(Academic) Year 1: Complete

Well, that’s about it; we’re on the tail end of finals at Salisbury University, commencement ceremonies start on Wednesday night, and that’s a wrap on my first academic year as a librarian. It’s gone incredibly fast, and as I’ve been working on my first annual evaluation packet, I realize how much I accomplished this year. I know that other institutions do this in January, but for us at SU Libraries, it’s from May to May. I thought it might help others in the evaluation process to see how mine is framed, as well as the experience of gathering it all. As I am many hours deep into playing Nintendo’s newest Zelda title, Tears of the Kingdom, I thought I might set up this post in video game terms. Please forgive the nerdiness to follow. 🙂 

Mainline Quests

I had two individual goals this year. They focus on the key aspects of my job as I settled into the position; they were threaded throughout my typical work week. My philosophy here is that I wanted to get to know my responsibilities before making (big) changes to how I conduct them. Of course, reasonable changes arose (especially with my student supervising duties) but overall, I was learning the controls. Completing the tutorial area, so to speak. These were the goals my chair and I came up with:  

  1. Get to know liaison area faculty and establish relationships. 
  1. Get to know the Research Help Desk policies and student workers with updates as needed. 

I do feel that I’ve sufficiently accomplished both objectives. Putting the number of instruction sessions, instructors I’ve worked with, and the students reached really puts the work into perspective. I don’t see this when I’m in the thick of my instruction season and doing one-shots left and right. Two of my Public Health professors are working with me more extensively for their classes next year, so relationship building is definitely happening! 

With the Research Help Desk, I made the schedule and supervised our undergraduate workers. Since I was once a student worker at my undergrad library, this was a nice full circle moment for me to become a supervisor and mentor. One thing I implemented for everyone that staffs chat is a “Chat Transcript of the Month” email, where I highlight certain questions and the excellent patron service.  

Side Adventures

Shorter than main quests, but longer than side quests are the side adventures. This involves our department goals and my role in those, but also some of my projects over the year. This included being on a student survey committee, which had the concrete steps of writing the survey about the library, determining our rollout strategy, and coming back together to discuss those results. Another department goal was to create a learning object repository for all instruction librarians, which is fully set up and starting to be populated with handouts and worksheets we can all share amongst ourselves.  

This goes beyond the library, too. I have been deeply involved in the Environmental Studies department this past year, as they’re one of my subject areas. I’m on a committee to plan an “ENVR Major for a Day” program for high schoolers sometime next fall, to hopefully bring more students to the environmental programs at SU. This has been a good way to both get to know the faculty in that area; there’s many who are affiliated, but not necessarily under the Environmental Studies department because it’s so interdisciplinary.  

Side Quests

These are something that took maybe a week or less, but still required my time. A perfect type of side quest could be my attendance at the ACRL 2023 conference – only 3 days, technically, but a large undertaking nonetheless. Additionally, some of the proposals I’ve sent in for conferences and one book chapter could be considered a “side quest” – not part of my job description explicitly, but something I am expected to do given my status as faculty. They’re also the totally random stuff that comes up on a day-to-day basis, like making signs for the on-call librarians at the reference desk over winter break, for example. Something like that isn’t listed in my annual evaluation of course; that would be practically impossible unless I was taking detailed notes of my day-to-day. But as I run with this video game framing, it’s kind of the “other duties as assigned” part of many job descriptions.  

My “dump document”

Around August 2022, I started throwing everything I was doing that could go in the annual evaluation in a document on my OneDrive. I went to a webinar? Thrown in there, it can go under my “professional development” section later. Helped with move-in day? Noted for service (and especially the 6am-10am part…). I also went back through my calendar to pull anything I may have forgotten. In hindsight, I’ll just start my next annual evaluation document now, filling things in as I go; it did create more work to organize that initial dump document into our eval template. I’ve also vowed to myself not to simply title something “Webinar” in my calendar.  

