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August Thoughts on the National Diversity in Libraries Conference

As the school year is about to begin, it seems like August is the month to scramble. At least, that’s how it feels for me. It’s been a month of deadlines, projects, vacation, but also conferences.

I had the opportunity to attend the National Diversity in Libraries Conference (NDLC) at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) Libraries and the Association of Research Libraries (ARL). The purpose of NDLC is to “highlight issues related to diversity and inclusion that affect staff, users, and institutions in the library, archive, and museum (LAM) fields.”

I was fortunate enough to not only participate as a panelist, but also as a poster presenter.  While it was my intention to write about the panel I presented with, I kept thinking of the whole conference itself. I have decided to divert just a little bit. Please bear with me, my thoughts might be a little scrambled.

I want to write about how great, insightful, and inspiring the National Diversity in Libraries Conference (NDLC) was. My favorite library conference so far, NDLC brought together a diverse, intelligent, and amazing group of librarians. The participants were met with warm welcome by not only the librarians and organizers of NDLC, but the UCLA staff that kept the campus running and beautiful.

The opening keynote was given by Lakota Harden, who is an organizer, poet, and activist. As I listened to Ms. Harden’s keynote, I was blown away at the honesty and the passion that Ms. Harden gave. The keynote by Ms. Harden set the stage and mood for the rest of the conference.

“If you walk out of this, know this: You have power.”

The night before, I sat down with the NDLC program and wrote out my schedule. Looking through all the sessions and panels, I saw a variety of topics, issues, and librarian presenters and participants from everywhere in the country.

Like many other librarians there, I chose sessions/panels according to my duties and research interests. One of my (many) memorable sessions was the very first one I attended after the opening keynote. “Discovering and Accommodating the Needs of Target Communities in Academic Libraries” was a session that was composed of lightning talks from librarians throughout California and the rest of the United States (and one librarian from Canada!).

When I attend conferences and pick my sessions, I want to be informed and learn about how other librarians are serving their students. That was the thing, “students.” I am ashamed to admit that I have (i am working on it) tunnel vision. I was so focused on what the students need, what they want, and what we can provide them with, that I completely missed others. I had missed faculty, community users, and staff.

One of the lighting talks that really exemplified serving the needs of all people at their institution were the librarians at Loyola Marymount, Raymundo Andrade and Jamie Hazlitt. Andrade and Hazlitt designed some workshops for underserved staff members at Loyola Marymount. These workshops, taught in both English and in Spanish, were library orientation sessions that were held according to the Facilities staff schedules.

Like any other workshop, it had its challenges, but also brought success and allowed the librarians to form relationships with other groups on campus. This presentation made me think of the power and impact of libraries. Not only for students, but other communities within the university. These workshops not only provide a gateway to information literacy, but they provide a deeper connection to the institution. After all, a university is not just composed of students and faculty, but staff who cook, clean the buildings and dorms, and work on the landscape to keep the university beautiful and welcoming.

There were so many great sessions and panels, but the work that the librarians at Loyola Marymount are doing stuck with me for the rest of the conference.

This is what libraries can do. This is what we should be doing.

I reflected on my own work and what I can do to further engage other communities on campus. I am still brainstorming, but more to come this semester. The rest of my time at NDLC was filled with sessions and panels about archives, community outreach, and many other topics. Of course, no library conference is complete without networking and getting to know your fellow librarians. NDLC truly felt like home to me. It provided a space where I was able to marvel at all the other librarians who are doing work that inspire me. Of course, this conference was made possible by a couple of people who I think deserve a huge thank you:

-To UCLA, UCLA Libraries, and ARL for hosting this great conference and giving us all a warm welcome.

-To the people with the blue t-shirts standing around campus, giving directions to the attendees, thank you. Without you, I would have literally walked around in circles.

-To the librarians who presented, I hope you continue to do the work you are doing. It’s important and should not be put aside.

Finally, to the librarians who I presented a panel with. I was so glad to finally meet you in person and I am glad that NDLC was the place for it.

