Thursday, February 16, 2017

I'm sick of all this waiting

A thing I think about a lot is the next generation of technical services leaders. I have met a lot of wonderful early career librarians who are choosing to make technical services their career. And I return home from each ALA Midwinter and Annual feeling energized by their interest in, and enthusiasm for, moving technical services librarianship forward. But when I think about the future of technical services librarianship, I worry that collectively, we're not doing a great job of recruiting and retaining the kinds of people we need to propel acquisitions, collection development and management, cataloging, and preservation into the future.

I feel like the first year as a librarian is full of challenges for all kinds of librarian, especially for people without previous library experience. Not only are you figuring out how to succeed in your job, but you're also thinking about how (and whether) you want to make an impact in your organization and in the larger library world. This can be compounded if your first position is in an academic library and you suddenly find yourself on the tenure track with the directive to publish and present. If you're moving into a technical services position, your challenges may be compounded by the fact that your coursework did not prepare you for the kind of work you do as a technical services librarian.

Helping early career librarians of all kinds grow in their first year requires intentionality on the part of those who supervise them. For those who supervise technical services librarians, there is an added layer of helping early career librarians who may also require an additional level of support in understanding the specific culture of technical services librarianship and work. When I think about my own experience and about what changes technical services librarians could make to better recruit and retain early career technical services librarians, a couple of ideas come to mind:

1. Library administrators should provide newly hired technical services librarians with mentors from other parts of the organization. 

Yes, a lot of professional organizations have mentoring programs, and that's great. Those kinds of programs are wonderful for helping early career librarians learn more about what it means to serve in a professional capacity. But you also need to pair your new hires with people in your organization to help mentor them through issues specific to your organizational culture. A formalized mentoring program that starts during onboarding need only last a year--time enough for a new hire to feel comfortable in the organization. But I can say from firsthand experience that those conversations over coffee will help your new hires feel more confident and comfortable in their jobs and in your organization.

2. Technical services supervisors should meet regularly with newly hired technical services librarians to ensure that growth goals are established and progress toward meeting them is made.

I think that growth requires intentionality. And setting aside the time and space to talk about where a person is, where they want to go, and how they plan to get there is so important. These conversations are especially important in an academic library where a new hire is on the tenure track and expected to meet certain benchmarks. A component of these conversations should also be what kind of training and tools an early career technical services librarian might need to meet established growth goals, because directives become so much more difficult to meet without material support.

3. Technical services supervisors should identify areas within an organization for cross-training and cross-departmental collaboration and support newly hired technical services librarians in taking advantage of those opportunities.

Sometimes the hardest thing about working in a "back room" position is understanding what opportunities exist for collaboration with departments outside of your own. Supervisors of newly hired technical services librarians should identify and facilitate this kind of cooperative work. One idea that immediately comes to mind is setting up short rotations through each department within technical services so that a new hire can learn how the work of those departments intersects with their own. Additionally, technical services supervisors should identify important cross-departmental committee work where a new hire's expertise might be needed and ensure that the new hire is invited to join in the work.

I think that recruitment and retention of early career technical services librarians is so vital to the future success of technical services both on a large scale and within individual libraries. As librarians at individual libraries, we owe it to our future leaders to intentionally develop plans to help them grow rather than tossing them into the position and hoping that they find their way. What other ways do you think libraries and their administrators could support early career technical services librarians? Drop your ideas in the comments!

Stay positive,

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