Two years later…

I originally started this blog to document my first year as an academic librarian. As it turns out, I had so much to learn about the profession and myself that it has been really hard for me to be reflective about my experiences over the past two year.

Next week, I will reach the end of my second year as an instruction & reference librarian. What I’ve learned is that I am more instruction and less reference when it comes to describing myself as a librarian. I’m also beginning to realize I may be more of a teacher or guide than a librarian. I spent many years teaching writing and working in writing labs and am accustomed to seeing research, writing, and learning as more of a process. I am more interested in seeing students explore ideas and think than simply find an “authoritative” source. I would rather coax them into thinking for themselves rather than just directing them to a source or list of sources.

Now comes the challenge of sorting out my own “philosophy of librarianship” in the way that education students must develop an educational philosophy. With every class I teach, I find myself getting further and further away from simply showing students how to find different information sources and focusing more on why they should find them. I also find myself thinking more like a teacher than anything else, and in that context, I worry about shortchanging my students when I don’t challenge them to think and find out things for themselves and sometimes even learn from their mistakes. The conflict I see between the instruction and the reference sides of my job is something that I want to explore more thoroughly as I enter my third year in the profession.

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Tenure

Last week, I attended my university’s chapter of AAUP where the outgoing president gave an explanation of tenure that was simple and elegant.  He said tenure acknowledges that a professor has contributed to creating a learning community at the university.

Of course I started thinking about this in terms of tenure for academic librarians.  On one hand, I like having faculty status and the idea of working towards a goal like tenure is appealing. And I certainly believe librarians can help create learning communities. That’s one of the reasons I am so interested in the idea of training student workers to perform higher levels of service at the reference desk.

But because librarians can create  learning communities, does that mean they do?  Does tenure help them do that or does it create a comfort level once tenure is achieved that invites complacency and lack of innovation?  Since the current environment demands we be creative and active in meeting the changing needs of our users, would it be better for us to take a more corporate approach?  Meaning considering each job an opportunity to learn, grow, contribute to an organization and then move on once the growth has stopped?

Since I am not currently on tenure track at my university, this is something I think about occasionally. Do I want to be on tenure track?  Or, am I happy developing professionally as a librarian who can take what I’ve learned with me when I’ve done all I can do in a place?

How does your garden grow?

I’ve been thinking a lot about professional development lately.  Mostly because I’m working on a proposal with 2 former library school classmates for our state library association conference that takes place in October.

Before I started working as an instruction librarian, I was already working in higher education and was aware of how important professional development can be. I had attended a couple of conferences as a student and had a presentation accepted for a state conference shortly after I finished my master’s and before I had started my current job.

Sadly, I have to admit that I got a bit cynical about professional development not long after beginning my job. I read a few blog posts here and there that lamented the poor quality of conference presentations and this colored my view of what professional development is and should be.

But lately, I’ve been changing my mind. I realize that presentation style is important, but sometimes I feel like the emphasis on being a great presenter takes away from the purpose of doing a presentation in the first place. Presentations and articles are meant to inform our colleagues about developments in our field. I’ve heard laments that research in the field of library science is lacking, which makes me want to focus even more on the content of my presentations rather than bells and whistles.

I recently presented a paper at an interdisciplinary conference about how my experience at ACRL’s Immersion Program changed the way I approach library instruction. The call for proposals described the presentation as a “paper,” which I thought I would be reading. Instead, the first day, I noticed most presenters were being more interactive, so the night before my presentation, I reviewed the main points of what I’d written and delivered my paper as a short talk. What surprised me about this was that I wasn’t upset that I’d spent time writing a 9 page paper that turned into a talk. What I learned from this was that the process of trying to explain my professional experiences to others helped me put these experiences in context for my own growth as a librarian and a teacher. The same is true for a recent co-presentation I did at REFolution where Russell Palmer and I talked about how student workers fit into the the information commons model many libraries now have. This presentation was highly interactive, and the comments and reactions from our audience helped me to consider new ways to approach the research I’m doing in this area.

So, what I’m realizing about professional development is that it is less about bells and whistles and really about my growth as a professional. What I present and write about is as important as how I present the information. While I hope in time to become an engaging speaker and presenter, I hope even more that my professional development activities help me to grow as a librarian, writer, and teacher.