A November Check-In from ACRLoggers

Time is flying and somehow we are entering the last two months of the year. Where did 2022 go? As we head towards wrapping up this fall semester, we wanted to get a pulse on how our ACRLoggers are feeling. We hope some of these answers resonate with you! Feel free to use the comments section to respond to one of these questions if you’d like.

What’s something you’re proud of and or excited to celebrate that has happened (or is happening) this fall semester? 

Justin: One thing I’m proud of is having an article published on relational practice of Canadian academic librarians, research that was done collaboratively with a colleague. I feel relational work is invaluable for academic librarianship and oftentimes invisible work, in many ways.

Emily Z: I am mainly proud and happy that I’m making my way through my first fall semester as a full-fledged librarian! It’s been challenging to establish my own workflows, get to know student workers and faculty, and being in a new state, but overall I think it’s going well.   

Alex: I finished co-writing a chapter with a colleague that I’m really happy with about the toxic culture of rankism in higher education. The book won’t be out for a while but our writing and editing is done, and it was a new and educational experience for both of us!

Hailley: I’m currently teaching a seven-week asynchronous course and I’m just happy to be mostly staying afloat with the content and student grading. I’ve taught a version of this course before but it’s my first time teaching it asynchronously for seven weeks. I’m learning a lot and establishing some of the materials as I go.

How do you feel this fall semester has been as compared to other pandemic semesters? What has felt different or new about this fall?

Justin: After coming back to a largely deserted campus in the Winter 2022 term, it’s been great having the campus full (and masked!) for Fall. I’ve been able to get my legs under me with in-person teaching again. Doing things like the human Boolean game has been fun and engaging, and of course being able to talk in-person to students again is great – sometimes I change around what I’m instructing on, based on their non-verbal (and sometimes verbal!) cues.

Now I just wish the coffee shop line was smaller…

Emily Z: I have been hearing from colleagues that this fall has some of the lowest energy AND the highest anxiety they’ve ever seen in students. I think everyone is dealing with burnout, and understandably so. I’ve seen this manifest a bit in my instruction sessions – students just can’t be bothered to do something like create a RefWorks account beforehand. Given the last three years, this isn’t necessarily surprising; I was in their shoes too in my last semester of grad school just a few months ago.   

Alex: This has been the semester when our social distancing and masking guidelines were lifted on the college side of our buildings (the hospital and any areas where you are around patients still have the same rules from 2020). It doesn’t so much feel like a “return to normal” as it does “another version of new rules” like every other time they’ve been updated.

Hailley: Campus feels more active and we’ve seen an increase in one-shot instruction requests. I also feel more established now that I’m a year in, so maybe campus feels more active because I can pay attention to that energy (vs just trying to get on-boarded and learn my job last fall).

What’s a topic that you’ve been thinking about/thinking through on the job recently? 

Justin: I’ve been thinking a lot about values-based practice and a values-based approach to librarianship, specifically. I really appreciate the work of Christopher P. Long and the HuMetricsHSS initiative in this regard. I think identifying values and tying your work – in all respects – to your values is important.

Emily Z: I’ve been thinking a lot about digital humanities, as well as physical data visualization – so think temperature blankets, bullet journaling, etc. I wonder about the impulse to track these things in an analog way – why are folks gravitating towards this? Does tracking your own data manually change said data eventually? How can I tie this interest of mine back into librarianship, too? Given the new Data Science major at my university (and the fact that I am their liaison) I think there could be a lot of opportunities there for us to work together on assignments and lessons for students.  

Alex: I have been thinking about slow productivity a lot. I have not been successfully implementing it, but I have been thinking about it.

What’s something you’ve moved over to the “Think about next year” list?

Justin: I have a lot of things on my “to do next year” list – there’s never enough time to do all the work you want to get involved with. My library hosts researcher workshops geared towards grad students and faculty and I am continually thinking about what topics I want to present on.

Another long, long-term project I’ve been mulling over is starting a librarian-focused radio show on our campus radio station. I have a radio show on another campus station and it’s been rewarding putting it altogether. Who knows if that’ll ever happen, but it’s fun to think about merging two of my interests.

Emily Z: Oh, there’s so many things I want to do, and so little time to do it. One thing I want to bring to my university is more on-demand or scheduled workshops in which students, faculty, and staff sign up on their own for. I particularly would love to teach things like visual design, Canva, and infographics. For now though, I’ll need to focus on settling into my job (as well as the looming Gen Ed overhaul at my university…).

Hailley: Department goals! Our annual review work starts in January and that will be the perfect time to co-create departmental goals. I’m keeping some notes about ideas but am waiting for the new year to devote the brain space to that level of strategic work.

