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Interview with Brand-New Librarians III – Laura O’Brien

For the third and the last post of the Interview with Brand-new Librarians series, I interviewed Laura O’Brien. Laura graduated from Simmons Graduate School of Library and Information Science in May, 2009. Laura had completed her eight months’ of job search for the first professional librarian position a week before the ALA 2010 Midwinter where I met her first-time. She is now a Research and Instruction Librarian at Wellesley College and tweets as @niathena. I wanted to find out how she continued to stay optimistic and persistent throughout her job search since eight months after graduation can be a very challenging and trying time to endure to any job-seeking MLS graduate.

In the interview below, Laura shares her experience in a tough job market and explains how she utilized her previous work experience in the for-profit education industry to her best advantage. She advises LIS students be strategic about their learning and take responsibility for their own development as professionals and says “even a long job search (and one with certain detours) can be successful, so keep at it—the right thing will come along if you’re prepared.”

Laura O'Brien 1. Who are you and what do you do?

My name is Laura O’Brien, and since February 2010 I’ve been employed at Wellesley College, just outside Boston, as a Research and Instruction Librarian.

Before I entered the academic library world, I was part of the (gasp!) for-profit education industry. I ran a K – 16 tutoring center for two and a half years, and collaborated with the founder of the company to build a successful in-school tutoring program. That experience developed my language for instruction and inspired me to explore librarianship as a means of developing creative and effective ways to teach critical thinking skills.

2. When did you get your MLS, when did you start your first professional librarian position, how long did the job search take, and how did you prepare yourself for it?

I received my MS in Library and Information Science from Simmons College in May 2009. I pursued my degree full-time over two years, while working initially one, then two part-time academic reference and instruction positions, gaining valuable experience in information literacy instruction and research assistance with a variety of student groups, including first-generation college students, adult students, and ESL students.

As a post-grad I knew I needed to stay active to give myself more opportunities to develop my skills and establish myself as a professional and attractive candidate to potential employers. I sought out as many useful professional development opportunities as possible, even if I had to pay my own way to attend a conference I was interested in. Fortunately, many regional or statewide professional organizations have quality programming for a lower fee than ALA, and many reduce rates even further for student members. I also joined non-library professional organizations related to my technology and academic interests, and volunteered as an instructor with ESL adult learners.

When the time came to start my job search, hiring freezes and “depending on funding” positions were an unfortunate fact of the academic job market. While I was lucky enough to continue on at one of my pre-professional positions, I encountered many discouraging setbacks in the hunt for professional employment. There was, for example, the memorable instance where a previously offered job vanished into thin air. It goes without saying—that was an exceedingly trying week. There was validation of a kind (if not the kind that came with a salary) in knowing that I’d done everything right. I stayed motivated and redoubled my efforts. In hindsight, the rescinded job offer was a blessing in disguise as in January 2010 I was offered an even more exciting opportunity with Wellesley College, eight months after earning my MLS.

3. How did you do your job search? What were some of the things that worked and didn’t? What was the greatest challenge?

To keep my job search focused, I created a list of criteria I’d built for the position I was looking for–much like a job posting, this list of criteria broke down into Required and Desirable categories. This was really helpful for evaluating prospects from the list of open positions scrolling through my RSS feed reader.

Throughout the week I drafted application materials and followed up with a once-a-week meeting with a friend (who had worked in academia, but was not a librarian). This was a second or third pair of eyes to review each cover letter, but it was also a precious motivational tool, allowing me to take weekly stock of progress and evaluate my job search objectively.

In my experience, sending a template cover letter and unedited resume or CV was worse than a waste of time. Instead, I kept a file of my previous applications, with notes on each application’s progress. (I also saved the job posting in a separate file, since institutions sometimes take a posting down once they have reached the late interview or job offer stage with candidates.) This gave me a library of material to work from when customizing a cover letter for a particular position. I suspect that most search committees—at least, search committees at institutions I would want to work for—can smell the lack of effort and interest shown by a boilerplate application.

From the State Library of New South Wales collection

The Career Education Center at my LIS program offered workshops for the librarian job hunt, resume/CV and cover letter review, and most useful of all, mock interviews. Since this was my first foray into the academic hiring process, I took advantage of all of these, but mock interviews were key, particularly before the dreaded phone intervie w. It’s difficult to attain a level of comfort when answering tough questions with three to eight people in a conference room on the other end of a phone line, but practice, and feedback from a career counselor, does wonders.

Despite the length of my job search, I feel as though it was objectively pretty successful. I achieved about a 40% response rate on my applications, my phone interviews netted me a second round interview 2/3 of the time, and I received several job offers that I was able to choose from for the best fit.

4. Is your work as the professional librarian what you expected and prepared yourself for while you were in the MLS program? Otherwise, what would you have done differently if you knew?

I knew that my interests lay in reference and information literacy before starting my MLS. I did informational interviewing with academic librarians and started working as soon as possible in academic libraries to get a good grasp of what classes, technologies, and skills would be the most helpful to me in a professional position.

Beyond the core curriculum, I took reference courses in fields of study outside my own academic background (which was in English literature and history), technology courses, and an instruction course that gave me experience in lesson and program planning in a library setting. I really encourage LIS students to be strategic about their learning and take responsibility for their own development as professionals.

