Refocusing with Daily Themes: A Strategy for Summer Productivity

ACRLog welcomes a guest post from Julia Feerrar, Learning Services Librarian at Virginia Tech.

I’m currently experiencing my first summer as a full-time academic librarian and it has taken me a while to adjust to the academic “offseason.” As Jennifer Jarson points out in her recent post on summer doldrums, we might expect summer to be slower-paced, but it can often be just as demanding as the regular semester. With fewer students on campus, a handful of workshops to plan and teach, and only occasional reference desk hours, my time for long-term projects is more flexible, but still quite full. Although campus is quieter, there’s still a lot going on as we develop our infrastructure and programs. If anything, my to-do list has lengthened, not shortened.

But instead of systematically working through my lengthy list, as I transitioned to summer I found myself switching between projects and tasks without committing to making substantial progress on any one thing. Prioritizing and focusing felt more challenging than it had during the regular school year. This change in my sense of productivity spurred some reflection on my approach to daily scheduling and for the past few weeks I’ve been developing a strategy to better manage my time and focus my attention.

A Thematic Approach

In mid-June I revisited my to-do list, annual goals, and calendar, trying to find a way to refocus. As I reflected, I remembered a productivity approach I had heard about in passing: setting a theme to focus on during each workday. As Twitter founder Jack Dorsey explains, theming your days can help you to manage time and attention. A daily theme gives you something to come back to whenever you’re distracted or interrupted. The idea of theming also appealed to me as a way to take some of the uncertainty out of prioritizing daily tasks. If Monday is X day, I can focus on X without feeling guilty about not making progress on Y.

To establish themes, Kate Erickson of Entrepreneur on Fire suggests first listing the kinds of things you do on a regular basis. For me, these are things like lesson planning, teaching workshops, consulting with faculty and students, writing emails, planning, committee work, and research. With your recurring activities in mind, you can choose four or five that you do most often or group tasks together into broader areas. Due to the nature of my schedule and the way I split up my tasks, the latter made more sense to me. However, when I tried to group my tasks into themes, I kept falling back into wanting to do everything every day. I had trouble distancing myself enough to see a pattern that would work.

The Strength Connection

My next breakthrough came when I considered my results from Gallup’s StrengthsFinder assessment, which I had taken along with colleagues in my department last winter. I had been trying, since then, to incorporate my Strength areas into goal-setting, but had gotten stuck on translating things like empathy and reflection into concrete goals. When I thought about using these strengths as a frame for my workdays, the patterns fell into place. Mondays and Tuesdays are now my Achiever days and I focus on teaching and planning. On Wednesdays I work on connecting, keeping Empathy in mind. Thursdays are Learning and Input days. And on Fridays I keep Intellection in mind, focusing on reflection and writing tasks.


StrengthsFinder works well for me as an organizing framework, but many other frames could serve a similar purpose. Maybe there are areas of your strategic plan, yearly goals, or job description that you want to keep in mind as you set themes for each day. Whatever larger framing you use, I think the most powerful potential in setting themes is making an explicit connection between daily (even mundane) tasks and the bigger picture impact of your work. For example, when I catch up on emails to teaching faculty on Wednesdays, I can be a little more mindful of the relationships and connections I’m trying to build.


Once I chose my themes, I did two things to put them into action. First, I set reminders on my calendar with the theme for each day of the work week. Then, I adjusted my to-do list so that it would align with my themes. I recently started using TeuxDeux, which lets you assign yourself daily tasks as well as keep track of long-term to-dos in multiple categories. Organizing my long-term to-do list around my themes has made it much easier for me to prioritize my daily tasks and to keep my work varied. I spend less time deciding what to work on when. Of course there are often time-sensitive, off-theme things that I need to take care of or participate in; I address these as they come up and then check back in with my main theme when I can.



Setting themes is a flexible approach with a lot of room for creative applications. I plan to use my current workflow throughout the summer and then reasses at the beginning of the new semester. When my teaching and consults pick up again, I may want to reset my themes each week, instead of repeating them. I may want to use more specific themes or maybe even broader ones. I’ll continue to adapt my overall strategy, but I think the central idea of setting an intention for each day that helps me to clarify what I’m doing and why will continue to push me forward.

How have you worked on staying focused and engaged this summer? How do you approach time management and prioritizing? I’d love to hear about your methods.

Revising the Standards for Proficiencies for Instruction Librarians and Coordinators

ACRLog welcomes a guest post from Sara Harrington, Head of Arts and Archives at Ohio University Libraries.

Your thoughts and feedback are invited!

