On Being a New Librarian During a Global Pandemic

This post comes from guest Giovanna Colosi, who is the Education Librarian, Subject Instruction Lead at Syracuse University Libraries in Syracuse, NY  and Board of Trustee Member of Northern Onondaga Public Libraries.

I joined my university’s library in July 2018 as my first full-time library job post MLIS. It was a career change for me as I already had a successful 20-year career in student affairs. Like many other adult career changers, I chipped away at my second master’s degree while working full-time and raising a family. It was as much exhilarating as it was stressful.  I was proud of myself that in midlife, instead of having a crisis, I had an epiphany and changed the course of my career and life!

I had been working on getting assimilated in my new position, branching out and making connections to librarians across the country, started interesting projects, teaching classes, and overall, on my way to becoming a well-rounded librarian. Then a pandemic happened. Just as I felt I was hitting my stride; everything was put on pause for a bit while we all transitioned to a virtual world.

I have now been working from home since mid-March. I spend my days jumping from Zoom meetings, virtual classes, writing, researching, all while helping my daughter with virtual schooling and taking care of my toddler.  It is not uncommon for me to be juggling making lunch, trying to keep my toddler from scribbling on the walls and helping a Ph.D. on their dissertation. Suffice it to say, it has been a challenge.

As I continue to work during this pandemic, not only I am still learning best practices, taking courses, and developing my skills in teaching, collection development and leadership, I am also learning how to do it while being a single mom, working at home full-time, and trying not to feel guilty about not always having a spectacular day.  I have come to the realization that many of the strategies that helped me during the time I went back to school to obtain my MLIS are helping me now, so I wanted to share those insights with you.

Time Management/Organization: When I went back to school to obtain my MLIS I had to be uber organized. Having a day planner, color coordinated calendars, and a to-do list was a must. I find that being organized helps with some of the added stress we are all dealing with. I literally write EVERYTHING down. In the past I might have had better recall, something about working from home makes it more difficult for me, so I make sure to jot notes while in meeting, if I have an idea while changing a diaper, I make sure I jot that down as well. I then transfer those notes/ideas into one notebook where I can then reference back to it.

While in the past I kept 2 separate calendars, one for home, where things like orthodontist appointments and school recitals were kept, and my office calendar.  Since the lines have been blurred between work life and home life, I now have a combined calendar. I find it easier to manage my time this way.  I have learned to also schedule things other than meetings, for example everything from my exercise to writing or helping with homework, I have even been known to schedule showers! Having a dedicated “time” on my calendar other than just meetings both keeps me accountable and takes the guess work out of when I will have time to do things.  If it is written down, I will do them.

Self-Care: Going back to school was a difficult decision, especially because I was also working full-time and I was a non-traditional student (read, OLDER!) So, I needed to take care of my mental and physical health. I did lots of yoga and ran. During this time of social distancing, I have also begun practicing meditation, and while I cannot get out and run as often as I would like to, I take advantage of the virtual work-outs my gym provides. There are also tons of free resources on You-tube for workouts and relaxation.

Give yourself some grace: When I was in graduate school, I soon realized I could not do it all nor do it perfectly every time. I am a perfectionist so If I received an A- because I could not get to all the readings, I had to tell myself that it was ok. If I had to take a day off work because my child was sick, and I missed an important meeting, I had to tell myself it was ok. This was always a hard thing for me to grapple with and this continues to be a very difficult thing for me to do. Now, more than ever it is important that we cut ourselves some slack. We cannot always get everything done on our to-do list when we are home. Things will come up at home that just don’t come up on campus. Take a deep breath and realize that this is only temporary, even though it feels like the end is far away. I found having an open and honest relationship with my co-workers and supervisor has helped.  You may find when you talk to others, they are feeling the same way.

