Small(er) Academic Libraries: Highlights from the Field

This week I visited the local MLIS program at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s School of Information Studies. The instructor of the Academic Libraries course invited me to present about working in smaller academic libraries–a career I have thoroughly enjoyed! Below are my slides and notes.

It was a pleasure talking with the students and their instructor!

Slide1

Small(er) Academic Libraries: Highlights from the Field

  • I’ll tell you a little bit about myself and Carroll University’s library.
  • We’ll do a quick comparison between a small academic library and large academic library.
  • Then the bulk of the presentation will discuss highlights of working in a smaller academic library.

Slide2

A Little Bit About Me

  • BA in history from Ball State University.
    • Changed my major a few times.
    • Starting my freshman year of college, I began as a library student worker.
    • I saw the work that the librarians were doing. They enjoyed their jobs and by senior year I knew this was what I wanted to do.
  • After my bachelor’s degree I got my MLS from Indiana University.
  • Been working as an academic librarian for 16 years now.
  • During most of this time, I’ve been an information literacy and reference librarian.
  • Also spent time working as an instructional technologist – helping faculty integrate e-learning tools into their courses.
  • Worked at 5 different universities and have been at Carroll University now for 5+ years. 
  • While at Carroll, I decided to go back to school and completed my master’s degree in education.
    • It wasn’t a job requirement. Did it for professional development.
    • For me, my MLS was all about library content (books, journals, databases).
    • But to me, libraries are all about people!
    • The master’s in education was a good connection between people and content.
    • Did my research on makerspaces in academic libraries.
  • I hate the question: “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” because I’m not a person who plots out a career trajectory–it’s just not me. I’ve always been more interested in making sure I like what I do and feel supported and valued at work instead of wanting to hold a particular job.
  • Being library director is still new (less than 2 years) and something I never intended or thought of.
    • Especially when you work in a smaller library, you have to be prepared to step up.
    • When our previous director left, none of the other librarians wanted to serve as interim director, so I agreed to.
    • Eventually I interviewed and became permanent library director.

Slide3

A Little Bit About Carroll University

  • We are Wisconsin’s oldest university. Founded in 1846. 
  • Still primarily a residential campus. Around 3,400 students.
  • Focus is on undergraduate education, but growing graduate programs: Doctor of Physical Therapy, MBA, masters in education, masters in occupational therapy, masters in nursing, masters in exercise science, masters in physician assistant studies, masters in athletic training.
  • About 60% of our students major in the health sciences or life sciences. Popular majors are: Exercise Science, Business, Nursing, Biology, and Psychology.

Slide4

Library by the Numbers

  • Above are some statistics about Carroll University’s library.

Slide5

Small Academic Library vs. Big Academic Library: A Comparison

  • A comparison between Carroll University’s library and UW-Milwaukee’s library.

Slide6

What is a Small Academic Library?

  • No straightforward definition.
  • Generally less than 5,000 students.
  • Overall, I would say a total staff of less than 15 to 20.
  • Comparing resources (like number of books, databases) is harder because it depends if the university is part of a system or consortium.
  • So I primarily look at the number of students and number of library staff members. But your mileage may vary.

Slide7

Flat Organizational Structure

  • Smaller academic libraries generally have a flat organizational structure.
  • Not a lot of hierarchy–simply because there’s less staff.
  • As a smaller library, communication is fairly informal as we see everybody almost every day.
    • The library staff meets formally as a group every other week to share what’s going on.
    • The librarians meet formally as a group when needed. 
    • I meet formally with each of my direct reports once a month. It’s a chance to get updated on projects and to share things one-on-one.
    • We generally don’t handle library business by committee unless it’s for a job search.
    • We currently only have one committee: marketing and outreach.

