Wallowing In Failure by Sara

11 Nov

I got this great book at Book Expo this year called Constructive Wallowing by Tina Gilbertson.  It is a self-help book so it is designed more to help you learn how to wallow more than talking about scientific research on the topic.  Still, I enjoyed it because it is a step forward in giving wallowing the respect it deserves.  Honestly, I wallow a lot and I allow myself to wallow.  I use wallowing as time to reflect on what is going on that could possibly make me unhappy.  There isn’t always an easy to identify reason, but if I think about it enough I can usually find one.

There are two reasons I typically want to wallow.  First, I am dissatisfied with something, but have not yet understood what that exactly is and how to solve it.  Second, and the one I am writing about today, is that I have failed at something and I just want to be left alone.  As an introvert my preferred way to wallow is alone, in my bedroom, with a book and the cat.  I have extrovert friends who wallow, but they do it in groups.   I don’t know if there is any research on this, but I wonder if a wallow is strongly connected to regaining strength when we are depleted.


I feel like, with this blog, I am don’t give enough credence to embracing a failure and letting it be a failure.  In November I am going to write about allowing yourself to do just that.  In this case, using wallowing as a way to temporarily let the failure be a failure.  Immediate reflection on failure is not always possible to even healthy.  I often feel too close, angry, frustrated, and exhausted from the failure to reflect right away.  I need to let the failure just be a failure.

Constructive Wallowing was helpful because it provided some obvious guidance on how to wallow and not let that take over.  Part of Gilbertson’s advice was to put limits on a wallow.  Give yourself 5 minutes, an hour, a day to let it take over.  Once the time period is over, move forward.  She encourages embracing and naming your feelings rather than ignoring them.  It made me think of the book The Giver and how people were suppose to be precise and clear with their language.  The people in the book had time to talk about their feelings and picking the right word to describe your feelings was critical for them.

Don’t take this to mean I don’t think you should reflect on failure.  What I am suggesting is embracing the failure and your feelings about it.  Give yourself a set period of time to wallow and then move on.  That doesn’t mean start reflecting right away, but be able to move forward without getting stuck and discouraged.

The Hidden Failures in Our Successes by Sara

4 Nov

It is hard enough to talk about our failures when they are clearly defined failures.  It is more difficult to identify the failures within our successes.  We all have successful program, classes, and projects.  If you can look at a success and not be clear on how you were so successful, maybe there is a failure in there that you haven’t seen yet.  In other cases you were successful meeting 2 of 3 goals, but that 3rd goal was a failure.  It doesn’t negate the success of what you have done, but there is a moment for you to take something deeper away from your success by looking at that aspect that wasn’t successful.  I have talked about the former topic before, so no real rehash is needed.

Here is my example of the later (because I am full of them), in January I ran my third reading and discussion series at my institution.  I do these every year and they run almost like a well oiled machine.  Every year has its own challenges and this past year my hope to increase the number of student participants was something new to the plan.  I am becoming more and more convinced that meaningful programs will help students connect what they learn in the classroom to the world around them.  The struggle is not creating meaningful programs, but making it standout as a priority among all the other demands on their time.

There are other program goals besides this one.  I am trying to bring the city’s residents to the campus and improve their impression of our campus.  I am trying to bring the academic community and general population together for discussions rather than lecture.  I am trying to provide a new image for the library on campus.  I am sure there are other goals that I never articulate as well.  The goal of increasing student participation was one of many and was not going to make or break this program.

In the past I have just done blanket and general publicity with hopes that it will be sticky.  What has proven to be stickiest is a requirement from our Honors College for their students to attend a program outside of their major.  Another has been relating the program to a specific class assignment or extra credit given by a professor.  These were my two targets for the program.  I wanted to use the Honors College as a way to get students to attend and also a writing class.  I spoke with professors, picked three sessions for students to attend, and promoted specific sessions to specific groups.  All I wanted was between 5-10 students to show up at each of the three selected sessions.

