Preparing for (Other Kinds of) Disasters

This guest post is from Garrison Libby, a community college librarian.

When COVID-19 swept the world last year, librarians were forced to adapt their services on the fly. Over the past year, we’ve probably all become very good at disaster planning. However, it’s worth thinking about the disasters that you haven’t planned for, and to begin making preparations for them now.

My institution recently suffered a major technology interruption which led to an extended shutdown of nearly of the college’s online systems: email, online courses, library proxy servers, and nearly everything we need to function, especially during a pandemic. Of course, an outage of that scale paused classes, so access to library resources was the last thing on anyone’s mind. However, it still prompted us to have to consider alternatives as we waited to see what systems would come back online and in what order. There was no guarantee that we would have access to our proxy server when classes resumed, for example, as systems had to return online one by one.

Consider constructing a technology audit as part of your disaster and continuity planning. Review the technology you use, how it’s used, and evaluate potential impacts if you lose access to that technology for an extended period of time. Here are some potential questions to ask yourselves when conducting the audit and developing a technology continuity plan:

  • Do you have alternate contact methods (phone numbers, personal email addresses) for all your staff members? Does anyone maintain this information, and where is it stored?
    • It’s a good idea for managers to have contact information for their staff.
    • Consider maintaining a centralized contact list as well, but ensure that it is kept up to date and accessible.
    • Remember that this is personal information for staff, so do not use their personal contact information except in event of emergency.
  • In a technology outage, how will you communicate updates to your staff?
    • A single text chain with all staff could be unwieldy for libraries with many employees. Communication can be distributed from managers to direct reports, but ensure a clear and consistent message from the top so that staff aren’t getting different or conflicting messages.
  • What technology is locally hosted, and what technology is hosted elsewhere?
    • Inventory your technology and plan for potential outages. We are fortunate that our Springshare LibApps suite was hosted by Springshare, meaning we still had access to LibGuides, LibAnswers, and also LibChat as an emergency staff chat space if necessary.
    • Many of our systems were authenticated using the college login, making them inaccessible during the outage. Can alternative logins be set up? We had both institutional logins and system-specific logins for Springshare, ensuring continued access. The College Google Drive, however, was tied to institutional logins and became inaccessible.
  • What can be done low- or no-tech?
    • Review and update manual check-out procedures for library materials.
    • Can you do reference without access to the library catalog? Do your staff know where popular subject areas are located in the stacks?
  • What alternatives are available for your technology?
    • If your proxy servers go down, can patrons access electronic resources? We are fortunate to be part of a state library consortium, which provided an alternative login that our students could use to access several key databases so that basic research needs could be met.
    • Many libraries are firmly embedded in the Springshare ecosystem. In the event that there is an outage in those systems, do you have alternative options, or can you quickly create emergency alternatives?
    • Are your systems regularly backed up so that they can be restored in the event of data loss?
  • What continuity planning has your institution done?
    • Consult with your IT department and college administration to review their own technology continuity plan. Ensure that your plan aligns with theirs.
    • If your institution does not have a technology continuity plan, encourage them to adopt one.

Just asking these questions alone is not enough. Continuity planning also requires building a robust plan and then ensuring it is reviewed regularly and kept current. A plan you make today may not help if you need it in 5 years and have not adjusted for our constantly changing technology.

The second step is to ensure that the technology continuity plan is also backed up and accessible multiple ways. Consider the 3-2-1 backup plan: Have 3 backups of the plan and key documents available, two of which are stored locally on different mediums (i.e., one on hard drive, one on USB key), and one of which is available via the cloud (Google Drive, college storage, Dropbox, or other options). You will also want multiple staff members to have access to the plan, so that someone will be able to get it. But because such a plan should also have contact information for staff, be sure to keep it secure.

Ideally, a continuity plan is something that you will never actually have to use. However, when an emergency happens, it is good to have the plans ready so that you can shift gears and keep services running as smoothly as possible. Whether it’s a pandemic or a technology outage, you can take actions now to be ready. Because if nothing else, the last year has taught all of us to expect the unexpected and to be prepared for anything.

Complex or clickbait?: The problematic Media Bias Chart

This guest post was submitted by Candice Benjes-Small, Head of Research at William & Mary, and Nathan Elwood, Library Administrator at the Missouri Legislative Library.

