Learning a new institution: Three insights from being a department head

In my first two months in a new job, I am feeling all sorts of things. After 16 months of working remotely from my one-bedroom apartment, I’m now back in the office five days a week. I’m commuting and packing my own lunch and wearing a mask and teaching in person. I feel I’m in a constant state of learning and listening. I’m adjusting to leading a department and figuring out what parts of my past coordination role will serve me well and where I need to grow. I’m working to understand the culture of the library and the institution. I’m building relationships with my new colleagues and trying to share how my past experiences make me a good colleague and one they can trust. I’m learning who our students are and how we work with them. 

Needless to say, it’s a lot, and in the backdrop of the continuing pandemic. Some days I feel like I’ve been here for a while and other days I feel like only started a few days ago. I thought for this blog post, I could share three things I’ve learned so far.  

Your day-to-day changes

When I thought about becoming a department head, I knew part of the deal was giving up some of that day-to-day, nitty-gritty, individual project work in order to support and advocate for the folks on our team. I still feel the pull to take on projects, to raise my hand to volunteer for anything that sounds remotely interesting and related to teaching and learning. I’m doing my best to slow down, to wait, and to think more about who is best suited and has the capacity to take on that work. Part of it is knowing I’ve got this great and collaborative team of colleagues, colleagues who are student-centered and willing to do the work. We get to do this together and it has been great to have the team to lean on. In some ways, I appreciate the ways my day-to-day has changed; I get to think big picture and strategize. I get to meet with members of the team and imagine what the next chapter of our department will be. I also get to go out and meet folks around campus and promote the great work the team is doing. 

Ask all the questions

I’m constantly reminded there is so much to learn when you start at a new institution. Instead of trying to figure stuff out on my own, I’ve been asking a lot of questions. Small questions, big questions, and any question in between. Anytime where I don’t confidently know the answer, I reach out and inquire. I’m slowly learning all the ways my colleagues have been involved with this work in the past and I try to get multiple perspectives into the question before making a move. I don’t have it all figured out sixty days into the job and I appreciate having people I can ask these questions to.  

Celebrate the work

It can be tough to be a middle manager. You’re right in the middle of it all — trying to do right by the people who report to you and also working with the people you report to. But despite the challenges, one of the things I’ve learned and enjoyed the most is celebrating the work. I’ll use any and all chances to shout out the team I get to work with. I love getting to know the strengths of each individual, the projects they care about the most, and what they want to do in the future. I’ll deal with the politics because I want to see the team succeed and I want them to have what they need to do the best work. 

All in all, I’ve learned a lot so far, and know I have so much more to learn. I feel lucky to work on a collaborative team, have colleagues I admire, and feel supported through the network I’ve built over the years. I’ve found myself gravitating towards advice for managers (see a recent tweet from the CALM Conference) and doing a lot of personal reflection. I am looking forward to revisiting this post in a few months and seeing what other lessons I can add to this list.


Featured image by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

The impossibility of tying up loose ends

This week, I’m writing this blog post from a new location and from a new job. Since April, things have been hectic and frantic and frankly, (not to be dramatic but) life-changing. I wrapped up a job I had been in for four years, moved eight hours to a new city, and started a new job. I survived the first week and am excited about what week two will bring. 

As I was packing up and getting ready to leave, I was struck by all the things I could do and felt like I should do in preparation for my exit. This pressure also came from the legacy of those who had left my institution in prior years; I thought of the laments and frustrations and eye rolls colleagues (including myself) had when someone left pieces without instructions. I wanted so badly to do right by my job, the projects I had started, and most importantly, by my colleagues and the students involved in our work. 

In the month I had remaining at my former institution, I was appreciative to have Jenny Ferretti’s tweet thread from a few months ago when she changed roles. I spent time writing out the context, the stakeholders, the dreams, and the processes for my work. I connected colleagues and reassured folks that my job during that final month was to make sure all the pieces were in place for future success. I created new SharePoints, walked people through past reports and systems, and set up meetings to talk about these transitions. 

At the beginning of that final month, I felt on top of things. I finally had some space to work on some projects I had set aside for the time being. My calendar wasn’t filling up with new appointments and requests for future work. However, the closer we got to those final days, the less energy I had to devote to tying up work projects. I was moving and had all the things a move creates — new addresses, cancelling services, starting new services, reserving UHauls, seeing old friends before you go, and deciding what stuff I wanted to move. I just didn’t have the brain space to tie EVERY single loose end. 

On my final days of work at my former institution, I tweeted about the loose end emails I knew I would have.

It was comforting to hear folks affirm that tying all the loose ends is impossible and that others were going through similar transitions. I hope that things go okay for the projects at my former institution and that my colleagues there will give me grace for the things I might have missed. 

So now it’s onto a new chapter. I’ve got a small inbox and a clearer calendar. Excited to dive into my new role and thankful for the work I was able to do at my former institution. Can’t wait to share more about my work as a department head on ACRLog in the coming months. 


