Interview of the Month: Elaine Li on the Transition from Student to Professional

It’s time for another librarian interview! This time I decided to interview a good friend, colleague, and primary role model for me in navigating the transition from student to professional with grace and confidence.

Elaine Li began her current position as bands librarian and logistics associate for the University of Illinois Bands in the summer of 2012. This position centers around serving all performing groups, conductors, and conducting teaching assistants with their music needs including acquisition, research, creation of part folders for student performers, creating edited parts, assembling scores, preparing materials for band related classes, and maintaining one of the world’s largest performance collections of band repertoire. Before her position as band librarian for the University of Illinois Bands, Elaine earned two bachelors and two masters degrees centered in music and library science. Her experience as an ensemble librarian is substantial and includes work at Interlochen Arts Camp, Tanglewood Music Center, and the Aspen Music Festival.

The topic of our discussion was how to transition from being a student to being a professional in the field. I was fortunate enough to be able to talk with Elaine as she navigated her first year in her current position, and even though I was still a student at the time, I remember many of the lessons I learned from her experiences. Now that I’m going through those same first steps, I’ve come to really appreciate the wisdom Elaine was able to impart to me!

MG: What made you decide to become a librarian?

EL: Ever since grade school, I kept being nominated for and working librarian positions.  I didn’t really think of it as a career and just did what was expected of me.  When I was deciding which career path to pursue, I discovered that I could feasibly and confidently imagine myself as a librarian.  I read over job descriptions and postings for librarians and could still see myself being successful with the work, and then I just went for it.  Looking back, it seems like this was where I was meant to be though: in elementary and middle school, I spent all my spare time in the library, helping out the librarians.  I loved going to the public library with my family and also loved looking up information and answers.  If there’s such a thing as having a “natural talent” for librarianship, maybe that’s what happened to me?

MG: In your transition from being a library student to being a new professional, what was most surprising to you? Challenging? Awesome?

EL: The most surprising thing about transitioning from being a library student to a new professional is how little change I really felt, maybe in part to the fact that I was working in library settings while also a student.  It was definitely – and still is – challenging for me to balance work and life or to let go of the urgent student mentality that there’s always something due or needing to be done.  There’s definitely always a million things that need to be completed, but in a strange way, there’s also a little more space to breathe.  It’s easy to get swept up in a new full-time job, especially for me, because I always feel like I have a compensate for a lot or am afraid of being too far behind my colleagues.  The most awesome thing was when I realized – out of nowhere – that I was capable and competent at my job and that I could achieve and overcome difficult situations: the feeling doesn’t come immediately or stay, but it’s a fulfilling moment.

MG: What has been the most challenging aspect of your current position?

EL: The most challenging aspect of my current position has to deal with confronting negativity, whether from myself or from the people that utilize the library.  I think it’s important to maintain a healthy perspective of what I’m doing and to keep illusions and assumptions at bay.  If the negativity is coming from others, it’s usually not personal.  Instead of letting it get to me, I think about where the other person is coming from and try to consider that in my actions.  I find that more often than not, engaging negativity becomes a waste of time and isn’t productive.  Taking a step back and re-assessing things usually helps get things back on track.  And it’s also important to know when to apologize: even if the incident wasn’t entirely my fault, the other person(s) felt a certain way, and if the situation is important enough, that might have to be addressed.  Another challenge is that many people still don’t know exactly what being a performance librarian of this scale entails from the day-to-day operations, and most students really have no idea what I do.  I think it’s a good idea to know what people are working with every day in order to place it in context of what I do, and that if there are opportunities to educate, I try to take them.

MG: What has been the most rewarding aspect of your current position?

EL: The most rewarding aspect of my current position is seeing a concert go from start to finish, even if there are bumps along the way, and witnessing the pride that students have in their success.  It’s gratifying when they are happy and you know that you’ve had a hand in facilitating that.

MG: Did you have any kind of mentor to help you with your transition from student to professional?

