Previous Positions or Relevant Skills? Both!

Today we welcome a post by Maura Smale as part of our collaboration with ACRLog (the blog of the Association of College and Research Libraries)Maura Smale is Chief Librarian and Professor at New York City College of Technology (City Tech) of the City University of New York, and the blog coordinator for ACRLog. Her research interests include undergraduate academic culture, critical librarianship, instructional technology, game-based learning, and open education.

Like many (though certainly not all) academic librarians, librarianship is not my first career. Technically it’s my third, if you count nearly a decade (on and off) of work in online publishing, some of which was layered over (and through) my first career as an archaeologist.

Also like many academic librarians, I was an academic before I was a librarian. I have a doctoral degree in anthropology (of which archaeology is a subfield, at least in the U.S.) and spent most of my twenties attending graduate school.

Like Ian shares over on ACRLog today, I don’t at all feel that academic librarianship was my plan B, or even plan C. At the tail end of my time in online publishing I did go back to graduate school for my MLIS, which felt especially important to me since I’d never worked in a library. But I’d been a heavy user of many, many libraries and had years of experience in academia before deciding to change careers, and I was fairly confident that academic librarianship would be a good fit for me. It may have taken me awhile to get here, but I’m so glad to be working as an academic librarian.

As an academic librarian at a university where library faculty are tenure-track and tenured, I’ve made good use of much of what I’d learned about the way universities work, and higher education more generally, while I was in graduate school the first time around. I was familiar with the famous (or infamous?) three-legged stool of academic jobs — teaching (and librarianship), research, and service — though in my archaeology graduate program we’d had more exposure to service and research than teaching.

Which ended up being a good thing in many ways. I’m at a large public college with a relatively small number of faculty, administrators, and staff, and service is a very important component of faculty positions in the library and in other departments across the college. I’ve served on College Council (our name for Faculty Senate), the Assessment Committee, the General Education Committee, and the university’s Committee on Academic Technology (among others). My colleagues in the Library have served on College Council, the Academic Integrity Committee, the Online Learning Advisory Committee, and the committee preparing for the college’s upcoming accreditation visit from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (among others). These service commitments have been great opportunities for me to learn how the college and university works, which was especially valuable while I was still on the tenure track. It’s interesting to work with colleagues in other departments, who have a different perspective on the college and our shared work than do colleagues in the Library. This exposure is also useful because our tenure and promotion committees are made up of faculty across the college.

In a tenure line position at my college I’m expected to do research and publish as well. Research is one of the aspects of my job that I really enjoy — I specifically sought out library faculty jobs when I finished my MLIS, and I’ve been grateful that the expectation for scholarship has been part of my work in the library. Though I didn’t have the opportunity to publish as an archaeology graduate student, in my library role I’ve definitely appreciated my prior experience with research and conference presentations. Writing papers during my MLIS courses helped get me back in the swing of academic writing, too. I’ve most appreciated my pre-library grounding in pursuing a sustained research agenda, which I think made it much easier for me to begin developing several areas of research focus in my librarian position.

When I look back at my career so far it almost seems like I planned this path, though the reality is perhaps somewhat more accidental. But in considering the academic parts of an academic librarian position, I have absolutely benefitted from my prior work in graduate school and as an archaeologist. I encourage us to think broadly about our previous jobs and even our hobbies and leisure activities — and all of the valuable experiences we can bring to our library work.


Featured image “Detour” by Morgan Dobbins is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY 2.0)

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