionally prolific division of liaison and teaching & learning (T&L) Librarians. These are people who regularly publish and present and win awards for their efforts. While my job does not require me to emulate them I’m starting to feel like I should. I’ve always said I wanted to be active in the profession, regardless of my job description, but I have few ideas on where to start. One idea I mentioned in my previous post: get on a committee or committees. That, I plan to accomplish by Thanksgiving. But my experience with professional librarian committee work has not been all that positive, thus far. So, I can’t put my name on a committee roster and think that’s enough. I need to do work that is published in an industry publication. But again, where to start?

Paul Sharpe is my old boss and currently he is the University Librarian for the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. He also is the former editor of the Journal of Access Services (JOAS) and is still listed on its editorial board. Because of this, I’ve long known about JOAS‘s existence but never have I made the effort to see what they’re actually publishing, until today. Here’s a smattering of their recent article titles:

  1. Assessing Access Services: Building a Five-Year Plan to Sustainable Assessment
  2. Clinging to the Past: Circulation Policies in Academic Libraries in the United States
  3. Enhancing Access to Reading Matieals in Academic Libaries with Low Budgets Using a Book Bank System: Makerere Uinversity Library Experience
  4. When You Are in Charge: Reflections on Managing Staff in the Library
  5. Opportunities for Improved Patron Service with a New Integrated Library System

A few of these, and some others I didn’t type out actually look interesting to me. I hope to get to some of these in my professional reading discipline that I’m starting to build. It shouldn’t be surprising to me that some of these look interesting — it is my profession, after all — but considering my ambivalent attitude toward my profession the surprise is still occurring. Perhaps I’m not as jaded as I thought? Or perhaps they’ve lulled me in with their gentile song? Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.

I’m good in front of crowd and I word good.

I was speaking with a colleague recently, one of the T&L librarians, after I read a series of blog posts she co-wrote for The Librarian Parlor and without getting too much into my professional ambivalence told her how I didn’t know what I had to contribute and wouldn’t know where to start. She completely empathized with me and knew exactly where I was coming from. It’s some form of impostor syndrome, we agreed. It’s not that I don’t think I could do the work. I’ve always believed that I’m a good writer and a good public speaker. I’m good in front of crowd and I word good. That’s not the problem. The problem — or the question, anyway — is what situation do I have to describe that would be of interest to an editorial board or reader that may actually be professionally useful? What new data could I collect that would be illuminating? I have no freaking idea. What am I doing? Where am I going, anyway?

Access Services Conference

Thanks to having an employer who actually sees the value in investing in its employees I was able to attend the Access Services Conference for the first time, this year, in Atlanta. If you’re not aware, this is a smaller conference that is dedicated — not surprisingly — to the Access Services zone of academic libraries; an area of the field typically neglected at other conferences and occasionally maligned by other areas of the profession. This is everything from ready reference and circulation to emergency preparedness. A sampling of the sessions conducted include:

  • Re-Evaluating Library Space Usage AFTER a Library Renovation
  • Badges of Service: Engaging, Customer-Oriented Student Employee Training
  • Librarian or Emergency Responder
  • Accessing Virtual Reality: Challenges Met and Lessons Learned
  • Are daily fines effective in reducing the number of days an item is kept out past its due date
  • A Bibliometric Analysis of ILL Data at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

It’s management and practical advice from those of us really in the trenches of our profession.

Day 1

The conference ran from Wednesday, November 15, through Friday, November 17. The first night was an opening reception of drinks and finger foods. About half-way through awards were given to those who won the travel scholarship and one for excellence in Access Services Librarianship. There was a recognition of the committees and members, as well. Mostly, though the event was a social time for the school-reunion aspect that these conferences inevitably have. For my part, my only reunion was with my former supervisor who is now the University Librarian at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. He introduced me around a little and suggested I get on one of the committees, myself.

Committee work is very important in professional academic librarianship. Most of them, I believe, don’t take too much extra work, and it shows potential employers — or tenure review boards — that you are engaged in the profession at more than a day-to-day level. I used to be on the RUSA: STARS ILL Committee, but had to resign after I’d a) missed several meetings because I couldn’t get to the conferences, and b) stopped working in ILL.

