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LibParlor Contributor Reflection Series

I Can’t Do That: Conducting Research as a Non-Tenure-Track Librarian. A Librarian Parlor Series

LibParlor contributor Zoe Bastone explains her process for developing her research agenda in a non-tenure track role.

Zoe Bastone is an Outreach and Instruction Librarian at the University of Tennessee Knoxville, serving students at UT’s Agriculture and Veterinary Medicine library. Zoe is interested in outreach assessment, information literacy pedagogy, and conducting spatial assessments. Outside of her role in the library, Zoe enjoys spending her time exploring local parks with her dog Albus, baking gluten free goodies, and listening to podcasts. Find her on Twitter here.

What do you do when you are a non-tenure-track librarian, but you want to develop your research agenda? This two-part series explores my process for making  my research agenda a priority and the tools I am using to make it a reality.

Introduction: “I will do this one day”

Before I graduated with my MSIS back in May of 2018, I found myself on unsure footing when it came to developing my research agenda. During graduate school, I worked three jobs that mostly gave me some professional experience. It was not a matter of whether I felt prepared for the task of research, it was more that I did not have enough time to ruminate on what my interests were. I was bound by the ideology that it was something I would have time to consider when I was a “real professional.”

“It was daunting to imagine navigating the world of research without the formal support that tenure-track librarians often receive.”

Flash forward to fall 2018, when I was hired as an outreach and instruction librarian at an agriculture and veterinary medicine library on campus. Even though this position was not tenure-track and I had no research responsibilities, I personally felt obligated to start doing research—if only to prepare myself for any future positions that I would want to apply for. In retrospect, I recognize that this mindset contributed to my feelings of being overwhelmed by the research process. It was daunting to imagine navigating the world of research without the formal support that tenure-track librarians often receive.



Feelings of being lost and confused by the research process  were connected to many of the challenges that I faced over the course of the fall semester. For example, I learned early on in my position that any research that I would conduct would need to happen on my own time outside of work. Considering that developing my research agenda was already a project unto itself, this deterred me from beginning any research of my own. As a new professional, I spent the bulk of my time learning my position. It did not seem ethical, nor responsible, for me to spend time on anything outside of my job. In addition, feeling that I could not dedicate time to explore my research agenda at work discouraged me from seeking the advice of more experienced researchers.

How does my work fit in?

I had little time to connect my work to trends in the field due to the time constraints I was facing in my position. As most academic librarians can attest, the fall semester is often a whirlwind of activities with little room to catch one’s breath. I was learning my position, meeting campus faculty and administrative personnel that I would be working with, and learning how my position worked within my department. I did not have the time I wanted to conduct in-depth literature searches. In addition, I used to be inexperienced in the disciplines that I support. Additionally, I had never worked at a branch library so I felt doubly in the dark.

Systematic knowledge

As a graduate student, I  assisted faculty with their research projects, but I never felt like I was fully introduced to the research process or how to develop a research agenda. Now, here I was: a “real professional.” I felt like I should know more and be able to jump in at any point in developing my research agenda. The fact of the matter was that I wasn’t sure who to turn to for help at this point, and it was discouraging.

Maybe I can do this after all…

After a chaotic and invigorating fall semester, I took some time to reflect on the work that I was doing and what my goals were for the spring. In this time of reflection, my supervisor said something to me that completely changed how I felt about research. We had been conversing about the skills I had, what I hoped to gain from this position, and my career aspirations. I relayed to her my research woes: the lack of time to explore research and overall sense of newness that I felt. She pointed out to me that in the same way that I was looking for literature that would inform my practice, I could conduct research that works alongside of my practice as well.


If you are in a similar boat, research is not hopeless. The first step is to be patient about the research process. For me, I needed to learn the other aspects of my job before I could dedicate time to learn more about the research process. Likewise, I needed to be patient when finding the time to explore how my work could translate into a publishable product. I have dedicated time over the spring semester to reading relevant case studies, partly because they interest me, but they are also a way for me to brainstorm how my work fits within the larger conversations.

“Having people that you can turn to when you have questions about the research process is a great reminder of what research is for: community and conversation.”

Also, be honest with yourself about the reasons that you want to conduct research, what you will need in order to be successful, and be thoughtful about how adding research will impact your workload. Consider who you can talk to for support such as your supervisor, other colleagues in your department, or other librarians you know. Having people that you can turn to when you have questions about the research process is a great reminder of what research is for: community and conversation.

Research as a non-tenure-track librarian is not a clear path, but that doesn’t make it impossible. Does this article help you? Let me know! Also, stay tuned for part two of this series, where I will explore how I am developing my research agenda.

Featured image by Electric-Eye via Flickr

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

The expressions of writer do not reflect anyone’s views but their own

4 comments on “I Can’t Do That: Conducting Research as a Non-Tenure-Track Librarian. A Librarian Parlor Series

  1. Maggie H.

    Thank you for sharing this post. I’m also non-tenure-track, not in an instruction or reference position, and work in a separate location from most of my colleagues, so finding a way to participate in professional discourse and what my interests are while simultaneously trying to find the mythical point of work-life balance has felt lonely, confusing, and discouraging at times.
    I’m looking forward to hearing more about, and learning from, your efforts!

  2. Thank you for writing this. I’m non-tenure-track, not a reference or instruction librarian, and work at remote location away from most of my colleagues; while I am required to go up for promotion at least once for retention, there is no requirement to conduct research. I’ve similarly felt adrift, as well as unsure of my areas of interest, professional identity, and how to tie everything together.

    Looking forward to hearing more about your process and experiences!

    • Sorry for the duplicate reply, I wasn’t sure my comment from yesterday was in moderation or just got eaten before being posted. Feel free to delete this one!

  3. Pingback: I Can Do This! Doing Research as a Non-tenure-track librarian. A Librarian Parlor Series, Part II – The Librarian Parlor

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