A Weekly Log of an Atypical Month

I don’t know what to say about COVID-19, and all the different ways we are experiencing loss at this time. I thought writing about it would help me process and reflect, but I’ve been struggling to focus. I realized that all of the anxieties I have about being a new librarian on a contract has been exacerbated by all the uncertainty happening in the world. 

So, today I’m going to write about what work has looked like for me this past month and reflect on how things have changed so quickly. I’m not sure what a “typical” day or week is supposed to look like during this unprecedented extraordinary time. 

Week 1

Looking back, the first week of March for me was jam packed with lots of learning! I attended a webinar on career planning for early career librarians, went to a talk on archival optimism, listened to a colleague’s guest lecture, and learned about making accessible educational resources. I also FaceTimed with a library mentor, had a meeting with a colleague about library discovery and citation management tools, and had coffee with a colleague to ask about their experience with ACRL Immersion. On top of that, I had a reference shift everyday that week, so it was filled with lots of student interaction. I don’t remember the week as being busy or overwhelming though. I think it was a week where I felt energized and excited to learn. My agenda was filled with goals and todos, related to professional development this summer. This week was my last “business as usual” week. 

Week 2

Although my mom had been cautioning me about COVID-19 for weeks, particularly through relaying news about the situation in Korea, this was the week where I started to worry. Some conferences had started to cancel events, and some universities started to move classes online. I could no longer ignore the news. I had plans to attend and present at LILAC, an information literacy conference in the U.K. But with the escalating news about COVID-19 around the world, I became increasingly uneasy about the idea of travelling. I worried that I was overreacting, and that I was letting my impostor syndrome about presenting influence my decision. However, I couldn’t shake the uneasy feeling, and ended up dropping out of the conference. 

It was strange trying to tamp down my increasing panic and worry, while doing my normal work. I taught two classes that week. Other than saying “wash your hands!” at the end, it was a regular information literacy session. While I went through the motions of my regular work week, answering reference questions, and pointing students to university web pages on COVID-19 updates, it was clear that things were evolving rapidly. 

Week 3

Monday, I went into work, mostly to pack up my things. The university had announced on Friday afternoon that classes would be moving online. The library was still open, but I could do my work from home. We had our first virtual team meeting that day, and much of the week was coming to terms with our new work environments and figuring out ways to stay in touch with one another. Because my classes had all wrapped up, I did not have to worry about moving my teaching online. Instead I reached out to instructors I had worked with, reminding them that online research help is available for students. The week was a blur, and I tried to give myself small concrete tasks, like making sure my stats were up to date, compiling online webinars and resources in a spreadsheet, and reading through student feedback forms. I was also on Twitter constantly throughout the week, looking for updates about library closures, at my place of work and elsewhere. The library finally closed on Friday.

Week 4

This week, things started to feel more settled — at least in terms of work. I had virtual meetings, check-ins, and lots of online lunches with colleagues. I’ve also had the time and space to think about scholarship and professional development. I’ve started looking into online classes, enrolled myself into webinars, and updated my CV. Coincidentally, I recently also got peer reviewer feedback on and article I submitted, and am beginning to revisit the article. My work consists of 70% professional practice and 30% of scholarship and service. I had always found it challenging to set aside time to read, think, and engage with scholarship while balancing my professional practice work. I’m hoping that being outside of my office will help me focus and dedicate actual time to reading and reflecting this spring and summer. 

That being said, I’m still very aware that we are living in a global pandemic, and that peoples lives are being uprooted. I’m glad to have a supportive community around me to help navigate how to be an academic librarian during this time. Hopefully my April will be less about anxiety and worry, and more about rebuilding and excitement about the future.

See y’all next month, and in the meanwhile take care and stay safe!

Work-From-Home: Part-Timers & Student Workers

Most academic library employees across the country have been working from home for the better part of two weeks now, and will be doing so for an unknown amount of time this spring (and summer?) due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

What about our part-timers and student workers? In my library, I have two dozen part-time employees whose assigned job is exclusively working at the service desk when the rest of the staff has gone home for the evening/weekend. This is not work that can be done from home, or when the physical space of the library is not in use: checking in/out items, providing basic computer assistance to users, counting the cash drawer, etc. So what can they do?