Featured image by Nathalia Segato on Unsplash

A different summer vibe

Writing, especially blog writing, has been tough in 2021. I keep looking at open and blank documents, trying to think of something new to say. Spoiler: that strategy hasn’t been working too well. And frankly, I, like many others, are tired. This past spring semester, I did what I needed to do but didn’t try to push the envelope. A lot of great work did come from this semester — a successful student showcase, many undergraduate research award winners, and a short story contest where I got to learn way more about circuses than I anticipated. I brought a similar energy into summer outreach and engagement and so far, that has been paying off. I feel like I have time to think, plan, and dream up new ideas.

However, there’s a different vibe to this summer. I don’t know about you all, but I’ve been to a few meetings where my colleagues have referred to the pandemic in the past tense. When I first heard the past tense, I waited to see if this was a slip. It wasn’t. I asked the group text if they were also seeing this use of past tense at their institutions. “Yes” was the response I got. 

This pandemic is definitely not over; sure, we might be coming back to campus, but that doesn’t mean COVID has gone away. Although the United States has ample access to vaccines, we, as a county, will miss the 70% of adults having at least one shot by July 4. I know there is a desire to “return to normal” but to speak as if the pandemic is over feels like a disservice to what we all experienced the past year and a half. This attitude also completely misses the fact that vaccine access is not equitable across the world. That inequity does impact our university community members who are not located in the United States. The pandemic isn’t over, we are just in a new season of it. Hopefully, this is a chapter near the end of this story, but we aren’t sure yet.

It also feels like there is a different energy behind planning over this summer. Last year, we spent a lot of time waiting — what would our institutions decide? How would we do outreach? We invested more energy into summer online programming, planned for different scenarios, and pushed some events off until we had a clearer sense of the fall. This summer, we are moving full steam ahead for in-person activities. We want to open ALL the doors. 

A part of me is ready to interact with people in real life and not over a screen. I’m ready to run into colleagues in the hallway on the way to a meeting and grab coffee with someone new to brainstorm new collaborations. And a part of me is nervous for what the fall will look like. In my research this past year on student engagement journeys, we’ve seen a spectrum of experiences. Experiences where students were lonely and joined clubs in order to find community. And we talked to students who ran some of those clubs and felt that they feel short of the engagement and interaction they could get when they were in-person. It feels that there will be a growing period where we all readjust. As we readjust, I hope we talk about it. Some parts of this transition will be difficult or challenging. To learn and grow together, we have to be able to communicate. 

Despite my hesitancy at calling the pandemic over, in the last couple of weeks, I’ve felt change on the horizon. Maybe it’s the nicer summer weather or new leadership at my current institution that has me feeling a bit more hopeful. Whatever it is, I think I’m ready for the rest of this summer and what fall might bring us. We’ll see.

What about you? How are you feeling about this summer?

Finding the “yes and…” and getting out of my head

As the semester and end of the year approaches, I find myself reflecting on this question more frequently:

“Am I currently just trying to make it through the day or do I have the capacity and bandwidth to do other things?”   

I, like many of you reading this post, am tired. I feel like I’m doing just enough to stay a few steps ahead of everything. My best days are when I focus on one project and make slow and steady progress. I’m frustrated and anxious and that has bled into the ways I feel about work and the people I work with. I have felt stuck, in many ways, this fall. The jazzy Hailley some of you know can be a bit harder to find some days. 

What I’m slowly realizing is that my best strategy for handling these feelings is to step outside the library. Earlier this week, I attended another meeting of the Improv & Pedagogy Teaching Community, a group funded by our center for teaching excellence and led by faculty members who also are founders for a local improv group, Happy Valley Improv (HVI). 

Now, for some context, you should know I took an improv class with HVI at the start of 2020 (which seems like another lifetime ago). I had several motivations for taking the course, but mainly I wanted to try something new and was able to take the course with a close friend (shout out to my gal, Giorgia!). What I didn’t expect was that I truly loved doing improv. In an improv space, you’re asked to trust the people around you, get into the flow and energy of that group, and know that you’ll be accepted for whatever ideas you put forward. Everyone has agreed to the “Yes and…” philosophy and you make it work, with whatever you have been presented. While taking the in-person classes, I found it refreshing to turn the part of my brain that thinks about the next 10 moves and tap into my creative side, coming up with stories and backstories on the spot. I enjoyed the class so much, I had signed up for level 2 but obviously, the pandemic got in the way. 

So when I got the email about the fall meetings for the Improv & Pedagogy Teaching Community, I figured this was my way back into improv. I attended a session about a month ago and left the session feeling happier and more energetic than I had been in a while. It wasn’t a large group of us, no more than 12. We talked about our position at the university and how it’s related to teaching, and what we were experiencing in our virtual classrooms. During that first happy hour, we played a few games, where we got to rename ourselves, pass around the ball of energy, and dream up some new characters. 