Final thoughts

This was the first time that I compiled an annual evaluation like this. In all my past jobs, it took the form of a check-in with my supervisor. Even though the process is a bit tedious, I found it rewarding to dig into the details of how much I actually accomplished as a first-year academic librarian. There’s a lot to celebrate there, and I invite you all to celebrate your own accomplishments from the past academic year – sound off in the comments if you have any you’d like to share, whether it’s a main quest, side adventure, or side quest. 

First time attendee at ACRL 2023: Getting there can be enough 

March has gone by so fast, and that’s definitely in part because of the ACRL 2023 conference. I was extremely grateful to have my registration paid for by the Congress of Academic Library Directors (CALD) of Maryland. Truthfully, I almost didn’t go; less than 12 hours before I needed to leave for Pittsburgh, I was at the Pet ER with my pup. She’d been sick in the days leading up to the conference, but thankfully, that visit helped her turn a corner and I felt okay leaving her with dogsitters (but with a car rental website pulled up and ready on my phone in case I had to come back).  

It might go without saying, but I certainly wasn’t at my best during those days. Traveling can already throw me for a loop, but it was intensified with worry for my dog. I was checking my petcam whenever my dogsitters weren’t there, and more than once I found that I needed to just go up to the rooftop terrace of the convention center and sit for a while. My coworkers said I seemed quite chill, given all that had happened, but that’s how my personal brand of anxiety manifests; it’s calm, cool, and collected on the outside and a bit of a storm on the inside.  

View from the convention center.

Maybe you expected this post to be more of a conference report, and I will definitely shout out some of the work I saw later, but I start with this to normalize the mental health struggles that can come with conference attendance. How disruptive to life and routine they can be. On the first full day of the conference, there was a community chat at 8:30am entitled, “Anxious People Unite” led by Heidi Burkhardt. It was so, so nice to be in a room of librarians who understand the impact anxiety can have (and for me to have the opportunity to just… rant a bit about the absolute struggle in getting to the conference!). I think I would have been even more spacey and out of it during ACRL if not for this chat, because in addition to letting the anxiety out, we all shared coping tips and strategies.  

This was my first time at ACRL, so I didn’t know what to fully expect. I’d only ever attended AWP (Association of Writers and Writers’ Programs) in the past, which is ginormous, and I didn’t really know anyone. It was different in Pittsburgh. I got to catch up with some of my graduating cohort, since we’re all now scattered across the country (academia, am I right?) as well as other folks from UIUC and GVSU. My work with ACRLog also allowed me to meet some new people too. I think browsing the poster sessions was my favorite part; of course, engaging with the authors was intellectually stimulating in its own right, but it was also nice to hear the conversations happening around me. It can be a struggle to explain a job in academia to those outside of it and knowing that everyone here had that baseline understanding was lovely. I was excited to bring some of the concepts back to my home library, like the posters about shortening database descriptions for their student audiences and a seed library.  

An interactive exhibit (“Commons Threads”) at ACRL 2023, where you looped thread around your answers.

I went to many great sessions though, such as Meg Galasso’s contributed paper Fatness and the Future of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion in Librarianship and Ali Krzton’s contributed paper Welcome to the Machine: Ir/Responsible Use of Machine Learning in Research Recommendation Tools. I won’t describe them here since the papers are available to read, but both sessions were extremely enlightening and informative. I also attended a Visual Literacy focused roundtable, where I learned a great deal about the concept as well as some good tips and tricks from the other librarians present. Particularly, an activity where the point is to have a “failed” search – such as searching the color “nude” to see the results that come up. I think it’s good for students to see how search engines and databases can fail; search persistence is something I’m always trying to get across in my instruction sessions. We can then go a step further beyond persistence to ask deeper questions about the results. 

Overall, I am glad I went. As my title suggests, I’m trying to push beyond my ambitious overachiever thought processes and acknowledge that this time, just getting there was the accomplishment. Life got in the way, as it is wont to do, but I think I made the best of the brain power I did have. I found that once I was in the convention center, I was busy and distracted enough that I wasn’t focusing as much on the anxiety about my dog. She is fine now, for anyone wondering; it was just one of those “worst timing ever” situations.  

So if you also encountered struggle in attending ACRL 2023, just know you aren’t alone in that. 

