Prepared? Reflecting on grad school after 3.5 months on the job

Lately, I’ve been thinking about how well my MS/LIS degree and its related experiences prepared me for my job now as a Research and Instructional Services Librarian. It’s important to note that I worked in my undergraduate library for three years while receiving my bachelors. I also worked in my hometown public library for a year before heading off to graduate school. I’d worked at a physical reference desk before, had worked with LibChat, and had a base knowledge of databases. I had more library experience than some, and therefore had a better idea of what classes I needed to be taking to become an academic librarian.   

I feel like a broken record saying this, but my graduate experience was quite different and chaotic at best; my first year, I was entirely online (unplanned), assistantship and all. Online classes weren’t necessarily a surprise, given my alma mater’s strong online MS/LIS program, but setting foot in the library I worked for exactly once during the 2020-2021 school year wasn’t something I was expecting. I did chat and email reference, team meetings, and taught workshops all from my tiny bedroom in Urbana, IL. I’d moved to Illinois specifically to have an in-person program, but alas – Covid ruined those plans. My supervisor and the other librarians I worked with did their best to train my cohort remotely, but as you can imagine, the physical reference desk is a whole other beast compared to a virtual one. Even when we went back in person in summer 2021, things felt constantly up in the air. Policies were changing left and right as folks tried to reconcile COVID-19 restrictions with being back in person. If anything, my “chaos cohort” of other graduate assistants were prepared to be adaptable! 

collection development

With that being said, one aspect of my degree that might seem controversial to some is that I actively chose not to take collection development, despite never having done that in any of the previously mentioned library jobs. This was based on some of my friends’ experiences in the class; it was useful, for sure, but there were other classes they’d wanted to take that they couldn’t as a result. I had the thought too that wherever I ended up, they would “do” collections differently. I’d have to learn new processes no matter what classes I took. Now that I’m here at Salisbury, I am responsible for collections in areas like Environmental Studies, Public Health, and Exercise Science, to name a few. I lean on my faculty for book recommendations, as well as Choice Reviews from ACRL and book reviews in journals. I am also part of our Leisure Reading committee, where our main responsibility is to develop our leisure collections for students, faculty and staff. Here, the collection development is a group effort. Personally, I don’t feel like I’ve missed out on too much; I’ve learned how to use GOBI on the job, and my university has a great faculty request system in place.  

instruction

A theme I have noticed in literature regarding the master’s degree is that many academic librarians feel they weren’t adequately prepared to take on instruction. It’s also been written about on ACRLog before. This is something I felt fairly confident about, as I took the class “Instructional Strategies and Techniques for Information Professionals” with Merinda Hensley. We created a lesson plan, struggled through writing learning outcomes (emphasis on the struggle), and wrote teaching philosophies. I also took “E-Learning” with Melissa Wong, which gave me language and strategies for teaching virtually. On top of all of this, I was teaching for the UIUC library via my graduate assistantship. So when setting up instruction sessions with my faculty at Salisbury, I felt confident. I’m always going to be nervous before teaching, but it’s never been because I have no idea what I’m doing.  

faculty communication

Where I feel shaky in regards to my job duties is in communication with faculty. Some of this is to be expected with a new librarian, but where I find myself unsure is how many emails to send, how to reach faculty that don’t already request library instruction… essentially, I am struggling in this aspect of “proving” myself and my job to other faculty at the university. I attended the CLAPS (Critical Librarianship & Pedagogy Symposium) two weeks ago, and Baharak Yousefi’s closing keynote has really stuck with me. Some of these tweets capture the essence of this powerful keynote, which had some focus on one-shot instruction:  

“No physicist, historian, or geographer on our campus teaches this way – going around begging for the right to teach in a one-off manner.” (tweeted by @lydia_zv)  

“We are deprofessionalized by being given work we can’t do well, and the very fact that we can’t do it well makes us reluctant to resist the condition of our de-professionalization” (tweeted by @RoxanneShirazi) 

