Thoughts on Academic Librarianship, part one

I have decided to write this post in two parts because it may end up being a wee bit long for one gigantic post. I wanted to write about the positives of working in an academic library first because starting out on a positive note is nice. This post could be subtitled: Why academic libraries are good places to work.

I became an academic librarian for two reasons: 1) I love academia and thus wanted to stay in higher education without staying in graduate school and 2) it was the first job offer I received, I desperately needed a job, and I was bound geographically to Houston. Technically, that is at least four reasons, but go with me here. The job was an answer to many prayers, hopes, and dreams. In many ways, it lived up to my expectations and in some ways it did not.

I have condensed the good into five themes.

There was always money in the bank. In many places, library budgets, including academic library budgets, have been slashed to ribbons. However, the larger universities in Texas have not had this problem. We still compete heavily with other departments on campus for money, but I have a dean who has excelled in getting money for the library and our budget goes up every year. As a result, I have always been able to buy almost anything in print I wanted. I was able to get some very nice electronic resources for my subject areas, the ethnic studies areas, even though they are small and interdisciplinary. We also had money for new computers, renovations to our building, and many other things.

As a result of having money, collection development has never been a headache. I do think, with the way approval plans work these days, librarians should be spending a lot less time doing collection development. I have actually said in a meeting, “Any monkey can buy books.” It won me some raised eyebrows, but I was being honest. When you have the money you need, choosing books is not hard. That is a discussion for another post. In general, academic libraries are well funded and that is definitely a good thing.

Faculty are fun and challenging. Working with faculty was one of my favorite things because they were almost universally thankful for the help. In addition, the research they were doing was always interesting, thought provoking, and challenging. Their questions were the kinds of things I envisioned answering when I was sitting in my “how to do reference” class in graduate school. I have been lucky to work with some wonderful faculty and I will miss hearing stories about their research, their classes, and their families. My faculty were delightful people, who treated me like a colleague, and I will be sad to leave them, even in good hands.

This is not to suggest that all faculty interactions are easy. Sometimes they are frustrating, especially when you are trying to convince a faulty member that the assignment they gave their classes can not be completed because research has not been conducted that way for at least 15 years. Semester after semester of dealing with the same stubborn faculty member, giving the same assignment that does nothing but set students up to fail and be frustrated by research can be deflating. These interactions only count for a small portion of what you encounter, hopefully, and all the good interactions more than make up for that one curmudgeon.

Even if you have pseudo-faculty status, you have a great amount of flexibility with your time. I call this status Pretend Tenure. At MPOW, we are not faculty, we are not staff, we are somewhere in between with our own tenure process (much less rigorous than what faculty go through) and governance documents. With faculty or pretend faculty status, you have more flexible hours than librarians who are simply staff at their institutions. We were eligible for time off to write or sabbaticals to do research. This status also means that there was no clock punching. If you needed to come in late one day, you did or if you needed to stay late, you did that too. This flexibility is nice when family obligations suddenly spring up, you need a mental day at home, or you just need to stay at home to get work done. (by work here, I mean work related to your job) I am twice as productive at home then I am in the office. It is one of the reasons I am such an advocate of virtual or blended teams (teams with both virtual and f2f components) in the workplace. I think it is the combination of home comforts and the flexibility that I like when I am at home on my laptop.

In addition to having flexibility with your time, pretend faculty status usually means a requirement for participation in professional organizations. MPOW pays about 45-48% for us to go to 3 conferences a year. While we always groused about wanting more money, that is far and above what most librarians receive to travel every year. This money has allowed me to attend many conferences and meet fabulous people, both for which I am very grateful. This is also a by product of having money in the budget.

Teaching students. Students, like faculty, have their *headdesk* moments, but teaching students is incredible. I have been lucky and have been able to teach classes in many subjects and on many different levels. It has been fun and challenging to keep the students engaged, active, and learning the things that will help them complete the research before them. I loved their questions, especially when they asked me to demonstrate something I had not planned on showing that day. This most frequently occurred in drop in workshops and only occasionally in course related classes. I had no formal teaching experience before I started this job and yet teaching has become one of my favorite things about my job. In fact, there were days and weeks, that it was the only thing I liked about my job. I love to teach and this job, crediting mostly talented colleagues and an amazing former boss, taught me how to be a great instructor. I owe them so much.

Being on a campus can be invigorating. I loved college and not just because the beer was cheap and we drank it often. I love the atmosphere of higher learning. Sometimes the intellectual conversations I overhear at MPOW make me long for the classes and professors I adored. There is plenty of inanity, but you can almost hear people learning and pondering Big Thoughts. It makes my geeky heart swell.

These are the things I will miss the most about being an academic librarian. I think I have learned a lot of positive things from my time in this aspect of librarianship. I am curious to see how these lessons will play out in other library related endeavors. I have my whole life ahead of me to find out.

–Jane, packs up her knowledge learned to use later

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