EL: I am really lucky to have friends in the same profession and all of them were like mentors to me as I was transitioning into being a full-time professional.  I was also in touch with my head librarians and mentors from music festivals where I had worked (I suppose I could call them friends too) and they also helped me navigate the transition.  My predecessor is also still in town, and she helped me out a lot as well.

MG: What advice would you give to other librarians who are very new to the profession?

EL: Always try to find answers before asking questions, but never be afraid of asking questions.  Keep track of every move you make and of things you find: they tend to become very useful later.  Have confidence in your authority no matter if you are a student or a new professional.  And always remember to have fun.

Some Useful Online Tools for Librarians

Are you ever overwhelmed by the sheer number of online tools available for librarians and other tech-savvy people? I will freely admit that I am. Nevertheless, I find myself wading through the multitudes to find the tools that best help me navigate my day-to-day work and teaching activities. While I am certainly no expert, I’ve taken the time to make a list of the online tools that have proven useful to me as a librarian swimming in a constant flood of information. Feel free to add your own favorites to the comments below!


Scoop.It – A platform that allows you to gather, organize, and share content from all over the internet quickly and easily. You can install a Scoop.It bookmarklet to easily scoop things you encounter, but I just use the website to scoop things and it’s worked fine for me. For each link you post, you can categorize it, comment on it, and easily share it via Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook. I’ve found it useful for keeping track of useful instruction ideas and things for LibGuides (when my library eventually gets them) and visually nice to look at. Recommended for those who often find themselves at a loss for where to store that perfect website they’ve found or are sick of searching through millions of bookmarks.


LiveBinders – Like Scoop.It, this tool allows you to gather information found on the web and categorize it for easy access, but LiveBinders also allows you to upload PDFs, Word Documents, and other files. LiveBinders can serve as an alternative to LibGuides and seems especially useful for instructional purposes, but I just discovered it (thanks to my tech-savvy boss!) and I need to explore it further. Recommended for educators or others who are looking for a way to organize their documents and websites all together.


Jing – A free software that allows you to capture screenshots and short screencasting videos, download, and share them. The software includes a little web-app that lives on your screen and allows to easily capture images on your screen–a tool that I’ve used countless times for LibGuides and PowerPoints (and this blog post). Many people have probably already discovered the joys of Jing, but I continue to find ways to use it in a wide variety of projects. Recommended for anyone who creates online projects that use visuals, or for those interested in making short tutorials.


Slideshare – a presentation-sharing tool that allows you to upload Microsoft PowerPoint slides or create slides from scratch that can be viewed online. This tool, when used well, makes presentations more palatable by focusing on visuals and making click-through easy for the viewer. I like it as an alternative to PowerPoint in LibGuides and other online platforms like blogs. Recommended for those who need to present information (with sparse text) in an online environment in a visual interesting way.


Poll Everywhere – a tool that allows you to poll audience members during a presentation using their cell phones and show results in real time. The program is automatically embedded into Microsoft PowerPoint, allowing you to add polls to slides easily. I haven’t actually tried it in a classroom yet because I’m still iffy about the idea of assuming that all students have cell phones or barring students from participating that don’t have cell phones with them (which is usually kind of a nice thing). Recommended for educators or presenters who want to make their presentations more interactive and interesting and know their audience members have cell phones.


Diigo – a free social bookmarking, research, and knowledge sharing tool created to mimic the ease of taking notes while providing a network for sharing and discovering information. Like ScoopIt and LiveBinders, Diigo can help you organize information you encounter on the internet, although the emphasis here is more on the social aspect of sharing the information. Diigo makes it easy to create groups, follow users, and follow the activities of those in your Diigo community. Recommended for those who like to share found online resources and gain inspiration from the findings of others.

Of course this only scratches the surface, but I thought these tools might be new to some readers and I found them especially useful as a librarian. Is there a tool that you use often that would benefit other librarians? Share below!

