Onboarding is the term frequently used for new employee orientation. It involves a spectrum of activities, from arranging for keys and parking permits to ensuring that an employee understands the organization’s mission, values, and strategic priorities. This column aims to provide practical tips for onboarding new business librarians from two perspectives—the hiring manager’s perspective and the new librarian’s perspective. This article is unique as it brings together perspectives from one experienced business library hiring manager, two new business librarians, and one early-career business librarian. While certain components of onboarding are standard, it is important to customize and personalize onboarding, so it meets the needs of individual employees. Why should we care about the onboarding of new librarians? More managers are recruiting librarians to fill vacancies due to retirements and studies have shown a relationship between effective onboarding and employee retention (Chapman, 2009; Corbin, 2020). New hires need tools to be successful, and thoughtful onboarding can help them feel integrated into the work of their team and larger organization.
The Hiring Manager’s Perspective
Onboarding does not begin on an employee’s first day. Hickey (2020) makes the compelling argument that onboarding begins with the recruitment process as language in job postings can indicate a library’s commitment to training and professional development. Wallace aptly describes onboarding as “a process” (2009, p. 168). It can take a full year to onboard a new librarian. Since onboarding is an extended process, managers should consult the many excellent examples of generic onboarding plans and programs found in the library literature (Ballard & Blessing, 2006; Corbin, 2020; Hickey, 2020; Wallace, 2009; Weiner, 2015; Williams & Davis, 2021). Williams and Davis’s advice that onboarding for new law librarians be “structured, purposeful, and engaged” (2021, p. 18) is sound guidance that should be considered by all library managers.
Business librarianship presents some unique challenges. It is difficult to get a sense of how many library and information science students are interested in pursuing this career path. Business librarianship is not a category within the list of options in the American Library Association’s (ALA) searchable database of ALA accredited master’s programs. The closest affinity might be “Special/Corporate Librarianship.” A recent search of the ALA database retrieved 28 ALA accredited programs listing this as “an area of concentration/career pathway” (American Library Association, 2023). It is also difficult to gauge course offerings focused on business librarianship. However, a review of reference in the library and information science curriculum indicated a decline of discipline-based reference courses (Mahoney, Reiter, & Zabel, 2020).
It is perhaps no surprise that many new business librarians feel unprepared. This lack of confidence has been documented in a group blog on the needs of early-career business librarians (Klotzbach-Russell et al, 2022). This blog entry focuses on findings relating to a newly created mentoring program sponsored by the Business Reference and Services Section (BRASS) of the Reference and User Services Association (RUSA), a division of ALA. Challenges reported by mentees included lack of a background in business and unfamiliarity with conducting business research.
There is a paucity of literature on preparing librarians for this career path. Zabel’s (2016) chapter on business librarianship gives readers a sense of what it is like to work in this specialization. Sample reference questions based on the author’s experience convey the complexity of business research. She breaks down the key components of business research (company research; industry and market research; and environmental scanning) and provides practical tips for honing skills that will help librarians become proficient in finding this information. The chapter also addresses the need for business librarians to understand the intersections with other disciplines. Managers can integrate advice found in this chapter into an onboarding plan.
The hiring of a new librarian is exciting for the unit and the entire organization. Here is a checklist of tasks that should be completed throughout the onboarding process. Hiring managers will, of course, need to tailor this list to accommodate specific position requirements, organizational resources, and institutional policies.
As soon as an offer is accepted in writing, the hiring manager should extend a warm welcome to the new employee. Ask if you can help connect them with housing or other relocation resources.
Send out a library-wide announcement about the upcoming arrival of a new librarian. Provide a brief profile of the librarian’s educational background and relevant work experience. Indicate the new hire’s primary job responsibilities and their start date. Check with the new hire to see if they are comfortable with a profile that includes information about hobbies, interests, or other personal information.
Send out an announcement about the new hire to relevant departments, research centers, and colleges. Indicate how this individual’s work will support these units.
Ask the employee about their preferences in terms of a computer, telephone, and office furniture. Ask them how they would like their name to appear on their office nameplate.