The Media Bias Chart, commonly referred to simply as “The Chart,” has become ubiquitous in discussion of information literacy and news evaluation. The Chart, for those unaware, attempts to differentiate trustworthy and untrustworthy media sources based on two axes: bias and reliability. 

Despite the popularity of this memetic tool, it raises a whole host of issues that must be addressed as part of our larger information literacy conversations. 

The Chart promotes a false equivalency between left and right, lionizes a political “center” as being without bias, reinforces harmful perceptions about what constitutes “news” in our media ecosystem, and is ignored by anyone that doesn’t already hold a comparable view of the media landscape. 

The Chart is a meme, not an information literacy tool, and as librarians we need to be clear-eyed about these flaws. As Ad Fontes Media released version 7.0 last month, we thought it was a good time to explore our concerns. 

Origins of The Chart

First published in December 2016 by Vanessa Otero, The Chart was originally simple and informal, placing sources on a “liberal” to “conservative” left-right axis, and along a vertical axis of credibility ranging from “complex” to “clickbait.” As with all iterations of The Chart, this resulted in sources arranged in a rough pyramid, with sources ranked the most “mainstream” and “complex” as being of the highest information value. 

Creator Vanessa Otero does not come from an information literacy background. While currently an intellectual property lawyer, her previous professional experience was in pharmaceutical sales and as a Regional Advisor for Noveau Riche, a non-accredited vocational school specializing in real estate investing.  In 2010, amidst accusations of being a multi-level marketing scam, Nouveau Riche dissolved. In 2011, the founders of the company were fined more than $5 million by the Arizona Corporation Commission for defrauding students. 

Otero says The Chart is a “passion project” and could be useful to consumers and advertisers.

Within weeks of the first iteration’s release, The Chart became a viral phenomenon. It also received pushback from far-right outlets after seeing Infowars, Breitbart, and The Daily Caller all grouped in the bottom-far right, a quadrant labeled as not credible. 

However, criticism of the original meme wasn’t exclusive to the far-right. Left-wingers noticed the conspiracy site “Natural News” grouped at the bottom left of the liberal/conservative axis. 

Natural News, it was quickly pointed out, was a known purveyor of far-right conspiracy theories, such as the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting being a false-flag. The far-left/extremely “liberal” grouping for the site, Otero justified through the site’s “anti-corporate and popular liberal pseudo-science positions.” Natural News has since fluctuated across the spectrum, before arriving on the far-right in the current iteration. 

On neutrality

In the original iterations of The Chart, all evaluation of sources was conducted by Otero herself. However, after her formation in 2018 of Ad Fontes Media, analysis is conducted by a team of writers, journalists, and other professionals. 

Whenever a new item is evaluated, it is analyzed by a team of at least 3 of these analysts, “with an equal number from left-leaning, center-leaning, and right-leaning perspectives.”

One of the most common points of justification for this project and similar endeavors is that the analysis they conduct is “bipartisan” in this manner. This is something that has been left uninterrogated within the library profession for far too long. It may seem like a strange question, but what is actually “good” about a bipartisan analysis?

When Donald Trump claims that there were “very fine people on both sides” of the Charlottesville riots, we can easily identify what a facile, deceptive framing this is. So why do we allow it within our media analysis?

Say you have, like Ad Fontes Media does, a “bipartisan” group of analysts; evenly mixed between liberals/leftists, conservatives, and centrists. For the purposes of this example, feel free to dismiss that liberals aren’t actually classified as “Left” in most understandings of political science. Instead, consider what the conservative viewpoint genuinely brings to the table.

On January 6th, a majority (68%) of Republican lawmakers, the representative body of the conservative viewpoint in American politics, voted to overturn a free and fair presidential election based on unsubstantiated and proven-false conspiracies. They did this only hours after an attempted coup against our government, based on the same premises, left five people dead.

The consensus view among the American conservative movement is that the attack was justified in its reasoning, if not its method. 

As Eugene Robinson said in his recent Washington Post editorial, “Bipartisanship is nice, but you can’t negotiate with fantasy and lies.” 

