What are the benefits of developing your professional reputation in libraries? On this show, Megan Hodge, Head of Teaching and Learning at Virginia Commonwealth University, shares ways that we can get our work and names out in the profession along with how this can help our careers.
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This is Adriane Herrick Juarez. You’re listening to Library Leadership Podcast where we talk about libraries, and leadership, and speak with guests who share their ideas, innovations, and strategic insights into the profession.
What are the benefits of developing your professional reputation in libraries? On this show I speak with Megan Hodge, Head of Teaching and Learning at Virginia Commonwealth University. She shares ways that we can get our work and names out in the profession along with how this can help our careers. Enjoy the show!
Megan, welcome to the show.
Thank you so much for having me. I’m excited to be here.
Question #1: I’m excited to have you, and I’m looking forward to our topic today which is fast-tracking our professional reputations in libraries. As we start, why is it important for all types of librarians to think about their professional reputations, and take an active role in developing them? 01:14
That’s a great question, and my answer is all about—folks generally want something from their career. Unless you are about to head into retirement you’re generally wanting something from your career—whether that is a raise, a promotion, an interest in moving to a different job, the ability to affect change at your institution, or in the profession at-large. All of these things are much easier to accomplish if you’ve established your professional reputation.
Question #2: So, what are a variety of ways librarian’s can get their work, and names, out into the profession? 02:02
So, there’s a few different avenues that folks can take—it’s a sort of choose your own adventure. You can do one of these—use multiple options here. The sort of traditional path is to publish and present, ideally in one, or two specific areas, and to develop a reputation of expertise in that area. So, Kaetrena Davis Kendrick immediately comes to mind as someone who has done this. If you are interested in low morale in libraries, Kaetrena is the go-to person for that. She’s really, really established herself as an expert because of her research into low morale in academic libraries, public libraries, just libraries in general.
Another option is social media. Whether that’s Twitter, blogging, etc., and just talking again—area of your expertise. So this is kind of like publishing and developing an area of expertise, or area that you’re known for, but you don’t necessarily have to do research in order to become a thoughtful voice, or voice of authority.
Someone who comes to mind for this would be like April Hatchcock who has a really active Twitter presence. Her voice is one that interrogates—white supremacy and racism within the profession, in looking at libraries through a really thoughtful, critical lens. Twitter’s been a big platform for her for this.
One other way, and this is one that might be—most, or least intimidating depending on how you look at it, is making your own opportunities. We’ve seen so many examples of this in recent years where folks in the profession have identified a gap. Something that they wanted to see, and then they went out and made it happen.
So, in the last year for example several folks came together and put together the first Conference on Academic Library Management, or CALM. And, this was put together because these were folks at academic libraries who were in management positions, or interested in building into management. They had all these really practical questions about how to be a good supervisor, how to be a good manager. And, they didn’t really see a professional development opportunity that really spoke to that.
So what they did—they developed their own conference and were able to just use institutional things available to them like their institutional Zoom accounts. They were able to get sponsors, so the conference did not cost them any money. They were just able to put together this really wonderful opportunity for folks to come together and learn about really practical management strategies. And again, this is just coming from folks seeing a gap that needed to be filled, and taking steps to fill it themselves.
Question #3: If publishing is something someone hopes to do, what are some steps they can take to make this a reality? 05:03
I know publishing can be really intimidating to some folks. Something I hear a lot is, Well, what do I write about? Who would want to publish—I haven’t done anything. Who would want to publish me?
There are a couple of ways that folks can ease themselves into publishing that I would recommend. So, if you’re feeling intimidated about getting published in general—having your name as a byline somewhere. Lots of places, like Library Journal—lots of journals that are for the library profession do book reviews, and they’re always looking for book reviewers. So, it’s always worth looking at those journals with some editors and finding the book review editor and just reaching out and asking if you can write some book reviews. And, that will give you some practice just getting your name out there a little bit in publishing.