Getting IRB Approval

It’s true that not everything can be taught in library school, that there are some things that it’s really only possible to learn on the job. There are things that institutions do differently, there are vast differences in the academic libraries in existence, and who you work with once you get a job will be completely unpredictable. However, there is one area of my position as a tenure-track faculty member that was not touched on even ONCE in my time as a library student at the best library program in the country.

Writing for publication.

Now that I’m a tenure-track librarian, not only is writing for publication a boost to my qualifications and an important way to contribute to the field–it’s a lifeline to my job. Why wasn’t this topic mentioned in any of my library school classes? Why wasn’t there a research methods course offered?

Well, I can’t tell you. But I can describe my own experience setting out on a path to publication without much knowledge of what I was doing. This is a work in progress, so be prepared to hear more later.

Finding a Topic

I still don’t have this one figured out. Choosing a topic to research is a careful decision that could impact the direction of the researcher’s entire career. At the same time, as a new librarian my options for research are limited to things that I already know and directions that don’t take years of data-gathering to present. The biggest hurdle of all is that the topic that I choose should be something that matters. Something that others could benefit from hearing about. Us librarians are busy people, and no one is going to waste time reading about something that is not original and compelling. No pressure.

Getting a Mentor

There was no way that once I chose a topic I could immediately dive into the research without a little bit of direction from someone with experience. I was fortunate enough to find some friends among the faculty here that were willing to meet with me, talk about my research idea, and give me examples of IRB proposals. While I don’t want to down-play the expertise and intelligence of these mentors, I did find it interesting to learn that many faculty with doctorate degrees have already spent up to six years doing research before graduating and getting a position in higher education. No wonder they had it figured out so much more than me! I had spent two years studying to be a librarian (which was valuable! Don’t get me wrong), and in that time I had only written two papers longer than eight pages. The leap from these short assignments to a full length peer-reviewed paper seemed much larger than what the faculty around me might have experienced.

Long story short, I was very grateful for their help.

Writing an IRB Request

There was a lot I didn’t know before beginning the process of writing the IRB request–how hard it is to write good interview questions for one. I also learned that a lot of background information has to be assembled before any of the heavy lifting can even begin. Even if the results of my survey take my research to an unexpected place, I still need to have a foundation in place for my IRB proposal. This was a little surprising to me, and it took some time for me to commit to a direction for my research. In the end, I found that writing my proposal did a lot to focus my research and allowed me to approach it practically.

This stage involved a lot of writing, re-writing, and sharing my proposal with others for editing. I highly recommend that you use honest, serious scholars as your editors. They aren’t afraid to tell you how it really is.

That’s all there is to my saga of writing for publication at this point, but I hope to have more to share soon. If you have any experience (or frustrations) publishing your research, please share below!

Oh, and I found this blog post from the ACRL Blog helpful in my own explorations of publishing. Check it out!

Citing Sources Infographic

Below you will see my very first attempt at an infographic. It’s certainly not perfect, but I thought I’d share! It turns out that making infographics with Piktochart makes it easy to add and manipulate a whole array of ascetically pleasing elements, which is especially nice for those of us who are less artistic (i.e. me)–I would highly recommend it! If you know of any examples of good library-related infographics, feel free to post them below!

Citing Sources(1)

First Impressions of Being a New Librarian in a Strange Land

It recently occurred to me that not everyone would move across the country, leaving behind family and friends, and settle in a place she had only visited once, all for the sake of a job.  But this girl would.

I recently accepted a position as Reference Librarian/Government Information Coordinator at Georgia Southwestern State University, which is very exciting and, for all intents and purposes, exactly what I had slaved to achieve since January. However, (keeping in mind that I’m from Wisconsin), moving to Georgia without a significant other or any friends living in the entire state of Georgia started out as an exciting victory and very quickly turned into a cause for anxiety and fear. What if I was terrible at the job? What if the climate was so horrible as to make me hate it there? (Have you seen the bugs?) What if I didn’t find anyone my age to spend my free-time with? All these questions and more ran through my brain as I considered this huge life change. It all came down to one question (a question that I’ve been asked several times already by people living in sweet little Americus, GA): Why did you move here?

