Discussing the 4 Pillars of Immersion: Leadership

Editor’s note: This guest post has been authored by Jessie Loyer and Veronica Arellano Douglas. Jessie is the Indigenous Engagement Librarian at the University of Alberta. Veronica is the Interim Associate Dean for Research and Student Engagement at the University of Houston. This post is the third in a four-part series, “Discussing the 4 Pillars of Immersion.”

This series was inspired by conversations during a January 2024 Immersion Facilitators retreat that examined our relationship with the foundational pillars of the program. The team explored each pillar by sharing questions and perspectives and considered how to integrate each pillar into the portfolio of Immersion programming. The first post in this series focused on information literacy, the second on the changing roles of librarians in higher education, and in this third installment, Jessie Loyer and Veronica Arellano Douglas will explore the role of leadership in the work of teaching librarians.  

Why leadership? 

Veronica: Those of you who have been to Immersion in previous years may still have a much-loved and dog-eared binder of program materials, notes, and work scribbles. I still have mine from every Immersion I’ve attended since 2008! Yet in preparation for this post, Jessie and I returned to our 2019 Immersion program binders, which we both received as new facilitators and program observers. We wanted to reacquaint ourselves with the Immersion approach to leadership for teaching librarians, which is informed by critical leadership theory and appreciative inquiry. Leadership might at first glance not seem to be central to the work of teaching librarians, however, so much of the work of teaching involves creating and managing positive change; advocating for ourselves, our colleagues, and the communities we serve; and using our influence to center the needs and concerns of learners at our organizations. Whether or not you lead a department, team, or program as a teaching librarian, you are leading instructional efforts at your institution.

Jessie: While we were revisiting Immersion documentation on leadership, we were most drawn to two working assumptions or ideas: 

  1. Leadership is both a social process and social construct that tends to reflect the dominant cultural narratives of an organization
  2. You do not need to be in a leadership role in order to create positive transformation within your context.

The Immersion program welcomes librarians from all roles within their organization, and invites them to a week of generative, focused reflection around teaching. For many of us, budget cuts, deprofessionalization, misinformation and other pressures mean that teaching is frequently scrutinized and asked to be justified; we can feel powerless in the face of these pressures. But I think that the way that we talk about leadership in this program is powerful: what does it look like to create transformation within the context that shapes your work? You don’t have to be the Dean of the library to make transformational change. 

VAD: I think that’s a really important point, Jessie. I know that for a long time I had a really narrow view of “leadership” that was really just me conflating it with management or supervision. I still think that good leadership is essential for successful supervision, but I do think there are opportunities for teaching librarians to learn and grow as leaders at all levels of an organization. I really appreciate the way you characterize leadership as change-making. Teaching librarians see the day-to-day needs, pain-points, and successes of learners and colleagues and are often in the best position to know what needs to change.

JL: Understanding the obstacles and considering what to prioritize makes this work sustainable, especially as big change can seem overwhelming. I also think that connects so neatly to that first assumption: leadership is a process and a construct that reflects the narrative of the organization. When I start a new position, seeing organizational charts tells me so much about what an organization prioritizes, but witnessing how projects are managed gives me an even clearer picture of how staff at all levels are valued. Immersion helps us to see and name those structures of power that shape our work life.

VAD: Yes! A critical approach to leadership, rather than an adoption of corporate leadership frameworks is so needed in academic libraries. If we are turning a critically reflective lens to our teaching we should also critically consider our leadership structures and approach. 

How did you develop your personal leadership approach?

JL: As an Indigenous librarian, I’ve benefitted from my own culture’s beliefs about leadership, and from the fellow Indigenous librarian role-models who shaped and continue to shape my sense of leadership. What is most unique to me about these Indigenous models is a true humility in leadership. My grandfather was Chief of our nation in the late ‘80s and ‘90s, and I remember him sitting at his kitchen table, fielding phone calls and stuffing envelopes: he took his responsibility as the external voice for our people seriously, but he never saw any of the work as beneath him. Similarly, I’m grateful for Indigenous librarians like Sarah Dupont and Kim Lawson, who worked with me when I was a student librarian: they were both committed to their own growth and had a hunger for knowledge in the service of others.