Help the new hire navigate the onboarding process established by human resources. This is critical since your institution may not allow an employee to start work until certain tasks have been completed.
Arrange for office keys, access to the building after hours, and any other necessary permissions in terms of facilities.
Create a calendar of events that includes departmental meetings, library-wide meetings, relevant forums and workshops, special events (such as library sponsored open houses and boot camps), and library social events. Do not forget to include paid holidays and other special days. For example, Penn State Libraries has designated Wellness Days throughout the calendar year.
Help the new hire make connections with library and university employees who may have shared interests and hobbies.
Welcome the new employee to the unit. This might include an informal coffee meeting with team members and others.
Ask a colleague to provide a tour of the unit, especially since individuals hired during COVID-19 or those who were hired remotely may not have had the opportunity for an onsite visit.
Review operational procedures. This would include information such as access to the building after hours, building security, and evacuation of the building due to emergencies.
Make sure that the employee understands the process for requesting time off. Also, explain the protocol for absences due to illness. If your institution has adopted a flexible work policy, explain what is required of employees.
Add the new employee to the library directory and relevant email lists. It is also important to authorize any necessary permissions. The lists of permissions may include the following: computer access; access to the circulation system; access to system(s) in place to track reference transactions and research consultations; access to system(s) in place for the ordering of materials; an account for the creation of learning objects and tutorials; access to the system for chat and email reference; and access to a calendar system for reserving group study rooms. If a librarian has faculty status, they will also need access to any university-wide system in place for recording professional activities.
Arrange for the new hire to have lunch with a colleague and a campus tour.
Wrap up with the hiring manager. Ask the new employee about how they think their first day went and answer any questions they might have. Reassure them that they will have time to learn how to do their job well and that the organization wants them to be successful. Also, let them know that we are interested in learning from them. Many new hires contribute ideas about practices in other libraries from their past employment or internship experiences.
Ask a colleague to give a tour of the main library. This is a great opportunity to informally introduce the new hire to employees outside of the unit.
Arrange individual meetings with other librarians on the team. This provides an opportunity for new hires to learn about the unit’s mission and resources to support that mission. Ask each librarian to provide an overview of their work and to highlight some core databases and other resources in their liaison areas.
Schedule one-on-one meetings with librarians in other units whose work intersects with the new hire’s assignment. This might include meeting with information literacy librarians, STEM librarians, or the librarian who specializes in providing support for patents and trademarks.
Schedule training with the IT department (or have the new hire complete existing training modules) in order for the employee to understand the infrastructure and processes at your institution. This training might include an overview of computer security systems, cloud-based storage options, and the process for submitting help tickets. This also provides an opportunity for the new hire to ask about the availability of specialized software and other computing needs.
Make sure that the new hire has unscheduled time to explore the library website, existing course and subject guides, and complex databases.
Weeks Two through Four
Arrange for brief one-on-one meetings with appropriate administrators. Although a new librarian may be anxious about meeting the dean of libraries, for example, assure them that the dean is very invested in their success.
Reach out to key vendors and make a virtual introduction. This is a good opportunity to ask database account managers to provide customized training or to provide links to recorded training(s) for this new employee. Account managers for business databases have always been very accommodating of these requests.
Arrange a meeting with acquisitions staff to provide an overview of acquisitions, serials, database licensing, and database troubleshooting.
If course-related instruction is part of your new hire’s core responsibilities, arrange for them to observe instruction done by colleagues.
If participation in a chat or email reference service is required, arrange for your new librarian to shadow a colleague on this service. Share any existing training materials with them.
Although your new librarian may have experience creating a subject or course guide, make sure they are aware of your library’s best practices relating to the creation of these tools.
Share strategic plans (for the library, the university, and relevant colleges). After the employee has had time to read these documents, schedule a discussion of how these plans impact the unit’s work.
Introduce your new hire at library-wide meetings.
Arrange for your new hire to tour other subject libraries on your campus. This is another way to broaden your librarian’s internal network and to reinforce the many intersections that business has with other disciplines.
Make sure that the employee is aware of any library or university forums and conferences that might be of value and encourage their participation.
Advocate for new librarians to join and participate in specialized listservs like BUSLIB-L.
