Finding My Voice

Editor’s Note: We welcome Emily Hampton Haynes to the ACRLog team. Emily is a Reference and Education Services Librarian at Hood College of Maryland. Her research interests include information literacy, pedagogy, and outreach.

After grad school and learning on the job, I have been trying to ease into the discourse of our profession. One big step for me was to co-present a session at a local library conference (TCAL in Maryland). Our session was called Self-Care Isn’t Selfish: How Mindfulness Practices Can Benefit Librarians and Library, and discussed how mindfulness can improve an employee’s workplace wellbeing and performance, particularly in fields requiring emotional labor. Presenting at my first conference was an incredibly satisfying experience, from the support of the conference committee to presenting with a colleague I have a lot of chemistry with. But there was one takeaway I hadn’t expected: the feeling of having a voice in librarianship.

I’ve been to several conferences during and since library school, and I walked into them with wide eyes and the expectation that I’d be meeting loads of library folks between sessions and during meals. Up until TCAL, I’d exchanged as many business cards as I’d had meaningful conversations (zero). What was that about? Was it me, that I couldn’t overcome the shyness I wear comfortably, like an oversized sweater? Was it that conferences take a lot out of people, and most of us just want to check our phones (aka refresh Library Twitter) and drink water between sessions? Or was it something else?

Scholarship as a Conversation, has always been the ACRL information-literacy frame that resonated with me most. I was introduced to the Burke metaphor my third year of undergrad, in a literary criticism class. To hear as a 20-year-old that I am in conversation with Brontë critics (and maybe even Brontë herself) was a shift in mindset that transformed the rest of my time as an English major. And it took about two and a half years on the job to feel that same shift as a librarian.

Growing professional confidence seems to have come to me in stages: first, I had to understand the lay of the land at my first job. Then I learned to connect the day-to-day responsibilities with the theories and values I’d studied in library school. Following library listservs, bloggers I respect, and formal library research was a way to listen and learn. And the process of researching, proposing, and presenting a talk was the next major step. I entered the parlor, I listened for a while, and I contributed my own thought to the “unending conversation.”

TCAL was so welcoming largely because it was a local academic library conference designed to facilitate that warm conversation between peers. But I’d attended TCAL a previous year, and I’d perched on the edge of my chair and spoke very little – not even to ask questions. The difference for me this year was great: I felt like I had a seat at a table I didn’t realize was too tall for me before. Moving through a space as Someone Who Has Something To Say shifted my sense of belonging, and for the first time I experienced the satisfaction of real participation in my field. And that was thrilling.

The sensation of having a voice unlocks new thresholds of confidence in me. Until I stepped into the classroom, I didn’t think I could teach students only a few years my junior. Until I submitted a proposal to a conference, I didn’t think it would be accepted. Until I spoke in front of colleagues, I didn’t realize I was part of a larger professional community. I believe it could be the same for you. Until you try it out, you may not realize that you have a voice here. Join the conversation.