The problem with pyramids

Projects like the Media Bias Chart all portray the political center “unbiased,” feeding into what cultural theorist Mark Fisher labels as “capitalist realism,” in which the status quo power structure is the only system that can feasibly exist, and even the thought of alternative systems is seen as inherently radical.

In the structure of The Chart, the “center” or “status quo” is portrayed as the most preferable, least problematic option. It is, visually, the top of the pyramid. It is “biased” (and therefore less credible) to hold views outside reinforcement of this status quo. 

Within this framing, the Democratic Party represents the left end of the spectrum, and the Republican Party the entirety of the right. However, according to the work of the Manifesto Project, the Democratic Party tracks to the political center, and the Republican Party to the far-right. . 

Within this framing, right-wing and left-wing views are both held as equally “extreme,” despite the fact that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security singled out right-wing extremists as “the most persistent and lethal threat in the Homeland” 

Mainstream or Utter Garbage?  


Another flaw of the balanced, pyramid structure of The Chart is that it fails to take into account the centralization of the media landscape, as described in the Propaganda Model. The corporate monopolizing that we see in the US media, rather than furnishing us with diverse viewpoints across a variety of sources, has collapsed our media ecosystem into a small set of acceptable views, portrayed by dozens of sources that differ only aesthetically. Our media ecosystem, put bluntly, presents an “illusion of choice,” oriented largely to the benefit of a pro-business status quo.   

What’s the objective? 

Also worth noting is how the “objective, view from nowhere” standard that The Chart reinforces was developed by and for white, cis males, and that enforcing that “neutral” POV can often be fundamentally inequitable.. 

Consider when a reporter for the City Desk program in Chicago accused Malcolm X of being “personally prejudiced” and incapable of being “academic” in his arguments regarding the Ku Klux Klan, simply because they had burned down his home and murdered his father. Or more recently, when Black journalist Wesley Lowery revealed how he had been “muzzled” by editors at the Washington Post.

In the wake of these events, Lowery has written compellingly on the failures of our current conception of “objectivity” in newsrooms, a conception that The Chart fortifies by design.  

The problems of source as shorthand

While the outlet providing an article is certainly an essential consideration when it comes to evaluation, we reject that it is the most important indicator. A media company is not a monolith, but an organization of people. 

Divergence from editorial direction is common. When the NYT published Senator Tom Cotton’s opinion piece calling for the military be sent in to control protests, or the Wall Street Journal’s Op-Ed questioned Dr. Jill Biden’s use of the “Doctor” title, journalists at both organizations spoke out against pieces. 

Sources are also divided into different areas, with different specializations and audiences. This makes it very difficult to generalize a source’s credibility. For example, Buzzfeed and Teen Vogue have published excellent political reporting while also drawing eyeballs through listicles and pop culture pieces. 

The simple layout of The Chart does not allow for this kind of context or nuance. 

What is included

It’s difficult to tell how Ad Fontes selects the media which appear on The Chart. Natural News and others have transitioned on and off The Chart several times. Many sources in Version 7.0’s “green box” are household names, but just beneath them in the “mixed reliability category” The Chart has previously included outlets like Epoch Times, a pro-Trump outlet with ties to the Falun Gong cult and a penchant for spreading Covid-19 conspiracy theories.

Currently occupying the same space, and even outranking established publications like The Nation in terms of credibility, is Quillette, a publication that has promoted racial pseudo-science on multiple occassions.

In her essay Lizard People in the Library, Barbara Fister argues that librarians must educate learners to differentiate between news platforms which serve as watchdogs for society, and outlets which prioritize profits over any kind of social contract. Ad Fontes amplifies outlets like Epoch Times and Quillette through their inclusion, leading the casual observer to assume that, while problematic, these are legitimate news organizations worthy of inclusion in a normal media diet. 

Just as harmful as these impacts is how The Chart also reinforces the concept of “news” being exclusively a national affair. This is to the great detriment of local news outlets, which often provide not only high quality information, but information more directly relevant to people’s lives.


This is a real problem, because the death of news at the local level has allowed for the propagation of far-right propaganda outlets in the vacuums created. 

