What I Learned as a Temp

My time at Auraria is coming to a close. I have really enjoyed my experience teaching information literacy lessons and working with the students and faculty at the Research Help Desk, online, and in consultations. I’m thankful for the chance to step into this world. Academic politics can be exhausting, libraries don’t always focus on what they should, and we don’t always do what’s best for the students…but there’s forward momentum. There are a lot of amazing professionals in this field that are working every day to put students first, provide quality instruction that extends beyond the classroom, and fight tirelessly for things that matter. I was lucky enough to land in a library where some of those people are. So, here’s a short list of thing I learned from being in a temp position:

  1. Find people who know what they’re doing and be a sponge. When I first started, I asked to observe the other instructors. I did this so that I could get a sense of what’s expected, what level everyone else was teaching at, and to how my instruction skills fit in. The other librarians were more “seasoned”, so I was eager to see how different instruction was in an academic setting. I observed one of my colleagues and was quite impressed (and slightly intimidated) by his instruction. He taught like a teacher, which is tough to do if you don’t have a background in Education. As I was watching this class, it occurred to me that he looked fairly young…I snooped and found out that he was my age. I promptly had an emotional crisis because I felt like I was getting started in this so late in my career and, holy crap, what am I doing here? I DO have a background in instruction and he was doing it better than me. (This lead me to No. 2…) But I decided to be a sponge and I learned a ridiculous amount of stuff by just listening, watching, and participating in projects with this colleague and others. When you find someone who knows what they’re doing, it can be intimidating, but LEARN from them.
  2. Lean on your skills and have confidence. I came into this job with 4 years of professional library experience, as well as teaching and corporate jobs. I didn’t always have the confidence that those experiences added anything to my ability to teach college students, but I was quite wrong. It all led to being quick on my feet and flexible, knowing how to walk into a classroom 10 minutes after class starts and teaching on the fly, making efficient choices, and treating students like they matter. Yes, it did take a long, rational pep talk from my husband and more than one, “Why the heck do you think you don’t know this?” moments with the colleague from No. 1, but there is nothing wrong with knowing your own strengths. Have humility to learn, grow, and change, but sometimes, honestly comparing your skills for the sake of understanding isn’t a bad thing. I do know what I’m doing here – and I’m good at it.
  3. Work your butt off. If you’re in a temp spot, new to a career, or just new to a job, work work work. Be available to help and ask for more. Of course, don’t let people take advantage of this, but get your hand in things. Do the grunt work expected of other professionals with a friggin’ smile. Why? Because grunt work produces results. You can’t complete an amazing assessment project without working through rubrics, reading student papers, checking citations, etc. It’s long hours and hard work. Muffins help. And it’s worth it. It’s worth taking opportunities when they arise, like being on a hiring committee for a graduate assistant, working with your Assessment & Pedagogy Librarian to put together slides for your department’s Open House, and coordinating a discussion with a local high school librarian for college readiness. If you feel like this is reaching further than your “station”, see No. 2.
  4. Find out where the informal discussions are happening – then be a fly on the wall – then actually say something. In the case of academic libraries, a lot of discussion happens on Twitter. This is a great informal space that professionals talk to each other, share opinions (often very strong ones), make acquaintances and, sometimes, enemies. These spaces are valuable. I’ve haunted a few critlib chats after they’ve happened (they happen in the evening a lot when my kid is yelling at me), conversations about conferences, and comments about current events. Then, after a while, I started adding to the conversation. People are starting to recognize my name now, which feels great. Get to know your industry from a different perspective.  These interactions used to be much more exclusive – they typically happened on golf courses or bars – but social media has opened this up to people who are simply willing to participate.  It can feel cliquish – deal with it and jump in.
  5. Do hard stuff. In my case, I started a research paper this year and submitted two conference proposals (what did I do to myself?!). I’m happy to report that I’ve been accepted for peer review (I submit my first formal draft in July) and both of those proposals were accepted. It’s hard. I feel like I jumped into the deep end and, believe it not, I’m not sinking. It also feels really, really good to have a paper accepted for peer review (when you’re not tenure, you’re a temp!). It also looks damn good on a CV. Choose to do the things are only some people do. If you fail, at least you tried. If you succeed, you’re not afraid to do it again. Added bonus – you continue to establish yourself.
  6. Reserve judgement until you make your own decision. This point is strongly related to both No. 1 and 2. I listen to the people I respect on issues inside and outside of work. I always like hearing other people’s takes on things, but it boils down to this – I have a brain in my head and a heart in my chest and I’m going to make my own decision about how I feel about something. I absolutely allow those people to influence my views, but I don’t follow people blindly. In fact, if someone tells me what to think or do and they haven’t earned that right, I typically rebel (internally, externally, maybe even passive aggressively). There’s a lot of changes going on in this area of librarianship and it is important that I have an opinion. It might be the same ones as they people I respect, it might not. And that’s fine.
  7. The job market is tough, so make wise application decisions. When I began looking at job postings and filling out applications, it was tempting to just apply to whatever job I was qualified for, but I had to stop myself. I do want to stay in academic libraries, but I had to really take stock of what I wanted to do and where I wanted to be. I did still apply to some jobs that weren’t exactly what I was aiming for, and, in the end, went through to the final round on a job that I had to make a hard decision on. Ultimately, I’ve done enough in my career to know what I want to focus on and what works for me. I want a job where my passion is. I need a job and I need an income, but there’s so few times in life where you reach a turning point and this is one for me. Knowing the norms of my industry has been important through this. Cover letters aren’t as straight forward in academia than they are in other types of work. CVs are usually requested over resumes. Choose wisely who you want as a reference. All of those choices have to be made and it pays to know who to ask for help (See No. 1!).

Growth is hard. Grueling, even. I wouldn’t have traded this experience for any of the associated pain, though. I’ve learned more about myself, my abilities, and my place in the library world.

We’ll see where I go from here and it’s felt great knowing there are people rooting for me.