An Interview with Elizabeth Kraemer
“Although I am very busy, I have tremendous power to make decisions about my day. I can choose to adjust my schedule and work from home or develop a different curriculum for a class I am teaching that day.”
Elizabeth Kraemer is a Faculty Librarian for Kresge Library at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan. In addition to being a librarian, she is also an associate professor and coordinator of Oakland University’s Information Literacy program.
Elizabeth has a Master of Arts in Library and Information Science and a Bachelor of Arts in English and Latin. She serves on her university’s Assessment and Faculty Reappointment & Promotion Committees.
In your own words, what is a faculty librarian?
Faculty librarians integrate the research and service duties of librarians with the curriculum and teaching duties of faculty members. In my case, I may help other faculty to integrate research materials into their curriculum, or I may teach class sessions or entire courses on relevant subjects, such as historical research.
However, academic librarians are rarely tenure-track faculty positions, which makes my position so unique. Nonetheless, I think that faculty librarians are an essential part of any university research environment.
If a student said to you, “I am interested in becoming a faculty librarian,” what would your response be?
If a student said that they wanted to become a faculty librarian, I would encourage the student to develop a love of research and people, which I think are at the core of this profession. Librarians exist to help others find and utilize research. That may mean helping a student research a topic for his or her assignment, or helping a faculty member give a lecture on a weighty subject.
What level of education is necessary to become a faculty librarian?
The level of education necessary to become a faculty librarian is a masters degree in library science or information sciences. Some institutions expect a second masters degree in a subject area. Librarians who pursue PhDs in library science or information sciences typically only do so to become professors in library and information science programs.
Why did you decide to become a faculty librarian?
I decided to become a faculty librarian because that was my desire as a child and that was also the direction in which my academic interests eventually took me as an adult. I entered college and majored in English and then Latin, and found that I had a passion for research and the hands-on nature of librarianship. Ultimately, this passion moved me to pursue a masters degree in library and information science.
In fact, although I had originally envisioned becoming a cataloging librarian, the experiences that I had in my masters program eventually convinced me to integrate my love of teaching into my career and instead become an instruction librarian.
What do you enjoy most and least about being a faculty librarian?
One of the things I love most about being a faculty librarian has been the varied nature of my research and teaching opportunities. Rather than teach 3 or 4 of the same classes in the same discipline every week, I get to teach different classes every week across a variety of disciplines.
But I also enjoy the flexibility of faculty librarianship. My husband works a corporate job and cannot often miss a day at the office. In my case, I have the option to rearrange my schedule a bit and bring my work home with me if I need to.
However, I sometimes find it challenging to balance faculty work with traditional librarian work. The university expects its faculty librarians to both publish and serve on multiple committees or fill multiple roles, just as classroom faculty do, and these added expectations can make balancing my 9-to-5 professional librarian work with my faculty duties especially difficult.
What is a typical week like for you?
A typical week for me involves standard professional librarian duties, such as reference services, as well as teaching and tons of committee meetings. My librarian duties are enough to fill a workday and the research and teaching components add to the overall workload.
Although I am very busy, I have tremendous power to make decisions about my day. I can choose to adjust my schedule and work from home or develop a different curriculum for a class I am teaching that day. In this way, my schedule is atypical of most librarians.
How do you balance your work and your personal life?
As is the case for many working moms, balancing my work and personal life has not been easy. I have 8-year-old twins who are the center of my world, but my career demands that I spend time and energy apart from them. I manage the stress of this balancing act by choosing to prioritize my family and accepting the limits that this might appear to place on my career.
What personality traits do you think would help someone succeed as a faculty librarian and what traits would hinder success?
I think that the personality traits that can help someone succeed as a faculty librarian are inquisitiveness and flexibility. The kind of work that librarians do at an academic university requires left-brain thinking, but inquisitiveness engages the creativity of the right-brain. This creativity gives faculty librarians their interest in researching countless new topics every week.
Flexibility is key, as well, because librarian work has so many career options. For example, I could have become a corporate librarian or a specialist librarian who works with 1 specific topic area. I think that successful librarians must manage the variety of opportunities in the field to find a position with job duties that they like.
An inability to work with people, however, is the trait that I think can most hinder success. Librarians work with people all day, and often in a service capacity. In my opinion, the genuine passion to educate and work with people has to be there for a librarian to succeed.
Looking back at your formal education, is there anything you would have done differently?
Looking back at my formal education, the only thing that I would have done differently is choose an even more difficult masters program. A demanding program challenges students to learn. Knowing what I know now, I think that the best criteria for selecting a masters program should be price, location and rigor, but not ease.
Are there any extra-curricular experiences that you think a student interested in becoming a faculty librarian should pursue?
The most important extra-curricular experience a student interested in becoming a faculty library should pursue is a teaching assistantship or other practice-based internship. I think that the classroom environment can help students identify their strengths and career goals.
What classes did you take during your schooling that you have found to be the most and least valuable for the work you do today?
I do not think that I can identify particular classes that have been most or least useful because the classes have changed a great deal from when I took them 12 years ago.
However, a thing that I feel all students should learn during school is personal responsibility. I think that students need to take control of their own academic experiences and become responsible for their own education. In the library, for example, students who do not even know the names of their professors often come to me for help, which I think shows disrespect for their instructors and, more importantly, a disinterest in their own academic success.
What words of advice or caution would you share with a student who is interested in becoming a faculty librarian?
I would advise students interested in becoming faculty librarians to watch librarians and to research learning theories. The best way to learn about librarian work is to pay close attention to what librarians actually do, because in reality, we have so many more components to our work than people know.
However, I would also caution students not to pursue this career if their only motivation is a love for books. As a faculty librarian, the majority of my work is technical or research-oriented. Ultimately, I think a love of reading will not sustain a faculty librarian’s passion for the work.