In the Weeds

Jonathan Kemper

This is my first summer keeping up with a whole yard’s worth of weeding. When I was a kid, weeding the family garden was a sweaty neck, mosquito bites, and work that never seemed to end. As an adult, I might still sweat and itch, but now I get the appeal of weeding — it’s oddly satisfying, similar to peeling sunburn or plucking a stray hair.

Weeding in an academic library is satisfying in its own way. It’s also an essential summer project for us; our library is only 2 stories, with the majority of the circulating collection on the lower level. After 2 summers postponing weeding due to the pandemic, the collection is bursting at the seams. 

It’s going to be a lot of work for all departments. In addition to librarians weeding, the circulation department is doing a library-wide inventory. And on top of that, the Director is planning a diversity audit of the collection. So we’ve got 3 projects that have us scrutinizing the collection, or as my coworker says, “communing with the books.” I think these overlapping projects will yield good results for us, as we learn what we have too much of and what we’re missing.

We have a paperbacks collection that I tackled in one week, with the help of our Circulation staff. We weeded about 740 titles, largely based on condition and circulation stats. While we send qualifying titles to Better World Books, they don’t accept mass market paperbacks, so these would normally be put on our book sale cart.

But since we were weeding so many paperbacks at once, my coworker had the great idea to host a Paperback Giveaway to kick off the summer. We arranged all the books on two folding tables, all their spines facing up, and faculty, staff, and students could come to the library all week to take as many books as they wanted. We also provided canvas totes with the school’s logo on them, and that made patrons take even more books home with them.

Patrons sometimes feel alarm when you’re removing a bunch of books at once, even if it’s to make room on the shelves for new things. Inviting our campus community to pick up free discards gave us a chance to explain this sometimes-controversial phase of collection management. One library’s trash, another patron’s treasure!

Bad Art Day in the (Academic) Library

Last week, I hosted Bad Art Day, my second public program at Carroll Community College. Bad Art Day (or usually, Bad Art Night) is a popular program at public libraries, and it’s something I’ve wanted to try at an academic library for a while. The concept is pretty self-explanatory: you set out a bunch of art supplies and tell participants to go to town trying to make the ugliest piece of art that they can. 

This program had simple objectives: Creativity is messy. It’s ok to make mistakes. You don’t have to be a perfectionist. I even quoted Jake the Dog from Adventure Time: “Sucking is the first step towards being sort of good at something.”

"Dude, sucking at something is the first step towards being sort of good at something," Jake the Dog quote

I made a call for donated art supplies through our faculty newsletter, and got most of our art supplies this way! The only thing I needed to purchase was a selection of glues (glitter, stick), because all the donated glue was dried out. 

I was anticipating that it would be a hard sell to get students to stop, sit down, and do an active-participation event. I was truly bracing myself to paste on a smile and say “well, sometimes the programs are a bust,” and dutifully clean up my art supplies. Instead, we had 17 participants, including a few faculty members! 

Student making bad art using art supplies
An artist at work

Since starting programming in Fall 2021, our participation has been surprisingly good; there has been a real appetite for screen-free, face-to-face, low-stakes activities on this campus.

Students came between classes, they brought friends, and they chatted with each other while creating. The program was self-explanatory and students were eager to dig in to the art supplies. For the Bad Art Contest, I had the students give their pieces titles, which added to the humor and depth of the entries. 

After Bad Art Day, I created little table-tents with each artist’s name and the title of their pieces, then put them all on display in the library lobby. Students could come see the ugly art, and could even vote on their favorites! Having the art on display stretched the program into the rest of the week; just about everyone who came into the library stopped to look and chuckle at the pieces.

Photo of Bad Art on display across two folding tables
The titles that the students chose were widely regarded as the best part!

Outreach and programming work is possible by yourself, but I don’t recommend it. Whether I’m making a puzzle, choosing a program, or thinking through the logistics of an interactive display, I find myself running my ideas past another person. Interested circulation staff, an eager student worker or volunteer, and even my partner and family have been called on for their two cents on the wording of a discussion question or the layout of a poster. My best ideas have come from these conversational brainstorm sessions at the desk. 

No programming librarian is an island. And if you don’t have colleagues, Pinterest, blogs, library literature, and your patron audience can be your collaborators. I am finding inspiration everywhere.