Slide8

Carroll University Library Organizational Structure

  • Each of our librarians coordinates a specific area of the library.
    • Public/Technical Services Librarian & Archivist: technical services and archives.
    • Teaching & Learning Librarian: research assistance and information literacy.
    • Electronic Resources Librarian/Systems Librarian: back-end systems.
    • Life & Health Sciences Librarian: serves our life/health sciences students because we have so many. Needed a dedicated position.
    • And I coordinate access services (Circ, ILL, reserves) in addition to being library director.
  • I report to the Provost/Vice President for Academic Affairs. I meet with him formally every other week and then all of the deans/directors in Academic Affairs meet together formally once a month.
  • Most smaller and a lot of larger academic library directors report to the Academic Affairs side of the university. The exceptions are some academic libraries, both large and small, that work under a merged Library/Information Technology structure and then the library reports to a person who often holds a title like Vice President and Chief Information Officer.  

Slide9

Public Facing

  • Regardless of your job title, every library staff person at a small institution is public facing. We have direct contact and interactions with students, faculty, and staff everyday.
  • No one sits in a “back room” — and that’s not a criticism of larger institutions. It’s just daily work life at a smaller institution.  
  • For example, our technical services librarian and our electronic resources librarian – job titles that are often considered “back of the house” – participate in teaching information literacy sessions, provide research assistance, and other library liaison duties.
  • At a smaller residential campus, face-to-face is key. That’s why students choose to go college there.

Small(er) Academic Libraries (1)

You Wear a Lot of Hats

  • For me, one of things I’ve loved about working in smaller academic libraries is that there is never a chance to get bored.
  • Because our staff is small, we do a lot of different things.
  • I’m the library director, but all of us do a lot of things.
    • I oversees access services. Each of our librarians coordinates a specific area of the library.
    • I’m also a liaison to several academic departments on campus. Each of our librarians is assigned to departments to liaise with.
    • I teach in the information literacy program and provide research assistance.
  • Generally, Library Directors at larger institutions wouldn’t do much information literacy or research assistance.
    • I do. I want to see the issues that our students and faculty are experiencing first-hand. And frankly, if I didn’t participate in research assistance and teaching information literacy sessions, it would be too burdensome for the rest of the staff.

Slide11

Other Duties as Assigned?

  • The next thing I pulled here is a job description so you can see the examples of wearing many hats.
  • Last summer, we hired for our Teaching & Learning Librarian position–what a lot of academic libraries refer to as a Reference & Instruction Librarian.
  • I’ve highlighted the different “hats” that this librarian wears.
  • Variety is key in smaller academic libraries.
  • Also wanted to share this because when you are job hunting, don’t be intimidated at what at first glance looks like a laundry list of job duties. It looks daunting, but remember we’re smaller, so you’re not devoting as much time to each individual bullet point as you might at a larger institution. Apply! We need you!

Slide12

Generalists vs. Specialists

  • Speaking of job titles. We can talk about the differences between generalists and specialists.
  • For the most part, in small academic libraries, we’re all generalists when it comes to subject matters and library expertise. We know a little bit about a lot of things.
  • At larger academic libraries, of course, you have generalists, but you also have specialists too.
  • On the left are librarian job titles from Carroll.
  • On the right are some examples of job titles I’ve pulled from large academic libraries like UW-Milwaukee, UW-Madison, and the University of Minnesota.

Slide13

Less Roadblocks, but Less Resources

  • One of the outcomes of a flat organizational structure is less red tape. This is one of things I enjoy about working in smaller academic libraries.
  • If I have an idea, or if another staff member has an idea–as long as it’s low cost, you can try it. If it’s a success–then great, but if it fails, that’s OK too since it’s a learning process. I like to promote the idea of always operating in beta mode.  
    • Example: I was meeting with the library’s marketing committee and somehow we got onto the topic of how we noticed that some of our student workers skip meals or were out of meal swipes.
    • The conversation then moved on to how many of our college students are food insecure.
    • So on a whim we decided to convert an unused book tower display into the campus’s first food pantry.
    • There was no red tape or approval process we had to go through. We’re a small campus, so we know what services are provided–so we just decided to do it.
    • Another example: I supervise our Circulation Manager and we were talking about library fines. Recent studies have shown that library fines aren’t necessarily a good way to get library materials returned. So we did away with library fines. Again, no committee. No having to go up the “food chain” to get things approved. We just did it.
  • The flip side? Less resources.
    • So it’s just Carroll. We’re not part of a system or consortium.
    • We need to have most of the services and resources of a larger academic library, but scaled down to our size.  
    • Example: For library databases, we rely a lot upon databases that are provided to us for free (though paid by taxpayers) by Badgerlink, though the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.
    • Then we pay for specialized databases to support specific programs at Carroll.

