Scrambled Thoughts Amidst Another US Mass Shooting

Content warning: mass shooting, death

Bear with me; this might be all over the place.

Despite its name, East Los Angeles College (ELAC) is a community college located in Monterey Park, a city in Los Angeles’ San Gabriel Valley. But yes, ELAC was once part of unincorporated East Los Angeles before being annexed in the early 1970s. East LA is well known as a largely Hispanic community, over 95% according to the 2020 Census, while Monterey Park has a majority Asian American population at 65%. As a Japanese Mexican American, I feel right at home here. I was hired as a librarian at ELAC in 2016 and have grown to love these communities. The ‘community’ part in community college is crucial. Our students are majority locals and understanding the community and my students’ local context largely informs my work as a librarian. For example, I’ve been advocating for using OER to appeal to local college contexts and diverse ways of knowing the world rather than assume one textbook can work across all geographic locations. I love to incorporate the community in my library instruction, whether it’s teaching information literacy with an example information need like, “Where can I find the best xiao long bao near ELAC?” to searching databases on environmental racism in Southeast Los Angeles, as we also have a campus in the city of South Gate.

On January 21, 2023, Monterey Park experienced a mass shooting that took the lives of eleven people and injured nine others at the Star Ballroom Dance Studio late at night on the eve of the Lunar New Year. It is also the worst mass shooting to occur in Los Angeles County. The Monterey Park and AAPI communities are devastated, in what should be a joyous time in ringing in the new year. My heart goes out to the victims of this tragedy, their friends and family, and those impacted in the community. Never forget: My Nhan. Lilian Li. Xiujuan Yu. Muoi Ung. Hong Jian. Yu Kao. Chia Yau. Valentino Alvero. Wen Yu. Ming Ma. Diana Tom. The Half Moon Bay shootings occurred less than 48 hours later, claiming the lives of seven: Yetao Bing, Qizhong Cheng, Zhishen Liu, Jingzhi Lu, Marciano Martinez Jimenez, Jose Romero Perez, and Aixiang Zhang. According to the Gun Violence Archive, there have been 40 mass shootings in the US in 2023 alone, and we’re only in January.

This isn’t the post I intended to write this week, but I felt the need to say something. The prevalence of mass shootings in the United States is absolutely unacceptable. And as a library worker, I hate that one of my biggest fears and, in my opinion, a bona fide workplace hazard is the possibility of a mass shooting. Statistically speaking, the possibility of an active shooter remains quite low, but tell that to my anxiety. In a recent meeting regarding the design of a new library space, the library team was presented with an open concept library floor plan, which most of us immediately flagged as a safety issue (and is also terrible for acoustics). The design team responded by enthusiastically declaring this to be something that most libraries want these days. Major facepalm. How is that an acceptable response? I’m a big fan of aesthetics in libraries, and admittedly a lot of libraries are cold, unwelcoming, and sometimes just outright ugly; however, I’m tired of decisions related to safety being made by those who won’t physically be in these spaces, whether it’s the builders or the administrators. I’ve done my fair share of researching protective design concepts for active shooter scenarios, and I’m just saying–I’m not asking for Kevlar wall panels or intrusive surveillance of students. However, I do want to be able to lock any door from the inside. To have a phone in each instructional classroom. To receive timely crime alerts and annual security reports. And to just overall have a better strategy than to watch the “Run, hide, fight” video…that maybe isn’t even great advice, as some experts recommend dropping the “hide” part to simply, “Run, fight.”

I went to a candlelight vigil on my campus on Wednesday. I appreciated all of the speakers who shared something with our community. There was an immense feeling of love and a desire to keep each other safe. And I really do hope we can keep each other safe and that we have more conversations on how to accomplish this in our respective communities.