Recognizing and Citing Indigenous Oral Knowledge: An Interview with Lorisia MacLeod

In June of 2021, Lorisia MacLeod, a librarian from the James Smith Cree Nation, published an article called “More Than Personal Communication: Templates for Citing Indigenous Elders and Knowledge Keepers,” presenting citation templates to recognize Indigenous knowledge in academia. Because both APA and MLA style guides encourage writers to cite any oral communication that does not have a written or audio recording as “personal communication,” Indigenous oral teaching gets put “on the same footing as a quick phone call, […] while even tweets are given a reference citation.” 

By using MacLeod’s templates to include a full citation in a References or Works Cited list, Indigenous oral knowledge can be “presented as an equal and valid information format alongside familiar formats like books and journals.” Lorisia has generously agreed to be interviewed for ACRLog about her work; I invite you to click the link above and read her original article as well! 

Q: In news coverage about this project, you’ve shared that you first realized the need for better citation of oral communication when you were an undergraduate studying anthropology, and that you worked with the Indigenous Student Centre at NorQuest College in Edmonton to develop templates for APA and MLA style. Tell me more about the process of creating custom citation templates. Was your institution supportive from the beginning? How did you select which elements to include? 

A: That’s right, I was very lucky to have two amazing anthropology professors during my undergraduate—Dr. Jack Ives and Dr. Kisha Supernaut (Métis)—who really recognized the importance of including Indigenous voices especially in a field that traditionally studied Indigenous people but in a very extractive way. I felt they both really highlighted the importance of community-engaged archaeology and taught about valuing Indigenous voices despite the historical academic records lack of Indigenous representation. Of course one of the tricky things about valuing something in academia is that often our value is shown by whose voices are highlighted, so if citation styles don’t recognize Indigenous ways of knowing it can be really hard to fully achieve that level of respect it deserves. At the time, I just remember thinking someone should change that limitation—make ways of citing our oral teachings more equal. Fast forward a few years and I’m talking about things academic institutions could do as actions to support reconciliation, indigenization, decolonization etc and I realize as an Indigenous librarian that maybe it was something I could be involved in doing. Since I had developed good relationships with the staff in the Indigenous Student Centre at NorQuest it really was about drafting up some examples of alternate citation templates and just asking if I could show it to them and talk.

I think I was really lucky because there was a lot of support—folks seemed to understand that it was important to take action, to make a change, in order to make the big buzzwords mean anything. I’ll admit, the fact that it was developed by an Indigenous librarian and the input from the folks in the Indigenous Student Centre helped (big shout out to Delores, Elliott, Conor, and Karie)— I had some great friends there cheering us on every step of the way and really trying to uplift our voices. When I started out drafting up something to talk about, I actually relied heavily on Elements of Indigenous Style: A Guide for Writing By and About Indigenous Peoples by Gregory Younging (an amazing resource for anyone and everyone to read in my opinion). It does a great job of talking about how nations differ so it’s important to try to be precise, and other key ideas that lead me to look at what relationships mattered in a citation. From there it really seemed to flow together, trying to mimic the way that other citations for books are done, I tried to interweave that with elements like who is their nation, what is the teaching about. I tried to keep it general so it could be flexible—not every nation, person, or teaching would be the same, so some elements became if applicable. This was a part where having the amazing folks in the Indigenous Student Centre was irreplaceable, just talking about how we’d use this piece of the template or maybe this part would be better phrased like this. They also helped to figure out which parts should be included so it really was a group effort that organically formed in some ways. I guess it’s really fitting that citation templates about citing and valuing our words were mostly made through chats!

Q: Undergraduate research assignments often direct students toward published, written information, and students might not consider consulting other sources, like Indigenous oral knowledge. What ways could professors incorporate Indigenous knowledge in research assignments? How can we design assignments that get students to branch out from “traditional” information formats like books and articles?

A: So I’m a strong believer that there are connections to Indigenous knowledge in pretty much every subject BUT the key when it comes to incorporating Indigenous knowledge is really relationships. If instructors want to incorporate Indigenous knowledges, especially oral teachings, I really hope they are looking to invest in long-term mutually respectful relationships with Indigenous knowledge keepers. It’s technically incorporation to get the Elder-in-resident to come to speak in class once or send students to them but it isn’t really a good relationship to me. We only have so many Knowledge Keepers and they only have so much time so using them for one-offs for a class to check some box—well, it doesn’t feel any different from the extractive knowledge processes of many early settlers. Long-term engagement is more work but it’s honestly the kind of investment that has the potential to create real change.

So that’s a long-term thing but that isn’t to say there isn’t something folks could do right now. I think for instructors you’ll want to start by looking at your own syllabus—look at the readings you have and whose voices they are. If you don’t have Indigenous voices, then maybe you should change whose voices you are raising up (this can also apply to other minority voices that may not be represented in your syllabus). 