Our Responsibility to Voters: What Librarianship Should Look Like During the 2016 Presidential Election Season

Since the RNC and DNC have taken place, the 2016 general election is at the forefront of everyone’s minds and news feeds. I wanted to use my final FYAL ACRLog post to talk about this topic of great relevance and importance to all of us while considering the role we should play as librarians at this crucial point in our nation’s history. This topic might also appeal to librarians in other countries who are looking to us with great interest and might also have reasons to engage with politics as professionals. As we cannot and should not push partisan politics on our patrons, the best we can do for patrons is to provide as much information and education as possible to voters, and to help encourage people to exercise their right and responsibility to vote. While the act of voting is far from being the epitome of democracy in my mind, it is one small way that people can make a difference for our country’s future (especially, during the general election, in swing states), and, as librarians who seek to help people become informed and empowered, we should be supportive of and encourage democratic processes, including but not limited to voting.

As librarians, we are expected to remain neutral (and presumably, then, also nonpartisan) especially when patrons are researching topics that are controversial or contested. To insert our own political opinions into our research assistance, teaching, or collection development would be a conflict of interest and an infringement upon our students’ and other patrons’ intellectual freedom – the freedom to explore issues autonomously and independently, without any pressure to conform to anyone else’s points of view. Instead, patrons should be able to freely research the facts and evidence, and come to reasonable conclusions on their own. We can guide them during that process, and help them find information and distinguish between information that is good – information that incorporates sound evidence – and information that is bad, oftentimes because it distorts the facts.

However, neutrality is a myth. (As have many before me have done, I have written more extensively about the myth of neutrality, especially as it relates to peer review, elsewhere.) While we should refrain from unduly influencing our patrons’ research, it is hardly possible to refrain from having an opinion on matters of importance. Besides, to not have an opinion is to silently accept things as they are. No matter what we say, our opinions will influence the types of sources that we point patrons to, and the ways in which we evaluate information with patrons. So it is extremely important that we are mindful of our opinions and seek to counterbalance those by presenting patrons with multiple viewpoints, all the while modeling careful, thoughtful evaluation.

We will have opinions, and that is a good thing as long as they are supported by evidence. To refrain from having an opinion, or to withhold it if we are asked to share it, would be tantamount to tacit acceptance of the status quo. By supporting the status quo, neutral librarians, or librarians who remain silent when asked for their opinions, implicitly support structures of power and privilege that are in place, structures that are oftentimes unjust and harmful, since we do live in an imperfect society. Thus, librarians can and should have opinions about history and politics. Obvious examples include having opinions about the atrocities that have defined our nation’s history, such as the genocide of Native Americans and forced removal from their lands, the enslavement of and accompanying atrocities against African-Americans, and other forms of discrimination and injustices committed on the basis on the race, class, gender, or sexual identity, for instance.

It is quite appropriate for librarians to have strong opinions on such matters, for us to be on the side of social justice and denounce some of the actions of our country throughout our nation’s history. Having a social justice orientation aligns with our professional ethics, which require us to make information available to all people regardless of their identity or the ways in which they are privileged or marginalized. Furthermore, knowledge is power, and by facilitating the processes of knowledge and understanding, we are empowering people and contributing to democratic processes. But in order to support these processes for all patrons, some fundamental beliefs and values are implied, many of which are also principles supported by the founding documents of our nation: equality, liberty, and justice for all.

What are our obligations to our patrons given these universal values and beliefs that our profession, too, specifically seeks to uphold? First of all, we can help voters come to informed conclusions and make informed choices. To be political and encourage politics is different from pushing political positions. There are so many things we can do to help educate voters that do not involve telling people who to vote for or who not to vote for. We can provide patrons with the tools with which they can figure things out on their own – figure out which candidates align with their politics and their values. We can point people to the resources containing factual information and evidence that might lead them to similar conclusions that we ourselves would make about candidates’ policy proposals, as professionals who are also political, as professionals whose values align with those values upon which our country was founded.

How else are librarians political? I would argue that there may be cases where we might want to be political publicly as a profession, and even partisan if necessary, if our ethics requires it. Censoring or prohibiting access to information, or violating patrons’ privacy, especially on the basis of identity alone, would be examples of cases in which we should publicly denounce candidates’ policy proposals. (Librarians and National Security: An Historical Review, by Joan Starr, provides a thorough history of librarians and our professional organizations standing up for privacy rights and intellectual freedom.) As things stand today, there might not be a reason for librarians to denounce certain policy proposals on the basis of our professional values, because such denunciations are already taking place from broad-ranging sectors of our society and such denunciations do not necessarily fall within our profession’s specific purview of information ethics. Currently, I think helping to reveal the truth about candidates through education is enough.

