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A Cohort of One

LegomanWhen I began working at the University of Houston M.D. Anderson Library I was one of several new librarians who were also new to academic librarianship. We were a relatively young-ish group of professionals who all had a few things in common. We were trying to acclimate to the institutional culture of a large ARL library; we were in the early stages of our career; we knew we needed to develop a professional portfolio of writing, research, presentations and service; and we were all hoping to develop helpful working relationships with one another.

These librarians were my first professional cohort. We bounced ideas off one another, toyed around with new library technology and services, presented together, wrote together, and generally caused mischief and upheaval with the intent of making our library better. Our office doors were usually open and we could always drop in, start chatting, and eventually a good library-related idea (or two, if we were lucky) would emerge. A Vietnamese sandwich lunch trip could result in an idea for a conference presentation which would be fleshed out over bubble tea on the way back to the library.

Reality Strikes

I didn’t realize it at the time, but this experience of bonding with other new librarians at the same institution was kind of a unique one. At my current institution I am one of only seven librarians, three (including myself) pre-tenure, and all at least a few years ahead of me on the tenure clock. My first semester I was lumped into a cohort with new teaching faculty. It’s an interesting group to be sure, but I quickly learned after attending a few sessions of our New Faculty Seminar, that there are challenges and opportunities that I face that are specific to librarians. I’d rather not delve too far into the librarian-faculty-status debate, but I have to admit that as much as I want my cohort to be other faculty, the work that I do as a librarian, although integral to the teaching and learning mission of our college, doesn’t quite fit the traditional professor mold. So I find myself in a position I didn’t anticipate being in: the lone member of a new librarian cohort.

Don’t Bust Out the World’s Tiniest Violin Yet

A good librarian friend of mine kindly reminded me that this situation occurs in all kinds of libraries across the country. Rural public libraries often employ only one or two librarians, small academic libraries can suffer from staffing challenges, and special libraries sometimes take on only a handful of LIS professionals. The notion of a “new librarian cohort” seems to be unique to larger institutions like ARL member libraries.

Yes, I realize that having a group of similarly situated colleagues is not a job “must-have.” In fact working with colleagues with a diverse set of experiences and skill sets can be extremely helpful. That being said, I am still a bit wistful for a time when I wasn’t the only new librarian in the room. There is something reassuring about not being the only one worrying about third year review or trying to turn a simple idea into a good research project or paper. And I have to admit, there’s also this great energy that comes from having a group of people who are both enthusiastic and totally ignorant of an institution’s organizational history. (I think has to do with not knowing what’s failed in the past.) Although not necessary, having a group of colleagues who are learning the ropes and making their way along with you is just plain nice.

So what’s a new librarian to do when she is all by her lonesome?*

*Forgive the folksy-ness. I am a Texan, after all.


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