Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Article Note: On Outreach Job Ads

Citation for the article:

Boff, Colleen, Carol Singer, and Beverly Stearns. "Reaching Out to the Underserved: More than Thirty Years of Outreach Job Ads" The Journal of Academic Librarianship 32.5 (March 2006): 137-147.

Read via ScienceDirect.

When I was in library school, I worked at the campus's Information Commons. I was a graduate assistant for instruction, but I also did reference work and a few other things. I was surrounded by a good group of supportive librarians. The Information Commons' staff included a Multicultural Outreach Librarian. She still works there last I heard. Included in her tasks are outreach to various campus ethnic groups and implementing as well as coordinating a variety of cultural initiatives for the library. It is important work, and she probably deserves more recognition. She certainly could use a raise. I know; she mentioned it casually to me at one point while talking about library careers. At one point she asked me if I had considered applying for jobs with outreach components. I think my answer was uncertain back then. At the time, I was trying to keep my options open. For instance, at one point I was flirting with the idea of going into GovDocs librarianship. The idea of making the government and its intricacies accessible held a lot of appeal to a guy who believes in empowering others. Little did I know that my current job would include a significant outreach component. I should clarify that I don't do all the outreach. For distance education, our intrepid ILL Librarian is also our Distance Education Librarian. I deal mostly with the campus, something I am working on continually. At the risk of beating myself a bit, I will say that a hazard of me reading some of these academic articles is that I get neat ideas and reminders of things I want to do or implement. Then I torture myself a bit because my "to do" list gets a little bigger. I do remind myself that I can live to fight another day. In other words, the idea is to make progress gradually. But I am disgressing, so back to the article.

The article reports on a study of job ads for outreach positions as posted in College and Research Libraries News from 1970 to 2004. The authors distinguished between distance education, multicultural outreach/services, and specialized positions. The study looked at number of positions, position titles, skills and knowledge required, duties and responsibilities, and salaries. For context, the authors use the definition of the term outreach given by Wendi Arant and Pixey Anne Mosley in an article from Research Librarian: "They defined outreach as 'the act of extending services, benefits, etc., to a wider section of the population" (qtd. in 138). The authors of the article I read also note that they "did not consider position descriptions emphasizing fund raising, development, access services activities, or bibliographic/instruction liaison programs" (138). C&RL News was chosen as a source due to its wide readership and because it "provided a representative sample of positions advertised nationally over a long enough period of time to conduct a longitudinal analysis" (139). So, what did they find? I will just note a few items. I do think people will want to read the rest.
  • There were no outreach positions from January 1970 through December 1974 (139).
  • "The first outreach position to require computer skills appeared in an advertisement for a multicultural services librarian in 1982. It requested, 'Experience with either online searching or bibliographic instruction, especially the latter.' Experience with CD-ROMS was first required in 1988. Skill in using the Internet was first preferred in 1994, and in using the Web in 1995. The first position announcement to specify knowledge of HTML and the ability to construct Web pages appeared in 1996" (139). I think it would be interesting to look at things like these and compare to some of the latest job ads that can be classified as L2 ads. Professor Michael Stephens has highlighted some of these in his blog. Find an example here. Times are changing.
Findings from the article for distance education librarians include:
  • "The most commonly identified knowledge, skill, or experience for distance education librarian positions was use of computers (72 percent)" (140).
  • However, "responsibility for the use or design of Internet resources did not appear in position advertisements until November 1996" (140).
Findings, and observations, for Multicultural Librarians include:
  • "Universities have made significant improvements in their ability to attract a minority population, but retention has lagged" (141).
  • "Multicultural services librarians also have the potential to play a dual role. In addition to helping make a diverse student body feel more comfortable using library services and collections, they may serve as role models to attract minorities to become librarians" (141).
That last statement does not quite catch it all, so to speak. Very often librarians, and educators in general, who serve in positions like this may end up doing a significant amount of mentoring, advising, etc., as part of being a role model. These are important activities that often go unrecognized (not to mention uncompensated) in academic settings.
  • "Other libraries may have also filled their need for a librarian to serve an increasingly diverse user population first by recruiting a minority intern and successfully retaining the services of that intern in a full-time, permanent position" (141).
Findings for specialized outreach:
  • "The emphasis for many of the specialized outreach positions was to promote or market the library or perform other public relations functions" (142).
A First-Year Experience Librarian could be an example of this type of position. In essence, positions like these are usually program or project managers. These positions often specify a need for administrative skills. From my experience, during my job search, I interviewed for a position that fell within this type. Though advertised as an "instruction" position, it was really a PR and project manager with not as much librarianship in it. It sounded exciting, but not as much direct work with students it seemed. Anyhow, readers can tell I did not get it since I am where I am at now. What I am illustrating is that these specialized outreach jobs can have various labels. The lesson may be to read the advertisements carefully and to ask questions during the interview if clarification is needed.

Other findings and notes:
  • The authors found that ads for distance ed. positions have increased. However, ads for multicultural services have decreased. Reasons for the decrease may include recruitment difficulties and the hire of a successful intern into the full-time role.
  • Also, distance ed. positions often require supervisory skills and/or experience. Just ask our intrepid Distance Ed. Librarian, who supervises a staff of two library assistants and a student worker. In contrast, multicultural librarian positions were often entry level. This may be good for a new librarian who is outgoing, enterprising, and interested in outreach work. However, the authors point out that "the lack of supervisory or administrative responsibilities seems most problematic with these position descriptions. Without those responsibilities, it may be difficult for the multicultural services librarian to move into a higher level administration position" (145). Not to mention that without administrative power, a multicultural specialist may find some obstacles to implement some ideas and initiatives. Salaries tended to be lower for multicultural librarians too according to the study. The authors suggest it is due to the supervisory duties the distance ed. people often have that they earn more. I wonder if there may also be a glamour factor: distance ed., and nowadays things like "special projects," are way cooler than multicultural services. Just wondering at this point.
The authors conclude by providing some questions for further research. Some deal with issues of retention for these positions. There are some references in their list of notes I will likely check out, and others I have read already. Overall, an interesting article. On an aside note, I have to check if something like this has been done for my line of work.

On a final note, the following citations come from the article. They are items I am interested in reading at some point, but I don't have the time now. I will probably have to use ILL to get them:

  1. Schneider, Tina. "Outreach: Why, How, and Who? Academic Libraries and their Involvement in the Community." Reference Librarian 82 (2003): 204-
  2. Arant, Wendi and Pixey Anne Mosley. "Library Outreach, Partnerships, and Distance Education." Reference Librarian 67/68 (1999). (Special issue). This special issue also has an article on multicultural centers.

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