So, finally, what are our specific obligations to help educate and inform patrons? I believe, at the very least, we should provide education about the issues that are important in this election, and about candidates’ positions and policy proposals. I believe that we should view this as a duty, on the basis of our professional ethics and values, which include access to trustworthy information and the facilitation of democratic practices. We should also encourage people to vote, because this is one little way – though not the only way – that people can make a difference to the future of this country, and because it is a part of our mission to help empower people to make use of the information that they find in ways that support their values and beliefs.

I’ve compiled a list of some practical suggestions and pointers. Not every library will have the resources or the time for some of these, but if you do, please commit yourselves to some of them.

  1. Create a LibGuide, or other type of online guide, for voters. Make sure it is in whatever languages are commonly spoken at your university, besides English! Include resources for local and national issues. Promote it in your instruction sessions.
  2. Create a LibGuide, or other type of online guide, for international students and undocumented students, on understanding the election process and about ways in which they can help educate their peers or participate democratically even though they may not be able to vote. Make sure it is in other languages commonly spoken at your university, including Spanish if you have a significant population of Spanish-speaking students. Promote it in your instruction sections.
  3. Have a voter’s guide or handouts (one for international students and undocumented students as well) available at your reference desk, for those who prefer things in print and who might see it who might not otherwise look at a LibGuide. Make sure it is in whatever languages are commonly spoken at your university, in addition to English.
  4. Help your campus and local communities understand how elections work and what will be the impact of their vote. People can decide for themselves whether they vote based on their ideals or whether they vote strategically, if these two things are competing, but you might be able to help them understand the arguments for voting one way or the other. This can be a part of helping voters to become more educated.
  5. Organize a student panel or expert panel to help educate people about the issues or learn how to vote. We’re doing a student panel at my university as an official Debate event, since UNLV is the site of the final presidential debate. Students who are involved in the political process in some way (student government or local, state, or national politics) will explain their political involvement and discuss the issues and background of ballot initiatives in Nevada.
  6. Incorporate political issues or political information into your lesson plans. You can do this if you’re teaching evaluation, for instance. Have a range of viewpoints presented in scholarly articles or other types of sources, and help students sort out the good, factual and truthful information from information that distorts the truth. Or have your students look at annotated speeches in which the commentators perform fact-checking, as an example of evaluating for accuracy.
  7. Host a debate watch party. Have a panel of experts talk about the debate before or after, to help students unpack what happened and how it is important to their understanding of the issues.
  8. Promote all of these resources heavily, on your website and other marketing materials, and make it clear why this issue is important to the library.

If you’re a librarian, it’s okay to be political. It is good to be political; it contributes to our wellbeing as human beings who desire to make a difference in this world. You don’t have to push your political positions, but through helping to educate and empower voters, you are contributing to democracy and furthering the values of our profession. Our job shouldn’t stop there, though. We should encourage and support other forms of political involvement and other democratic processes as well. Some people may not be able to vote (or may consciously choose not to vote for whatever reason), but this does not mean they cannot participate in our democracy in other ways. Encouraging these processes aligns with our values and our ethics, it also contributes to the value of libraries, and we should see it as a duty.

Saying No

No. A word in the English language that we probably use every single day. The definition is “a negative used to express dissent, denial, or refusal, as in response to a question or request.”

We use it in our everyday life. However, when it comes to the workplace, it can be hard saying “no.” As a first year librarian, many people have given me their advice on the first year, settling in at a new institution, etc. I have been grateful for all the advice I have been given, but the one piece that stood out was “you don’t always have to say yes to everything.”

I understood what this meant. However, this is a little easier said than done. As a new academic librarian, I was ready to dive in. I found myself getting a lot of opportunities in terms of scholarship, service, and projects in other library departments. As I took on more projects, my schedule became busier and my workload increased. I felt that this was a good thing; after all, I wanted to be completely immersed in academic libraries.

I tend to have the habit of piling things, and working on them at the last minute. The workload piled up during the same time period. I would rush to get everything done and ended up being tired all the time. This is a result of taking on too much, but even when I knew I had a lot on my plate, I would take on more.

