Sheila García was the Resident Librarian at the University of Michigan from September 2017 – September 2019. She is currently the Professional Programs Liaison at Grand Valley State University.
Tell me a little bit about your background. Where did you attend college? What degrees do you have? What programs (undergraduate or graduate) prepared you for your current position? Tell me about your position and what you do.
I am currently a liaison librarian for professional programs at my alma matter, GVSU. Specifically, I am liaison to the Criminal Justice, Legal Studies, and Hospitality and Tourism departments. I believe much of my work in public libraries working as frontline staff have been instrumental in my current position, as I have been able to develop good relationships with colleagues, faculty in my departments, and students. My undergraduate degree has also been helpful, as I was required to take economics and international law courses, both of which provided me with a deeper understanding of methods and terminology used in the hospitality and legal professions. When I attended Wayne State University, I sought to stay in the public library sector, so I took various classes on cataloging and collection development. I don’t do much collections or cataloging work anymore (in fact, I do no cataloging work at all), but I did have a class where I worked with an education student at another institution, developing a joint lesson plan to teach information literacy in a K-12 classroom. What I learned from that experience regarding working remotely and balancing expectations was invaluable as I began to work with faculty in my current role. Most of what I do currently as a liaison librarian is teaching 1 or 2-shot classes in my departments. I also have a decent amount of 1-on-1 research consultations and work on developing online learning objects.
Most of my departments are increasingly offering classes online and I work with them to develop tools, such as videos or modules, that teach information literacy concepts and hopefully translate well to an online environment. I’m currently working on completing my first module and there’s a faculty member that hopes to pilot the module this summer, so I’m really looking forward to the feedback we receive! Aside from the day-to-day, I have joined the campus-wide Undocumented/DACA Student Task Force as the library’s representative. This committee works to support Undocumented and DACAmented students and keep our departments informed of any legal or policy changes that may impact these students lives both on and off campus. I’ve also joined a planning committee for our university’s Latinx Graduation Celebration, which unfortunately has been cancelled due to COVID-19. However, I do try to be involved with campus outreach efforts that center the needs of the campus community as I’m able and I’ve been lucky that I was quickly welcomed and able to start making an impact!
What caught your interest about the residency that you were a part of?
Well, to be completely honest, as a Latina, the value of familismo is one I feel strongly. I knew I wanted to try transitioning to academic libraries from public but I was unsure of how to do so while still being close to my family. Through my participation in the ACRL Dr. E.J. Josey Spectrum Scholar Mentoring Program, I was lucky enough to be connected with Valeria Molteni, who is the Dean of Library Services at Menlo College. She understood my concerns and mentioned that a residency program may best meet my needs as I had no prior experience in academic libraries. She sent me the job posting for the University of Michigan residency and after finding their Library Diversity Strategic Plan online (which at the time was quite lengthy – today it is 84 pages long!), I decided that this was an institution that had already laid some great groundwork and an institution I would want to work for.
Before you became a resident, what were you thinking about doing professionally or academically?
I was thinking of becoming a children’s librarian at my local public library. I had been doing programming as a library assistant for a few years so I felt that I could fit the role pretty well. My passion lay in working with the local Latinx community, and I believe I could have continued to work on projects related to adult services for the Latinx community even as a children’s librarian. Previously, I wanted to work in the nonprofit sector with refugees and immigrant populations. This is actually what led me to work at the public library in the first place – a desire to want to connect underserved populations with resources that best fit their needs.
How was the residency or job application process for you?
It was extremely stressful! I had never applied for an academic job anywhere and I had no idea it would take as long as it did. I felt pretty ok about my application materials. I felt I had made a strong case and when I was contacted for a phone interview, I figured it was a good sign. I also thought it was “the interview”, that after the phone interview, I would know whether or not I got it. My supervisor at the public library gave me some great pointers for the phone interview and only once it had ended did I learn that there would be a third round – the on-campus interview. I was VERY VERY nervous for the on-campus interview. I couldn’t believe that they were going to pay for a hotel room for me, reimburse my mileage, and that they were going to buy me dinner. I researched so many resources online about what an on-campus interview would be like. What was the dinner for? How heavy was the presentation weighed? My mentor reviewed my presentation, I practiced over the phone with her, and she also provided lots of great advice for the on-campus portion. I was not ready at all for the marathon that is an on-campus interview but everyone was very nice, encouraged me to take extra breaks and answered all of my questions. But I was ready to get out of there once the day ended as I was exhausted.
I really loved my experience at U-M. I felt well supported in my interests and I met a lot of great people that I continue to collaborate with today. I expanded my portfolio immensely and was able to build a research agenda. Also, my teaching grew by leaps and bounds thanks to the learning and teaching department at U-M and it really helped in securing my current job. I had a major life change happen toward the end of the second year of my residency and I couldn’t have asked for a more understanding and helpful group of people to work with. That life change was why I ended up leaving my residency early, but it was with the full support of my supervisor, colleagues, and residency coordinator, all of whom knew that it was something I needed to do for my personal well-being.
Do you have any comments or advice for current residents?
Don’t be afraid to push back and say no. I feel like this is advice everyone gets, but residents in particular are in a precarious situation. Residents have a limited amount of time to make the most out of the residency experience and it can feel like you have to take on every opportunity to learn and participate in something new. It was in the middle of my second year that I became comfortable with letting people know that I just didn’t have the bandwidth to participate or help with something. I owe much of that to my peer mentors (shoutout to Naomi Binnie, Jesus Espinoza, Shannon Moreno, Denise Leyton, and Rachel Woodbrook) at the library who noted that I had trouble saying no, as well as my U-M mentor Gabriel Duque. Folks were always understanding and I was able to focus my energies on fewer projects while still getting some great experience.
How are you becoming or staying involved with the wider profession?
I got involved with RIG on the Programs and Proposals Committee as a resident and since then have transitioned to the role of Incoming Convener for RIG. I am set to become Convener in July 2020 and I’m really looking forward to the impact that the work of RIG members will have not only on residencies, but the profession at large. I’m also very active in APALA, the Asian Pacific American Librarians Association. I am currently serving my second term as chair of the Constitution and Bylaws Committee. Other than that, I really keep connected with people through conferences when I can attend and on Twitter. Library Twitter in particular is great for staying connected, sharing resources, and learning about professional development opportunities.