Encourage the employee to spend time on developing their knowledge of business resources. This might include enrollment in “Business Reference 101,” the excellent online course delivered by Celia Ross through the American Library Association (specifically, RUSA BRASS). Recommend that the librarian read the second edition of Celia Ross’s primer on business research, Making Sense of Business Reference: A Guide for Librarians and Research Professionals (ALA Editions, 2019). New business librarians should also be directed to an update by Hal P. Kirkwood of a handbook that has trained generations of business librarians, the 4th edition of Strauss’s Handbook of Business Information: A Guide for Librarians, Students, and Researchers (Libraries Unlimited, 2020). Library managers should carve out time for the new librarian to complete this professional development, cover registration costs for this course, and ensure that the library has a copy of these core texts.
Encourage new librarians to keep up with developments in business librarianship by reading articles in the Journal of Business & Finance Librarianship and Ticker: The Academic Business Librarianship Review.
Beyond Week Four
Schedule time to discuss the annual performance review process. If librarians in your unit have faculty status, schedule a series of meetings to discuss the expectations for librarians at each review cycle. Encourage your new librarian to attend any training (library or university-wide) relating to the tenure and promotion process.
Meet with the new hire and map out a strategy for internal and external service (if the latter is required). If your library is large, there are generally many opportunities for new librarians to be appointed to committees. However, it is important for the hiring manager to ensure that a new librarian does not get overextended in terms of service. In terms of service to the profession, this is a great time to discuss membership in professional organizations such as RUSA BRASS and the Special Libraries Association (SLA), noting that this organization has a Business & Finance Division. Although it is unlikely that your library will allow university funds to be used for personal memberships in professional organizations, remind employees of any funds that may be available to cover costs associated with attending professional conferences (virtual or in-person).
If your new librarian must conduct research and scholarship, make sure they do not feel overwhelmed by this requirement. Meet with them to discuss their ideas for projects. Encourage them to start with something less daunting than a peer-reviewed article such as a poster session, database review, or non-refereed article. Encourage librarians in your unit to collaborate on scholarship.
Finally, remind your new hire about the importance of doing their primary assignment well. Monitor their progress in librarianship. Intervene if there is evidence that they are struggling in areas relating to their core responsibilities. Reassure them that there is a whole community of business librarians who are rooting for their success.
New Business Librarian Perspective
Entering the workforce after completing an educational degree can be daunting in any line of work, and academic librarianship is no different. It is not uncommon for new librarians to feel imposter syndrome as they start a job, especially if it is their very first position post-MLS. Even if someone has participated in internships and library-related work prior to becoming an academic librarian, there is much to learn about specific institutions and the nuances of a position. This is true for many reasons, but it can be especially overwhelming as librarianship is often not sequestered to the specific college or department that one works in but involves understanding various local, statewide, and national processes. Clark et. al. (2014) conducted a study on imposter syndrome within librarianship and found that younger and newer librarians had higher levels of imposter syndrome than their peers. This is supplemented by data from Martinez and Forrey (2019), who found after surveying 172 early-career librarians that 85% felt insecure and underqualified as they began their new role.
Concurrently, business librarianship is unique in that it encompasses a vast variety of subject areas that each have their particularities. Research, teaching, and outreach can look different across all subject areas within business, potentially resulting in new business librarians feeling as if they lack certain knowledge. One might think, how can I be considered a subject specialist in an area in which I have not had formal education or prior work experience? The authors of this section identify the greatest challenges of a new business librarian as: becoming proficient with databases and physical resources, especially the most used; understanding library organizations and external institutions to get involved in; and choosing which opportunities to devote time to in terms of outreach, committee work, and instruction. They seek to provide practical advice for new business librarians beginning a new job.
Tip 1: You know more than you think you know about business
As a consumer and someone who is learning and working in times of high technology use, you know much more about business than you think you do. Even something as simple as grocery shopping keys you into topics such as inflation, brand awareness, marketing, and more. Using, or at least exploring social media, allows you to keep up with trends to understand what is most important to users in different industries. As a business librarian, you start to be more alert when it comes to these topics, and you can more easily keep in mind how what you see and consume is impacting part of the customer base that you work with. Once you start to realize this, jumping into business librarianship and its many topics should hopefully not seem as intimidating.