The Instruction Section has charged a Task Force to Revise the 2007 document “Standards for Proficiencies for Instruction Librarians and Coordinators” as part of the Section’s cyclical review of standards.

The work of this Task Force builds on the recommendations of an earlier review task force that recommended that the Standards be revised to:

  • adopt a contextual and holistic approach and wider vision which encompasses the roles and responsibilities of the instruction librarian within the academy
  • bridge the broader context and potential practical applications
  • simplify the document.

Over the coming months, the Task Force will be sharing information about the draft revisions to the Standards via the ILI-L listserv and this blog.  We invite your comments, questions and suggestions at via email to Co-Chairs Sara Harrington ( and Carroll Wetzel Wilkinson ( or in response to this post.

The Charge of the Revision Task Force is to:
“To update and revise the Standards for Proficiencies for Instruction Librarians and Coordinators document in accordance with the recommendations published in the report of the Standards for Proficiencies for Instruction Librarians and Coordinator Review Task Force. The Revision Task Force should solicit comments on drafts of the new document from Instruction Section membership prior to seeking approval from the IS Executive Committee and ACRL Board.”

The Task Force Members are:
Sara Harrington ( – Co-chair
Carroll Wetzel Wilkinson ( – Co-chair
Dawn Amsberry (
Sara D. Miller ( member and incoming Executive Committee Liaison
Courtney Mlinar (
Candice Benjes-Small (
Nikhat Ghouse ( – outgoing Executive Committee Liaison

A Year Down, 211 Miles to Go

This weekend* I’m leaving to hike the John Muir Trail. I’ll hike the 211 mile trail in about three weeks. While I’m hiking, my official one-year anniversary of working as an academic librarian will pass, so taking a break from work sounds like an excellent way to celebrate. While the trail will be physically demanding, I look forward to not having to think beyond putting one foot in front of the other. I’ve done more than enough thinking in my action-packed first year as an academic librarian.

When I accepted a new position as Instructional Design Librarian, I knew that I’d have my work cut out for me. It was a brand new position. It was my first librarian position and my first tenure-track position. And I was just finishing up a second master’s in Instructional Design, so I was new to this growing field as well. I would start my new position while my new library was undergoing major physical change: half the building was closed due to earthquake damage in 2014, making most of the stacks off-limits and cramming an overwhelming number of students into inadequate space. At the same time, library administration is planning a major renovation and we are undergoing reorganization.


About a month into my position, the new interim University Librarian met with each librarian to talk about our roles at the library and plans to grow our careers. When he asked me what my career goals were I stared blankly. Being a librarian was my career goal. I didn’t even understand my position yet, let alone have career plans beyond it.

A year later, I can tell you that my career goal is leadership. I want to be a leader in library instructional design. I’d like to be a Director of Online Teaching and Learning. I want to be a transformer, of sorts. I want to work in a library that is supportive and communicative, so I need to be the change that I want to see. I’ve benefited enormously from having mentors – so I want to be a mentor to others.

Making the shift from being library staff to a librarian was really difficult. I went from accomplishing daily and weekly tasks to working on months- and years-long projects, and to managing these projects as a team leader. I went from blue-collar to white-collar, a complete cultural shift. I think that sharing my experience might benefit others in similar positions and that I will have a lot to offer as a mentor in the future.

I learned this year to keep my “yesses” to a minimum. I learned to say “no” often. I learned that my priorities need to lie with projects that have the largest impacts, not on one-off tasks, the products of which may or may not ever be used. My priority is to be a leader at my library, as demonstrated by thoughtful and productive collaborations and a willingness to share my knowledge and offer constructive feedback. I’m still a newbie to my colleagues, with a new and strange job to boot, so my mission is to slowly win everyone over with my interpersonal skills and deep knowledge of instructional design.

I learned that my time management goals were terribly idealistic! Yet, also really helpful. I no longer faithfully keep a work diary, but keeping one for the first few months really helped me reflect on what my position, my priorities, and my projects should be. The work diary was a small outlet for the frustrations of figuring out something new all on my own. Now, I don’t always set aside the time to schedule out every hour of my work week. And when I do, I often don’t follow the schedule I set for myself. But the act of pondering what I need to accomplish each day, week, or month keeps momentum going on important projects, and keeps my little projects from falling through the cracks. The projects that do get left behind are the ones that don’t matter. It’s also really helpful to be able to look back at past weeks and see what I worked on, especially as I’m starting work on my first full RTP portfolio, due this September. The days sometimes go slow, but the weeks and months have flown by, and it’s really gratifying to be able to look back and see that my time was mostly well spent, and to be able to reflect on how I can better manage my time in the future.

