You Should Really Think About Publishing Something

It’s a piece of “advice” we’ve all received at some point or another in our academic librarian career. We may be on the tenure-track, in a continuing appointment position, promotion eligible, or classified as administrative staff. But at some point we’ve all heard some variation of the following statement:

You should really think about publishing something.

Sometimes it’s said in passing by a colleague who received similar feedback at some point. Others times it comes up in conversations with supervisors, mentors, or department chairs. It might be a breezy statement or one laced with concern. It frequently shows up around review or promotion time or sometimes just when someone happens to look at a cv or think it might be appropriate. When and how it comes into being, it remains a supremely unhelpful statement. It’s the kind of statement that causes more angst and stress than positive action. It reinforces the idea that a line on a CV is what’s important. It has the potential to create writing prompted by fear and/or a desire to “get a name out there” or just to “get something published.”

Those of us who teach and work with undergraduate students focus on helping students value their curiosity and prior knowledge so that they can cultivate their own research interests and produce work that elicits pride. We don’t tell students that they should just “write something.” We ask them to think about what sparks their interest. In our classes we practice asking questions rooted in curiosity and wanting to know more about an idea or subject. We focus on research as an iterative process and the way that new ideas emerge from the reading we do, the conversations we have, and the thoughts with which we wrestle. We do this because it helps students improve their thinking and writing, and it creates a connection to their work. I want us to have this time connection to our own work.

A friend and colleague once told me that their most productive writing time was the year after their sabbatical year. That year off from teaching and service work gave them a chance to read, explore different ideas, and find space for themselves within a meaningful academic conversation. That’s the difficult stuff–the stuff that takes the most time. Instead of saying “You really should think about publishing something,” we could encourage reading, questioning, and exploration. We could make time in our workplaces–which might mean dropping something else–for professional reading. We could share our own research interests and ideas with our newer colleagues and help them spark their own interests. We could ask questions about their practice, listen to their ideas and concerns, and encourage their interests. Small questions are sometimes the most interesting! Would could embrace the practice of curiosity.

There are so many more productive, helpful things we can say and do to encourage writing and research within academic librarianship. What was the most helpful piece of advice you’ve received?

Posters, Infographics, & Ways of Showcasing Student Engagement

This summer, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about posters. In early June, NPR shared a story of Mike Morrison, a graduate student who has been trying to transform the academic research poster landscape. In Mike’s almost 20 minute video, he explains what’s wrong about current academic posters and proposes a new layout in order to gather knowledge from these posters more easily. 

I don’t disagree with Mike; his new poster layout is appealing. As a librarian who has been leading undergraduate research poster workshops for a few years now, Mike’s layout emphasizes our big three: font, color, and size. Viewers are directed to the big ideas (aka the biggest elements on your poster) and have sidebars to more information if needed. This new layout also relies on a QR code, to direct really interested viewers to explore more on the project, on their own time.  

However, as I sat in my office and listened to Mike’s video explanation, I thought of the summer science students I just given a poster workshop to. The supervisor of their summer program noted several times throughout my presentation that while I was showing off some best practices, ultimately the students’ faculty mentor/PI had final say on the poster layout. This could mean a poster could end up very text heavy, use a certain color palette, or requires a certain logo or author designation. These preferences often come from faculty who have spent a lot of time in the field and have strong opinions about creating posters. Then I tried to imagine having a conversation with them about Mike’s new layout. Making this sort of jump and abandoning the traditional poster layout will take time and energy. I’m not saying it can’t be done, but if the poster tides move towards Mike’s layout, it will be a challenge. Academia is steeped in tradition and this includes a tradition of how research posters are thought about, created, and displayed. Before computers, posters were created by cutting up an article and pasting it on poster board! While we have PowerPoint and InDesign, I can’t say that all of our posters have moved much farther than cutting and pasting in their own digital way. 

Mike’s layout also got me thinking about another spin off of research posters we’ve been talking about at Penn State: student engagement posters. Recently, I’ve been in a lot of conversations asking about the best way for a student to showcase their experience. A research poster feels too stiff, too formal. An infographic seems like a better match, but also isn’t a perfect fit. Earlier this spring I took our research poster workshop and modified it for an infographic student engagement workshop. Within these student engagement posters, we are trying to see the meta part of the experience. What did the students learn from this experience? What skills did they bring in and what skills did they take away? How did this experience prepare them for another experience? I built in a set of reflection questions and even tried my hand at my own student engagement experience poster. 