Social Connections: In graduate school I had very little free time for friends, but I always made time for them because I know without that connection, I can get down.I cannot stress enough how important social connections have been to me during this time. I have been very cautious since March and have switched up my routines.  I order groceries through a delivery service. I do not go out to restaurants but have food delivered.  I have not really seen many people socially.  I was feeling very isolated but decided to make a habit of talking to a friend every evening.  I also have organized virtual game nights and social hours for my family, and I have taken advantage of some virtual trivia and Bingo games online. When the days run into each other, I find it helps me to have something to look forward to, even if it’s just a group chat with some old friends. If you are feeling isolated, I found some ways to interact virtually through my local library. They have had many “real-time” online activities, like crafting, book clubs and exercise classes. Humans are social creatures, and while many librarians are introverted by nature, we all need social interaction.

These are some lessons I have learned. Although I could likely share more, my next Zoom meeting is starting and it is suspiciously quiet in the house, which is never a good sign with young children. I wish all of us at this time good physical and mental health, and hopefully we will be all where we love to be soon, in the stacks.

Where Are They Now? Former FYALs Reflect : An Update from Nisha Mody

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 Nisha Mody, Associate Director of the Network of the National Library of Medicine, Pacific Southwest Region at UCLA.


The question “Where am I now?” seems heavier that it might have felt a month ago, and way heavier had this been a year ago in the “before times.”

I have stayed true to my interest and commitment to social justice in libraries and in the world, which has made the past year, and this month, especially challenging in terms of doing the work and in terms of emotional regulation. Since I was an FYAL, I went to many conferences, presented, worked on great projects, and have had a chance to lead teams, but, in the end, so much of of my “progress” comes back to meeting myself where I’m at and allowing myself to (1) not know everything (2) take a break from being a “professional” when the world is overwhelming me and (3) ask for help.

With that being said, a few notable things have changed for me since I started at UCLA Library in 2017. I had the opportunity to become Team Lead of the Teaching and Learning Functional Team, and as of June 2020, I became the Associate Director of the Network of the National Library of Medicine, Pacific Southwest Region at UCLA. I feel like this all happened so quickly. However, I know that my pre-library experience in multiple settings equipped me with the tools to be in this position.

Being in administration has helped me examine how it feels to be someone who is in middle management, someone who has transitioned from being a librarian to a manager, and how to best embody my values as a leader and a person. While it has been exciting to be a leader, I miss engaging with students during teaching and research consultations. But I’m still glad to have the opportunity to teach a little bit in other venues.

In my post “I Liked, I Wished, I Wondered: A One-Year Review” from March 2018, a year after I started at UCLA, I closed with:

What Now?

I have always disliked the idea of having a 5-year or 10-year plan. I believe in intention, serendipitous moments, and blending that with your personal drive and abilities. I did not come to librarianship through a straight path, and, while I don’t want to change my career again, I am open to different possibilities that can harness and enhance my skill set. Writing this out has definitely forced me to reflect upon the past year, see how far I have come and what the future might hold. One year down and many more to go!


I still dislike a 5-year or 10-year plan, but I have come to a place where I can create goals based upon my values instead of quantitative outcomes. I recently wrote about creating values-oriented goals. While I still don’t care for 5- or 10-year plans, I do care about embodying my values in different areas of my life including my professional trajectory.

As I mentioned in the article, my core values are community, compassion, vulnerability, equity, curiosity, humility, creativity, and unlearning. In the context of my work, here are some ways I’d like to lead with these values.

  • Examine my biases toward my team, my institution, and the people I serve.
  • Imagine more community-based partnerships to serve marginalized communities.
  • Share my mistakes and hopes with people in all levels of my organization, especially when it comes to anti-racist work.
  • Unlearn traditional ways of leading when working with others as a leader or as a contributor.

I think these goals are useful regardless of my position. On the practical side, I had to truly take charge when it came to project management as I transitioned into leadership. I had no idea that I would be in my current position when I wrote about leadership and project management. And even though I had experience in the corporate world, it took a significant mental shift for me to implement project management concepts. But I’m glad that I was able to set up these structures because I noticed it created a lot of ease with my team, and for myself! Before I entered this role, I also had the opportunity to take DeEtta Jones’ Inclusive Manager Toolkit which was also very supportive for my values and my work.