Reflecting on the Leadership Orientations Questionnaire

Throughout this academic year I’m participating in a leadership institute at my university. I’m part of a cohort of nine colleagues, from across the university and in various leadership roles. We meet once a month to discuss chapters from Reframing Academic Leadership, hear from leaders across campus, learn how to be better leaders, and discuss the challenges and opportunities we see and face in our roles. I’m really excited to be a part of this institute and learn from my colleagues across the institution. 

For October’s meeting, we took the Leadership Orientations questionnaire. This was created by Lee G. Bolman and Terrence E. Deal and published back in 1991. They developed four frames for understanding leaders: structural leaders, human resources leaders, political leaders, and symbolic leaders. You rank a series of choices based on how true you feel the statement is to you and your leadership. Once you’ve completed the questionnaire, you add up your scores and you see which of the four leadership frames you scored the highest. 

I scored highest as a human resources leader (followed by symbolic, structural, and political). When I looked at the definition of a human resources leader, I wasn’t surprised that was my highest score. In particular, my attention caught on the last line in the definition of a human resources leader: “A good leader is a facilitator and participative manager who supports and empowers others.”

As I shared with my cohort, I feel like the last year as a department head has really pushed me into strengthening and sharpening my facilitator muscles. I’ve always enjoyed facilitation, but in my current role, that’s a huge part of my work. I’m leading department meetings, working through theoretical questions and decisions around our reference services, and overseeing a library informatics bachelor’s degree program. In doing facilitation, I hope that the people who participate in these meetings do feel supported and empowered. That’s certainly my goal and how I think about setting up those opportunities. 

The phrase “participative manager” also resonated with me. I feel my leadership style is influenced and informed by the participatory design work I started while I was at my last institution. As much as possible, I like to collaboratively work with the department to make decisions, especially decisions around our priorities and work. This has resulted in meetings where we draw vehicles representing our digital learning objects or where I solicit feedback on a proposal for a way to move the work forward within the department. I feel that style has worked both for me as a manager and for my team (see my last post about laughing with the department).

In thinking about being a participative manager, I also started thinking about how I help, support, and often do the day-to-day work of the department. This is definitely something I struggle with; I feel strongly about “pulling my weight” and being an active participant in the department. However, my job now involves other types of work and sometimes I can’t do all the participating I want to do. In discussing these frames with the cohort, I mentioned that I struggle with balancing participating with some of my other department head tasks and someone in my cohort shared something along the lines of, “Well just don’t do as much.” 

While I appreciate the straightforwardness of that answer, I don’t think the solution is that easy. In some ways, it reminds me of the ideas I was sorting through in my coordinator role particularly around my identity. When I started in this department head role, I felt pressure (whether internal or external) that I needed to prove myself. So I jumped right into the teaching and the outreach work of the department. I wanted to prove I could do the work and that I could do it well. And now I’m at a point where I’ve got to start making decisions about where I can step back. I need time to do the departmental work of keeping a department moving forward. I’ve got to find new ways to balance my understanding (and participation) of the day-in-day-out work and strategic department head work. I know it’s always a work in progress and having the space to reflect on my style has helped me bring this a little higher on my priority list. 

I appreciated the chance to take this questionnaire and dig into some of my thoughts on how I lead. As a cohort, we had an interesting conversation on how our frames change over time, as we step into new leadership roles and grow as humans. I feel that I’ll always have the human resources in me but there are definitely opportunities for me to strengthen some of those other frames. Knowing where I feel most comfortable can help me think strategically about ways I can lean more into my structural, symbolic, or political side.

Have you taken this leadership questionnaire (or something similar) before? If so, what lessons did you learn about you and how have you tried to use that framing in your job moving forward? 


Featured by Jessica Ruscello on Unsplash

I Love How We Laugh: A Year into Being a Department Head

Last week, I celebrated my one-year anniversary as a department head. The day consisted of teaching students, celebratory cookies, and a few reflective moments on the last 365 days. I can’t believe it has been a year! 

The last year has gone by quickly. We’ve adapted to changing pandemic seasons, dealt with staffing changes and hiring freezes, and continued to support student success. I feel like I’ve grown so much, as a librarian and as a manager. This job continues to be challenging in positive ways and I feel like I’m stretching and learning every day. I definitely haven’t had the perfect year; I’ve made mistakes, tried stuff that didn’t work, and dropped some balls. However, on the whole, I think last year was successful. I got the chance to work with the team I lead, participate in the work, and dream about what we can do as a department. I think this work builds so nicely from my experience as the Student Engagement Coordinator and allows me to take that work one step further. As a department, we collaboratively created our own mission, vision, and scope of work document, and continue to find ways to maximize the various expertises and experiences we each bring to the group. I’ve made connections with colleagues across campus and have had the chance to do what I think I do best, promote the library and envision new ways we can collaborate to support our students. 

