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My Peeps, My Conference #acrl2017

Feeling so fortunate for the opportunity to attend ACRL in Baltimore, especially to meet my fellow ACRLoggers face-to-face!   With a plethora of conferences and development opportunities, it can be hard to justify attendance at a conference most people perceive as out of scope for a technical services librarian.  In a technical service-focused session I attended,  one librarian introduced herself by qualifying for the audience that her primary library association was ALCTS (Association of Library Collections and Technical Services).  I too have found some excellent development resources in the ALCTS community and established some professional scholarship there.  But  I’ve never felt my particular brand of technical services quite fit here.   This librarian’s certainty in her professional community had me pondering my ACRL conference experience and what sets it apart. [cue: David Byrne*]

How did I get here?
What is my conference?
Who is my community?

Most colleagues think I’m crazy, but I love ALA!  The community and the conference.  I love the size.  I love the ability to experience perspectives from all different kinds of libraries and all different parts of a library.  I love the chance to talk to vendors and (now, as a parent) the abundance of affordable souvenirs.  As a librarian responsible for budget matters, though, the timing of this conference becomes problematic, as it usually falls during our fiscal close.  So, although its provides good service opportunities, and the broadest professional network, this is not usually my conference.

NASIG (former acronym for North American Serials Interest Group) was probably the first specifically-focused professional community that really spoke my language.  I could dive deeper into world of serials librarianship, vendors, and systems in order to solve real work problems.  Similarly, as I became an e-resources librarian, ER&L was (and continues to be) one of my favorite professional communities for those same reasons.  Besides the added perk of being in beautiful Austin, TX each year, it also offers that user experience focus I am always seeking as a bridge from technical to public services. Both these communities see themselves as part of something bigger, despite the specialized name and audience they tend to attract.  Even so, the familiarity of a such specialized-focused conferences can at times be a crutch for broadening my perspective.

Hard as it may be to justify to my peeps here at home, I’m pretty sure my conference, my community is ACRL.  I say that not just because I blog here, and it’s more than just because I work in an academic library.  I do confess, it is in part resonant with Carla Hayden (ACRL Keynote and Librarian of Congress) declaring: “You all have the hippest conferences!”

ACRL Baltimore was only my second ACRL conference.  I first feel in love with ACRL 2015 in Portland, realizing it has a similar and unmistakeable “part of something big” feel as ALA, but with a greater chance of running into people I actually know.  I like ACRL because the language of research and academia is both familiar and challenging; the user focus I crave is meaningful and accessible; and I am often stretched in other areas, like leadership, political advocacy, and transforming shame into action.  I think (also like ER&L) I appreciate how this community of librarians challenge the norm.  As StevenB wrote of 2011’s conference, ACRL takes risks. Carla Hayden also recognized this, noting with appreciation that the conference was kept in Baltimore given all that was happening within this community.

ACRL librarians seem risk takers in their own right. They want to make a difference in what is otherwise perceived as an unchanging, institutionalized academia.  This year’s call for proposals asked for representation from the technical services perspective, perhaps challenging the perception that ACRL is overly-focused on scholarly communication and instruction.  Part of justifying my own attendance alongside all the other faculty who more obviously call this their conference their home means giving fresh eyes to how these issues matter in technical services and visa versa.

My strongest takeaways from this year’s conference were not scholarly community and instruction, but data analysis and visualization.  Opening keynote speaker, David McCandless, provided interactive, fun, complex, and thought-provoking data visualizations.  He explained why information is beautiful and also necessary at this particular time in our society.  I was surprised that this beauty, even in the most concerning analyses, felt primarily (and strangely) soothing.  That sense of calm resonates with McCandless’ assertion that visualizations allow you to simultaneously absorb and understand massive amounts of information, rather than become overwhelmed by it.  McCandless spoke our language when illustrating how easy and accessible the starting point is to such complex beauty — it begins with questions.  What do I want to know? What data might tell me about that?  What can it reveal?  Building on this keynote, I attended other sessions on communicating real value with data.   More than just making pictures from data we are asked to collect, I saw how concerted, beautiful design in visualization allows us to ask new questions.

I found “my peeps” are the ones always asking and welcoming questions.  ACRL allowed us to inquire a lot about equity and inclusion in our academic spaces.  Sessions and speakers offered perspective on this from the lens of scholarly access, to how we meet diverse instruction needs, to how we understand biases in our own scholarship, to service to our patrons, and in our personal and professional relationships.  Roxanne Gay, gave an amazing keynote and Q&A session to challenge my thinking on this.  Others, especially (I worried about) those chastised by #acrl2017 twitter afterwards, will hopefully see that challenge themselves and remain open to keep seeking too.