I (like so many others) have been trying to think of work we can offer to these employees so we can justify paying them for tasks they can do from home. I realize that many of our institutions are taking a hard look at their budgets right now, and paying your part-timers and student workers for as many hours as you could before might not be feasible (or might not continue to be for the duration). But if you give them meaningful work to do now, they will look less expendable on paper.

A few days ago, our university libraries put out a call for student workers to start a project where they document their experiences during the pandemic/quarantine, in whatever medium they choose (print, video, art, etc.) and we can pay them for their contributions to the special collection these products will go into. (Take a moment to imagine the exhibit these will go into in a couple decades, perhaps alongside personal writings from the Spanish flu pandemic and the yellow fever outbreak! One second while I add a calendar reminder to check on that in, say, 2040?)

Because of the aforementioned potential budget changes, we can only offer so many hours per week to the student employees participating in this project, but I’ve been constantly vigilant for opportunities for my part-timers to work from home. A few ideas I’ve run across are:

  • Link-checking LibGuides
  • Contributing to new LibGuides of free online resources and COVID-19 resources
  • Assisting with responding to reference emails or participating in reference chat services
  • Plan displays/exhibits for when we return (book lists, graphic design, etc.)
  • Contribute to Library of Congress transcription projects
  • Relevant webinars/training (like Lynda/LinkedIn Learning)
  • Required or optional institutional training (compliance, cybersecurity, etc.)
  • Create a written guide on the tasks they normally perform, for future training purposes
  • Curate a list of the aforementioned trainings/readings for others to use
  • Weeding projects (based on booklists, not physical item’s condition, of course)
  • Manually extending interlibrary loan periods

Not all of these will work for us, but some are possibilities. Some would require getting access for them to systems they couldn’t normally access; most would require some degree of specialized training, and all would have to follow specific hours guidelines to ensure that we aren’t paying out more hours than we are budgeted for. If you’re worried about giving your employees something they aren’t prepared for, consider: you’ve heard about last-year medical and nursing students being called on to assist in the medical side of this crisis; surely your part-timers and student workers can be called upon to do more specialized tasks than they were doing before.

What tasks are you having your part-timers complete during this time, if any? What resources can you provide for them while they are essentially suspended from work? What other considerations do you have to incorporate (for example, do they need a VPN to get this work done, or can you provide laptops to them)?

The Teleworking Diaries: Initial Thoughts from Working Remote

Last week, things didn’t seem so bad and I told myself I wasn’t going to write about the coronavirus for this month’s blog post. I told myself I would write about a project I’m working on or an element of librarianship I wanted to do a bit of a deep dive into. But this, this pandemic, is a “rapidly evolving situation” and now it would just feel strange if I didn’t talk about it. I’m using this post to mark time, to capture my early thoughts about working remotely, using Zoom, and growing a community while being contained in my apartment in Central Pennsylvania.  

So much has changed in just a week. Each day feels like we are waiting for another shoe to drop. My institution has moved entirely online for the spring semester, commencement is canceled, and my days often revolve around checking maps, watching press briefings, thinking about vocational awe as libraries debate about closing to the public, and listening to podcasts on the pandemic.

I’ve been teleworking for about a week. It seems that every day is a bit of a rollercoaster. A slow start to each morning followed by an increasingly accelerated series of meetings, decisions, chats, and emails. The ride returns to the starting line between 5-5:30 PM and I quickly pack up my remote office, in an effort to stop myself from picking at work until bed. I’ve started to go for a post-work walks in my neighborhood and can’t help but notice the large amount of lion lawn ornaments folks have. Transitions between activities, especially work and personal, seem more important these days. Time has a new meaning, with nowhere to go and no plans to make. 

