Librarian Advice: 15 years in…

This month marks my 15th anniversary as a librarian. I started my first post-MLS job in February 2003. It has gone by so fast. I don’t feel “mid-career” but I guess it’s official now! Wait…does that mean I can retire in another 15 years? Answer: No, I will only be 54 years old then!

So in honor of those 15 years, here are 15 bits of wisdom or advice. Got your own story or advice to share? Feel free to comment below.

1. I’m still here–with help from my friends
Hey, how did I make it here? With a little bit of luck and wisdom from some great library folks I worked with: There’s Carol, my very first supervisor way back when I was a student worker. I didn’t realize I wanted to be a librarian but I slowly saw the rewarding work that Carol did. Then there was Karin, a library director and “old school” librarian who just knew how to make everything work–she could problem-solve anything. Then there was Paula–the queen of library marketing and outreach who was always thinking two steps ahead of everyone else. And Susan: who demonstrated the deep connections librarians can make to their communities. I learned from all of them!

2. I enjoy my job, but I don’t love it
Yep, I said it. For me, love is for family and friends. Don’t get me wrong: I like my job! It’s always been nice to have a job where you don’t dread going into work every day. I have many a friend who cannot say that. But I don’t live for my job. It fits squarely into my Type B personality. I also have a policy of not doing work at home (although I may glance at an email or two from time to time).

3. Work/Life balance
And that brings me to my next point: The work/life balance. About 4 years into being a librarian I was encouraged to apply for an additional part-time position at my organization. Money was tight at the time, so it seemed like it would be a good option for extra income–and it was. The downside? I was clocking 60 hours per week. I ended up getting burnt out–not just of the extra job–but of the whole organization–and sought employment elsewhere. Learn how to juggle multiple demands and speak up when “enough is enough.” Libraries can often be exploitative of labor.

4. Do I have a career or a job?
Related to #1 and #2, I waffle on whether I have a career or just a job. Being a librarian is my first and only career–so I guess it’s a career then, right? I’ve moved around libraries a lot as a trailing spouse/partner, so for me, looking for a job in the right location has always been more important than some sort of career trajectory. I’ve also been a front-line librarian the entire time. It wasn’t until about 4 years ago that I became a “middle manager” with supervisory responsibilities. I hate the “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” question–so mostly I consider myself having a “job.” I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

5. People think you’re cool!
I know a lot of librarians get the typical “oh, you must like to read” response when you tell them you are a librarian. But just as often, I get people who think being a librarian is cool–or even more. A few months ago, while on a cruise ship, I was making chit-chat with a woman and when I told her what I did, she responded in all earnestness: “I consider librarians vital to our democracy! You’re on the front lines of the information war.” Agreed!

6. Opportunities for New Librarians
I was extremely grateful to get my first librarian job. But there was a problem: I was bored. For the first six months it seemed like my only “task” was a two hour daily shift at a reference desk. THERE. WAS. NOTHING. ELSE. TO. DO. I stared at my office computer and surfed the web. And it wasn’t like I could drum up my own projects due to being micro-managed. Supervisors: When you hire a new person make sure they have work to do. I know you don’t want to overwhelm them, but trust them with projects. They will do a good a job!

7. Say Yes to New Things
When opportunity knocks, open the door! Get out of your comfort zone. A lot of my growth as a librarian involved taking on new things like coordinating info lit programming, teaching for-credit classes, or implementing 3D printing. Sometimes things are just a fluke: An invitation to do an info lit session for a cultural immersion course led to a trip to Italy with the group! One thing I enjoy as a librarian is that I’m always learning. And new things look good on the ol’ resume, too!

8. Trust Your Instincts
The old adage: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Trust your judgment on people and workplace situations. I was burned once on a job that turned out to be a disaster. I was excited to take it, but there were some warning signs I overlooked (like why I only met my supervisor for a few brief minutes on an “all day” interview). Lesson learned!

9. Failure is a learning experience
You need to get over the belief that failure is a bad thing. Failure is a learning experience that can help you innovate. As a supervisor now, I’ve tried to get co-workers to see that experimentation and failure are OK in the workplace. We’re always in beta mode! So what if the outreach event you planned didn’t pan out? Or the info lit session was bad? Re-tool it and think about how you can make it successful the next time.