In both your syllabus and in your assignments, consider why you are putting in requirements about works cited having to be academic articles? There are tons of amazing Indigenous scientists, Knowledge Keepers, language keepers, activists etc that are really active on social media platforms like Twitter and TikTok. Now I’m not saying only use Twitter feeds for your readings, but infusing these into your assignments and syllabus is actually also going to teach learners information literacy skills. It’ll teach them how to engage with social media with a critical eye and combine various information formats to get a better picture of something. But a lot of that does depend on instructors and institution policies, just remember—just because something has always been done one way, doesn’t mean it’s the best way or that it’s still the best way now.

Q: What other ways can academic libraries demonstrate respect for Indigenous ways of knowing? 

A: This can be a bit of a tricky question to answer generally because it really depends on where each institution is at—some have great ties with local Indigenous groups, others have only just started trying out land acknowledgements. But here are some broad ideas:

  • Be honest with yourself, your institution, and your staff about where you really are: if you are still mostly doing virtue-signalling actions but aren’t able to acknowledge that’s what they are, it’s going to be really hard for anyone to be able to plan a realistic path forward. That can also impact the ability and interest of Indigenous communities to partner with you.
  • Who is in your collection and how? Take a look at Indigenous authors in all fields and look at how they are catalogued, what is their metadata. And when do you promote them? Please don’t only bring out the Indigenous authors for Indigenous History Month- they deserve to be highlighted in your STEM displays, your general literature displays, and the same goes for however you promote resources to your faculty.
  • Invest in staff learning: This has to be an ongoing area of learning and commitment with institutional support. Academic institutions have their roots in systems that kept out Indigenous peoples and our knowledges (or appropriated them) so for many professionals, the voices we have today probably weren’t something they learned about in their classes. So if there is a webinar panel of Indigenous scientists coming up then yes—the science liaison librarian should probably be attending.
  • Look at the Calls to Action and the CFLA TRC report: I know, these documents are getting older and are Canadian-centric but that doesn’t mean that all the calls have been met or that they aren’t useful for others. Find actions you need to take and then hold yourself/your institutions accountable to working on them. An important thing to note with this is that process is often viewed as a linear path—in my experience, true respectful actions might take a less direct path. A library might realize that they didn’t have the relationships they thought they had and need to change the plan to develop those—I don’t think that’s a failure. To me, that kind of openness to adapt and change is a reflection of respect, it acknowledges that true respect requires ongoing engagement and the needs of the parties involved naturally will change over time.
  • Have Indigenous knowledges in your library: Yes this, of course, means buying Indigenous books but consider how our knowledges aren’t limited to that format. What about art? What about having storytellers and Knowledge Keepers? What about partnering with your institutions’ Indigenous student centre or local Indigenous groups?

Q: Who are some librarians (or experts in other fields/identities) that inspire and influence you in your work?

A: Aside from those I talked about above, I have to start off with the obvious (and slightly sappy) answer which is that my Dad (Kirk MacLeod) and sister (Kaia MacLeod) are huge inspirations to me. My Dad was in the library field for over a decade before me, so he was one of those Indigenous librarians who helped make space for future generations like me and my sister. The field he entered was very different from when I entered shortly after the release of the TRC report; he has always cheered me on and been a role model on leading change but remaining humble. Kaia just entered librarianship and in addition to being a really awesome librarian in her own right, she motivates me to keep trying to improve the field for all future Indigenous librarians, just like our Dad did for us. Now that we are all in the same field, they give me feedback and their perspectives from other areas in the field too! Plus it’s a constant reminder that the field is full of amazing people to work with, like Jessie Loyer a fantastic Cree-Métis librarian, cousin, and friend who always seemed to know just the right thing to say to empower early-career Indigenous librarians to create change.

Gregory Younging (Opsakwayak Cree Nation): His book Elements of Indigenous Style was a huge inspiration. I’m pretty sure I recommended that read to everyone I knew—it was an amazing guide that somehow managed to walk a fine line between instructional and allowing for space for community engagement. That was a stance that I’ve really tried to emulate in my own work because I think it is a perfect way of tackling Indigenous matters without falling into the pan-Indigenous identity trap.

Eve Tuck (Unangax? ), K. Wayne Yang, Rubén Gaztambide-Fernández: If you haven’t taken a look at The Citation Challenge, I would highly recommend it. This was part of what drove home for me the important role that citation has in respect and power systems.