Slide14

Typical Day?

  • Well there is no “typical” day.
  • That’s not unique just to smaller academic libraries, I think larger academic libraries experience that too.
  • Some of it is just dictated by the cyclical nature of the academic calendar.
  • Here is my calendar for Wednesday of last week.
    • Walk through: We have mostly movable furniture now. I like to see how students have been using it and I like to return everything to its original location so we can start fresh each day.
    • Monthly meetings w/ my direct reports.
    • Taught an information literacy session for the required English composition/writing course that first-year students take.
    • The university is embarking on a new audience & degree program, so there was a campus meeting. Important units like the library, the learning commons, academic advising, the registrar’s office, and financial aid have been meeting regularly to plan an outline for student services.
    • Lunch is always blocked, whether it actually happens or not!
    • Library staff is testing a discovery layer. So our Electronic Resources Librarian hosted a session where we did sample searching and asked questions about search results, etc.
    • I have some open time in the afternoon where I can catch up on email, work on projects, etc…
    • Also when I’m at my desk, just like all of the other librarians, we are logged into the library chat program so we can take questions. About 1 in 6 research questions comes through library chat now. So it’s important that we have multiple people staffing it.
    • Then my day wrapped up with campus emergency planning meeting. I left work at 4pm.
  • As far as smaller academic libraries: Here’s an example:
    • Today when I opened up at 7:30am, I noticed that the door handle to one of the library front doors had fallen off. So the first thing I did was to do a Facilities work order to have it fixed.
    • Then when I did my walk through, I noticed tables in our group study rooms had not been cleaned. So I had to file a Janitorial work order.
    • At larger academic libraries, there’s often a staff member who might do this. At a smaller academic library, it’s you!

Slide15

Who Are We Here For: Students or Faculty?

  • This headline is misleading because it’s not really one or the other.
  • The difference though: Carroll University, and most smaller colleges/universities are teaching-focused–primarily at the undergraduate level. We’re not a large research university like UW-Madison or the University of Illinois or University of Michigan which supports faculty and graduate student research.
  • Our mission at a smaller institution is much more tied directly to the undergraduate curriculum.
  • Here is our mission: “The library services students by providing access to information, maintaining an environment that promotes a culture of academic excellence, offering instruction that fosters scholarship, integrity and independent intellectual growth, and the sophisticated information skills necessary for lifelong learning.”
  • The question we ask ourselves: How can we support students in a particular course?
  • We’re not as focused on supporting faculty research, though we do help when we can.

Slide16

Management Skillz

  • In a smaller academic library, you may find yourself managing student workers or library staff. Even as a first job out of your MLIS program.
  • Don’t expect much formal training.
  • Remember, if you’re at a smaller academic library, then other departments on campus will be small too. Like Human Resources, for example. They may not have a lot of time to conduct workshops on manager training. You are kind of left to fend for yourself.
  • Regardless of whether you are a manger or not, everyone in a smaller academic library has to be a leader. Each of us have a portfolio we are responsible for. 
  • Importance of being a team player: In a small academic library, if someone is not a team player it’s immediately noticeable. It can negatively impact public-facing library services.

Slide17

Why Smaller Academic Libraries?

  • To wrap up:
  • #1: You are here for the students. Without them, the university ceases to exist.
  • #2: You see the impact first-hand: I get to see those light-bulb moments when working with students. And that’s really memorable for me. At small place, everyone gets to know you.
  • #3: Variety of job duties – no chance to get bored!
  • #4: Less silo-ing: You really have the chance to collaborate with people from across campus.

Slide18

The Librarian Shortage Myth & Blaming Library School

Update: Received a couple of comments about being a “male librarian” and how I’m ignoring my own privilege. Yep, these readers are correct! I wrote this post in haste without taking in to account how my own privilege and status play into this–or in my case, I dismissed it–which is wrong. For that, I apologize and will try to do better the next time. However, I do stand by my advice to critically evaluate the state of the job market. -joe, 3/18/15

Don’t blame library school if you cannot find a professional job. You are an information professional. Did you not research the state of the job market?

