Classroom Woes: What to do when class does not go as planned

As librarians and teachers, there have been times in the classroom where we have encountered testing situations. We have all had our good and not-so-good classes, but for the most part, we come out of those classrooms feeling confident that we showed and taught students the resources that will be most useful to them. We have also interacted with students and faculty of different backgrounds and different personalities.

However, what happens when you walk into a classroom and can immediately sense the tension between the students and professor? The sense of distrust and disrespect that both sides have for each other?

At that moment, what do you do?

  • Assert yourself and take control of the room, because it is obvious that the professor is not going to.
  • This type of control will be different for every librarian, but for me, it is about having a strong tone of voice that you are comfortable in, making sure that all the students feel involved in the conversation, and not letting the side conversations take over.
  • If it’s not in your personality to be strict or harsh, then don’t.
  • Put your frustration aside, because at this moment, it is not productive or useful to anyone.

Some would say that it is the professor’s responsibility to make sure that their class is respectful and attentive. However, when it is clear that it is not the case, the responsibility is on you.

So, what happens after? What do we learn? As someone who was put in this position a short time ago, here is what I did.

  • You cannot blame yourself for the atmosphere. Sometimes librarians get caught in the middle of these bad situations and we cannot do much except do our job.
  • Reflect on the situation. I keep a personal log to reflect on my library instruction sessions. I have found it useful in keeping track of what I have taught and my progress as a teacher.
  • Do not feel pressured into having more library sessions for this professor.

With everything being said, I was glad to have experienced this situation. Even though I was not happy in that moment, it allowed me think quickly on my feet. All my previous teaching experienced allowed me to quickly gauge the situation and prevent it from getting worst. Has anyone else experienced something like this? What was your reaction in the moment?






Developing a Peer Support Group

There’s been a lot written here on ACRLog about the importance of mentorship, and I echo what many others have said: there is enormous value in learning from and being supporting by experienced librarians. There’s a separate kind of mentorship, one that doesn’t necessarily fall under the traditional mentor-mentee model, that has also been hugely beneficial to me as a first-year librarian: peer support. Quetzalli wrote a few weeks ago about the value of peer-to-peer relationships, and it inspired me to reflect on my own experience as a member of a newly formed Early to Mid-Career Librarian Support Group at my library.  

Last semester, a few of my colleagues at the University of Virginia convened a group for early- to mid-career librarians to share advice, ideas, and support. The group operates autonomously and informally. We meet every few weeks for a discussion, and anyone can contribute to the agenda or propose a project.  Our first meeting was a chance to introduce ourselves and discuss our career trajectory and what we wanted to get out of the group. While some people were looking simply for camaraderie and support, others were looking for more concrete advice on how to do to do things like pursue a research agenda or how to more purposefully develop their career. These early conversations have informed the direction the group has since gone. We’ve surveyed group members about their research interests, invited senior administrators to discuss professional development, and coalesced around some bigger documentation projects that I will discuss below.

While plenty of opportunities for collaboration and support arise naturally throughout the course of my daily work, having a more formalized avenue for this kind of peer support is especially valuable. Because of the size of my organization, there are people I still haven’t met yet, particularly in departments that I don’t work with closely. This group allowed me to connect with people across areas of the library that I wouldn’t normally encounter in the course of my workday. It’s also a great way for me to avoid some of the isolation that I can sometimes experience in a small branch library. Because meetings are kept collegial and informal, I’m able to start building some of the relationships that happen more easily if you see someone in an office every day.

Finally, conversations in this group have led to projects that would be overwhelming undertakings without the support of many people. For example, one of the most consistent themes that came from our early conversations was a desire for more robust documentation, especially among newer employees of the library. As we compared our on-boarding experiences, it became clear that we had all experienced some version of the same thing: not feeling sure how to do something and asking around until being directed to email a certain person or pointed towards documentation somewhere we never would have thought to look. As a group, we decided to pool our collective knowledge and document everything we wish we had known for future new employees. Working together, we compiled information about the University, the Library, digital spaces, physical spaces, money, time, and travel, for future employees to reference during the on-boarding process. The resulting document lists basic information like where to find forms or how to get access to certain pieces of software, but it also explicitly outlines some of the library’s conventions, like when to use which communication tool, that are not immediately obvious to people who are new to the organization.

While this type of documentation is often compiled by supervisors or administrators, it was actually really useful for it to be generated by people so close to the experience of being new, because we were able to remember what we had to figure out on our own. It’s easy to forget how overwhelming it is to be brand new to an organization, and easy to forget all the things we expect people to know without explicitly telling them.  The group dynamic also really helped us flesh out this document, since we all had overlapping but not quite identical lists of things we thought needed to go into it. Whether or not documentation like this already exists at your institution, I think there is value in asking newer employees what they wish had been spelled out for them when they started and sharing it with new hires. Having a pre-formed group that you can consult with will make this process that much easier.