10. Impostor Syndrome never goes away
There are still days when I think I’m not qualified to do my job. Part of it is being in higher ed: As an academic librarian I’ve never really considered myself an “academic”–whatever that means. Sometimes I feel like I snuck in to academia. I was the first in my family to to go college and that experience still affects my outlook. At the end of the day, I just have to tell myself “I do belong” here and people know I do a good job.

11. Avoid Negative Co-workers
Easier said than done–especially if the negative person is your supervisor. My one social gift is using some good-natured humor to get around these things. Truth be told: I’m a reactive person–so if everyone around me is negative I will respond with negativity. I’ve had to train myself to step out of the situation. With negative co-workers, I just don’t engage with them. I can converse with them about library-related tasks, but beyond that, I just don’t care about them. Focus instead on keeping yourself in good mental health!

12. You’re an expert, too!
I like that librarians share their knowledge! It has made me such a better librarian. Just following other librarians on Twitter I’ve learned many new ideas, tips, and best practices. Share what you are doing! I’ve been serving on the conference planning committee for my state’s academic library association and have been so grateful to learn from my peers through various presentations and panels and have even presented my own a few times!

13. The “Unicorn Librarian” must die
The job market for librarians has been stagnant (or worse) since I graduated with my MLS in 2002. Libraries and hiring managers take advantage of this by posting what I call “unicorn librarian” positions. You’ve seen them: The job posting demands years of post-MLS experience, additional degrees beyond the MLS (hello, college debt!), multiple foreign languages, computer coding, and more. Instead, we should invest in the training and education of new librarians when hired. Hiring managers: Don’t write job postings just so you don’t have to sift through applications. Lots of talented librarians are qualified for these positions–cast a wider net and you will be pleasantly suprised.

14. Be kind
My default operating mode is set to “kindness.” Maybe empathy is a better word for what I’m trying to describe? I don’t want to make it sound like I’m forcing people to be kind. Other emotions, such as anger, can rightfully be used–especially in situations relating to inequality and justice. But for me, being kind is stepping into someone else’s experiences: Walk a mile in someone else’s shoes…that sort of thing. Note: Kindness should not be construed as being a pushover. Use “tough love” when you need to.

15. Have fun!
Most people flourish in jobs where they can be creative–at least that has always worked for me. So look for experiences that allow for joy, fun, and adventure. Doesn’t matter if you’re focusing on fun with your library users, staff, or your own personal interests–but make it a goal. “Fun” has lead to crazy things like the Lego Library and Librarian Twitter Bingo for me!


Academic Librarian: Week in the Life

TL;DR: Librarians do a lot of different things.


“I love books, too!”

By now, most librarians are used to that response when someone asks what they do. To be honest, as an academic librarian, I rarely do readers’ advisory. I would probably break out into a cold sweat if someone asked me for the next great mystery or romance to read. In fact, you should probably take away my librarian card because I don’t often read for “fun” in this stage of my life–it usually ebbs and flows.

My favorite response to what people think I do was when I was taking grad classes for my master’s in education through my place of employment. During one class session we were asked to go up to the whiteboard for an interactive exercise. One of my classmates said:

“Send Joe up to the board. He’s probably a good speller since he reads all day at his job.”

Ouch! I didn’t let that one go unaddressed.

As an academic librarian, I find that people who even work on campus in other departments don’t understand what we do. Nope, I’m not the book shelver or the book stamper–unless there’s some sort of emergency or staffing shortage. That’s usually what we train our student workers to do.

So I thought I’d write about what I did last week. In my current position, I am the Reference & Instruction Librarian at a small(ish) academic library. We have a student population of 3,500. Our staff includes 5 FTE librarians, 2.5 FTE support staff, 4 part-time evening/weekend staff, and 50+ student workers.

In terms of general job duties, here what I do:

  • Coordinate the library’s research assistance services. I’m one of two primary “front-line” librarians here for general research help (if it’s subject-specific, the subject librarian for that area will pick it up from here). I’m also usually available for research help from chat when I’m not in a meeting or away from my desk.
  • In charge of scheduling and staffing for the first-year information literacy program. I share in the workload with the other librarians for the program, but end up taking a majority of the info lit sessions since it’s my coordination area.
  • Subject librarian for the education, graduate education, music, psychology, and diversity programs (so research assistance, info lit, collection development).
  • Manage the Curriculum Materials Collection and supervise one student worker.
  • Supervise the Information Commons and Classroom Manager (a support staff position).
  • Supervise the part-time Library Evening/Weekend Supervisors who are responsible for overall management of the building and research assistance during the evenings and weekends.
  • Manage 3D printing services.
  • Design/create social media posts/library graphics.

