Sunday, June 05, 2011

Anniversaries Galore: 10, 5, and 1 year

In the past month, I’ve had a birthday, a ten-year anniversary of my college graduation, a one-year anniversary of being in my latest position, and next month will be the five-year anniversary of getting my MLS.

In the ten years since graduating college, I’ve held 10 jobs, which included:

Manager of Dunkin’ Donuts
Research Assistant at Emory University
Staff at Coldstone Creamery
Manager of a corporate technology sales team at CompUSA<
Overnight supervisor of the University of Kentucky’s Access Services
Second shift Reference and Instruction staff at the University of Kentucky
Graduate Admissions Officer at SUNY StonyBrook’s Graduate School
Reference & Instruction Librarian at UTC
Assistant Head of Access & Delivery Services at the NCSU Libraries
Head of Access Services at UTC

Those last five positions were post-MLS. In the five years since I earned my MLS, I’ve worked in Kentucky, New York, Tennessee, North Carolina, and am now back in Tennessee. I’ve been lucky enough to be able to travel and present on library issues across the country, including North Carolina, Washington D.C., Kentucky, Georgia, Missouri, California, and soon Louisiana – and the professional friendships I’ve made and the librarians I’ve met have influenced me greatly. I surprised myself by leaving a reference and instruction job I loved – LOVED – to try my hand at some of the efficiency, management, and process issues in access services. (That was a move I had sworn I would never make, but that’s a whole ‘nother post.) My shift in librarianship from reference to access hasn’t lowered my interest in reference and instruction so much as it has really increased my interest in library administration and management issues.

Looking back at all of this, I see strengths and weaknesses. I appreciate the skill development. I know the CV that shows that 18 months tends to be my make or break point for any position may make folks look twice, though I’ve been both (1) lucky enough and (2) able to explain it well enough that it has not held me back in my career. I’ve found management to be a hard row to hoe sometimes, trying to figure out motivation, performance management, communication, and other issues that are part and parcel of that side of the job. I’ve helped staff move on to bigger and better things; I’ve also been through the grievance process after terminations. I constantly rediscover how difficult it is to manage and coach people who all have their own motivations, quirks, foibles, personal lives, tragedies, skill sets, initiative levels, and ideas about what makes good customer service. Occasionally I dream about having a job where I am responsible for only my own work, and not that of a disparate group of individuals. Mostly, I enjoy the challenge of trying to move everybody’s energy in the same direction. It helps that I have a great staff who feel a real ownership of the library and connection to our users; without my staff, this job would be no fun at all and I would not last long.

This year in particular, I’ve been dealing with some health issues that have forced me to be better about prioritizing my time. I am working on making a shift to focus largely on my home library (we’re dynamic and flexible and undergoing a huge amount of change between our ILS migration, new building, and reiterative organizational changes) and on my doctoral studies (which are leading to more publications but require time for reading and research writing). I plan to throttle back on my usually-hectic travel and presentation schedule. The throttling is gradual (I’ll be at ALA, Brick & Click, and Access Services through the end of the year), and I hate the idea of seeing far-flung colleagues less. On the other hand, I’m realizing some more realistic limitations on my energies, and I want to make sure my library gets the best of me. I also want to make space for more teaching opportunities, and I can’t do that the way my professional life is currently structured. This fall I’ll be teaching my first undergraduate course: a freshman seminar titled “Poetry and Myth-making.” I have also been invited to teach upper-level undergraduate courses in both the Political Science, English, and Women’s Studies departments. Though I’m not in reference and instruction anymore, teaching is one of the core reasons I joined the library profession, and I have the good fortune of a Dean who supports my wanting to keep a toe in the classroom – as long as I can do it without impacting my library work and without overextending myself.

Not quite five years out of the MLS, I head my own department full of great people – not something I would have predicted when I got the MLS, figuring it would take me 10-15 years to get to this point. I work at a library where all of us largely agree on our mission and vision, at a University experiencing interesting growth in terms of both enrollment and philosophy. I have wonderful mentors from coming up through librarianship who are happy to offer advice or a cheeseburger (or sometimes both). I have a great extended network of librarians in all areas who don’t mind my picking their brains for ideas, solutions, and general feedback.

All in all, I can look back on the five years since my MLS and be satisfied – if exhausted – by what I have accomplished. Not all of it was fun, and the road has been peppered by personal triumphs and minor tragedies, but on balance, I’m proud of what I have made and the career I've built. I can also say that one of the best decisions since graduating college ten years ago was to change direction and make librarianship my career.

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