The work I do today—planning instruction at the classroom and the program level, implementing instructional technologies, building relationships with and supporting the research of students and faculty—is very much what I’d prepared myself for as an MLS candidate. I would have loved the opportunity to branch out further in my classwork to explore more technologies and types of librarianship such as special collections, since these are areas I work closely with at Wellesley. However, one of the great things about my position is that collaboration and learning are strongly encouraged, so I have the opportunity to participate in projects that expand my knowledge.

5. Any advice for many MLS students who will be soon graduating and looking for their first professional librarian position?

Don’t hesitate to call yourself and the work you do “professional”. Just because your work experience took place prior to obtaining your degree doesn’t make it any less valuable or any less a representation of how you can contribute to a potential employer.

Don’t discount non-library work experience. It can be what makes you unique and desirable.
For me, the key was to make it clear to employers how my skills as an administrator and educator in a for-profit industry could and did transfer to fulfill their needs. That being said, if you plan to work in libraries (or information technology or any related field) the job search will be considerably easier if you have work experiences in those areas prior to graduation.

Finally, even a long job search (and one with certain detours) can be successful, so keep at it—the right thing will come along if you’re prepared.

Interview with Brand-new Librarians II – Kiyomi Deards

For the second post of the Interview with Brand-new Librarians series, I interviewed Kiyomi Deards. Kiyomi is an ex-chemist who quit her full-time chemist work in order to attend an MLS program full-time. She loves science and research and writes at her blog, The Library Adventures of Kiyomi and tweets as @KiyomiD.

I met Kiyomi online and then in person at this year’s ALA Annual Conference. At that time, she was in the middle of her post-MLS job search.  She got a job offer shortly after the conference and moved from California to Nebraska about two months ago to start her new first-professional librarian position. Now she is an Assistant Professor in the Reference and Instruction department of the Don L. Love Memorial Library of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Below she offers great tips and suggestions about how to find relevant work experience while attending the library school full-time from her own experience and talks about her adventurous transition from being an MLS student to becoming a full-time professional librarian.

1. Who are you and what do you do?

My name is Kiyomi Deards and I am an Assistant Professor in the Reference and Instruction department of the University of Nebraska Lincoln (UNL) Library.  I am also the subject librarian for biological sciences, biochemistry, and chemistry.

2. When did you get your MLS, when did you start your first professional librarian position, how long did the job search take, and how did you prepare yourself for it?

I received my MSLIS on June 12, 2010 from Drexel University and began my first paying library position on August 2, 2010.  I first began submitting applications in November of 2009 for a position that began in June of 2010, the position I took at UNL was the third or fourth position I applied for out of 10 applications sent (I withdrew my name from one of these before their review date since I had already accepted the UNL position).

Previously, I volunteered at the IPL2, formerly the Internet Public Library, answering e-reference questions online for a year, and volunteered 2-6 hours per week for a year at a semi-local botany research library.  I used this experience, and my work as a chemist as an excuse to apply for jobs needing up to 2 years of experience, or asking for work in an academic environment.  Research library experience can often be substituted for academic library experience and they are very similar in many ways. Local non-profit museum and botanic garden libraries often need help and are willing to take people on a more flexible schedule as long as their open hours correspond with when you can come in.  If you do web site work you can often work from home in your spare time once you do some initial in person consultation.  In my case I was able to leverage e-reference, website, cataloging, and scientist interaction experience to make myself a more attractive candidate.

3. How did you do your job search? What were some of the things that worked and didn’t? What was the greatest challenge?

My job search was focused on science, technology, instruction or outreach positions.

What didn’t work?

  • In retrospect I could have saved myself a lot of time by just focusing on science and technology librarian positions since that is A) my passion, and B) my background as a chemist.  This would have been a more efficient use of my time and saved me a lot of stress analyzing cover letters I didn’t need to write.
  • If possible try and get a different person to do the final review with a copy of the job listing. I had a very embarrassing incident with Word’s auto-fix feature which neither I or my 3 reviewers caught because the subject area names were only a couple of letters different.  Fresh eyes are really a plus at the final review stage.

What worked?

Illustration by Olivier Caravel in Flickr

  • For the applications that I sent out which were clearly defined as science or technology based positions I had approximately a 45% response rate.
  • Having 2-3 people review each cover letter.
  • Having current and former library managers review my initial cover letters and tell me what I was doing wrong and what was and was not the professional way to state things.
  • I used a modified CV/Resume Format.  I totally ignored the people who said to keep your resume at 1-2 pages. Using my master CV/Resume, which listed everything I’ve ever done, I subtracted only those items irrelevant to the job I was applying for.  My CV/Resume which I submitted always ranged from 3-4 pages long, during my interviews I was asked questions regarding pretty much every item on my resume and told that the things I had listed were part of why they were interested in me.  If it’s relevant, leave it on; if it’s not, take it off.  Don’t worry about the length of the resume, worry about the relevance. (Please note that this advice only applies to academia, I can’t speak to public or corporate librarianship.)
  • Deciding what my area of interest was and letting all my teachers, classmates, friends, and anyone who asked know what that area was while remaining open to suggestions of other possibilities.
  • Not being tied to one geographic area. (I realize this isn’t possible for a lot of people.)
  • Differentiating between what I needed and wanted from a job and an area.  We all have certain things that are non-negotiable so it’s best not to waste time applying for jobs that would put you in a situation where you had to do something, or live somewhere, that you hate.