1) I wasn’t always so sure about what I wanted to do with my life, but over time it has become clear to me that teaching will always be a part of it. It has also become clear that I belong in the academic library universe–it’s where I feel most at home. So finding a position that allowed me to teach, gave me the autonomy to try new things, and didn’t overwhelm me with its scope was very important to me. The position I have now is the position I’ve been looking for.

2) For a librarian who is young (I’m almost as young as my students) and relatively inexperienced, GSW is a perfect place for me to begin to understand what being a professional librarian is like in a low-risk environment. My coworkers are not only accepting of new ideas, they expect them from me, even if there’s a risk of failure (and there always is). This is an environment that I can really benefit from and–bonus!–my employer can benefit from me being here as well.

3) Trying something new and uncomfortable is a good way to make big things happen. I’ve learned through experience that when I push myself and step out of my comfort zone, that’s often when the most exciting things happen–I encounter big opportunities, step into leadership roles, and expand my thinking and world view further than it has ever stretched before. These are things that can only be accomplished by being willing to do something a little crazy, like moving all the way across the country and taking on enormous bugs.

If there’s anything I could impart to my library student recent grad comrades, it would be that in order to do what you want (and after months of hard work and searching, I’m sure you’ve made a decision at some point that being a librarian is something you really want or you would have quit that dream by now), you might have to take some risks. You might have to sacrifice the location you wanted for the job that makes you happy,  you might have to sacrifice the fantastic salary you imagined for something a little more reasonable, you might have to sacrifice the comfort of a culture you’ve always known for something that, at first, seems kooky and strange, but eventually will become your own culture. I can’t say for sure at this point, but right now I feel that all the sacrifice was 100% worth it. Check back with me in a few months, but in the meantime, embrace your inner courage and reach for the job that you know you deserve.

Interview of the Month: Eleanor Lange on Library Management

I’ve decided that as part of my blog I will interview a librarian every month on a different topic. This month my lovely interveiwee (and my boss this summer) is Head of the Fennell Music Library at Interlochen Center for the Arts, Eleanor Lange. First, a little about Eleanor.

Eleanor began her work as the Head of the Fennell Music Library in March of 2011. She grew up in Knoxville, TN and graduated from Maryville College in 2000 with a BM in Vocal Performance. She studied voice, performed, and worked in Atlanta, GA (woohoo Georgia!) for five years before deciding to go back to school. Eleanor received her Masters in Library Science with a Music Librarianship Specialization in 2009 from Indiana University. After finishing her degree, she worked for the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University as the Band Librarian before joining the staff at the Fennell Music Library.

The focus of my interview with Eleanor was library management. As my own library manager, Eleanor runs the music library with fairness, common sense, and an open ear to the opinions of her colleagues and employees. All this and more has led me to respect her as a manager and wonder what her secret to success is. As someone who will be managing an employee very soon, I thought it would be a good idea to pick the brain of an expert manager while I had the chance …

MG: So what made you decide to become a librarian?

EL: Well, I was a performer and performers don’t make much money and I knew I needed to make a living. I also wanted to do something I was passionate about, and I had worked in a music library in graduate school and really felt at home there.  For a while in Atlanta I talked to a science librarian about what she did and, while being a science librarian isn’t exactly like being a music librarian, I learned a lot from her and developed a sense that that’s what I wanted to do.

MG: Could you tell me a little more about your background in management specifically?

EL: Sure. I was the band library assistant at Indiana University and managed two to three student workers. Then in the Variations Program (also at Indiana University), I managed two student workers as well.

MG: What would you say are the qualities of a good manager?

EL: A good manager needs to be open-minded and needs to listen to what everyone has to say when making decisions. Good communication is key as well. Sometimes you have to be stern, which is difficult, especially if there are age differences between you and those you manage—for example, I managed someone who was much older and had been here for a long time. You need to learn how to talk with a person respectfully if something needs to be changed.

MG: Well, you mentioned some of them, but what are the biggest challenges you face as a library manager?

