How to talk about your research agenda as an early career Librarian while on a job search, even if you don’t have one yet.
Elizabeth DeZouche has been an Academic Librarian for over five years and is interested in information literacy, the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) and instructional design. When she’s not hanging out with her cats, Luke and Leia, in her free time she enjoys trivia, going to the movies, and game night with friends. Find her on Twitter or LinkedIn.
Job searching is stressful enough when you are hunting in the academic library field. Presentations are often required as part of the interview process. Regardless of whether the academic librarian position is tenure track or not, candidates can now expect to be asked what their research interests are. This blog post is a guide for those on the academic librarian job hunt that have not started research yet and need some ideas about where and how to start.
There is plenty of literature about the research methods geared specifically to librarians. The textbook from my Research Methods class in library school, Basic Research Methods for Librarians by Ronald Powell and Lynn Silipigini Connaway, is one example of the now dozens of resources describing the research study, research methods, surveys, data, analysis, writing, etc., that can help guide us to and help us perform research. Before you jump into designing a research method or study you will need a topic or area of interest.
Finding your inspiration
Talking about your research interests in a job interview is how you let search committees know where in academic libraries your interests lie; which is important because it shows your level of dedication to the field of library science as a professional. So how do you talk about your research interests if you don’t know what those are? I must admit that the inspiration for my post came after I read Brittany and Chelsea’s “How Do You Even Start? A Librarian Parlor Series, Part I” blog post. I found some great suggestions for ways to find inspiration for starting a research project. One suggestion they give is to be an opportunistic writer, (or I’ll add: researcher). One of their colleagues follows a blog which collates all the library-related publishing and presentation opportunities, which she then uses to inspire her own research. Is your work environment uninspiring to you or does your work not incorporate your professional interests? Find your inspiration from conferences and calls for research happening around you. Especially pay attention to those that come annually because if you’re late to the party then you can jump that train next year! Other research opportunities can come from changes to jobs or duties around you. Another colleague of theirs documents the before/during/after of changes in their library. Powell and Connaway (2004) have similar advice which is basic networking. Communicate with colleagues in your library, campus, or cast a wider net on the web, to share stories and problems which could lead to ideas for research or collaboration!
Finding your research praxis for the job interview
Regardless of where or how you draw inspiration for your research agenda you must have some idea to present to the job search committee. The best advice I can give about talking about your research interests when you haven’t started your research yet is to have a confident response ready for each individual job applied for and, time permitting, tailor it to the job ad and the institution. For example, I am an academic librarian with experience in the Reference, Instruction, and Public Service areas, but I’m most passionate about teaching and learning. I’m also one of those eternal students: I am always seeking knowledge in order to better myself in my life and career. That is how I came upon an area called the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL). I love the idea of SoTL because it allows me to define the teaching and learning happening around me, to identify problem areas or needs for improvement (or to identify where things are going well), to explore and implement new ideas or changes, and then to reflect upon those and their impact. (Find more SoTL tips in this LibParlor blog post by Lauren Hays.) Ultimately I discover how I, as a teacher, have a role in students’ lives and how that affects the library and campus as a whole, and ultimately academic librarianship as a field. It’s a very satisfying, holistic approach to research and this is what I incorporate in my dialogue when on job interviews.
“On the flip side think of how the institution you’re interviewing for can support your research and ask questions about research support, training, and mentoring.”
Start to think about how your research interests will include and impact the library and campus you’re interviewing for and be prepared to ask and answer those questions. For example, look up the other Librarians at your interview location and see if any have published in your area of interest. Then you can ask them specifically if they would ever be interested in collaborating on a research project. If none have published yet ask them about their research interests individually and/or as department. I usually prepare my talking points as an elevator speech that I can tailor to any job description or college/university. On the flip side think of how the institution you’re interviewing for can support your research and ask questions about research support, training, and mentoring. For example, if the position is not tenure-track you can ask if there is time allowed to spend on research and writing in addition to the time spent on other duties in the job description. Also, ask if if the position comes with a budget for professional development, which you could use to present posters, papers, or presentations about your research in addition to simply attending for professional development’s sake. Answers to these questions can give you a glimpse into the culture around research at that institution and whether or not you would accept a job there if those resources aren’t present.
Finding your support system
“If you work somewhere that doesn’t support research either emotionally or monetarily reach out to the wider academic librarian community or professional associations for support, ideas, and feedback. We want to help you because it helps us all when good research is being done.”
Even before you scour those job ads for your dream job you should cultivate resources and people that you can lean on before, during, and after the job interview process. You can use your support system to bounce ideas off of for your research agenda as well as to practice interviewing with! We librarians are good at finding supplementary material and training when confronted with a knowledge, skills, or needs-gap. In addition to the copious amounts of literature about library research there are now training or self-help opportunities. For example, the Institute for Research Design in Librarianship attempts to “assist librarians to develop the skills necessary to complete a research project of their design, as well as assist them in constructing a personal network of possible collaborators for future research projects.” Even if your research project will be done by yourself you will need support and feedback along your research journey. If you work somewhere that doesn’t support research either emotionally or monetarily reach out to the wider academic librarian community or professional associations for support, ideas, and feedback. We want to help you because it helps us all when good research is being done.
Now that you have a research idea or inspiration you’re ready to talk about your research agenda while on the job interview. Prepare a few talking points about how you found your research agenda or inspiration and how it would affect the library/campus you’re applying for. (For those ready to dive right into your research, check out this 12 month plan for research, publication, and presentation by Steven Bell.) With these tips I’m confident that you can get comfortable with the idea of talking about your research agenda to a job search committee. Now, go slay that job interview!
Powell, R. R., & Connaway, L. S. (2004). Basic research methods for librarians. (4th ed.). Westport, Connecticut; Libraries Unlimited.
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