Creating space in your organization for peer support groups can lead to collaborative projects, like this one, that might not have happened without all of us getting together and talking through some of the challenges we’ve experienced as early career librarians. It can also make employees who work in isolation, physical or otherwise, feel less alone, and open up space for us to ask questions and bounce ideas off each that we might not yet feel comfortable discussing with mentors who are more experienced. I imagine it could also be a useful concept to apply at all levels of experience, such as first-time managers or administrators, as they navigate new challenges. Do you have a peer support group, formal or informal, at your institution?

Energy and Expectations

Sunday evening I went to a hot yoga class. It’s my way of starting off the week feeling refreshed and relaxed, which is much needed these days. The usual class instructor was out sick, but rather than cancel, the studio assigned a substitute teacher. She was perfectly kind and good at yoga instruction, but the energy of the class was just off. Far fewer students showed up than usual (it’s typically a packed class and I’m already starting to recognize a few regulars). The substitute instructor was much more subdued than our usual teacher, had different suggestions for poses, and didn’t cue our regular water breaks. No one really replied to her well-meaning questions and comments with more than a polite smile or nod of the head, and at one point her frustration with our non-communication came out in a kind of snarky comment which she quickly apologized for stating. It was still a good hour of exercise for me, but I’ll admit that the usual relaxation and freedom from anxiety weren’t quite there. I was trying to adjust to this new teacher’s unique instructions, energy, and expectations, rather than just allowing myself to “be.”

Those of you who teach probably know where I’m going with this story. As I made the sweaty, dehydrated walk to my car I realized how much of what I was feeling in class is likely akin to what students must feel during one-shot library classes. They may be in an unfamiliar setting (the library classroom), with a teacher they’ve never seen before (me!), whose personality, communication style, and pedagogical approach might be completely different (or just different enough) from their regular professor’s that it throws them off (partially or completely). The class might feel slightly or totally different than what they usually do on this day at this time period, and they are likely having to make their own adjustments to their environment and their temporary instructor. Having their usual professor in the classroom with them certainly helps mitigate some of the discomfort, but the vibe of the class is just fundamentally different.

There’s nothing wrong with different. Different can be good, but we have to acknowledge it. I know that the first (and sometimes the only) time I meet with a class it’s going to be awkward. When I first started teaching  that awkwardness really got to me and I overcompensated by being extra perky and outgoing. I was performing “teacher” in an effort to distance myself from the awkwardness, but all I really managed to accomplish was to distance myself from my students and emotionally wear myself out. These days I embrace the awkwardness. I acknowledge that this class is likely out of the ordinary for students. I give us all a chance to get to know one another and recognize that this class meeting may feel a little odd, but we’ll all still learn together. Yes, it does cut into content and “teaching time,” but it’s become an integral part of my practice, and–I believe–a valuable precursor to connection and learning. It’s made me more accepting and understanding of both myself and the students in these situations. I realize that we’re all figuring out each other’s energies and expectations together.

How do you embrace the awkwardness in your teaching?

You say you want a resolution…keep going!

Is it too late in January to talk about New Year’s Resolutions? Because, strangely, I don’t recall hearing much from friends or social media feeds about any of it, did you? January seemed to just slip into 2018 unobtrusively.  I investigated news sources citing “New Year’s Resolutions” for a more statistical snapshot, and looky there, a decline indeed!

Maybe all the obvious and tremendous work to be done in the world is too overwhelming. Is there a list even capable of containing it? The very concept of a list — resolution, checklist, done, contained, control – feels inadequate in the face of such chaos. We should learn better that our work here is never done.

In the spirit of one of those new year’s articles, I too am doing away with resolutions, preferring to work where I am with what I’ve got.  What I’ve got is a need for perpetual action.  Revolutions, if you will, marked by a sense of continuity, evolving, moving, growing.  Where what counts is not volume amassed, nor time spent, but meaningful motion.  A way to keep going through the change I wish to see in the world, and through the inevitable blocks that judgement and insecurity so often bring.  While it may frustrate me and bore you to repeatedly use these path-finding, me-centering approaches to problem-solving, repetition plays an important part in my New Year’s revolution.

