Transitions is an occasional series where community members reflect on the things they have learned while moving from one institution to another or one role to another.
By Emma Molls, University of Minnesota
Last summer, from behind a handbuilt desk in my makeshift home office, I started my eighth year as an academic librarian. Eight years of librarianship is really no different than seven years of librarianship, with one exception, this year, I noticed. I noticed that I was no longer an early-career librarian.(1) I noticed that I was no longer new. I also noticed how I struggled to imagine my professional future. I noticed I felt uneasy, and maybe a bit scared. What am I if I am no longer new?
My identity crisis is in part due to the only type of librarian I’ve ever been: a new one. I was hired out of graduate school in 2013 as part of an informal new-hire cohort at Iowa State, which sought to embed scholarly communication experts throughout the library. Outside of the cohort, no one had a position description like mine and I was first holder of my lengthy job title. After I left Iowa State and my first scholarly communication job, I became the publishing librarian at the University of Minnesota. For a variety of reasons, I felt a little less new at Minnesota.(2) But the reality was I was stepping into a library publishing program that was only a year and a half old (aka, new!).
Being a new librarian, or working in a new library program, felt like riding my bicycle down a gigantic hill. I viewed the fast pace as appropriate given my situation and applying the brakes seemed like a bigger risk than it did a sense of safety. Plus, I loved the feeling of the fresh air on my face.(3) In my experience, being a new librarian meant learning a million new things a day, taking every opportunity that came across my inbox, and working toward an ill-defined notion of “national reputation” that would, in a future assessment, make or break my career. It was an adrenaline rush that didn’t care about sustainability or health. I grew so accustomed to the chaos that I never stopped to think: what’s next?
In 2016, Erin White wrote a beautiful piece titled, “What it means to stay.”(4) Erin described the “Next Job Opportunity,” the widely held belief (and practice) that librarianship requires upward progression, and that progression requires us to leave, to move on. Erin, of course, didn’t leave, they stayed. When I read Erin’s piece in 2016, I didn’t (couldn’t) understand it, I myself was in the process of leaving for my own “Next Job Opportunity.” Rereading now, however, I find the reflection a guidepost of sorts in helping me think about what librarianship might look like for me when I am no longer new. Erin’s most striking comment: “I stopped deciding everything needed to happen at a breakneck speed. Yes, some things need to move quickly, but not everything. Pacing is important.” Five years after reading this, I can finally acknowledge my own lack of pacing and my near obsession with riding down the hill. Or maybe my face just needs a break from all the fresh air.
This summer, which is suddenly around the corner, I’ll start my ninth year of librarianship. What will I be, nine years into librarianship? I have no idea. I hope that I’ll adjust to a new pace, maybe even apply the breaks once in a while. I’m terrified that I won’t know how. I hope that I’ll have less identity crises. I’m terrified that I’ll never not be having an identity crisis. One thing is certain, I’ll be even further away from being new. But I’ll still be here.
For now, that’s enough.
(1) I probably should have noticed after 6 years, using the ACRL definition.
(2) In part because I learned a ton at Iowa State, which prepared me for anything and everything.
(3) This might be an Evel Knievel quote.
(4) Erin White is the Head of Digital Engagement and Associate Professor at Virginia Commonwealth University Libraries.