One thing I’ve thought about a lot the last few months is the energy of the department I’m a part of. Even during my interview, I felt the enthusiasm and excitement for information literacy and students in the department meeting. That hasn’t changed since I arrived. The group I lead is always willing to try something new, talk through the pros and cons of a situation, and collaborate with one another to put an idea into action. It’s great to be on a team like this and I feel lucky to support and champion our work. 

The other thing that this department loves is laughter (as the title of this blog post suggests). In the past year, we’ve collected several inside jokes and I appreciate the department meetings where something funny happens and we’re all doubled over, laughing. There’s so much joy in that kind of laughter. I appreciate the space we as a department create for that joy. We can disagree and debate, but there’s something really nice about our ability to come together, share some stories, and laugh. For me, despite the stress I feel in this job or some of the dynamics outside of my control, I feel grounded knowing we can laugh as a department and figure things out.

As I think about my second year, I know we will continue to make changes and try new things. I’m excited to continue to learn from my colleagues and grow as a manager. And I’m thankful the laughter will continue. 

Tell me – what are some things about the team you work on that you appreciate? Would love to know from others if this idea resonates with you!

Our TBR Lists

Summer is often the time where we hope we can dig into the articles and books we’ve put off reading during the academic semesters. In this collaborative post, ACRLoggers share what they have been reading, watching, or listening to and what’s on their TBR list for the summer.

Things we have read, watched, or listened to

Hailley: A colleague in my department was part of a learning community this spring where they read Creating Wicked Students: Designing Courses for a Complex World by Paul Hanstedt. She recommended I read it, especially as I was preparing to teach a five week credit course this summer. As soon as I started reading, I was hooked! I appreciated the way Hanstedt talked about course creation and how we can design authentic projects for our students to encounter in a course. While I was reading it with my eyes on credit-course design, I still think this book is relevant for folks not teaching a full semester long course. 

Alex: I’ve been reading Writing from These Roots by J. M. Duffy (2007) for my summer M.Ed. class on literacy and its intersections with culture, identity, and language. It’s not directly library-related, but it details a unique case of literacy: the Hmong people. It has really broadened the way I look at how not only literacy happens and what it is, but how information is shared in different cultures.

Justin: I’ve been reading up on information literacy instruction, specifically in the sciences since I was recently hired as a Science librarian at the University of Manitoba. In mid-June I attended ACRL’s Sciences & Technology Section’s annual program, where they presented a draft of a sciences companion document to the ACRL Framework. Some really good examples were shown of how the Framework was adapted and being used for sciences students – I’m looking forward to using this in my own instructional sessions. I also found Witherspoon, Taber, and Goudreau’s recently-published article “Science Students’ Information Literacy Needs” really helpful in providing evidence for when to introduce specific info lit concepts throughout a science student’s program.

As I’ve been developing some new sciences-focused library presentations, I’ve been rereading Bull, MacMillan, and Head’s article on proactive evaluation, published last summer. I’m trying to figure out where to put and how to frame proactive evaluation and other evaluative frameworks in my sessions for sciences students.

Stephanie: I’m often listening to podcasts, and one that is currently in rotation is 99% Invisible. I greatly enjoyed their recent episode, Meet Us by the Fountain, which focuses on the heyday of indoor shopping malls. As someone who began working in a mall when I was a sophomore in high school and continued working there until I graduated from college, the mall holds a place in my heart as a place where I discovered who I was, from my clothing likes and dislikes to my social circle and extended group of friends. Listening to the episode reminded me that it’s hard for me to imagine what my life would have been like if I hadn’t worked at the mall for nearly six years; returning to my shift on a regular basis kept me grounded during an age and time of much uncertainty. The episode also shines insight into the gravitational pull of the mall and the history of suburbia in general. 

Jen: I’ve become more and more interested in the idea of storytelling as a pedagogical technique–allegories, analogies, anecdotes, case studies, memes, real-world problems–to make abstract or technical research concepts more accessible to students, facilitate students’ recall and meaning making, and/or provide general interest in the classroom. So reading about how instructors in a wide range of disciplines use storytelling and to what effect–things like Frisch and Saunders’ “Using stories in an introductory college biology course”–has been helpful so far.  This exploration has led me into a bit of research on how instructors think about their teaching and how they make changes. Articles like Kirker’s “Am I a teacher because I teach?: A qualitative study of librarians’ perceptions of their role as teachers” and Baer’s “Academic librarians’ development as teachers: A survey on changes in pedagogical roles, approaches, and perspectives” have been helpful here. Both of these areas have started to lead me to think about these concepts in other contexts: storytelling as a tool to improve clarity and connection in communication in other arenas (say, administrative) and also what contributes to openness to change in other parts of our professional (not to mention personal) lives. 

