Guest post written by Ameet Doshi.
After spending nearly a year in a seemingly fruitless search for my first post-MLS librarian position, I became frustrated enough to leave the country and wander around New Zealand for almost a year. Thinking back, it was undoubtedly an impetuous but wise decision. I had been saving money for a “big” trip and the difficult job market only helped to focus my effort on trying to see the world a bit before eventually embarking on a career in academic libraries. I managed to get a visa that permitted me the ability to work on farms around the country, so I spent a number of months thinning apple trees on a New Zealand apple orchard. There was lots of down time on the farm and eventually I got around to reflecting on my career choice. Initially, I struggled with the whole idea of even becoming a librarian. First of all, my family seemed a bit disappointed with the decision, since they hoped I would enter into a more traditional field (i.e., medicine, engineering or law), like many of my friends in the Asian Indian American diaspora. Secondly, although I had an outstanding graduate school experience at the University of Tennessee (Go Vols!), and I have always loved libraries (public, academic and special), I still wondered if I would fit into the culture of academic libraries. It was during this time of soul-searching that I came across an online job description for a two-year, limited term “resident librarian” position at the College of DuPage (COD). The College of DuPage is a large, very diverse, community college located in the Chicago suburb of Glen Ellyn. As it was described in the job ad, the residency seemed tailor-made for me. It was located at an academic library, would permit me opportunities to teach, connect with other faculty, work at the reference desk, and generally contribute in a meaningful way to the library and the College. The residency did not seem like a standard internship, instead, I felt like I would be able to leverage my knowledge, enthusiasm and skills, albeit temporarily, to make a positive impact on the lives of their students. Also, given my doubts about my decision to become a librarian, this residency would be an excellent way to enter into the world of academic librarianship and really test myself.
Now, looking back, after nine very exciting and wonderful years as a professional academic librarian, I am incredibly grateful for the experience. The residency at the College was very much a two-way street: I attempted to inject the library with enthusiasm, energy, new ideas, and a different perspective, and they supported me with opportunities to perform a wide variety of tasks and engage in many meaningful experiences. For example, I expressed an interest in film, and was subsequently asked to assist with collection development of the heavily utilized film collection. I remember how proud and excited I would become when one of the not-so-well-known films I had selected for the collection (I used to call them “hidden gems”) would get checked out. The residency also allowed me the chance to teach classes across a variety of subject areas that I had an interest in including: English, Architecture and Sociology. For the first time, I recognized that I truly enjoyed being in the classroom and helping to design interactive exercises to get students engaged with the library. I even had the opportunity to co-design a course with a member of the English faculty. I felt so honored to be such an integral part of the College’s academic team!
The residency also permitted me the flexibility to test new strategies for getting feedback and assessing the library. Specifically, I was asked to design and undertake a research project as a “capstone” to the two-year residency program. I designed a project to assess how well the library was responding to the needs of the many international and English as a Second Language (ESL) students at the College. I conducted numerous group interviews to collect data and compiled my findings into a report shared with the other library faculty and the library administration. These initial experiences helped to plant the seed of my interest in assessment and user engagement, which eventually led to my present role as head of the User Experience department at Georgia Tech Library. Having the freedom to pursue research interests matched the vision I had as an MLS student of life as an academic librarian. Prior to beginning the residency I was routinely questioning my career decision, however after starting the residency and getting a taste of the rigor and excitement of teaching, research and service, I was ready for more!
There were very few downsides to the residency. An obvious one is the fact that, because it is a limited term appointment (two years), as soon as starting the residency I was acutely aware of how quickly two years can go by. I felt some pressure to immediately contribute to the College and the profession, and to seek out as many opportunities as possible to eventually market myself in the murky waters of job seeking after my two years as a resident were up.
Overall, I doubt very much that I would still be in the library profession were it not for the wonderful mentoring and diverse opportunities I received as a resident librarian at an academic library. This unique role permitted me to teach, do research, work with students, work with faculty, and develop professionally. It was an experience that helped launch my career and I truly hope other young librarians have the opportunity to have similar positive experiences as resident librarians across the country.