A poster describing the author's experience in New York City where she interned at the New York Public Library.
My attempt at a student engagement poster

Today, I met with some Student Engagement Network interns, who had been tasked with making their own student engagement posters. They used both a formal, template (a hybrid of the research poster with some engagement) and were also asked to create some sort of infographic inspired poster. It was great to chat with them and it definitely reminded me of a few things: 

  • Making posters is NOT a skill often taught to undergraduates. Even with platforms like Canva or Piktochart, students still need guidance on how to visually represent an experience. 
  • The students I worked with felt strongly their primary poster audience was undergraduates who might be interested in their engagement experience. The poster needed to not only convey the experience, but also encourage others to explore a similar experience. I don’t think I had fully considered that audience and that definitely influences how the poster is created and what resources should be included. 
  • They appreciated the ability to reflect and hone in on a main message they wanted to get across. Of course, if they discover the reflection questions AFTER they started making the poster, that’s not quite as helpful. 

So what’s next? I’m not sure. I have some ideas and will be curious to see the research that Mike and others do around eye tracking and understanding the new poster layout he has proposed. Perhaps academia will see a shift in research posters and perhaps we’ll find a way to get student engagement experiences out there too. It seems like everything is up for grabs and it’s exciting to explore and think about these topics. I’m curious to hear others’ thoughts on the new research poster layout or if your institutions are thinking about more intentionally showcasing the meta part of student engagement experiences. 

“Wait a minute Honey, I’m gonna add it up:” Kanopies, DRM, and the Permanence of the Collection

In my new position at the University of Washington I have a long commute, as one would expect, in a large city like Seattle. On this commute I listen to music and read and on the bus last week I reached for an old Midwestern standby, The Violent Femmes only to find that their first album, Violent Femmes (1983) had been removed from streaming platforms and, despite my purchase of the album electronically, had been removed from iTunes for me to listen to. (Reader, don’t worry many of the songs are available on their greatest hits record, aptly titled, Permanent Record.)

The Violent Femmes performing in 2006 (Wikimedia Commons)

In the last few weeks librarians have been confronted in various ways with the difficulties surrounding streaming and licensed materials. Kanopy, one of the largest and most popular streaming services available for library users, was recently and publicly dropped by the New York Public Library (NYPL). How we found this news out, and how it became well known, was a result of Kanopy sending an email to NYPL users who had registered for the service prior to NYPL’s own statement on the issue. In part, their message explained “The New York, Queens, and Brooklyn Public Libraries have decided to discontinue Kanopy’s film streaming service to its patrons…Film as a public resource is a critical part of New York’s culture and communities. We have enjoyed furthering the New York City Libraries’ mission of providing open access to knowledge… [emphasis mine].” 

Kanopy's Letter to Patrons
The Kanopy Letter sent to New York Public Library Patrons

Setting aside for a moment the frankly gross overstep of a vendor directly reaching out to library patrons about library budgetary or mission changes, let’s focus in on the language that Kanopy uses to describe their service: public resource and open access. For those of us who work in academic libraries and have dealt with the ongoing difficulties with providing access to streaming media for our communities, and especially those who are aware of Kanopy’s expensive nature, these kinds of words might make us take a pause.

As a cinema librarian I can say that film is an important part of cultural legacy and should be a public resource and that access to film should be part of any library’s collection mission. Yet, for many of us the way we consume and purchase media has dramatically changed in the past decade, as streaming and licensing digital files have become the norm for the majority of consumers. Kanopy fits into this very nicely. It’s interface looks remarkably similar to any other streaming platform, and invites users to click through its offerings like they would for Netflix, Criterion Channel, and Amazon Prime. It’s hidden cost, as we know, only triggers when a user clicks on a film and watches a certain amount of it. For users it seems free; like the offerings from Netflix that despite the monthly cost allows users to peruse and sample any film in the catalog. For the most part this is how streaming platforms like Kanopy have advertised themselves to our users.


I want to be clear that it is not my intention to pile on to Kanopy, because I truly believe that Kanopy provides a great service for spreading art and indie film to the widest audience. Rather I want us to think about how we are building collections and gathering materials in this new digital age of instant gratification and expectations.

