Residency Run-Down: University of West Georgia Information Literacy Librarian Fellowship

This interview is with Anne Barnhart, Head of Instructional Services at University of West Georgia.  Ms. Barnhart describes the basics of the information literacy residency, as well as why UWG is a great place to learn about library instruction and why cover letters are so important for job seekers.  I know you will enjoy learning about this excellent opportunity for new grads.

UWG Collaborative Instructional Services space

UWG Collaborative Instructional Services space

Can you give us a brief introduction to the Information Literacy Librarian Fellowship Program?

We now are in our 2nd year of having an Information Literacy Librarian Fellowship Program that provides a two-year learning experience for a recent LIS graduate. Since I am the Head of Instructional Services, the fellowship focus is primarily on teaching. Few LIS programs have instruction courses and even fewer provide practical experience for LIS grad students. This fellowship is designed to fill in that gap. We learned a lot in our inaugural year and are modifying some of what we expect from the fellows for the 2nd year. We hope to make the experience even better!

Why was this program started? or Why does the University of West Georgia Libraries continue to fund this program? What makes it important to your organization?

Last year (2012-13) on July 30 the Provost gave us money for two 9-month positions so we could increase the number of sections we teach of our library’s credit-bearing course. I decided to advertise it as a “fellowship” instead of as a temporary position because I wanted to provide a safe place for new graduates to get the experience so many “entry-level” job ads prefer. Over the course of last year I made sure the Provost saw benefits to the whole campus so we could get ongoing funding. For example, the presence of the two fellows allowed me to adjust my own workload and start a long-needed faculty & staff development series called Good Librations. The Provost often attended these events and I was not shy about letting him know that we could not continue them without the fellows. In response he established a permanent funding line for one fellow and the new funding is for a 12-month position. I’d like to eventually have two fellowships, but I’ll take one!

UWG Libraries does not directly fund the fellowship. The money is from the Provost’s office as a “limited-term instructor” (not tenure-track). The Libraries chooses to dedicate this money to the fellowship because we see our role in instruction as not limited to our students, faculty and staff. This fellowship gives us the chance to help teach our professional colleagues and create new leaders within the field of information literacy instruction who can then leave UWG and teach new colleagues in future positions.

What are the main job duties of residents – do they differ from those of “regular” librarians?

The residents teach sections of our credit-bearing library instruction course (see here for information about the success rates of the course). They also work in the reference rotation (face-to-face and chat) and teach other library workshops. In the inaugural year we did not encourage any collection development or committee work. While we still will not make the fellows subject liaisons (due to the potential disruption to the academic departments if they were to have temporary liaisons), we will encourage future fellows to shadow a liaison in an area of their interest in order to develop those skills. And while only tenure-track faculty can serve on faculty senate committees, committee meetings are open to anyone so we will encourage fellows to pick a committee and attend its meetings to learn more about faculty governance.

Are residents paid? Do they get any other special benefits?

Residents are paid the same as other limited-term instructors. We learned what the salary is for limited-term 9-month positions across campus and then made the appropriate adjustments to make an equivalent 12-month salary. They have some support for professional development, mostly focusing on opportunities that are in-state. Thankfully there is a fabulous instruction conference (the Georgia International Conference on Information Literacy) in Savannah so the fellow(s) can just rideshare with other librarians attending. We hope to secure a grant to pay for fellows to attend ACRL’s Information Literacy Immersion program however at this point we do not have the funding for that.

What would you tell a potential applicants in order to convince them to apply for the program?

Our instruction program is a leader in the state of Georgia and beyond. Nearly every one of our instruction librarians has attended at least one ACRL Institute for Information Literacy Immersion track. Therefore Information Literacy fellows are surrounded by well-trained instruction librarians who are passionate about teaching. We have a collaborative environment and we all care about student learning and mutually-supportive professional development. We like to experiment with new pedagogies and we are not afraid of making mistakes. We reflectively introduce new concepts and methodologies and measure their effectiveness. Unlike institutions that are hesitant to change, the phrase “We have never done that before” usually precedes, “so let’s try it and see what happens!”

What are the eligibility requirements?

Candidates must be graduates from an ALA-accredited LIS program within the past 2 years and have an interest in teaching.

What does the selection process entail? How does it differ from the regular job application process?

The selection process included having applicants write an essay about their teaching philosophy. This was to help us determine interest as well as to check their written communication skills. For permanent (tenure-track) positions we conduct phone interviews and on-campus interviews. For the fellowship we only conduct Skype interviews and do not have a budget to bring applicants to campus. Unfortunately we also do not have any funds for relocation expenses for non tenure-track positions.

Any tips for students? Is there anything they could do to improve their chances of winning a spot in your program?

Students should take an instruction class if one is offered in their library school. I know not all schools have one and that is a large part of why we have this residency program. Students who are familiar with course management systems and learning technologies will probably have a better chance than those who don’t. My main advice is that applicants should read carefully what our program is about and tailor their application materials (especially the cover letter) to what we do that is different. Not very many libraries teach a credit-bearing course. Of those that do, very few teach as many sections as we do (about 30 two-credit sections per academic year). Our program is extremely instruction-intensive. Some of the cover letters we received were totally generic and it was obvious that the applicants had not really thought about the position. Those went in the “no” pile immediately. In order to increase their chances of winning a spot, applicants need to communicate clearly WHY they want to be HERE.

When will the next residents be picked?

Right now the plan is to pick the next resident in the spring of 2014 for a July 1, 2014 start date. I say “right now the plan is” because if the Provost surprises us with funding for an additional position this summer, we will adjust our plans accordingly. We won’t say no to new money!

Anything else you want to tell us about the program, or about job hunting in general?

Candidates should not underestimate the importance of a good cover letter. Entry-level positions (and our residency program) do not have that many required qualifications. Tailored cover letters are where applicants can stand out. We typically get 60-80 applicants for each position we advertise and it is easy to discard any generic-sounding cover letters. If an applicant cannot demonstrate that he or she has looked at our website or thought about why they want to be at UWG, we are not very likely to consider that applicant.

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Filed under Academic, MLIS Students, Residency Run-Down, Southern US

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