October is Library and Information Science Career Month at the Syracuse University iSchool! It’s an exciting time for new LIS students to learn about the vast and varied opportunities of the library and information profession and get inspired to try new things.
It’s also a time for second year students to begin to reflect on the skills they’ve gained from various library jobs, internships, and courses, and more importantly, decide where they want to go with these skills, what type of environment would make them happiest, and what kind of position would offer them room to grow as a new information professional.
All month long, LISSA organized guest speakers to attend its weekly meetings, held in Hinds Hall room 121 at 6 PM, and livestreamed on Adobe Connect. LISSA hosted Madeleine Charney, Sustainability Librarian at UMass Amherst during the first week of October. That was followed by a pizza party and professional development talk with professors Jill Hurst-Wahl and Rachel Ivy Clarke, who discussed the ins and outs of attending and presenting at library conferences.
Then a ‘New Librarians’ panel with recent graduates Natalie LoRusso, Felicia Davolio, and Briana Galea talked about their new careers and gave advice. Felicia is the Teen and Outreach Librarian at the Newburgh Free Library, Natalie is a Learning Commons Librarian at Bird Library on the Syracuse University campus, and Briana is a Clinical Outreach Librarian and manager of the Family Resource Center located in Golisano Children’s Hospital (a satellite location of Upstate Medical University’s Health Science Library).
Here is a snapshot of last week’s panel, where these three superstars shared how they searched for, landed, and are settling into their first year of their first library jobs.
What are your typical duties day to day?
Felicia: I typically work 9-5, and one day a week I work 1-9. I tend to spend 1-2 hours at the reference desk each day, and then the remainder of my day is split between teen/YA collection development and programming, and outreach.
Natalie: My day is similar to Felicia’s. I’d say I spend 2-3 hours a day doing reference, and when I’m not doing reference I’m attending meetings, workshops, webinars, and working on projects for task forces and library committees. If there is a lull in my schedule, I fill that time with researching instructional design. Since I want to develop further as an instruction librarian, this has become a personal growth project for me.
Briana: I’m mostly over at the Family Resource Center (FRC) at the children’s hospital, in a small, one-room library. I oversee 7 student assistants and I organize programming. The library is meant to provide patients with a sense of normalcy. When I’m not at the FRC I’m over at the Health Science Library, where I work about 4-6 hours a week answering reference questions. I receive a wide range of questions during my reference shifts. For example, one day I may provide a consumer with health information on their diagnosis, and the next may I might be pulling an article for a doctor or nurse.
How did you go about finding your job?
Felicia: I started applying in late October and graduated in December of last year. A lot of places I applied to wanted someone right away, so I couldn’t get those jobs since I was still taking classes. I looked for job openings on NYLINE and all of the Library system websites. The way I found out about my current job was through NYLA at the New Members Meet and Greet mixer they have every year. I found out that there was a teen position opening up so I kind of just kept my eye out for that.
Natalie: I think I was always passively looking for jobs throughout my experience at SU, to just kind of weigh the options to see what was out there. I’d look at different job postings that came through on listservs, but I really wanted to stay in Syracuse. I knew that a classmate had vacated the position I am in now, so I scheduled a meeting to speak with someone about what the job entailed. It turned into an on the spot job interview! I was contacted about the position a week later and began working at Bird.
Briana: I started as a student assistant at the FRC in February of 2016, and my boss who worked the position I am in now left that summer. I had expressed interest in having the job, but I was told that I couldn’t fill the position because I wouldn’t graduate for another year. So I asked for an internship instead and I got the internship. Through that internship I was picking up some of the slack from when my boss left. They did a round of interviews for the position and didn’t hire anybody. At that point my boss went to the director and they created a staff assistant position for me so that I could maintain the space. So when I graduated, I had to interview and give a presentation since I am faculty, but I was able to slide right into the position. I didn’t apply anywhere else because of my situation.
What classes did you take at SU that you find yourself referring back to? What skills did you learn at the iSchool that you are using on the job?
Felicia: IST 613: Library Planning, Marketing, and Assessment, helped me think about what I need to do and create for programming. I think my internships, shadowing, and the awesome networking I had through LISSA helped me prepare for my job most.