Over the last year and especially in the wake of NYPL’s decision, I have seen many articles touting and promoting the great new “free” hidden service provided by the library. This article from Entertainment Weekly https://ew.com/movies/2019/01/18/free-streaming-service-kanopy/ emphasizes the accessibility and the free cost as these pillars of why Kanopy is amazing for users. And Kanopy for their part makes a pretty compelling case for this kind of access  CEO Olivia Humphrey states “‘We have such a wide audience,’ says Humphrey. ‘We have people who can’t afford an internet connection that go down to the local public library to watch…. That’s a really important demographic for us, [as much as] cinephiles in L.A. and New York.’ Part of serving that audience is finding what Humphrey calls “content gaps” in other streaming platforms and trying to fill the void” This is something that I think is a really wonderful part of Kanopy, is that it allows access to art and indie film through public libraries but at what cost?

Well…we often don’t know what the cost is. The model is certainly different at Academic institutions but one of the cited figures for public libraries is $2 a watch for each film, and some libraries have limited how often users can watch films a month in order to keep these figures down (
https://www.indiewire.com/2019/06/new-york-public-library-drops-kanopy-netflix-alternative-too-expensive-1202153550/ ) . For Academic institutions, Kanopy, and other services like it, are fairly reminiscent of our licensing agreements with our ebooks, and costs can be astronomical. In a Film Quarterly article critiquing the “freeness” of Kanopy, Chris Cagel, a film historian at Temple University, writes “Instead, Kanopy’s platform drives “patron-driven acquisition” in which three viewings (defined as 30 seconds or more of a title) trigger a library license fee per title. (The figures I’ve seen are $150 for a year, $350 for a 3-year license, though the price might vary or change over time.) (see: https://filmquarterly.org/2019/05/03/kanopy-not-just-like-netflix-and-not-free/ )” These costs can quickly go out of control for many libraries, and the larger the population and the more articles about how this “free service” is provided by libraries, complicate this matter. It leads us to the moment where we are forced to cancel subscriptions because our patrons are using it, rather than how we often weed in our collections based on lack of use or usefulness in a general sense.


…the larger expectation for our library within the community is that we are permanent repositories for information (see the issues we generally see when library’s weed their collections) digital media is anything but permanent, and we have to reconcile this fact with our user expectations.

I want to be clear that it is not my intention to pile on to Kanopy, because I truly believe that Kanopy provides a great service for spreading art and indie film to the widest audience. Rather I want us to think about how we are building collections and gathering materials in this new digital age of instant gratification and expectations and how we tell that story to our users. Our users will start to feel the loss of licenses when materials start to leave our collections, just as they are starting to see their own digital materials lost in their personal collections. On the same day that Kanopy and NYPL parted ways it was reported that ebooks purchased through the Microsoft Store would be deleted this month from those who had purchased them. https://gizmodo.com/ebooks-purchased-from-microsoft-will-be-deleted-this-mo-1836005672

Digital items with DRM (digital rights management) are never fully owned, instead they are licensed. You can read more about DRM from the grassroots anti-DRM movement Defective By Design. They even wrote an open letter to libraries https://www.defectivebydesign.org/LetterToLibraries. These objects can be locked to prevent sharing of the material to other users and they can be taken away, like the ebooks or like my precious Violent Femmes album. My institution is well off enough to encourage our subject liaisons to purchase ebooks without DRM (which increases the costs substantially), but many public libraries or smaller academic libraries cannot afford to pay an extra $150 to make sure digital items are the community’s to keep. But the larger expectation for our library within the community is that we are permanent repositories for information (see the issues we generally see when library’s weed their collections) digital media is anything but permanent, and we have to reconcile this fact with our user expectations.

In my own life I have begun collecting materials for myself in non-digital form. This means that I have spent money buying twenty-year-old video games, hard to find DVDs, and vinyl because I am aware of the tenuous grip that we have on our digital files and media. It is essential that libraries work to make our communities aware of the restrictions and the fugitive nature of digital licensed materials and platforms and work with our users to ensure their needs are met in this changing time. NYPL for their part explained their decision to move away from Kanopy stating that “The Library made this decision after a careful and thorough examination of its streaming offerings and priorities. We believe the cost of Kanopy makes it unsustainable for the Library, and that our resources are better utilized purchasing more in-demand collections such as books and e-books (https://www.nypl.org/press/press-release/june-24-2019/statement-about-kanopy