4. Is your work as the professional librarian what you expected and prepared yourself for while you were in the MLS program? Otherwise, what would you have done differently if you knew?

My degree was a general MSLIS concentration and for my 3 electives I took reference courses in subject areas outside my area of expertise, information literacy instruction, and archives I.  This was nice because it gave me a very broad overview of possible resources available from a university and as libraries and archives work together and have more overlapping areas of interest having some basic knowledge of how archives work.  It also gave me experience in looking at instruction from a library point of view and in creating a lesson plan from scratch (always a bonus when you can say that in an interview).  I think overall I got a good general education which supplements my subject knowledge.

It’s a bit early in my work to define how well it relates to my education since I’m still learning the ropes at my institution but I’ll give it try. These are the things that I learned through the MLS program and I use daily at my work.

  • Evaluation of Resources
  • Creation of Resource Guides
  • Adapting Lesson Plans
  • Reference Interview Skills (This sounds easy but depending on how busy you are when a question is asked it’s really easy to forget to make sure what you answering is really what the person is asking.)

5. Any advice for many MLS students who will be soon graduating and looking for their first professional librarian position?

Professors of practice can be a great resource, ask them for advice, most of them are happy to give it and/or suggest alternative ways to find jobs.  Contrary to popular belief all professional connections do not need to be made in person.  Respond to other librarians on twitter, reply to blog posts, ask questions on list-serves. (If you’re too shy to answer people on public list-serves you can always e-mail them personally.)

An open mind, a willingness to learn, and the ability to connect to others are (in my opinion) your most valuable assets.

Interview with Brand-new Librarians I – Rachel Slough

In my last blog post, I talked about how soon-to-be librarians lacking professional involvement and networking can build a good foundation for their post-MLS job search through the work itself.  I also thought about adding some practical tips about the post-MLS job search. But having worked as a librarian for almost two years, I realized that I may not count as a really “brand-new” librarian. So instead, I decided to interview three brilliant “really brand-new” academic librarians who successfully got their first librarian position shortly after their graduation.

This post features the first of this series, the interview with Rachel Slough, the E-Learning Librarian at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. I met Rachel at the ACRL New Members Discussion Group meeting at ALA Midwinter 2010, where she gave a wonderful presentation. “Hot Starts for Hot Shots: Using Technology to Start Instruction.” At that time, she was a graduate student at Indiana University School of Library and Information Science and also the Graduate Assistant for Teaching & Learning.  Now, she is in her first professional librarian position which she started less than a month ago. Rachel writes at her blog, Lib and Learn and tweets as @rslough. Below she talks about her post-MLS job search, the challenges, and the importance of self-care.

Rachel Slough, E-Learning Librarian

1.  Who are you and what do you do?

My name is Rachel Slough, and I am the E-Learning Librarian at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.

2. When did you get your MLS, when did you start your first professional librarian position, how long did the job search take, and how did you prepare yourself for it?

I received my MLS from Indiana University in May 2010, and started my first professional job in August. I started applying for jobs about six months before graduation, and received my first offer (which I accepted excitedly!) on graduation day.

I got the librarian “bug” as an undergraduate through an internship with the Writing Center and two librarians to help provide instruction and guide students through all steps of the research process. In library school, I worked for the head of the Teaching and Learning department, for the Reference department, and the Government Documents department. After my first semester of library school, I took a leave of absence to spend a year in Chile teaching on a Fulbright grant, which also gave me a chance to volunteer with several library-related projects. When I returned to library school, I volunteered for a committee with the Society for Scholarly Publishing and participated in the ALA Emerging Leaders program.

I really believe in applying and putting yourself out there for things that spark your interest, and maybe even scare you a little, because you never know what will work out or where you’ll find joy, inspiration, and new perspectives. I was really excited about libraries when I started library school–and still am!–and finding ways to get involved and be active within the profession connected me with inspiring people and gave me energy.

3. How did you do your job search? What were some of the things that worked and didn’t? What was the greatest challenge?

I subscribed to RSS feeds with job postings: LISNews, ALA JobLIST, Chronicle of Higher Education, University of Texas LIS program, etc. Everyday I went through and starred ones that were of interest, and blocked off 3-6 hours one day each week to go through and apply to whatever ones that I’d marked. I also would have some kind of reward for myself after I finished applications for the week! For me, blocking off a specific time every week, rather than doing it every day, and having a set space in the library where I only worked on job applications really helped. Most of the job search happened my last semester of library school, and my adviser recommended taking an internship and an independent research course, which allowed me to be a little more flexible with my time. This was great advice that I would highly recommend.

One of the hardest things for me was that the dynamics with my classmates changed. There was definitely a divide between those of us who were on the job search and those who weren’t, and things were different with my classmates graduating at the same time. It’s just very hard when we’re all applying for the same jobs, and we want to talk about it because it’s stressful and scary, but at the same time, you may or may not want to know that your classmate has been offered an in-person interview for your “dream” job or that your best friend has an on-site interview for the same place you do! As people started getting jobs, it got easier, but there was definitely a period where it was particularly difficult.