Lots of folks write and publish and present about things that they are doing at their job, at their work. So, the key element here in order to make what you’re doing at work publishable is to talk about this ‘so what’—like what was the effect? So, you very often see publications in librarianship talking about a program, or a new service—something that the library, or the library worker put together. The key thing that makes it just a description of a program versus something that is worth being published is that again, that ‘so what’ element. So, what changed? Did you increase membership because of this? Like, what was the feedback that you got from students if it was a new instructional technique? So, again, adding in that last layer, closing the loop. What was the ultimate effect of this thing that you tried?
One last thing I would recommend is just—we all have different areas of interest professionally, so just reading around in the literature and identifying gaps that you see. So right now, for example, I am working on my dissertation for a PhD. I was focusing on first-generation students and I noticed reading around in the literature that there’s not much out there that’s been written about first-generation students in libraries who are in their first year of college, even though that first year of college is a really, really challenging one both for first-year students and for first-generation students. So I identified this gap from reading around.
I wouldn’t necessarily have been aware of that if I hadn’t been looking and reading around in the literature. And, a bonus to doing this reading around in the literature is that if you do want to publish a peer reviewed, or scholarly article, generally you’re going to be required to include a literature review. And so, you are taking some of those steps already that you will need in order to publish that article by doing this review of the literature.
Question #4: How can we get involved in library associations, particularly the ALA, the American Library Association? 08:10
That’s another really great question because ALA is so big–tens of thousands of members, and there’s lots of different forms of libraries and library work, right? You’ve got public libraries, special libraries. You’ve got folks working in public services, folks working in scholarly communications and web services. And in order to have an organization that serves all of those different library workers, all of those different types of library work, you need a really big organization with lots of different groups. What this results in though, is an organization that has so many groups that it can be really intimidating to folks who aren’t familiar with the organization.
So, if you just go to the ALA website and you’re joining, it will ask you whether you’re interested in joining all these different divisions, all of these different roundtables. And then, often these groups have sub-units like sections within the divisions. And, they can just be really overwhelming if you are new to the association, or especially if you’re in library school and don’t quite know what you want to focus on yet.
So, what I would recommend is if you’re in that latter camp of being in library school, or maybe you don’t quite know what you want to focus on yet, professionally, finding a new members group—ALA has one, the New Members Round Table. Lots of state associations, and more specialized associations have new members group, as well, like IFLA.
One of the goals of those groups is to help orient folks new to the association. So, you don’t even necessarily need to be new to the profession. You can have worked in libraries for years, but if you’re new to the association itself—it is the mission and purpose of these new members groups to help you find your way and figure out how you want to get involved.
If you are pretty established in terms of knowing what you want to do professionally, like I’m an instruction librarian for Cabell who’s working in a management position. It can help you target which units are going to be more naturally interesting to you.
So, for me I’m a member of ACRL which is the academic library division. And, I’m a member of the instruction section within ACRL. And so, within those units, the most straightforward way of getting involved is a big part of professional organizations—is committee work. I know committee work is not something that raises a lot of joy and excitement from folks generally. But, if you were really looking to get started and figure out how the association works, and making helpful connections that are going to be useful to you later on, joining some committees within that unit that you’ve joined is going to be really the most straightforward way of doing that.
Question #5: And, if we do work on developing a professional reputation, how can that lead to leadership opportunities and job offers? 11:10
I’m a living example of this for several of the positions that I’ve held, they’ve been a direct result of my having established a reputation and gotten involved professionally. So, my first job out of library school was as an assistant manager in a public library and I didn’t have previous public library experience. I had supervisory experience, but not public library experience. I was told by the hiring committee that one of the reasons that I was chosen was because I was so active in my state association, and in ALA. And, in a couple of later positions I have been contacted directly, and directly appointed into some positions based on connections that I had because of service work, or presentations that I’d done, or because of the reputation I’d established for myself and the work that I’d done at my present employer.