For a city of 8 million people, Kanopy was perhaps unsustainable, but NYPL is also making a point about how they see their collections growing and that is in books and ebooks. For libraries providing for the public good means making these kinds of decisions, and we need helpful partnerships with our vendors to provide this access. While I do not know what was going on in the minds of the directors of NYPL, it sure does not seem like the library system was wanting to wage this battle in the open prior to Kanopy’s patron email. Yet, this has become a moment where librarians can have conversations with patrons about the costs and limitations of streaming and digital materials. I, for one, have received several messages from my faculty colleagues about how the NYPL decision impacts us at the University of Washington, and I tell them that while it won’t change the way we interact with Kanopy (that decision was made long before I came here) but that this is an important teaching moment in our current climate. While the vendor spurred this conversation, I believe that libraries can have an important voice to share in this new media age.

Final Thoughts on My First Year

It’s already July, and I’m not really sure when that happened. Summer is starting to wind down and planning for the upcoming semester is in full swing. This is also my last post as an First Year Academic Librarian Experience (FYAL) blogger for ACRLog. I’ve had a great time writing posts, reflecting on my experiences as a new librarian, and meeting the wonderful people who make this blog possible. I highly recommend applying to write as an FYAL blogger to anyone who wants to give it a try. It’s fun, good writing practice, and a very supportive space.

Before I go, I’m using this post as an opportunity to reflect back on my first year, which includes the lessons and roadblocks I’ve run into along the way.

Relationships are the most important thing

If I tried to work through my first year as an academic librarian alone, it would have been a disaster. The relationships I formed with colleagues in my library, at the university, and with librarians outside of my workplace have been essential to both my career and my happiness. My colleagues have been supportive of my ideas, have advocated on my behalf during turbulent times, and are supportive of me as a person who has a life beyond work. Work is still work, but I’m genuinely excited to see my colleagues when I come in each week. This year would not have been the same without them. 

I wrote about my struggles with my faculty identity nine months ago, and while there are still challenges working with colleagues outside of the library, I’m amazed by the ways in which my relationships outside of the library have grown. I’ve met more people, have had a year to build trust and work together with faculty in my liaison area, and have opportunities to try new ideas with colleagues from all sorts of backgrounds. I am optimistic that my relationships will continue to grow and take me in directions I could never have conceived of a year ago. 

As for the relationships outside of work, I am grateful for my library friendships. Conferences have granted me the opportunity to meet really cool people doing amazing things all over the world. The local librarians in Colorado are a great bunch, and if you have the chance to hang out with them, you definitely should (come to a baseball game. You won’t regret it). The Colorado Association of Libraries New Professionals Interest Group (NPIG) has allowed me to connect with other, new librarians in both a professional and social capacity. Joining, and then leading, a group of new professionals has allowed me to meet people from all sorts of libraries and created opportunities to present at conferences.

Relationships and friendships are vital to my success and wellbeing. I wouldn’t be where I am without the smart and talented people surrounding me. 

You can’t avoid higher ed politics

As great as most (but definitely not all) of my relationships are in academia, there are some barriers that you just can’t get away from. The politics of higher ed might forever confuse me. I’ve found out that I can’t always get things done the way I want to. Outcomes and events are tied to university goals or priorities; a college has done something one way for 20 years, someone else wants to change it, and now no one is happy; there was a union once, so that’s why some policies are in place; a certain room is in the building because of a long deceased donor, and no, we don’t have access to it; there are endless committees, and councils are different than committees. It can be exhausting, so if you’re new and feeling overwhelmed by politics and hierarchies and decision-making processes, I feel you. I’m still figuring out how this all works too. The more I learn about university politics, the less I feel confident I know anything. Talk to me in a few years, and we’ll see where I’m at. 

Do the fun stuff

On a more positive note, I’ve had a great time participating in fun or unique activities on campus. I highly recommend attending events or doing activities that sound good. I recently learned that there are community garden plots on campus, and a lot of the summer faculty and staff grow their own gardens. I met the video team in the university marketing department because we played on a campus softball team together. I participated in a class that taught students how to assess and prescribe exercises to clients, so I got to hang out with students in a class and get free training (I’m surprised that this is the place where most students I run into know me from and as “the librarian who lifted weights with us in that class.”) Move-in day comes up in August, and I’m definitely getting involved with that again because it was fun to meet new students and their families. There’s opportunities to go on camping retreats, attend plays, and visit art galleries. This circles back to the idea that relationships are the most important aspect of librarianship to me. The fun opportunities are less formal ways to build relationships, and I have a good time doing them.