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In my early library days, when introversion prevailed, I habitually avoided eye contact and small talk. Strangers, acquaintances, colleagues, it didn’t matter.  Better, I thought, just to keep my head down. Sometimes, I’d vary it by looking over at something that [hadn’t] distracted me just then, or up as if trying to remember something I’d [not really] forgotten. Always with a twinge of guilty knowing. For the sake of professional collegiality and my actual desire to make new friends, I gradually chipped away at this habit through repetition.  I still do avoid sometimes, and then I remember to begin again.  One step at a time.  That kind repetition led to other, larger personal growth in my work.  This year’s revolution takes that growth to places and relationships in my life that need work.  The revolution comes by recognizing work-life balance as in motion, arriving, and moving again.

This year both my father and mother experienced serious health events, throwing me way off balance.  This meant gathering siblings, uncomfortable conversations, and a lot of travel.  Just as in work (e.g. meetings, uncomfortable conversations, and conference travel), I’ve struggled to navigate the boundaries of our respective competing needs, expectations, and disappointments.  Moving through this new reality has meant accepting each of my parents where they are (which I’m pretty good at), and also staying regularly connected with them (which I’m not really good at).  When I slow down my thinking of the ends, and go through the process of the means, as I often do at work, I find that I’m actually quite good at connection.  For me, the focus on initiation is what unlocks the door to connection.  When I apply my strengths as an activator with individualization to this more personal context, it allows me to examine my own expectations and ask, “What is enough for me?”  That revelation clears the way for initiating those connections each time, and time again.

There remains a necessary element in this, which is more physical at its core.  This year’s resurgence of two movements, #MeToo and The Body is not an Apology,  have a hand in my thinking on this.   So, too, did seeing my father, once a tall, towering cowboy, confined to the limited view and mobility of a wheel chair.  As my own body grows old, I’m also confronted with physical realities that no longer respond to introverted solutions of my youth.  In fact, those solutions manifest all manner of outward, physical ailments.  No surprise, as New Year’s resolutions go; this requires more moving of my body. My advice for revolutionizing exercise comes down to — you guessed it — initiating.  Finding physical continuity, less in regularity than in ongoing beginnings.  Each time you stop, start again. Initiate more physical connections with friends, family, and colleagues, whether in something as small as a touch of hand in greeting or conversation, to something  as large as a constant, even pestering, persistence to schedule a meal with friends at my actual dinner table (rather than Instagram).

Straight to the soul and thighs with this Sunday #supp

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Bringing this around full circle to my library, its current strategic areas of focus share a need for acts of initiation.  It only just occurs to me, the intention for calling this a strategic focus map (not a strategic plan) carries that revolutionary quality of shifting in and out, adjusting, and constant motion.  Hidden within these focus areas, I see specific calls for my own initiation. While I often talk about better communication, collaboration, and the breaking down of silos in the library, my experience shows individual initiation more powerfully connects people and ideas together.  Initiating these kinds of connections in very real, physical space and time serves not only this strategic work, but creates relationships of trust, well being, and workplaces that continue growing.


Narrative as Evidence

This past week I attended the MLGSCA & NCNMLG Joint Meeting in Scottsdale, AZ. What do all these letters mean, you ask? They stand for the Medical Library Group of Southern California and Arizona and Northern California and Nevada Medical Library Group. So basically it was a western regional meeting of medical librarians. I attended sessions covering topics including survey design, information literacy assessment, National Library of Medicine updates, using Python to navigate e-mail reference, systematic reviews, and so many engaging posters! Of course, it was also an excellent opportunity to network with others and learn what different institutions are doing.

The survey design course was especially informative. As we know, surveys are a critical tool used by librarians. I learned how certain question types (ranking, for example) can be misleading, how to avoid asking double-barreled questions, and how to not ask a leading question (i.e. Do you really really love the library?!?) Of course, these survey design practices reduce bias and attempt to represent the most accurate results. The instructor, Deborah Charbonneau, reiterated that you can only do the best you can with surveys. And while this seems obvious, I feel that librarians can be a little perfectionistic. But let’s be real. It’s hard to know exactly what everyone thinks and wants through a survey. So yes, you can only do the best you can.

The posters and presentations about systematic reviews covered evidence-based medicine. As I discussed in my previous post, the evidence-based pyramid prioritizes research that reduces bias. Sackett, Rosenberg, Gray, Haynes, and Richardson (1996) helped to conceptualize the three-legged stool of evidence based practice. Essentially, evidence-based clinical decisions should consider the best of (1) the best research evidence, (2) clinical expertise, and (3) patient values and preferences. As medical librarians we generally focus on delivering strategies for the best research evidence. Simple enough, right? Overall, the conference was informative, social, and not overwhelming – three things I enjoy.

