What Student Employees Have Taught Me

As a new librarian, and as someone who is new to working at a university, there’s a lot to learn. I’ve learned about some of the university’s history and how it affects day-to-day operations, the degree programs and course offerings, different colleges on campus, how each college has their own rules regarding faculty promotion and tenure, and the ebb and flow of different semester schedules. Then, there’s the current environment and culture of the campus. Much of what I’ve learned comes from faculty and staff who have been on campus for decades, and for that I’m grateful. They have the best insight into the political and structural nature of campus and faculty life; however, it’s the students and more specifically, student employees, in the library that provide the most holistic view of campus life and culture.

Before January, I worked 9-hour shifts on Saturdays with the same staff. It was always me, a supervisor at circulation, and a mix of student employees. Saturdays, especially over the summer, were slow. My main duty on Saturdays was to staff the research help desk in case we had any drop-in questions. There would sometimes be long stretches where no one would come by with a question, and if I had nothing else going on, I frequently found myself chatting with the student employees.

I do not supervise any students, so I don’t have any insights about what that’s like (others have though, and talk about supervising and mentorship). I do, however, think that our student employees are great, which is why below, in no particular order, I’m listing out what I’ve learned from student employees along the way.

Campus life and history

Did you know that Main Hall is haunted by past Jesuits? And that, if you ask very nicely, campus safety will take you on a tour of the building’s basement on Halloween so that you can experience the ghosts firsthand? This tidbit came up in a larger conversation about ghosts, and suddenly, I knew about every haunted building on campus. This is the interesting type of myth that students know. Campus history is passed down from one class of students to another, and I’m not privy to it unless a student is willing to share. Any fun fact I know about the university most likely came from a student employee.

Beyond myths and campus lore, students have very strong opinions about their classes, professors, and perceptions of leadership. I’ve learned about what classes were difficult and why in different departments. One student ranted very openly and honestly about being treated as a dollar sign by campus administration instead of as a student who was learning and making mistakes in classes. Student employees will give you an idea of the general mood and morale on campus, especially during exams.

Basically, if I want to know how students feel about new construction plans, the history of a particular spot on campus, or the perception of an assignment, I just have to ask.

Reminder of what being in college is like

An employee had recently moved to off-campus apartments and was talking about how difficult grocery shopping was. They had never gone grocery shopping on their own before, and talked about trying to get the right amount of food on a college budget. They had to start from scratch with spices and staples, and it felt overwhelming. Conversations about life and firsts are a good reminder that, yes, college students are adults, but many that we label as traditional, undergraduate students are learning how to be independent for the first time. Students are taking classes, but also figuring out how to manage their bills, divide their time and energy, and take care of their health. Many of our student workers are undergrads, so I get the new college student perspective most often; however, I’m often reminded that graduate students or undergraduates that do not fit under the traditional student mold face a set of challenges all their own. It can be easy to fall into a trap of getting frustrated with the student in the back of the class that isn’t paying attention to my well thought-out and incredibly important assignment, but conversations about daily life and struggles remind me that student lives and experiences are rich, complex, and diverse. I’m grateful any time a student employee is willing to share their experience with me.

Great sounding board for ideas

I sometimes have what I think is a great idea for library instruction, or I want to try something new for outreach. I’ve taken these ideas to student employees who have been generous with their time to provide feedback. Now that they know me better, student employees are very honest about their opinions and provide some of their own ideas that have been helpful. I appreciate student input in things I’m designing for students. We’ve also had student employees play test the escape rooms we’ve created for finals week, give feedback about our surveys, and in general, be the student voice in the activities and materials we create for the library. Of course, student employees aren’t necessarily representative of the entire student population, so we don’t rely on them for everything; however, employees are a great start for engaging with students in general.

