July 1, 2010

Early career credibility

I've been thinking about credibility a lot lately -- credibility with students and in collaborative relationships with faculty. Being a new librarian, it can be difficult to gain trust when not only are you new to the organization, but also new to the profession. Some students are set in their ways with asking for help from a particular librarian, and some faculty do not seem as open to working with a new person they don't really know very well. Not always having the answers and having to ask another librarian for input doesn't always help the case.

When I asked my very excellent ACRL Instruction Section mentor what to do if someone asks a question in a session I am teaching and I do not know the answer, she told me it's okay to say that it is a good question and I'm not sure of the answer but will find out. This also applies to the reference desk; my supervisor has encouraged me to come to her with questions because since I am new, I am not expected to know everything. I have only had one teaching experience at this point, but when I'm on the desk and a student asks me something I don't know, I will first try to find the information together. On one hand, this can really work to my advantage by turning it into a teachable moment because once we do arrive at the information being sought, I can say "hey you did great it's really just trial and error," and it makes the student feel more comfortable with the library as well as asking me for help. That really has been one of my favorite scenarios.

However, and this has happened a bit too, when a student asks me a question and I really am baffled, I will have to say I'm not as familiar with that subject as my supervisor but I will go find out or go ask her to assist them. I've had a few individuals approach me at the desk and ask for my supervisor specifically, when I say she is not available, I really have been asked if I "know what she knows." I will tell them I might not know everything she knows but I know a good amount and would they like me to help them. Usually, the student will say yes and I am able to answer their question (or figure out where to find the answer). I feel like with the students, this will just take time for them to get used to seeing a new face and that I am able to be helpful.

When I see students again that I have helped, I make sure to follow up with them and ask how their paper or presentation went, and that usually seems to help form more of a relationship. Now I do have students come back to me for help without hesitation, albeit there still are a few that only want help from a specific librarian. Building relationships first with faculty, outside of anything having to do with the library, is another great piece of advice my mentor gave me.

I have not yet met most of who I will be working with from the faculty since it is summer, but I have been trying to provide good service regardless of whether it was asked for or not. For example, I am now sending out emails about new books to instructors in certain subject areas, and I plan to ask for input on collection development once I have more interaction with them; if I don't know an answer to a question, I follow up as soon as possible. One instructor came in looking for an online version of the Oxford English Dictionary, and I wasn't sure offhand if we subscribed electronically; my database and then catalog search took a little longer than I had hoped, so I made sure to later email him to follow up and point out the other online dictionaries we have instead of the OED and let him know where the print version was located for future reference.

I think I will need to explore faculty collaborations a bit more because I know some instructors in my subject areas do not bring their classes to the library (never have and don't necessarily plan to), and I hope to find a way to work with that -- or at least come to a compromise of sorts. Again, a lot of this will just take time, but I'm trying to get on the right track from the start. Hopefully, once I'm introduced to more instructors in my area I will have more opportunities.