Tip 2: Take advantage of opportunities to engage and learn about database costs, license negotiations, contractual arrangements, and general collection development
One thing that surprised the authors as they attended library school was the lack of preparation regarding learning about database costs, license negotiations, and general collection decision-making, which is especially poignant in times of social, political, and economic upheaval. During the COVID-19 pandemic, some database vendors increased subscription costs while many academic libraries faced budget cuts. Librarians were faced with critical collection decisions that would impact the work they do with their patrons. Entering the profession during this time and attempting to make such decisions without proper knowledge proved difficult. Furthermore, many of the collection development practices and issues highlighted by the pandemic will continue to impact collection decisions in the future. As such, librarians entering the profession in the next few years will continue to face interesting conundrums when assessing their collections.
While library programs often provide collection development courses, based on the author’s experience, many of these classes discuss general budgetary concerns about entire library expenses or developing collection policies. It is unlikely that these classes cover specifics, such as database and license negotiations. For some of the authors, they were not aware that they would be directly involved with such processes in their formal positions. Accordingly, the authors suggest learning about these topics and how to handle them right away. If there are library-wide selector committees or budget-related meetings, new librarians should try to join. This is especially crucial if the librarian works in a setting in which they are the only, or one of the few employees who handle such procedures.
Tip 3: Establish formal and informal mentors
Many libraries have mentoring systems set in place in which formal mentors are assigned to guide new hires through promotion processes. However, the authors also encourage seeking out informal mentors, such as colleagues in the same department or other departments that are willing to answer questions and potentially let you shadow them during instruction. Cohort groups for tenure or non-tenure promotion that meet biweekly or monthly are useful for sharing experiences; consider establishing these if they are not already in place.
Tip 4: Take time to understand national librarianship and networking opportunities
As noted, another multifaceted aspect of academic librarianship is its national, and global reach, and the opportunity to network. As there are many ways and places to get involved, it can often be overwhelming to understand where to devote efforts. It is useful to spend time asking about the benefits of certain conferences and which ones are crucial to attend depending on specific interests, as well as where and how to join committees. An example for business librarians: joining the Business Reference and Services Section (BRASS), which will be further discussed, and getting involved with a committee or two, is a wonderful way to meet other business librarians and stay up to date on current publications, developments, and other news in the world of business librarianship.
Tip 5: Sit down with your databases
Carving out time to fully learn databases, especially the most utilized ones, is critical. If possible, the authors suggest setting up database training sessions with vendors or watching recorded trainings. Since instruction requests often rely heavily on the use of one or multiple databases, it is recommended that the librarian run through the class project as if they are the student to explore what the patron will see. If any databases in the library system have not been formally reviewed yet, new librarians could consider writing a database review as it allows total engagement with the resource. New librarians can also practice writing reviews just to have this informal experience. Finally, as previously mentioned, Celia Ross’s “Business Reference 101” professional development course is a great way to learn how to use databases, especially for specific research questions.
Tip 6: Utilize Business Reference and Services Section (BRASS) and other business librarian- related workshops and learning opportunities
The BRASS section of ALA offers a great amount of general information on business librarianship. There are monthly BRASS discussion groups in which business librarians from around the nation gather to discuss current trends within the field, promote workshops, and more. In addition, many BRASS committees provide engagement opportunities year-round, including at the annual ALA conference. BRASS also offers helpful business research guides as well as several awards, including travel and research grants. The ALA New Member Round Table (NMRT) group also connects librarians new to either ALA or the profession with resources and opportunities to network with other librarians through virtual coffee chats and relevant programming. Though not business specific, NMRT is a particularly useful component of ALA, and many business librarians are members.
Tip 7: Hone non-traditional skills
Acquiring the MLS degree and working during the pandemic has required many new librarians to adapt to working primarily online. The authors encourage new librarians to hone skills acquired during the pandemic, such as familiarity with Zoom and other virtual video conferencing services; video recording and editing capabilities; proficiency in teaching tools such as digital badges, Jamboard, Padlet, etc.; and other technology-related skills that can bolster research and instruction possibilities. Being able to adapt quickly to both virtual and in-person environments indicates much needed flexibility in an ever-changing work environment.