I didn’t have the words for what I was feeling, but Yousefi has captured it perfectly. I was hired at Salisbury to perform a job, I have faculty status, and yet, it sometimes feels like I need to prove the merit of library instruction. I’ve got some great faculty who know the value of a librarian for their students, but even then, I’m in front of them maybe once a semester. If the timing of our session isn’t quite right, students won’t see the value of what I teach yet or won’t want to re-do their research based on what I’ve shown them. I imagine that confidence in faculty communication will come with time and effort; is this even something an MS/LIS could prepare a new librarian for? I’m inclined to say no. We can perhaps be warned about the phenomenon by professors and mentors, but it strikes me as something a librarian has to experience and address themselves at their institutions.  

These are just a few things I’ve been pondering since graduating. How did your MS/LIS prepare you for your library position? How did it not? Feel free to sound off below. This post by Sarah Crissinger on tips for graduate school might be of interest too. 

Committing and Recommitting to Open

This semester I’ve had a few opportunities to think and talk through my librarian and pre-librarian work, and especially my commitment to open scholarship and teaching. First I was delighted to welcome the graduate students from across the disciplines who are working with my smart library colleagues to develop OER in our open knowledge fellowship this semester. And a few weeks later I was a guest in the Foundations of Information course which is required for Masters students in Pratt Institute’s School of Information. Funnily enough, I wrote about open access publishing in my very first post on ACRLog back in 2008. Revisiting that post was clarifying — it’s easy to forget what our thinking was and how it might have changed, and I’m retroactively grateful to my past self for documenting my thoughts then.

In talking with the students about my disciplinary background and journey to open I started with an introduction: I’m Chief Librarian at the CUNY Graduate Center, and before that was Chief Librarian at NYC College of Technology (City Tech), and before that Head of Instruction at City Tech. Prior to getting my MLIS I worked in digital publishing, in project management and web production jobs. And before that I was an archaeologist and anthropologist, in graduate school and doing fieldwork and contract work in Ireland, New Jersey, and New York City.

In graduate school at New York University in the early 1990s, very little of the research and scholarship I needed access to was digital. I remember spending lots of time subwaying around to other academic libraries in the city and the New York Public Library’s research libraries for journals and books, and lots of time and dimes photocopying (and inhaling copier fumes). While time-consuming, being in NYC meant that I was usually lucky to be able to get access to all of the resources I needed for my coursework and research, and of course the textbooks and coursepacks we were assigned were much less expensive than they are now. Then as now, interlibrary loan was a lifesaver; I’m probably not the only academic to confess to having interlibrary loaned a few out-of-print books that I then photocopied in their entirety, completely oblivious to the copyright implications.

I started working in online media in the latter half of my doctoral program, and my time in publishing made it clear that digital materials were going to be critical to research and scholarship, and also that the transition would be challenging. Thinking back on those positions I’m struck now by how much work, at that time in the late 1990s, it took to figure out how to get the content in our print media published online to our websites as well. And because I was working in commercial publishing there was a lot of concern about how to retain subscribers once our magazine articles were available online.

What I didn’t realize then was what was happening with academic publishing, especially scholarly journals. It wasn’t until I went back to graduate school for my MLIS that I learned about the serials crisis, now a sort of old-fashioned term to describe the continuous price increases by commercial academic journal publishers. And of course commercial textbook publishers have also raised their prices enormously and out of step with inflation. When I look back now, I see that there are a few things that insulated me from this realization during my archaeology degree. One was that NYU (a private institution) and New York City have robust research libraries, for which I’m grateful. But another was the disciplinary conventions of archaeology. I did a lot of citation tracking in my research, and also relied heavily on my advisors’ networks. And realistically there weren’t that many scholars working in medieval Irish zooarchaeology (for example) — if I needed an article by one of them I would ask my advisor or the scholar themselves.