Models of leadership that are compelling to me all share this sense of the ecosystem of the work: we are all making this happen together, and all the work is essential and should be celebrated. 

VAD: As an early-career instruction librarian I never thought I would be in a leadership role or position. It was an assumption that quickly proved false, as I ended up leading projects and coordinating teaching programs, then progressed to supervisory roles (department head, and now interim associate dean). I had a lot of preconceived notions of what leaders looked and sounded like and I was not any of those things. It took a wonderful mentor and friend, Celia Rabinowitz, for me to see that leadership could be feminist, inclusive, and always intellectually curious. She was and continues to be a role model for the kind of leader I would like to become. Turning to feminist leadership theory rooted in Emergent Strategy or Relational-Cultural Theory feels more true to who I am and how I operate in the classroom and in life. I frequently turn to adrienne marie brown’s statement, “small is all” as a reminder that culture and leadership is embedded in all levels of an organization. Being in a supervisory position or a position of authority is not about imposing your rules and will on others. Instead being an effective leader ties back to what Jessie describes as humility and an appreciation for the work of everyone. As a leader, you are responsible both for and to the people you lead, and means listening and addressing their needs and concerns, celebrating their work, as Jessie mentioned, and creating trust and community. The community ethos we try to cultivate in the classroom with learners is something that teaching librarians can bring to all aspects of their work throughout their organization.

Again, why leadership? 

VAD: Although Jessie and I were able to connect leadership with the work of teaching librarianship relatively easily, we wrestled with this idea of why we would be discussing or focusing on leadership in the context of information literacy, which is at the center of Immersion. I think Jessie’s reasoning is the most sound here. 

JL: Information literacy instruction requires clarity. It demands that we help connect students to a network of information, enable access, and ensure that students have the context necessary to understand our collections. These tasks require us to build negotiation skills. 

Good information literacy instruction is also good leadership: collaborative, expansive, and responsive. In the same way that the best boss knows that they don’t have to micromanage their workers because they’ve recruited great workers, a good librarian knows that our students come with a whole life of lived experience that has informed the way they search: we don’t need to micro-manage them; we can offer strategies and tools for this unique context. 

VAD: That valuing of the learner, of all people, is critical to leadership and to understanding and teaching information literacy. I really appreciate the way Jessie centers the lived experiences of learners and the influence it has on their individual approach to information literacy. I agree with those parallels wholeheartedly. A good leader does not try to flatten their team or mold them into a cookie-cutter shape of a model worker. Similarly, information literacy education is informed and shaped by the context in which it exists. The same critical reflection we bring to our teaching and try to impart on learners is essential to leadership. In our next post, Carlos Duarte and Mary Broussard will begin to dig into critical reflection and its centrality in the Immersion Program.

Collaboration Moves at the Speed of Trust

To work in higher ed these days is to grapple with institutional change. There’s no escaping it. Within our organizations, we’re experiencing structural, financial, curricular, pedagogical, or technological change — likely some combination thereof. We are working in a turbulent time. 

This turbulence churns up doubt and creates strong ripple effects: suspicion and fear, not to mention low morale. Yet successfully navigating these waves of institutional change requires confidence in our leadership, in a shared vision, in our ability to collaborate. 

You’ve heard that saying, collaboration moves at the speed of trust? We asked some librarians for their thoughts on the trust problems they’re seeing and how they’re building trust with their colleagues. Given the subject matter, we opted to anonymize this post. 

Have thoughts you’d like to share, too? Drop us a line in the comments. 


Have you seen the trust-in-higher-ed problem playing out in your past/current institutions? How so?

Response: One of my Directors of Libraries did not exactly instill trust among library staff. The Director claimed to be transparent in their decision-making, but library staff questioned their direction, with questionable decisions on budgeting, hiring, and new library services and technology. When asked respectfully, the Director was evasive and somewhat confrontational. This distrust feeds into work culture, creating a culture of fear and suspicion; it’s not a great place to work when that happens.