Dr Jessica Hernandez (Zapotec and Ch’orti’): An amazing Indigenous scientist who I’ve followed for years. Now I’m not a scientist but her work is a great example of the amazing work current Indigenous scholars make that deserves to be considered for syllabus readings. Supporting scholars like her is part of what inspires me! She recently just published a new book too: Fresh Banana Leaves: Healing Indigenous Landscapes Through Indigenous Science.

At the risk of creating a ridiculously long list I think I’ll cut myself off there.

Thank you to Lorisia MacLeod for her contributions to scholarly communication, and for sharing her thoughts with us here at ACRLog.

Looking back, looking forward

Photo by SAIRA on Unsplash

It’s time for another collaborative post from your ACRLoggers! It’s been a grueling semester, and as we count down the days till winter break, let’s celebrate any and all triumphs from this year in spite of ~everything~, whether that’s a big achievement or something small you were finally able to check off your list. I posed these questions to my fellow bloggers, and I invite you to share your answers in the comments:

1. What is one “win” from this semester, big or small?

Emily Hampton Haynes
When I consider that question, my first thought is “Definitely the plaques.” For at least 20 years, the wall opposite the circulation/reference desk featured a display of U.S. history documents blown up and mounted onto wood panels. (Think of the wood paneling in a 1970s living room, and then slap the first page of the Declaration of Independence on it.) Taking down the outdated, unattractive display took all of 5 minutes, and the library lobby immediately looked bigger. We’re working with our Facilities team to make our entryway more inviting, and even though it’s not where we want it to be yet, taking down those plaques was a breath of relief for everyone in the library.

Hailley Fargo
Settling into a new institution! I started this job a few weeks before the fall semester, so I feel like much of my time has been learning and understanding a new library and institution. As we wrap up the semester, I feel like I know folks better and have a better understanding of the library and how I fit. And that’s a really great feeling!

Alex Harrington
Our DEIA Media Club has been pretty successful and we have topics picked out for the next year. I am one of two representatives for the library on the Diversity Council, and we are asked to create diversity initiatives within our departments. We chose a media club (like a journal club, but we use videos and images and all kinds of publications) and hold it once every other month. We select resources and create discussion questions, and everyone in the library is welcome to join the discussion. We’ve had some good discussions, and developed some good ideas for how to apply our newfound knowledge and perspectives.

Jen Jarson
I’m proud of the maintenance work we’ve done this year. While grappling with the various challenging conditions that we all find ourselves negotiating (primarily pandemic- and staffing-related for us at my library), we’ve continued to successfully provide our core services and space to our campus community. It may not sound very shiny or innovative, but it’s worth recognizing. Kudos to everyone on my team — and yours, too. Kudos to us all. Still, I’d be remiss to not also celebrate the good progress my colleagues and I have made on undergraduate research which has long been a priority area that just never quite got enough attention (on my end, at least). Our new committee brings together representatives from the library faculty, teaching faculty, staff, and student stakeholder groups. With just a semester under our belts, our multi-pronged, collaborative approach to organizing and enhancing undergraduate research is already looking quite promising. 

Maura Smale
We’ve had many challenges at my place of work this semester, as I’m sure everyone has, though we’ve had our wins as well. One that I’m very proud of is that we hired and onboarded a new librarian, a process that started over the summer and continues into the Fall semester. I’m grateful that we were able to make the case for our new colleague to be among the first faculty hires at the college once last year’s university-wide hiring freeze was lifted, and that this critical position is now filled. I’m also grateful to my colleagues for tackling this first ever fully virtual search so thoughtfully with me, and to my newest colleague for jumping into what is admittedly a bit of a backlog of tasks with such energy. 

2. What is something you’re looking forward to in the new year?

Emily Hampton Haynes
A personal New Years resolution of mine is: incorporate more trivia in my life. I’ve started a passive program at the library called Brain Break, where if students complete a little quiz, puzzle, or riddle, they can turn it in at the reference desk for a small prize (stickers, fun-sized candy, etc.). In 2022, I’m looking forward to putting something like “Create chocolate bar quiz” on my work to-do list!

Hailley Fargo
Again, with being new, I’m excited to start another semester, having much more under my belt. I’m really excited to see where the department can go and the work we’ll get to do together in 2022!

Alex Harrington
I have developed a new way to track my activity that should (fingers crossed!) make all my data, assessment, and tenure dossier creation related tasks so much easier in the future. I’m very much looking forward to seeing whether it works!