Perhaps most importantly, I’ve learned that all that matters is my RTP portfolio. Right or wrong, the effort I put into my job will only be judged as reflected in my portfolio alone. I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished this year. I’m proud of the many hours I’ve spent on fruitful projects, and of the amazing things I’ve created collaboratively from those projects. I know that I have the evidence and the writing skills to put together a persuasive case for retaining me to the next year, and for the years beyond that until I achieve tenure. My portfolio is my boss – and I want to fill it with things that prove I’ve made this library, and this campus, and librarianship, a better place to be. Tenure, though, is still five years away. For the next three weeks, I’m just going to focus on one step at a time.

Lindsay’s first year as an academic librarian – by the numbers:

  • Offices occupied: 2
  • Emails sent: 2,248
  • Files created: 4,703
  • Reference questions answered: 723
  • Instruction sessions taught: 17
  • Students in my instruction sessions that agreed or strongly agreed I increased their confidence in doing research: 90.2%
  • Conference proposals: 5
  • Proposals accepted: 3
  • Miles bicycled to work: 1,043
  • Bicycle tubes: 5
  • Tube patches: Innumerable
  • Bad words muttered while fixing flats: Also innumerable
  • Sandwiches eaten at Which Wich: 19
  • Tweets: 1,612
  • Tweets about sandwiches: 4
  • Tweets about bicycles: 23
  • Degrees earned: 1 (Master of Education)
  • Times I’ve been asked if my RTP-required article is done yet: Numerous as the stars

Thanks for reading. See you on the trail!

*I scheduled this post to run 7/20, and I actually left for the JMT on 7/18. Sneaky, sneaky!

One Instructional Philosophy to Unite Them All

ACRLog welcomes a guest post from Nicole Pagowsky, Research & Learning Librarian and Instruction Coordinator at the University of Arizona Libraries. You can find her on Twitter at @pumpedlibrarian.

When I first thought about writing this post, I considered how boring it would sound to read an article about a library’s instructional philosophy. Who is going to be racing to read that? I mean doesn’t it kind of seem like recycling in a way? We all know we should be doing it but it’s not necessarily exciting, and do we know for sure if those supposed recyclables aren’t actually just getting mixed in with the trash and dumped in a landfill? Analogies aside, having an instructional philosophy for our library is essential and I want to talk about why that is and then share what we developed.

With a library re-organization comes new roles, along with the continually changing roles of librarianship as a field. The University of Arizona Libraries have undergone a re-organization over the past year from functional teams to a liaison model (I was an Instructional Services Librarian, now a Research & Learning Librarian). To facilitate a cohesive instruction program that would align all liaisons, library faculty created an instructional philosophy that positions shared pedagogy as inherent in our new work. This is an important first step in establishing an instruction program: what can we all agree on, and what can we all reference, as we build our teaching roles as liaisons? We should also be thinking about how faculty view us: what they expect of us and what they don’t (and why). Having a shared instructional philosophy can be one way to signify that we truly are educators and partners. Clearly, one document will not solve everything, but it is one step toward aligning our roles, improving our teaching, and changing faculty expectations.

Aligning our roles

We felt that developing a shared instructional philosophy was important to revamp and revise how we envision ourselves as educators, and how we can communicate this to campus. Although we all have different liaison assignments and focus areas, how can we approach a library instruction program collectively? With varying disciplinary needs for instruction the details of our approaches might be different. However, we’re aligned through bigger-picture goals, expressed in our pedagogy. By connecting this pedagogy with activities such as curriculum mapping, we can then enable a point-of-need program to reach students across campus with scaffolding and differentiated instruction through collaborations with faculty as we continue to move away from the one-shot.

Improving our teaching through praxis

With library practice and instructional technologies often in flux (because that’s just the nature of things), a philosophy with an evidence-based link to theory and reflection can help ground us even if our practice changes. By actively linking theory to practice, we are then engaging in praxis. Praxis, as Freire and hooks have described it, is theory into practice–action!–through reflection. Action embodies our values. And theory makes it possible to question and examine what values we hope to put into action. So we don’t want to divorce theory from practice, nor do we want to emphasize the importance of one over the other. Our instructional philosophy doesn’t view theory and practice as mutually exclusive but wraps them up together into praxis to guide our work as educators.

Changing faculty expectations

Often, disciplinary faculty don’t think of librarians as necessarily interested or capable instruction collaborators. These expectations carry weight, primarily because how we’re perceived influences what’s expected of us. We need to transform these inaccurate impressions of us as teaching partners. In the educational psychology literature, this is referred to as “expectation effects” and is linked to “impression management.” This has been studied extensively when looking at the impact of teacher/student expectations on student success.

