All posts tagged “job hunting

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Why Do You Teach?

True confession time, y’all: Until last month I had never written a teaching philosophy statement.

I’ve been teaching in academic libraries for 10 years and have managed to evade formally articulating my approach to teaching in writing. I can write student learning outcomes all day and night, love to talk pedagogy with brilliant colleagues, and relish the time I now have to think about revising my college’s information literacy education program. You want a blog post about my teaching style and thoughts on critical information literacy? YOU GOT IT. So why did I find writing a teaching philosophy statement so daunting? Here are a few reasons:

Reason 1: It Feels So Formal (also Intimidating) 

There is something about including the word “philosophy” in anything that makes me want to run far, far away from it. It feels not for me, and if I’m being honest, a bit intimidating. As much as I truly believe in bell hook’s idea that you don’t have to know theory to have lived it, as much as I feel that critical theory has made me a better person, there is something about “philosophy” that still feels “other” and intimidating. It makes me instantly defensive. It makes me think of PhilosophyBros: those guys who want to “engage in a lively debate” in which they are always right, you just don’t follow their impeccable logic and therefore don’t understand they are right. I feel like I don’t have the language for philosophy and I question if I actually want it.

All of this is to say that tacking the word “philosophy” after teaching is a sure way to get me to shut down and hide. It seems silly, but the only way I could even begin to write a teaching philosophy statement was to begin by thinking about it as a “teaching approach” statement or a statement of pedagogy. A slight shift in wording made all the difference to me, and allowed me to think about the theories that influence my teaching, and what my teaching looks like in practice.

Reason 2: My Teaching Changes

No big surprise here. Who I am as a teacher now is not the same as who I was 10, 5, or even 1 year(s) ago. I love Sarah Crissinger’s comment about her own teaching philosophy statement, which she describes as “a living, developing document that I hope will continue to grow and change as I grow and change.” It can be hard to start writing a document you know will likely be obsolete in the next few years, so I had to start thinking about my teaching philosophy statement the same way I think about my CV. I’m going to update it every year. Some years might mean drastic changes while others might just mean a slight tweak or two.

Reason 3: Why am I Writing This? 

The easiest answer to this question is because a job application requested it. It’s why my partner and my non-librarian academic friends all wrote their teaching philosophy statements. They were a required part of the job hunt documentation. In those situations your teaching philosophy isn’t really for you and might not even accurately reflect who you are as an educator. It’s a performative document that is hopefully true to you, but being 100% honest, you have to eat, and that teaching philosophy statement is meant to help you land a job. However, by taking a suggestion from the lovely Sofia Leung, Teaching and Learning Program Manager at MIT Libraries, you can MAKE your teaching philosophy a piece of critical self reflection. Sofia suggests asking yourself the following questions:

  • What does teaching mean to you?
  • Do you think of yourself as a teacher and why?
  • What kind of teacher do you want to be?

I love the idea of exploring all of these questions in a statement on teaching, and even adding on the way more basic question: “Why do you teach?” Your teaching philosophy statement can be just for you, and that’s ok.

Reason 4: Writing a teaching philosophy takes time…right?

Yes, and no. A second piece of advice I received about writing a teaching philosophy comes from Dani Brecher Cook, Director of Teaching & Learning at UC-Riverside. She shared an exercise from her 2016 UCR Library Instruction Mini-Retreat, that encouraged teaching librarians to remember:

  • There is no right or wrong way to write a teaching philosophy.
  • Write in the first-person, present tense.
  • Imagine that you are explaining how you teach to someone who is not a librarian (or maybe even an educator!).

*from Crafting Your Teaching Philosophy

I like Dani’s approach to this document because it’s something that can start small. This is so important for both new librarians and (overworked) experienced librarians. Your teaching philosophy statement doesn’t need to span pages, but it does need to reflect who you really are as a teacher. It can be short or long, as long as it feels like you.

