Tag Archives: professional development

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?

Words, Censor, and Professionalism when WTF?!

That quaint blog post I published last month squeaked out just before Nazi rioters marched, threatened, and violently harmed counter protesters (killing one) in Charlottesville, VA. This post comes at the heels of the “worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history” (1)  at a Las Vegas music festival.  My first ever post for ACRLog was indirectly a response to the Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting – the previous “worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history”.   Not to mention plenty of crazy sh*% that happened in between, including a deadly shooting in the heart of my own downtown.

Zohra Saulat’s HLS/ACLog Collaboration post last week on professional uses of twitter made me think about the scope and purpose of blog writing as well. Granted, the relevance of academic blog posts may  have already been questionable, but with all that’s  happening in the world, the practice seems suuuuper unimportant by comparison.   

Trying to get myself back to normal work after such events requires a bit of music therapy. This usually settles my brain enough to keep me focused and driven to stay on task. It also helps all the feels inside have space and language to work through what doesn’t make any sense.  Somewhat atypically as therapy goes, I recently started listening to Kendrick Lamar’s (probably NSFW) Be Humble .  The takeaway message to sit down and be humble in a way characterizes my go-to response to tragedy and the shame-spiraling need to do something while realizing I don’t have the first clue what or how.  When I first heard the radio version of Be Humble, the rhythm was what really grabbed me. The refrains’ driving hol’ ups, against beats of censured silence counter-intuitively push and pull the lyrics’  directive to sit downbe humble.  The full uncensored version of this single, as you may expect, has a much harder message to hear.  I can’t yet decide if that is just the how the language raises my white, Christian lady eyebrows, or if it challenges me to a serious musical-linguistic study of what changes when the word b!%@# replaces silence, and vis versa – that’s another post altogether.  I continue to force myself to listen to the uncensored version because I’m a stubborn, analytical sort by nature and because I know I need to test and question those eyebrows.

“If you’re going through hell, keep going.”
-Winston Churchill

So what does this have to do with libraries?  My leadership responsibilities in the libraries concern people and how they work  – not just at work, or the work they do, but how they think and relate and cooperate within the work and with others. The events that shape our lives, not just at work, matter a great deal in this respect and challenge the notion that there are strict dividing lines between our work and private lives.  At times, not so fraught as these, some may question the need for this or that professional development training, or why we are addressing such heavy-feeling topics like emotional intelligence, active shooter training, microaggression, and privilege.  These events have an unfortunate way of focusing our attention to them.

When the career test I took some pre-internet years ago showed only librarian, I thought I’d overestimated the amount of weight I could lift — you know, handling books. I had no idea I would be handling license negotiations or learning code, let alone dealing with bullying in the workplace, accident reports, the senseless death of colleagues, or facing and challenging my own racism and other phobias.  However, if there is any truth to what I have learned through 17 years in academia, I know it has come by deeply considering how events, both horribly tragic and enormously joyful, have actively shaped my professional and personal paths.  As it turns out, a wholly different kind of heavy-lifting is required in my day-to-day work and leadership.

I continue writing amidst these greater, weightier issues as a matter of development.  Writing helps me think before I talk and think more quickly as I talk, which enables me to respond better within moments, not just after the fact.  Fundamentally, though, I do not blog because I think my words matter significantly to these events or that a wider audience will be changed by any words I offer.  I mostly do it because of how I am changed by it.  As small, removed, and privileged my development is against the experience of gun violence, police brutality, rape culture, and systemic oppression, not changing – letting guilt and privilege stop my changing — is no longer an option for me.

One different action I have taken to be more than just a seated, humble thinker and writer has been becoming an facilitator for the ACTive bystander training for sexual violence prevention (2).  This month I co-facilitated my first session with about 20-30 freshmen.  I am not an instruction librarian, remember, and confess I couldn’t help but agree with an initial reaction to my embarking on this challenge.

“That is some heavy material for a librarian.”