I also found it tough to not get discouraged or overly anxious. Everyone told me that it really would be ok, that I would find something, etc., but it’s very hard to believe this when you’re wrapped up in the process and receiving rejection letters left and right, or worse, not hearing anything at all. Once the interviews started, it was hard to keep up the energy and stamina, as well as to devote the time for preparation while still applying to other positions.

4. Is your work as the professional librarian what you expected and prepared yourself for while you were in the MLS program? Otherwise, what would you have done differently if you knew?

I have been a professional librarian for less than a month, so that’s a hard question to answer. While in library school, I spent a lot of time and class work on the areas that most interested me. I wish that I could have also taken a greater variety so that I better understood what my colleagues do. I’m not sure how to find that balance, but I would encourage any MLS student to seek it. I think I also would have tried to spend more time with PhD students. Much of my work, and I think this is true for many of my colleagues, is working with faculty and finding ways we can support their teaching and research needs. Finding ways to connect with them, and knowing their needs even as grad students in other disciplines, would be helpful.

5. Any advice for many MLS students who will be soon graduating and looking for their first professional librarian position?

My friend and classmate Steven Hoover wrote a great piece for Library Journal that I found immensely helpful. You can find it here:

I would encourage students to think of themselves as “real” librarians as much as possible: submit articles for publication , look at grant opportunities, apply to present at conferences, attend webinars or take online training to supplement your library school coursework, get involved with library organizations at the local, state, and/or national level. I know some of these can be expensive, but there are also scholarships, and I found the investment well worth it. My conference experiences were valuable, and getting involved with organizations gave me new perspectives that were helpful in interviews, and made it easier to get committee appointments now when they count toward my retention. Conferences and committees also helped me build a professional network, which was immensely helpful during the job search, and I’m sure will continue to be throughout my career.

I would also really emphasize the importance of self-care. Working out, eating chocolate (but not exclusively), and finding ways to remind yourself that you are a person outside of your librarian-self are also really key during this process. And hang in there!

For Soon-to-be Librarians with Little Professional Involvement and Networking

Lately there has been a lot of discussion about getting the first job after finishing the MLS program. There have been many dozens of emails posted on NEWLIB-L (See “How Did You Get Your First Librarian Job?” thread) and LITA-L listserv (See “What advice would you give someone considering LIS school?” thread).

Not only current MLS students and recent graduates expressed frustration and anxiety about a long job search process during the depression period but also many experienced librarians shared thier own experience, advice, and wisdom. Other librarians offered practical tips and resources. (See the recent post in Library Scenester and four other posts mentioned there: Kiyomi Deards’ phone interview advice, Julie Strange’s 10 tips for landing an interview, Patrick Sweeney’s 5 tips for successful librarian interviews, and Bobbi Newman’s resources on becoming a librarian).

In those listservs, some asked those who have recently gotten a job to share how they prepared themselves and succeeded in managing difficult interviews. In response to this, many librarians emphasized the importance of networking and being professionally involved through library organizations such as ALA, SLA, etc.

While I wholeheartedly agree that this is an excellent advice, I could not help thinking about myself while attending a MLS program. I had almost zero networking and was absent in about ninety-five percent of school activities that were going on whether it was a library association student chapter event or writing a publication in a newsletter or a LIS journals. I was working full-time, barely managing two evening or weekend classes a semester at Simmons. Often my primary concern while I was on-campus was how to feed and caffeinate myself during the short and precious time before an evening class immediately after work. Going to a professional conference or actively participating in school activities was never a real possibility.

So if you are like my past self in these respects and cannot change your pattern of behavior due to various personal and family-related reasons, what can you do to increase your chances of getting a job after the MLS?

Post-MLS Job SearchI think that work experience is one thing that speaks a volume about a candidate’s potential, and as such every job-seeking soon-to-be librarians should have a compelling portfolio of what kinds of library work they have done and how that fits with their interests and the positions they seek as a MLS program graduate. One should start working at a library as soon as getting into a MLS program, if not before. Library paraprofessional positions rarely require being in a MLS program. Why not test water first before committing oneself to a two-year study when the market prospect is less than ideal?

Just as important as getting library work experience is doing the kind of work that one “wants to pursue” after the MLS. If one’s dream is to be a systems librarian, working at a circ desk would add very little in the job market no matter how long the work at the circ desk has been and how good one did the job. If it is not possible to get a job or work as a cataloging or a reference assistant while you are in school but cataloging or reference is the job you would like to go for after the MLS, you should consider other ways to get that type of work experience such as volunteering and part-time and/or term-time positions. In reality, MLS programs provide mostly vocational education, and as such, work experience often trumps high GPAs and other academic achievements. Going for the work experience in the field one wants to be is THE type of risk and investment that any future librarian must take and make. I know it is hard to ditch or work in addition to a full-time non-library job (often with benefits!). But getting relevant work experience is not an option but a must for a post-MLS librarian position particularly if you are attending a MLS program part-time and cannot afford investing time in networking and being involved in professional organizations as a student . In that sense, all pre-MLS positions are essentially temporary positions as long as one aims to become a professional librarian.