While uncomfortable, sure, that chastising (and don’t miss this other recap  too) demonstrates how the ACRL community challenges not just the institutional norm, but each other, individually.  I just find that refreshing.  It is a reminder that we definitely aren’t perfect, but we are always, must always be learning.

We do honor and openly appreciate each other publicly as well!  “Your peeps” was how final keynote speaker Carla Hayden acknowledged the various applause and shout-outs librarians received in the Q&A portion of her keynote.   So refreshingly approachable and energizing, her keynote challenged me to be more aware, to remember to explore the “more to everyone’s story”.  How she described the key factors motivating her to accept the position as Librarian of Congress reminded me of the necessity for transformation, while remaining true to ourselves and our service mission as librarians.

There is so much more to share from this conference — on technical services and public services interdependencies, on interlibrary loan and SciHub, and on important leadership and organizational management issues related to resilience, gender, and innovation. Watch for another post (either here or or on my own blog ) on these soon!

*Corrected misspelling with sincere apologies to the singer and his fans for the editorial slight.

The Merging of ACRL and the Diversity Alliance

As many of you know, I am a resident librarian at American University in Washington, DC. In my first post for ACRLog, I posted that my residency is  part of a program called the Diversity Alliance. This program began with four schools. American University, West Virginia University, University of Iowa, and Virginia Tech University. These schools hired resident librarians and we began during the summer/fall of 2015. According to the ACRL Residency Interest Group, a residency position is “post-degree work experience designed as an entry level program for recent graduates of an MLS program.”

Almost two years later, the eight residents have formed a close cohort where we support, listen, and uplift each other.

So, what exactly is the Diversity Alliance? The Diversity Alliance began as a small collaboration of four schools, but over the past year and a half, has grown significantly. Since its founding, the Diversity Alliance saw the potential in not only their own residency programs, but in the potential as an organization and its opportunity for growth. The American Association of Research Libraries (ACRL) announced that they would unite “academic libraries who share a commitment to increase the hiring pipeline of qualified, talented individuals from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups. By thinking bigger and broader, across all academic libraries, we will introduce and welcome to the job market underrepresented racial and ethnic groups with work experiences that advance academic/research libraries.” 

“The commitment of each library leader to create one or more residency positions will increase the numbers of opportunities for professionally underrepresented racial and ethnic groups to gain the knowledge, skills and competencies to thrive in an academic context.”

It started with 4 schools and now 24 other universities (and still growing) have pledged to establish a residency program at their libraries.

As a resident, it’s been a great experience to be able to attend conferences and have people come up to me and ask me about my residency. I have spoken with many who want to bring a residency position to their university and who want to know more about my experience.  I have noticed that the conversation of residents and residency programs has increased and that more interest continues to rise. 

However, we have to remember that residency programs are not a new concept. The Mary P. Key Diversity Residency Program from Ohio State University was initiated in 1989 and its past residents include Courtney Young, former president of the American Libraries Association and Jon Cawthorne, the current Dean of Libraries at West Virginia University. As you can see, residencies have the potential to create top-notch librarians.

My hope is that years from now, we can look back at former residents of the Diversity Alliance and be proud of their accomplishments and show that residencies are beneficial in mentoring and allowing librarians the opportunity to explore the different facets of academic librarianship.

Over the past year and a half at American University, I have been able to kick-off my career as an academic librarian. I have had the support of my wonderful colleagues, my amazing mentor, and the support of American University. Through this residency, not only have I been able to get a great start on my career, but I was also able to participate and contribute to the university through committee work. During my time at American University, I have served on university-wide faculty committees, search committees for the library, and pursue my own interests outside of reference and instruction.

It has been a great experience and one I am lucky to have. That is why I am happy to share that American University will be hiring a second resident librarian! I am excited to have a second resident working alongside my colleagues and myself at American University.

Be sure to check out the job post and make sure to apply. If you have any questions, please email the address in the job listing or myself at Qlbarri@american.edu.

 

 

Should’ve, Would’ve, Could’ve: The Library Job Hunt

About two years ago, I was already applying for jobs in preparation of graduating from library school. I spent countless hours looking at job posts, writing cover letters, preparing for phone interviews and being anxious about that coveted on-campus interviews.

Throughout my residency at American University, I have been able to participate in two (and one ongoing) search committees. This has allowed me to see the job hunting process from the other side and has allowed me to reflect on how I apply and prepare for the job hunt. Getting to look at other cover letters, resumes, watching people interview, and interacting with job candidates puts a different perspective of looking at the whole process.