Tabula Rasa

Some have argued that The Chart is helpful for students who are new to research and are a ‘blank slate’ when it comes to sources; The Chart gives them guidance as they conduct their research online. But this makes little sense; as a visual source, The Chart can only include a tiny fraction of sites. 

Internet searches will bring up stories from thousands of different sources not on The Chart. Local media sources are one example of a source type that is ignored by The Chart’s methodology, but there are even extremely popular information and disinformation sources that don’t show up. 

Given the variable nature of the chart’s inclusion of sources, how are readers supposed to interpret a source’s absence in relation to its credibility? 

Check your bias

In one of the earliest mainstream media articles about the newly formed Ad Fontes Media, MarketWatch asserted in their headline “How biased is your news source? You probably won’t agree with this chart.” 

From the beginning, the biggest flaw in this project has been viewers’ own confirmation bias. Frequent consumers of sources that The Chart claims to be untrustworthy or biased will often dismiss The Chart entirely. Conversely, the centrist consumer who reposts The Chart to their social media page will often ignore the unscientific and haphazard nature of the work.

So what chart should I use instead?

While we have focused our discussion on the Media Bias Chart’s flaws, many of the same critiques apply to other websites that claim to rate media outlets’ biases. Professors and librarians are looking for a ‘silver bullet’ that will help students become more discerning consumers of media. As educators, we must transition away from crutches like these, and instead endorse comprehensive, skill-based evaluation of information sources.

While Nathan does not recommend any methodology in particular, he has found that the Five W’s as framed by Jessica Olin are a helpful tool when training students to read sources critically. The easy recognizability of the framework helps it to stick with students, and promotes a constant and variable interrogation of sources rather than a standardized checklist. He has also regularly talked about the misinformation categories identified by media professor Melissa Zimdars, whose work was popularized around the same time as Otero’s meme. In addition, he feels that information literacy, as a skill designed to create more informed citizens, must be coupled with a comprehensive and rigorous study of the basics of political science and civics. 

Candice advocates people use Mike Caulfield’s SIFT method when evaluating a news article, since it emphasizes lateral reading and the need to recontextualize information. While media bias charts try to provide a heuristic that encourages people to trust or distrust a source in isolation, SIFT recognizes that we must view each story within the greater information ecosystem. This is not something that can be done with a meme – and to suggest information literacy can be so simplistic is insulting. 

From Cyber Attacks to Pandemics: Reflections on Trying to Work During Times of Crisis

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 Melissa DeWitt, Research and Instruction Librarian at Regis University.

My final post as an FYAL blogger was in July of 2019. I ended that post on a reflective note, and like the themes I reflected on. In particular, I still believe that relationships are the most important thing, which I hope comes through in this post. While I liked those themes, there were some things I didn’t realize during my first year – mainly that my work life and personal life are not separate. That’s not to say that I don’t take time to myself or find ways to decompress (I love my hobbies, and I definitely know how to chill!). What I mean is that I am not a person that carefully tucks work into bed when I leave for the day, nor can I separate the ways my personal life affects my work. All facets of my life intertwine with and influence one another. I suspect that this is true for most people. Stacey Abrams, in a podcast with David Tennant, describes work/life balance as a myth. Instead, she equates it to a game of Jenga. You carefully stack and pull pieces out whenever you need them, hoping it all won’t come tumbling down, but the crash is inevitable. You have to put the pieces back together and try balancing everything all over again.

The goal of this series is to reflect on our trajectories since the first year, and I’m not sure how to reflect on my trajectory without providing some context. The truth is that reflecting on my work experience since I last posted is upsetting. Sometimes reflection is cathartic, but sometimes it’s like ripping the scab off a wound you’ve been trying to ignore. This reflection is a combination of both.

On August 22, 2019, three days before the beginning of the semester, my workplace detected an external security breach. We learned later in the day that we had experienced a cyber attack, and would eventually learn that it was ransomware.

I could spend hours talking about what happened next, but there’s not enough space in this post. Here’s a brief overview. We did not have systems back up for months. We used personal devices to perform our work. All data on my work computer was lost or unrecoverable. The library did not have access to databases or any online content, and so we contacted vendors, one-by-one, to ask for alternate access, which we listed on a password-protected spreadsheet. The research desk became an IT desk, as we spent hours helping students print and navigate research without purchased resources. We spent months without any of the tools we needed to do our jobs (because if it was tech, we did not have it), and yet we were still expected to do our jobs. My main takeaway from this experience? It was awful.