New Year, New Weed

I think a lot of us have New Year’s resolutions or goal-setting on our minds as we start the spring semester, but this time of the year has me thinking more about our fiscal year goals. Heading into January means that we’re wrapping up the second quarter, and we can evaluate how the collection is measuring up to goals that were set before I started. The best way for me to determine progress is by looking at the data, and the most effective way to share that with my colleagues is through data storytelling. I’m still growing my data literacy, but narratives (the storytelling part) I can do.

One of the action items for our strategic plan is to incorporate new tools for assessment. I recently found out about Dossiers from BLUECloud Analytics, a SirsiDynix tool that is powered by Microstrategy to pull data and create visualizations. Using knowledge I gained from a Learning Analytics course at Mizzou during my MLIS, plus from consulting books like Storytelling with Data, Data Science for Librarians, and Data Visualization: A Guide to Visual Storytelling for Libraries, I crafted a brief presentation as an update to the annual collection report. Honestly, compared to other programs like Tableau, this Dossier was tough to make. Although, between creating it and writing this post, they have upgraded their system to include new features that I would have loved to use. I spent a lot of time figuring out the system, making the visualizations, and creating a visually appealing template. Besides finding out how extra I am, I think my colleagues had an easier time understanding the data, and gained a better understanding of where we stand. This is a small start towards incorporating data storytelling into our work culture.

Page of BLUECloud Analytics Dossier from ERAU

The biggest takeaway from this project was that deselection of materials had a largely positive impact on the age of the collection, greater than just adding brand new materials could. It’s like trying to mix a grey paint; you’re going to need to dump a whole lot of white onto your black paint to get it to lighten up. It’s so much more effective if you take all the old, unused stuff away first. Committing to keeping up with how we are progressing towards our goals is the only way I would have found out that the time invested by liaison librarians into collection development has been paying off – and more importantly, just how much of an impact their actions made. I think it is so much more valuable to see that quantitative comparison in the data than to simply say “good job.”

There is an IMLS project coming out of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign for a “Data Storytelling Toolkit for Librarians” that I am really excited to learn more about. With a resource like that, we can all learn more on how to gain insights from our data, and especially how to share our impact with our stakeholders, whether they be internal or external. When people ask me what the most beneficial classes during my MLIS were, I always list Learning Analytics among them. We live in a data culture, and in my first year as an academic librarian, I am definitely seeing how it is starting to seep into my everyday work.

Setting departmental goals: The process of one department head

As my fellow blogger Justin wrote about earlier this week, the start of a new year means a focus on developing goals to guide us for the next 365ish days. As a department head, the development of individual goals means it’s also time to think about departmental goals. I’m a firm believer that if departmental work is going to get done, it needs to be thoughtfully incorporated into individual goals and co-created by all members of the department. Departmental goals can create focus and point the team in the same direction. I figured I would focus my blog post this month on my thought process behind co-developing yearly departmental goals. 

Last year when it was time to set departmental goals, I was about five months into being a department head. A few months into the job, I worked with the team to co-create departmental mission and vision statements and we had developed our plate of work. Our plate of work was a visual of the areas we focused our team’s time and energy. When it was time for departmental goals, we used Jamboard to brainstorm potential goals, mapped those to our plate of work priorities, and established a series of goals we thought we as a team could achieve in 2022. I then worked with individual department members to either assign team goals to them or organized small groups who worked towards some of our goals. Throughout the year I would glance at the departmental goals document and make note of our progress. 

This year, with more than a year under my belt, I tried a different approach to brainstorming departmental goals. To start, I wanted to get some insight from the team about what they felt went well in 2022. I had everyone review our 2022 goals and reflect on the year. Then we had a group discussion, using the questions below as guiding questions:

  • What went well in 2022 for us as a department?  
  • What were some of our challenges (beyond budgetary concerns)?  
  • When were moments where you felt like we were firing on all cylinders? 
  • When were moments where you felt like we were out of sync?  

I particularly liked the last two questions, which really focused on getting everyone on the team to articulate high and low moments of collaboration and cooperation. These questions also brought up times when the department made good progress and also times when other institutional constraints got in our way. We had a great discussion and it helped lead us into thinking about 2023.

