Mar 03 2008

The New Academic Librarian: Setting Priorities, Setting Goals

Published by rachel at 9:27 am under careers, prioritization, time management

by Colleen Harris

Congratulations! You’ve landed an academic librarian job, so by now you know that a librarian’s responsibilities are seemingly endless. Having just survived my first semester in a bustling academic library, here are some tips that worked for me:

  1. Know the expectations. Find out how you will be evaluated. Does it seem a tad early to be asking how you’ll be evaluated at the end of your first year? It’s not. If this isn’t addressed during your orientation, be sure to ask. Different libraries do things differently, and you want to be sure to have a checklist in hand while going about your business. By no means should you limit yourself to only the required items, but knowing the requirements for satisfactory progress is essential, and allows you to plan accordingly. If you are on the tenure track, you’ll want to know how your administration prioritizes items like librarianship and teaching, service, and publication or research. These vary widely, and knowing what you need to focus on will allow you to start planning. Be sure to get the official written guidelines (if there aren’t any, this may a good project to suggest somewhere down the line), as well as to talk to the veteran librarians who have been through the process.
  2. Value your time. While “time management” may be an overused phrase, most new professionals have the hardest time with this. Create an objectives calendar: First things first, those items you need to accomplish to get reappointed. After that, do you want to publish so many book reviews per semester? Attend conferences? Make presentations, write articles, or contribute to a blog? Make a note of when you’d like to accomplish each, and start a mockup calendar for your objectives. Remember that you will likely have teaching responsibilities, reference desk hours, and collection development responsibilities in the midst of all these other responsibilities; this serves as a reminder that yes, you certainly have a lot on your plate. Even blogging or writing opinion articles and non-research pieces will eat up large chunks of your time. Your calendar will help you prevent a logjam of items all coming up on you at once. In the same vein, be careful of your natural inclination to say “Yes!” to everything that comes down the pike; make sure that you can make the time commitment
  3. Get involved. Keep your other time commitments in mind, but you will want to get involved in your local and state associations as well as in ALA. Be sure to pace yourself — you don’t have to add activities too slowly, but you will want to be sure that getting involved in other venues doesn’t detract from your effectiveness at your primary concern: your job. You know, the place where they pay you to get things done!
  4. Make choices. You’ll quickly learn that, while you will be doing a lot of different things, you won’t be able to do it all. Make a list of all the professional development topics you are interested in, and then prioritize these. Better to be an expert at your top three and conversant in the rest, than to be particularly good at nothing.
  5. Stay flexible. New opportunities, webinars, classes, on-campus presentations by other faculty, and new library projects will crop up when you least expect them, and you need to be sure you are flexible enough to pick up the occasional opportunity. Remember, you’re a member of a larger university or college community, and you should be aware of its broader concerns and activities. Show a genuine interest in other faculty members’ work, which will do the image of the library (not to mention your own) a world of good.
  6. Request feedback. It’s a good idea to meet regularly with your supervisor (other than at your annual review) to get feedback on how you are doing — and it’s a good habit to have regular conversations with your supervisor in any case. Not only will this help you make sure you are on the right track, the folks you answer to will likely have great advice on what to do, where to go, and what organizations to join. If you haven’t settled on a specific project or specialty, they also provide great sounding boards. Remember, people are repositories of information too. Use them!
  7. Ask questions! Just because your job description states that you answer questions doesn’t mean you can’t also be a patron. I recommend keeping a notebook or steno pad handy, so that you can jot down questions as they occur and find out who would be the most appropriate person to ask. As a “freshman” professional, as it were, you will likely get quite a bit of leeway to ask questions and clarify policy in your first year. Take advantage of this as often as possible. If your library doesn’t have a mentoring program that pairs you with another faculty member for regular check-ins and to discuss your questions, concerns, and how you’re settling in, take it upon yourself to invite your colleagues to lunch to ask questions, pick their brains, and get to know them.
  8. Get a life. No, really. No one at work wants to see you burn out, and you need some “away” space so that you don’t end up marinating in work all the time. Have a hobby, have a passion (secondary as it may be) to librarianship. This will help refresh you and give your brain something else to chew on — while your subconscious works out clever ways to improve your library.

Colleen S. Harris is the newest assistant professor and reference librarian on the tenure track at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. She balances her professional responsibilities with involvement on UTC’s literary journal Sequoya Review, her position as the library’s representative to the UTC Faculty Senate, and in her free time pursues her MFA in creative writing at Spalding University and her MA in Literature at UTC.

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