Call for FYAL Bloggers!

With the new academic year coming up soon (or perhaps, for some of you, already begun!), we’re looking to bring on a few new bloggers here at ACRLog. We’d like to thank our 2020-2021 FYAL bloggers Valerie Moore and Kevin Adams. We’d also like to encourage new academic librarians — those who are just beginning in their first position at an academic library — to blog with us during their first year.

FYAL bloggers typically publish posts monthly during the academic year. If you’re interested in applying to be a FYAL blogger here at ACRLog, applications are due by Monday, September 13. Send an email (please include “ACRLog FYAL” in the subject line) to aharrington@pennstatehealth.psu.edu that includes:

– a sample blog post

– a brief note describing your job and your interest in blogging at ACRLog

Proposals are evaluated by the ACRLog blog team. When selecting FYAL bloggers we consider:

  • Diversity of race/ethnicity/gender/sexual orientation/ability
  • Voices from a range of academic institutions (for example, community colleges, research universities, etc.) and job responsibilities within academic libraries (for example, instruction, cataloging, scholarly communications, etc.)
  • Clear and compelling writing style
  • Connection between day-to-day work and bigger conversations around theory, practice, criticism, LIS education, and other issues

Please send any questions to aharrington@pennstatehealth.psu.edu. We’re looking forward to hearing from you!

Scenes from the start of the fall semester

I work at an institution with no mask mandate and no vaccine requirement. The emphasis is on personal responsibility, sphere of influence, and individual liberty. Our Access Services workers have kept our building open over the last year and a half while I and my other liaison services colleagues have been able to work from home, parent at home, teach virtual school to our children from home, etc. We returned to the library part-time this summer and full time now that the semester is in full swing.

The fall semester started on Monday. Masked and unmasked students enter the building in a surging mass looking for computers between classes, a place to sit and study, a break from the oppressive heat, or a working printer. I’m sitting in my office with my door closed fielding class requests from instructors who may or may not want a virtual option. Because of our institution’s politics it’s a weird dance of “we can offer…” and “what are your options?” We can’t come out and say “That’s way too many unmasked students in a classroom built for 30.”

I have virtual meetings with colleagues down the hall. We get together to go on masked walks–unmasked if the crowds are thin–and it’s odd but better than nothing. We are all in sneakers or birks and our comfiest workwear. Everyday brings a new administrative email about vaccine incentives, testing options, contact tracing, flow-charts for classroom instructors, temporary remote work guidelines, etc. We all feel at turns hopeful, fearful, gaslit, angry, and exhausted.

I don’t know what fall semester will look like in 2 weeks much less 2 months from now, and I mean that in terms of work, family, health, and general well-being. I don’t do well with broad uncertainty (hello, anxiety!) but it’s the way of life right now. I’ll take joy in a well-placed LEGO set, an iced coffee, or a day off work to go to an empty beach with my family. I will do what I need to do to do my job well and keep my family safe and healthy.

What is your fall semester looking like this year?

The impossibility of tying up loose ends

This week, I’m writing this blog post from a new location and from a new job. Since April, things have been hectic and frantic and frankly, (not to be dramatic but) life-changing. I wrapped up a job I had been in for four years, moved eight hours to a new city, and started a new job. I survived the first week and am excited about what week two will bring. 

As I was packing up and getting ready to leave, I was struck by all the things I could do and felt like I should do in preparation for my exit. This pressure also came from the legacy of those who had left my institution in prior years; I thought of the laments and frustrations and eye rolls colleagues (including myself) had when someone left pieces without instructions. I wanted so badly to do right by my job, the projects I had started, and most importantly, by my colleagues and the students involved in our work. 

In the month I had remaining at my former institution, I was appreciative to have Jenny Ferretti’s tweet thread from a few months ago when she changed roles. I spent time writing out the context, the stakeholders, the dreams, and the processes for my work. I connected colleagues and reassured folks that my job during that final month was to make sure all the pieces were in place for future success. I created new SharePoints, walked people through past reports and systems, and set up meetings to talk about these transitions. 

At the beginning of that final month, I felt on top of things. I finally had some space to work on some projects I had set aside for the time being. My calendar wasn’t filling up with new appointments and requests for future work. However, the closer we got to those final days, the less energy I had to devote to tying up work projects. I was moving and had all the things a move creates — new addresses, cancelling services, starting new services, reserving UHauls, seeing old friends before you go, and deciding what stuff I wanted to move. I just didn’t have the brain space to tie EVERY single loose end. 