So it’s kind of a hodgepodge of duties, but that’s what I enormously like about working in a small(ish) academic library. No chance of getting bored!

My “official” workweek is Monday-Friday 8:00am to 4:30pm. Because I work in a “train town” and cross four sets of railroad tracks to get to work, I usually plan to arrive just a bit earlier in case I get stuck at the tracks. Generally, I walk in the library doors around 7:45am.

In outlining what I did for the week, I have color-coded my tasks into five main areas:

  • Research questions or Research for my job = red
  • Info Lit = green
  • Management/Supervisory = blue
  • Technology = purple
  • Marketing, incl. social media = pink

Here’s what I did…


  • Arrived at 7:45am. Went to my office. Logged in to my computer and glanced at my emails to see if anything needed an immediate response.
  • Today the university was hosting a visit from the Higher Learning Commission accreditors. At 8am, I walked through the library to straighten up any furniture/items so that everything was tidy for their visit.
  • 8:15am: Took less than 10 minutes and walked over to the Main Dining Room on campus for the free employee continental breakfast (I usually grab a coffee and banana to go). Hey, I take advantage of all our benefits here! Good way to see colleagues in other departments. I do this most work days.
  • Morning tasks:
    • Start responding to emails, including:
      • Requests from two professors for info lit sessions.
      • Professor looking for full-text of an article.
      • Opened a work order with the I.T. department about students having issues with their printing allotment (printing money).
      • Sent an email to volunteer for a staff committee position.
      • Approved vacation time for a position I supervise.
      • 3D printing request: clarification for more info from the client.
    • Updated the research assistance schedule to fill a couple vacant shifts.
    • Created a social media post on Constitution Day for Facebook and Twitter.
    • Prepped for an infolit session on Tuesday for an education class.
    • Helped a professor who was working in the Info Commons on how to navigate the new course management system.
  • Quick drop-by/chat questions from students…nothing too in-depth. 
  • Lunch from 12-1pm. I have a fishbowl-style office, so make a point of taking my lunch time away from it. I walked over to the Main Dining Room and used one of my meal swipes that faculty/staff can purchase for a discount.
  • Afternoon tasks:
    • Worked on budgeting (Excel stuff) for Spring semester for our Library Evening/Weekend Supervisor shifts.
    • Did a comparison of library hours at peer institutions. I’m using the data to see if I can re-work the budget to possibly extend library hours in the future. Sent info to my supervisor (the Library Director) and set up a meeting to discuss.
    • Developed a training schedule for a new Curriculum Materials Collection student worker position that I share with the Tech Services and Serials areas.
    • Updated the 3D Print Job Queue for the Library Evening/Weekend Supervisors (they run the 3D printer when I’m not here).
  • 3:30pm: Attended an open forum for staff hosted by the accreditation visitors.
  • Got back to my office at 4:15 in time to update the Library Evening/Weekend Supervisor on duty (she works 4pm-Midnight) and see what projects she could work on this evening.
  • Left work at 4:30pm.


  • Arrived at 7:50am. Logged into my computer and glanced at emails.
  • 8:05am: Main Dining Room for free coffee and a banana. Chatted with a couple colleagues in a different department on campus.
  • Morning tasks:
    • Start responding to emails, including:
      • Asking a professor for her syllabus/assignment info so I could prep for her upcoming info lit class.
      • Professor requesting a “Library Needs Assessment” for two proposed courses (all proposed courses require this. It’s a report that looks at library resources and services to demonstrate we can support the course and possibly argue for more money–although that is rare).
      • Created a Facebook and Twitter post about the library’s interlibrary loan service in conjunction with an article I read from The Chronicle.
  • Research question: Helped a student find advertisements that demonstrate gender roles in different time periods. We used our set of LIFE magazines from the 1950s and compared them with some of our “coffee shop” magazines (Time, People, etc.) from today.
  • The professor I helped chaperone a class with to Italy this past summer, dropped by. Wanted to know if I had a slideshow of pictures I could share with him for a campus “study abroad fair.” Sent him a link to one of my Flickr albums.
  • 11am-12:30pm: Started training a new student worker for the Curriculum Materials Collection.
    • General job duties overview, Library of Congress classification, LC Easy tutorial (wow, that’s old–but it still does the job!), how to shelve materials, gathering a list of display books for me.   
  • Lunch from 12:30pm-1:30pm. Brought leftovers from home and ate in the library’s staff room. Then took a walk outside for the rest of my lunch hour.
  • Quick drop-by/chat questions from students…nothing too in-depth. 
  • 2pm-3:50pm: Info lit session for a 300-level Education class. Students were researching various topics in the scholarly or professional literature. I do little lecturing, preferring a workshop-format where I visit with each student and walk around the room.
  • Updated the Library/Evening Weekend Supervisor on any outstanding issues.
  • Left work at 4:30pm.