As a student engagement librarian, my semester has bottomed out. Many of my events have either been canceled or are in the process of going fully online. This week I’ve created a lot of Zoom links, talked through remote possibilities for student work and events, and watched how the students I work with adapt to using remote methods. As someone who normally participates in a lot of online meetings, it never really occurred to me to change my display name or add a colorful background of a sunset. In some ways, it feels like I’m learning Zoom all over again. 

In attempting to find a new normal (if we even want to call it that), I noticed the tension between wanting to just up and move everything online, as if this is a choice we willingly made, and the need to slow down and accept what’s happening around us. While some things cannot simply be plucked from face-to-face and moved online, there are other things that seem better suited to this new environment. I imagine that whenever we return to our offices, there will be residual effects from this. For someone who considers herself a bit of a workhorse, a “stay late and get it done” sort of gal, this change to teleworking has pushed me. I’ve been trying to accept the idea that it’s okay to take a beat to regroup and refocus. I try to hold that same space for my colleagues and students. As I was reminded in a meeting today, this “normal” we feel this week could look drastically different next week. There’s so much uncertainty in the air.

What this week has shown me is that even in this uncertainty, we have community. I feel a new sense of community and an intention to build. This intention comes in a variety of ways, from the group texts, the Gchats, the Marco Polo videos, and the virtual happy hours. When you’re not with people all the time, there’s a stronger need to (virtually) congregate. It has been reassuring for me to log into a Zoom room and see a friendly face. Even if we spend the first 15 minutes sharing all the information we’ve read and heard on COVID-19, it feels nice to share and know that we’re trying to get through this together. And if this pandemic lasts for weeks on end, our community is the thing that’s going to get us through.

In wrapping up this week, I’ve figured out my own ways of coping and marking time. I’ve started a daily picture of me at work and another thread on things that give me joy. I would be curious to hear how you all are getting through and ways you’ve found to build your community — at your institution or with friends and family, near and far. 
So I’ll end this post with my new sign off, a play on the Call Your Girlfriend signoff — see you in another Zoom room!

Seven years later

Since 2008, ACRLog’s “First Year Academic Librarian (FYAL) Experience” series has annually featured 1-2 academic librarians in their first year on the job in an academic library. This new series, “Where Are They Now? Former FYALs Reflect,” features posts from past FYAL bloggers as they look back on their trajectories since their first year. This month, we welcome a post from Ian McCullough, Physical Sciences Librarian and Associate Professor of Bibliography at the University of Akron.

In 2012 I had the distinct pleasure of being a First Year Academic Librarian blogger for ACRLog. As part of this “where are they now” series, let’s talk about the years since I last blogged here.

One of the reasons I originally wanted to blog is I had absolutely no professional network as a new librarian. Librarianship was a second career and I worked in a lab while taking courses online at night. We had class meetups in Nashville, but the department was in Knoxville and things like collaboration, mentoring, and research opportunities were a step removed from campus. ACRLog got me the attention of people I still call friends. As a new and rootless academic librarian on the tenure trail, the blogging experience was incredibly helpful to me.

Since I stopped blogging in 2013, a lot of things have happened at University of Akron, many for the bad. Our enrollment has dropped by about 10,000 students total which caused predictable Survivor-style winnowing of the workforce via layoffs, not filling positions, and buyouts. There are about half the library faculty as when I arrived and a liaison system seems unrealistic given staffing levels that cannot support the number of subject librarians one would need to do the idea justice. I personally am liaison to nine departments, about 120 faculty and around 1,900 students. I remember being at a conference and someone saying they had 700 students they were liaison for and the room gasped. I was jealous.

I have had, as of now, five university presidents, three provosts, and two library deans. There were many retirements, one of which was my direct supervisor who retired at the end of 2015. I was asked if I would be interim head of the Science & Technology Library, which I agreed to and began in January 2016. A colleague who was more experienced turned down the opportunity, and I was the only other faculty in the branch at that moment. I took the job and had absolutely no reduction in my liaison librarian duties as physical sciences librarian.