Why? There were a couple of reasons. The first reason was fear of missing out on valuable opportunities–not only opportunities that would allow me to gain valuable experience, but opportunities that would benefit me in terms of being able to get a tenure-track position in the future. I also did not want to say no because I did not want to disappoint anyone. Many of the opportunities that appeared, did not do so magically. Colleagues, friends, my mentor, and my supervisor let me know about them. Whether it was something they saw through email or something that they were working on, I did not want to seem ungrateful by rejecting them.

Further, as someone trying to put her name out there, I had the mindset that I could not afford to say no. It has been a little over 6 months since I have started my position, and it feels like a lifetime ago that I began this new job. The saying goes, “live and learn” Let me tell you, I have (and still have more to learn).

 

Now that I have been at my job for half a year, here are some lessons learned:

-As you go through your job duties, you will learn your workload limit. If you go past it, be prepared to work harder and know that it will be a stressful time. You alone know your limits.

-Plan ahead and schedule everything. My calendar is filled with proposal deadlines, conferences I am attending, web meetings, and dates of when projects are due. Not only does this include work and scholarship related dates, but it also includes vacation days and my research days or working from home. The reality is that sometimes I have to get work done during my own time, but keeping track of everything helps me budget my time. I have found that I rely very heavily on my Google calendar. Without it, I would be lost.

-There are times when you will feel overwhelmed. For moments like these, I like to make lists. I make a list for daily tasks and tasks/events that are coming up soon. Being able to cross off things on my list make me feel like I have been productive and makes me feel like my workload gets a little bit lighter.

-There were times where I saw all the scholarship that other colleagues were doing and made me question whether I truly want to go down the tenure-track in the future. For the first couple of months, I began to doubt whether this was something I wanted to do. Something that helped immensely was talking to my mentor. I spoke to her about my doubts and fears. When it came down to it, I just needed to talk about it to someone that had already been through the process.

-It’s easy to feel like you’re not doing enough or you feel that you could be doing more. I like to observe other people and how they go about their scholarship process. However, in the end, it is about your own work and your own process.

-I saw that when I took too much on, the quality of my work was not the quality that I had expected or hoped for. This caused many revisions and extra time spend on a project. I now have my own personal rule: if I am not willing to give 110% to a project, then will it be worth it to me in the end?

-Always be on the lookout for proposals or possible projects. It’s not just for ALA or ACRL, but there are other specialized conferences that might be a better fit for you. Look at the topics and dates and plan accordingly.

With these experiences in my first year, I have learned that it’s not just about yes or no. It is about learning your limits, exploring scholarly endeavors, and discovering new research interests. I still put too much on my plate, but I am learning as I go along. I think it is safe to assume that this will be a lifelong process.

Getting rejected in the library world. What now?

I would like to address something that might be slightly uncomfortable topic for some. Rejection.  I know it’s definitely uncomfortable for me. I had planned to write about this topic, but I had planned to write about it near the end of my tenure at ACRLog.

Rejection comes in many forms, but the rejection that I am talking about is the type you get in this profession. Rejection of a proposal, job-position, book chapter, grant, or article. As a first-year academic librarian, the first year (so far) has been great, stressful, and eye-opening. I would not trade this for the world, but that also means accepting what comes with it.

I submitted an article for an academic journal and in less than 24 hours, I got a rejection. Now, a rejection stings, but it stings even more when you read the comments.

“this draft would not be publishable as a scholarly article. It is really a rambling excessively personal  recollection of various experiences, without a clear thesis or focus. “

Ouch (to say the least). I had to go back into my email and fetch the rejection and copy and paste it into this blog post…and that alone was hard. I was crushed, sad, lost, and many other things that I cannot find the words for. I was still at work and it was right before my hour at the reference desk. I had to keep it together and keep myself from staring at the computer screen. Now, rejection is different for everyone. For the first couple of hours, I felt frustration and like the wind had been knocked out of me.

This frustration was not towards the journal or the reviewers, but it was frustration and anger towards myself. “This is my fault”, “I knew I wasn’t ready,” “This was my responsibility” were the thoughts in my head.