It is also good to play on one’s existing strengths and personal interests. If you already have a Master’s degree in business, you are likely to qualify highly as a reference librarian at a business school. If that also matches with your interests, why not pursue reference-related work experience while at school? If you have teaching experience as a teacher or a tutor, you must have quite a bit of knowledge about lesson plans and learning objectives which are important elements in library instruction. So applying for an instructional librarian position emphasizing this asset of yours would work favorably. If you tend to catalog every CD, DVD, and book that you own, probably you are already half way to becoming an excellent cataloger or metadata librarian. So make sure to engage in real-life cataloging at libraries beyond one or two classes at school.

It goes without saying that networking and active professional involvement during your MLS education will benefit your job search. Even more benefit would be gained if you attended professional conferences, presented, got a scholarship, and/or published an article. But due to the constraint of time and the tight budget, many MLS students are simply unable to fully participate in these activities. But guess what? If you love working at a library, you can still build a solid foundation for getting a job after the MLS through the work itself. After all, one cannot do everything but what it matters is at least trying the best one can.

Getting Published in a Peer-Reviewed Journal

My very first scholarly article in a LIS journal is about to be published in the fall issue of the Journal of Web Librarianship!  And I have two more articles submitted to two other journals, the Reference Librarian and Technical Services Quarterly.  As you can imagine, I am very excited.  But on the other hand, I still find it difficult to believe that my article is actually getting published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Getting published can be a daunting task for new librarians. Considering that a two-year LIS program may well fail to provide sufficient practice and experience for LIS students to gain confidence in writing a scholarly article, new librarians without prior experience in scholarly writing are likely to not know where to begin.  I am personally divided on the issue of the faculty status of librarians and the resulting obligation of publishing.  But that certainly is not an excuse for avoiding writing.

As to many others, the major problem to me was how to begin.  The pace of my work was extremely fast as I was working towards opening up a brand-new library.  My work life as a librarian seemed to leave no room left for scholarly writing.  Moreover, I  wasn’t sure what my true scholarly interests were and whether I knew enough to write about anything.  This is to say that, like many new librarians, I was not sure when or how I was ever going to get published “ever.”

National Maritime Museum - A flight of three Supermarine  Southampton Mark II Flying boats in the air over HendonI was lucky to attend the ACRL New Members group meeting about “Academic Librarians and Getting Published” at my first ALA Annual Conference that I attended in 2009. Not only did the three presentations given by Emily Drabinski, Lisa Carlucci Thomas & Karen Sobel, and Linda Hofschire offer excellent and practical tips for writing but also this session helped me realize that writing is something everyone struggles with and being rejected is part of the process of getting published. Even though we all know that writing is horrendous to many others, not just to us, we tend to believe that those who have been published are somehow quite different from us who have not been published.  This session effectively demystified this misconception of mine.

In this session, one of the presenters gave this tip: “To get motivated, use deadlines, generate good ideas, write them down right away, set aside time to write–get up 30 min. early everyday.”  Although I liked this idea very much, I just could not sit down everyday to write for 30 minutes.  I could not get up 30 minutes early and I could not spare 30 minutes before going to bed.  It could have been a lack of the will, a doubt, busy work, or numerous other things.  But the real reason was, I think, this crazy thought of mine that I would get published “once” I first figure out my interests, do some thorough research, generate some worthy ideas quite different from others’, and am convinced that I am ready to write an article of a journal.

Oh well, I can tell you as the first-time author who wrote for a LIS journal that things don’t work that way. Period.  But I used the most important part of this tip to get started: “Use Deadlines.”

This is how I started writing.

  • Read some blogs on which CFPs are collected and listed.
  • Pick one CFP and write a proposal.
  • Get the proposal accepted.
    (This is generally not difficult.)
  • Announce yourself the deadline forced by the journal editor.
    (This is hard but could be the best thing that happens to your writing.)

The deadline for the article was Halloween last year and I submitted a very unorganized and hard-to-read draft.  The thing is, until somebody tells you this, you cannot wash the fish scale off of your eyes, which make you so completely falsely believe that your paper is half-way presentable.  Interestingly enough, you cannot see how truly bad a writer you are until you get the dreaded peer reviews.  I was not devastated but simply agreed with the feedback I had received, which was beyond devastating.  For some unfathomable reason, my truly nice editor, Nina McHale, gave me a chance to revise with wonderfully helpful comments. This lead to some agonizing time I spent trying to re-write my own paper that was practically-impossible-to-read now that I could read it through others’ eyes.

US National Archive - Older Women Doing Hand Ironing in Laundry Where General Lay-Out Is Good, But Women Apparently Have No Seats

So the second deadline came.  I was convinced that my paper would be rejected. I was also so tired of the topic by then.  But my wonderful colleague, Marissa, who patiently read through my paper and gave me plenty of helpful advice and comments, kept telling me that I had some good ideas.  The most surprising thing was that I thought better and more clearly when I was in conversation with her than when I was writing alone.  Writing is basically a dialogue between a writer and his/her readers.  But we write as if writing is a soliloquy.  Marissa also gave me the very useful tip that by changing font-size and style, and page orientation, I can more effectively proofread.  I also read aloud my entire paper before submitting it this time.

I had not heard for months again.  The peer-review process can really takes eternity.  I was dreading the rejection notice.  I could hardly believe when I was told that my paper was accepted.