Tip 8: Ask a lot of questions
Do not be afraid to ask questions, whether it is with your mentor(s), supervisor, colleagues, etc. It is highly unlikely you will receive pushback for asking questions, as business librarians are often communal and eager to see their colleagues be successful.
Tip 9: Learn your faculty
Business faculty are often working on a variety of new research projects and are consistently developing engaging classroom experiences that combine academic learning with real-world experiences. It is useful to gain a general sense of what your faculty do. The authors suggest researching faculty profiles, attending faculty meetings if possible, getting on faculty discussion lists and newsletters, and potentially conducting in-person office hours in business buildings to consistently establish a librarian presence and interest.
Tip 10: Remember your interests
While interviewing for academic librarian positions is certainly an ordeal, with some strategy, you can continue to reap the rewards of the effort you put into interviewing. Look back at the position posting for the job that you applied to: Was there a certain opportunity that interested you? A center in the business school you felt excited to collaborate with? An anti-racism initiative in the libraries you wanted to contribute to? An OER program at the libraries you wanted to learn more about? In the frenzy of accepting a new job, possibly moving, and onboarding, it is natural that you could have lost focus on the smaller projects that caught your eye when you applied. Your manager and team have likely remembered conversations that went on while you were interviewing for the job and would be eager to connect you with those opportunities.
Tip 11: Respond to calls for volunteers
At a large organization, it is likely that you will not interact with all your colleagues regularly. Keep an eye out for calls for volunteers to work outreach events such as welcome events, finals week events, or open houses. These events are a great way to get to know other library staff that you may not work with day to day. Your presence and help with events will surely be appreciated. The relaxed and student-focused atmosphere at events can also provide a casual way to get to know your new colleagues.
Tip 12: Identify areas of weakness
It is likely that you landed the job without meeting all the qualifications listed in the posting! Look back at the posting for the job you were hired for or examine available postings for other librarian positions. Are there skills that you will need to develop before you go up for promotion or take on leadership responsibilities? It is a privilege to be hired into an environment that seeks to develop early career librarians, so make the most of it. You can seek out projects or training that give you the opportunity to develop a new skill set. If your hiring manager hired you while knowing that you did not meet all the required qualifications, they should have an interest in developing you as a librarian. As previously mentioned, do not be afraid to ask questions or admit that you do not know something.
Tip 13: Understand how your work will be evaluated/promoted
As part of your onboarding, your manager should provide clear guidelines for how your workplace performance will be evaluated. If you are on a tenure track, the schedule for various stages of appointments will be established. Check in with your director and mentors (formal and informal) about guidelines and deadlines for evaluation.
Tip 14: Record what you are doing
As a complement to the previous tip, you will also benefit from maintaining a record of your work. Even in the early days of your career, the projects you complete, instruction you observe, and connections you make are contributing to your body of work as a librarian. Your library may rely on certain software for inputting and recording librarian activity, or you can use your preferred tools to keep a record of what you have done. Consistent record keeping can also help you identify gaps in your skillset, or areas of librarianship where you have less engagement. Record keeping will also allow you to look back on your work to identify themes or your growth as a librarian. This will also make your life easier when annual performance appraisal or work plans are underway, since you will have a convenient record of your accomplishments.
Tip 15: Do not be afraid to say no!
For a final tip, the authors wish to emphasize the value of saying no. Burnout among librarians is a well-documented occurrence. Geary and Hickey document the prevalence of burnout among librarians, with 72% of respondents reporting experiencing burnout (2019). Early in your career, you will likely feel pressure to say yes to everything that is offered to you. It is natural to feel eagerness to get involved in your new workplace or to feel a sense of obligation to accept all proposals or ideas. If a colleague proposes a project that interests you but causes concern about constraints on your time (especially if four other colleagues asked you to join projects that week), it is perfectly acceptable to decline their offer. There will always be more opportunities to get involved. Talk to your manager or mentor about how best to structure your time and energy to work in a way that is sustainable. Setting boundaries and learning to say no are other skills you will develop throughout your career.