Everything about the program was a success.  It was our most popular year with record high attendance at all four sessions.  New connections were made between the library, the faculty, and the community.  The feedback was overwhelmingly positive.  People had a positive image of the campus and our library.  We had 22 students attend!  Every possible metric I could have identified my program as successful.  I was thrilled, gave myself a pat on the back, and moved forward planning our 2015 series.  That was until I took a closer look at those student numbers.

Of the three sessions I promoted to the students, only 1 had any attend.  Yes, 22 came, but that was just at that one session.  Why so many and at just one?  The key to my simultaneous success and failure was in promotion and communication.  That one successful session had very strong assignment tie in for a class every freshman was taking. I targeted a few professors I had good relationships with and had been talking about the program for a while.  They all offered extra credit.  The students went for the reasons I knew they would come.  What about the two failures?  Those were sessions I promoted to the Honors College.  Both took place off campus at our partnering public library.  The communication had gotten lost as I was not connected to the right person until the day before the session.

Again, this didn’t negate my success with the program.  What it did was provide me with information to help me next time.  When I run the 2015 series I need to make sure I communicate better with the Honors College students through the proper channels.  I need to promote on campus sessions to the students rather than the off campus ones.  Because I was willing to step back and think about what is going on that contributes to both success and failure.  It helps improve the program each year as I plan and organize the next one.

Librarian Fails: The Cover Letter – The Story of Your Career

2 Oct

I think the most difficult part of a resume isn’t the resume at all.  It’s the cover letter.  While it is often acceptable to extend a resume beyond 1 page to accommodate the many accomplishments in your life, the 1 page cover letter seems to still be a hard-fast rule.  During my time on search committees I saw a lot of cover letters.  Some were frustrating, others were acceptable, but few were outstanding.  Here is the thing, if I think about the people who actually got an interview (phone and in-person), were often the ones with the best cover letters.

The worst cover letters were short and briefly rehashed what I would find in the resume.  They would have the following info:

  • Who I am
  • What I am applying for
  • How I found out about this job
  • Contact me if you want to set up an interview.

Most of these things should be on a cover letter.  I would argue that you probably don’t need to say how you find out about a job unless you feel there is something special about it.  Did someone important suggest you apply?  Was it from a source they may not know about?  Keep in mind, if they want to know how you found out about the position, they may ask you in the interview.  Other than that I do expect you to mention the other three points.  What makes these cover letters the worst is that they provide little other information.

The OK cover letters are ones that do the above and then rehash their cover letter.  They may mention they have done instruction for so many years, provided reference services, or whatever else they have done.  It is simply a re-hash.  There is nothing special about it.

The best cover letter I ever read, and the one I tried to mimic when I started a second job hunt, was a two page cover letter that really expanded on the resume and told a story of how this librarian got to this stage in her career.  It talked about specific project and her involvement in said projects.  It addressed elements of the job description that may have not been easy to fully communicate in her resume.  Finally, it explained a bit of her point of view: teaching philosophy in that care.  She talked about her approach to instruction and her understanding of changes to library instruction.

When writing a cover letter I really like to read these things.  The resume is merely a checklist of what you have done, but there is no way to set context.  For example, for 4 years I supervised student at the library information/reference desk.  That’s what my resume will say.  Most people will understand what that means at a fundamental level.  If I apply for a job that specifically asks for me to have supervisory experience, I would use my cover letter to explain that for 4 years I supervised about 20 students a semester for over 100 hours a week of desk coverage.  I would share about how I managed to deal with students working during hours I was not present.  I would explain how I trained them to provide user support at the primary service point in the library.  I would do it all in about 4-5 sentences.  The goal would be to help the search committee understand that I didn’t just sign off on a time-sheet for a couple students, but that I was responsible for running a major service point in the library.