Response: At my institution, we had a very unfortunate situation play out with a partner that has seemed to pit the university vs. the local community. It was a PR nightmare, to say the least, and although the university is an anchor in this town and area of the country it’s severely wounded the local trust. As an example – social media posts that have nothing to do with said situation get comments about it because folks are so upset.

Response: As the budget situation at my public institution has worsened since the pandemic, we’re seeing very low levels of trust by faculty and staff in the upper administration. Several new administrators have come in over the past few years who have said they value communication, collaboration, and shared governance, though they have embarked on new, costly initiatives without input and now seem surprised at the pushback they’re receiving. While it can absolutely be true that higher educational institutions can be slow to change, especially if feedback is truly sought and accommodated, I think that often the lack of transparency and collaboration ends up dooming new initiatives from the outset, making things harder for faculty, staff, and ultimately for administrators.

What has undermined your trust in your past/current institutions? 

Response: At both my past and current institution, a boys club mentality has undermined my trust in these institutions. When sitting on committees at a campus level, it’s disappointing to spend time and energy in those meetings but feel like the men in the room, and in positions of power, already have an agenda and we are there simply to go through the motions. It feels both difficult to make progress and is frustrating to think that your ideas (and ideas of your colleagues not in this club) are dismissed and not taken seriously. 

Response: One thing that has undermined trust where I’ve worked is fake consultation. This is where library staff have been consulted on decisions, or appear to be part of the decision-making process in some capacity, but when recommendations are proposed, the decision seems to have been made from the start, as they would have been without consultation. When this happens over, and over, and over, trust is undermined.

Response: In my institution, the stark contrast between our leader in libraries and the broader administration (president, provost, etc) undermines the trust in the latter. Our Dean of Libraries is clear, transparent, and refers to a “life-work” balance instead of the other way around. We feel supported by them, and know that they are a staunch advocate for the Libraries in the many broader campus meetings they take part in. 

The president and provost, however, are not as transparent. Once asked (or sometimes forced to an answer by tuition-paying parents) they willingly talk about things like the university budget and the new process about hiring. But they didn’t choose to speak about it on their own. Without explanations, there has been a new admin hired right at the end of spring semester last year (so, once most faculty left) and now there is a new position in the provost’s office, which has also not been elaborated on. That position was posted at around 4:15pm on a Friday. It’s like they either don’t see the optics problem, or they simply don’t care. 

Oh, and did I mention we’re moving to a zero-based budget university-wide with mere weeks to submit, with an administration that prides themselves (overly so) on being data-driven? It doesn’t exactly build any trust whatsoever. 

Response: I’ve also been struck by a boys club mentality in a previous institution, which was coupled with a lack of transparency from the president and head of finance about budgeting. The impression I had was that the president knew best how to allocate funds, and the library was far down the list of priorities for him. It was difficult for us in the library to plan from semester to semester because we could not trust that resources would be available for us to do our jobs, and morale was (not unexpectedly) a challenge.

What has fueled, reinforced, or stabilized your trust in your past/current institutions? 

Response: In the last year, the institution I currently work at has brought in a new president, provost, and CFO. When sitting in the crowd for the president’s remarks upon the announcement of her hire, I felt hopeful about the future of the institution. Both the president and provost have done the work of showing up for events across campus, making time in their schedule to come to the library and listen to our ideas and concerns, and have communicated transparently about their work and external factors impacting our institution. I have seen the impact of this energy, on the dean of our library, the people I supervise, and colleagues outside the library. While our campus and budget problems aren’t completely solved, there’s a new level of trust that has re-energized us and made us feel a little more hopeful. 

Response: Transparency; give me the reasons why a decision is being made. I don’t necessarily have to agree, but at least I can see the reason and I don’t have to guess or speak with colleagues for their opinions, which fuels gossip and can worsen work culture.