I had more than five years of management experience going into the job, so the mechanical parts of management (budgeting and HR stuff) were pretty easy. But it was difficult to leave the faculty bargaining unit, my spot on Faculty Senate, and in general go over to “the other side”. I maintain that my most significant accomplishments as Interim head of the S&T Library are helping relocate the engineering tutoring program physically within the library and getting snack machines put outside the library entrance so students wouldn’t have to leave the building after hours for food. I believe students are more appreciative of the latter accomplishment. After a calm and relatively successful time in this position, another colleague left library management at University of Akron for library management at Harvard University – a career downgrade I still don’t understand. (Don’t send that email, it’s a joke.) Given the particular personal and professional dynamics of the workgroup, I was offered the opportunity to take over leadership of yet another unit. I accepted and became an assistant dean (“ass dean” of course) in December of 2017. If you are following along at home, this is lab rat to assistant dean in less than five and a half years. At the beginning of this position I had two staff, two contract professionals, and seven faculty librarians as direct reports.

When I took this new role, there was absolutely no reduction in my liaison librarian or interim department head duties. I was, quite simply, doing what had once been three jobs (actually more than three jobs, as the S&T Head had absorbed a third of a job before retirement). Also, I was on the tenure clock trying to produce an appropriate number of articles, presentations, and accomplishments in professional service to meet our promotion benchmarks. In this I was successful – I got tenure and promotion in July 2018. I would be curious to learn of other tenure track assistant deans who had the position without tenure yet. I gather it’s a very rare occurrence, but is also a sign of how much upheaval was happening at my place of work.

This is when burnout started to set in. I could do the job, or the three jobs, but I could not do the three jobs well. I was spinning plates, putting out fires, and other notable metaphors for spasmodic action. This period really sucked because working hard to be adequate is a poor trade. Department chairs had a group that met regularly and talked about common issues, not so with assistant deans. I felt my social world constrain at work, and being a manager is hard emotional labor. I learned about the fears, difficulties, illnesses, and family situations of my colleagues at a deeper level than I really wanted. Shouldering all that personal grief and pain for everyone was difficult, more so because the universe of people I could talk to about it was so, so small.

I also started having clashes with coworkers – sometimes about performance issues, sometimes about claims unbacked by facts, sometimes about the direction of the university and the library. It was honestly a miserable experience that I stayed in too long because of money (pro-tip – you make extra money in administration) and not wanting to abandon my dean who also has a huge workload. The final breaking point was an interim president seemingly hell-bent on making the worst decision possible, implemented and communicated in the worst and most aggressive way possible. I mulled it over for many months and asked to step down at the end of July 2019. When I told my wife about the decision, in part to apologize because we would be living leaner, she said, “Oh thank God.” The person who knows me best had been wishing for me to get out of the situation for months and was overjoyed.

The classic union song, “Which Side Are You On” was written by Florence Reece in 1931. My dad was an autoworker and union activist and I remember seeing Pete Seeger sing this evergreen tune live in Detroit. To say that unionism is part of my life is an understatement – it’s a bedrock element of my identity. Increasingly, while a dean, I felt that I was on the wrong side. The university response to economic crisis was, to me, authoritarian and inexplicable, explanations didn’t make sense and discussion was not welcome. The herky-jerky management led to a lot of wasted effort around the university as plans had to be discarded almost as fast as you could attempt implementation. If you do go into academic leadership, you are carrying water for the upper leadership and their decisions – you don’t get to hide when you disagree and leaving the position is the most honest thing you can do if you don’t like what’s happening. I think the only thing I really miss is the occasional (and very flattering) head hunter emails I used to get. Right after I left management, we hired a new university president who is, so far, “pinch yourself, am I dreaming” good. His wizardly move? Running the university like other institutions.