This is why you should re-write each cover letter for each job.  You should look at what each job is asking of you and then tell them the story about you in that context.  If the job in question doesn’t require supervisory experience, I am not going to give them the story about supervising.  I m going to give them they story their job description requires.  Yes, many times you are applying for similar jobs.  Yes, you may use the same story over and over.  That is fine, but when I am on the other side of this process I want to read more than a re-hash of your resume.

If you decided to stick to that 1-page rule, remember that you have all that white space.  I am going to read a well written cover letter that looks like more than a resume re-hash.  I may skim over all resumes no matter how amazing they are.  I am going to look for specific things.  Use that space to tell us, at the very least, why you are the best candidate for this job.  Tell us the story of your career.

Next time: Remember!

Librarian Fails: Feminism in a Female Dominated Field by Sara

24 Sep

Normally I have a difficult enough time posting once a week to this blog.  Trust me, it’s even worse on my own blog.  This is an issue I really felt I had to talk about here though.

The big news in libraries this week is a lawsuit filed by a man against two women.  All three are librarians.  That it happens during Banned Book Week is not lost on the librarians.  Speaking out against injustice is something librarians really enjoy doing.  What this lawsuit forces us to acknowledge is that even in a female dominant field, we are still bound by the gender rules of the larger society.  That female librarians have to suffer harassment or risk a lawsuit for speaking out about it is a sign that librarians are fighting the same fight as every other woman.  This is why we need librarians.

That the harassment that started this happened at conferences means librarians need to think about codes of conduct just as much as gamers and ComicCons.  This summer ended and the fall began with an increased awareness globally as to the way women are treated in society.  Anita Sarkeesian merely identified tropes of women in video games before threats against her required the involvement of the FBI.  Emma Watson simply identified as a feminist and there were threats to release nude photos of her.  Female celebrity nude photo leaks were only the tip of the feminism iceberg this summer.

What bothers me even more is that the ALA has adopted a code of conduct for conferences.  I am not in any way blaming ALA for what has happened.  The code of conduct is new and a HUGE step forward.  It shows, as a field, we are aware that even a female dominant field needs to protect people from harassment.  The fail in this case is societies failure and it is an ethical problem.  That women are harassed and feminism is seen as a negative is appalling.  That women don’t think they need feminism is frustrating.  That merely calling yourself a feminist leads to harassment is… leaves me speechless.

Attending AdaCamp this summer helped me understand so much about what was going on in modern feminism and I already identified as a feminist.  The way women are treated at professional and non-professional conferences and events is at the heart of this lawsuit.  The AdaInitiative Is working to improve things for women in tech and for women everywhere.  They are openly talking about these issues, not just helping women make sense of the world.  They do more than talk about impostor syndrome.  They work to help organizations develop codes of conduct, teach men how they can support feminism as allies, and they work to make women true equals in our world.

Right now they are running a fundraising campaign.  People who donate at a certain level get stickers.  I love their stickers and put them all over everything.  Librarians have already responded with a $10,000 donation to the campaign.  Maybe you have already done this.  If you didn’t get to contribute during that effort, consider doing so now.  Consider participating in AdaCamp if you are interested in women in technology, allied skills, codes of conduct, and impostor syndrome.

Don’t sit back and assume you are safe from this.  Work to make sure you and other women will be.

Librarian Fails: So, You Can Use Microsoft Word? by Sara

24 Sep

Can you blog?  Do you have a Facebook account?  Can you use both a PC and a Mac?

So what?

I have been guilty of this resume sin and it took me a couple years to remove the “technology competency” section from my resume.  It took me sitting on committees, going through 60+ resumes per job posting, and realizing most of my technology skills aren’t that special.  I imagine, once upon a time, it was pretty important that you could use Microsoft Office and that you were using social media sites.  I imagine that, while some positions did not call for you to use all these skills, thus their placement in your experience section, you had these skills and wanted to make sure a potential employer knew.  These days are gone.  With so many candidates out there, your resume itself is an expression of your technology competencies.  If you can create a resume, format it well, convert it into a PDF, attach it to an email/upload to application website, and not mess it up then you have shown you can possess the basic technology skills.