Try a bit of everything (but learn to say no sometimes)

In library school, I got involved with every organization, volunteer opportunity, and job I could get my hands on. This was a great way to put my name out there and build relationships. Not much has changed since then. I’m in several groups and committees both in the library and on campus. I’ve also joined groups, such as NPIG, that allow me to meet librarians across the state. There’s opportunities to collaborate on research, presentations, and workshops. I’ve said yes to a lot of things, and it’s helped me learn what I like and what I don’t like. At the same time, I’m getting to a point where I have to learn how to say no. I love being involved and busy during the day, but there’s a point when we have to step back and focus on the stuff we’ve already committed to. This is a reminder for all of us, myself included.

And so farewell

I’ll miss writing for this blog and using this space to process my own experiences and emotions; however, I’m excited to read future FYAL posts and learn from other, new professionals. I want to extend a huge thank you to everyone at ACRLog for your support. Thanks for checking in, providing feedback, and brainstorming ideas.

For anyone who wants to chat you can reach me on Twitter or through email. Best wishes to everyone as we enter a new, academic year! 

On secondary assignments and exploration

One of the things that got me excited—almost a year ago now—when I was applying for my job, was that here at the Michigan State University Libraries, it’s commonplace to have what we refer to as a secondary assignment. Essentially, this means that at least 25% of any given librarian’s week is spent working in a separate unit from that of their primary assignment. For example, many of my coworkers have secondary assignments in reference, but secondary assignments can be in anything from digital scholarship to special collections.

When I applied to this job, I was excited about the opportunity for cross-pollination and breaking out of single specializations that having secondary assignments provides. While I am in a residency program, which means that I am offered the space to explore different interests within librarianship, I also knew coming out of library school what sort of work I wanted to be doing. A secondary assignment seemed like the perfect way to balance exploring with focusing on my specific interests.

Thus far, secondary assignments have worked out well for me. I currently have two: accessibility and cataloging. Cataloging has been an interest of mine since library school, but my school also only offered one cataloging class, so after that any practice I got was exclusively through my internships. Having a secondary assignment in cataloging has helped me gain a more solid foundation as well as a chance to explore some of cataloging’s intricacies. Scheduling blocks of time for cataloging has also helped to make my schedule, which can sometimes feel untethered, a bit more structured.

My accessibility secondary assignment has been equally fruitful. I came into this position with little prior experience in accessibility work, but did know that I was interested and wanted to get involved. And thus far my secondary assignment has allowed me to do just that. I’ve not only learned about all the various accessibility initiatives happening in the libraries and on campus, but I’ve also started to make meaningful contributions, especially working with vendors. Having a secondary assignment has also given me time to focus on my own education with regard to accessibility, disability studies, and assistive technology. A secondary assignment so different from my area studies primary assignment also means that I can shake my days up, moving between different sorts of work to keep myself engaged.

Of course, having three different focuses can also be hectic. I have definitely spent a good deal of time trying to figure out how to balance everything and which of my assignments deserves focus at any given moment. There are weeks when one or another just doesn’t get attended to, but this is also the nature of library work in general: no day is completely routine, no matter what your job description might be.

Overall, though, I have certainly benefitted from my secondary assignments and have found them to be useful ways to interact with more people in the library and to learn about the work of other units. Ultimately, secondary assignments have been exactly what I hoped they would be.

Even if your library does not have an equivalent setup, there are ways to create a similar, if more informal experience. For example, I don’t have any reference responsibilities, but I have found attending reference meetings to be beneficial in hearing more about library-wide happenings and connecting with colleagues I might not otherwise see on a regular basis. Meetings, discussion groups, or other similar events can lead to opportunities for collaborations across units. Look for other ways to reach beyond your unit to find others with similar or complementary interests.

Another avenue to explore would be finding areas where your job is flexible. If you’ve always wanted to learn more about a certain area of librarianship, are there ways you can work that learning into your current practice? To whom can you reach out to learn more and open up doors for collaboration? Carving out time and space might not be possible for everyone, but it’s worth looking for small ways to explore if that’s something you’re interested in.


Does your library have anything similar to secondary assignments? What strategies have you used to interact with others beyond your closer colleagues or to learn about new-to-you areas of librarianship?