Assistance with our projects

Most of our student employees have defined job roles, but they are sometimes excited to try new projects or learn about different aspects of the library. For instance, I was working with our digital content librarian to weed DVDs in my subject area. A student employee I know very well was in the area, and I knew that she was heavily involved with the literature and poetry community. She ended up looking through content relevant to her major so that we could seek her input into the collection as well. Another student employee recommended popular biology titles that we didn’t have for our collection that she thought other students would be interested in checking out. If I haven’t made this point clear yet, then I’d like to emphasize that student voices are valuable to library operations. We can guess what materials are most relevant to students, or we can ask for their input. Student employee involvement in collection development has taught me more about what’s popular in certain subject areas or what students might be interested to see in a collection. Having student employees involved in library projects brings me to my final point.

Potential future librarians

If you ask your colleagues about their first library job, many of them will talk about being employed in the library as a student. I’m not sure what percentage of librarians started as student workers, but I think it’s significant. Some of our student employees today might be librarians in the future. The way that we engage with student employees, the projects that we give them, and the perception that we share of the library may shape future librarians.

Student employees are valuable to libraries. They provide honest feedback, give insight to campus life and culture, and have interesting perspectives. Getting to know the student employees has been one of my favorite parts of being a new librarian. If you haven’t already, take the time to find out more about the student employees in your library. I think we all have something we can learn from them.

Pulling back the curtain: Conversations about process and information literacy

My colleague Kate Morgan and I developed a series of panel discussions this past year that we called “From Concept to Creation: Uncovering the Making of Scholarly and Creative Accomplishments.” We invited campus faculty and staff to select a piece of research or creative work and discuss some aspects of its making. By sharing a behind-the-scenes look at their work, we hoped panelists would reveal their steps and stages, as well as the skills, habits, and attitudes that were important to their processes. By increasing the transparency of their works’ component parts, we aimed to help faculty and students recognize and discuss the role of information literacy and digital literacy in research and creative experiences. We also hoped that uncovering process would make research feel more approachable for our students. This idea germinated from a seed I first explored in this post a few years ago.

In our planning meetings with panelists, we shared some questions like the following to help them prepare their remarks:

  • How did you ask questions?
  • How did you identify a path for your research?
  • How did you validate and support your ideas?
  • How did you engage with other scholars’ work?
  • How did your work change course during the process?
  • What attitudes were important to your process?
  • What skills and tools were key to your process?
  • How did you draw conclusions?
  • What were your hesitations, fears, and missteps? How did you manage/overcome them?

I find it interesting that many of the panelists chose to share stories related to their professional paths rather than discrete projects. They talked about their early and adult life experiences, their undergraduate experiences, and their transitions to graduate school. While panelists spoke less about research strategies and tools than I had originally imagined, they spoke more about choices they made, attitudes they cultivated, and about how personal and professional interests and choices cross-pollinated. In so doing, they illustrated skills, practices, and attitudes key to information literacy development such as: how they came to understand authority and develop expertise; affective aspects of their research and writing processes; how they negotiated ambiguity, formulated questions, and synthesized ideas; and how they honed mindsets for curiosity, inquiry, and reflection.

I’m excited by the success we had with this first iteration: attendance at each session was high, the audiences were engaged, and conversations buzzed in hallways and offices well after the sessions ended. I believe that by engaging students, faculty, and staff in conversations about inner workings and rough edges, this series took a productive step toward transforming our perspectives on how we participate and create. Yet, I’m left wondering if the centrality of information literacy in the series was quite so apparent to everyone as it was to me. Did we truly pull back the curtain in such a way as to build a shared understanding of those oh-so-foundational information literacy skills, behaviors, and concepts?

So as we look ahead to the next iteration of this program for the coming academic year, I’m thinking about some of the goals at the heart of this series, particularly our goal to broaden our campus community’s awareness of the scope and nature of information literacy as well as the library’s role as a partner in teaching and learning processes. I’m reflecting on how information literacy is so closely intertwined with critical thinking, metacognition, and a growth, rather than fixed, mindset. And I’m reflecting on how I can better uncover the relationship between these inherently linked strands and how to make my thinking and my process more transparent for others.

How do you talk about process and information literacy? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: What to Do with Conference Notes & Handouts?