The thing is, I always see these sections on resumes when people ask me to look it over.  It seems to primarily be newly minted MLS librarians who devote 1/4 of a page to the long list of technology skills they possess.  Personally, I don’t think you need to do so.  You can list all the technology software, coding languages, and more.  Most of them you will never need to use, never be tested on, and can probably learn if you are actually asked to do something.  There is no check or balance for the random list of skills the way there is for experience.  This is especially true if you were never asked to use a skill in a previous position.  If you had, you would have listed it under experience.  I am not saying list that you can code Python, but you could and nobody would probably ever know you can’t.  Unless you can… if you can, say you can because Python is actually a good thing to know.

On the 1/4 of the page dedicated to technology competencies, I most often see social media sites listed.  Yes, more libraries want people who can contribute to their outreach efforts through social media.  Outreach is actually an important thing to know.  I don’t know if a whole section of your resume devoted to the list of social media accounts is a good use of space on said resume.  Nor is it a good demonstration of your ability to use these sites.  You can list your accounts on your resume, but you are again taking up space.

The same can be said about software.  Can you use Photoshop?  What about creating webpages?  Can you make videos with Jing, Echo 360, Captivate, Camtasia?  Can you code in unique languages?  Listing these on your resume is no real indication you can do them.

I say don’t list them on your resume.  Instead, create examples of how you can use or do things.  Start with a professional portfolio on line.  Webpages are somewhat inexpensive (I pay about $85 a year for my domain and account), but you can get free things.  Use Powerpoint?  Put it up on Slide share.  Make videos?  Get them on YouTube!  Want a website?  Try a blog!  You don’t have to blog to use blogging software, but it helps.  Use the blog as a way to comment on current issues (or current annoyances).  Show the search committee you can do rather than telling us.  Use the portfolio to link to appropriate social networking tools.

BEWARE: Control what you want us to see.  Librarians are going to find you if we want to do so.  We are master searchers after all.  Clean up your social networks, add privacy settings, and don’t link to tools you don’t necessarily want us to find easily.

See some of my favorite portfolios for librarians:

  • Amanda Meeks – I love what she has done with a WordPress site, even if she does put a tech skills section in her resume.  Plus, the background is so sweet and lovely.
  • Audrey Barbakoff – She went from a Blogger page to her own domain and she is a Mover and Shaker.
  • Dr. Starr Hoffman – She too has a tech competencies section, but I will get into what is on hers in a moment.
  • Buffy J. Hamilton – Another librarian using WordPress as her portfolio and another Mover and Shaker.
  • My Own - What?

There is a time when I think you can put your technology competencies and Dr. Hoffman is a good example of this.  While your ability to use EBSCOHost databases isn’t big news, specialized databases exist and often require actual training to use.  This is fairly common for medical and business research.  If you can use a very specialized database, list it.   This does not count Dialog.  Do not list that you can use Dialog unless you specialize in a field that exclusively uses Dialog for databases.  I know you worked hard to learn Dialog and you hated that class.  I remember myself.  Just, please don’t list it on your resume.  Trust me, you will probably never use it again.

I will also say this, technology competencies on a web portfolio is not as much of a sin as putting it on your resume.  My point is, when dealing with a traditional resume, space is a premium.  Taking a 1/4 of a page to list the technology you can use is not a good use of the space you have.  You need to think of the search committee looking at your resume.  They are typically looking at over 50 applications for the position.  They have to make decisions based on the resume.  The first review of applications is designed to weed out those without the minimum qualifications.  Even when that is done, only about 1/3 of them have been removed.  If you are pushing into 2 pages or even 3 pages (like me) then those pages better be worth it.  They better make you look like the best candidate in the world.  Telling me you can use a Mac and a PC is not helping you.