Question #6: Are there any components to building a professional reputation that don’t have to do with demonstrating work outside of our organization? 12:14
That’s an important question because not everyone has the time or the means of being really active outside of work—might have family commitments, etc. So, as I alluded to in my last answer, it’s also really important to establish yourself professionally at your workplace as well as out there publishing, presenting, joining the professional associations that are appropriate to your type of work.
What building a reputation for yourself at your workplace involves, looks a little different from what building a professional reputation out there generally would involve. What your goal here really is, is to do your work well, to demonstrate that you have initiative and vision. The reason this is important is because, well for a few things, one is if you’re interested in advancing into management, it’s more common than folks might think for libraries to reorganize and for new entry-level management positions to be created as a result. Often these new managers will be appointed from within the library rather than hired from an external search because there isn’t the budget line to hire an additional, whole new person.
Actually, recently, I published some research with a couple co-authors that indicates that this exact situation happens a lot in academic libraries in particular. But, even if you aren’t interested in management, we all want things from our job—like I mentioned in the beginning of our talk today, you might want to work at a branch closer to your home. You might want a raise. You might want approval from your administration to take a risk on a program idea that they might be a little bit iffy on. If you’ve built that reputation for yourself, you know—again being someone with vision, with initiative, someone who works really hard at your job, you’re more likely to get those things when you ask for them.
Question #7: Is there anything else you would like to share? 14:15
One thing I would just like to mention is to acknowledge my position of privilege.While I graduated from library school with graduate student lens, and geographically limited I did benefit from my positionality as a white woman, heterosexual, cisgender, without the barriers that many of our colleagues face. But, I want to emphasize that a lot of the really important work that’s being done professionally, right now—some of these things I’ve mentioned, like the folks who organized the CALM Conference.
There’s a group that was formed recently called We Here, which is a community space for library workers who identify as black indigenous, or people of color, that was created to be a space for folks that just kind of support each other. They’ve developed a new journal to really list up the scholarship of folks who are BIPOC. So, I just want to emphasize that regardless of your financial means, or positionality, that there are ways of building a professional reputation for yourself that don’t necessarily cost money, that aren’t going to be limited by your workplace.
I know that a lot of folks feel maybe constrained by their geographic limitations, like an inability to change jobs. A lot of these opportunities that I’ve mentioned have been self-driven and can often be some of the most meaningful, even more than something like joining ALA, for example.
Question #8: Thank you for mentioning that, Megan, that’s very helpful. Do you have a favorite management, or leadership book, and why? 15:50
That’s an interesting question. I would say my favorite management, or leadership book is the one that is answering a question that I currently have. So, in the past one that I found really thought provoking is John Kotter’s, Leading Change. Right now, though, I am just starting to read The Surprising Power of Liberating Structures, which is a really practical book that has strategies designed to help you build an inclusive, and democratic, and innovative work environment. Or, it doesn’t have to be work, it can also be like a community organization, and just provides really specific, practical strategies for how to make that work in practice. That’s what I’m reading currently.
Question #9: In closing, what do libraries mean to you, personally? 16:39
Oh, gosh, that’s a big question. So, I guess personally, I would say that in speaking from the lens of someone who’s worked in academic libraries for close to a decade at this point, you know, I see libraries as being a place that helps others achieve their dreams, and be successful. Whether that is like students trying to start a business, members of the community trying to start a business—graduate, enter a career that they’ve dreamed about so they can make change in the world.
I really see libraries as being the cheerleaders, and folks who equip our users with the tools that they need in order to be successful—so they can go off and do the amazing things that they’re hoping to do with their life.
Megan, thank you for being with me on the show today, and talking with me about fast-tracking our professional reputations in libraries. It’s been so informational and I hope it inspires a lot of people to think about what they want to do in this realm in their own careers. So, I really appreciate you being here.
Thank you so much for having me, Adriane.
You’ve been listening to Library Leadership Podcast. This is Adriane Herrick Juarez. For more episodes tune into LibraryLeadershipPodcast.com, where you can now subscribe to have monthly updates delivered right into your email inbox. Our producer is Nathan Sinclair Vineyard. Thanks for listening. We’ll see you next time.
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