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Sunday, September 29, 2013

Professional Direction and Critical Reflection: Where Do I Go From Here?


What excites you about librarianship?

Most of the readers of this blog are fellow librarians. Most of the librarians I know do the job for the love of it. In conversations I've had in hallways, at conferences, near firepits, by instant message and phone calls I've learned that we love libraries, the idea of libraries, the ideal of information access and transparency to help people make better decisions, to create a more informed citizenry. We love service, knowing that our work contributes to improved lives, improved decision-making, to degree completions and lifelong learning. We love curating information to make sure future users will be able to find and use it, we love advocating for resources that serve our communities. We love that each day is different, that our work tracks hand in hand with technology changes and the march into the future. We love our users, and their oddities, curiosities, we love being able to reduce their stress levels, educate them so they can be savvy information-consumers, and we love helping them find the answers they need.

Nearly all of the librarians I know wear their love for their work like a badge of honor. It's impressive, and it makes me happy to be part of this profession full of passionate individuals committed to a greater good. Nowadays, it has me thinking "where does my passion lie? Why I am a librarian?"

I've been working sporadically on my EdD, which when complete will qualify me to apply for cushy 9-month teaching positions. (Well, cushy from the perspective of a 12-month, 40-hour a week tenure-track librarian, heh.) And while I am excited about my research and how it might improve librarianship and leadership studies, some critical reflection showed me that I do it for reasons other than a desire to be not-a-librarian. I do it because it help me better understand the research processes and needs of my faculty, it keeps me cognizant of the needs and stressors of my students, it satisfies my desire to engage in semi-structured learning (both in classes in independent research projects), and because it helps me better delineate the kind of research I want to do and gives me the skills to design robust studies that will improve my own (and hopefully others') understanding of various subjects.

For the past year (and much to the chagrin of my advisor), I've been tossing some sporadic weekend time at the dissertation, since my focus has been on work and my health. Now that I've successfully defended the proposal (the first three chapters and the survey instrument) I am about to head into IRB approval, piloting and distribution, data collection, crunching, and the final write-up, I can see the finish line. It has me thinking about what I want to do.

In discussions with my husband about his own career, I advise him to follow his passions. First figure out what you love, then go figure out how to make it a career.

I have had a lot of fun in Access Services. It's where I started in libraries, as a student worker and then staff member before moving into professional management positions. I think working in Access Services is one of the best ways to train librarians and staff into a heavily customer-oriented mindset as they move into their careers. I have had the good fortune of working with phenomenal staff and professionals who not only love their work, but take the care and feeding of their users truly to heart. Working in Access Services is to give great customer service, to try to make the experience of your users seamless and trouble-free, and is often to give a face to the Library at a heavily transactional desk that tends to be more heavily trafficked than other service points.

Which brings me back to the questions of where I want to be, and what I want to be doing. I miss teaching students and collaborating with faculty on the curriculum. I miss being involved in the research aspect of academic library work, getting my hands into the curriculum, being directly tapped into student success initiatives, feeling like my work directly contributes to students walking across the stage at graduation time. For awhile, I was able to meet this desire by teaching as an adjunct in my free time and in addition to my regular duties, but as I strive for a healthier lifestyle and try to make wiser choices about time commitments, tacking on extra work to an already full-time position is not realistic. My conclusion: I'd like to wrap up what I want to do into my primary assignment.

My work in academic library management has been a wonderful experience - I've learned a lot about how decisions get made and implemented in large and smaller libraries, I understand the challenges of resourcing library initiatives better, and I've seen projects crisscross departmental responsibilities, highlighting how very badly siloing can hurt us. I've had wonderful mentors and colleagues who have challenged, encouraged, and inspired me. One of the things I have been inspired to do is critically review my skill set, and see where it is I can do the most good both for the library and for our users. My conclusion is that I should be working somehow and somewhere in academic reference and instruction, helping students build their information literacy and critical thinking skills, building strong relationships with faculty, and using my position as both researcher and student to the advantage of my users. Going back to the idea of passion, instruction is where my passion lies. If I work until I die in the saddle, I want that saddle to be library instruction (though hopefully not the classroom in front of the students - I'm looking to support them, not scar them).

Given limited time in life, and limited energy when trying to have a happy work-life balance, I want to concentrate on something where my talents are a great match in making the biggest impact on users' lives. Our library managers do this through resource allocation, project management, staff development, coordinating with various other campus offices and advocating for resources.It is difficult and necessary work. It is work they do regardless of hour, of whether the library is open, whether they are supported by their staff or higher administration, and despite too-small budgets and ambitious library goals. Seeing it from the management side, knowing the incredibly difficult work my own supervisors, deans, and colleagues have handled with grace, I am grateful for the good managers I have had the fortune to grow up under. I am honest enough to know that I am not as good as they are at what they do, though I have enjoyed testing myself.

I have the good fortune of working on a campus I love with wonderful library colleagues. They've had me as a reference and instruction colleague, and then brought me back as an access services colleague. They've been on the front lines of watching me waver back and forth, trying to do it all and find a happy medium. But let's admit it. Those of you who know me know that I'm not a "happy medium" kind of woman. I'm a pick-a-thing-and-do-it-at-190%-like-an-obsessive-weirdo kind of person. Knowing myself well enough to know that, and knowing that I cannot both have my cake and eat someone else's too, I am picking a flavor.

Over the longer term, this means I'll redirect and try to find a place where I can move back into reference and instruction and help build an information literacy and instruction program. In the shorter term, our library is moving full speed ahead into a huge new building in less than a year, we have a ton of new staff, we're looking at a possible reorg, and we have a lot of service model planning, projects, user-services, and moving to work out, so the short term appears to be well-covered. The longer term will handle itself!

2 comments:

Andromeda said...

"successfully defended the proposal "

Congratulations!!

"Those of you who know me know that I'm not a "happy medium" kind of woman. "

Ok, I LOLed. And it is MAYBE JUST POSSIBLE I understand where you're coming from, there.

Colleen S. Harris-Keith said...

Andromeda - thanks! *grin* I know there are a bunch of folks out there - you included - who will feel me on that.