Determining how best to reach out meaningfully to serve others, especially in the face of violence and injustice, I think requires an openness to seeking out a common denominator.  That common denominator, interestingly, is not common to every single person.  So, while Lady Gaga points to kindness — and I’m all about that — as librarian, I am about questioning.  By remembering to question myself, I stay humble and kind in responding to painful tragedies that leave me without words.  Amidst my growing awareness of injustices in everyday work and life, this questioning is also the necessary preventative to a more damaging temptation to shut down myself or others.

(1) CNN charts the Deadliest mass shootings in modern US history (1949 to present) at http://www.cnn.com/2016/06/13/health/mass-shootings-in-america-in-charts-and-graphs-trnd/index.html

(2) This training was adapted from Bringing in the Bystander, a program developed by the Prevention Innovations Research Center at the University of New Hampshire, and One Act, a program developed by Student Wellness at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

 

Relationship Priorities from the Forest to the Library

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I just returned from my annual family vacation in Colorado.  Amidst the forest bathing and a slower daily pace, I always experience a deep dive into relationship building on these trips.  Riding in a compact Fit for the eight hours it takes to get there, and living for a week in a different “home”,  does test and stretch patience.  The physicality of hiking and even adjusting to new altitudes requires a certain reckoning of oneself.  This year we were battling swimmers ear in high altitude and an overall slack in physical fitness. Both required accepting limitations in ways we weren’t used to and spending a greater amount of time in quiet inactivity.  With each year, however, I always discover new strengths and unique differences in myself, between fathering and mothering, wifery and husbandry, sibling to sibling, and among hikers who want to push on versus those who want to rest. 😉

This thinking on relationships helpfully segues my mind to the arrival of August and the start of a new school year. As the students return and faculty prepare course syllabi, my more isolated, internal, summertime work turns externally, patron-oriented.  As my library is also discussing its strategic priorities for the next two years, words like collaboration, partnership, engagement, and development abound.  In every practical discussion around seeing our own work in these priorities, the actionable path forward always points to relationship building.  Just me?  Perhaps.  As one of my favorite quotes suggests, I have come to believe relationships are key to how we accomplish real goals.

“If you want to go fast, go alone.
If you want to far GO TOGETHER.”

– African Proverb

I didn’t always think this way.  I usually preferred fast and alone.  Both personally and professionally, my default is still often internally-focused and analytical.  One of the stories I tell about my path to librarianship — besides it being the only result of my junior high career test — is that in my first job as an elementary school music teacher, I was much more interested in discussion music theory than singing songs.  Now, it’s true, I justifiably lacked the necessary accompanist skills.  Moreover, I know preference for the analytical side to just about everything was to blame.  “What a great match for librarianship!” I thought at the time, conceiving the profession as solely concerned with how things ought to be organized.    Working in libraries quickly taught me that the most efficient and organized ways involved learning from others.  My favorite analytical question soon became “Who?” rather than “How?” or “Why”.  Eventually learning to build relationships with vendors became the best way to get what was needed on both sides of a negotiation.  Understanding vendors’ relationships within their own organization helped alleviate undue aggravation and reduced miscommunication.   My first aha moment as a new leader (and still a magnificent daily challenge) is what comes from just listening to others.

Taking an analytical approach to building relationships made it easier for me in some ways.  But, like too much process thinking,  it has sometimes kept human connection at a safe distance.  I often got by using my analytical side to figure out how I respond to others and circumstances rather than in relationship together with them.  Let’s be fair. The relationship business is messy and time-consuming.  I’ve learned that can be OK, and how analysis is just one step of many to decluttering it.  Working through problems, successes, new ideas, and ultimately changing with others creates bonds.  As bonds suggest, I believe stronger relationships and work/life places result.

Thankfully, I can continue analyzing to my heart (or brain?)’s content with ACRLog and in my research.  My analytical passion now focuses on seeking ways in which technical services can get beyond mere transactions to richer, more interpersonal communication and sense-making.  It’s proven to be messy, challenging, and very worth it.

