The Importance of Onboarding Within the Academic Library


By: Jamia Williams, Health Sciences Librarian, Drake Memorial Library

Before I started looking into onboarding practices, I knew that I was like many people thinking that onboarding was similar to orientation, but it is not. Onboarding is a continuous process of bringing a person into the culture of your institution. Orientation is usually a one- or two-day event that introduces a new employee to the university or college, it is also a way to make new people feel welcomed. I think of orientation as being the foundation of a person’s onboarding. Unfortunately, some academic libraries do not have an onboarding process. One of the reasons for some academic libraries not having an onboarding process might be the time it takes to create and update these processes. In 2020 and 2021, many academic librarians had to start their new jobs virtually, so having an onboarding process is vital to a new employee's success.

I started my current position in August 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. The College had an onboarding program, but the library did not have one in place. So, starting my position virtually led me to draw from my experiences of working within a library with onboarding processes. In my career, I have navigated health sciences libraries and have gone through two onboarding experiences that have allowed me to understand what has worked and what has not worked. Below is not an exhaustive list, but it is a good starting point for developing or revising your onboarding process.

Two Black women sitting at a table, smiling at each other with pen and paper in hand

Onboarding in the Library: Things to Consider

  • Who is the person that you are onboarding? What passions do they have? Did they have to relocate to the area? Does the person know the makeup of the College or University?
  • Consider making a resource guide. The guide can include employee affinity group information and so much more.
  • When was the last time that the onboarding process was reviewed? I think reviewing your onboarding at least twice a year would be helpful.
  • Who reviews the onboarding process?
  • Who is willing to be part of onboarding the new person? Friendly reminder: Please partner up your new person with people that are willing to be helpful and supportive. Not everyone is willing to be a part of the onboarding process.
  • Connect the new person with people with specific expertise, especially if the person’s skills will be part of their job responsibilities.
  • Schedule one-on-one meetings with their colleagues so that the new person knows their colleagues’ roles. These meetings can be easily added to a person’s calendar. Try to space them out a bit so that the new person does not feel overwhelmed.
  • Create a checklist that has short-term goals and long-term goals. The reason for this is that some processes might take longer to understand than others. One example from my previous job’s long-term goal was conducting a systematic review. Lastly, allow the new person to provide feedback and input about the checklist, so allowing flexibility to the document is critical.

If your library does not have an onboarding process, consider creating one. Most colleges and universities have their own, which is excellent, but the library has another culture within the more prominent institution. There needs to be something in place that shows the new person they are valued and that they are part of the team. The benefits of creating an onboarding process within an academic library are that it cuts down on miscommunication.

Every library is different and has its own procedures, policies, and norms that are unknown to a new person. Onboarding is making all of this clear.