I mentioned that work and personal life affect one another because this was especially true during the cyber attack. Work became a low point for me and many of my colleagues, which affected my mood at home. Several people left during this time, morale was garbage, and I woke up every morning with a deep sense of dread. We did absolutely everything to try and provide the same services, but that was part of the problem. We should have been able to take a break, to look at the situation and say, “this isn’t sustainable.” Instead, we pretended that we could do the same work without any of the resources that made our work possible. There were also professional repercussions: we had layoffs, incentivized retirements, hiring freezes across many departments, and mergers between colleges. It felt like it would never end. The worst part was that no one outside my workplace really got it, so it felt like we were isolated in our little bubble of misery. That’s not to say that people were not supportive. When I reflect back on this time period, the one bright spot were the people in my personal and professional life that created an amazing support network. I do not know what I would have done without my people. Despite that network, it’s hard to relay the despair, fatigue, anger and poor morale I felt. It consumed all aspects of my life, and that semester is now a huge blur.

My world isn’t solely professional. In 2019, I attended three funerals for grandparents. Life didn’t stop just because work was shit. There were amazing things too. I attended my sister’s wedding, and I got engaged. I planned a wedding during the cyber attack and in between funerals, and then I took a break from the chaos of my workplace to get married in early February 2020. The pandemic was not quite on our radar, and I remember my wedding as the last real gathering with all of my friends and family before everything went down. We were incredibly lucky, and it’s an event I’ll never forget because it’s this amazing, bright and shiny spot on an otherwise miserable year.

Then the pandemic hit, and we all had to deal with it. The only saving grace was that, after working through a cyber attack, pivoting library work for the pandemic felt easy because I had the tools necessary to do my work. Except, this time, the crisis was present in every facet of our lives, and people were (and still are) dying. I won’t spend much time reflecting on the pandemic because, reader, you know what it’s like. Reflection is a process of looking back, but the pandemic is still happening. I don’t know how this ends yet. Instead, I’ll tell you about bright spots amidst the chaos.

When I was first hired, I asked about the possibility of teaching a credit-bearing class because creating a course was one of my professional goals. That goal came to fruition in fall 2020. The class was difficult to teach due to pandemic-related reasons, but also incredibly rewarding. I suspected that teaching a course outside the traditional, one-shot library session would foster my growth as a teacher, and this turned out to be true. I learned so much about myself, my capabilities as a teacher, and about students. Students are the reason I wanted to become an academic librarian in the first place, and teaching a class solidified all the warm fuzzy feelings I have towards them. I will never forget ending our last class of the semester and students remaining in the Zoom room because they did not want to leave. I cried. They cried and wrote the sweetest things I’ve ever read in a chat. There’s something about taking care of one another during a difficult time that brings you together. I also would not have been able to navigate this class without my friend and colleague who was my mentor while teaching the class. She answered all of my frantic emails with grace, and I probably would have melted into a puddle without her.

I also co-wrote my first publication, which was a source of angst during my first year. The timing was not ideal, but it got done. This was, again, not possible without the support of my co-writers. Writing is already challenging, but writing during a pandemic is something else. It’s nice to work with folks who keep you accountable but also understand that we’re all human beings just doing our best. First year me would be very proud. In addition, you can catch me all year presenting at conferences, including two pop culture conferences. I’ll be presenting with some really cool people.

Furthermore, I look forward to the progression of my teaching skills and the evolution of my pedagogy. Continuing my teaching adventures, I will co-teach a master’s level research course in March, which I’m really excited about. I will also teach writing and composition to first year students again in the fall. Teaching and working with students brings me joy in my work, so that’s what I’m going to keep doing.