EL: Being young and having older people as employees. Also, you might want to be everybody’s friend, but sometimes you can’t be. Sometimes you have to do things that make you not everybody’s favorite person, but your company needs that to happen. You have to learn to say no. You always want to say “Sure!” in customer service, but you can’t always do that.

MG: What would you say is your biggest accomplishment as a manager?

EL: Hmm… I guess learning to be a manager in this situation. I’m a manager in the library and in lots of other places—I work with faculty, conductors. I have to earn their respect and work with lots of different personalities. Also, I’d say teaching the interns each year is a big accomplishment.

MG: Have you ever had a really great manager? How did that person inspire you?

EL: Well, I really look up to Sandra [the Head of Interlochen’s Academic Library and Eleanor’s coworker]. She’s taught me a lot about how to convey things as a manager. She wasn’t my manager, but she was my advisor for my sound recording cataloging internship. She taught me how to teach, how to be a mentor–she was my mentor.

MG: If you could give any other advice–management related or not–to a new librarian, what would it be?

EL: Keep your mind open. Keep it open to new technology, keep it open when working with administration or managing employees. Listen to what others have to say and keep in mind that you’re the new person. My predecessor here at the music library wasn’t well-liked by everyone so I was under lots of pressure to do a better job than he did. I learned to listen to what my colleagues had to say and be a team player. Also, make sure you don’t back down all the time–speak your mind when you have an opinion about a decision. Sandra and I always communicate, so we always know each other’s opinion about decisions and that’s really important.

My First ALA or There’s a Parade of Bookmobiles?!?


There were over 15,000 attendees at the ALA Conference in Chicago. Just think about that for a moment.


That’s a crazy number of people! That also means a crazy number of sessions, programs, posters, exhibits, committees, round tables, social events … Needless to say, my first ALA was a little bit overwhelming.

That said, I had an awesome weekend at ALA. I learned so much about how to better serve library patrons, how libraries influence others, and, in general, what concerns librarians have in today’s world. Because there was so much happening at this conference, I could pretty much write a book about all the things I learned and experienced. However (you’re welcome), I’m going to refrain from doing that and instead give you a quick and dirty overview of some of my most memorable ALA experiences.

RUSA 101 – This session was a great way to meet other librarians, and because we sat according to the sections of our interests, I got to meet a bunch of other librarians interested in emerging technology and reference. Surprise, surprise, I am now on a list to help out with outreach for that section (MARS). Plus–bonus!–I won the book Canada by Richard Ford.

ACRL 101 – Yeah, another 101 session. Those things were everywhere! Actually, seeing as this was my first ALA conference, introductory info like the stuff presented at this ACRL program was just what I need. I was able to get a sense of ACRL’s values, their future programs (woo-hoo Portland 2014!), and ways I could get involved. Thanks to the program I met representatives from both the University Libraries and Instruction Sections, both of whom I already have contacted about getting involved further. Yay over-commitment!

Exhibit Hall – I think this place will be what heaven is like for librarians. I literally filled two (free) bags with free books. And one of the bags had a cat on it. ‘Nuf said.

Virtual Reference Discussion Forum – This was my first conference discussion forum, and it was really interesting to hear what challenges and successes librarians from all over the country and from all kinds of libraries are experiencing. It turns out that we’re all frustrated by a lot of the same things. It also turns out that librarians are smart, so talking through things as a group helped everyone find new solutions.

Bringing the Immersion Program Back Home – This session really made me want to participate in the Immersion program! It sounds like just the kind of uncomfortable, stressful, life-changing week I need. And all of the presenters seemed like fantastic teachers and librarians! Coincidence? I think not.

Building Your Professional Toolkit – Parts of this session were really relevant to me, and other parts (now that I’m employed) really weren’t. My two favorite speakers talked about emotional intelligence and effective management using the 4 F’s. Look up both concepts–it was really fascinating!