The online portfolio is a far better place for that if you feel you need to list these things.  Sing your prettiest song on the resume and then use the online space as a way to fill in the other details.  Above all, show rather than tell.

Next: The Cover Letter, the best part of the resume.

Librarian Fails: Your Resume and Your GPA by Sara

17 Sep

Over the past few weeks a few people have asked me to take a look at their resumes and cover letters.  Why?  I think there are a few reasons that include, but aren’t limited to, that I have been on 4 librarian search committees, have chaired 1 committee, and have successfully been hired for two jobs.  What many of my friends don’t know is that, for my last job hunt, my resume and cover letter always got me at least a phone interview, if not in-house interviews.  I have also been very lucky to have mentors and friends with job hunting experience share their expertise with me over the years, including 1 career advisor whose fingers have been all over my resume since I was 21 ( I am now 38).  The requests for help and the clear need for help has made me wonder if I should pursue a second career as a librarian resume whisperer.  I realized I had a venue for dealing with this very specific type of failure.

The thing about librarian resumes, at least in academia, is that most resume advice can be debated.  Should it be 1 page?  It depends on how much you have done that should be shared.  Should it list every job you have had?  It depends on how relevant they are to the potential-job in question, how long ago you had said job, and what it communicates about you.

The key for me is what it communicates about you in regards to the job you want.  Keep that in mind.

The one debate I seem to have with other librarians is the issue of putting your GPA on your resume.  Most often a recent MLS grad wants to put their GPA on their resume.  I always tell them to take it off.  Most Career Services at universities will say it depends on factors (one example is here).  Why do I say no?  Because in Libraries your GPA has no meaning.  The academic minded who spent their MLS years striving for As really get mad at me about this.  I don’t blame them.  You spent at least 2 years working your butt off for a good grade and then are told that nobody cares.  It’s frustrating.  It’s even more frustrating if you did all that work and sacrificed getting experience in the field.  The thing is, the education is little more than a golden ticket to the field, not the end goal.  I don’t care about the GPA because it does not indicate your ability to do the job.  Taking a class is not the same as being in the field.  I want a candidate who I believe can do the job.  That you have the degree is the first requirement to a professional position (hence, being a golden ticket).  After that you are in competition with others based on experience.  Putting your GPA on a resume is a waste of space, especially if you don’t want that resume to be more than 1 page.

Are you considering putting your GPA on your resume?  Consider these two points as you decide.

  1. What does it say about you to the search committee?  Is it important for them to know this about you?
  2. What do you have to give up on the resume to add this in?  Is the removed information important to the job?

That being said, I would add leadership roles in student organizations and thesis/final projects completed.  The later is especially true if you are seeking academic library positions as it is the start of some research and potential publications.

If you have just started working on your MLS, don’t put all your efforts into getting As at the expense of getting experience.  Even working at the university library’s circulation desk is better than no experience.  At the very least you know what it feels like to have boots on the ground.  That being said, campus jobs may need to know your GPA for various reasons.  The advice above is primarily for professional library positions.  Lastly, if the job description asks for your GPA then, by all means, include it.  Most often they will want to your transcript at some point after some interviews just to make sure you actually did complete the degree.  It’s an HR thing and nobody is checking out your grades.

Next: Tech Skills on a Resume. OR No, I don’t care that you can use Microsoft Office.

Tenure! A Failure In Our Field? by Sara

6 Aug

Everyone and their mother is talking about Librarians and tenure.  Ok, I am exaggerating.  Three really big blog posts have come out in the past 2 weeks regarding academic librarians and tenure.  It started with Meredith Farkas, followed by Barbara Fister, and most recently I found Wayne Bivens-Tatum‘s take on the topic.

