Tag Archives: process

When is the Struggle TOO Real?

One of the advantages of having a partner who happens to be a math professor is that we can talk academic shop. A few weeks ago, over a serious dishwasher unloading, we started talking about a recurring theme manifesting itself in our college’s faculty Facebook group: toughening up college students. From debates about trigger warnings to conversations about cultivating students’ grit and comfort with failure, our colleagues are consistently inconsistent about how we should help college students succeed in academia and life. I’ll lump myself and my partner into this group, too. As a faculty we want to be sensitive to student needs and life experiences, but we also don’t want them to fall apart if they get a bad grade on an exam. We want them to make a real attempt at solving a difficult problem or tackling a challenging project on their own before asking for help, but we also recognize that many students have serious outside stressors (economic, familial, emotional, etc.) that might prevent them from giving their all to their studies.

For years librarians have been chanting that “failure is good” because it is a signal of attempted innovation, creative practice, and learning (particularly when applied to information literacy instruction). We want our students to learn from their mistakes, which means they have to make them first. Math education is no different. There’s a small but mighty push for experiential and problem-based learning within the discipline that wants students to learn from their mistakes. As my partner and I discussed this we couldn’t help but wonder:

At what point is the struggle too much?

Earlier in the day he’d met with a student who claimed she was working on one homework problem for 4 hours. Earlier that semester I’d met with a student who spent an entire weekend looking for research in the wrong places with the wrong search terms. I’m all for giving it the old college try, but in both cases, this just plain excessive struggle for little reward. As a librarian who has been doing this job for a while, I have a good sense of when I’ve tapped my intellectual well. I know when to ask for help. My partner does, too. Most academics know when to take a step back, take another approach, or ask a colleague for suggestions. But this is a learned skill. We like to think of it as tacit knowledge–students have to experience failure to know when they are failing the right way as opposed to just struggling unnecessarily–but is it really? Does the experience alone help them gain this knowledge? Or can the struggle just be too real for some students, leading them to eventually equate math or research with pointless stress?

I think the key in the library classroom is not to focus on failure but to focus on process: Model, practice, repeat–over and over again. It’s a challenge when so much of students’ grades depend on a final product (an exam, a paper, a presentation, etc.) and often requires a shift in emphasis from the professor. By modeling a process–a step I think we (and I know I) often overlook in our attempts to make our classrooms spaces for active learning–we give students a sense of what struggle can look like. Granted, there’s no one standard process for research, and we don’t want to imply that there is one, but making our thinking and doing visible to our students can go a long way towards demystifying research. We get stuck, we back-track, we try again, we struggle, but we are never alone when we do so. It’s something I try to stress to all my students in hopes that they too feel like they never have to struggle alone.

Finding and Valuing My Own Voice

Today is my birthday. I am 24 years old. Today also marks the end of my time as an ACRLog blogger. I wanted to use this last blog post to reflect on how much blogging for ACRLog has been foundational to my development, not only a librarian but as a whole person.

When I started blogging, I was a second-year LIS student. I saw ACRLog’s call for new bloggers and, desperate for more lines on my CV in preparation for my upcoming job search, I applied. I had no idea how much blogging would impact me and, someday, become much more than a credential. I had never read Hack Library School (HLS) or seen LIS students blog regularly. I am thankful that the administrators of the blog, Maura Smale and Jen Jarson, accepted and encouraged me. They believed that it was worthwhile to give voice to an LIS student perspective.

My first post, which was about Dr. Steven Salaita’s intellectual freedom case against the University of Illinois, was an amalgamation of many half-developed, disconnected thoughts. I wrote about what the case meant for faculty governance, scholarly communication, and evaluation processes in higher education. I was taking my first scholarly communication class at the time, which meant that I had already started grappling with these ideas. Writing the post gave me the opportunity and the space to piece my thoughts together and shed light on how all of these seemingly unrelated conversations were connected. I was empowered to imagine something new and, even more importantly, reflect.

Every post I have written since that first one has happened in the same way. While (I hope!) that my writing has improved, my process has stayed the same. Before a post, I find myself revisiting conversations, experiences in the classroom, blog posts, and Tweets that push me to think differently. I reflect on how these pieces connect or how they’ve shaped my practice. Often this means that my posts are disconnected, with multiple theses and tangents. But it also means that I’m always becoming a better, more introspective librarian. I know that ACRLog has helped me find this process. It’s something that I hope to continue long after this last post.

There’s a difference between finding one’s voice and valuing one’s voice. I share my age above for a reason. Before I started blogging, I had a hard time believing that anything that I had to say was worth sharing. As someone incredibly inexperienced, I did not have the courage to share my perspective. I hadn’t taught extensively. I was just learning about openness and scholarly communication. I felt like a true novice. When others started sharing, lifting up, and commenting on my ACRLog posts, it helped me realize that a novice perspective is incredibly valuable. It helped me recognize that I could reframe and question concepts that I was still learning about. I found that my new, fresh perspective could be an asset. I always knew that I had something to say. Blogging helped me realize that it was worth saying.

These realizations have solidified my commitment to lifting up LIS students. I have found that our field often conflates ability with experience. Like much of my first year as a librarian, blogging for ACRLog has taught me that newness is not always a limitation. Newness sometimes enables us to see brokenness when others can’t, particularly in ingrained and entrenched practices. That’s why I’m thankful for ACRLog’s collaboration with HLS last January. I’m appreciative of Maura and Jen, and their willingness to run with the idea. I know that we highlighted LIS student perspectives as well as Hack Library School’s blog. I hope that the collaboration gave regular ACRLog readers who might not read HLS an opportunity to recognize and grapple with LIS student concerns.

Finally, being a part of the ACRLog team has been refreshing and life-giving for me. It’s been a constant reminder of the generosity and kindness of many of my library colleagues. I applied to be an ALA Emerging Leader last month. As a part of the application, I was asked to describe effective leadership. I wrote the following:

Effective leadership creates space for others to grow to their full potential. Thus, for me, leadership is not centered on power or control. I believe that we can have the greatest influence when we teach, mentor, and help others develop to be the best that they can be. While it is time-intensive, the investment in others enables them to create lasting, impactful change in the future…It is centered on the principle that working with others always makes ideas stronger and strategies more thoughtful.

Working with encouraging, invested mentors and colleagues through ACRLog has made this abundantly obvious to me. From the writing suggestions they’ve given me to the example they’ve set for shared collaborative work, the ACRLog team has helped me grow to my full potential. Working closely with the First Year Academic Library (FYAL) bloggers has also given me the opportunity to help others grow. I’m thankful for the opportunity to grow while also playing a role in the development of others.

I know that, while it’s difficult, leaving ACRLog will create space for new voices and give me time to pursue other projects (some of which ACRLog has made possible). I hope that the next set of bloggers finds and values their own voice—blogging has been an invaluable tool for helping me to do so.