So, what do we do about this? Centering a critical philosophy to our information literacy pedagogy is one way we can work to transform our image and campus expectations. Critical pedagogy is not simply moving away from skills-based instruction to bigger ideas–although that can be part of it–but a main focus here is on examining power structures (see Stommel, 2014 for an expanded definition to provide more grounding). When looking to information literacy instruction specifically, this can be teacher/learner power structures, publishing and access power structures, or larger societal issues of cultural hegemony, racism, sexism, etc. and how that’s reflected in higher education and the research process. This aspect of critical librarianship can also include an examination of librarian/faculty power structures. Why are we thought of as helpers and assistants more often than collaborators and partners? It’s not like this is a new question–in fact this conversation has been going on since the 60s–but it continues to receive attention because although we might realize what the problems are, solutions are more difficult to achieve.1

If faculty have incorrect or uninformed expectations of us through the lens of this power structure, it will color perceptions and maintain our assumed role as just “helper,” subsequently maintaining how we are able to approach teaching. This is part of what gets us relegated to the one-shot. If faculty won’t interact with us fully to understand what we do and our capabilities as educators, their expectations will remain the same, and our relationships–and teaching approaches–won’t change. Of course programmatic instruction and collaboration with faculty take work and require relationship-building, which is not instantaneous. Being able to navigate these power structures while understanding how they hinder us should be considered a piece of the puzzle. By having a library instruction philosophy document that liaisons can share, we can explicitly show what we’re capable of doing, as a way for faculty to better understand our roles as educators.

What we learned

The process for this document went through several iterations. We had a good amount of debate back-and-forth on content and wording, because we certainly didn’t all agree on everything off the bat. I began the document and wrote out what I felt could be some main points of focus to guide our instruction. These were either things we already have been doing, or things that I thought we could be doing. Of course having one person begin a document makes it skew more in one direction, but it was an approach that helped get the process going. The hope was to develop something that was not quite a manifesto, but to collaboratively create something that would guide and inspire. The document was then shared with our instruction group (within our department) for discussion and revision. Then, we shared it with our whole department and again had some discussion and revision. We all compromised to create a truly shared philosophy. Some of us feel more strongly about certain points than others, but this is something we can use to situate and clarify our abilities as educators to campus. After we accepted it for our purposes, we thought it would be useful to share it with other departments in the library who do instruction (Special Collections and the Arizona Health Sciences Library liaisons). These two groups felt the document represented their interests, and at this point we’re using it to serve as a focal point for driving our new instruction program forward, and an official piece in our constellation of guiding liaison documents for the UA Libraries. Although a philosophy is meant to be longer-lasting, this document is also fluid in that we are open to change as we continue to learn and progress in our instructional program.

University of Arizona Libraries’ Instructional Philosophy

  • Information literacy, multi- and cross-disciplinary, is critical to student success and lifelong learning
  • Teaching the research process is complex and involves collaboration with instructors or other campus partners through sustained, integrated, and programmatic approaches
  • We will provide learning opportunities at the most effective points in a student’s educational career, where our librarians’ time and expertise can have the greatest impact
  • We strive to provide opportunities for students to engage in transfer of learning through our collaboration with campus partners
  • Because knowledge is contextual and socially constructed, impacting the idea of neutrality that libraries are associated with, we encourage deeper examination of the research process and asking difficult questions
  • We strive to be inclusive in our instruction, taking into account differences of all types and also being aware of intersectional diversity
  • Students have the right to transparency in their learning, where librarians use their expertise to teach as guides rather than gatekeepers
  • Teaching within the affective domain (emotions, values, and attitudes) has importance alongside skills, knowledge, and abilities within information literacy
  • Because technology can erase as well as create barriers, we will be informed and selective about what technology we use and will avoid an “educational technology as solutionism” mindset
  • We teach what we value, not value what we teach, and are focused on the greatest benefit to students and campus through information literacy

Readings that support our philosophy

Blog posts:

Char Booth on information privilege and pedagogy

Cathy Davidson on how a class becomes a community

Barbara Fister on why the research paper isn’t working

Audrey Watters on ed-tech solutionism

Articles and Books:

Accardi, M. T., Drabinski, E., & Kumbier, A. (2010). Critical library instruction: Theories and methods. Duluth, MN: Library Juice Press.

Ahmed, S. (2012). On being included: Racism and diversity in institutional life. Durham [NC]: Duke University Press.

Cahoy, E. S., & Schroeder, R. (2012). Embedding affective learning outcomes in library instruction. Communications in Information Literacy, 6(1), 73.

