Wednesday was the first day of classes at my new institution. As Fall orientation and student move-in wrap up, the campus is abuzz with the promise of a new start – a new semester, new students, new faculty. As a life-long academic, there’s something about this time of year – those first few days of a new school year, as the weather turns and the leaves begin to change – that always makes me feel like anything is… possible.
Earlier this summer, I also started my first job as a newly-minted, “real” academic librarian. That day, although I had just completed the rigorous academic interview and hiring process, not to mention moved myself and my family 600 miles to our new home, I felt more like “the new kid” in school than a recently hired professional.
The night before my first day, I tossed and turned, anxiously awaiting the moment my alarm would ring, telling me it was time to begin my day. As I showered, got dressed, and ate my breakfast, I worried about basic things the other
kids librarians probably already knew – like where to park my bike car, which door to go in, where the “cool kids” other staff members eat lunch, and when the final bell rings to everyone leaves for the day. As I drove my new 45 minute commute, carefully following the directions printed out the night before, I excitedly wondered if today, the pinnacle towards which I had been striving, would be all that I hoped it would be. And luckily, it was. That evening, about eight-and-a-half hours after I first walked over the library’s threshold, I drove home excited by all of the… possibilities.
As I now welcome new students to our campus, I find myself reflecting on my own first day. And just like being the “new kid” at school, I think there are a few basic tips for the new academic librarian:
- Use the buddy system… and find a mentor. New places are instantly more welcoming if you explore them with someone else. Two extremely useful types of people are: other recent hires (if available), and more experienced librarian mentors. If librarians at your college or university are on the tenure or permanent status track, your “cohort” of newly hired librarians will become the people you “grow up” with throughout your career. They are likely as eager as you to begin researching, presenting, and publishing, probably with YOU. And some day, you’ll be each others support as you complete the dreaded promotion “dossier.” Equally important are the “lifer” librarians – not just the people who’ve worked at the institution for a long time, but those who are integrated into the “why” and “how” of the library. They know the history, they’ve experienced successes and failures, and since they probably had a hand in hiring you, they are invested in your success. Having a hard time identifying a mentor at your own institution? Look into national organization’s mentorship programs to find one.
- Raise your hand… and ask a lot of questions. Every library works differently – they have different policies, different philosophies, different users, and different cultures. No matter how long you’ve worked in libraries or how much research you do about your new library beforehand, there are some things you simply can’t learn until you experience and question them. Simple things like, “Where’s the printer paper?” to more complex, cultural questions like, “Am I allowed to post to my liaison department’s’ email list?” will require answers. You won’t know until you ask.
- Join a club… or as academic librarians like to call them “professional organizations” and “committees.” Our profession is all about making connections. Professional organizations and committees are one of the best ways to connect with other librarians in your community. We are all too busy, too underfunded, and have too many interests to work solely by ourselves or even within our own institution. Finding like-minded professionals to learn from and collaborate with, forming our own “personal learning network,” helps us develop our professional identities while collaborating with other people who are interested in asking the same questions and solving the same problems we face daily. And if you’re not physically near a pocket of professionals, social media outlets are making it increasingly possible to develop and maintain your PLN from a distance.
- Walk like a duck… so pretty soon, you’ll feel like a duck. It’s not uncommon for brand new professionals to feel something like an “imposter.” Although we have worked hard to finish our degrees, made it through (sometimes numerous) professional interviews, and celebrated our accomplishments with family and friends, we are also faced with severe self doubt. Given a real position of authority, we’re afraid we’ll be exposed as a fraud – that somehow we’re clever magicians who’ve fooled the world into thinking we know anything about… well, anything. In these instances, the best thing for us to do is “fake it ’till you make it.” That is, after a while, that fear and self doubt will be transformed into the confidence needed to accept success and bounce back from failures.
- Enjoy “recess” and obey your bedtime… you’ll need the downtime. The excitement of starting a new career makes it easy to dive into your work so enthusiastically that you forget about everything else. But to be our best at work, we need to respect the work-life balance and make sure to take care of ourselves in the process. People sometimes scoff when I insist on enforcing my own bedtime, but getting rest is essential for top-quality everyday functioning. Lack of sleep makes it harder for us to focus, remember, and learn new skills, making us less effective workers. Sleep deprivation also makes us sick, increasing the likelihood we miss work, adding to our own stress. Respect your body and it will serve you well.
Although there is no one-size-fits-all formula to surviving your first few days as an academic librarian, I hope we are all filled with the since of possibilities the new beginning brings.
Did you start a new job recently? What are your tips and tricks for thriving as a new librarian?