 

 

 

Silent Fireworks, HRC, and #ALAAC2017

Battling summer sinobronchitis — not allergies as it turns out — certainly puts a damper on conference travel.  It has also contributed to feeling less than celebratory leading up to the Independence Day holiday. The fact that July 4th fell on a Tuesday made celebrating all the more awkward.  This year I noticed recirculated articles advocating  silent fireworks which seemed an excellent alternative given the current mood, and certainly spares animals (and the rest of us) the anxiety.  Alternatively, quiet bursts of colorful light seem to aptly juxtapose my idyllic reminiscence of this holiday with the grief and frustration I’ve felt about the state of my country in the past year.

Similar highs and lows marked my experience of ALA Annual in Chicago the weeks prior.  I always hope, perhaps naively, that conferences will both reassure and challenge me as a professional.  These competing emotions are familiar companions to learning or undertaking anything enormous or new, and I can usually always find something new at ALA. This year there were only a few glimmers as far as programming and my usual professional networking.  I got much more out of the professional-social networking I experienced both online and  in serendipitous face-to-face meetings.

One particularly spectacular session I attended gave an overview of how libraries are supporting researchers’ text and data mining needs from both the licensing and technical ends.  While the session also had a good balance of presentation and discussion, I still left feeling like a whole pre-conference could be devoted to this topic.  The terrifyingly relevant session, Hacking the Web of Science data?…, also had me hanging on every word and  fighting the familiar existential dread.  Eamon Duede, executive director of Knowledge Lab & Metaknowledge Research Network at the University of Chicago,  analyzed particular combinations within the Web of Science haystack to discover patterns in the attention research gets versus the disruption it causes.  He found that big teams of researchers, who get a lot of attention and funding, aren’t the ones with disruptively new discoveries.  He also noted patterns that show the majority of biomedical funding goes to helping address lower-level societal suffering, rather than targeting society’s more critical ills.

On the networking side, I joined a social gathering of those interested in FOLIO development. In addition to free craft beer and grilled cheese shooters (brilliant!), I got to talk to a wide range of colleagues, from friends working very closely with FOLIO functionality, to meeting others with no idea what FOLIO is.  At an ACRL University Libraries Section social hour,  I met and talked shop with several very cool Arizonans, and got a tip on the “wild librarian party” underway in the ALA presidential suite.

On a more professional note, I had a successful discussion with one of the four big deal publishers with whom my library will be negotiating in the coming year.  I had intended to arrange this meeting in advance, but time got away from me.  So, I was impressed that I got two reps to sit down with me on the spot and have a productive discussion on some pretty complex issues.  Although it was just handshakes and elevator speeches to three other publishers,  I navigated the exhibits floor with a refreshing confidence for a change.

One of the more disappointing events, unfortunately, was the highly anticipated closing keynote by Hillary Rodham Clinton.  I decided to extend my trip and work in a visit to see my dad in southern Illinois where an extra overnight stay would be more manageable.  This meant a three-hour drive through farmland highways.  Since the weather and 55 mph roads permitted,  I had the windows down and filled up on the olfactory memories of my fourths of July spent here as a kid.  Perfectly timing my arrival back in Chicago just three minutes before the keynote start spared me the long line and still offered a pretty good seat up front.

Clinton’s keynote certainly sparked emotions, laughter, cheers, and even a bit of dancing.  Her calls to “fight to defend truth and reason, evidence and facts” were reflexively encouraging, but the rest was nothing I’d not already heard top-name speakers say to librarians before.  Given the brevity of the talk and without Q&A (but I get it), I just found it lacked the engagement and inspiration I had imagined. Call it silent fireworks, I guess just seeing the “first woman candidate of a major national party” in real life was apparently all there was to it.  I left asking myself, how did that even matter?

Looking back,  I am realizing how this naive disappointment and my subsequent desire for an quieter 4th of July is nothing noble or humble.  In fact, I suspect it illustrates my own privileged denial and fears more than anything.  What’s worse, I know it perpetuates inaction.  With the help of my social networks, I’m impatiently trying to move beyond just thinking on this.  I do see ever deeper glimpses of privilege and the problem that presents to my professional values.  For starters, though, I’m pretty sure my introverted conference fatigue on day three is privileged. I haven’t unpacked many good practical actions in response yet.  But, I must now, knowing that this spark has been ignited for some time.