When the next happy hour came around this past week, I thought about skipping it. There was a lot of library drama this week and I felt weighed down by everything. However, I reminded myself that I would probably feel better if I logged on. So, as 4:30 rolled around, I got onto Zoom and as soon as I got into the room, I started to smile. What struck me about this happy hour was that it was refreshing to talk to people not deeply interconnected with the library. Widening my group of colleagues gave me a new perspective I needed. As we sat in that Zoom room, we were all educators, sharing our experiences, testing out some games, solving problems, and thinking about our teaching pedagogy and how improv plays a role in our work. Sure it wasn’t quite the same as standing in the ballet studio HVI used for their classes but the way the happy hour helped me and my brain definitely felt the same. I feel lucky to have this teaching community and am appreciative that this space is available to me.

Upon further reflection, I’ve been thinking a lot about how the ethos of “Yes and…” plays into my student engagement and outreach work. I’ve always seen myself as a connector and the “yes and…” helps bring new ideas, events, and workshops to life. In two meetings this week, after the improv happy hour, I found myself taking the “yes and…” stance. The first came in a conversation with two groups of colleagues, where we were connecting two peer mentoring services and imagining new ways to bring them together and provide instruction. The second was with two colleagues in Outdoor Adventures, as we began to finalize a semester-long Wikipedia Edit-a-thon to increase the coverage of POCs who are involved in the outdoor industry. In both situations, I felt that spark of making connections and building something I didn’t anticipate when I entered the meeting. It will definitely be this sort of work that sustains me, during this pandemic and beyond. And this week has been about clarifying what that dynamic is, so I know how to get back to that space when I need it.  

I’m curious if any readers have something like improv that helps you? Both for getting out of your head but also might have applications to your work? Would love to hear how others are continuing to grapple with today’s reality (and if there are any other library improv folks out there!).  

Student clubs and making zines

Slowly but surely we’re making it through this fall semester. For a librarian focused on student engagement and outreach, this semester has been a pivot (probably a large understatement). As Valerie discusses in her first FYAL post, part of the challenge for our work is finding ways to connect with our students. With limited hours and closed spaces, our normal outreach strategy “Let’s host an event, market it, but also know some students will wander in” doesn’t work. It’s been a moment to stop and reset. I’ve tried to ask myself (and the students I work with) what do they need to survive this semester. In asking those questions, some events we would normally host in-person get cut. At the same time, I’ve hosted events this semester and sat patiently in a Zoom room for 15 minutes with no other participants, before calling it off. I’m sure I’m not alone in that experience. All of this is to say I’ve been thinking a lot about how outreach and student engagement work tie into the larger university experience. How do we create programs that help our students do the things they value doing, especially in a moment where our uncertainty for 2020 and 2021 is visible and present in every meeting and interaction? 

One way we’ve been exploring these ideas is through direct programs for student clubs. We were lucky that the past two years our student engagement & outreach intern (and colleague), Lily, built relationships with a couple of active student clubs, Triota and Schreyer for Women. In pre-pandemic times, we hosted book clubs and zine workshops with these students. We always had a good turnout and the students seemed excited to partner with the Libraries. As the fall semester began, we turned out attention to finding a way to do at least one program with these clubs. Some colleagues and I got together to plan these events. We chose zines and specifically thinking about ways to tie it in with women’s activism and voting, due to the impending election and a theme around women’s activism that is being sponsored by our Liberal Arts College. Our plan was to host a virtual zine workshop and include scanned copies of materials from our Special Collections and university archives. We figured we could put together packets of zine-making materials and either send them to students or coordinate a pick-up time if the student was on campus. 

Both clubs were interested and we got to work setting up Zoom registration links and zine-making packets. This past week we led the two workshops and it was wonderful to spend an hour with these students. We made zines, talked about Halloween costumes, and discussed our voting plans. We laughed, had moments of silence, and shared stories with one another. Our hour together flew by and I got off each call feeling more hopeful than I had been when I logged on. It was nice to craft and to mentally prepare for whatever next week will bring. I’m sharing my papers from my zine below, along with the prompts in case you too are interested in making a zine. Figuring out new ways to do outreach and engagement definitely keeps me on my toes but at the end of the day, it’s always nice to connect with our students. 



Our zine prompts (for an 8 page zine):

 Guided question
Cover Up to you!
#2What are three words that sum up how you’re feeling about the 2020 election?
#3Tell us about the first time you voted and or an election that was (or is) important to you
#4What does activism mean to me?
#5
#6How was your definition/meaning of activism changed over time?
#7What work is left to do?
BackWhat gives you hope for the future?

A shout out to my colleagues, Angel Diaz, Clara Drummond, and Danica White for collaborating on these events! I hope there are many more zine workshops in the future.