I made a joke at the time that the new guy always gets put on a committee — at least, that’s how it was at every church I ever went to — but it’s something that I really should consider doing. If for no other reason, it’s hard for your boss to tell you can’t go to a conference when your on one of the planning committees. Furthermore, it gets your name and face out in the profession and people can start to get to know you. The more you do that, the more you show up to these things and have friends and colleagues there with whom you’ve built a relationship and it makes conference much more enjoyable. Also, you could get a job or another exciting opportunity out of it.

Day 2

I started the day off right by oversleeping, only to follow that up by spilling an entire “tall” coffee on the floor of the front row right before the keynote speaker went on. Classy! The speaker, Brian Matthews, Associate Dean for Learning at Virginia Tech, talked about a variety of ideas, but the gist that I got out of it was that he encouraged the room to get out of our comfort zones and take risks in our leadership roles. Also, that sometimes break-dancing in the library is a good thing.

My first session was “Re-evaluating Library Usage AFTER a Library Renovation” (emphasis in original title), presented by Jo-Ann Cooley and Kari Mofford, which described a recent renovation at U-Mass Dartmouth’s library and how they made changes and improvements after the renovation was complete. From where I was sitting I feel that the most beneficial aspect of the session was the process they used to get the feedback to make those subsequent changes. There was a lot of open communication, survey’s, and focus groups of both students and staff that informed what needed to be done after the major changes that had already taken place. This reminds us of Raganathan‘s fifth law of library science, “The library is a growing organism.”

Next came “Badges of Service: Engaging, Customer-Oriented Student Employee Training,” by Bryan Feyerherm and Lori Hilterbrand of Oregon State University. This was one of the better sessions of the conference. OSU designed a standardized student assistant training and retention program that rewarded skills earned and time served with “flair;” colorful buttons that displayed achievements. Their training included a patron experience scavenger hunt that new employees do that ends in a pot of candy, and online quizzes to test knowledge and comprehension. This was one of the best sessions of the conference in my opinion.

…people were randomly walking around with ice cream treats…

After that was the most important part of the day: LUNCH. I haven’t said this yet. Wednesday night at the (complimentary!) wine social I was told that the food at this conference was awesome, and constant. Boy howdy! Was that correct! I’ve never had such good spreads at a library conference before. Plus, people were randomly walking around with ice cream treats both days. There was a constant supply of ice cream, people! Needless to say, no one went hungry.

After lunch, I attended “Accessing Virtual Reality: Challenges Met and Lessons Learned,” in which someone from North Carolina State University (his name is not noted in the program) presented an overview of VR technologies he’s piloting in his NCSU library. I went to this because a) I know next to nothing about VR and haven’t used it since my early teens (tweens?) in the early 90’s at St. Louis’ VP Fair. You might remember the giant headsets, circular platforms, and polygonal digital environments of those early setups. Or, you might not. And b) Lied Library has a VR setup we’re piloting in anticipation of our new Knowledge Production department which will begin full swing operations by next fall. This presentation was interesting and informative, but not practical based on my professional interests outside of giving me a basic introduction to the technology without the opportunity to use it.

Next was the poster sessions. I usually don’t pay too much attention to poster sessions, but this time I took photos of a number of them and talked to one of the presenters about how she communicates en masse with a bunch of student workers who WON’T READ EMAIL! ARRRRRGH!

But I digress.

All of the poster sessions over both days that I was most interested in were concerning managing, training, and mentoring student assistants. Reasons for this I should get into in a later blog post.

Last session of the day was an outlier for me: “A Bibliometric Analysis of ILL Data at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center,” by Brynne Norton. While I do have a fairly strong ILL background, anyone who knows me knows why I went to this, and it’s spelled N-A-S-A. I’m a life-long space nerd and just being in proximity to a NASA Librarian is enough to make me fanboy.

Another Digression: My friend Nick Fry, who’s now the curator of the Barriger Railway Collection at Mercantile Library in St. Louis is also a former NASA librarian. In short, I know some really cool nerds!