Response: I echo transparency. The gossip at my institution is out of control because the higher-ups are making moves without making sure that folks understand where those moves come from. I’m not saying that everything needs to be qualified and explained; I am saying you need to consider how things look to everyone that works under you, and make decisions about how to explain your actions.

What have you done to build trust with colleagues and teams? 

Response: I’ve thought about this a lot. I’m a big fan of confiding in others and being vulnerable. I think this helps build long-term relationships that are built on a solid foundation of trust. Honesty and empathy, which can be common in long-term relationships, are huge components of building trust. 

Response: My past professional experiences have shown me the importance of consistency in building trust. As a department head, I work to consistently show up for my team and for people within the library. In my current context, that plays out with me being on-site, keeping an open door and drop-in policy, and having frequent conversations with the department about workload and capacity. I do my best to communicate what I know, build consensus and make collaborative decisions as much as I can, and celebrate successes. I feel like it’s always a work in progress and maintaining trust is a verb, not something that can be attained and then you can coast. 

Response: The open-door policy I have with members of my department has been crucial for the team to build trust in one another, especially with half of the entire department being new in one year. I know I can go to anyone’s office with a question, even our chair, and either get an answer or have a discussion on where we might find said answer. Us newbies have also been trying to build rapport with other departments in the library, which have historically been a bit siloed. 

Parenting as an Academic Librarian

Being a working parent is challenging; there’s a lot to manage and prioritize. Thinking of both your personal and professional lives — how do you make it work with an extremely busy schedule? I recently read Courtney Stine’s, Sarah Frankel’s, and Anita Hall’s interview “Parenting and the Academic Library” in C&RL News. Hearing about other parents’ experience is great to hear, and these three bring up a lot of salient points: work-life balance, childcare, academic library support for caregivers, and precarity.

I’ve done a fair amount of writing about being a parent, especially during the pandemic. My daughter was born in February 2020, as my son was two and a half years old. In 2022, I wrote about how important it is to feel a part of a community of parents, and connection more broadly:

I find comfort in the fact that I’m not alone in feeling challenged as a father and as a husband. I’ve felt this with other aspects of my life, like job searching or dealing with challenging parents and family. I like knowing there’s others with similar experiences to myself, others that are living parallel lives, with aspects of your lives matched up.

I want to know about other people’s lives and experiences, and get their perspective on similar situations that they’ve found themselves in; to know that it’s not just me, to hear their insight and advice, and to learn and grow.

It’s rooted in this sense of finding common, universal experience that I want to share with others and have others share with me. I learn so much from others and I really appreciate that. There’s solace to be found there, among others who find parenting challenging.

After attending a great writing workshop offered by my institution, “Writing Your Parenting Journey,” I’ve revisited some of my pandemic reflective writing. I’ve thought a lot about what’s required of you to be both a parent and a librarian (or, really any other profession). Working while parenting is challenging!

During a recent CALM 2024 presentation from Courtney Drysdale (“…Supporting Librarian Parents & Caregivers”), she outlined parental supports in academic libraries, specifically aimed at women caregivers. I was struck by how little maternity and paternity leave academic librarians get, especially in the United States. I’m very lucky that in Canada we have substantial maternal and parental leaves.

Through parenting two young kids while working as an academic librarian, here’s what I’ve learned and try to model:

Prioritize

You have limited time as an academic librarian parent. Okay, I’ll admit it, on occasion I work in the evenings. Sometimes it’s something time-sensitive, sometimes I didn’t have enough time at work to finish or work on something. It’s not common, though, and I prioritize my to-do items during the workday so this doesn’t become more common.

You have to prioritize what needs to get done, and what can be left for another day.

Ask For Help

Ask. For. Help. Always! I get help from a lot of different people in my life: my wife, my parents and in-laws, my friends, and of course my coworkers. My colleagues have helped me a lot in a lot of different ways: I’ve asked them for advice, I’ve leaned on them when I’ve been overloaded with work, and I’ve listened to –this can help you in immeasurable ways.

Sometimes just having someone you can talk with, and work something through, is enough.