This is definitely a journey, and I’m glad to have had so many opportunities to grow within one institution. With that being said, I started my career at the beginning of a problematic U.S. Presidency which shifted to COVID-19 and then to the events at the beginning of 2021. And I think this is important to name because the world still keeps going while we are working. And the beliefs that are projected on a global scale also exist on a local scale.

These are opportunities to take a look inward on an institutional level, on a work relationship level, and on a personal level. Some questions I have pondered are:

  • How does my positionality in terms of identity and hierarchy denote my privilege(s)?
  • When should I speak up? When should I stand down?
  • What does equity mean when everyone has different ways of working, needs, and professional goals?
  • How am I unintentionally speaking for others?
  • What am I being transparent about? What am I not being transparent about? What am I afraid of when I’m being transparent or not transparent?
  • Am I meeting the expectations others have of me? Do I need to meet those expectations? How do I acknowledge and/or reset expectations?

These questions come up a lot, and I think they are important to write about and discuss at different points in time during your career. The answers to these questions can help with setting your own expectations, communicating with people in your organization, and examining how your metaphorical and literal positions have changed over time.

If 2020 taught us anything, it is that time is relative and super weird. But it has also taught me to take a step back to reflect, reset, and rest. I hope that we can all find space to slow down, question urgency, and restore ourselves in the face of challenging times.

Your Personal Librarian

My daughter has a book called, Your Personal Penguin by Sandra Boynton, which is one of my favorites. In the book, a penguin follows a hippopotamus asking for its friendship. As with other children’s books, there aren’t many words, but the illustrations hint at the potential for a great friendship. I’ve found Sandra Boynton’s books to be endearing without being saccharine and they have brought light to a dark time.

In the meantime, our library started using a liaison model for instruction this semester. Students seeking degrees are required to take two classes covering the research process. It made sense to assign individual librarians to these sections so that they had one point of contact. We also thought it would make the library less of an abstraction since students can’t set foot inside. As a newbie it would also allow the chance to really get to know a few sections of students and be their personal librarian.

I am working with English and Communications classes. Last semester I did a one-off for a Communications class, but my instruction opportunities were limited as I had only started. That won’t be the case this semester as I have the chance to collaborate with another faculty member to talk about information literacy; how cool is that!? I feel equal parts overwhelmed and excited.

Even though I taught music for years before becoming a librarian, I’m still always amazed by the amount of preparation that goes into even shorter sessions. (Teachers need to be paid more.) I digress; I have a process for instruction, though it is evolving. First, I look at the instructor’s syllabus and create learning outcomes. My learning outcomes have the basic ingredients: an action verb, content, and context. I will admit that mine are a work in progress. It is too easy to create a bad learning outcome, “Learners will understand the thing at the place = success!” Ideally everything supports the learning outcomes, but if they aren’t up to snuff, nothing else will be either.

I want to create activities that reinforce the learning outcomes. I’ve been guilty, especially in my early days of teaching music, of creating activities that don’t justify the outcome. I also need to work on creating just enough scaffolding to provide context without giving the students information overload. Students don’t need to know everything inside of my head. Especially for brief sessions, a surface understanding is enough.

We are still working on assessment in this environment. During more typical semesters, paper surveys are handed out to students. That isn’t a realistic option and we still need to create standardized Google forms exclusively for library instruction. It surprised me though that I have enjoyed creating them.

The more I do this process, the more I can perfect it, and the more I can pivot in real time. Having plans is wonderful, but I want to have the flexibility and the experience to make changes when they aren’t working. As a newer librarian, I’m trying to follow best practices, believing that I need to both know and master the rules before I can break them. That time will come.

My hope is that this liaison model will allow me to be their personal librarian. Unlike the plucky little penguin, I know that we won’t go on adventures together, but I do hope that I can help them on their journey through research. I want to be a face and a name that is reliable and can be counted on. With any luck this model will translate back on campus, allowing the library to represent these same qualities.

Working Like Normal?