While in library school, I was lucky enough to have supervisors that revised (many times) my cover letter and resume. Not only that, but spoke to me about the interview process and even set up a mock presentation. It was great preparation for interviews, but in the end, you have to experience it in order to reflect on it later on. Although there is no going back, it’s good to have these experiences for future job hunting.

So, what would I have done differently? (and definitely do for next time)

Be organized!

Most normal people have a system that helps them be organized during the job search. Two years ago, I was not that person. This past summer when I was looking for apartments, I kept an excel spreadsheet that kept track of the craigslist post, the rent amount, date I emailed the contact person, and other important emails. I only wish I had been that organized back when I was searching for job. Instead, I would find myself overwhelmed by all of the cover letters that I had saved on my flashdrive.

Amount of experience

Looking at job descriptions, I would often see “3 or more years of experience required.” Having had only 2 years of pre-professional experience, I would go back and forth on whether to apply or not. I ended up not applying to most of those jobs, but looking back, I should have. What do you have to lose?

Wanting to cover all the points 

Every job posting is different and they can be brief or very detailed. There would sometimes be a job posting where it discussed the job duties, expectations, requirements, and preferred experience. It’s an exciting feeling to have when you read a job posting and you happen to have the experience that they describe, require, and prefer.

While it’s very tempting to want to cover all the details on the job post, you ultimately have to cover the required and preferred points. You might have room for relevant points, but that usually does not happen. While your cover letter may have some interesting points that are relevant to the job duties, the search committee is looking for you to directly address the required qualifications and any preferred experience you may have. That will be your priority and may not leave room for anything else.

Background research

You’ve applied to a ton of jobs and have finally gotten that phone interview! Take the time to do some background research on not only the library, but the university and their goals. What reports have they released? What are their long and short term goals and strategies? I remember learning this the hard way while on the phone with a library search committee. I was asked, “What are some  resources or programs at the university and/or library that you’d be interested in?”

Easy question, right? Not if you have not done your research. Learn from my mistake. Take the time to look at the university website and find what initiatives they are working on or any programs that you would be interested in knowing more about.

Red flags at a campus interview

I remember going on my first campus interview and 20 minutes in, I already wanted to leave. Of course,  I still had the rest of the day to go, but when you immediately know that this is not going to work out, you still need to power through it. What I should have done is taken that visit as an opportunity to work on my interview and presentation skills. Instead, I continued to be frustrated at the multiple red flags that popped up throughout the day and not knowing what to do about it. However, if it’s an interview that is going well, show your excitement and energy!

Everyone has a different way of searching for jobs and mine come from experiences and mistakes that I have made. I hope that you’re able to use this post as a resource when looking for jobs, either as a new graduate or an early career librarian. What are some of your tips? Comment below!

 

Reflections on library instruction

Happy 2017 to all ACRLog Readers! Like many other librarians, I have hit the road running. For those of you who do not know, I live in Washington DC and with inauguration last week, I was barely at the office. I also attended the Women’s March and it was a mix of emotions, all at once. However, it really made me think how just one person can make a difference. Not just someone who is protesting or marching, but the people in our everyday lives.

I imagine that everyone has a story of a teacher that has truly made a difference in their lives. I have one. When I was in the first grade, my family had moved across the country. We went from East Los Angeles to Burlington, Vermont. I did not know any English and so I had to take an English as a Second Language (ESL) class. My first grade teacher would put in extra effort to help with read, write, and speak English.

Since then, I have remembered her as a teacher who truly made a difference in my life. Someone with compassion, patience, kindness and someone who truly cared about her students. Years later, I still of my first grade teacher. It’s been said before, but actions and words matter. Now, more than ever, how we carry and behave ourselves matters.

This made me think of how I carry myself as not only a librarian, but a librarian in the classroom. Every semester, I teach information literacy classes for the College Writing Program at American University. For those information literacy classes, I have the classroom and the students to myself for 75 minutes.

For those 75 minutes, I have the attention of the students (most of them, I’d like to think) and have the opportunity to interact with them. The current political climate has really made me think of what I say, how I teach, and how I can improve as a teacher. As an early-career librarian and resident librarian, I observed other librarians teach last semester. This project consisted of observing librarians how they prepare for their information literacy sessions, how they interact with students, and their teaching style. After each observation, I would reflect on a teacher’s personality, interactions, conversations, and how they set to convey information literacy.

This process took about two or so months and it really helped me understand how each librarian goes about their instruction. Along with observing the librarians, I also had the opportunity to observe the students and how they reacted to the librarians advice, instructions, and conversations. I think that actually focusing and reflecting on these experiences and observations are important, not only for becoming a better teacher, but to see how others get across to students and their skills.