As we transitioned to talking about 2023 departmental goals, I had already kick started this conversation at the end of 2022. I had begun to get feedback from the department about the scope and deliverables for two projects I wanted us to focus on in the spring (one around LibGuides and one around instructional videos). I then asked the department to reflect on our 2022 goals, think about what they’d like to do in 2023, and begin to brainstorm potential goals in a shared Jamboard. When I looked at the Jamboard, I was so proud to see how aligned the team was on our potential goals. What had been brainstormed were things we as a department have discussed previously and or built off the work of our anticipated spring projects. It was amazing to see this alignment and made me so excited about what we as a department could accomplish this year.

To round out our brainstorming, I had the department do an activity that I call “Remix a Goal.” This is an activity that’s part of the 75 Tools for Creative Thinking toolkit I use in my participatory design practice. In the activity, folks are asked to brainstorm wishes (in this case, goals) that seem “normal.” Then, folks are asked to brainstorm more whimsical wishes/goals. These are goals that do not have to be tied to reality and are truly an exercise in imagination. The activity wraps up with the groups pairing a normal goal with a whimsical goal and looking for ways this can create a modified/amplified/innovative goal. When I used this with my department in our meeting, I saw more large scale programs being developed. I think these are the types of stretch goals that could be used to help push us throughout the year, even if we don’t fully implement this idea in 2023. 

At the end of the meeting, we had a myriad of potential goals. Now it’s my job to put those goals into a document, map them to our plate of work, and bring it back to the department for some prioritization. This prioritization will work concurrently as I meet with each individual in the department to finalize their 2023 librarianship goals. I’m hoping that once again this year we can tie departmental goals to individual work. I’m feeling excited about what goals were offered up by the team and cannot wait to see where we can take them in 2023. 

How does your department or unit decide on departmental goals? And how much do they tie to your own individual goals? Would love to hear your experiences in the comments of this post! 


Featured image by Possessed Photography on Unsplash

No Goals

It’s that time of the year again: a new year and new goals. Several years ago, my friend wrote a mini-comic entitled No Goals, about minor hockey culture. The title refers to scoring goals throughout a hockey season, but also puns on not having a clear direction in life, influenced by overarching life goals.

I was thinking about my friend’s comic as I’m writing professional goals for the new year. I’ve never been someone without any goals, but goals are something I have been wrapping my head around, especially as an early-career academic librarian.

At my institution, goals set in our annual performance reviews weigh heavily for future promotion applications. You want to have a record of accomplishing your yearly goals to show consistent, professional growth to a future promotion committee. It’s important to think about what is achievable throughout the year, to show growth and progress, but also to challenge yourself. It’s like walking a tight-rope, having a goal that’s achievable on the one side, but challenging yourself on the other. Setting a goal that is challenging and achievable is why I have been wrapping my head around goal-setting, especially to have goals that are meaningful for me.

I, like the majority of my peers, like accomplishments; I like looking back and knowing I challenged myself, stuck with a task, and finished it. However, sometimes what I’m working towards doesn’t work out – a conference proposal is rejected, I’m not offered that research grant, a faculty member doesn’t invite me to teach to their class that semester, I don’t land that University Librarian job, I’m not elected ALA President, and so on. Some goals you have more control over and some, not as much. That’s why I’m still wrapping my head around writing achievable, yet challenging, goals.

To set my goals, I think about my year and where I want to be in a year’s time: what are my priorities for the year, where do I need more growth, and what opportunities do I foresee coming up. I then think about where my goals fit into the different sections of my performance review: professional performance, research, service, professional development, and teaching. I have at least one goal for each section, with more in the professional performance section as this area makes up the bulk of my job.  

I try to make my goals SMART — because what librarian doesn’t like a witty acronym? But also, it helps me develop specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound goals. This gives me a framework and allows me to hone my focus on several goals for my performance review.

