Managing Your Career: One Archivist’s Journey, Pt. 4

Over the past few weeks, Kate has been taking us through her career path and sharing advice on things that worked well for her – and things she wished she had done, but didn’t. In this final segment, Kate talks about moving from a project position to one with faculty status. If you missed any of the previous posts, they can be found here.

Guest author: Kate Crowe
Curator of Special Collections and Archives at the University of Denver

Getting and Keeping a Faculty Status Librarian Position (Part IV)

About a year into my contract position, I was informed that the library was creating a new position to focus specifically on metadata, cataloging, and physical processing for Special Collections and Archives, and that I would be appointed into the position as Interim Archives Processing Librarian. In retrospect, this meant a couple of things that I absolutely didn’t recognize as significant at the time. First, I was being moved not just from a non-benefitted, contract (albeit one that was professional/required a masters’ degree) position into a benefitted position, I was being appointed into a (interim, non-tenure track) faculty position, which required me to focus on research (publications, presentations) and service (being active in/serving in leadership roles in the library, University, and my profession) in addition to my primary job responsibilities.

While this was all explained to me in terms of “what” was happening, no one really went into any detail as to “how” I was to be expected to fit these additional responsibilities into what was a brand new position with responsibility for spearheading several entirely new initiatives, including populating a new consortial digital repository; creating standards for archival metadata creation and physical arrangement where they had been previously sparse or non-existent; developing a sustainable, systematic infrastructure for archival technical services at the institution; hiring; training; and supervising one staff member and several graduate student employees – basically, running a small unit. Since that initial faculty position, the library has gone through a re-organization and, as of July 2012, I’ve become the Curator of Special Collections and Archives, which is the position I’ve wanted since I was 18. I’ve been very lucky, but I also worked hard for these opportunities. I’ve also screwed up a lot. You will, too. Another good piece of fatherly advice I received was, “Screw up as much as possible as early on as possible” – not, of course, meaning that you should be a literal screw-up, but that if you try and fail within a lower-status position, the stakes are much lower and you’ll learn a lot of great lessons in the process without causing nearly as much damage to you or your organization.

As I write this, I’m less than a month away from a six-year (two 3-year contract cycles) “up or out” faculty deadline, meaning I’ll either have done enough professionally that I’ll be promoted to the status of Associate Professor, or I’ll be told (probably very nicely, since we’re all librarians) that I’ll need to look for other employment. So, it remains to be seen whether this advice is worth its salt or not!

What I wish I’d known and done:

 If you are in a faculty position, begin to think of yourself, how you spend your time, and what your priorities should be in terms of not only how well you do your job, but your research and your service.

Every institution is different – but odds are, if you are a librarian with faculty status, your performance will be evaluated based on a combination of 1) your job performance/librarianship, 2) your research (publications, presentations, etc.), and 3) your service to the institution and your profession. This is doubly the case if you are in an institution that has a tenure track for its library faculty. Do not make the mistake of thinking that being a fabulous performer in any one area of your position is going to make up for a lack of production in any of the other areas – it won’t. Again, all institutions are different, but being effective in your job will be the most important, but you can’t be successful if you are not focused on the other aspects of your faculty obligations. More than likely, as soon as you are hired, a clock starts ticking, counting down to the day (5 years, sometimes 6 or 7) when you will need to be reviewed for promotion. Be aware of this clock – even if you’re only dimly aware of it, it’s there.

If you are at an academic institution that has professional, non-faculty librarians (meaning that the position requires an MLIS but does not have a faculty status), ask about expectations for you and your position (research, service) beyond your stated job responsibilities. It may still be that you are expected to be engaged in your organization and your profession at some level (and for your sake, I hope that those expectations are there, it’s very helpful to have a nudge in that direction) and that you receive some travel stipend for conferences, that you can still take time to write and present, serve on committees, etc. In addition, without this professional engagement, it can make it much harder for you to know “what’s going on” and to move up and on as you move up professionally, especially in academic librarianship – so make an effort, even if it isn’t explicitly a part of your job.