Learning about open access publishing in my MLIS program certainly opened my eyes to the unsustainability and fundamental inequity of scholarly communications. When I started working at City Tech and learned more about our students and CUNY’s public mission to educate “the whole people” of New York City, the imperative for open access publishing (and, a bit later, open educational resources) felt even more urgent to me. I’ve published all of my own scholarship open access, even before I got tenure, and I was vocal about the benefits and quality of open access publishing inside and outside the library at City Tech. My experience as a practitioner and researcher working with CUNY students, including work with my colleague Mariana Regalado of Brooklyn College on how, where, when, and with what tools undergraduates do their academic work, has only strengthened my commitment to open: our scholarship relies on CUNY students’ lived experiences, and should not be locked behind a paywall.

Disciplinary and institutional differences remain a challenge for librarians committed to shifting researchers and educators to open scholarship and curricular materials, though there’s been so much work before and since I’ve been in librarianship. I’m grateful to be joining smart folx at and beyond my institution in this work, and for the chance to speak with students in LIS and other graduate programs about its importance.

A November Check-In from ACRLoggers

Time is flying and somehow we are entering the last two months of the year. Where did 2022 go? As we head towards wrapping up this fall semester, we wanted to get a pulse on how our ACRLoggers are feeling. We hope some of these answers resonate with you! Feel free to use the comments section to respond to one of these questions if you’d like.

What’s something you’re proud of and or excited to celebrate that has happened (or is happening) this fall semester? 

Justin: One thing I’m proud of is having an article published on relational practice of Canadian academic librarians, research that was done collaboratively with a colleague. I feel relational work is invaluable for academic librarianship and oftentimes invisible work, in many ways.

Emily Z: I am mainly proud and happy that I’m making my way through my first fall semester as a full-fledged librarian! It’s been challenging to establish my own workflows, get to know student workers and faculty, and being in a new state, but overall I think it’s going well.   

Alex: I finished co-writing a chapter with a colleague that I’m really happy with about the toxic culture of rankism in higher education. The book won’t be out for a while but our writing and editing is done, and it was a new and educational experience for both of us!

Hailley: I’m currently teaching a seven-week asynchronous course and I’m just happy to be mostly staying afloat with the content and student grading. I’ve taught a version of this course before but it’s my first time teaching it asynchronously for seven weeks. I’m learning a lot and establishing some of the materials as I go.

How do you feel this fall semester has been as compared to other pandemic semesters? What has felt different or new about this fall?

Justin: After coming back to a largely deserted campus in the Winter 2022 term, it’s been great having the campus full (and masked!) for Fall. I’ve been able to get my legs under me with in-person teaching again. Doing things like the human Boolean game has been fun and engaging, and of course being able to talk in-person to students again is great – sometimes I change around what I’m instructing on, based on their non-verbal (and sometimes verbal!) cues.

Now I just wish the coffee shop line was smaller…

Emily Z: I have been hearing from colleagues that this fall has some of the lowest energy AND the highest anxiety they’ve ever seen in students. I think everyone is dealing with burnout, and understandably so. I’ve seen this manifest a bit in my instruction sessions – students just can’t be bothered to do something like create a RefWorks account beforehand. Given the last three years, this isn’t necessarily surprising; I was in their shoes too in my last semester of grad school just a few months ago.   

Alex: This has been the semester when our social distancing and masking guidelines were lifted on the college side of our buildings (the hospital and any areas where you are around patients still have the same rules from 2020). It doesn’t so much feel like a “return to normal” as it does “another version of new rules” like every other time they’ve been updated.

Hailley: Campus feels more active and we’ve seen an increase in one-shot instruction requests. I also feel more established now that I’m a year in, so maybe campus feels more active because I can pay attention to that energy (vs just trying to get on-boarded and learn my job last fall).

What’s a topic that you’ve been thinking about/thinking through on the job recently? 

Justin: I’ve been thinking a lot about values-based practice and a values-based approach to librarianship, specifically. I really appreciate the work of Christopher P. Long and the HuMetricsHSS initiative in this regard. I think identifying values and tying your work – in all respects – to your values is important.