A lot of students in library school present at conferences or get their feet wet. I, however, did not get my feet wet. I did not have any experience with presenting or publishing, but I was eager to do so. It was a lot harder than I thought, but I knew that if one day I wanted to work as a tenure-track librarian, then I needed to get my act together. This was my first submission and the first rejection. Needless to say, it stung.

Now what? What was next? I needed to move past this and continue with my professional life.

“Moving past” are the keywords. It is not “getting over it.” No one wants to feel what I felt, but I believe it’s important to keep moving forward.

My first thought and question was if anyone had written about his or her rejections. At the time of my rejection, I would have never published my experience. I was too embarrassed and too ashamed.

I found a blog post that detailed the writer’s rejection with a well-respect library position in this country. In “We need to share our rejections,” Brianna Marshall aspired to become a candidate for the North Carolina State University Fellowship Program (NCSU). As it turns out, Brianna was not part of the pool of final candidates.

“It was hard to feel good about myself. Instead, I felt deeply disappointed and humiliated.” As I read these words, I instantly felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I knew I was not alone. I was so grateful that someone had been brave enough to write about their experience and to have the courage to put it out there for all to see.

“I remind myself that moving forward is a good thing even if it’s not always easy.” And so this is what I needed to do. I needed to pick myself up, make a plan, and move ahead. I had told myself that it was going to be alright, but for the first time, I actually believed it.

I believe that people can succeed on their own. However, when they fail, the help of others is absolutely essential. The rejection had sunk in and reading Brianna’s blog suddenly brought a moment of clarity. I do not know about you all, but when I experience these moments, I cannot sit still. I have to make a plan, I have to take action.

So, if anyone is in this position, here are a few things that helped.

  • Take some time for yourself and let it sink in
  • I strongly recommend reading Brianna Marshall’s Blog post “We need to share our rejections.” It made me feel so much better and I hope it can do the same for you
  • Once you feel a little better, make a list of goals. Both short and long term. What do you want to accomplish this semester? who can help you? How can you do it?

For myself, I find it therapeutic and important that I keep myself busy, especially after a rejection.

And here is the most important thing. Keep applying. Don’t stop. It could be hard to write something else or apply for a conference because of the fear of rejection. Not applying because of that fear would be worse.

 

To my surprise, many good things came out of this rejection. They were determination, acceptance, patience, and a feeling that maybe I should not be so hard on myself. I think this is definitely a situation where you can learn from your mistakes, but I also think that once all the harsh feelings pass, you can move on. That’s what I did, I submitted proposals for a conference and a symposium, and guess what? I got a panel proposal accepted for a national conference in California and a symposium for critical libraries and pedagogy.

I am proud of myself and know that rejection is a part of life, but that doesn’t mean stopping and giving up. It means moving forward and doing work that you can be proud of.

I know scholarship will be a difficult and long process for me, but I think I can do it. I hope that this post serves as a way for others to see that it’s not the end of the road if you get rejected, and most importantly, that we can and should talk about this topic.

The Born Librarian: My Professional Identity in Librarianship

creation
Michelangelo Buonarroti [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

You may have noticed from my last post that lately I have been grappling with questions of my professional identity. For example, I tried to understand or argue for the importance of libraries, and my best answer was that libraries’ most important role is their role as a public space and gatekeeper of information. I have been using writing as a means to work through these important questions; my professional identity is very important to me, and I want to develop it deliberately and carefully.

I recently had a draft for this current post, only to decide that I was too negative about librarianship in it, that I questioned my professional role too much and had no sense of assuredness or confidence about the “fit” of the profession for me. The blog post was about being a generalist, how librarians are generalists, and how, essentially, I don’t want to be a generalist. My biggest fear is that to be a generalist means that I didn’t really know anything, that I have nothing in which to anchor my intellectual pursuits. Librarianship is very “meta” – all about access, discovery, evaluation, interpretation, use, creation, dissemination…but I want to know the substance and depth of this information that we are providing!