Things we hope to read, watch, or listen to this summer

Hailley: I’m hoping to spend some time reviewing the recorded presentations from CALM this spring. I wasn’t able to attend the virtual conference at the end of April, but I’m excited many of the sessions were recorded. I recently watched (and loved) “Flying the Plane While You’re Building It: Cultivating a New Team Through Organizational Change” from Mea Warren and (fellow ACRLogger) Veronica Arellano Douglas so I can’t wait to learn more from those who presented!

Alex: I’ve barely started it, so I don’t count it in the “have read” section, but I’m looking forward to working my way through A Place for Everything, by Judith Flanders, because who doesn’t want to read a history of alphabetical order? (That’s a little adjacent to library work, but probably has some interesting insights into shelving schemes, if nothing else.) I also have a lot of driving ahead of me this summer (we’re talking 7 hours at a time) so I’d like to get into some podcasts to pass that time more quickly: The Librarian’s Guide to Teaching, Dewey Decibel, and Book Club for Masochists have all caught my eye (ear?) recently. Even though a lot of library podcasts are focused on public libraries, I think there’s a lot for an academic librarian to learn there.

Justin: A couple of my colleagues are really into Anne Helen Petersen’s writing and recommended her book, co-written with partner Charlie Warzel, Out of Office: The Big Problem and Bigger Promise of Working From Home. I switched from working-from-home back to working on-campus in February of this year. I think a lot of us have been moving towards this over the past year or so. I’ve heard Warzel and AHP’s book layout ideas for a healthy work/life balance, rethinking what your real work means, and getting more involved in your community, so I’m looking forward to reading it. (Also: if you haven’t seen it, AHP’s CALM keynote is shared here, which I highly recommend reading, The Librarians Are Not Okay.)

I just finished up a research project on relational-cultural theory and Canadian academic librarians, and now that that’s done, I’m hoping to do some reading into LIS mentorship programs and other supports for librarians to start up a new project; articles like Malecki & Bonanni’s “Mentorship Programs in Academic Libraries” and Ackerman, Hunter, & Wilkinson’s “The Availability and Effectiveness of Research Supports for Early Career Academic Librarians.”

Stephanie: Following up on the 99% Invisible episode I was listening to earlier, I’m eager to pick up the book the episode is based on: Meet Me by the Fountain: An Inside History of the Mall by Alexandra Lange. While I haven’t started reading the book just yet, I’m looking forward to gaining more insight on how malls have both become something we remiscenice about while also being something we also malign. I’m drawn to social histories in general, and I appreciate that this book focuses on how malls played a vital role in creating and maintaining suburbs, and how towns are faring during the ongoing reinvention of the mall.

Jen: Geez, there’s so much I’ve been meaning to catch up on. What isn’t on my to-be-read pile is perhaps a more accurate question for me. But I’m thinking here especially about some synergies in a few projects I’m working on related to open pedagogy and the “students as partners” movement and information literacy. So I’m adding things like “A systematic literature review of students as partners in higher education” to the pile to round out some of my foundational understanding in these areas. 

How We Meet: Making Use of Departmental Time

During the last few weeks, I started planning for the summer. I like to think summer is still months away, but the spring temperatures have returned and we are entering the final stretch of the semester. Summer is approaching!

For myself and the team I lead, summer will be busy. We’re slated to teach a five-week intensive information literacy credit course – two hours a day, five days a week. We are co-teaching three sections of the class and working together to edit the curriculum to fit the needs of the program this summer. The course will run from mid-July to mid-August. Once the course wraps up, we’ll get one week to recover, readjust, and then we jump straight into the fall semester. 

As we talked about how we would prepare for this summer course, I realized that we would need to prepare for the fall semester in May and June. This would allow us to focus on the teaching in July/August and then give everyone a break before the fall semester. In thinking through all the topics we wanted to cover in the summer, I realized I would need to be savvy with how I scheduled department meetings in May and June. Lucky for me, I love planning meetings.

A little meeting context

In stepping into a department head role, I’ve tried to be intentional about when and why we meet. Especially when I started in the job, I wanted to make sure we had time as a team to come together, discuss current topics, and make decisions together. I used those meetings to gain additional institutional context and open up space for the team to see connections between their experiences. Those were the types of meetings that truly could not be an email and helped to establish a strong team foundation. For the most part, I scheduled the meetings in advance and would occasionally add a meeting into the rotation if a topic came up we needed to spend time discussing. I learned a lot from the fall, including some ways I wanted to change up our meeting schedule in the spring. 