Emily Z: I’ve been thinking a lot about digital humanities, as well as physical data visualization – so think temperature blankets, bullet journaling, etc. I wonder about the impulse to track these things in an analog way – why are folks gravitating towards this? Does tracking your own data manually change said data eventually? How can I tie this interest of mine back into librarianship, too? Given the new Data Science major at my university (and the fact that I am their liaison) I think there could be a lot of opportunities there for us to work together on assignments and lessons for students.  

Alex: I have been thinking about slow productivity a lot. I have not been successfully implementing it, but I have been thinking about it.

What’s something you’ve moved over to the “Think about next year” list?

Justin: I have a lot of things on my “to do next year” list – there’s never enough time to do all the work you want to get involved with. My library hosts researcher workshops geared towards grad students and faculty and I am continually thinking about what topics I want to present on.

Another long, long-term project I’ve been mulling over is starting a librarian-focused radio show on our campus radio station. I have a radio show on another campus station and it’s been rewarding putting it altogether. Who knows if that’ll ever happen, but it’s fun to think about merging two of my interests.

Emily Z: Oh, there’s so many things I want to do, and so little time to do it. One thing I want to bring to my university is more on-demand or scheduled workshops in which students, faculty, and staff sign up on their own for. I particularly would love to teach things like visual design, Canva, and infographics. For now though, I’ll need to focus on settling into my job (as well as the looming Gen Ed overhaul at my university…).

Hailley: Department goals! Our annual review work starts in January and that will be the perfect time to co-create departmental goals. I’m keeping some notes about ideas but am waiting for the new year to devote the brain space to that level of strategic work.

Let’s Talk About Quiet Quitting: Why Work Drains Us and How to Build Better Lives 

This post comes from a guest poster, Alejandro Marquez. Alejandro is a Collection Development Librarian at the Auraria Library which serves the University of Colorado Denver, Metropolitan State University of Denver, and the Community College of Denver. 

I recently attended a diversity committee where we talked about the state of the university. We talked about our workload, compensation, lack of mental health services for students, and diversity trainings. After the meeting was over, I received an email from one of the new members of the group. It read, “does this meeting always hurt the soul so much? Like I’ve heard nothing but facts and everyone here seems so amazing and talented and brilliant, but everyone sounds so beat down.” This response could easily describe the comments that I hear from library workers when I read the listservs or attend conferences. Library workers are known for going above and beyond expectations by staying late to help a student find a resource, answering emails at 11PM, or doing the job of coworkers who have left the building. They not only give of their time but also a piece of themselves. They work on library activities, complete campus service, serve on professional organizations, and assist students and faculty. A lot of a person’s library identity is emotionally and psychologically intertwined with their work. 

The pandemic changed the face of libraries and heightened the already present difficulties of many institutions that never fully financially recovered from the housing recession. Some of the issues that people might be facing include increasing workload, inadequate staffing, time pressures, flat budgets, burnout, wages haven’t kept up with inflation, and lack of professional growth opportunities. Anecdotally, one library has a designated decompression room and they encourage workers to utilize it with no questions asked. There is a recognition that even mildly difficult interactions can compound over time and create secondary trauma. 

Quiet quitting is the latest workplace buzzword. It describes individuals who go against a culture of going above and beyond what a job requires. They are still doing the work but they don’t work outside of their job descriptions. The quitting part is a misnomer. Individuals aren’t quitting their jobs, rather they are setting clear boundaries. Quiet quitting is a way of dealing with burnout. They try to balance these pressures by looking towards meaning and purpose in their work, organizational culture, and professional relationships. The term presents a view of an American workplace culture that celebrates toxic workaholism and grind culture. The popularity of the term is a positive sign that there is a shift in workplace expectations. 

The pandemic has led to what some are calling the “great resignation”. On many college campuses, salaries have stagnated and the cost of living has increased while productivity has remained the same. It makes it hard for many people to afford a home. For contingent workers, there is no national legislative support for required paid sick days. As a result, people are rethinking the role that work should take in their lives. 

