Book Review – The Future Academic Librarian’s Toolkit: Finding Success on the Job Hunt and in Your First Job

Bibiliographic Info

Editor: Megan Hodge
Publisher: Association of College and Research Libraries
Published: 2019
Page count: 328
Formats available: ebook, print (paperback)
Get a Copy: Paperback ($62.00 USD) | DRM Free eBook ($44.00 USD) | WorldCat

Summary

Are you interested in having a career in academic librarianship? Or are you trying to figure out if you are? The editor and authors of this book want to teach you all about the ins and outs of academic librarianship. They cover what goes on in academic libraries and what makes an academic librarian job different from other kinds. Find out about the unique employment statuses and reporting structures, the different kinds of academic environments, and the different roles available. You’ll learn what skills and credentials you will need to land these roles and do this work and find out about the areas of knowledge commonly required by academic librarians.

This toolkit is an in-depth handbook written by librarians who are in the field and who have been through what you’re about to start going through as you work through your MLIS. The Future Academic Librarian’s Toolkit is meant to be a book that will help guide you through your first several years as an academic librarian. Not only does it provide job hunting tips but it will also help you find your bearings when you get that new job, and help you figure out how to establish yourselves in the profession through scholarship and service. It will help you build important skills such as self-advocacy, writing for publication, teaching effectively, connecting with faculty and students and building a professional brand.

This book is ideal for anyone interested in a job in academic librarianship but is especially good for those in an MLIS program who are considering an academic library career path.

Review

I knew I wanted to write a review of this book for Hack Library School at some point since I purchased this book in 2019. I finally got around to looking at the book this past week so now seemed like a good time to get around to that review. This book has strengths as week as weaknesses like any book about jobs and professional development will. Every advice writer has their own experiences that will bias the advice they give, so every tip and trick comes with a caveat that it may or may not work for you. In this book however those caveats aren’t explicit, you just have to already have an understanding that that’s how things work in the advice genre, so we will keep that overall piece of feedback in mind as we go through this review.

Structure

The toolkit is broken down into five distinct parts, each part contains at least two chapters, except for parts one and five which contain the first chapter and the final chapter respectively. This structure progresses logically, it starts with an introduction to the field of academic librarianship before progressing into chapters related to job searching, from there section three moves into what you can expect when you’re actually working in an academic library. The last two sections then deal with how to establish yourself in the field, and then finally what you can do to prepare yourself for your next position. Given the linear nature of the structure, you can see that the editor really is hoping that you’ll treat this more like a reference text than a book you’ll read cover-to-cover once and never return to. It’s built and designed to be used over and over again as you need guidance through your first several years in the field. This is a smart structure. The other LIS job hunting books I’ve read over the years have been much less browsable than this one is. The structure is definitely a strength in this regard.

My only complaint really revolves around section four and the three chapters it contains, a chapter on networking and conferences; one on persuasion and influencing; and finally one on writing for publication. I can see why these are grouped together under establishing yourself in the profession, I just wonder if they shouldn’t swap places with the chapters in section three. Establishing oneself is usually pretty closely tied to job hunting so I would have expected those chapters to be closer to the job searching chapters in section two. I think they would have bridged nicely then into the chapters on working because the way you handle those activities does change once you’re employed. After all, your motivations change at that point.

Content

There is a great breadth of content in this toolkit, which makes sense based on the aim of its to span the first several years of a new academic librarian’s career. The writing is tight and non-pretentious. It’s written to be easy to understand and straightforward, not like a textbook or an academic publication. One of the best parts is the learning outcomes that are at the top of each chapter. Not only is this the authors and editors modelling effective teaching strategies but they’re making sure the reader knows right up front what they can expect from each chapter of the book. These learning outcomes act like abstracts in a way helping the reader hone in on the chapter they might need at any given moment. It is incredibly text-heavy though. I wish there had been more visuals and examples throughout the text. Especially in the job searching chapters and the sections in chapter eight that detail different kinds of academic librarian jobs. Some sample CVs and cover letters for different types of institutions would go a long way in helping to provide concrete advice to students. Similarly using actual sample job descriptions and explaining how to decode them would have also beefed up and strengthened the content. There are definitely opportunities here for someone to come along and make some ancillary open educational resources to supplement this book’s content and expand on it.