My Teaching Philosophy Statement

So what did I end up writing? A short, flawed, but good enough teaching philosophy statement. You’re welcome to read it, just know that it will never be a final draft, I’ll always cringe reading parts of it and feel like it’s just not quite right. It’s messy the way that teaching is always a little bit messy, and that seems pretty true to myself right now.


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On Liberal Arts, Libraries and Needing to Eat

Manhattan Convergence

Manhattan Convergence by Evan Leeson on Flickr

When I was in college I used to have these occasional moments of academic convergence. What I was reading in my post-colonial literature class was mirrored in the history course I was taking, which somehow managed to overlap with a scholar’s lecture I just attended. It was like a perfect intellectual storm that somehow made me feel oddly comforted. If so many seemingly different disciplines and ideas were connected, then surely there was something worthwhile about these ideas (and the debt I was incurring to learn them).

A Storm Rolls In

This storm of convergence rolled in again recently, rather unexpectedly. Here are the intersecting layers:

Layer 1: I had agreed to speak to a colleague’s Introduction to Archives class about academic librarianship and then join their discussion on what Sarah Kendzior calls the prestige economy, which encompasses the paradoxical pay-to-play world of unpaid internships, exorbitant higher education costs, and the resultant economic immobility of young people.

Layer 2: A good friend of mine is contemplating a career change to librarianship and is having a very difficult time finding a non-professional position in a library despite prestigious undergraduate and graduate degrees and excellent prior employment. This friend has recently started applying (!!) for unpaid volunteer positions in libraries.

Layer 3: Our college is holding on-campus interviews for Dean of Faculty/Provost candidates, one of whom talked at length about the ways in which the liberal arts are important in today’s economy.

Layer 4: Our faculty’s ever-present defensiveness about our liberal arts tradition results in lots of email sharing of education-related articles in the popular press, including this recent Nicholas Kristof op-ed about the liberal arts (which he mistakenly equates with only the humanities)

The result? I’m left with this swirl of connections between libraries, liberal arts education, and the modern (un)employment scene. What better place to work it out than here!

What Employers Say They Want 

Our college’s most compelling Provost candidate made the argument that we (liberal arts college educators) are selling the liberal arts as an experience, which, although valuable, doesn’t speak to a) the parents and/or students paying for that “experience” or b) prospective employers looking for talented employees. Instead, we should be focusing on what employers say they want in the recent college graduates they hire, which, if you’ve read the Project Information Literacy report on recent college grads in the workplace, is individuals with an “openness to learning and natural curiosity.” It’s an answer tailor made to sell the liberal arts, one reiterated by Nicholas Kristof, who, like so many of our faculty, claim that students steeped in the liberal arts tradition are more likely to make the intellectual connections, ethical decisions, and deep thinking valued by employers.

The pitch is this: Employers can teach young people the industry-specific skills and knowledge necessary to understand their specific work environment, but they can’t teach young people how to think. A liberal arts education produces bright, intellectually curious, motivated individuals who make excellent industry employees.

So Where Are These Entry-Level, Learn-on-the-job Jobs?

Based on the PIL report and the way everyone who teaches the liberal arts talks about a liberal arts education, you’d think that our college graduates would be turning down employment offers all day, every day. Part of the problem is that liberal arts educators, and those in higher education in general, don’t like to talk about jobs. Why cheapen the intellectual pursuit of colleges and universities by talking about something as gauche as employment value? We’re here to educate! to broaden horizons! to open minds! to ! It’s an approach that has been losing traction recently as college costs continue to skyrocket, and graduate degrees are portrayed as the new bachelor’s degree.

One of the most vocal critics of the modern employment scene and its relationship to higher education is Sarah Kendzior who frequently writes and speaks about the prestige economy. In a series of blog posts and powerful tweets, she’s called out an economic system that values “skills” over education and has replaced the process of learning “skills” on the job with unpaid internships and other debt-inducing activities. Even Kristof’s defense of the liberal arts mentions the need to pair a liberal education with “technology skills;” although he fails to acknowledge that yesterday’s tech skills are today’s internet memes.