The hardest thing in writing is to say what one wants to say. I spend so much time writing something that doesn’t speak and rather misrepresent what I want to say.  Now that I have gone through my first experience of writing for a peer-reviewed journal, I realize that a scholarly article is not just a product of an author.  It is so much more than that.  My article would not have been written that way without the comments from my editor and the reviewers.  Although being reviewed can be a dreadful experience, this is a boon to new librarians since it means that they will receive much-needed help and get invaluable comments for their writing.  I will be forever grateful for my editor and anonymous peer reviewers who took upon themselves reading my awful first draft.

I am not any better writer and I am not any more knowledgeable.  But through my experience I have learned that writing begins with a deadline and beginning is nearly the half of the work of getting published.  Well, that and making a bibliography one-hundred percent correct in the asked citation style is no less than art (and I say this as solemnly as I can as a librarian).

Librarianship and Burnout

It was so unexpected that I didn’t even realize when it came – burnout. It may very well be the case that I need a vacation since this summer has been quite hectic. It wouldn’t hurt to prioritize all the tasks and projects on my to-do list to make my work plan more realistic and reasonable. But there is also this nagging feeling that seems to contribute to my burnout, which I suspect may not be easily cured by a vacation or a re-prioritized work-plan.

Despite my two years of experience as a professional librarian, I have doubts about what a librarian should be and questions about who I am as a librarian. The fact that librarians do so many different things and yet can be all called “a librarian” doesn’t help dispel my confusion. What do librarians share other than the fact that they all work at a library building and somehow contribute to a library’s daily operation and they all went through the MLS program at one point? What a cataloger does is so different from the daily work of an instruction librarian just as the work of a web services librarian doesn’t overlap at all with the everyday work of an inter-library loan librarian. What ties these individuals together as one group – a group of librarians?

Fire hose turned on the fire by Oregon State University Archives.

Fire hose turned on the fire by Oregon State University Archives on Flickr.

I know this is a trite answer. But it seems to me that the family resemblance of all librarians, to borrow Wittgenstein’s term, is not so much the nature of individual librarians’ work as a shared belief and faith: the belief that information and knowledge is to be treasured and someone must work to deliver and preserve this information and knowledge accumulated throughout human history to the public, the faith that access to information and knowledge is a basic human right and it should be equally provided to anyone who desires to learn. If someone asks what I do and asks again what that means when I reply that I am a librarian, this is the answer that I should give rather than enumerating all the mundane things like setting up e-resources for a trial, filling out the paperwork for my grant project, updating web pages, and going to lots of meetings.

The problem is that this belief and the faith that are at the core of librarianship are often lost to a librarian’s view who has to battle with bureaucracy, red tapes, indifference, and often the lack of understanding, support, and recognition, in order to get seemingly the most mundane things done. But at heart, librarians are ideologues and dreamers, ideologues who do their legwork, dreamers who do act upon their dreams, sometimes to the degree that leads to the loss of the sight of their collective identity.

I always loved librarianship because of its practicality. But making the practicality coexist with the belief, the faith, and the ideology of librarianship side by side is not an easy task at all.

I have turned to librarians on Twitter for advice and have received 17 amazingly wise and helpful answers ranging from the suggestion of a new author to read and the recommendation of a hearty portion of ice cream and chocolate to the quite sound advice that I could be digging the ditches instead (quite true!). I am sharing them here for other librarians suffering from burnout like mine.

What is a scientist after all? It is a curious man looking through a keyhole, the keyhole of nature, trying to know what's going on. by alicia rae.

depends on source of burnout;often reading profl lit recharges, other stuff (leadership lit 4 me) to reconnect. &convos w/ peeps.

change jobs/roles so that you’re not doing the same thing over & over (why I became a manager instead of continuing w reference)

part of it’s realizing burnout happens to all. accept it & put energy elsewhere, you’ll end up w/ new perspective

think about what u can let go of that isn’t interesting or v. important. Keep working on at least 1 thing that is exciting to u.

remember there is always another larger, more interesting problem to tackle, and don’t be distracted by the mundane

@ranti Vacation? What’s that? That’s the weekend, right?

@ ranti
vacation(s), do variety of stuff, go walk and eat a bowl of ice cream. ;-)

examining the WHY I am doing something helps make the HOW I am doing it more relevant & energized

remember that it’s just a job. In 100 years from now, someone else will be doing it. Keep some distance & perspective. ;)

perspective, new challenges, great colleagues and working environment :)

Find someone with a diverging viewpoint about what I do or am passionate about (metadata). Gets the juices running again.

Talking to library school students helps sometimes – they still remember why they want to do this :)

take the vacation time you get and use it for non-work/library stuff. have hobbies & interests outside work.

Hang around positive people. Make our home a sanctuary. Also, I take responsibility for my choices. And Cats. And Chocolate.

I remind myself that I could be digging ditches…

I always try to keep looking a different things…If I spend too long on one thing I tend to get bored and tired!

Try to remain positive and passionate to the profession. Reading anything written by Alberto Manguel helps

Looking back at “What is Your Library Doing about Emerging Technologies?”