I also wish that they had gone much more in-depth with the personas described in chapter four. Doing profiles of the experiences of actual librarians in these demographics would have been stronger than the generic ways they have been described here. They don’t really say where they got the information on these personas and they definitely don’t spend very much time on them. Persona 3 the Library Veteran/Paraprofessional, for example, gets less than half a page but I feel like as we discussed in my post on the paradox of prior experience, this can be one of the most complex groups with an incredibly diverse experience in job hunting. Here though the authors have made it sound like it should be super simple for you and that everyone should want to help you out. Another thing the personas don’t really ever touch on is the experiences of librarians who are part of marginalized groups.

Contributors

Based on the descriptions of the contributors in the book it definitely sounds like they’re all practitioners in academic libraries who do have cred when it comes to having experience in the areas they are discussing in this book. It is impossible to tell just from the names of the contributors whether or not any of them are BIPOC or queer so one can’t really comment on how diverse the team behind this book may or may not have been. Going back to something I noticed in the content, related to the lack of coverage of advice for those already working as staff in libraries – none of these contributors, at least from the bios they have shared here, seem to have ever had the experience of being paraprofessionals trying to move up. What all of this tells me is that there may be voices missing here that should have been actively sought out to be included, but maybe I’m wrong, maybe if I were to look up every one of these contributors and spend time digging into them we’d find out there is, in fact, a very good representation of different perspectives in this book. Obviously, it is totally American-centric this is expected from an ACRL publication. It is incredibly annoying however from a Canadian perspective and shows another lack of representation. Canadian MLIS programs are ALA-accredited and we do actively participate in ALA even though ALA’s content seems to rarely ever be geared towards us. The inclusion of more than the lone Canadian, and librarians from further afield could have netted a whole section on international academic librarianship and the commonalities and differences. Especially since Canadian and American academic librarians can and do often move across the border for jobs.

Overall Thoughts

I think that for anyone even thinking about the field of academic librarianship, or brand new academic librarians just getting started, that this is a good reference book to have at hand. Overall I think there are some gaps so maybe there’s room for a second edition or just for more chapters to be added to the toolkit over time. The advice here is practical and well thought out but your mileage will, of course, vary on how well it will work for you because every library is different and so is every career path. If you have power over an academic library collection’s budget I’d suggest buying a copy and then making sure all your new hires know that it is there for them.

One of my favourite things about this book is that every single chapter is licensed under a Creative Commons license and the ebook is DRM free, which is gold in a book especially an advice book like this. This makes it completely shareable which is good because it is an incredibly expensive book. My suggestion would be to get a group of friends together and each chip in a couple of dollars to buy the DRM free ebook and share the file around. Another interesting way to use the DRM ebook would be in academic library-related student chapters of professional associations. I could see sharing copies of it being used as a way to raise funds to support chapter activities since that would be a non-commercial use of the book which would be in line with all of the non-commercial use licensed chapters in the book! (Feel free to steal that idea: I am planning on running it by the Canadian Association of Professional Academic Librarians’ National Student Chapter committee now.)


In addition to being a Contributing Writer here at Hack Library School, Lauren (she/her) is currently in the final semester of her MLIS part-time, online, through the University of Alberta, she expects to graduate in Spring 2022She holds an honours BA in English/Religion & Culture and a BEd, both from Wilfrid Laurier University. Her interests are copyright, open education; accessibility; and diversity, equity, and inclusion in LIS. Lauren is the Copyright and Reserves Supervisor at Wilfrid Laurier University, serving on the Library’s Accessibility Committee, and the Student Advisory Council. She also co-hosts a bi-weekly Twitter chat on library issues and trends (#lisprochat) and was a research assistant on the Opening Up Copyright project in 2020-21. Find her: @rendages, @lisprochat | about.me/laurenbourdages

Categories: book review, Job Searching

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