Final Reflections

It was hard not to feel anger bubble up as I wrote 30 versions of this post (some a little spicier than others). I’m curious to see what my professional life will look like when I no longer have to perform during a crisis. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that institutions will do what’s best for them, not for you. I like my job and my work, but it doesn’t need to be this difficult. We can’t keep doing more with less and expect that to work forever. The professional accomplishments I’m proud of are in spite of my workplace, not because of it. It’s possible I would have published sooner, or achieved more of my goals if I hadn’t worked in a place that was weathering multiple crises. I am trying to acknowledge that impact and recognize that I am not above external factors. At the same time, I do not need to simply roll with the punches. Since my first year, I’m a little louder, a little more jaded, and a lot angrier. I’m less afraid and more confident about what kind of impact I want to make in my work and at my institution. The time since I wrote my last post was jammed with low points, and at some point, I’d like to take a nap. In the meantime, I’ll celebrate my accomplishments, lean on the strength of my relationships, and see what I do next.

Starting Anew, but not Starting Over: Finding Academic Librarianship from Other Career Pathways

This guest post was provided by Deborah Cooper, Digital & Special Collections Librarian, Mann Library, Cornell University (dsc255@cornell.edu) and Hannah Gunderman, Research Data Management Consultant, Carnegie Mellon University Libraries (hgunderm@andrew.cmu.edu).

One of the oft-repeated clichés of librarianship is the variety of experiences that are welcomed into the profession, such as customer service in retail, teaching in schools or wrangling spreadsheets in business. It seems an accepted norm that library workers are people at all stages of life and with a variety of backgrounds. Yet, there has been little exploration into the experiences of colleagues who join libraries after previous careers.

The topic of second-career librarianship can initially seem like it may not offer up much in-depth avenues of inquiry. Surely, coming to librarianship with other experiences under your belt can only be a positive! “Transferable skills” are not only desirable but will set you ahead in a highly competitive job market! While this is often true, the experience of being a person who shifts from one, or even several previous career paths into librarianship is not always as linear and uneventful as one might think! In our personal experiences, this circuitous journey from previous career paths into the academic libraries environment has certainly had its share of surprises and unique challenges. 

Hannah and Deborah first began their collaboration through a professional network. As they began collaborating, they discovered several overlapping research interests. However, they soon also found another unexpected similarity: they both came to academic librarianship from different career paths. It became evident that their status as second-career librarians had influenced their experiences in their respective libraries.

Before entering graduate school for her MLIS, Deborah worked in the publishing industry as both a writer and editor for over a decade. She travelled quite a bit and became a parent. While not the oldest student in class, she definitely was not the youngest. All of these previous experiences informed her entry into the profession. At the same time, when she graduated in 2014, the upstate New York region was still in the grips of recession and there were few jobs in her chosen niche of youth librarianship. After several false starts she eventually landed at a NY State university library as an adjunct, working eight-hour reference shifts in the evenings and weekends. It wasn’t part of the plan but it was a solid place to land. 

Hannah found academic librarianship after working in a geography research setting for several years, under the impression that she would pursue becoming an Assistant Professor of Geography at a higher education institution or work as a geographer in industry. It wasn’t until partway through her Ph.D. program that she realized she did not want to pursue those career paths but wanted to remain in a setting where she could help others conduct research. She found the world of academic librarianship, and for the next several years took a circuitous route to land her job in an academic library. By that time, Hannah had amassed a set of skills that served her well in a geography environment, yet at times she felt her skills were not up to par for working in an academic library.

When we first began discussing our personal experiences it was striking to us that, even with our vastly different career paths, our experience of shifting from one career to another was similar in its positives and negatives. We began to wonder if this was something that more people experience throughout the profession but wasn’t spoken about more widely. And why isn’t this addressed? Is it just a coincidence that two random strangers found similarities in their struggles? Or, is this a conversation worth having? We have indeed struggled in both similar and different ways. We decided to put our personal experiences to paper to reflect on what these experiences have meant for us and our careers, and bring the discussion to a wider audience.

In this reflection piece, we offer the following tips for navigating a second (or third, fourth, etc.) career in academic librarianship:

  1. You are not starting from scratch! Leverage the skills you already have:

When entering a new career path, you may find yourself wanting to do all the things to prove your worth. For Hannah, especially coming from a domain-specific environment where she felt very comfortable in what she was doing and the skills needed to succeed in her role, being in a totally new work environment sometimes led her to feel as though she was starting from scratch. However, you are not starting from scratch when you find academic librarianship from another career path. Leverage your transferable skills! Even if you are new to librarianship, you absolutely have skills from your previous career to contribute. These are beneficial and can help bring new perspectives into your library. 