Nelly Antoniadou on Unsplash

Man, am I struggling. 

It’s felt like a day of mistakes, exacerbated by the fact that I haven’t seen my boss or colleagues in person for weeks. I’m isolated, and suffering from a lack of structure and routine. Deadlines are sneaking up on me and I’m remembering meetings at the last second, tying up my hair in an attempt at professionalism while frantically opening Teams. This isn’t me. I’m normally very organized and an efficient worker. 

But what is normal? What should we be expecting of ourselves, of each other, as this miserable pandemic rounds its first anniversary? The chorus last March was “Have grace for yourselves and each other, this is a traumatic event and no one should be expected to carry on as normal.” And yet, students have research papers, so we have reference questions. Committees continue to meet, timesheets continue to be due. Liaisons gotta liaise. 

It reminds me of grief. Some workplaces grant bereavement leave, usually around 3 days to deal with funerals and other logistics. And then what? You’re back at work on Monday, and even if your coworkers give you some leeway for your emotional recovery, you’ve still got emails waiting for you. 

When you’re the grieving person, it seems so inappropriate to be carrying on as normal. After a great loss, you walk around in a fog and it’s hard to believe that the people around you are having great days. You feel like screaming, “My person is gone. How can I be expected to bag my groceries, let alone present at a faculty meeting?”

Even if you haven’t lost loved ones to Covid, we’ve all suffered great losses this year. Financial, emotional, social, professional. And our society (I’m inclined to blame capitalism, personally) leaves no room to stop and grieve these losses. As if 10 months of constant, universal loss is something we can get used to.

I can get used to the feeling of a mask on my face, to the sensation of teaching to a webcam. But I will not get used to the daily loss of thousands of citizens, nor will I become numb to frightening attacks on our democracy, like at the beginning of this month. Resilience may get us through this catastrophe, but who will we be after?

I don’t know about you all, but I still need grace. And I will be continuing to dispense it to my students and colleagues this year; no matter how long it’s been, this is not our new normal, and our hearts know it. This post has more questions than answers, but it’s my attempt to hold space for loss, even as a new semester swirls around us.

The December Post

I don’t have a title for this post, so I will simply call it, “The December Post.” Our semester finished at the end of last week. While I remember the academic calendar particularly from my high school and undergraduate years, I’m still getting used to it at work. Things slowly ramp up with two peaks: midterms, and then the end of the semester. The last couple of weeks after Thanksgiving were a race to the end that still took me by surprise. Now we can rest, except I can’t really unwind for a number of reasons.

During a normal semester we close up with Finals Fest, which is part celebration of the end of term, and part coping mechanism for all of us. While this event is aimed at students, but we can all use hot chocolate. There is periodic programming, like games and tutoring. I hear that by the end the library staff are full of sugar and then leave in a haze of chocolate.

Since we can’t do any of these things this year, I did my best to replicate the whimsy remotely. I’m proud of this, though turnout was not high:
Virtual Finals Fest Fall 2020
I realize that when I wrote, “As the character Arthur Dent says in the book, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, “‘Don’t Panic. It’s the first helpful or intelligible thing anybody’s said to me all day’” I was trying to reassure myself just as much as our students. I’m scared right now, and I didn’t need to take tests during a pandemic!

I remember dry heaving on a test handed to me by my scariest professor, Dr. Adams (name changed) my freshman year. I remember after a semester of studying, staying up late to make that final push. I never pulled an all nighter, but I remember getting little sleep. I remember working in the computer lab (that was a thing) to crank out papers since I wasn’t sent to school with a computer. Lastly, as was common for me, once the stress ended, I got sick first and then a break second. I remember this time of sheer panic well.

My college experience wasn’t ideal in some ways, but I didn’t have to go through this period of time while worried about friends and family. I wasn’t grieving the loss of people who died of this disease, maybe, while getting sick myself. I wasn’t living with extended family who one, by one passed the virus around. I can only sympathize, but haven’t lived this experience. I have to say to our students: you made it. You finished, and that is enough for now. If you are able, get some sleep.