  • Arrived at 7:45am. Logged into my computer and glanced at emails.
  • 8:05am: Main Dining Room for free coffee and a banana.
  • Morning tasks:
    • Answer emails.
    • Ran a report on 3D printing usage. 
    • Started a 3D print job for a client.
    • Did a Facebook and Twitter post about the library’s travel books to cross-promote with the campus study abroad fair later that day.
  • Research question from a student: Looking for scholarly articles analyzing the Gospel of Matthew. Normally I would refer student to subject librarian for religion, but she was unavailable.
  • 10-11am: Prepped for an info lit class scheduled for Thursday surrounding the topic of African-American social conditions, injustice, the Black Lives Matter movement, etc. The class is reading The Hate U Give and All American Boys. This class was for one of the first-year Cultural Seminar courses we do info lit for–and that freshmen students are required to take. Each of the 37 sections of the course has library activities customized to the course topic. So, I spent some time researching the topic and formulating a hands-on activity.
  • 11am-12pm: Conference call for the Wisconsin Association of Academic Librarians. I’m on the conference planning committee.
  • 12pm-1pm: Lunch at the Main Dining Room, stopped by the campus bookstore to buy a t-shirt, and then went for a walk for the remainder of my lunch hour.
  • Afternoon tasks:
  • 4:00-4:30pm: Updated the Library Evening/Weekend Supervisor on duty. We worked with the 3D printer.
  • 6pm-6:15pm: Drop-by info lit session for a 300-level psychology class–quick step-by-step on how to find an empirical article from the psychological literature. 
  • Graduate student stopped by just before I was leaving to see how to renew an interlibrary loan book that was overdue (quick answer: you can’t!)–and that one of our books was accidentally returned to the public library in a different city! Yikes! Gave student contact info for the library staff person responsible for dealing with this–and also dashed off a quick email to that person to give a heads-up.
  • Left work at 6:45pm.


  • Arrived at 7:50am. Logged into my computer and glanced at emails.
  • 8:05am: Main Dining Room for free coffee and a banana.
  • Morning tasks:
    • Answer emails.
    • Get 3D print job started for a client.
  • Research question from a professor on bibliometrics: How can I find out when a specific term became popular in the scholarly literature? How can I track development of this topic over time?
  • 10-11am: Infolit session for 100-level Cultural Seminar class on African-American social conditions, injustice, and Black Lives Matter movement. No lecturing…lots of interactive exercises to get students thinking and using our resources!
  • Research question from a student: Looking for an article to share with classmates for a discussion activity. How have gender roles changed in the United States from 1950s to today?
  • 12pm-1pm: Lunch. Used my faculty/staff meal swipe at the Au Bon Pain on campus. Went for a walk for the remainder of my lunch hour.
  • 1pm-1:30pm: Training with Curriculum Materials Collection student worker. 
  • Worked with the Info Commons/Library Classroom manager on a tech problem. Ended up doing a work order for the campus IT department as we (correctly) suspected some of our public computers did not get re-imaged properly (they were missing Deep Freeze software).
  • 2:30pm-4:15pm: Banned Books Week display. Searched library catalog for books, ran a report with call numbers, retrieved the books with the help of a student worker, changed books’ status in catalog to “On Display,” organized the display and created graphics for it. Ideas for the display came from the Library Think Tank group on Facebook.
  • 4:15pm: Updated the Library Evening/Weekend Supervisor on duty.
  • Left work at 4:30pm.