On my flight home, my center shifted from medical librarianship to Joan Didion’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem. The only essay I had previously read in this collection of essays was “On Keeping a Notebook”. I had been assigned this essay for a memoir writing class I took a few years ago. (I promise this is going somewhere.)  In this essay, Didion discusses how she has kept a form of a notebook, not a diary, since she was a child. Within these notebooks were random notes about people or things she saw, heard, and perhaps they included a time/location. These tidbits couldn’t possibly mean anything to anyone else except her. And that was the point. The pieces of information she jotted down over the years gave her reminders of who she was at that time. How she felt.

I took this memoir class in 2015 at Story Studio Chicago, a lofty spot in the Ravenswood neighborhood of Chicago. It was trendy and up and coming. At the time, I had just gotten divorced, my dad had died two years prior, and I discovered my passion for writing at the age of 33. So, I was certainly feeling quite up and coming (and hopefully I was also trendy). Her essay was powerful and resonated with me (as it has for so many others). After I started library school, I slowed down with my personal writing and focused on working and getting my degree, allowing me to land a fantastic job at UCLA! Now that I’m mostly settled in to all the newness, I have renewed my commitment to writing and reading memoir/creative non-fiction. I feel up and coming once again after all these new changes in my life.

As my plane ascended, I opened the book and saw that I had left off right at this essay. I found myself quietly verbalizing “Wow” and “Yeah” multiples times during my flight. I was grateful that the hum of the plane drowned out my voice, but I also didn’t care if anyone heard me. Because if they did, I would tell them why. I would say that the memories we have are really defined by who we were at that time. I would add that memory recall is actually not that reliable. Ultimately, our personal narrative is based upon the scatterplot of our lives: our actual past, present, future; our imagined past, present, future; our fantasized past, present, and future. As Didion (2000) states:

I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind’s door at 4 a.m. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends. We forget all too soon the things we thought we could never forget. We forget the loves and the betrayals alike, forget what we whispered and what we screamed, forget who we were. (p. 124)

What does this have to do with evidence-based medicine? Well, leaving a medical library conference and floating into this essay felt like polar opposites. But were they? While re-reading this essay, I found myself considering how reducing bias (or increasing perspectives) in research evidence and personal narrative can be connected. They may not seem so, but they are really part of a larger scholarly conversation. While medical librarians focus upon the research aspect of this three-legged stool, we cannot forget that clinical expertise (based upon personal experience) and patient perspective (also based upon personal experience) provide the remaining foundation for this stool.

I also wonder about how our experiences are reflected. Are we remembering who we were when we decided to become librarians? What were our goals? Hopes? Dreams? Look back at that essay you wrote when you applied to school. Look back at a picture of yourself from that time. Who were you? What did you want? Who was annoying you? What were you really yearning to purchase at the time? Did Netflix or Amazon Prime even exist?? Keeping on “nodding terms” with these people allows us to not let these former selves “turn up unannounced”. It allows us to ground ourselves and remember where we came from and how we came to be. And it is a good reminder that our narratives are our personal evidence, and they affect how we perceive and deliver “unbiased” information. I believe that the library is never neutral. So I am always wary to claim a lack of bias with research, no matter what. I prefer to be transparent about the strengths of evidence-based research and its pitfalls.

A couple creative ways I have seen this reflected in medicine is through narrative medicine, JAMA Poetry and Medicine, and Expert Opinions, the bottom of the evidence-based pyramid, in journals. Yes, these are biased. But I think it’s critical that we not forget that medicine ultimately heals the human body which is comprised of the human experience. Greenhalgh and Hurwitz (1999) propose:

At its most arid, modern medicine lacks a metric for existential qualities such as the inner hurt, despair, hope, grief, and moral pain that frequently accompany, and often indeed constitute, the illnesses from which people suffer. The relentless substitution during the course of medical training of skills deemed “scientific”—those that are eminently measurable but unavoidably reductionist—for those that are fundamentally linguistic, empathic, and interpretive should be seen as anything but a successful feature of the modern curriculum. (p. 50)

Medical librarians are not doctors. But librarians are purveyors of stories, so I do think we reside in more legs of this evidence-based stool. I would encourage all types of librarians to seek these outside perspectives to ground themselves in the everyday stories of healthcare professionals, patients, and of ourselves.



  1. Didion, J. (2000). Slouching towards Bethlehem. New York: Modern Library.
  2. Greenhalgh, T., & Hurwitz, B. (1999). Why study narrative? BMJ: British Medical Journal, 318(7175), 48–50.
  3. Sackett D.L., Rosenberg W.M., Gray J.A., Haynes R.B., & Richardson W.S. (1996). Evidence based medicine: What it is and what it isn’t. BMJ: British Medical Journal, 312(7023), 71–2. doi: 10.1136/bmj.312.7023.71.