If you are in a faculty position, start blocking out time for research, writing, submitting proposals for articles, chapters, presentations, service work, etc. NOW. Do not stop, do not pass go, just do it. (This is also good advice if you’re in grad school and working several jobs!) If you don’t, your time will get eaten away by everything else can and legitimately, probably, should be doing. If you can take every other Friday, take it. If you can come into work super-early and leave early one day a week, do it. If there is a writing group of other library faculty, join it. If there isn’t one, see if there is any interest in starting one. This article from Inside Higher Ed has some good suggestions for how one can/should be run. Try to write something every day. There are a number of writing time management techniques out there, so find the one that works the best for you. I’ve found that the Pomodoro technique works relatively well for me; see this article from Lifehacker for a good overview of the technique and how it can be used in concert with other time management techniques like “Getting Things Done.”

Your direct supervisor should be your best advocate for taking the time you need, and protecting the time you have from service responsibilities that won’t look “as good” in your promotion packet, and what’s on your plate job-wise, as should the group in your library that is responsible for appointment, promotion, and tenure (if your institution has tenure-track librarianship). As soon as you begin meeting with this group, ask to be matched with a mentor (preferably someone who is newly or recently promoted) focused on helping you build up your research portfolio, find a focus, be a reader for your writing and to practice your presentations. Reach out to other folks through professional organizations or within your organization (preferably your mentor) who have been through the process and have them review your portfolio.

It is worth noting that faculty who are women, faculty of color, queer faculty, etc. have spoken frequently about the “emotional labor” of being a faculty member who students are comfortable seeking out for counsel, even if that faculty member isn’t their advisor or their professor in a class. There is a great article about this in the Chronicle which, unfortunately is closed unless you are at an institution that subscribes, the gist of which is that faculty of color and female faculty (see this article in Inside Higher Ed) are disproportionately likely to take on the emotional work of both helping not only students of color, but students in general, learn to function in a university environment. This is much more the case for teaching faculty – and I’ve had at least one of my colleagues who is a black woman tell me that she specifically details in her annual reports the number of students who she advises who are not her direct advisees, as it is substantially more than she’s explicitly had assigned to her. My sense of how this affects library faculty of color is more subtle (and this is entirely based on conversations and observations, as I am not a person of color, am cisgender, and don’t identify as lgbtiqa+) in that faculty of color, queer faculty, etc. are expected to do the “work” of diversity in terms of university and library committee service to a disproportionate extent. This can be great if said faculty member is actually interested in diversity work, and it can certainly build your service to the organization and the profession, but it can be suffocating and frustrating if that’s not the person’s area of interest – especially in a profession that is not particularly diverse, which is the case for both libraries and archives (see the A*CENSUS from 2004 if you’re curious about how not-diverse SAA membership was in terms of compositional diversity, at least as of that year).

If you are a person of color, lgbtiqa+, a person with disabilities, a first-generation college student, a first-generation American – archives need you. If this profession is going to effectively document the human experience, it needs to be just that – reflective of all of the beautiful intersections that make up that human experience – and if it doesn’t, we will have failed.

Get out of your office, get out of the library, get out of the institution and talk to people. Better yet, listen to people.

So – what I did – and what is very easy to do if you are a practical, goal-oriented person – especially one who hasn’t been a librarian for very long – is to focus on immediate and organizational impact of what you do in your library on a day-to-day, week-to-week basis. This is doubly easy if you are an introvert and would rather do just about anything than voluntarily leave your office to talk to other people. This is triply easy if you are in a newly created technical services position where you not only have to produce (or feel you have to in order to demonstrate the value you bring to said new position) but have to work to define what are even appropriate metrics with which to define your success in the position. This is quadruple-y (if that is even a word) easy if you happen to be either in a small to medium-size institution where you do not have (or don’t know how to find) a lot of natural co-presenters/co-authors and (see my previous post and the “being your own best advocate”) you haven’t spent time outside your office (both in your institution and in your professional organizations) getting to know folks who have shared interests and goals.