Lessons for the Librarian: 10 Tips for Teaching the One-Shot Instruction Session – This, I think, was my favorite session. Not only was the content fantastic and relevant, but the delivery was extremely entertaining. The session started when one of the speakers started singing “Moon River” into the microphone. And it only got more hilarious from there. Besides being really engaging, the speakers shared some great insights into improving one-shot sessions, such as the importance of enthusiasm, the idea that collaboration with faculty is key, and how helpful planning ahead can be.

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs): The Future of Learning? – Besides providing a thorough background of MOOCs, this session shared some of the controversial and difficult aspects of MOOCs and how librarians fit in. It was one of the most fascinating sessions I attended and one that I have already talked about at length with librarians back at home.

Alice Walker – This woman just RADIATES wisdom and peace, even as she talks about how horrible and violent the world is. Even though I’m not personally unfairly imprisoning people or causing children to starve, she made me feel a perfect mixture of crushing guilt and the inspiration to make the world a better place.

Worth every penny (and a terrifying ride on the L), my ALA experience was just what I hoped it would be: a chance to learn, make connections, and get lots of swag! Look out for me at ALA 2014 in Las Vegas!

What I Learned in Library School — Outside the Classroom

It’s been over a month since my graduation ceremony, and while I haven’t received my official Masters of Science diploma yet, I still feel that I’ve had enough distance from my library science education to reflect a little on its value for me as a new professional.

To give you some background, I graduated from the Library and Information Science program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign last May, and it took me two years to finish. My focus was on reference and instruction in the humanities (especially music), but I experimented quite a bit in my time as a student. In fact, many of my most valuable experiences as a library student didn’t occur in the classroom at all, which is why I thought it would be useful to share some things I learned outside of the curriculum of my classes. I realize that my experience was unique to my own choices and interests, but I hope that I have a few morsels of advice that could be useful for other recent graduates, those currently in a library science program, or those considering applying for a library science program. And comments from any others who have words of wisdom to share are very much welcome!

Get involved. This can be as simple as becoming a member of one of your school’s professional association student chapters or volunteering to help with the annual book sale. And it could be as ambitious as organizing a larger event at the school or representing your program by presenting at a conference. Being involved has so many benefits. To name a few: it helps you network and meet others with similar interests, it allows you to share your ideas and have an impact on your program, it (therefore) improves your program, it prepares you for professional work (being on committees, brainstorming programming, etc.), and it gets your name out there so that when an opportunity arises, people think of you.

Create Opportunities. Your perfect internship or practicum experience may not exist, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t take the initiative to create a niche for yourself. This could involve the creation of a new internship or volunteer opportunity, or it could just mean that you start a new program or project within an opportunity with which you are already involved. I really wanted some experience teaching, but I wasn’t able to get a graduate assistantship that focused on library instruction. Instead of just giving up, I created some workshops at the library where I worked, the Music and Performing Arts Library, that allowed me to implement learning outcomes, a lesson plan, and assessment techniques. Those workshops later provided me with valuable experience to put on my resume.

Make connections. This doesn’t just mean formal networking! There are lots of connections you can make in an informal way–after all, you are surrounded by hard-working, creative library science students every time you enter your library science building. I cannot tell you how many wonderful people I met in my program–including professors and staff–that I would love to collaborate with in the future. Sometimes, those connections can pay off in a big way, such as when someone you meet at a conference contacts you about a position at her institution (true story), but even when they don’t, they provide you with a valuable sense of belonging to your field.

Have fun. Library school goes by so quickly! It’s crazy to me when I think about the fact that I have GRADUATED library school–didn’t I just get here?? So enjoy every minute, from the conversations you have with classmates in the near-by coffee shop to the end-of-the-year cookout. I had some of the most fun I’ve ever had with other library students, and, I have to admit, if you’re reading this and you’re still in your library program, I’m a little jealous. 🙂

I’m sad to be done with library school, but more and more I realize that I’m ready to face the world as a professional and make even bigger positive changes in the library field. And thanks to my positive library school experience, I have a strong foundation to build on. Bring it on, libraries of the world!