By Michelle Bishop, Lisa Czirr, Leah Galka, and Sara Parme
New tenure-track librarians have a lot on their plates. Seasoned colleagues and mentors offer helpful knowledge and guidance. However, the pressures and demands faced by new librarians may be better understood by their newly hired peers. Four new-ish librarians discuss strategies which help them with balancing self-promotion and self-preservation, navigating the political landscape at work, developing instructional expertise, connecting with faculty, and leveraging non-academic work experience.
Balancing Self-Promotion and Self-Preservation
Congratulations--you finally found your way onto the tenure track! Maybe it took you months or years, or perhaps you were one of the lucky ones who entered the field quickly. Whatever your path, you know how tough the job market is, and you don't want to mess it up now. This commonplace attitude, combined with the "say yes to everything" advice that new librarians often hear, can quickly lead to burnout and low job satisfaction. We all want to be seen as cooperative and amenable team players, but we must also look out for our own best interests.
Best interests will vary from person to person, but a strong vision of your own career path will help you determine what they are for you. Be prepared to say no to responsibilities that lead you away from your path and your interests. As a new librarian, you will likely be asked to take on neglected or unwanted tasks. When offered a new responsibility, ask yourself the following questions:
- "Is this something with an obvious connection to my career path, interests, or future goals?"
- "Who is asking me to do this? Is it my colleague? Supervisor? Director?" Not that you always have to say yes to your director, but you should probably have a good reason for saying no.
- Why am I being offered this responsibility? Is it because it fits with my job description and could lead to new connections or career growth? Or is it because no one else wants to do it?" Be wary of the latter--it's great to help your new library home, but don't let "helpful" turn into "doormat." You want your colleagues to turn to you for your expertise and skills, not for your compliance.
- "Do I have the time?" Be honest about this! Burning out doesn't usually happen in a blaze of glory, but in a fizzle of regret.
- "Have I already established myself as a 'team player'?" The reality is that being part of the team is important, but don't confuse that with saying yes to everything. Maybe you've already joined a committee that you're not passionate about--let yourself say no to a boring grant you don't have time for.
All jobs require some tasks that you don't love; that's why they call it work. Be sure to leave enough room for your passion and interests to grow and blossom. You'll be a better librarian for it.
Navigating the Political Landscape at Work
The political landscape of an academic institution is rarely part of librarians' formal training. Complications can stem from personality conflicts and working in a field that, due to budget constraints and other pressures, can be stressful. You might be the newest hire in several years or in a newly created position. If the job duties are not well-defined or involve working with several departments, you may be juggling the expectations of many people. New librarians can find themselves in the middle of old grudges, personal agendas, and perceived turf invasions. Though it may not seem this way at first, office politics are not outside of your control.
- Develop your emotional intelligence. You can't control the emotions of others, but you can learn to understand them and manage your reaction.
- Get to know your workplace by meeting with every librarian and library staff member. Make it clear you are here to help and use their responses as a barometer to gauge how receptive the library will be to your ideas.
- Set boundaries; do not absorb other people's stress or get pulled into power struggles. Make yourself unavailable for gossip or conflicts that don't involve you.
- You may have just arrived, but think about what you want your legacy to be. What would you want others to say about working with you?
Connecting with Faculty
When serving on committees with members of other academic departments, you realize that though you may all be considered tenure-track faculty, you couldn't be more different in training, methodology, priorities, work hours, and interactions with students. Equally daunting are the relationships that must be formed with faculty for effective collaboration. Creating lasting faculty connections is crucial to instruction and personal development. Consider doing the following:
- Attend new faculty orientations. New faculty members are usually the easiest to connect with.
- Seek a mentor outside the library. Even if you do not have "outreach" or "liaison" in your job title, building relationships with faculty outside the library will help you realize that all academic departments have their challenges.
- Make connections at professional development and campus events. Faculty aren't always aware of what we do. It's important to get your foot in the door and initiate conversations - even with an informal start!