Wherever you were before, you have valid and real experiences that are going to help you in the library. As we mentioned in the introduction, any job involving interaction with the public is a great help, whether as a barista, working in retail or answering phones. And, if you just graduated with your MLIS, remember those awful group projects in grad school? Yes, a lot of the challenges you may have encountered with those are actually good preparation for all of the groups, committees and collaborative work you’ll encounter in all libraries. If you are headed for behind-the-scenes work, for example in technical services or collections, being able to juggle multiple competing projects, track budgets or creatively problem-solve are all excellent applicable skills. 

  1. From skillsets to mindsets: 

It is not only your skill-set that’s important but your entire mindset. Even if you are only switching environments within the library profession, eg, from public to academic, the culture and expectations can be vastly different. While you may have a set of clearly defined tasks and responsibilities that you will soon learn on the job, the subtle nuances of the specific department and the wider institution may take several months to make themselves known. First, allow yourself several months to absorb the variations. Academia has a language of its own. The names and ranks can be confusing and acronyms abound. (At Deborah’s institution there is a Wiki containing a glossary of acronyms!)

A big part of building your new mindset in an academic library is finding a community. We recommend inviting your new colleagues to coffee (or in our virtual world, a Zoom chat) to start to better understand the culture and identity of your library. Depending on a host of factors, this may initially be a scary undertaking (especially if you have social anxiety!), but most of your colleagues will be flattered that you asked and only too happy to get to know you better. And subsequently having a familiar face in meetings may help ease the “new person” feeling. Some libraries also have a mentoring or buddy program for new hires and these can also help you find your feet, especially if you are more comfortable asking newbie questions to people outside of your immediate colleagues and supervisor.

  1. Embrace Your New Identity:

The life experiences that you bring with you into your daily work are a deep well you can draw on in times of need. How you obtained this experience isn’t the most important aspect but if you have worked in different fields, travelled, volunteered or have clearly grown in life because of situations you’ve experienced, you are going to be more resilient in the workplace. Your cumulative experience will not only help you in your day-to-day work but give you something to draw upon when faced with tough situations. Being able to reflect on how you successfully navigated a path through various past challenges will sustain you through your current issues. 

Don’t compare yourself to others who have entered directly into the profession in a linear path.

Remind yourself that your unique, non-linear progression is just as valid and worthy. Librarianship attracts a healthy number of career-changers. Your life experience and exposure to different communities and ways of working will help you to stand out.  Imposter syndrome can sneak in when colleagues who entered the profession directly from college are rapidly climbing the promotion ladder–you will get there, too. Accepting your identity as a late-comer is important or you will forever feel behind. There’s no catching up and no need to. By focusing on your strengths and the merit of your work, you can build your confidence.

4. Exploring and innovating within your role to build confidence

One thing that Hannah and Deborah had independently found helpful was realizing that holding back and not going outside our comfort zone only exacerbated imposter syndrome or feeling less worthy. A great piece of advice we received was to focus on work that feels personally fulfilling and then direct your energy towards it, as much as your other work will allow. We’re cognizant that some roles in an academic library may not allow for full flexibility to choose projects, but in areas where you can experiment, it is useful to identify meaningful projects. When you feel invested in projects it helps build your confidence and allows you to talk about it, present on it or generally discuss it at meetings with enthusiasm. Gradually, your colleagues will start to recognize your specific area of expertise. This goes double for non-traditional roles, such as newly created positions that cover emerging areas of librarianship and evolving roles. 

Building a Community of Interest

If you found yourself entering academic librarianship as a second (or third, fourth, etc.) career and have had similar experiences and see yourself reflected in what you have read, please get in touch with us! We’re looking to build a community around these experiences and delve deeper into the question of how librarianship is influenced by career-changers and how career-changers are themselves affected by their switch. We’re hoping that this community can also serve as an informal support network for anyone who is feeling unmoored and wanting to better understand and grow their identity within academic librarianship. Academic librarianship is a rewarding career path that’s not without its challenges, and we hope that building a community of other career-changers can help enrich all of our experiences as we navigate this career together. 

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.