Going back to the beginning, it has truly sunk in that we as librarians and information literacy educators yield more influence than we think we do. Now more than ever, it is the time to stress critical thinking skills, identifying reliable sources, and also promoting the library as a place of reliability, access, and inclusivity.

For those of you who are curious, I still keep in contact with my first grade teacher. She is still the kind and caring person she was then.

A Reference Redo

Our reference desk is in an odd spot. Rather than describe the situation, I created the following hasty floor plan:

floorplan drawing of the SMCM Library's reference desk and circulation desk

When students enter the library they don’t see an actual person until they are well past the stairs to the second floor. The circulation desk dwarfs the reference desk, and the reference desk is obscured by a giant statue of a naked discus thrower. We’ve cut down on our reference desk hours due to staffing challenges, and historically reference shifts have been lower on the priority list for our librarians (falling behind teaching classes, college service work, and meetings). This has left us all feeling generally dissatisfied about our traditional reference set up. Stats are down (not surprisingly), students tend to go to the circulation desk first, some bypass circ and reference all together and just come straight to our offices for help (which are just around the corner from the reference desk), and reference shifts are inconsistently covered. The librarians have a good rapport with students and faculty, and hold multiple reference appointments (some scheduled, some impromptu) with both groups throughout the academic year, but they tend to happen in our offices rather than at the reference desk.

Instead of continuing on with business as usual, our library director gathered us together to discuss reference services at our library. It was an informal meeting, but I thought her discussion questions did a great job at getting to the core of why we provide reference services, what reference means to each of us, and how we could potentially be doing it differently. Here are the questions that guided our sharing:

  1. What is the purpose of reference services in the library?
  2. What are your frustrations with reference services? With the reference desk?
  3. If consultations with individual librarians are more popular, would an “office hour” or “by appointment” model work?
  4. What are our users’ requirements for research help?
  5. If the reference desk went away today, what would students do? What would faculty do? What would librarians do? 
  6. How can we improve reference? Can we?

The discussion was extremely productive, in large part because of the leading question: What is the purpose of reference? I would imagine that the answer would vary depending on the library and school, as we all serve unique populations. For our library reference service is about education, collaboration, listening, and sharing. There is (and will always be, I think) a transactional aspect to reference; students will always need help printing, finding their way to the stacks, or assistance with the new scanner. But reference presents a unique opportunity for librarians to build meaningful relationships with students. I get to know students much better one-on-one, while listening to their tales of research woe or triumph, than I do in the classroom. Sometimes a reference appointment isn’t even about locating information. I’ve met with students who just need to talk out an idea with someone who isn’t their instructor or research advisor. Reference services are a highly relational activity, but the model of reference we’ve been operating under until this point is a very transactional one.

One model I’ve been intrigued by recently is the notion recreating the reference desk into a  “beta space.” In the In the Library with the Lead Pipe article, Beta Spaces as a Model for Recontextualizing Reference Services in Libraries, Madelynn Dickerson proposes a beta space model for reference services that would replace a traditional reference desk/area with a collaborative research space. According to Dickerson, a “beta space is a prototyping space, but one that focuses more on ideas than technology.” It’s like a research incubator in the heart of the library. In this space  students and faculty could gather to work on research projects together, student work could be shared and displayed, and librarians could collaborate with students and faculty, offering one-on-one or small group research assistance. It’s essentially a learning and sharing lab that sits in a public space. What I love most about Dickerson’s idea is the openness and inclusivity it brings to reference services.  By creating a space that is warm and comfortable we’re setting the stage for collaboration rather than consultations or transactions. We’re saying, “Come in and stay a while.” Here’s a rough sketch of what this might look like:

Example drawing of a beta reference space

An artist and interior designer I am clearly not, but I think this gets the idea across. The space is built for discussion and collaboration. Where does the librarian sit, you might ask? My question would be: Does it matter? I ask that in all sincerity. Do we need to be at a desk with an air of place/authority, or can we float around a larger space instead? I like the idea of being visible, accessible, and sitting in a comfy sofa chair with a cup of coffee and my laptop, ready to dig into a complex research question with a student during an “office hour” or some equivalent to that in this space. I could see myself meeting with a professor’s undergraduate research group in the private collaboration space, going over the intricacies of their literature review strategy. I envision a lunchtime reception showcasing research from an environmental studies class project. I could also see a group of dedicated library peer mentors who could staff this space and provide much needed research help on evenings and weekends when librarians are unavailable.

As we begin the spring semester (tomorrow!) we’re going to study our reference services more closely, review alternative models to “the desk,” and talk to our students and faculty about how they prefer to gain assistance for their research. Of course I’d love to hear what model of reference you’ve adopted at your library in recent years.