Here is the very, very fundamentals of the issue: some academic librarians have tenure track positions and others do not.  Requirements for tenure vary from institution to institution.  Is it really important for academic librarians to have tenure?  Those who say yes focus on mutual respect from faculty, better position to push info lit into curriculum, and a chance to participate in scholarship (publish scholarly articles).  Those who say no focus on the publish or perish mentality, that we are more student support department than an academic department, and that we can become stagnant in our positions (a common complaint against tenure).  No, no citations.  Read the three above posts.

I write this as someone who has spent the past 10 years of her career at 2 different libraries that both had/have me on tenure track. In fact, I got tenure at my previous position and gave it up for a new experience.  My experience and point of view mirror more what Fister wrote about than Farkas and Bivens-Tatum.  That being said, all have important and valid points.

My first tenure experience was different from what my faculty colleagues went through.  I was not expected to publish and my packed was based around the impact I had on campus, with faculty, and with students.  It relied heavily on community involvement (on and off campus).  In my current position, it is very different.  I am expected to publish and not just book reviews.  I need to get grants, complete a second masters degree, get the support of my colleagues (both librarian and teaching faculty), and get support from outside the institution from people who don’t know me.

I never thought I would publish anything when I started at my current position 4 years ago.  I was working on the second masters already and knew small, easy grants I could get.  It was the publishing element that took me 2 years to even get an idea about.  That being said, once I got one idea, three more came very quickly.  This institution does give me time to work on my tenure commitments.  While working on the degree I got a small workload reduction and it was critical to have this as I worked on the thesis to finish the degree.  I have also been granted a pre-tenure sabbatical/work-load reduction to give me time to work on the research and papers I need to finish.  Is there a number of how many articles?  No.  Is there a certain type: qualitative, quantitative, success sharing?  Nope.  The advice from my tenured colleagues is that it should be published in a peer-review journal and the higher the impact rating, the better.  No, my previous institution did not require all of this so I didn’t need the time to complete it.

All three authors touch on the publish or perish aspect of tenure track.  Bivens-Tatum talks about the very important issue of librarians having no idea what they are doing with research and publishing.  10 years ago I had the option of a management class or a research class.  I picked the management class thinking this was the bigger priority.  I should have been require to start publishing while getting my MLS.  We all should have been.  Even though I run surveys, try to quantify my efforts, and do real qualitative research, I know I am not doing it exactly right.  This is because I have only been trying to actually do this for 2 years.  I agree with Farkas when she says we have more in common with student affairs.  I see myself as support for the faculty.  I have a very good relationship with the faculty in the departments I support.  I think most respect me primarily because of the work I put into our relationships and not because I am working toward tenure.  I don’t think tenure really makes a difference in the faculty impression of me.

I think the heart of all three blog posts is this: giving librarians tenure isn’t right for every institution, but the process may be wrong for those who are participating in the process.  If we are going to be faculty with tenure and expected to publish then we need to consider workload differently.  Faculty get a day a week for research and all summer off.  They get full sabbaticals and work-load reductions (depending on what they need to do).  They have a certain number of hours they work a week and flexibility in their scheduling.  Either librarians get the same considerations or the tenure process is different for us.  It can be a combination of methods to madness.  Do all the librarians need to be tenure track at an institution?  No, there can be a choice to participate or not.  Should we, as a field, put more emphasis on research and publishing?  Yes, especially for those of us who do know we are going into academia.  Academic advisors should be helping us do this and mentoring us through the process when we are working on our MLS.  This is what happens in other fields.  Undergraduates at my institution are already learning this.  Faculty advisors are already mentoring them through publishing and research.  Many have told me about how they are going to be co-authors with their advisor.  If we want to be publishing academics, then we need to learn how to do this better.

This is a great moment to have this discussion as many libraries and librarians try to redefine their role on their campus and as Info Lit is redesigned.  If we ignored what academic libraries and librarians are now and had to rebuild, what would the new librarian look like?  Would he/she need tenure to fulfill that role?  What does she/he need to learn to be that librarian?  What can we learn from the failures and successes of the tenure process?


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