It’s conference season! So, I have a question you should consider before you leave for your next conference, workshop, professional development day, or seminar: What do you do with the notes and handouts you bring back?

Obviously, you’re going to a conference or other professional development event because you intend to learn something from it. Some people have the superpower to retain a lot of information without writing it down. Alas, I am of the forget-it-immediately-if-I-don’t-write-it-down school of conference attendance (and life in general). So, what can I do with my copious notes and the handouts that I cling to like a lifeline to information, once the conference is over and I’m back in my office?

Here’s my current method:T At the conference, take notes in a relevant space of the agenda or program. (Example: Notes about the keynote on the page where the speaker’s bio is.) This puts my notes in better context for later reading, and cuts down on extra pages.

Reduce:At the conference, take notes in a relevant space of the agenda or program. (Example: Notes about the keynote on the page where the speaker’s bio is.) This puts my notes in better context for later reading, and cuts down on extra pages.

Reuse: A few days after returning, I actually read the notes. I’ll also probably make a list of action items (reach out to a new contact, outline that idea for a new research project, add that book title to my TBR pile), and share any information I thought other colleagues might be interested in.

Recycle: Once I leave the conference, I won’t need maps, dine-around invitations, or pages thanking vendors (unless I used them for overflow notes). Into the recycle bin they go.

File them. Ideally, I would scan the useful notes/handouts and file them neatly in my Google Drive (and then recycle the originals), but I’m still a paper hoarder, so for now I still have an extra step: they go into neatly labelled paper folders so I can find them again if necessary.

But what works for me might not work for you! Here are some other ideas (some I’ve tried, some I haven’t):

  • Keep a dedicated notebook for conference notes. This one doesn’t work for me, because I never look at it again, much like the collection of takeout menus in my kitchen. For someone more diligent about revisiting the notebook, this might be a good choice.
  • Scan them immediately. You could skip straight to scanning the notes and saving them to Google Drive (or Box, Evernote, etc.) For some people, this would make it easier to read/edit your notes, and it would also make it easier to search them. It has the same danger of being ignored/forgotten as the physical notebook, though, and perhaps moreso, since there isn’t a physical object to catch your eye and remind you to open it from time to time.
  • Add to a professional reflective journal, bullet journal, work diary, etc. This would be my preferred method of conference note maintenance if I used a different type of notebook for my work journal. You can either take your original notes at the conference in your notebook, or summarize your notes in the notebook after you return, putting them in the context of the rest of your work at that time.
  • Add them to your professional reading TBR pile. For now, I can stay on top of my To Be Read pile of professional reading, both digitally and in print. You could slip your notes into the stack of reading so you revisit the notes and increase retention a few days or weeks after your return. Then you can pass them on or discard them (whatever you do with your in-print publications).
  • Papier-mache? I’m kidding, of course, but if you don’t do something useful with your notes and handouts, you might as well craft with them, for all the good they’re doing you.

Another consideration is whether your habits change for a paperless/green conference. If you get all your handouts and agendas on a flash drive or by email, do you still print them out and take notes on paper, or do you bring a laptop and type them? If your post-conference notes maintenance method is paper-based, do you print out your typed notes afterward, or save them differently from the rest of your notes? If you do the latter, they might be forgotten because they’re not consistent with everything else. Maybe, as you start to attend more paperless conferences, your methods will switch to a paperless filing system, and soon you’ll be taking all your conference notes on your laptop, even if you were originally a paperphile like myself.

What do you do with your notes and handouts? And, perhaps just as importantly, does your method work for you? I would love to hear your suggestions!

How To Be the Youngest Person in the Room

ACRLog welcomes a guest post from Catie Carlson, Director of Pfeiffer Library at Tiffin University.

If you were a traditional student who went straight to library school and then found themselves working in an academic library shortly later, you probably experienced it. It being the confident, new librarian who wants to help students succeed only to be confused for a student yourself. At first it can be flattering, but it can quickly become frustrating when you want to have authority and respect in a room. For good examples of why and how that can happen (as well as for a few unfortunate trolls), I recommend reading the comments and replies to Jenny Howell’s tweet.

