Q: I am a co-chair of a junior faculty research roundtable. Can you give me some suggestions on how to keep it engaging for all the members?

Q: I am a co-chair of a junior faculty research roundtable. Can you give me some suggestions on how to keep it engaging for all the members?

Q: I have recently been appointed to the position of co-chair for my university’s Junior Faculty Research Roundtable (JFRR). JFRR is a forum for untenured library faculty to discuss their research ideas, concerns, and experiences. I have been brainstorming ideas on how to keep this roundtable engaging for all of the members. Can someone offer suggestions?

SM: Great question and one that many of us struggle with as we find ourselves involved with (and in charge of) discussion groups and committees. I have recently been involved in developing a writing support group for academic librarians in my area. The members are from various types of libraries, some are tenure-track and some are not. It has been challenging coming up with discussion topics — and a format — that will be of interest to everyone, every time. And… I’ve learned a few things: 1.) it isn’t possible to cater to everyone’s interests or needs because everyone is at a different stage in their research/writing, and 2.) these groups can be invaluable, if only to provide a supportive community and safe place to explore ideas and learn from one’s peers.

Here are some suggestions to help keep your roundtable engaging:

  • Have each meeting be focused on one particular aspect of the writing/research/tenure process. For example, have someone talk about how to analyze data, and perhaps give a demo of software or tools that he/she has used. And, for another meeting, have someone talk about the query and acceptance process.
  • Divide meetings into specific chunks (and keep track of time). For example: invite a guest speaker to talk for 30 minutes on a specific topic, then have a group discussion with questions for the speaker, and end with accountability talks which could mean going around the room to find out what each person is working on and to check in on his/her progress, or having people break off into smaller groups (could be based on type of project, or similar subject), to discuss in their groups.
  • Try to plan out future meeting topics in advance so people know what is on the agenda and can schedule accordingly. Not every topic will appeal to everyone, and that’s OK.
  • At the end of each meeting, give attendees a goal to aim for by the next meeting (or within a certain time frame), whether that is gathering research, writing five pages, or sending query letters and answering CFPs.
  • Encourage collaboration. Help attendees find mentors or potential co-authors, who can help support them on a particular project. Everything is more fun with a partner.
  • Use the meetings to actually do some research or writing, to find and discuss CFPs and to get started on some part of a project. Have attendees write for ten minutes – give them a topic (or writing prompt) if they need one. This can help to get the creative juices flowing, and provide them with something to take with them, because we know that getting started is typically the hardest part.
  • Assign reading materials for discussion — use the group as a book club, in a sense. We can’t be good writers without first being good readers.
  • Partner people up into accountability pairs, so they can communicate between meetings and help to keep one another motivated.
  • Incorporate some fun into it. Tenure can be a stressful process, so try to lighten it up with practical tricks and tips to help any writer, and discussions on non-scholarly writing (blogs, newsletters, trade magazines, etc.).

It is a lot of work to chair committees and roundtables and to organize meetings and come up with topics, so I applaud your efforts to seek out suggestions and I hope that I’ve provided you with a few that you can use to help make your roundtable discussions a tad more engaging. Good luck!

Q: How do I convince my director to let me go back to school?

Q: How do I convince my director to let me go back to school?

Q: I work in a small academic library that employs three librarians, two paraprofessionals, and eight to ten student workers. Many academic libraries desire their librarians to have a second masters degree, usually for tenure, although our institution does not have tenure. I am the only one of the three librarians who does not have a second degree. I want to pursue a second degree, but my director is not supportive of my desire to go back to school. It’s very frustrating, as I want to continue my professional development. In addition, our institution offers a tuition benefit and work release time to take classes. Help!

TA: On the surface, this seems like a difficult situation to resolve. On one hand, you have your desire to pursue further education; on the other, you have your director’s desire to keep his/her relatively small staff on the job, not in class. You need to use this as an opportunity to work on your negotiating skills. Start by looking at the issue from your director’s point of view, and then try to address these concerns in your discussions about pursuing a second degree. Your goal is to make this a win-win situation.

You have many daily opportunities to negotiate: new assignments from a supervisor, a project timeline, plans for action in a library committee, scheduling shifts with student assistants. In any of these, you look at what works best for everyone affected, yourself included, before coming to a successful resolution. This situation is no different. Let’s take a look at some of the possible pros and cons of pursuing a second degree:

Pros: continued professional development; subject knowledge will enhance job performance; your institution provides tuition benefits and work release time; taking classes shows you are engaged in the university and in your profession. Cons: with a small staff the director may need you on the job, not in class during the day; the director may feel that you will be more marketable after a second degree and worry about your leaving; the director may also be hearing concerns from other staff members about picking up the slack if you are away at class or working on assignments; the director may not value a second degree as much as you do.

There are of course many other possible pros and cons, but, starting with this list, let’s see how we can bridge the gap and make this a winning situation for everyone.

First, you will need to address the director’s concern about your absence. Look at possible course schedules – is there a way to minimize your time away from work during the traditional workday? Perhaps you could take a class during your lunch break, or an evening class after work? Easing into classes in this manner will reassure everyone (the director included) that your coursework will not affect your professional work.

Next, have a frank discussion with your director about why you would like to pursue an additional degree. Discuss how you have mapped out a plan to ease into classes with minimal disruption to your work schedule. Explain your need for continued professional development and lifelong learning, and that another masters degree enhances the subject expertise necessary for today’s information professional.* Point out that taking classes will make you feel more engaged at work and in your university community. Finally, emphasize that your ultimate goal is to better serve the patrons in your own institution.

You may not be able to change your director’s opinion about the value of a second degree, but after hearing how important it is to you (and how careful you’ve been to allay these concerns), he/she may allow you to pursue it. If the answer is still a firm no, in addition to pursuing additional educational opportunities, you might want to consider pursuing other professional opportunities.

*In its Statement on Professional Development, the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) explains: “Professional development is an important manifestation of the academic librarian’s commitment to personal excellence. It is a necessary response to a rapidly changing environment.” The statement goes on to comment on the responsibilities of librarians and of academic institutions in supporting professional development.

SM: It sounds like you are in an exceptionally difficult position, and there is no easy answer. Ultimately, if you really want to continue your education, and this is the right time both personally and professionally, then go for it! Try to make it work in your present, albeit not ideal, situation. However, my cautious side can sense some possible dangers. Moving forward may create tension and animosity in the workplace, which could make your work environment miserable and which could also affect your attitude, your school work, your outlook on the profession, and your happiness.

Keep in mind that not all institutions grant tuition reimbursement (much less release time), so you may not have this assistance in your next position. This is a wonderful opportunity that will surely benefit your career as an academic librarian and potentially open up new doors for you in the future. On the other hand, getting a second masters degree while you are working will probably take several years. Are you prepared to either tough it out in your present position, or potentially lose the tuition reimbursement if you leave your job?

It is impossible to look into the future, and often difficult to think outside of your present environment, but this may be a time when you might want to try. The ACRL Statement on Professional Development (linked above) makes some important, expansive observations on the profession and offers excellent advice that applies directly to your situation.

Tiffany’s suggestions are great… weigh the pros and cons and come up with what is right for you, at this time. Map out a plan and have a discussion. If you can come up with a plan that shows how this degree will benefit not only you, but your workplace, and you can convince your boss that the (minimal) time off from work will not negatively affect the library or its employees or patrons, then you have a pretty good chance of getting the approval and support that you desire. Good luck!