Then I asked my Dean and mentor, Patty Iannuzzi, to read the post, as it had been a direct response to learning that she values librarians’ being generalists, because it results in more balanced collections and services. The conversation was stimulating and a little unsettling, perhaps for both of us – for her because I have professional identity issues, and I’m not the only librarian who has them, for me because I realized, through attempting to answer her questions of me, just how shaky the ground is upon which I am standing in terms of my professional identity. Patty is the biggest champion of libraries that I know, and I felt badly revealing these doubts and insecurities to her. But I knew that if anyone could help me solve those issues, she could. Patty had several challenging questions for me, one of which was about why I do what I do, and what role librarians have. My answers for her felt grossly inadequate. They amounted to “helping people do research,” or “helping people access information.” My answers felt so simple, even shallow, and I wondered: what makes these activities unique to libraries anyway? The truth is, I am not sure that librarians are indispensable. After all, I went through all of my academic programs, up until library school, without ever having to really rely upon library services or sources even. I was required to purchase all my course texts, which were core readings in the disciplines.

Oh my! Have I chosen the wrong profession? I will admit, this was my second pick, an alternative to my original plan and dream for life. Certainly I would fall into the category of “failed academics,” (if such a category should even exist, but it sounds so negative)! I attempted to complete two PhD programs prior to entering the field. I finished a different master’s program with the intention of completing a PhD and going on to teach in a specific discipline. In all honesty, I chose librarianship because of its convenience, and chose to leave the program I was enrolled in to attend library school because I needed to move towards financial independence at a faster rate than I was currently. I needed something stable, and I needed something that would be more likely to land me an actual job.

I acted very quickly (deciding and then immediately applying in April, and receiving an acceptance letter a few weeks later for fall enrollment). As a consequence, I didn’t think too much about what it means to be a librarian, or the crises or growing pains that librarianship is experiencing as a profession. Maybe in the back of my mind I was aware of the clichés that librarianship was dying, but at the time, it seemed like a very good, practical career option; I knew there were still jobs out there. I believe that I made the right choice given my situation, because librarianship has provided me with a good, stable job and that was my top priority. I also happen to like what I do on a day-to-day basis, and when I tell others that I am a librarian, I say it with a sense of pride, because people respect and revere librarians. I simply have yet to figure out its significance for me as a profession – as a vocation or a calling. I am like Jason Bourne – I have an identity as a librarian, and I am trying to find out the truth about what that means. I don’t yet experience recollection in this role – it doesn’t feel familiar. It’s as if I have this new identity that comes with a past, a history, that is totally foreign to me.

I have faith that it will happen in time. In fact, I don’t think that attaining a sense of professional identity has to happen before one actually enters the profession and develops as a professional. That is because there are all sorts of factors we can’t predict before starting a career, and we can never really know what a particular career is like until we actually gain experience in it. Library school doesn’t teach you what librarianship is really like, only skills and some theory to help you work through or think about particular issues. Library school doesn’t take you to the essence, or the heart, of what it means to be a librarian. Library school doesn’t make you ask those important questions about professional identity. Now, library schools are becoming even more far-removed from actual libraries, becoming Schools of Information Science (including my alma mater). Does this mean they don’t even care about the physical spaces and services of actual libraries anymore? You can read more about that in Scott Walter and Carol Tilley’s College & Research Libraries editorial.

In response to my doubts and questions, Patty didn’t really have clear-cut answers for me, because I do not think there are clear-cut answers to such doubts. Those doubts are very real, and very personal. However, she did help me come to some realizations. She helped me to realize that it is okay to have doubts, that it is pretty normal at this point in my career – that is pretty normal for librarians in general – that I am not alone. She helped me understand that it is okay for me not to have a strong sense of professional identity right away, because that is something that I can develop over time, as I become more confident in the services that I provide, as I innovate more, and as I realize that my services are indispensable and beneficial to a large number of people. I can forge a path and make this profession my own. I know that this is possible because Patty, and many others, model it for me. I will simply develop my professional identity after-the-fact.

I once had a mentor who told me, “I want to help you become who you are.” I may not have been born a librarian; this hasn’t always been who I am, and I don’t quite yet own this identity. I have the potential to become who I am, though, and I am committed to this process. It may take patience. I’m not sure yet how it will happen. I just have to keep plowing forward, with openness to change, the willingness to innovate and create, and a lot of dedication to discovering out exactly what this means for my life, in this particular geographic location, and how I fit into the bigger picture of the profession. As I chase after this identity, this identity may actually chase after me too, and I’m sure there will be plenty of people, like Patty, to provide clues along the way.