Learn to Say No

This is something I struggle with and I’m sure it is something you have at times in your life. I’m working on getting better at saying no and figuring out where I want to put my energy.

As Sarah Frankel says, “learning how to say no is hard, but it does get easier. I value my job and the people I work with, but my family has to come first. As my kids get older, I may find myself with more time to do career-related things that I have had to put off since becoming a parent, so that is something to think about for the future.”

You don’t have to do everything or be everything to everyone.

Take Advantage of Flexible/Remote Work (If You Can)

Those of us lucky enough to have some sort of remote work arrangement or having flexible schedules should take full advantage of those perks. Pick up from childcare, early soccer practices and dance lessons, your kid’s doctor’s appointments – it never stops.

For all those administrators, managers, and supervisors who don’t recognize how nice it is for your employees to have flexibility on your schedule – you do now! Flexible and remote work don’t fix everything, but it helps. I’m working on a research project that explores engagement, burnout, and the effect of remote work and flexible scheduling on academic librarians. Stay tuned!

In her closing keynote to CALM 2024, Katherine Goldstein says she “normalizes caregiving through sharing stories.” I think we’ve all got a story to tell. What’s yours?

Discussing the 4 Pillars of Immersion: The Educational Role of Librarians in Higher Education

Editor’s note: This guest post has been authored by Daisy Benson and Melissa Bowles-Terry. Daisy is the instruction coordinator at the David W. Howe Library at University of Vermont. Melissa is the sciences librarian at University of Nevada, Las Vegas. This post is the second in a four-part series, “Discussing the 4 Pillars of Immersion.” Read the first post about Information Literacy.

This series was inspired by conversations during a January 2024 Immersion Facilitators retreat that examined our relationship with the foundational pillars of the program. The team explored each pillar by sharing questions and perspectives and considered how to integrate each pillar into the future portfolio of Immersion programming. The first post in this series focused on information literacy. In this second post, Daisy Benson and Melissa Bowles-Terry reflect and share their perspectives on the changing roles of librarians in higher education. When asked about the educational role of librarians in higher education, our current cohort of Immersion facilitators identified some common themes among us, most notably that all of our potential roles are definitely contextual and sometimes contested. 

(Melissa) When we brainstormed this question as a group, there were many potential roles we could think of: educators, partners, researchers, stewards, interlocutors. I know that over the course of my career, I’ve definitely experienced changes in my educational role. Early in my career I was in a coordinator role for information literacy and instruction, and then a head with more authority for library instruction. After a decade as a librarian, I left libraries for a while and was director of faculty development at UNLV, in the provost’s office. Last year I returned to the library faculty as science liaison. This is a brand new role for me, and I feel like more than ever I’ve been leaning into my relationships with faculty and administrators in my liaison areas. It’s interesting to be in a partner role like this that I feel in some ways is even more about my relationships than about my expertise. How about you? How do you currently think of your educational role?

(Daisy) First off I’ll say that I see myself first and foremost as a teacher; although, I recognize that some librarians don’t see that word as applying to what they do. For me, the work I do with students, in a wide variety of contexts such as working with classes or meeting one-on-one is all part of my teaching portfolio, as is working with faculty to help them build their own capacity to address information literacy. All of this is where I find the most satisfaction and energy as a librarian. I think one thing librarians are really good at is pivoting as higher education changes. For example many libraries are developing new roles for librarians to support their educational missions. On my campus we recently created a new role for an outreach person to work with groups around the state who might not otherwise have access to our services – it ties in to our role as a traditional “land grant” institution. Are there new roles and ways of engaging on your campus?

(Melissa) Yes, we have a makerspace that is becoming a real hub for creativity and community. It’s a fun place to spend time and to see what students are coming up with, in terms of design projects for their classes as well as just-for-fun things like building games or accessories. 

(Daisy) Melissa, as we were prepping for this conversation one of the roles we identified was that of the “researcher-practitioner” or “practitioner scholar.” How do you define this role for yourself and how does it impact your work?