On my final days of work at my former institution, I tweeted about the loose end emails I knew I would have.

It was comforting to hear folks affirm that tying all the loose ends is impossible and that others were going through similar transitions. I hope that things go okay for the projects at my former institution and that my colleagues there will give me grace for the things I might have missed. 

So now it’s onto a new chapter. I’ve got a small inbox and a clearer calendar. Excited to dive into my new role and thankful for the work I was able to do at my former institution. Can’t wait to share more about my work as a department head on ACRLog in the coming months. 


Featured image by Nathalia Segato on Unsplash

Every Year is Someone’s First Year in Academic Librarianship

With all of the changes in our work over the past year, I know I’m not the only one who’s spent lots of time recently thinking about both the pre-pandemic past as well as the always uncertain future. This historical turn has had the ACRLog blogteam thinking about the past and future of our First Year Academic Librarian Experience series, and we concluded that the slower summer months mark an opportune time for a retrospective FYAL post.

First initiated by ACRLoggers Marc Meola, Steven Bell, and Barbara Fister, the FYAL series began way back in the 2008-2009 academic year, with founding FYALers Olivia Nellums and Susanna Smith. Looking in on their terrific posts from that year it’s so interesting to see that while some things have changed, many, many other aspects of their time as early career librarians over a decade ago have stayed the same. Olivia’s post that touches on “other duties as assigned,” those times in our jobs when we’re doing work we never expected to do, seems especially resonant to me here in the second year of a global pandemic. I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling that the category of “other duties” has sometimes been even more time-consuming since last spring than our usual job responsibilities. I have similar feelings on re-reading Susanna’s consideration of the challenges of collection development with constrained budgets, especially for smaller libraries, a persistent issue even before we had to grapple with increased requests for ebooks as our physical spaces were made inaccessible last year.

After a short hiatus, the FYAL series restarted in the 2012-2013 academic year with FYALers Rebecca Halpern, Ian McCullough, and Kim Miller. Their first posts for the year also highlight themes in early-career academic librarianship that are evergreen: managing a career change (because one constant about academic librarianship is that almost everyone’s path to here is unique), working through the new job jitters (relevant at every stage of our careers, I think), and the transition from graduate school to a library position.

In subsequent years our 2-4 annual FYALers have blogged about a huge range of topics. Learning and getting comfortable with their new academic library job is a common theme, including the experience of some who are in a newly-created position, as was Lindsay O’Neill when she was hired as an instructional design librarian. Many of our FYAL bloggers have come from the instruction and reference side of the house, and we’ve heard from Ariana Santiago on the overlaps between outreach and instruction, and from Sarah Hare about bringing our whole selves into the classroom. On our regular blogteam we usually have fewer folx on the technical services side of the house, and I always appreciate hearing those perspectives on librarianship from our FYALers. Jason Dean shared his experiences as head of a cataloging unit, and Erin Miller took us through a few days in the life of an eresources librarian.

Conference wrapups and discussions about aspects of the research and writing process also make frequent appearances in the corpus of FYAL posts over the years, hardly a surprise since professional service and scholarship is required in many academic library positions. While certainly the biannual ACRL conference shows up in our ACRLog archives, we’ve also appreciated posts on other conferences of interest to academic librarians, including Zoe McLaughlin’s notes on the Joint Conference of Librarians of Color, and Nisha Mody’s thoughts on the annual meeting of the Medical Library Association. Many new academic librarians are in tenure-track positions, and Heidi Johnson shared her appreciation of the different aspects of her tenure-track role. Of course, research and writing isn’t the exclusive domain of those on the tenure track, and we heard from Abby Flanigan about her experiences getting started with scholarly writing. And one sure advantage that academic librarians have in our research process is our familiarity with the tools of the trade, as Lily Troia reminds us in her post discussing using Hypothes.is for web annotation

Our FYALers have also tackled more difficult topics while blogging with us. It can be hard to talk about rejection and failure, in any context and at any stage in our lives, and probably more so for folx who are new in their careers. I truly appreciated reading Quetzalli Barrientos’ post on rejection in librarianship, and Dylan Burns’ take on failure and when things don’t go as we hoped they would. Struggles with work-life balance are not unusual in the first year in a new position, and in higher education jobs more generally, and Chloe Horning reminds us to take opportunities for reflection and recalibration when possible. The stress of a new and demanding job can take a toll on our mental health, in our first year and beyond. I have so much gratitude for Callie Wiygul Branstiter’s post about the impacts of depression on our jobs, and Melissa DeWitt‘s sharing some of the ways she prioritizes her mental health; both posts are full of insightful truths for all of us, whether we’re in our first year or Nth year as academic librarians.

