Column Description: Librarianship can come in many different types of iterations. Which makes it such an interesting field to be in, you're never going to be bored. As librarians, it is not uncommon for new duties or responsibilities to be tossed our way. You might be asked (if you're lucky, sometimes it's not a question) to take on some new responsibilities and duties. It is entirely possible these new responsibilities might be something you are not familiar with and oh my, do you need to figure out what you're doing and fast. This column sets out to explore how we as librarians manage to learn new things on the job, for our job, and (hopefully) do it in such a way that no one suspects you’re flying by the seat of your pants.

Let’s talk about a feeling. It is a specific feeling; one you may be familiar with. It’s that feeling you get when someone asks you to do something or take on new responsibilities for someone who left or retired and you do not have the faintest idea what they’re asking of you. This has happened to me an alarming amount of times in the short span of my burgeoning librarian career. I am sure it has also happened to you. 

The first time this feeling occurred was when I started my first librarian job as a part-time librarian at the local community college. On that very first day, as my department chair was going over my duties with me, she referred to my experience teaching bibliographic instruction (BI). Nowhere on my resume or at any point in my interview had I ever said that I had taught anyone, anything. Let me repeat that this was my first job ever as a librarian and I had zero experience teaching any sort of class or speaking in front of a classroom of people. Cue me internally panicking as I stared blankly at her. 

My blank stare managed to clue her in, along with my confessing that I had not had the pleasure of teaching a BI class. We both had a moment wondering how I had managed to be hired with my lack of teaching experience. I, however, was not stymied by this lack. I was determined to have a successful career as a librarian and was not going to let this gap in experience set me back.

Enter the period of my career when most of my time was not spent on the reference desk, I was doing research on bibliographic instruction, which I learned was also known as information literacy instruction. Not to date me too badly, but when I graduated from grad school with my master’s degree, ACRL had yet to adopt their Information Literacy Framework. Those competencies were all brand new to me.  

Between running database searches and compiling a list of search terms and controlled subject headings and printing copious amounts of articles that I defiled with highlighters and notes written in the margins, I talked to my friends who were librarians at other institutions. I asked them how they taught their classes, what resources they referred to, and how exactly did one teach a class. Being able to reach out and talk to other librarians who already had experience was a lifeline. 

My department chair did throw me a lifeline in the form of having me shadow one of my co-workers while she taught a couple of BI classes. I tried to absorb as much as feasible while I was sitting in on her classes. She was a phenomenal instructor and used active learning activities frequently and effectively. Observing her instruction helped supplement the research I had done and showed me how the things I read about could be implemented in the classroom. My co-worker was quite willing to help discuss her learning style with me and it gave me that little confidence boost I needed to take with me into my own classes. 

Once I started teaching, I had several misfires and tried things that didn’t work at all. Every time I taught was a learning experience for me and I honed my own brand of instruction and did further research on what aspects of teaching I needed to expand on. I learned that one doesn’t just learn how to teach, it is a continuous process of trying something new, evaluating, and making your teaching and curriculum work for your students. 

I cannot say for sure when that feeling of “you want me to do what?” started to dissipate. I just know that eventually, I started looking forward to planning out my classes and pressing myself to create more active learning opportunities and ways to connect my learning outcomes with my students.

That feeling helped drive me to teach myself as much as I could as quickly and efficiently as possible in order to effectively do my job. My main driving force was my students. I didn’t want them to have a subpar learning experience, I wanted them to hit my learning goals and walk away with new knowledge; even if it was just where the library was located. 

Jessica Gavin has been working in libraries since she was 16 and discovered she could truly go to school and work for them as a career. Her interests range from information literacy, preservation, outreach & programming, cataloging, and research. She currently works as an academic librarian at Trocaire College, located in south Buffalo, NY. She has had several instances in her career where she realized she had no idea how to accomplish certain parts of her job. She is now a professional at taking on new job duties and pretending she knows what she is doing until she actually does.