 

Confessions on Owning and Honing Your Weaknesses

The month of June marks the ramp up to fiscal close in my neck of the library wood.  In the otherwise quiet summer of academia there is this corner of buzzing frenzy. Staff work though last minute orders, pay invoices, troubleshoot problems, answer questions about the various statuses of the cash flow, and pull and prepare data to estimate a new year’s allocations.  In my role, I mostly coordinate various inter-dependencies of the workflows and people that must align for these numbers to be properly reconciled. Thankfully for all I’m not responsible for the number-crunching.

You see, I’ve never had the intuitive ease with numbers accountants, or it seems an acquisitions librarian, is expected to have.  I prefer to visualize and think around things rather than operate in the linear calculus that numbers require.  My analytical mind loves to think about cause and effect, and even the many complex inversions and formulas that produce usable data and its visualization. But producing those inversions on the spot, even in simple arithmetic, doesn’t come easy for me.  It explains why I was always terrible at timed math tests, but loved algebra and geometry.  I struggle with sewing patterns that instruct from the inside out, but love cooking, where I can follow strict instructions and play with them to my taste.

When I worked in serials, calculations took on linguistic obscurity when it came to publication frequencies and title changes.  “Is twice a month semi-monthly or bi-monthly?” Does continues mean what a title it used to be? Or what it will be going forward?”

And to this day, when gardening,  “Do annuals mean I plant them every year, or that they come back every year?!”

What gets me in trouble in all of this is my strong preference to operate intuitively and efficiently. This means I am often impatient with the extra time it takes me to slowly think through cost comparisons and reports. I know that extra time is necessary for me, though, to make sure it is done right.  Understanding of my own strengths and weaknesses in this way allows me to recognize the need to rely on other tools, systems, and people.  Relying on the strengths of others is not an excuse to avoid your weaknesses. In fact, identifying and using your particular strengths can be a tool to overcome weaknesses, and it can mean talking about those vulnerabilities in more empowering ways.

This important skill is perhaps most practically applied in job interviews, where some variation of “What are your strengths and weaknesses?” is no doubt asked. The best interviewers do this using behavioral questioning or appreciative inquiry techniques, which often ask for examples that demonstrate direct personal experience with particular skill or trait.  My first ever job interview was as a senior in high school, and I had no previous work experience.  So I had to answer questions about what I find difficult when working with others using only my school experience.  Thinking of various show choirs and musicals, where I had to practice and perform with my ex-boyfriend (among other  characters), I answered:

“Sometimes I have a hard time separating my personal life from my work.”

*crickets chirping*

Surprise! I did not get the job.  Not knowing a lot about myself at 17, I failed to realize my strength as a performer was precisely the fact that I actually can and do work with others, even those with whom ‘it’s complicated’, probably better than the average person.   Even though inside it was a hormonally-charged tornado of difficult emotion, I could summon my inner Olivia Newton John and nail Grease’s  “You’re the One That I Want” number with a smile on my face. With each interview I got a little stronger at framing my skills.  When interviewing for a waitress position, in which I did have some experience, I shared my thoughts about an unreasonably disgruntled customer, but described how I worked foremost to best meet that customer’s need.

As I’ve learned more about how my own strengths help my weaknesses, I know I thrive in project management roles because there is a framework to breakdown milestones, tasks, and timelines.  I thrive on learning to use new tools because they help me be more efficient and accurate.  Perhaps most importantly, I rely the strengths of the people with whom I work.  What is painstaking for one person is often the effortless strength of another who is happy to be asked to contribute what they do best.  When dealing with numbers, as I must inevitably do in the day-to-day work of acquisitions and resource sharing, I strategize (a strength of mine) to build in the extra time to sit with, play with, and picture data (my analytic strength).  I am constantly using my learning strength not just to find new tools that can help me, but to know more about myself and others.  I also have an individual relational strength that allows me to know and connect with other people and the unique strengths they offer.

In my seventeenth year experiencing and third year overseeing the fiscal close, I’m putting my anxiety around the numbers in better perspective. I’ve come to see that working through vulnerabilities and getting help where you need it is not abnormal at all. It’s what a responsible adult person would do.

Please tell me your favorite job interview story!  What would you do over, if you could, from a position of strength?