Many individuals like to think of libraries as the bastion of democracy. A place of liberal ideas and intellectualism. However, it is conservative and resistant to change. It is just a workplace at the end of the day where individuals jockey for prestige, hierarchy, and resources. A non-profit that has a need to generate income. Although some might think of it as a higher calling, it doesn’t mean that it is beyond reproach. The university library is built on relying on workers to pick up the slack due to the slow pace of hiring and the freezing of positions as budgets become lean. Library workers have had to do more with less. It raises the question: would the library collapse if people worked the stated number of hours and/or stayed within their job description? 

Asking workers or groups to change feels “personal.” It seems like an individual moral failing if a person burns out as though it were an accurate reflection of their ability and character. There are some individuals who will claim that work is supposed to be hard and difficult and people have to just suck it up. They use the stereotypical phrase, “It is called work for a reason.” It presumes that burnout is a personal factor rather than an organizational failure.  

Organizations have weaponized the idea of passion or calling when it refers to working. The work that library professionals do such as helping patrons or serving the common good feels like it is “inherently good and sacred, and therefore beyond critique.” The previous quote and concept of vocational awe was coined by Fobazi Ettarh talks about the ways that librarianship at both an institutional and individual level are feeding into the narrative that dysfunctional systems and actions are beyond critique because of the mission, vision, and values of a highly regarded institution like the library.  

Let’s stop blaming individuals for imposter syndrome, burnout, and low morale. Organizations send library professionals to conferences or bring in consultants to address these workplace issues. It often feels like the message is for individuals to fix their attitude because organizations can’t be successful unless people are productive. After these employees come back to their libraries, they often find that the policies and budget don’t support the necessary changes that need to be made. Libraries need to look at the systems and structures. When we ask people to make do with less, or don’t give them all training or resources to do a project, people will say that they aren’t good enough. They think that there is something wrong with themselves. Instead, let’s look at the system that underpays them and doesn’t give money for projects. 

When we focus on a process, policy, or system, leaders can make workers feel that they are less targeted or spotlighted. There will be less resistance, rejection, and backlash. Additionally, these problems are complex and multifaceted. To create bigger and long lasting change, it is better to focus on the system rather than the individual.  

 These issues surrounding quiet quitting create an opportunity for the university library to recognize the challenges and assume responsibility for resolving them. This is a message of hope because it means that members of the community can take action. Hope without action is just toxic positivity. The challenge might be tough but the pain even more so. The pain that we are collectively feeling can act as an impetus for change. It can keep us focused and working towards something positive.  

I want to end this post with a list of ideas. I acknowledge that every library environment is different and we each have a unique set of circumstances. It is my hope that each of us at no matter what level of the organization that we find ourselves will enact change where we can. As a result of this change, library workers and administration are able to build on positive patterns of trust, commitment, accountability, and results. We are part of an interconnected ecosystem. Just like the natural world, if we neglect one area, other areas suffer.  

Some ideas for change include: 

  • Individuals and organizations need to undertake an honest assessment of the financial situation, staffing patterns, and employee workload. Using this information, they need to make deliberate decisions and create sustainable environments. It doesn’t mean giving up but rather a chance at a new beginning. An opportunity to get rid of preconceived ideas of what it means to be successful. It can be exhausting to live up to unrealistic ideals. Quiet quitting isn’t a symptom rather it is a direct cause of overwork, neglect, and low compensation. When people don’t feel cared about, eventually they stop caring.  
  • Individuals must prioritize the health and safety of individuals at all levels of the organization. There is a thought that it would be easy to just get rid of things that are bad or harmful and everything would be solved. It is only one piece. We also need to create systems that heal too. Activities could include job flexibility, access to mental health services, and diversity policies. 
  • Leaders need to readdress relationships with historically marginalized employee groups by focusing on pay equity, promotion and tenure, and workload distribution. They need to have difficult conversations and enact change.  
  • Administrators need to take a long term view of the future instead of focusing on the current budget year. Planning for the future instills in library workers at all levels a sense of purpose and motivation to go the distance. It also allows us to plan for the well-being of future generations.  
  • The system needs to be designed to learn and improve over time. It can’t just be a yearly training and there is no single solution. It needs to be a continuous improvement feedback loop. Leaders need to look at personal structures and relationships that enhance psychological safety, empathy, vulnerability, and peer support. This will create a culture of support at all levels that aligns structures and processes with our institutional values and purpose. 
  • Diversity work needs to be baked into the job duties of individuals and they should have adequate time during their work day to accomplish it.  
  • Building managers need to design workspaces to fit a variety of different people including individuals who are neurodivergent and who have differing physical abilities.  

