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“Mapping Your Journey: Steps for Beginning a Library Diversity Residency or Fellowship” Summary

May 30, 2019

“Mapping Your Journey: Steps for Beginning a Library Diversity Residency or Fellowship” was presented by Amanda Leftwich on March 18, 2019, for the PaLA Connect and Communicate Series. Leftwich is the Online Learning Librarian and Diversity Fellow at Montgomery County Community College (often referred to as “Montco” or “MC3”) in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania. She started her position in August 2018. Her presentation begins by discussing the confusion with the terms “resident” or “fellow,” and how this can be misinterpreted as meaning that the person is serving as an intern. Quite the contrary, a resident or fellow is a professional who has recently obtained his or her MLS/MSLS, MLIS/MSLIS, or MIS, and who generally has less than three to five years of post-graduate professional experience. It is this desire to accrue more experience and to try different avenues which often encourages recent library graduates to apply for diversity and fellowship positions. These positions are temporary in status, typically ranging from one to three years, and can be tenure track. (At Montco, the positions usually last a year, although Leftwich’s particular fellowship has a two academic year duration.)

In 2008, Montco started its own  Faculty Diversity Fellowship program to promote diversity, providing mentoring to minority scholars in the early stages of their careers to allow them to develop their teaching skills as they continue to work on or complete their terminal-level degrees. Faculty fellows receive mentoring from colleagues, and in return, these fellows participate as mentors in Montco’s Minority Student Mentoring Initiative (MSMI).   Leftwich’s two-year fellowship is the only one of its nature in the cohort due to the ACRL Alliance agreement. She hopes that when the fellowship ends, she will be hired back as a permanent, full-time, non-teaching faculty. Her responsibilities include focusing on diversifying the collections, instruction and reference rotations (which include serving as an embedded librarian), committee work, and displays.

As with any new professional experience, Leftwich walked into her fellowship position with expectations, including knowing her coordinators’ meetings, scheduling rotations, having a designated set of responsibilities for the position, securing a mentor from within the department, creating goals and frameworks for the fellowship, and having no committee work. With a good chuckle, Leftwich explains that she did not know what this fellowship position would entail; she just signed her contract, departed from her previous employer, and entered the experience at Montco with an open mind and high hopes. As it turns out, the reality of her fellowship differed greatly from her expectations. There are no coordinators and the staff is too small for rotations. As for what is expected of Leftwich in her fellowship, she has been instructed to do what interests her, and responsibilities are not set in this particular environment. Similarly, there are no set goals or frameworks for her duration at Montco. Her mentor is from the Geography department instead of from within the library. And she has found that per her contract, she is required to serve on a committee.

Leftwich encourages those in a fellowship to ask the following questions about their journeys: What do you hope to gain from a residency? Are you looking for more reference or instructional experience? How will this position help you in the future? Is it worth the commitment? Have a clear definition of what your life will be like after this residency concludes because it will not be a permanent situation. Are you willing to be a mentor? Are you willing to be a part of a diversity initiative set by the institution? Are you willing to follow the goals and mission of the institution?

Be prepared to make your goals. Reflect and track your own work, including all work activities and accomplishments. Find a mentor or two, preferably someone outside of your department. Be a mentor. Get involved, both within your department and outside of it as well. Be flexible, but not to the point where you are a pushover. Ask questions at all stages of your residency.

Nothing is ever without its challenges and negatives, and a residency is not all “grins and giggles.” Leftwich also presents the challenges of her residency at Montco. For starters, she is the only fellow in her department. This means working alone on projects and initiatives without receiving feedback from someone on her professional level. She has no official coordinator and therefore must report to the dean. Again, she has no specified mentor, but she has found solace and support with her co-workers, in particular, the information literacy librarian. There is no communication about the fellowship position’s requirements or needs, so it does require discipline and structure to come up with your own framework of how you want this residency to play out and what you hope to gain from it. And while this may not seem like a challenge, Leftwich does find herself on some days with a lot of free time. She advises that you will need to structure your own day; you cannot wait to have it structured for you by your co-workers or deans. Leftwich also notes that there is no “publish or perish” culture on campus, although she does enjoy researching and writing. Since there is not a requirement among faculty to publish, there is no internal promotion of her writing when she does do it, and no one keeps track of it, except for Leftwich herself. This poses a challenge in that you want to be prepared should you go from a non-“publish or perish” culture to one that requires regular submissions for publication. Share your research externally, Leftwich advises.

Despite these challenges, Leftwich ends on a positive note, stating that you should take the opportunity to soak it in all and gain valuable experience from your residency. Remember to relax and enjoy the adventure!

You may view Leftwich’s presentation on YouTube.

Mapping Your Journey

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