Our most recent FYALers have had the difficult challenges of the covid19 pandemic to grapple with along with all of the other aspects of their new careers. As the pandemic was beginning to shut everything down in North America last March, Yoonhee Lee walked us through her new normal during remote work. And while the pandemic reshaped our academic librarian workplaces and practices more than we could have anticipated, there are constants in our work and in our FYALers’ experiences too. Valerie Moore shared honestly about her thoughts as she progresses on the tenure track, while Kevin Adams reminds us that collaboration is and continues to be critical in our work, and offers some strategies for success when we collaborate.

Finally, I know I speak for the entire ACRLog blogteam when I express my heartfelt appreciation to Jen Jarson for wrangling our Where Are They Now? Former FYALs Reflect series. Thanks to Jen’s outreach there were 10 former FYALers who participated in this yearlong series during what ended up being the covid19 pandemic (the first post in the series was published on March 17, 2020). It was lovely to catch up with everyone who contributed a Where Are They Now? post, and to read their reflections on how their careers — both inside and outside academic libraries — have evolved.

It’s been so much fun for me to review our First Year Academic Librarian Experience series over the years, thanks for reading if you’ve made it this far! And if you’re starting your first year as an academic librarian we’d love to have you join us on ACRLog for next year as a FYAL blogger — keep an eye out for a call for applications to come later this summer.

Another post on burnout, or A pep talk on cultivating an empathic attitude

I’ve been in this profession long enough to know that it’s often around this time of year that I usually start to feel really burnt out. Looking back through some of my old ACRLog posts, I found one from some time ago where I reflected on this very feeling…and tried to see past it. It makes sense that a transitional period or even a breaking point can follow the pace and workload of the ever-hectic academic year. 

Of course, this wasn’t a typical academic year. The pandemic–and all its related professional and personal stressors and uncertainties–exacerbated the strains we all regularly endure. As a result, I think my sense of end-of-year burnout has been amplified, as well. I’m referring to the sense of fatigue, detachment, lack of motivation, and difficulty focusing that are typical hallmarks. But what strikes me most this time around relates to my capacity for empathy. 

I’ve always considered myself an empathetic person. In recent months, though, I’ve been feeling that my capacity for empathy has diminished. I’m thinking that the course of the last year and a half has made me feel more emotionally strained and, therefore, more emotionally ungenerous or inflexible than I’ve felt in some time. Because I’m closer to my own limits, I feel more emotionally stingy with others.

I’ve generally taken pains to practice empathy and considered it to be a foundational characteristic of my personality and–in my professional sphere–my teaching, leadership, and managerial styles. Empathy fuels my interest in and perspectives on the world: it motivates me, facilitates effective communication, and strengthens collaboration. So to feel diminished in my capacity for empathy feels like a pretty big deal. 

If you’re at all familiar with the research literature, media coverage, or even just the general conversation on burnout, you know that it can show up in different ways or arenas and that strategies to address it may vary accordingly. These range from creating space for breaks and reflection and practicing self-care and compassion to reducing workload and setting and maintaining boundaries and much more. Of course, individual strategies can only take us so far; organizational approaches are needed for wider cultural change. 

While none of these strategies are a surprise, that doesn’t mean they’re easy to implement or sustain. So as I sit here at more or less the midpoint of the academic summer–lamenting how much of my “break” is already behind me, how much I have to accomplish, and how much of a real break I still need–I’m thinking about how to recharge, assert my agency, and affirm the meaning of my work again, like all the articles say to do. It’s here that I begin to wonder if my symptom might, in fact, also be my solution. Rather than waiting for the stars to align and my capacity to return to me fully restored, I’m thinking instead about how to pursue it–how to intentionally cultivate empathy, even in small ways, and reflect on the value it adds to my outlook, my work, my relationships. If I can re-frame it as a choice to make, a habit to practice, and an attitude to cultivate, then it becomes a path I can follow. Perhaps focusing my attention on taking steps to reclaim my capacity for empathy will be precisely the treatment I need to address my burnout.

How are y’all faring? How do you restore or maintain your capacities when burnout strikes? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.