- Strong collaboration will help you to make purposeful connections to the course curricula, and in turn make teaching sessions more relevant to students.
- Consider your mode of communication. It can be helpful to meet in person rather than communicating by email when building new collaborations, since determining faculty instructional needs can be a lot like the traditional reference interview. Face-to-face meetings may also lessen the intimidation factor of teaching a class that's not "yours."
- Don't be afraid to ask questions. Think ahead before meeting with faculty members and come prepared. Bring your own ideas to the table, but also be open to adjusting based on each faculty member's needs. Remember, you both bring valuable expertise to the learning experience!
Developing Instructional Expertise
Instruction is typically among the criteria evaluated in a tenure track portfolio, and depending on your position, it might even be your primary role. Many librarians don't go into the profession expecting to teach, nor do their studies typically involve pedagogical courses. Even with some teaching experience under your belt, you still might not feel equipped to give meaningful lessons.
Getting comfortable in front of a class means seeking professional development opportunities and following that age-old expression: practice, practice, practice! Some of the ways to grow as an instructor include:
- Attending workshops, online or in-person courses, and national or regional conferences.
- Reading a mix of both formal and informal works. It's important to keep up with professional literature, but you can also get firsthand accounts from sources such as librarian blogs. Maybe you'll get some insight into that idea you've always wanted to try, and you might come across something new entirely.
- Becoming self-reflective. Keep notes after classes about what worked well or not so well so that you can adjust for next time.
- Recording yourself teaching, or having a more experienced colleague observe you.
- Researching and exploring new techniques. Colleagues can be very helpful as guinea pigs for untested ideas.
Leveraging Non-Academic Work Experience
The transition from non-academic work to a tenure-track librarian position has its unique challenges. Job ads requiring prior academic library experience can frustrate candidates, like the library school graduate with no prior library work experience or the public librarian wanting to make the move to academic librarianship. It becomes essential for these librarians to clearly identify and effectively communicate their previously acquired work skills which can be applied to academic librarianship.
In some cases, your colleagues who have taken a more traditional path to academic librarianship may not readily see the connections between non-academic and academic library work. Some colleagues may even place a different value on community college library experience because of the less rigorous scholarly demands. During the interview process and even after landing a desired academic position, you may have to work to help your colleagues make concrete connections between your prior experiences and the requirements of a new position. Consider the following transferable skills which may help strengthen your case.
Community College Libraries
- Instruction experience not readily available to recent graduates.
- Knowledge of the unique information needs of transitioning high school and non-traditional students (a growing research focus of four-year college libraries).
- Knowledge of effective methods of outreach and promoting library services.
- Expertise providing multimodal reference service to diverse populations.
- A creative and adaptive mindset necessary for solutions-focused client service.
- Project management and leadership experience not always easily gained within a library setting.
- Strategies and tools for improving efficiencies to save money and time.
As a tenure-track librarian, the demand to produce scholarly work is unlike the expectations for business, public library, community college library, or other work environments. However, producing scholarly work is only one aspect of your contributions. Just as your prior work experiences inform your academic work, so too will those experiences inform your scholarly contributions, ultimately contributing more diverse perspectives to library scholarship.
In your first years as a tenure-track librarian, you will feel the expected pressures. Seek support from seasoned colleagues, but don't discount the advice of other new-ish librarians. Your newly hired peers can be invaluable sources for effective strategies to survive the tenure track process.
Michelle Bishop is SUNY Oswego's First-Year Experience Librarian. She instructs information literacy concepts specific to the unique needs of first-year students.
Lisa Czirr is a tenure-track librarian at SUNY Cortland. As the Teaching Materials Center Librarian, she is responsible for the curriculum materials center that supports education students with PreK-12 materials.
As a faculty librarian at SUNY Buffalo State, Leah Galka is interested in creative instruction and student engagement. She finds research fascinating, and tries to pass some of her enthusiasm on to her students.
Sara Parme is a tenure-track librarian at SUNY Fredonia. As the Digital Services Librarian, she is responsible for the library's website and social media accounts.