I made that very blunt point in a 2011 blog post: “I graduated from a top library school.” Yeah, so what? – It’s generated a lot of comments since then and struck a nerve with some readers.

One person commented:

I do not agree about NOT blaming the ALA and the school. There is a lot of false information put out by the ALA ..remember all those retiring librarians. Also as a male you are at an advantage. I have seen some really dopey male librarians hired at our library I asked one about a book I was looking for and he googled and turned the screen and told me read this stuff. When I persisted he pointed to an elderly female librarian and told me to ask her because she’s really good at that stuff. This after being told that library only hires the creme de la creme. Guess that creme got stale googling. You can be all positive because you got a job. People have done all you suggested and still have no job in a library or have a part time job in a para professional area. There is an article in the Library Journal called that lucky few – referring to people like you who got a library job.

Blaming Library School

Looking back at my original “blunt” advice, I stand behind my underlying principle: You are responsible for the usefulness of your education and the decisions you make. Putting aside the reader’s baseless “male librarian” comment, I DO agree with the reader on this point: some library schools and the American Library Association have marketed this “myth” of a librarian shortage.

I graduated from library school in 2002 when this “myth” was being pushed. Take a look at this 2000 press release from the University of North Texas on the nationwide librarian shortage. Here’s a similar story from SUNY Buffalo from 2002. Even the Bush administration was involved with this 2003 news release from “first librarian” Laura Bush. On the ALA website, you can still see (outdated) vestiges of this thinking:

…these sources indicate that there is a need for sustained effort to recruit new people into the LIS professions and to retain those who are working in libraries today. As large numbers of LIS professionals reach retirement age, there is a corresponding need for new people to replace them.

However, as information professionals, we should know not to take things at face value. Looking back at all of the stories about a “librarian shortage” from the early 2000’s, I decided to pull my library’s print (read: dusty) copy of the 2002-2003 Occupational Outlook Handbook. The outlook for librarians is as follows:

Applicants for librarian jobs in large cities or suburban areas will face competition, while those willing to work in rural areas should have better job prospects.

and…

Employment of librarians is expected to grow more slowly than average for all occupations over the 2000-2010 period. The increasing use of computerized information storage and retrieval systems continues to contribute to slow growth in demand for librarians.

[Source: 2002-2003 Occupational Outlook Handbook (pgs. 188, 190)]

I’d call this a pretty measured response from an authoritative source. Don’t you think?

More current, the 2012-2013 Occupational Outlook Handout certainly isn’t promoting a shortage of librarians:

Employment of librarians is expected to grow by 7 percent from 2010 to 2020, slower than the average for all occupations.

and…

Jobseekers may face strong competition for jobs, especially early in the decade, as many people with master’s degrees in library science compete for a limited number of available positions. Later in the decade, prospects should be better as older library workers retire and population growth generates openings.

[Note: bold emphasis is mine. Source: http://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/librarians.htm#tab-6]

Overabundance of MLSs

So, are library schools churning out too many MLSs? – probably. Take a look at this insightful analysis by Brett Bonfield from In the Library with the Lead Pipe. The one thing to remember: If you throw out the noble goals of education and focus on the bottom line, it’s the library school’s job to get butts in the seats (tuition). Nothing more. Nothing less. Other disciplines have focused more attention on this. For example, news of job woes among law school graduates have resulted in law schools capping admissions. Should library schools do the same?

The librarian job crisis – both unemployment and UNDERemployment – isn’t about library schools. In the words of political strategist James Carville: it’s the economy, stupid. I’m not just talking about the 2008-2009 global financial crisis, either. I graduated library school during the post 9/11 economic slump. In my mind, much of the 2000s was a general economic malaise that contributed to library budget cuts, unfilled openings, and senior librarians who have deferred retirement (and I don’t blame them for that).

This is compounded by the fact that some librarian positions have been re-classified from MLS positions to paraprofessional positions (yes, I know the debate about the term paraprofessional–spare me here, please!), further de-professionalizing the workforce. In addition to this, what might have been one full-time MLS position has been converted into two part-time positions. Also, as experienced librarians have moved up, those entry-level positions have often been unfilled or converted to something else entirely different.