Dr. Howell is describing the biases and discrimination that exist for young women in academia. She is also touching on imposter syndrome, which is no stranger to ACRLog posts. We all feel not-smart-enough, not-good-enough, not-insert-adjective-here-enough to belong in librarianship and academia at some point. Typically this is just described as a state of mind, such as Veronica describing her internal monologue or Zoe confessing her insecurities fueling her imposter syndrome. However, age and gender can create a physical embodiment of those feelings. These can manifest in ways such as Dr. Howell’s description, being confused as a student, or even being called a “baby” within the profession.

I am no stranger to feeling imposter syndrome. As a young librarian, working with senior faculty could be intimidating with their vast experience in comparison to my newness. I would get nervous if I couldn’t come up with a quick answer for a student fearing they’d think I was useless. These are natural scenarios when you are a “baby” in a profession. With personal relationships eventually forming with these people, it became less intimidating to work with the faculty. As I became more familiar with student needs at my institution, I was taken less off-guard by surprise questions. Slowly, though I was still a “baby librarian,” imposter syndrome started to wane, which is good. Being a “baby librarian” is a problematic way to describe yourself because you’ve worked hard to be in this profession, but it’s even more troublesome when you feel you can accept the term regardless of its connotations. However, imposter syndrome would still appear at times: on an insecure day, when I made a mistake, or in a new interaction with someone.

After just a few years at a small institution, a retirement left the director role as an option. I had only been a librarian for a few years, but I had shown my value to the institution over that time. More than one person encouraged me to apply to the job, but I was on the fence. While I welcome a challenging opportunity to enable self-growth, this seemed like a stretch. Imposter syndrome would start all over with such a promotion. Despite these doubts, I applied, I interviewed, and I accepted a directorship before the age of 30 years old.

While I knew my insecurities in accepting a leadership position going into the role, there were some things I did not expect. Having never been in the position, I had no idea what it is like to be a young female in a leadership meeting, and by that, I mean being the only young female in a leadership meeting. When I sit at a table with our three school deans and Provost, I am one of two females in the room and I am the only millennial. I think it is safe to say there isn’t even a Gen X in the room. When I attend library director meetings across our state, the scenario does not change much. Essentially, I went from being a “baby librarian” to a “baby leader” and so the problematic way of viewing of oneself continues.

It can be scary and lonely to not see a peer in the room, especially when the expectation is for you to be a leader in that room. With just a few years now under my belt, I won’t pretend to be an expert, but I hate leaving problems unresolved. Therefore, here are some things I have found helpful to shed the imposter syndrome again:

Be Confident
Years of experience are important, but they are not everything. Always remember that you got this far for a reason. I have to tell myself every day: You weren’t given a position; you earned it. I tell myself twice, three times or four when I have big meetings. It helps even if just a little.

Play to Your Strengths
I love utilizing technology in my work and life. I once sat in a meeting where the leaders talked about an upcoming survey for us. I offered to just do it then while in discussion because (as always) I had a laptop and it would take 5 minutes to create, distribute, and move on. While it prompted millennial jokes from my colleagues, one approached me after the meeting, apologized for the jokes, thanked me for my initiative, and complimented my technology skills. Moral of the story: People will notice when you know what you’re doing.

Be Proactive
Volunteer for things. It’s how they will eventually notice your great work just like in my survey creation. No one asked me to do it, but I knew I could do it quickly and it would ease the load for others. People like this, but academics must always be cautious about burn out.

Prepare. Prepare. Prepare.
You’re the youngest one in the room and you will be judged. It’s unfair, but I still think it’s the truth. If you screw up, they will notice more than if you succeed. Research, prepare, and practice for everything – then do it again and again. If you succeed enough, maybe you can continue to be that youngest-in-the-room scenario.