Jen Jarson
I’d like to say that I’m looking forward to this new podcasting idea I’m working on with a colleague or the co-curricular experiences to support undergraduate researchers that we’re planning or the new OER award that we’re implementing to recognize teaching faculty. But, honestly, I’m mostly looking forward to what I hope will be a fresh outlook after a bit of time off. I’m feeling worn out by this semester and year. I can see how much I’m struggling to focus and navigate larger-scale projects and ideas. Even with that awareness, I’ve caught myself thinking about how I could use a few days of break to restart that article that’s been in limbo all semester or to get a head start on that big project I’m thinking about or, you know, organize everything that’s a mess. But sprinkling some work into what isn’t really that long of a break anyway will likely reap neither real rest nor real productivity; I’ve gotten caught in that trap before. So instead of giving in to the temptation of trying to get ahead, I’m trying to commit to really leaving work behind over the break.

Maura Smale
Jen’s response above resonates so much with me. I often take a nonconsecutive handful of days off in January both to rest as well as to catch up on research and scholarship. But this year I’m really feeling the need for a break from all of the kinds of library work I do, not just the day to day director work. I’m planning for a full staycation week in January, work-free. We’ll be adding more in-person hours and services in our Library in the Spring, concurrent with our college’s increase in face-to-face courses next semester, so I’m also looking forward to that week of rest before coming back to finalize preparations for welcoming more students to our spaces.

Faculty & Mental Health

“I’m sorry to be so disorganized this semester.”

“I am struggling.”

“Somehow Fall 2021 feels worse than Fall 2020 did.” 

“I’m sorry I haven’t gotten back to you til now, I kept meaning to…”

These are things faculty have said to me in the last week. Morale on our campus feels low. As my coworker remarked to me this weekend, “Everyone was having a hard time quietly at home, and now that we’re all back on campus, it’s pretty noticeable.” No matter our roles on campus, we’ve experienced almost 2 years of slow-burn crisis. It shouldn’t surprise me that faculty in my liaison areas are having another tough semester.

I’ve done trainings on mental health first aid, learned what to watch out for, and how to refer students to mental health services on campus. The relationship between librarian and professor is different than between librarian and student, and that has muddied the waters of my training a little bit. What do we do when we can tell a colleague is struggling?

I recently attended a NAMI In Our Own Voice presentation, which included a mix of video clips and live speakers talking openly about their mental health experience, what helped them, and what habits sustain their recovery. Here are some of the takeaways:

Don’t suffer in silence
I’ve caught myself thinking, “Sure, I’m having a hard time, but so is everyone. I’m not special in my mental health needs right now.” But just because it’s happening to a lot of people, doesn’t take away that it’s happening to you, too. 

Mental illnesses can hit our self-esteem pretty hard, isolating us from friends, thwarting our productivity, over-emphasizing the negative parts of ourselves. One of the speakers, who has ADHD, said “My low self-esteem felt earned,” because her mental illness made her late, forgetful, and sloppy. She didn’t feel like she was worth asking for help. As a result, she hid everything she was struggling with, and worked even harder to make up for it. 

Stigma compounds the harm of mental illness. If it’s you that feels lonely or worthless, know that there’s no need to go through it alone. Reach out to a friend or if that feels too revealing, try a text hotline. You’re worth it.

Sometimes all you need to do is listen
If you notice your coworker’s jokes have gotten way darker than usual, or they seem discouraged, check in with them. I’ve found asking, “How’s your semester/week going?” is all the opening someone needs to let a little emotional steam out.

You don’t need to have the right words. You don’t need to fix it for them (which is good because you probably can’t!). Listening is a gift we can give each other right now.

It’s okay to be kinda cheesy
We know the things you shouldn’t say when someone is grieving or struggling, like “everything happens for a reason,” or “I know what you’re going through,” and that can leave us at a loss for what to say. It can feel awkward to come right out and talk about mental health. It’s easy to joke about it or just avoid the subject out of discomfort. 

Sometimes all I’ve said is “That sounds so hard.” Other scripts that hold space for someone without giving advice or useless platitudes:

  • “It’s unfair, and it doesn’t make sense.”
  • “You don’t deserve to feel this way.”
  • “Thank you for sharing what you’re going through.”
  • “I care about you.”

Conclusion
We hear a lot about mental health awareness this time of year, with September being Suicide Prevention Month. Writing this feels a little like “Of course people know this stuff, it’s everywhere.” But someone might be looking for one kind word, one thought, one person who would miss them if they didn’t come to work. And if this post is that kind word for someone, then I’m glad I wrote it.

You matter to this world. It is good that you are here.