Who knew that I, the second-time attendee of the ALA annual conference, would be organizing and moderating a panel of a dozen librarians? But I have. Just a few days ago. And I still find the experience amazing and hard to believe because partially I found ALA hard to be involved with initially (I wrote about that here before). It was mostly due to my ignorance that I undertook the responsibility of organizing a program and agreed to be a moderator. I had no idea how much efforts would be required and how much logistics will be involved in doing so, although I am glad I was part of this program.

This program, “What is Your Library Doing about Emerging Technologies?” has originated almost accidentally at the last ALA Annual in Chicago. The LITA Emerging Technologies Interest Group meeting attracted dozens of Emerging Technologies Librarians, many of whom were young in age (considering the median age of librarians) and also new in profession. Those librarians including me, who came to the meeting, voiced confusion and challenges in this new role/position in the library profession. Since the job title was so new, the job responsibilities were not yet clear, and there was no established procedure existing for Emerging Technologies Librarians to follow in observing, evaluating, testing, and implementing emerging technologies. Also hotly discussed topics were the fact that there was no agreed-upon clear definition of emerging technologies and the lack of a library’s clear vision and organizational effectiveness in managing emerging technologies.

The way this program was planned and its proposal was submitted was unique – at least I think it is – in that the program proposal was 100 % based upon the voice and concerns of the librarians who came to the Interest Group meeting. Many times, we find conference program topics focus on chasing after the most recent trends, the most popular topics, and the most advanced technologies of the library-land. Although these programs keep us up-to-date and give us an opportunity to peek at the shiniest new programs or technologies being implemented in the leading libraries often by the experts of the fields, we get a bitter taste in the mouth when we come back to our own beloved but less-leading library and try to somehow make the shiny new awesome programs or technologies work for us. This program was definitely not one of those programs. Someone at this year’s Emerging Technology Interest Group said that the program was “complimentary” to the widely-popular LITA Top Tech Trends program (after I said “opposite”). And I think that is a very accurate observation. We need both types of programs. One that focus on where we want to go; the other that thoroughly examines where we really are.

In organizing this program, Jacquelyn Erdman, the vice-chair of the LITA Emerging Technologies Interest Group, and I, tried to be true to its origin. Rather than soliciting several presentations on the hottest items in emerging technologies or showcasing the successful cases of emerging technologies implementations, we focused on the question of what emerging technologies mean when they are discussed in the library context and why the uses of this term could be problematic. We also wanted to cover what Emerging Technologies Librarians do in the real life and what the challenges are in both managing emerging technologies and implementing them at libraries.

This turned out to be a difficult task. Our panel has become quite large in order to ensure that the discussion would reflect the general voice of Emerging Technology Librarians; we found that the use of the term “emerging technologies” often inconsistent or even contrary to its accepted definition in other fields; many Emerging Technologies Librarians belonged to public services rather than Systems/IT/Web services as was originally assumed; the foremost challenge in managing and implementing technologies as an Emerging Technology Librarian was found to be introducing and leading changes without necessary authority in an organization that is often intolerant of risks and fears changes – which is a very sensitive topic to discuss in public.

Some of the attendees of the program criticized that the program didn’t have enough depth. That is partially correct, but it was also difficult to avoid because the intention of the program was to raise the issue that have not been discussed much before, and in order to do that it was necessary to give a broad perspective on the matter of emerging technologies in libraries. But we had some very interesting discussion in this year’s interest group meeting, and I think we will be submitting a program proposal “with depth” this time around for the next year’s Annual.

Ideally, the program would have been a big informal discussion in which both panelists and attendees sit around and very informally chat, asking difficult questions and honestly discussing the challenges and problems we face at work in managing and implementing emerging technologies. I realize now, however, this is unlikely to happen in the Annual Conference. Regardless of how much of what we intended as organizers was materialized in the actual panel discussion, the program was well-received. The room was packed, and more importantly, many librarians randomly stopped me and other panelists to remark that they enjoyed the panel discussion or that they didn’t attend but heard good things from those who did so. Both types of comments made all the program participants quite happy and we swapped stories about that among ourselves.

Although I keep thinking about a hundred different ways in which I could have improved the program in retrospect(!), I am satisfied with the fact that I was part of the program that went for something quite different from typical ALA conference programs. I also sincerely thank all the librarians who initiated this discussion about emerging technologies at the last year’s Annual and hope the program helped to clear and answer some of the confusions and questions raised in the last year’s meeting.

Lastly, thanks everyone who came to this program!
(The Twitter Archive for this program is at

Persistence and Some Other Virtues for Solo Web-Services Librarians

Last September, I did an online presentation through OPAL (Open Program for All).  The topic was “Web Services for Underfunded and Understaffed Libraries.”   After the presentation, I uploaded my slides on SlideShare and then completely forgot about it.  A few days ago, I got an email from SlideShare that notified me the number of views of these slides.  How interesting!  Anyhow, so I remembered. Right, I did that presentation, and what was I thinking back then?

I felt funny realizing that what was a burning question to me only about four months ago seemed already close to some distant memory.  The presentation was part of my efforts to make sense of the challenges and difficulties I have encountered at my work as a new solo web librarian at a small academic library.  I was feeling overwhelmed because I was fully aware of many innovative things I wanted to try, but also there was a very clear limit to what I could do in reality.  Also I was somewhat depressed by the fact that some really awesome things other libraries were doing couldn’t be done for various reasons related to limited resources, funding, staff, etc.