We see evidence of the prestige economy in libraries and archives ALL THE TIME. In fact it is so prevalent that there was even a public shaming blog devoted to unpaid internships or below subsistence level jobs in archives. I remember trying to break into the library/archive world and applying to jobs that paid about as well as an Americorps stipend, minus the student loan forgiveness.

In our most recent librarian job search our library director was adamant about making the position open to entry-level librarians, because, in her words, it’s just not the kind of job posting you see anymore. I was surprised and impressed with the degree of experience many of our entry-level candidates gained from both paid assistantships and unpaid internships, but of course, nothing quite prepares you for what you learn on the job. We need to acknowledge this in libraries and be willing to hire people, FOR MONEY, who demonstrate passion, enthusiasm and a capacity to learn. We can teach you the ins and outs of our library/archive. You can offer the fresh perspective and smarts.

An Apology

Not too long ago I wrote this opinion piece for C&RL News offering advice to library job seekers. My intent was to be helpful and inspiring, but in reading it now I cringe. It was in part a rallying cry against the entitled attitude of “I have a degree; now hire me,” in which I advocated for prospective librarians to demonstrate their passion for the profession. (It’s always been my belief that we should hire for enthusiasm and intelligence, not skills.) Yet I completely neglected to unpack the privilege that comes along with writing that advice from my MacBookPro at my desk in my full-time, tenure-track academic librarian job (with benefits!). I failed to acknowledge that there is often no outlet for that passion because library employers are often reluctant to (or sometimes even downright hostile to the idea of) hiring a library school graduate with no previous professional experience. If I were creating my own library dream team (which I may or may not do in my head from time to time), I would hire the kind of people I wrote about in that piece in a heart beat. I’ve seen first hand how smart, motivated librarians with no previous knowledge in a particular aspect of librarianship can downright OWN IT and be amazing with just a little bit of time to learn on the job.

That’s really all that prospective employees need: the time to learn enough to be amazing and not have to worry about where their next meal is going to come from or how they’re going to pay off the mountain of debt looming over them. Given the exorbitant rise in college tuition and fees, that’s not going to happen while they’re in college. So its up to employers to make sure they aren’t missing out on these intelligent, talented liberal arts grads, archivists, and librarians because they aren’t willing to offer a few months of on-the-job training or mentoring.

How is your library opening itself up to new librarians and archivists? What’s your take on the prestige economy? Do you have an opinion about the place of the liberal arts in the modern economy (of course you do; we all do)?

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A Presentation for Job Seekers

April was a blur of travel and conferences, leaving me little time for much of anything, much less blog posting. Now that the semester is officially over and the only conference on my plate is ALA in June, I have a bit more time to write and reflect, which I always enjoy.

One of the conferences that kept me away was the Texas Library Association’s 2013 Conference in Ft. Worth. I was thrilled to spend a few days in my sunny home state, but was even happier to have the opportunity to co-present with Abe Korah, an awesome colleague from Lone Star College-CyFair Branch. Our talk focused on re-imagining your library job search and taking a more active role in your own professional development. So not only did we encourage attendees to do all of the standard things job seekers are told to do (network, be prepared for interviews, etc.) we also urged them to really think about the profession they are about to join and begin engaging in activities that a demonstrate a real interest in librarianship and that “do-something-ness” that sets the great applicants apart from the good ones.

We structured our presentation as a mock-interview, which gave us some great interactivity with the attendees and I think made for a more entertaining presentation. The 90 minutes just flew by! I thought I’d share my presentation slides below. I realize they don’t make much sense since they’re so graphic and simplistic, but I like my presentation aids to be just that: aids, not the center stage of the presentation. If you’re interested in the content, let me know. We also created a website to accompany the presentation which includes some really good resources for job seekers.