Look, I get it. Networking for networking’s sake sucks, especially if you are a dyed-in-the-wool introvert. However, if you spend all of your time in your office “producing,” you will not be aware of interesting projects, committees, initiatives, etc. – all of which can lead to personally and professionally rewarding research and service. It took me years to get the hang of this, and I’m still getting the hang of it. I still have to make myself do it. I also am getting pretty decent at knowing what my limits are for these kinds of interactions, and as I get to know more people on campus, they become more interesting and far less painful. Also, as you do it more, you will find kindred spirits who will stand in the corner with you and be snarky, which is really what you want anyway, right?

As an added incentive, think of this the same way you think of networking in grad school – these are the colleagues who, if things work out, will ultimately serve as your references, mentors, and sounding boards. If you don’t leave the office, when it comes time for your promotion or when you’re ready to take the leap and apply for other positions, your options for a references list will be few and far between.

Take a damn break, already

Just like you block out time for research and writing, block off vacation time and take it. I did ok at this at the beginning, but not as much as I could have or should have, and I’ve been especially crappy at it for the past 2-3 years. It gets even harder to take breaks when you finally have the position you’ve wanted from the beginning and you really love what you do (which I do) – but you are doing yourself, your position, and your employees a disservice if you don’t take care of yourself. You are also modeling for your employees and your co-workers that self-care isn’t a priority, which isn’t ok.

What I did do that I’d recommend you do:

Work hard, within reason

Self-promotion and advocacy is important, hard work is more important. This isn’t something that most librarians I know have any problem with, but it’s worth re-stating. If your supervisor is good, they’ll notice, and they will not only include their notice in your performance evaluation, they will also make sure that the administration knows that you’re an asset to the organization and work with you to make sure you’re placed in such a way as to be able to make a real difference given your skillset and the organization’s needs.

Listen more than you talk, and pay attention to behavior and history, not just stated organizational goals and plans

Being effective in your position and at your institution will entail understanding the institutional culture, politics, and the residue of what’s already happened at your institution. You won’t get any of this if you don’t spend a lot of time listening, asking questions, and getting to know folks who have a vested interest in its success – both those who do and do not directly supervise you (see also: get out of your office).

If you see changes being made in organizational structure, reporting lines, job moves, major shifts in job function within departments/units (within and outside of the library), odds are that there is something beyond the stated reason for the changes (though there is likely something to the stated reason as well). You probably will never get the full story (and that assumes that there ever is such a thing as “the full story,” which there is not), but knowing that you don’t have all the information is the first step to asking the right questions if you are ever in a position to get more information – and more information is always helpful.

Make your professional goals very clear to your administration

During my first interview, the Dean of Libraries asked me where I saw myself in 5 years, 10 years, etc. My response was that I did not necessarily see myself in a higher-level administrative position (Assistant/Assoc. Dean, Dean, etc.), but that I wanted to be able to work directly with students, researchers, and users of primary sources. 6 years, give or take, later, that is still the case. I will never know for a fact that my stated interest in working directly with researchers led to my eventual placement as Curator of Special Collections, but if I hadn’t made my goals known, I believe it’s much less likely that I’d be in this position today. Additionally, the majority of the reason that I said that I didn’t want to be in higher administration is that I am the child of someone who was, and I saw the amount of energy and time that it takes to do that job well. I’m obviously biased, but my dad was, by many accounts other than my own, a fantastic administrator – but it took a real toll on him and I didn’t see a lot of him during the period of time when he was Dean of Libraries and Vice-Chancellor, and that’s had a very real impact on the kind of relationship we have now- which, let me be clear, is a good one because, after he retired, we spent a fair amount of time “getting to know” each other because we’d each missed so much. What I’m saying is, if you have a good Dean, Director, Associate Dean, etc. – be grateful, and know that they work their asses off – and think long and hard before you aspire to one of those roles.

Know thyself, be clear about what you want now, and open to the idea that what you want professionally might change – so far, it hasn’t for me (at least in the broadest sense), but it might. As I said in the beginning, this is all being written as my “promotion clock” is ticking down, so I hope I’ll be able to write a post later on this year about how well it all went, and what the process was actually like. Fingers crossed.

If you want to reach me, I’m on Twitter @kcrowe, and per Rebecca Goldman’s suggestion, I am going to institute “office hours” in January, likely for one hour on Wednesday nights, where folks can ask me questions or just chat.

I hope this has been helpful, and best of luck to you all!

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