Early-Career Business Librarian Perspective
Even as you move past your official onboarding period, you will continue to encounter opportunities to learn and grow as a professional as well as contribute to your organization’s mission and the wider business librarian community. The advice presented in the previous section of this article will continue to be relevant. Librarianship is a profession that requires a willingness to be a lifelong learner. Some practices, like observing colleagues’ instruction and exploring databases and other information resources, will benefit your practice regardless of your current career stage. The author of this section seeks to build upon the advice offered by her colleagues based on her experience at two business libraries over the course of the first seven years of her career.
Tip 1: Keep asking questions—and prepare to answer them
As you become more comfortable in your role, you may find that the types of questions you have change, but there will still be value and opportunity in asking questions. You will develop a better understanding of when to use which resources when you encounter common reference questions, but that does not mean you won’t encounter another stumper. You will become more comfortable with reference, instruction, collection development, and other aspects of your work, but you’ll find that seeking input from your colleagues will provide additional perspectives that you may not have considered. You will build relationships with library colleagues and business faculty with whom you work closely; continuing to start conversations and learn more about their interests and practices will strengthen your relationships.
As you move forward and become part of your institution’s community and the business librarian community, you will also become someone your colleagues come to with questions. Helping new colleagues get up to speed can be a rewarding experience, and collaborating with colleagues to tackle shared challenges can lead to creative solutions that draw on multiple experiences and perspectives. As mentioned above, even if you are still new to your institution, offer your perspective—you have valuable insights gained from previous employment or internship experiences to offer.
Tip 2: Take opportunities to be a mentee and a mentor
Even as an early-career librarian, you will find yourself in situations where you will benefit from formal and informal mentors and situations where you have insights to offer as a mentor yourself. Topics where business librarians are seeking mentorship include instruction, outreach, collection development, and career development; chances are good that you have a perspective to offer fellow new and early-career business librarians (Klotzbach-Russell et al, 2022). You may, for example, begin to feel confident enough in your knowledge of business topics and information resources to offer advice to new business librarians on navigating business research but seek advice on career advancement or making do as the only business librarian at your institution.
Tip 3: Keep an eye on the wider landscape
Business librarianship, like academic librarianship in general, is not a monolith. Business librarians and libraries have different service models and priorities depending on the environment in which they operate. Some institutions have a team of business librarians; others may only have one subject liaison for business, and they may also be the liaison for other disciplines. Some business libraries are part of a business school, while others reside within the institution’s library system. Some business librarians may spend a larger percentage of their time working with business faculty on their research projects, while others may spend more time delivering instruction. Business librarianship is not one thing, and it is possible that your starting point will look different than where you end up.
Regardless of whether you are thinking about switching institutions, do not currently intend to change jobs, or are already transitioning into your next position, being in tune with what is happening in the national business librarianship landscape can help you shape your career. Consider utilizing professional organizations such as ALA’s BRASS and SLA’s Business and Finance Division to learn more about trends, issues, and concerns in business librarianship at the national and international level. Attend conference programs, workshops, and open discussion sessions which provide opportunities to learn about the work of colleagues at other institutions. Read job postings even when you are not looking to change jobs to get a sense of what academic libraries are looking for in candidates for business librarian positions. By doing so, you may identify skills you want to acquire or experiences you wish to seek out.
As you learn more about the national and international landscape, you will start to figure out whether there is anything you want to look for or try to avoid when considering your next move. Your current position may emphasize supporting faculty and graduate student research, but you’re more interested in a position that puts a greater emphasis on undergraduate teaching and learning—or vice versa.
Stepping into a role as a new or early-career academic business librarian can be daunting, but there is a large, collegial community out there to help guide professionals through the early days, months, and years of their careers. The hiring manager is the first line in the process of onboarding and is responsible for ensuring the employee has access to what they need to begin, to perform, and to understand the larger context of their work. Hiring managers connect new employees to resources networks within and beyond the library and the university. By utilizing these resources and networks, new and early-career business librarians will settle in, grow their confidence, and excel in their new role.
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