After I have a draft of my annual goals, I usually put my feet up on my desk, with my arms behind my head, and think about the riches and fame that will be showered upon me after I complete my goals for the year. Joking aside, I will spend time to think about my draft of goals for a few days or weeks and revise, then discuss my goals with the head of my library to get their thoughts and input.

While thankfully I can’t say I have no goals, as I’m putting the finishing touches on my performance review and it’s chalk full of new goals for myself, I hope the new year brings with it many accomplishments and completed goals for myself and for you.

What do you hope the new year brings? What are your goals for 2023? Pop them into the comments, if you’d like. We would love to hear from you.

Communication Successes and Challenges

As the semester winds down to a close, I’m finding myself thinking often about communication within our libraries. Like many colleges and universities, mine is still firmly in a hybrid work mode — on any given weekday we have some library personnel working onsite in the library, and others working remotely. Since this is my first semester in my new position I’ve been spending a lot of time in face to face and online meetings with colleagues, but as I’m settling in I’m thinking more about how we all communicate with each other, and ways for us to feel connected to one another and reduce the barriers in our work.

This month I’m the ACRLog blogteam collaborative post coordinator, and I’m wondering about how we all communicate at the different libraries and institutions where we work. What’s been effective and successful? What still needs some refining?

Angie: As Maura knows, *I* *am* *always* thinking about communication, both theoretical and practical. So I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to collaborate on this topic. Almost a year to the month before COVID changed our work dramatically, I wrote this post (mission statement?) on how I understand communication and work in libraries.  

Still rings true — maybe more so — in a post-pandemic work environment. The short of it calls for an intentionality we may take for granted when experiencing work the same way – onsite or remote.  


The first communication hurdle I hoped to solve returning to a hybrid work environment was making schedules more transparent. Right? I’ve found any and all ways one can communicate their particular schedule definitely worth the effort. I used to be the first to call out these extra, sometimes duplicate approaches as inefficient. Now I realize how fundamental their role is to whether communication happens at all. 

Some practical examples include physical IN/OUT cubicle signs. I created these and have used them for years at my office. The email signature is another opportunity some use to share onsite vs remote day. This creates visible and regular reminders through something you use everyday, as well as a subtle model for your recipient. My department also uses MS Outlook’s “Work Time” Settings and “Working Remote” free/busy status. As a department head, this makes it way easier to see everyone’s differences at a glance, plan for in person meetings or celebrations, and assess for schedule adjustments that may be needed. Harder to get library-wide adoption on this one, but baby steps!

Observing my own overreliance on email communication since working remotely, I try to build simple intentionality by starting emails with a greeting and gratitude. Like “Hi, Angie. Thanks for doing this.” Yes, I have to intentionally remind myself to do this. I learned this working with folks on this blog team and others in my library for whom this comes naturally (or else struggle, but remember). While “This meeting could have been an email” remains relevant, there is also benefit to flipping this adage around on the regular. Now when I’m inclined to email, I ask myself if there is a better opportunity to connect in this communication in person.

 

I still sometimes wish face to face communication could be thought, typed, backspaced, cut, rearranged and sent as fluently and coherently as an email – or this blog. But the more intentionally I seek connection and dialogue through all types of communication, the less often it tends to feel like a jerky dance of mouth words, awkward pauses, and apologies. 

Hailley: As a department head, I’m frequently thinking about how I communicate with my team. We have a Teams group for the department, which functions for throughout the day chats and information sharing that feels too informal for an email. Sending a Teams message is definitely the quickest way to get a hold of me; I try hard to not have email up unless I’m actively sending emails. I send emails to the department for more formal purposes and it usually involves providing updates, reminders, and next steps. If possible, I try to gather several things I want to share before I send out an email. Recently, I’ve noticed that I started to use more headers and formatting in these emails, in the same ways I use headers in other types of documents. Helps me ensure I share all the information I want to share and hopefully it allows for easier reading from the people receiving it. 