Getting started with professional development

Last week, I did my first conference presentation as a tenure-track academic librarian! I’m actively resisting the urge to qualify or minimize that statement – it was virtual, it wasn’t about my own hardcore research, etc. I did it, and I’m proud of that! It got me thinking about professional activity as it relates to tenure (or in Salisbury University’s case for librarians, permanent status). I am not someone who comes from a family of academics; I distinctly remember getting “librarian” on one of those career profiles in high school, and immediately thinking, “Oh, no. That requires a master’s degree.” I never thought I’d be here, entrenched in academia and needing to think about publishing research. I’ll talk a bit about my most recent presentation, then some of my broader thoughts.  

Thank you to the North American Virtual Reference Conference for the opportunity to speak. My talk was titled, Supervisor at a distance: supporting undergraduate reference workers. At Salisbury University, I am the Research Help Desk Coordinator. I am responsible for hiring and supervising 4-5 student workers in a given semester; they are tasked with answering all sorts of questions, including reference and research help ones. The presentation focused on current training and feedback strategies as well as initiatives I’d like to implement in the future. I don’t ever work on the desk with them – the research help desk only has one person at any given time, which is why I refer to myself as “at a distance.” I am not that far removed from my own student worker experience, so I’m constantly thinking about what I had or wished I had for their experience, too. For this first year, I made some minor changes – giving students more consistent feedback on their work and implementing a “Chat Transcript of the Month” email – but for the most part, I’ve been trying to see how the desk runs now before making drastic changes. These are my slides and references, though I’m happy to talk and answer any questions.  

What was cool about this particular conference was that I’d actually presented here before; my supervisor as a graduate assistant gave me the opportunity to co-present here about my own entirely remote training as a result of COVID.  Additionally, while I was a senior in undergrad, I presented at a statewide conference for writing centers. I hope to offer a similar collaboration to my student workers at some point. I try to make sure they know that I’m invested in their success, not just as workers but also as students. I’m positive that having that previous experience as a student gave me the confidence to submit now.  

Even still, I find it hard sometimes to pursue broader research opportunities. Publishing in something like a journal still feels enigmatic or nebulous, even though I am intimately familiar with different publications, given the nature of my daily work as a research librarian. I think part of this is personal; I can be a true champion of others’ work and cheer on students and faculty alike with their research topics, but when it comes to my own, it’s harder to do. The imposter syndrome can be really intense. My inner critic questions how I could possibly add to the already bustling academic conversation, or my attempts at writing something like a journal article get held up in the research phase, wherein I try to consume everything possible about the topic. (My Zotero library is… robust, to say the least. Thank goodness for collections!) I also have so many different interests that it’s hard to narrow my focus on one research topic; I’ve heard this sentiment over and over from librarians, too. I often set out to learn more about one thing and find myself down an entirely different pathway. 

In that vein, I’d like to turn it over to you, readers: what did your first foray into research or conferences look like? How did it come about? Did you have collaborators, or was it a solo venture? Do you have advice for new academic librarians who are navigating what “professional activity” means for them in their job expectations?  

A ChatGPT generated post (and a first year librarian’s thoughts)

Note: The ChatGPT generated content is in a linked Google Doc and labeled as such! 

As I’m sure anyone in academia is aware, ChatGPT and its AI counterparts are taking us by storm. I’ve seen it rolling around Twitter, in all-faculty emails at my institution, and of course in places like the Chronicle of Higher Education. I know I’m a bit late to the conversation, but it does feel like AI technology has exploded (or maybe I haven’t been paying attention before now). This may be a defining point in the first stage of my career.  

Truthfully, I don’t yet know how I feel about it or what it means for us, but I asked it to generate a post about engaging with teaching faculty as an academic librarian so that I could play around. There are three versions: the one verbatim, one that I asked it to tailor to ACRLog’s style, and a Twitter thread style. I find the differences absolutely fascinating, and the possibilities for teaching endless as well. I have my concerns, too, which I’ll go over.  

