Survival Skills for Newbies in Academe

January 26, 2014

Tyler Dzuba, physics-optics-astronomy librarian at the University of Rochester (N.Y.) River Campus Libraries, moderated a panel of speakers who shared advice for new librarians on how to pick your battles, how to identify opportunities for change, and when to accept things as they are. The session was sponsored by the ACRL New Member Discussion Group, and the panelists were Sha Towers, director of liaison services at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, Aaron Dobbs systems librarian at Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania, Michelle Millet, library director at John Carroll University in University Heights, Ohio, and Heather McNabb, branch manager at Evansville Vanderburgh (Ind.) Public Library.

The panel began by speaking about what new librarians need to do from the beginning. Towers noted that although we can worry about making a big splash, the most important thing is to do a lot of listening. It’s not hard for a new librarian to immediately notice the dysfunction in an organization, but as Millet pointed out, you will not be able to fix all of it. And what you can fix, you likely won’t fix quickly. For any such undertaking, she recommended always weighing the effort needed versus the impact it will make.

A good way to frame a discussion with your boss is to compare what your library is doing to what is going on in peer libraries or libraries that your institution aspires to emulate. Towers said that bosses can say no to a great new idea for any number of reasons. For example, perhaps the timing just isn’t right.

Audience participants asked what advice panelists had for new librarians who got stuck on a project they didn’t agree with, but were assigned because they’re the new kid on the library block. In that situation, Millet said, “You do it, because the worst thing is that you’ve done something your boss asked.” McNabb suggested discovering the motivation behind the project and seeing if there’s an alternative way to implement it.

Another question from the audience was “How do you know when you’re ready to leave a job?” The panel agreed on two possible litmus tests. One, if you aren’t learning, or don’t feel challenged, it’s time to change. Two, if your friends have ever said you complain about your job too much, it’s time to change.

A few final thoughts courtesy of Aaron Dobbs:

  • “Don’t piss people off on purpose.”
  • “One of the keys is: Don’t make things horribler, if that’s a word.”
  • “An employee’s job is to make their boss look better so they can get promoted out of the way.”

T. J. SZAFRANSKI is the virtual services librarian at Lake Villa (Ill.) District Library. He tumbles @ANotionDeepInside where he shares some library thoughts and a lot of Bruce Springsteen thoughts.

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