Brynne talked about measuring the impact of Goddard’s ILL service using title, keyword and regular expression searches, as well as tools like Openrefine.orgRegexr.com, and Sublime text editor. While I’m not sure I understood it all (I’ve never been a blood-and-guts librarian) I found her talk way more interesting that I thought I would have by the title and description. Good job Brynne!

Day 3

“Holding onto the values of the past is the quickest path to irrelevance.” — Katie Glaeser

Friday began much better than Thursday did. I got plenty of sleep, woke up on time, and still got breakfast at the conference. I chose another student assistant management session to start my day with. This time Christopher Bishop (of Agnes Scott) and Jalesia Horton (of Augusta University) talked about their parallel experience working in small academic libraries in which they included — and expected — their student workers to do so much more than shelve books and sit at the circ desk. Their students were active in outreach, advocacy, and marketing with an eye toward building student skill sets for transference to other later opportunities. They gave their students real responsibilities, and received buy-in from them. While much of what they talked about wouldn’t work in a large institution, they did say something I liked a lot, “The student employee who understands the big picture becomes the ideal student employee.” We have to include the students in what we are doing and thinking so they can understand their jobs in a larger context and perform to their highest degree.

The second session of the day was “User-centered Access: Planning and Implementing a Fine-free Policy” by Maryke Barber and Karen Ryan of Hollins University told us all how they went FINE FREE in their library; fantasy I have written about before. What a wonderful thing to do.

According to them — and why wouldn’t I trust a librarian? — there’s more an more data that says that fines do nothing to preserve a collection or encourage quicker returns for the average circulating monograph. Hallelujah! What does work is longer lending periods, more frequent communication, billing for replacements, and blocking accounts of the worst offenders. From my experience at UMSL I can say anecdotally that this pan’s out. One thing that they did that I thought was genius was to increase the undergraduate loan period to 120 days with a single renewal, just like faculty and grad students. Brilliant! Oh, how I want to do that at UNLV! The caveat to this is that it’s only standard overdue fines they stopped collecting. They’re still fining for reserves, tech, and replacements, but still, good on them!

Poster sessions, then another totally awesome lunch.

The last regular session of the conference that I attended was “Navigating the Storm: Leadership in Times of Crisis,” by Katie Glaeser (Sweet Briar College). Another fabulous session that provided my favorite quote of the whole conference, “Holding onto the values of the past is the quickest path to irrelevance.” OMG, I was so happy to hear her say that! The presentation was really about empathetic leadership during stressful transitions to manage not only the events, but the psyches of the people affected by that change. There was a lot in this forty-five minute presentation, but I’ll sum it up with Katie’s own bullet points.

Summary:

  • Focus on Mission
  • Clarity precedes competence
  • Lead with Care
  • Information & Communication

And…

Emergency Toolkit:

  • Remain Calm
  • Focus on the Mission
  • Prioritize the Welfare of Others

Like I said, that was the last regular session I attended. There was one more, but instead I spent that time networking with my former boss, Paul Sharpe.

The last event of this wonderful conference was a panel discussion with Paul (UTRGV), David McCaslin (Cal Tech and editor of the Journal of Access Services), Krista Higham (Millersville Univ.), Brad Warren (Yale), and Trevor Dawes (Univ. of Delaware). Each of whom have been associated with the conference for all or most of its nine-year history. It was great to hear these very successful people talk about what access services has meant to them throughout their careers. Cheers, all around!

Takeaways

I’ve been going to conferences since 2011. I’ve been to big conferences and small ones, national ones and regional ones, but this is the first time I’ve really been to a conference focused on a particular service area — most importantly, mine. I was a pilot fish at this conference. I was to go there and report back to my AD whether or not it is worthwhile to send others in the future. Indubitably, it is! I had always heard wonderful things about this conference (mostly from Paul), but had never had the opportunity to come, myself. The way that I’m feeling right now. For anyone who works or aspires to work in access services, this is probably a far more enriching experience that even going to the big 20,000 librarian-strong ALA Annual every June. ALA has it’s own charms and it’s own value, but for area-specific content and the best camaraderie you can’t beat what happens in Atlanta every November.

thoughtful man

Taking Stock at Two Months

This week marks two months in the new job, and two weeks from the start of the fall semester. Let’s take a step back and see how things are going. In and earlier post I talked about how I was adjusting to the idea that I’m the boss of unit now and how difficult it was for me to make that transition. In the eight weeks since I started this position I’m feeling much more, if not fully, confident in my position. I’m beginning to take charge more and lead less by following and more from the front. That is going to be a longer process to complete and I don’t believe anyone should only lead from the front. I’m not a monarch or a dictator, so taking my lead from my employees is always something I will do.