These were my instructions to the AI in order:  

  • “Can you write a different blog post, this time talking about the nuances of engaging with teaching faculty as an academic librarian? You can talk about the ways we are in classes (like one-shot instruction, embedded in learning management systems, etc.). Can it also contain advice for new academic librarians?” 
  • “Can you tailor it to the style of the blog, ACRLog?” 
  • “Can you make this a twitter thread instead?” 

Here is a Google Doc with all three versions. As you can see, it pulled on the specific keywords I gave it: one-shot instruction and embedded in learning management systems. It even took the language, “nuances of engaging,” without actually talking about some nuances. You have to be quite specific with the initial ask in order for the software to give you what you need. The way it tailors to different writing styles is interesting, and I think it could make for a fun class exercise and learning experience about writing for a specific audience. It spits out a very base-level answer to my request and doesn’t make very smooth transitions (which is perhaps a partial result of the types of writing I chose). 

Where this sort of tool can really shine, in my opinion, is as a starting point. Is there an email you’re dreading to send because it’s sensitive, somehow? Try prompting ChatGPT to write it. It can give you a starting point and some “professional” language to help you navigate the interaction. Have you been staring at a blank document for hours, unsure where to start? Get ChatGPT to generate something. It’s not going to give you a fully written article, but it puts words on the page, which can perhaps jumpstart your brain. (Especially if the AI got something wrong!) Maybe you don’t even use what it generated, but reading it gets you thinking. It’s a writing tool, not a writer itself. Will some students misuse it in the academic context? Undoubtedly. I enjoyed the way that Christopher Grobe talked about ChatGPT in his article, Why I’m Not Scared of ChatGPT. It details the many limitations of AI, and how it may help students in the writing process.  

At the same time, I understand where concerns come in. What if students’ assignments ask for cited sources? If you ask ChatGPT for an essay with citations, it says this: “Unfortunately, as a language model AI, I am unable to do proper citation in an essay format. However, I can provide you some key points and information about the topic.” Which I suppose is good in a way, but still giving base information is also reminiscent of students writing the essay then searching for sources to back it up. This is something I try to address directly in 100 and 200 level classes.

With AI models like this, it’s also important for us as librarians to be mindful of copyright. As I was talking with a friend about the outputs I got, they pushed back at my initial conception that ChatGPT is somehow transforming its data (and therefore in fair use). What is ChatGPT pulling from in order to train the model to answer its prompts? Their FAQ says this: “These models were trained on vast amounts of data from the internet written by humans, including conversations, so the responses it provides may sound human-like.” We should be asking what “vast amounts of data” entails. It’s already been asked especially of the art-based AI systems (this Verge article goes in depth), and artists are concerned about a loss of income because of it. We should ask the same of text-based AI too. There’s even a Have I Been Trained? tool that helps artists see if their work was used to train the machines, and flag it for removal. This particular aspect of AI tools is huge, and I don’t pretend like I know the answers; I was grateful for my friend in reminding me of the questions that need to be asked.  

Sound off below with your own thoughts on the subject. I’d love to hear where librarians’ heads are at when it comes to ChatGPT. I’ve linked some resources below (as well as citations for what I mentioned above). 

AI Text Generators: Sources to Stimulate Discussion among Teachers, Compiled by Anna Mills and licensed CC BY NC 4.0. 

ChatGPT FAQ. (n.d.). OpenAI. Retrieved January 30, 2023, from https://help.openai.com/en/articles/6783457-chatgpt-faq 

Grobe, C. (2023, January 18). Why I’m Not Scared of ChatGPT. The Chronicle of Higher Education. https://www.chronicle.com/article/why-im-not-scared-of-chatgpt 

Have I Been Trained? Launched by Holly Herndon and Mat Dryhurst.  