Detmering, R. & Johnson, A. M. (2012). “Research papers have always seemed very daunting”: Information literacy narratives and the student research experience. portal: Libraries and the Academy, 12(1), 5-22.

Egea, O.M. (2014). Neoliberalism, education and the integration of ICT in schools. A critical reading. Technology, Pedagogy and Education, 23(2), 267-283.

hooks, b. (1994). Teaching to transgress: Education as the practice of freedom. New York: Routledge.

Pagowsky, N. & DeFrain, E. (2014). Ice ice baby: Are librarian stereotypes freezing us out of instruction? In the Library with the Lead Pipe

Ward, D. (2006). Revisioning information literacy for lifelong meaning. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 32(4), 396-402.

  1. See Leigh & Sewny, 1960; Garrison, 1972; Biggs, 1981; Harris, 1992; Hardesty, 1995; Radford & Radford, 1997; Church, 2002; and many more for explanations about how feminized work, stereotypes of neutrality and social awkwardness, and a doctor/nurse-like paradigm influence faculty interactions and exist in expectations. I also integrated this research into a larger presentation on these topics as a keynote for the 2015 Wisconsin Association of Academic Libraries annual conference. []

No Longer an FYAL

Exactly 365 days ago I was exactly ten days into my job as the Electronic Resources Librarian at the University of North Texas. Well, actually – 365 days ago from today, July 13, 2015, was a Sunday (not a Monday) and I was flying to Texas after a belated going-away party back home. How do I know that? By visiting my Facebook profile and flipping through the events of that last year until I found the photos and posts from July 13, 2014. Seeing everything all at once like that was a bit disorienting. It’s so easy to get caught up in the day-to-day and miss the big picture…especially, I think, when the “big picture” involves change that is both large and small.

A year ago I was excited about becoming an academic librarian and looking forward to learning all that entails – and here I am, a year later, still excited and still looking forward to learning. I’d have to say – of all the things I enjoy about being an academic librarian this might be the absolute best. Personal development, at least at UNT, is valued and encouraged. There are opportunities to follow your interests in so many different directions – whether you want to publish original writing, participate in statewide organizations or even take classes (at a steep discount!). I will never get enough of these types of opportunities.

For example: recently I decided to pursue a degree from UNT’s Interdisciplinary Information Science PhD program and so for the last month or so I’ve been taking classes. I am absolutely loving what I’m reading, writing and thinking about in that program and am so happy to be there – and I can’t honestly say that I ever would had had the courage to pursue this dream if it weren’t for having a job where continuing education is valued and supported. In the near future I will also begin a really cool new mentoring program called “Revving up for Research” that the Career Development Group in the UNT Libraries set up for new-ish librarians like myself. With a focus on scholarship, this is yet another opportunity that makes me grateful to be an academic librarian. And these are just the new experiences I’m most grateful for at the moment – there are definitely more, too many to list.

In addition to the changes I’ve experienced, everything from moving cross-country and starting a job in a new field to adopting a new dog, some things are still the same. After a year as an academic librarian I am still passionate about the value of libraries and the important role of libraries (and librarians!) in education. And, in spite of having a decade of professional library experience that includes a year spent finding my place at UNT and getting to know academia, I still feel like a new librarian. I’m starting to wonder – at what point does one stop being a “new” academic librarian? After two years? Five years? Is it an attitude – ‘you are only as new as you feel’? If so then I hope to remain a “new” librarian with lots to learn for the rest of my life.

The New Dog. Very excited to see what's next.
The New Dog. Very excited to see what’s next.

One important lesson learned in the last 365 days that there is not enough time in any given day. All of this growth that I am so excited about does come with challenges – most obviously, being able to balance daily tasks with writing and service and learning. This has pushed me to reevaluate my time-management as well as information-management skills because organizing your files/emails/tasks goes hand-in-hand with good time management. It also led me to reflect on staying focused, which I wrote about in an earlier FYAL post. With so many opportunities available in academic librarianship who has time to waste time? Not this ERL (electronic resources librarian), that’s for sure.

This is a somewhat rambling post, I realize. It is difficult to summarize 365 days that have been so full of change, new experiences and personal growth. I am grateful to have had the chance to write for the ACRLog this year. Doing so forced me to take inventory and do some reflection that I might otherwise not have made time for. Sharing my experience has hopefully been insightful to other new academic librarians and possibly even inspirational to librarians who are considering a career in academia – and to you I say go for it – it’s a great career path that will open doors that you don’t even know exist yet.

The Old Dog and the New Dog. Looking forward to interesting, fulfilling careers.
The Old Dog and the New Dog. Looking forward to interesting, fulfilling careers as academic librarian buddies who are paid in dog food and leash time.