Tomorrow I start my new job, at a new library, so though I still have a few posts in the queue related to the work I had been doing, I wanted to write a post about what it was to work at ZSR, mostly for myself, to capture it as I think of it at this point in time.
ZSR as a Library
I came to ZSR (the Z. Smith Reynolds Library of Wake Forest University) pretty much straight out of college. My (now) husband and I took a 30-day Greyhound bus trip around the country after college, and then it took a few months for me to find the position there. I started out as a library assistant in Microtext, really as a placeholder, not even sure what it was I wanted to do with my life.
And in that position I found my career. I learned that not only did I love libraries (which I already knew), but that I loved working in libraries. I also found that I worked with some of the most caring and kind people who were genuinely interested in supporting each other. I found it was a safe environment to try new things. (Sure—look at that wiki, in 2004, complete with video, just to train microtext student employees! Nice job!) And that innovation and experimentation were increasingly celebrated.
Over time that supportiveness just increased. The ZSR community is incredibly helpful and creative, and above all: focused on the library’s mission: To help students, faculty, and staff succeed. I always knew I could find a partner in any project I dreamed up, and that it was safe to try and make things happen. Worse case: new ideas didn’t work, and we stop doing them. Best case: we developed entirely new lines of service! I was lucky to be involved in best-case scenarios for the most part.
ZSR Support for a New Professional
Those best-case scenarios? All kinds of things! I cannot emphasize enough how powerful an experience that is for a new professional. Dreaming up things and then making them happen? It sets the individual up to dream up new things and the library to benefit from new ideas. Win-win all around. And many of my projects happened with others collaborators, in the library, elsewhere at the university, and in one case, at other universities.
A few of the highlights included:
- the library’s first wiki, that was enhanced with photos and videos (as mentioned before)
- the library’s Toolkit of video-based tutorials which was well received both by students and the field at large, with my general partner-in-crime, Kevin Gilbertson
- the development and implementation of the library’s social software strategy, again with Kevin
- co-founding NC-LITe, a state-wide library instructional technology discussion group, with Steve Cramer and Beth Filar-Williams of UNCG and Kim Duckett of NCSU
- working very hard as the instructional design librarian to raise the profile of instructional design as a service and professional area of expertise on campus, and since then the larger WFU community has benefited from several new positions developed in this vein
- developing and teaching (most) sessions of a “teaching teaching” course, which I’m still blogging about here, over at least two academic years total
- co-writing our successful ACRL Excellence in Academic Libraries nomination with Susan Sharpless Smith
- facilitating the collaborative process of getting all teaching librarians on the same page to develop programmatic learning outcomes for the LIB100 program, and also leading committees to reinvent our course evaluations and assessment tools
- developing and teaching the first undergraduate class in the College that was conducted entirely online
- leading a small committee that worked to democratically draft a values statement for the entire library that captured who we are and who we want to be
- and working with one of the greatest groups I’ve ever worked with to create an open access, electronically available, information literacy textbook.
I also found that I really loved strategic planning, something I hadn’t been exposed to before my work at ZSR, but something I had the good fortune to do at the library level and the exceptionally good fortune to participate with at the University level.
In all of this, I learned that I had something to contribute and might actually be pretty good at this library work. I was able to do work that was meaningful to me from the front-lines perspective whether it was changing the processes in microtext, creating a new web service with a colleague, or inventing what it was an instructional design librarian would do at my institution. I was also lucky to be at a place that was happy to let me do what I thought I needed to do to do my job well whether that was conducting focus groups, usability studies, or adapting my teaching on a week-by-week basis.
In addition, like all librarians, I was involved in all kinds of committees from marketing to staff development to web to peer review to assessment to staff appreciation to various strategic planning initiatives. I liaised with subject areas, did reference hours, taught credit bearing classes, and administered our instruction program. I served on university committees and helped academic faculty teach more effectively through one-on-one consulting and workshops.
This broad experience was incredible. I learned a lot about how academic libraries function across all units, the student academic experience at Wake Forest, and the faculty teaching experience. I also learned to believe that I could make things better and that it’s okay to try new things. That’s an important lesson, and I know it’s not one that everyone is lucky enough to learn in their first job.
I also learned things about myself: that my favorite work is in the strategic/vision vein, that I like governance, that I could be effective in ALA, and that I wasn’t half bad at presenting.
And I learned this both from my day job as well as from my library’s support of my professional involvement outside of ZSR, which I won’t even go into at this point in this post, but professionally—beyond the walls of the campus—I was also incredibly encouraged and nurtured by my colleagues and mentors.
ZSR Support for an Employee as a Person
And, on personal side, I was in an exceptionally good place for the phase of life I was in. ZSR celebrates life milestones, and they threw showers for John and me when we were engaged as well as when we were expecting Leif. They were incredibly supportive and flexible while I was getting my MLIS, and colleagues always were interested in how things were going with Leif when I was just learning how to juggle parenting and work responsibilities. Not only that, but ZSR was very supportive of my writing, even being the contributor to complete the Unglue.it campaign for So You Want To Be A Librarian.
ZSR also supported getting to know people across the university, both in academic departments and in administrative units. I could walk into any meeting on campus and know someone, which is one of the blessings of a small institution. I could run into someone in the food court, and come up with a new service the library should offer that person (and people in their same situation) and a week later it could be a reality.
My small, but smart, awesome, and incredibly productive, instruction unit was a dream team to work with, and I’m sorry to not be there with them. I only got to work with our newest addition, Kyle Denlinger, for about six months! (Y’all watch him, he’s going to do big things.) And when I think of ZSR, what I think of is that I worked with many amazing colleagues, and my best friends. I had some of the most fun committee meetings I can imagine and somewhat regular falafel lunches with friends during the summer months.
I worked in two different units, three different times, for four different people in the nine years I was there, and though I never reported directly to the Dean, Lynn Sutton, I still had the amazing fortune to be able to have somewhat regular meetings with her due to various committee appointments. Lynn is incredible. She has done amazing things leading the ZSR library, and in some ways, the larger institution. And though I am so very excited about this next chapter in my professional and personal life, I’ll miss working with her.
In the remarks I gave at my going-away party (another milestone celebrated with colleagues) I included a bit about how I’m tempted to say ZSR was an incredible place to start my career, because it absolutely was for me. But that’s not actually entirely accurate. It’s an incredible place for people at any point in their career, because it’s a wonderful place with amazing people doing the highest quality work. And that’s absolutely true.
The Next Chapter
So, you should know by this point in the post, that for me to even consider leaving such a wonderful place would only be for the most incredible of opportunities. And I believe that’s what’s in store. Tomorrow I start at Virginia Tech, and I am inspired by what they’re doing and can’t wait to join in on the work. There are a lot of new people to meet, systems to learn, structures to take in, and things to do, and I’m ready. Here’s hoping I can start off the day right: figuring out campus parking!