Bringing Disability to the Forefront

It’s been a busy semester at the reference desk. Amidst the busyness, I was elated to see that some of my coworkers created a display of books relating to chronic illness and disability. I was even more thrilled to see that students were often stopping by to look at the display, telling their friends about it, and checking out some of the books that were featured. 

March is Disability Awareness Month, and my library makes sure to create displays and programming relating to chronic illness and disability throughout the month. But with more and more people, including college students, becoming disabled due to Long Covid, it is more important than ever that we consider the needs of disabled students year-round. It is also more important than ever that we as academic librarians highlight books by chronically ill and disabled authors throughout the year, and not dismiss displays and programming as options that solely serve the needs of school and public libraries.

Chronic illness and disability are personal to me, as someone who is disabled because of chronic illness, and whose disability is considered invisible. Some days are better than others, which means I use a mobility aid on some days, but not others. It is often said that disability is the only group that anyone can become a member of at any time. 

Katie Quirin Manwiller, who has written two previous posts on Conferencing while Chronically Ill and The Inaccessibility of ACRL 2021, recently presented on Reasonable Accommodations from the Employee Perspective for the Pennsylvania Library Association 2022 Conference. Her research cited 26% of Americans living with disability prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as 1 in 5 adults who will experience Long Covid. 

However, we never know truly how many of our students, faculty, or staff are living with either chronic illness, disability, or both. There is still significant stigma attached to either, leaving many people to decide not to disclose. Also, no one is under any obligation to disclose to us, as librarians. We should make an effort to prove that we are capable of meeting the needs of disabled students without requiring them to disclose personal information they might not feel comfortable sharing. 

What does this look like in practice? On my end, it looks like:

  • Continuing the practice of masking. While there is no longer a mask mandate on my campus, I and many others on staff have continued masking. Working at a busy reference desk, I feel more comfortable interacting with people while wearing a mask, and I’ve found that many students have appreciated that we are still masking, and are also choosing to wear a mask themselves.
  • Staying up-to-date on the evolving language of disability. Language is constantly evolving. Not all websites have caught onto the fact that disabled people have reclaimed Identity-First Language, as opposed to People-First Language, and often refer to themselves as disabled not as a person with a disability. I’ve found that the best way to stay current on disability language is to follow disabled people on Twitter. Even lurking will allow you to gain a better understanding of issues facing disabled people, which undoubtedly includes many of your students.
  • Promoting materials by and about disabled people. The display at my library includes a combination of memoirs by disabled writers, sociology books on the history of disability, and even ready-reference on disability history. There are also plenty of electronic resources that contain information on disability history, which I’ve been working to familiarize myself with over the past couple of months. This is a work in progress for me; keeping in mind that resources can and will become out-of-date. 
  • Being mindful of library space. I’m always conscious about how my library physically meets, and doesn’t meet, the needs of disabled students. In practice, this looks like ensuring that aisles are kept wide and clear for users with mobility aids and offering study areas with varying amounts of light in order to accommodate students with sensitivity to light and/or sound. However, being mindful, for me, also means continually learning and keeping in mind that there is always room for improvement. 

With this in mind: How have you met the needs of disabled students, and how should libraries improve going forward?