No one should be sugar-coating the job market for librarians. It’s tough. I’ve been lucky and I know that. At the same time, I like what I do and I don’t feel “guilty” about having a job. Nor has being male held an advantage. I’ve been successful because I’m good at what I do.

For anyone thinking of going to library school: do your research, be aware of the employability issues, network with working librarians, investigate alternatives to “traditional” library work, and see whether you would be a good fit.

Introducing: Librarian Job Ad Drinking Bingo!

A little end-of-the-day humor for my job-hunting librarian friends: here’s Librarian Job Ad Drinking Bingo!

It’s easy to play: just scroll through the postings on the ALA JobList site. Every time you see one these items below: a buzzword, a litany of preferred advanced qualifications, or one of those bullet points that just makes you think “WTF!” – take a drink!

If you get five in a row, shout out “Bingo!” You’ll be sloshed in no time!  (…but as those ads say, my friends–please drink responsibly).

Click the image for a larger view.

Librarian Job Ad Drinking Bingo!

 

Image credit:
Shit Outta Luck” – a Creative Commons Flickr photo by user “C-Monster.”

How Ranking Library Schools is Like Ranking the Socks in Your Drawer

U.S. News & World Report just released new rankings of graduate schools in library science. Isn’t ranking library schools sort of like ranking the socks in your drawer? It does not matter.

I hope that prospective MLS students don’t read the rankings and think, “Gee, I need to go to THAT library school!”

These rankings have repeatedly been called into question. The prime reason is the methodology:

The rankings are based solely on the results of a fall 2012 survey sent to the dean of each program, the program director, and a senior faculty member in each program.

And this:

The library and information studies specialty ratings are based solely on the nominations of program deans, program directors, and a senior faculty member at each program. They were asked to choose up to 10 programs noted for excellence in each specialty area. Those with the most votes are listed.

Not a good research methodology, is it?–something that I suspect any MLS student could tell you. The issue of college rankings (both undergraduate and graduate programs) and the data that is gathered has been scrutinized by higher ed periodicals and websites. Just take a look at:

So what should a prospective MLS student do? I’ve written about this before, but when it comes to library school, just pick the cheapest (in state vs. out of state) or most convenient (online vs. on-campus) option that’s available to you. The coursework provides the base and the theory, but it’s experience that will get you a job. If you’re just taking the classes, you’re doing it wrong.

I remember students in my program complaining that the MLS coursework wasn’t “academic” enough, but I think it’s important to remember that you are in a professional program. You are training for a career, not writing a dissertation. It’s up to you to turn the coursework into something worthwhile. Work as a paraprofessional or library assistant during library school. Do an internship, practicum, or volunteer. These experiences will help you land a job better than any course you take.

I’ve never looked at anyone’s résumé and thought, “Wow, they graduated from a top ranked library school! Let’s hire him/her.” So ignore the rankings. Focus on gaining some relevant experience instead.

Advice: Being a Librarian…10 Years On

As of today, I’ve logged 10 years as a librarian. I started my first professional library job as a reference librarian at Sam Houston State University in Texas in February 2003. A couple months prior, I was getting ready to graduate with my MLS from Indiana University in December 2002 when I managed to snag three librarian interviews in Texas, South Carolina, and New Mexico. I was geographically free to move anywhere, and in the post-9/11 economic slump, I was grateful for what I had. The Texas job matched my skills and interests and I took it! Since TX, I’ve logged time in IL, NH, and WI.

In the 10 years since I became a librarian, much has changed. I was actually taught command line searching in library school because it was thought that I might encounter it. Never did. We also put together a lot of paper bibliographies on various topics–but of course that’s what today’s Libguides do. An ebook was an annoying thing you *had* to read on your computer via the NetLibrary database – not a device you could take anywhere! A cell phone was not “smart” – just a device to take/make calls. Facebook and Twitter did not exist, which is funny since social media has evolved into a major component of my job.