Since leaving management I have become union liaison for University Libraries and was then elected to the Akron-AAUP executive committee. Guess I just like being in the middle of things. I’ve been able to refocus on my librarianship, which I only had three years to figure out before taking on managerial duties, and reconnect with faculty friends. I’ve been able to refocus on previous projects I had to drop before – like learning more about data. I am happier and get more enjoyment from my job. Ultimately, my stint as an assistant dean didn’t suit my values and that internal conflict started leaking out in my disposition. I don’t think the state of Ohio or the university is well-served by eliminating traditional majors and steering students into class delivery modes, and possibly majors, they don’t really prefer. Right now there’s a risk of universities outsourcing their teaching to a cyborg nightmare of Pearson, Cengage, and Blackboard due to financial desperation. That is a future worth fighting against.

Which side are you on?

7 Tips for Starting Small and Coping with Overwhelm

I’ve been feeling overwhelmed lately: botched anesthesia during a surgery left me traumatized and everything became too much almost overnight. I’m sure many of you can relate to these feelings of overwhelm, anxiety, and burnout. Kaetrena Davis Kendrick has created so much amazing work librarians experiencing low morale, documenting and validating our journeys as we navigate these difficult feelings and the daily experiences that trigger them. LGBTQ+ librarians, librarians of color, disabled librarians, and those of us who live at the intersections, are especially at risk. As a white, (gender)queer, disabled, femme librarian, I feel this burden intensely, triggered by the recent medical trauma I endured. I decided to be proactive, vulnerable, and brave by talking to my supervisor about taking medical leave and working half-days. I’m grateful that my supervisor is incredibly supportive and has been there the whole way with me.

All this is to say that I’ve been thinking about how to manage the overwhelm by creating strategies that will allow me to survive this so I can once again thrive. I’ve found the key to managing my feelings of “this is too much” is starting small – and practicing radical acceptance and self-love along the way. Today, I want to share seven of those strategies with you.

01. Just start

Just start – and start small! I set a timer for five minutes and get to work. If I feel like I can handle it, I reset the timer and keep going.

02. Brain dumps and mind maps

Do a quick brain dump – or invest in creating a mind map – to manage large tasks and projects. When I do a brain dump, I draw a container and just write down – or as I call it, word vomit – whatever comes to mind, no filters. Mind maps can be a great way to organize a brain dump.

03. The Pomodoro Technique

I use the Pomodoro Technique to manage my time well. First, you choose a task to focus on and set a timer to 25 minutes. Then, you work on the task until your timer goes off and  PUT A CHECK OR STICKER OR WHATEVER YOU WANT ON A SHEET OF PAPER WHICH IS SO REWARDING! Next, you take a short break (5 minutes or so!) and finally for every 4 checks / stickers / whatevers you accumulate, you take a longer break. I use the Forest app on my phone which plants a tree for every 25 minute session you finish (bonus: the tree dies if you use your phone which eliminates one distraction!).

04. Set SMART goals

SMART goals are: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time bound. This system has really helped me set achievable goals and meet my deadlines with precision!

Art by @beckiebeans

05. Time-blocking

Time-blocking is a time management method that divides your day into blocks of time where each block is dedicated to accomplishing a specific task or group of tasks (called task batching) and ONLY those specific tasks I like to color-code my time blocks since I’m a visual learner.

06. Reminders and alarms

Setting up reminders and alarms on my calendar and phone to remind me it’s time to change tasks, go somewhere, meet someone, take my meds, take a break, hydrate, etc., are a lifesaver. Take that lunch break!

07. Affirmations

Utilize the power of affirmations. Remember, you’re doing the best you can and that’s more than good enough. Even if you’re in a situation that’s difficult, challenging, or just flat-out sucks, remember that you can grow, expand, and transform from those experiences. I know I have.

Finally, remember that there’s help available – and please utilize it because you deserve it. 

How do you cope with feeling overwhelmed?

Karina Hagelin is an artist, community organizer, and Outreach and Instruction Librarian and Diversity Fellow at Cornell University Library. You can find them tweeting about critical librarianship and cats under @karinahagelin or more about their work at KarinaKilljoy.com. They can be reached at karina.hagelin@cornell.edu.