Heikkilä, M. (2022, September 16). This artist is dominating AI-generated art. And he’s not happy about it. MIT Technology Review. https://www.technologyreview.com/2022/09/16/1059598/this-artist-is-dominating-ai-generated-art-and-hes-not-happy-about-it/ 

Vincent, J. (2022, November 15). The scary truth about AI copyright is nobody knows what will happen next. The Verge. https://www.theverge.com/23444685/generative-ai-copyright-infringement-legal-fair-use-training-data 

Watkins, R. (2022, December 19). Update Your Course Syllabus for chatGPT. Medium. https://medium.com/@rwatkins_7167/updating-your-course-syllabus-for-chatgpt-965f4b57b003 

Physical data visualization & data literacy

It’s hard to believe that my first semester as an academic librarian is nearly over. Scheduling the reference desk and hiring a new student worker for spring semester have taken a lot of my attention these past few weeks. I’ve started a personal project based on my work in the meantime though, which was inspired by this book chapter by McDonough and Lemon. Essentially, they created physical artifacts of their work data – specifically, the number of meetings they had – and it helped them become more mindful of their work life balance. I decided to track my own email data and crochet a scarf based on the number of emails I send in a day. I’ll do this for my entire first year as a librarian, so I did go back and record how many emails I’ve sent every day since July.  

There are a few notes about the project: I only counted different email threads in the emails I sent per day, not the number I sent within a thread (so if I had an email about finals week planning and I replied twice on Thursday, once on Friday, it would be recorded once per day). My color key is as follows: 

  • Off: grey 
  • Weekend: White  
  • 12+: Red 
  • 10-11: Bright pink 
  • 8-9: light pink 
  • 6-7: Light purple  
  • 4-5: Medium purple 
  • 2-3: Dark purple 
  • 0-1: Dark brown 
  • Bobbles: Mail Merge was used 

The next question you might have is: why bother recording this data in a physical format? I wonder about this too, so I wanted to try doing it myself. I am endlessly fascinated by this phenomenon of using crafting and other physical forms to track one’s own data. We see it in the trend of temperature blankets (knitting or crocheting a row a day based on the average temperature wherever you are), mood tracking in bullet journals, and embroidering an icon a day for a year. Why are people compelled to do this? How does it contribute to mindfulness? For me, it is a nice routine to crochet my five rows for the week on Friday or Saturday.  

After that, you may ask: what does this have to do with your librarianship or higher ed? For one, it’s helping me track my own work-life balance. I have to crochet a new row of white every time I send an email on the weekends or on a day off, so that makes me very aware of how often I’m even checking my Outlook inbox. I am also the liaison to our new data science major, so I hope to someday bring in collaborations with my faculty and students that focus on these physical visualizations as a concept. Beyond that, it’s very much a personal interest. I took Data Storytelling for my masters’ degree, and my time at the Library of Congress as a junior fellow really focused on data as well, so it’s something I want to continue to explore and nurture.  

Data literacy is also at the forefront of my mind when I’m creating and editing lesson plans. I like the definition that Carlson et al (2011) put forth: “data literacy involves understanding what data mean, including how to read charts appropriately, draw correct conclusions from data, and recognize when data are being used in misleading or inappropriate ways.” That’s a big ask, especially when we as academic librarians are often trying to fit as much information literacy as we can into one session. I think data often has this connotation of being accurate, factual, or inherently correct; and though this is slowly changing, it’s also a bit scary as a concept. Big Excel sheets with rows and rows of data would frighten anybody without the knowledge to dive into and interpret that data.  

The idea of “big data” and machine learning is in our faces all the time, too. To me, a crucial part of data literacy as a concept is remembering the real human beings behind the data – or data humanism, a concept by Giorgia Lupi. This is part of understanding what data mean, as per Carlson et al’s definition. The number of emails I send is one thing, but it’s attached to me as a new librarian, a white woman, a new Maryland resident… my list of positionalities can go on. The same goes for any institutional data we collect on students, for charts from a database like Statista that supports a student’s final presentation topic, and the like. Even though it often doesn’t have personal identifiers, that data came from someone.  

Perhaps that’s the power of this slow data visualization; taking the time to record how many emails I send in a week isn’t revolutionary like some data viz projects are, but it is forcing me to appreciate the work that goes into data collection and the humans behind it. Data literacy isn’t just knowing how to collect, find, or process data; it’s reflecting on where, and who, it came from. 

The scarf as of 11/17/22. White and light pink are a bit closer in tone that I wanted.