Two other miscellaneous thoughts related to communication: 1) timing is important! Everyone has different gaps in their days/weeks and that is often when big emails go out. However, for some folks, receiving an email late in the day or close to the weekend can be stressful. Sometimes that timing is unavoidable, but I try to think strategically about when I’m sending things out. 2) I just finished reading Remote Work Revolution: Succeeding from Anywhere by Tsedal Neeley. She provides some useful tips and pointers about communicating across hybrid and remote teams. I’m still mulling the book over but it was definitely a good way for me to reflect on my own communication style! 

Maura: What we’re doing now is, I imagine, similar to how many libraries are communicating internally. Our institution uses the Microsoft suite and we in the Library use Outlook for shared calendaring. My colleagues and I each try to keep our own calendars up to date, and we have 3 shared calendars: planned vacation or other absences, remote workdays, and the reference desk schedule. I also put my institutional meetings on the shared calendar so that everyone knows when I’ll next meet with the Provost or the university’s library leadership. Our shared calendaring is working fairly well, and while Outlook is not my personal favorite it does have the advantage of being a system that all of us have access to both onsite and remotely.

Where I think we could use some discussion and perhaps change is for sharing files and communicating electronically. For filesharing we’ve got a shared drive that’s only accessible onsite or via VPN, Sharepoint via our institutional Microsoft suite, and the ever-present Google docs which many of us use with our personal Google accounts (we don’t have an institutional license). The shift from the shared drive to Sharepoint was well underway when I got here and I suspect will continue fairly organically. But Google is trickier — many (most?) of us have used Google docs heavily for years: outside of work, in our research, or (in my case, at least) at previous jobs. It’s hard to disinvest from the Googleverse, even if we know we should.

Electronic communication is the one I’m struggling most with right now. We have email, of course, and there is a Slack instance with multiple channels that all library faculty and staff have access to though not everyone uses. I’ve been thinking about Teams — again, not my personal favorite (I find the interface to be much less intuitive than other platforms), but my primary goal is to find a way for us to communicate that isn’t as overwhelming (for some) as email or as separate from institutional platforms as Slack. I’m happy to conform to whatever all of us decide on — it’s my strong belief that while we’ll never find one platform that everyone prefers, if we can find something that’s good enough *and* make sure that everyone is trained and supported in it’s use, that’s a reasonable goal.

Alex: We have a few different things going on as far as knowing who is where in this hybrid set-up we’ve had for two and a half years. The staff who cover the service desk have a set schedule that’s mostly in-person, but they each have their time to work at home. There is a group of three librarians who rotate being the in-person “manager,” which just helps everyone to know that (1) there is a librarian there every day, and (2) which one it is. We print a copy of the monthly schedule for us three and stick it to the service desk for quick reference, but it’s also on the shared Outlook calendar. That calendar was already in place in the before times, to share library closures and everyone’s time off (to reduce the number of “is Alex working today?” emails). There are a few other individuals with their own hybrid schedule, and those are on the shared Outlook calendar too. Most of them work with in-person things like interlibrary loan and the 3D printer, so this helps us know when we might expect those things to take place. Some people are still 100% working from home, so they aren’t listed on the shared calendar except for their days off. Beyond Outlook, we are a Teams institution, although some people dislike Teams enough that you’re better off emailing those individuals. We have an unspoken but ubiquitous assumption that everyone actively checks their email throughout their workday. So even our communication is pretty hybrid: email and Teams combo is usually all we need. We are also a Sharepoint institution, although I don’t think I’ve ever used that among my campus library colleagues, only with the wider institution.

Maura: Many thanks to my blogteam colleagues for all of this useful detail on communication in our workspaces! After the winter break I’m hoping to convene a communications working group of library faculty and staff, full-time and part-time, and I will probably recommend that they begin by reading this post. And we’d love to hear from readers in the comments — what’s working/not working in communication at your workplace?