Does the fact that I almost forgot about the presentation mean that I came to some kind of  conclusion on that topic?  Well, probably not.  I think it would be more accurate to say that I have rather gotten used to my environment.

However, now that I look back, I think I learned something about patience in getting things done.  Trying new things requires dealing with some procedures and forming a teamwork  whether it is with some university offices or within one’s organization.  Inevitably, it takes time and efforts – sometimes in a seemingly inexplicably large sum.  Unfortunately, there is no real shortcut in dealing with all the steps whether it is bureaucracy or paperwork.  So what becomes quite important is, more often than not, persistence.

Persistence is also an important virtue and one of the most valuable weapon in a solo web-services librarian’s arsenal.  I mentioned in the presentation that almost everything technology-related becomes the responsibilities of web-services librarian in a small library. So, it is unavoidable that things that need to be done pile up while one solo web-services librarian tries to get all the technology-related things requested as well as other things s/he deems to be important done.  Some of them cannot be done in the time frame desired and/or requested.  Some of them have to go down on the priority list, so that more important things, which keep popping up anew, can be taken care of. But if there are things that need to be done whether it is next month or next season, they have to stay on the list and a solo web-services librarian needs to find time for those.  This sometimes requires persuading others and enlisting their help.

Oh, and resourcefulness. That probably would make another blog post. So I won’t talk about it here.

Another thing that I have learned since the presentation is that one library can’t do all and each library’s environment is unique.  This seems quite an obvious thing to say.  But still many times, libraries waste a lot of time trying to replicate what has been done successfully at other libraries without realizing that there are very different dynamics at work.  Particularly for small libraries, it only makes sense to focus a small number of things that they can excel at rather than spreading thin their resources and staff in many different things.

From time to time, I think I should remind myself of these new lessons I have learned, so that I won’t get unproductively frustrated or disappointed and stay positive and efficient at the same time.

The question which still remains in my mind as an unanswered question is how a solo web-services librarian should deal with necessary R&D.  Unlike at larger libraries where there are multiple programmers and a large IT staff for example, it is extremely difficult for a solo web-services librarian to engage in any productive and meaningful R&D activities because there are so many daily tasks to be handled that come before R&D.  (Also remember many of these librarians are trained first as librarians and not necessarily magical in programming and writing codes?)  On the other hand, without R&D, a solo web-services librarian is likely to be burned out and  get outdated at the same time.  Sadly, I don’t see any systematic support for R&D in small libraries.

This is probably not an issue that can be solved by a lay librarian nor at the scale of individual small libraries.  My hope is to see some larger agencies that  support continuing education/R&D for library technology staff – maybe funded by multiple libraries – and those libraries again committing themselves to allowing time for such continuing education for their technology staff.  Oh, well, wouldn’t that be nice?

For what it’s worth, here is my past presentation at OPAL. I am glad SlideShare sent me the notice. Otherwise I would have completely forgotten about all these questions.

OPAL Program Archive: (Sep. 17, 29009)

Finding a Mentor

“Mentor/Mentee 101:  Developing a Career Essential Relationship” is this month’s topic for ALA/NMRT (New Members Round Table) listserv. One of the contributors to the discussion mentioned the experience of unclear expectations on both a mentor’s and a mentee’s side. I was sending a reply to this discussion Friday, but the listserv didn’t let my email through. So I failed in posting my reply. But it got me thinking a bit about mentoring in librarianship.

I think having a mentor can be of great help for new librarians.  But not all librarians necessarily need official mentors. Often new librarians can rely on their supervisors or other colleagues as their unofficial mentors.  This approach works best at a large organization where a new librarian can find experienced colleagues with similar interests to hers/his. But I also heard about situations where colleagues tend to hoard knowledge rather than sharing. Also for a new librarian who works as a solo-librarian or at a small library where each librarian specializes in a different field, participating in a mentoring program can be quite valuable.

I suspect that a mentoring relationship through emails between two librarians who do not know each other and work at different organizations would be inevitably less strong than between those who know each other well and work at the same place. On the other hand, via email, mentors and mentees can discuss any questions and issues without worrying about the local context and/or, sometimes, politics.

Everywehre Questions

(Image from Flickr:

I count myself lucky having found a great mentor through the first mentoring program I participated in.  I was paired with a mentor whose work is very similar in nature to mine. Common interests make it easy to start a conversation. One thing I excel at is asking questions. I may not necessarily understand answers, but I ask a lot of questions. Often I got illuminating answers, which come from my mentor’s experience. And those answers helped me understand certain things that at first glance looked strange or downright irrational to me. So if I have one recommendation for new librarians in mentoring relationship, that would be to ask lots of questions without worrying about whether they are  stupid or inappropriate. At what other times would one be free to ask such questions if not when a new librarian?

My expectation for the mentoring program was relatively simple — to find someone experienced who can give me advice about things I have difficulty in understanding, not so much about career development or skill sharing.  So I am not sure how mentoring would workfor more experienced librarians with different kinds of expectations. But one thing I try to remember as a mentee is that mentoring is a big time investment for mentors. So I try to be specific, honest, and clear as much as possible when I ask questions via e-mail.

I wonder when one graduates being a mentee and can begin to help others as a mentor. Maybe when there are less questions that strike one’s mind everyday?

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