  • Came in early at 7:30am since I knew I had an 8:30am meeting. Walked straight over to the Main Dining Room to get my usual coffee and a banana, and then headed to my office.
  • Logged into my computer and started checking email.
    • Heard that one (the only?) non-air conditioned classroom building was positively sweltering in 90 Fahrenheit heat. Emailed some professors over there to see if they wanted to use our Library Classroom for the day (since, for once, we had no info lit sessions scheduled). Several happily took me up on the offer!
  • 8:30am-9:30am: Met with the Library Director and the campus’ Digital Marketing Strategist to preview new library website. Received training for the new web editing software.
  • Troubleshoot 3D printer: A piece of filament broke off inside the plastic feeding tube. Used a metal hangar to push the filament through the remainder of the tube and pliers to pull it out. Genius!
  • Started a 3D print job for a client.
  • Student looking for book…only had e-book copy. Helped student set up an e-book account.
  • Did a quick display for National Hispanic Heritage Month. Searched for books in the library catalog, gathered them, organized a display, and printed some graphics. 
  • Lunch from 12pm-1pm: Used my faculty/staff meal swipe at the Main Dining Room. Used the remainder of my lunch hour to go for a walk.
  • Afternoon tasks:
    • Completed “Library Needs Assessment” reports for two proposed music courses. Sent reports to the professor.
    • Posted to the library’s intranet site to update the Library Evening/Weekend Supervisors on projects to work on.
  • Because I worked a longer day on Wednesday, I left today at 2:30pm.

So that’s my detailed week. It may look like a lot, but I bet if any other librarian outlined their work week, they come up with an equally long (or longer!) list too.

My work is often cyclical, just like the academic year. This was only the second full week of classes here, so in-depth research questions have not yet reached their peak. Info lit is starting to pick up. Usually from this time through the first week in November, I’ll be prepping for and teaching anywhere from 2-6 info lit sessions per week.

I’m surprised how much of it is spent with supervisory/management stuff or tech stuff, but that’s the nature of my job. Would be interested in seeing how it compares to other academic librarians from a cross-section of small to large institutions.

…Oh and I didn’t tell you what didn’t get completed and pushed to the back burner for next week, but that could be a whole other blog post!

Eat The Frog! Prioritizing Your Work

Eat The Frog!

Eat The Frog!

Yesterday I attended a session about the work/life balance: practical tips, advice, and sharing of ideas. Up until this semester, I had a pretty good work/life balance: I have my friends and family, a hobby I’m passionate about (amateur photography), and I usually don’t take my work home.

But this semester has been a little crazy: I’m teaching a semester-long class on top of my full-time librarian gig, I’m chairing a university committee, I have two presentations to give in April & May, a week-long trip to London, a trip to Canada penciled in, and a commute that’s wearing on me. I know it sounds like I’m complaining. A trip to London? Boo-hoo. I’m not some Type A personality who thrives on this. That’s so “not me.” I’m just feeling overwhelmed at this point. I’ll be glad when this semester is over and things return to a more “normal” level for me. I know it’s temporary. So I’ll be OK…but rest assured, I’m counting the weeks until May!

One big thing I took away from the work/life balance session was the “Eat The Frog” idea to prioritizing your work (there’s even a self-help book about it). One of my library colleagues shared it with me. The idea here is to stop procrastinating with work projects and prioritize them. Picture yourself as literally having to eat a live frog every day at work. What could be worse than this? Would you put it off? Wait til the end of the day to do it? No! You wouldn’t want it to drag on. You’d be thinking about having to eat that frog all day long!

So, what’s the strategy? Eat the frog first! Tackle the hardest or most unpleasant tasks right off the bat when you get into work. Get them done and out of the way. Then you can move on to things that you enjoy.

Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day. – Mark Twain

Another thing that helps me prioritize is my trusty office whiteboard. Electronic “sticky notes” or reminders on my iPhone don’t cut it for me. I must see my to-do list on my whiteboard at all times. It’s right at my eye-level, so as I’m going through emails on my computer, editing documents, working in D2L, doing social media stuff for the library–my to-do list is always within view. It’s how I stay on task.

So for me, it’s frogs and old school whiteboards that keep me in line! What about you?

My Trusty Whiteboard

My Trusty Whiteboard