In another post I questioned the wisdom of socializing with employees and colleagues. There is not a hard-and-fast universal rule to answer that question. Your employer may even strictly prohibit it. You’ll have to find what works for your work environment. So far, I’ve only spent social time with my any of these people in group settings. These are all fun and smart people and we all seem to understand where the lines are, so that helps. I’m building strong work and friend relationships that I hope will continue once we no longer work so closely together.

I’ve also announced that in October I’ll be facilitating a session at the MO Library Association Conference. I got official word today that I’ll also be attending the Access Services Conference in Atlanta in November. It is very heartening that someone so new to the organization would not only be allowed to attend professional conferences, but encouraged to do so. It’s possible that the MO conference will make it hard for me to go to ALA next June, but that’s a risk I’m willing to take.

Not only am I feeling more confident in my leadership role, I’m also feeling more confident in my practical role and a circulation desk supervisor. It will take me a long time to learn everything, but I am certainly competent enough for most day-to-day activities at my circ desk. This is important because in two weeks we’re going to have up to 30k students come through this building every day, I’m told. The tradition here is that for the first two weeks of the semester between 08:00-17:00 the chairs behind the desk are removed and everyone has to stand at their stations because we are too busy to sit, anyway.

dudeist logo
Dudeist Logo

I really don’t know how to prepare for this semester anymore. I’ve never worked in a library that is that busy and the only analogy I can think of is Xmas season at the shopping mall. Even then, I don’t think I was ever that busy. I think I’m just going to have to go with the flow and take a Dudeist attitude about it. I fully expect to be exhausted at the end of my days for a while once it all starts. Hopefully, I’ll lose some weight at the same time. I’ll try to take it all in stride and enjoy being busy as much as possible.

So, that’s where I am right now. Things are looking up. My wife is starting to get interviews for local jobs, and here remote-working experiment is off to a good start. We should be together sooner than later. In the meanwhile we’re doing well and are optimistic about the future.

 

Announcing, Live, and In Person…

JobSeekersSupportGroup

ME!

Today, I confirmed that I will, indeed, be appearing at this year’s Missouri Library Association Conference moderating the JOB SEEKERS’ SUPPORT GROUP.

The description I submitted to them reads as follows.

Librarianship is a very competitive field to break in to. There are many more applicants than open positions and the struggle to achieve one’s career goals is extremely stressful. This breakout session is a round-table discussion opportunity for soon-to-be or recent graduates, or anyone else on the job market to come together to ask questions, commiserate, or share stories about their experiences. We can share stories about our success and failures, frustrations and hopes. It will give job seekers a place to show that they’re not alone in their search and hopefully provide helpful information to shorten their search. Questions that may be addressed: What happens in an all-day academic library interview? How soon should thank-you’s be sent? What is the difference between a CV and a Resume? What does “pay commensurate with experience” mean? What constitutes “professional experience”? How do you handle awkward moments? Etc. This will be an open forum for anyone to contribute to in a safe environment.

While I’ll be able to regale the room with stories of my own failures and lessons, as well as the positives of my 2.5 year job search, I’m hoping to provide some insight*, yes, but mostly I’m hoping to provide a safe space for people to come together and openly discuss their fears, frustrations, and experiences. It is an opportunity for us to learn from each other. If you’re attending the conference, this year, feel free to stop me and say “Hi.” I’ll be there all three days and can’t wait to see some familiar faces.

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Life Is Funny, Sometimes

 

*DISCLAIMER: I am not a licensed therapist. I have no degrees in psychology or any behavioral science. I have no experience working in human resources. I’m simply a librarian who was extremely frustrated when he had the idea for this session and saw the need for it.