(Melissa) For me as a faculty member and a librarian, I have had opportunities to present at conferences and write about library programs and user behaviors. I’ve had an incentive to do it as well as support for that work. And clearly, institutional culture has a huge impact on the roles that librarians find themselves in. Over several years of facilitating Immersion programs, I remember hearing from many librarian participants about ways their information literacy goals were stymied by either academic departments, their own librarian colleagues, or other administrators. Some institutions see librarians as partners in education, and some have more of a service orientation. How do you think institutional culture impacts the educational role that librarians play? 

(Daisy) That’s a great question, I think there are so many factors but one that comes to mind especially is whether librarians have faculty status or not. At institutions where librarians have faculty status,and mine is among these, librarians have a direct and codified role in institutional governance. So, at my institution this means that we have librarians who sit on the university-wide Curricular Affairs committee. I currently serve on our General Education committee and am part of a team that reviews courses that are being considered for all of our general education requirements including those seeking designations for our two Writing and Information Literacy requirements, as well as requirements related to sustainability, the sciences, and more.This gives me a broad and detailed view of the curriculum across campus and gives me as a librarian a role in shaping the curriculum.

When we think about what our work looks like now and what it might look like in the future, it’s clear that we can’t always predict what comes next! I’m looking forward to considering how we might lead ourselves and our colleagues into new roles. Our next post in the Discussing the 4 Pillars of Immersion series will build on this conversation and focus on leadership. Join Veronica Arellano Douglas and Jessie Loyer as they reflect on some of the questions we posed here and ask new questions as well. Look for that post in the next few weeks!

Work in Progress

Next month marks an important stage of my career, as I anticipate completing my two-year probation and entering a continuing appointment at my institution. This gives me a real sense of permanency, a role I can work in indefinitely, and a commitment to myself as librarian. Do you remember what it was like entering into new stages of your career? Being promoted, being granted tenure, being offered a new position; I guess you never really stop moving as an academic librarian.

Recently I read Richard Wilbur’s excellent poem, “The Writer”. The poem sees the narrator—who I see as a writer, but isn’t actually specified—looking somewhat condescendingly on his daughter, as she writes and creates “a commotion of typewriter-keys/Like a chain hauled over a gunwale”. Terrible noises, as seen from the narrator’s perspective early in the poem—something that would make a great many librarians ‘shush’ at, certainly. The narrator patronizingly muses, “Young as she is, the stuff/Of her life is a great cargo, and some of it heavy:/I wish her a lucky passage”.

By the end of the poem, the narrator sees their error and can’t help but see their daughter as becoming independent and capable: “It is always a matter, my darling,/Of life or death, as I had forgotten. I wish/What I wished you before, but harder”. The issues the narrator’s daughter is dealing with, however trivial or small they actually are, are “matter[s]…of life or death” to teenagers. The issues that new librarians deal with are “matter[s]…of life or death.”

In my professional life, I feel like a work in progress. I’ve made significant steps in my professional life: from my liaison duties—library instruction, collections management, research services, and reference services—to research and service opportunities, but you never stop working on yourself.

I look at Wilbur’s “The Writer” and envision myself as both child and as narrator. I am simultaneously continually learning and growing, something I don’t think I’ll stop doing throughout my career, a work in progress. But also, being “the writer” (i.e. narrator) in my career, recognizing that I can see others’ perspectives and imagine how much the issues of ‘life or death’ do matter to those experiencing them. Thinking in terms of the dyad in librarianship, or any profession more broadly, we are at times both teacher-student, librarian-patron, and parent-child.

I like to think that’s a trajectory a lot of us follow, but maybe we forget what it once was like being new and being in precarious work, not being seen as an expert, not knowing the right people; not being “the writer.” But the more you think about, “the writer” in the poem is both the narrator and daughter, both being equal in their pursuit of writing for a living.

As I move closer to a new stage of my career, I don’t want to forget what it once was like being new to the profession. I want to be able to identify with perspectives different than mine, especially as I hope to take on roles with greater responsibility, as I think this moves the profession holistically forward.

It is always a matter…of life or death as I had forgotten. I wish what I wished you before, but harder.