Natalie: IST 605: Reference and Information Literacy Services was helpful for me because of the reference I do. Plus, my internship at Upstate Health Sciences Library was helpful because it incorporated virtual reference. It gave me experience and some kind of a comfort level because I went in with some familiarity. Public speaking, which we practiced as a class in IST 614: Management for Information Professionals, really prepared me to teach and speak to undergrads about the library.
Briana: I took an advanced library management course which is offered irregularly in the spring. I really liked that course…John Sheridan was wonderful and our class was small. Since I am managing in my current position, this class helped me navigate my way in my space, and learn how to work with library administrators and hospital administrators. I also use what I’ve learned from IST 616: Information Resources: Organization and Access to catalog materials.
What are some things that you hadn’t expected and are now experiencing on the job?
Felicia: I didn’t expect to have to make so many contacts in terms of outreach. I thought the library would already have some community partners/contacts. I’m excited that I get to build in this area, but I am surprised that there weren’t many existing partnerships. I also thought I would be doing collection development for all teen materials, but this doesn’t include movies and audiobooks, which I didn’t expect. I’ve figured out how to work with adult services and youth services to get more YA movies into the library.
Natalie: I didn’t know that learning commons librarians were expected to teach. It was amazing how the other three learning commons librarians weren’t phased by my lack of experience and were willing to teach me. I would observe, then co-teach, then ‘free fly.’ I wasn’t sure if I’d like instruction but I really fell in love with it. It was unexpected but I’m really happy about it. Bird Library is a really nice environment for me to practice and get better at instruction.
Briana: I knew a lot of what I was walking into just because I worked there as a student. Because my position was technically unfilled for a year, a lot of the information about ‘who deals with what’ in the hospital kind of fell below the wayside, so I had to reorganize.
What is your favorite part of your job?
Felicia: I wanted to be a teen librarian; it was my dream job. So the most satisfying part is being able to work with the teens. For the summer reading program this past summer, I was able to form relationships with the teens and they’d keep coming back. These are the types of relationships my library was trying to build. The goal is to be friends with the teens and make them feel like the library is a safe place to come and spend their time.
Natalie: My favorite thing about this job currently is that I get to work with students a lot on the first floor, where all the action is. I like answering all the weird reference questions that come through…the ones that make you think “How am I going to figure this out?” I also get to work with department heads. So I’m sort of wedded and embedded. I like the variety of my work, and I enjoy how every day is very different.
Briana: I like that I have such a wide range of responsibilities. In the morning I could be helping a nurse find materials, and in the afternoon, I could be playing with kids on the floor. It’s really fun.
When you do reference work, what do you do when you receive a question that you have no idea what the answer is?
Felicia: There are a lot of things we don’t know that people want us to know in the public library. Today I had someone come in looking for certain census information from years ago, which isn’t easily accessible online. It’s a little uncomfortable having them stand there and look at me, so I will usually ask them to browse the library and come back in five minutes. If five minutes goes by and I still can’t find the answer, I try to at least find a referral (another library, a government agency, etc.)
Natalie: If I have no clue of the subject, say ‘business administration,’ I will point them to the Libguides or the liaison librarian. I let them know that I can help them with database research and finding articles but I can only go so far. Sometimes the out of the blue questions are the really fun ones. We had someone ask about a prayer room the other day so I recommended Hendricks Chapel and the prayer rooms at Upstate Medical.
Briana: I do medical reference and I’ve never done it before. My colleagues are very aware of that. So if I don’t know something I ask someone else.
Do you have any advice for current students?
Felicia: Go to everything, talk to everyone about what type of library work you think you’ll be going into…because someone might know someone. It also doesn’t hurt to go to something that doesn’t seem like a perfect fit with your interests either.
Natalie: Put yourself out there, be uncomfortable, and be okay with that. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and make appointments with people you don’t know. Learn how to self-advocate and discuss your strengths because that will definitely get you places.
Briana: When your professor asks you to go talk to someone about what they do it might sound like a hassle, but that’s how I got this job. Someone from my undergraduate institution knew a librarian at Upstate so I shadowed them for an assignment, which eventually led me to this position.