Jan 01 2005
by Erik Sean Estep and Katharine James
Our profession spends a lot of time talking about generational gaps. For instance, it has been said that Generation X does not fully understand the Baby Boomers, and vice versa. One way to bridge generational divides is to create groups that appeal to occupational interests. One such group is the New Librarians Interest Group (NLIG) at Milner Library in Illinois State University. Founded in fall of 2002 and open to anyone new, or even fairly new, to the profession, NLIG has functioned as a forum for new librarians to educate themselves and to learn from more experienced librarians.
NLIG has worked as a non-hierarchical, democratic organization. During the first year, every group member was responsible for either putting on a presentation or getting one of their colleagues to do so. There were roughly ten members in the group, so we were able to fill a monthly schedule fairly easily. Most of the presentations lasted about an hour, so there was no large time commitment required from group members. With that format, we were able to have presentations from experienced faculty on such diverse topics as tenure requirements, faculty publications, conference presentations, and service learning.
The “Silo Syndrome,” when workers tend to place their own unit’s interests over that of the organization, is another problem that was addressed by the NLIG. Several times, librarians gave presentations about their own departments. For example, the public service librarians learned a great deal about the different work flows in Bibliographic Services and Preservation. We also had a tour of the Special Collections department, which focuses on circus items, unique children’s books, and Lincoln memorabilia. Focusing on different parts of the library can help erode the Silo Syndrome, as librarians find the common interests they all share and learn about the very different jobs that librarians have in an academic library.
The second year of NLIG brought a new chair and a shift in emphasis to more social events, as many of the important topics in librarianship were already exhausted. However, we continued to tour off-campus sites. During NLIG’s inaugural year, we made a trip to the new Ames Library at Illinois Wesleyan University in neighboring Bloomington, Illinois. For the second year, we toured the McLean County Archives. Our guide was the McLean County Librarian, Bill Steinbacher-Kemp, who happened to be one of our former co-workers at Milner. Our second tour was at State Farm Insurance’s corporate library. This was particularly important because of State Farm’s great influence; it is the number-one employer in Bloomington-Normal and casts a large shadow over the community. Also, we learned about the very different methods of librarianship at special libraries. These tours not only got us away from Milner for a couple of hours, but also helped us strengthen our ties to the local area.
Second-year presentations continued to focus on helping new librarians acclimate to Milner’s policies and environment. One meeting we held was on committee confusion. This was particularly useful because Milner Library, as is common in most academic libraries, has many committees and new librarians can have a hard time figuring out what they all do and the participation requirements. We also had another meeting that year to clarify the tenure process. Tenure issues affect us all, because members of NLIG are either tenure-track or likely to become so someday.
In addition to meetings about policies and procedures at Illinois State University and Milner Library, the group started to become more social. NLIG went out three times for lunch; two of those were to welcome new members into the group. Milner Library does not have a formal procedure for welcoming new librarians, so NLIG has to take an active role. Each new librarian received a letter explaining the group’s purpose and objectives and they were invited to attend meetings. The chair also extended an invitation to new librarians to go out for lunch during their first week. This was a good opportunity to introduce ourselves and make new members feel welcome. A large factor in the formation of NLIG was that many of us felt that we did not receive a formal introduction to Milner; we were left to find our own way. NLIG has been effective in addressing this need.
The Road Ahead
The future of NLIG is open. Instead of imposing a time limit, so far the group has left it up to each member when they want to leave NLIG. Attendance at the various programs has varied widely, with the tours and social events being some of the most popular. Since we have covered many of the important subjects, we will mostly likely continue to be more of a social group. One idea for year three is to set up a game night with the librarians from Illinois Wesleyan down the road.
Although NLIG has only been in existence for just over two years, it has been able to accomplish many things. The varieties of programming and social events have allowed the large cohort of new librarians to forge some bonds outside of their own departments. Since Milner does not have a mentoring program, NLIG has acted as a self-mentoring group. The flexibility inherent in NLIG has allowed it to evolve to fit the changing needs of our librarians. Hopefully, NLIG can continue to be a fine example of how more informal groups can be effective in academic settings.
Erik Sean Estep is a Social Sciences Librarian and Assistant Professor at Illinois State University. He was chair of NLIG during its first year. Katharine James is a Bibliographic Services Librarian at Illinois State University. She was the chair of NLIG during its second year.