Build the Relationships
Senior leaders can help, and those that are willing will mentor you. Without some great mentors in professional organizations, I would not know half of what I know now. Your mentors can help you prepare as suggested in number 4. Their years of experience do come with knowledge, and we’re fortunate enough to be in a profession that values knowledge sharing. Key example, look at the blog you’re reading. Also, don’t forget that the more you work with your colleagues, the more you get to know them, and that personal relationships will again make it less scary to be there.

Be True to Yourself
When I became a leader, it felt like I had to do a lot of image related things to make it true and to be respected, especially at a young age. I’ve realized that trying to fulfill that preconceived notion won’t make it so. Therefore, I won’t be the post that tells you to network if that’s not your thing. People notice you for you and will also notice insincerity and discomfort. To be successful, you have to be yourself.

Being a good leader doesn’t mean you have to have the years of experience (though they don’t usually hurt). Not a day goes by for me without thinking about the day’s growth opportunities and how each day builds on the last day. However, being new to a field, to a position, or to life doesn’t make your ideas and hard work any less valuable. We need fresh ideas, eyes, and experiences to continue to grow and adapt our profession so don’t let anyone refer to you as a baby. (Question: Have any men new to the profession been referred to in this way? I’d love to hear from you!)

At the very least, remember that you’re only young once. You get older every day of the year. One day, you won’t be the youngest in room any more. That may be a sad day; I certainly am no longer looking forward to it. When that day comes, remember where you started and be the always-needed-mentor.

Preparing for my IRDL experience

This past weekend, I spent a large amount of time at my dining room table, reading Collecting Qualitative Data: A Field Manual for Applied Research by Greg Guest, Emily E. Namey, and Marilyn L. Mitchell. And I was enjoying it.

Now granted, this wasn’t a book I just happened to pick up as a fun weekend read. This book, along with a few others, are part of the curriculum for the Institute for Research Design in Librarianship (IRDL). I’m a proud member of their sixth cohort. IRDL is an IMLS grant that aims to bring together an enthusiastic and motivated bunch of librarians that want to conduct research but need a little extra training and help. Early this year, I submitted an application, where I proposed my research project, included a one page cover letter about what I hoped to gain from this experience, and provided a letter from my institution that they would support me if I was accepted into the cohort. Once I received the good news, I booked a flight to Loyola Marymount University for early June, where a weeklong in-person workshop will take place. The workshop is the jumping off point for our project; beyond that week, we will meet virtually throughout the next year and talk to our assigned mentor, who is there to make sure our project stays on track. All of these support mechanisms are to ensure we get our project completed and to help each other along the way. Now that my spring semester is over, it’s finally sinking I’m less than a month away from our in-person workshop. My pre-workshop preparation has stepped up!

Beyond the training and getting to know a cohort of enthusiastic librarians who want to conduct research, I am excited to spend the next year on a meaningful and complex research project. Those that know my position know that I have spent almost two years building relationships, getting library colleagues to define student engagement in a similar way, and understanding how students at Penn State navigate student engagement. I think I’m finally at a point where I’m ready to learn more while also thinking about ways to make an impact and influence future directions. That’s where my IRDL project comes in.

The quick sound bite of my project: I’ll be using journey mapping techniques to have students at Penn State chart their student engagement journeys. What I want to know is how our students actually experience student engagement during their undergraduate careers and who are the people, units, resources, and opportunities they discover along the way. Of course, through this all, I’m also curious about how the library has or has not played a role in their student engagement journey. Ultimately, I want to get a more nuanced picture of what our students experience and begin to identify common points where the library could get more involved. While I understand that each student engagement journey will be unique to the student, I assume there will be some trends that emerge from these maps that can inform the work of both the libraries and Penn State’s Student Engagement Network.  At times, the project seems daunting, but the more I read in preparation for IRDL, the more I begin to feel ready to take on this project. I know I’ll be learning a lot as I go, and also get more opportunities to meet students at Penn State, which I am all about.

Well, my qualitative research book is calling to me, got to get back to reading! But I will definitely be documenting my time at IRDL and my student engagement journey mapping research in a variety of online spaces: on this blog, on my personal blog, on Twitter, and on LibParlor. So, more soon!


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