I’ve enjoyed being a librarian. I don’t say I *love* it–that’s reserved for family, friends, and free-time. But it’s so nice to have a job where you *enjoy* coming into work (or at the very least, don’t *hate* it). A lot of people can’t say that. For me, being a librarian has always been about connecting people with information. This is what I like. It’s not the books. It’s not the technology. It’s People + Information.

So, for 10 years, here’s 10 quick bits of advice on being a librarian:

  1. You’re not going to please everybody
    Don’t try. Do your job. Do it well. Some people are not going to like you no matter what you do. Get over it.
  2. Say yes to new opportunities
    Don’t be afraid. Yes, it can be overwhelming, but ultimately worthwhile. If I hadn’t said “yes” I would have missed out on side opportunities like teaching some fun credit classes (“Podcasting 101”, “College Life Through Film”)  and the chance to work as an instructional technologist.   
  3. Attitude Matters
    Be positive. Sometimes just being “nice” works–but make sure it’s genuine. I guess a more formal term is “collegiality” – you need to do it, otherwise you’re in the wrong field.
  4. You don’t have to be the expert at everything
    We all have our strengths. It’s OK to ask someone else if YOU don’t know the answer. “But wait, we’re librarians…we’re supposed to know EVERYTHING.” No! But we know WHERE to find the answer.
  5. Don’t let anyone make you feel like you are not a professional
    You know what you’re doing. You have the skills. Speak up for yourself, because sometimes no one else will.
  6. The patron (customer) is not always right
    Many business ideas are applicable to libraries. But this one bugs me. The patron is NOT always right. Be clear, concise, courteous, and reasoned in disagreements. However, bad behavior from patrons should not be rewarded. See #5.
  7. You never stop learning
    I like reading blog posts and discussion postings from “newbie” librarians. But then I think: Hey, I feel like that too! Because libraryland changes so much, I still feel like a newbie. That’s what I love about being a librarian.
  8. Sometimes getting a job is just luck
    I know this bothers some people, but it just is. Maybe the preferred candidate turned down the job and you as the 2nd choice got it? Maybe you made an outstanding presentation when compared to other candidates? Maybe it was a Friday and the hiring committee was just ready to get the job offered to…someone. Unfortunately, some things are just beyond your control.
  9. Trust your instincts
    Does something not sound/look quite right? It probably is! Creepy patron, weird job interview, strange chat reference questions?…yep.
  10. Work/Life Balance
    Take your vacation time. Be passionate about something non-library related. Disconnect from email/voicemail in your free time. Give yourself a chance to re-charge, and return to the library feeling energized.

What advice would you give?

What They Didn’t Tell You About Being a Librarian

First off, I enjoy my job as a librarian. That hasn’t changed in the 10 years that I’ve been a librarian. So, please excuse some of my snarkiness below. It’s the Friday before Spring Break (but we all know that most librarians don’t get a Spring Break) and I needed a little fun! Here’s a list of 10 things they didn’t tell you about being a librarian. These have all happened to me, or at a library I have worked at:

  1. Asking a patron to stop licking the computer monitor when viewing images of French figure skater Surya Bonaly.
  2. You should probably memorize all of the books by their color because that’s what patrons will ask for. “Do you have that green book? You know…the big one!”
  3. How to get the following animals OUT of the library: bats, snakes, robins, frogs, and yes–a roadrunner.
  4. How to ID a peeping tom in the book stacks. And making him leave when the security officer doesn’t do his/her job.
  5. That someone ALWAYS wants to photocopy something the minute before closing.
  6. When a patron is asking for books on “poultry,” he may actually mean “poetry.”
  7. That senior citizens sometimes just call the library because they’re lonely. This makes me sad.
  8. You need to de-lice the library headphones.
  9. The Robert Mapplethorpe books always ends up in the men’s restroom and you will sometimes need plastic gloves to retrieve them.
  10. Are you allowed to keep the alcohol you find in the library? Kidding! Seriously, I’ve found everything from beer cans to Jack Daniels, and even vermouth! But I suspected the vermouth to be from a library co-worker (what college kid drinks vermouth?).

Have something to add to the list? Please share!

Interview Red Flags

I had the pleasure of writing a guest blog post on interview red flags for Jessica Olin’s Letters to a Young Librarian blog. Check out it and read through the great advice written by Jessica and other librarians!