Thursday, July 18, 2013

So, What is a Resident Librarian?, by Annie Pho


A year ago, I was a fresh graduate from library school. I was eager to join the profession and put my education to use. I was so busy from applying for jobs, prepping for interviews, trying to write for professional development, and being involved with committees; I thought I was going to die. If you’re looking for a job and trying to stay involved in the field, you know that stress. Then, I saw the perfect job, worded just for a new graduate like myself: a resident librarian position at a university. I knew I wanted to be an academic librarian, and here was a library that wanted someone just out of school. Perfect! Fast forward to today, this is the position that I’m in now.

The biggest question I get about my job is “what is a resident librarian?” Simply put, it’s typically a 1-2 year position geared towards new library school graduates. The aim of a residency like mine is to give new graduates the chance to work as a professional in an academic library, getting experience that will help them get a job later on. Often times, as a new grad looking for employment, you’ll notice that many jobs ask for a couple years of experience. If you do a residency, then by the end of your program, you’ll be qualified for those jobs no problem!

Resident librarians have a variety of job duties that they can do, depending on the place they work in. These kinds of positions are also sometimes referred to fellowships, but they really are the same thing. However, residency positions vary by institution. Some are designed to let the residents work in every department of the library so that by the end of their program, they have a well-rounded idea of how to do everything in the library. Other programs, like my own, have residents in specific library departments for the entire term. One of the most important things to keep in mind if you end up in a program like this is to know what YOU want out of it.

The way in which the program will be as much about what you want as it will be about what your employers want, the freedom to explore your professional interests, is an important difference between doing a residency and just going into your first professional job. Prior to starting my residency, I was a part-time reference and instruction librarian at a community college. My job duties were spelled out for me, and I spent much of my limited time at work making sure I did my job well. That meant that I didn’t have as much time to be mentored by my peers, or time to explore information literacy ideas, or other creative projects. Now that I’m in a resident position, my work has given me the time to figure out what really interests me in librarianship, while also benefiting from the good ideas that my co-residents come up with for our library. It’s a win all around.

If you’re a new graduate and you are looking for a job, I recommend applying for a residency. The support you’ll get from your institution is phenomenal, and I don’t just mean a pat on the back for showing up for work. Residents are expected to be engaged in the profession, attend conferences, present posters, etc., but the work load has an upside. It means your institution gives you funding, time, and support. If you do end up in a residency position, I advise you to keep your focus on some tangible goals. Complete a research project or something else that you can brag about once you’ve completed your program. Be strategic about when you say yes. It’s easy to get over enthusiastic about a million projects, but in the end you’ll need to prioritize your time. Lastly, I try to find at least two mentors: one at your institution and one elsewhere. This is something that I think every librarian should have, regardless of work experience. It’s always nice to have a go-to person to ask for career advice or bounce ideas off of. 

To learn more about resident programs or check out job posts, check out the ACRL Residency Interest Group website.

Annie Pho is an Academic Resident Librarian at University of Illinois at Chicago in the reference and instruction department. She likes cats, bikes, and web stuff. You can find her on Twitter @catladylib the occasional post on her blog.

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