In true pandemic fashion, our spring semester started off remotely. However, having a strong meeting foundation allowed us to go virtual without too many issues. I introduced a new format for the team – the monthly business meeting. Each month, we have a meeting to discuss individual team news and share updates related to some of our bigger projects (like one-shot instruction, our GEARUP program, and our Library Informatics program). The goal for this format is to open communication and encourage folks to share news to keep everyone in the loop. Originally, I had blocked 30 minutes for updates and 30 minutes for feedback on a certain topic. I quickly learned that dividing the time like that doesn’t work for the team. So business meetings are now focused on just updating and looping everyone in. I think they are working and I’m excited to keep tweaking the format throughout the year. Similar to the fall, I’ve had to add in a few extra meetings, but I think I’ve started to understand the semester rhythms and in extension, the department rhythms. A few meeting types we’ve established as a team are:

  • Instructional data sharing meeting: This meeting happens near the end of the semester and focuses on our one-shot instruction. We discuss data we collected from our students and instructors and also use the time to plan for changes to one-shots for the upcoming semester. It’s a great way to celebrate our work, see the impact, and discuss changes.
  • End of semester celebration meeting: This meeting idea came from someone in the department, who asked if we could have a meeting where we didn’t have a formal agenda and could just spend time together. It was probably my favorite meeting in the fall, because we got to be together, do a craft, and enjoy some holiday snacks. It’s a nice way to celebrate our hard work from the past semester.

Summer planning

With all of this meeting knowledge, I wanted to take a wider view as I planned for our summer meeting schedule. I printed off a full 2022 calendar and marked off when we had met this year and then tried to identify our summer meeting schedule. I started to notice the frequency of our meetings and the many meeting topics we covered each semester. I pinned up the four pages to my corkboard and you can see the full spread in the photo below.

Four sheets of paper are displayed and each piece of paper contains three months. Each month is marked up with meetings and notes about the purpose of each meeting.
The full 2022 EOS meeting schedule. There’s some meaning behind the colors and patterns, but it’s not important to tell the overall story!

As I penciled in our summer meetings, I quickly saw that June would not only go by fast, but we would have to be intentional on what we chose to focus on. Ultimately, we could not cover everything. I tried to identify things I knew we needed to cover in order to start the fall semester off on the right foot. In planning our June meetings, I tried to incorporate some new meeting formats to see what might work best. I’m hoping to pilot the following meeting types this summer:

  • Mega meeting: Borrowing the name from a former department I worked in, this longer meeting is meant for bigger, conceptual discussions and collaborative work. For us, we’ll be doing a full day meeting (with food) to begin the work of preparing for our summer teaching.
  • Pre-Sprint Meeting: In the middle of June, I hope that the team can work on some larger projects and can focus on specific projects during a week-long sprint. To kick off that work, I want to begin with a department meeting on a Monday where we discuss the topic at hand, assign the work, and then go off into smaller groups to get the work done. For example, we’re going to revisit our curriculum maps and I want us to build out time to really focus on this work. 
  • Optional working meetings: I’ve blocked this time on everyone’s calendars and reserved a space, but it will be up to each individual on how they’d like to use that time. If they are working in small groups, it’s a block of time to get together and collaboratively work. But, I also scheduled these knowing folks will be on vacation or have other things to focus on. 

The summer meeting schedule still looks a little overwhelming, but I’m hoping these meeting formats will help us have the team conversations we need to have and help to assign the smaller group work. I’m curious to see how these meetings pan out and what I learn along the way. I know this summer will inform how we set up meetings in the fall. 

I won’t lie that after laying out all our department meetings in this calendar format, I had a minor freakout. Was I trying to do too much? Were we switching between topics and projects too quickly? Were we focusing on the “right” things? In speaking to a colleague, she reminded me that department meetings can be as frequent as I would like, as long as I feel that the time is used to move work forward. This was a good reminder. I know my leadership style is collaborative and during my first year, I will err on the side of too many meetings, because I want the team to understand my thought process and weigh in on the department decisions. Overtime I know the team will establish a rhythm and we will develop other mechanisms for making decisions. I feel like I’m learning a lot from organizing department meetings, something I didn’t anticipate when stepping into this role! 

So now reader, how do you meet with the people you work with? How many meetings are too many meetings for you? How do you keep in touch and keep the work going outside of regular meetings? I would love to hear from you on how you think about departmental time.