The Teleworking Diaries: Initial Thoughts from Working Remote

Last week, things didn’t seem so bad and I told myself I wasn’t going to write about the coronavirus for this month’s blog post. I told myself I would write about a project I’m working on or an element of librarianship I wanted to do a bit of a deep dive into. But this, this pandemic, is a “rapidly evolving situation” and now it would just feel strange if I didn’t talk about it. I’m using this post to mark time, to capture my early thoughts about working remotely, using Zoom, and growing a community while being contained in my apartment in Central Pennsylvania.  

So much has changed in just a week. Each day feels like we are waiting for another shoe to drop. My institution has moved entirely online for the spring semester, commencement is canceled, and my days often revolve around checking maps, watching press briefings, thinking about vocational awe as libraries debate about closing to the public, and listening to podcasts on the pandemic.

I’ve been teleworking for about a week. It seems that every day is a bit of a rollercoaster. A slow start to each morning followed by an increasingly accelerated series of meetings, decisions, chats, and emails. The ride returns to the starting line between 5-5:30 PM and I quickly pack up my remote office, in an effort to stop myself from picking at work until bed. I’ve started to go for a post-work walks in my neighborhood and can’t help but notice the large amount of lion lawn ornaments folks have. Transitions between activities, especially work and personal, seem more important these days. Time has a new meaning, with nowhere to go and no plans to make. 

As a student engagement librarian, my semester has bottomed out. Many of my events have either been canceled or are in the process of going fully online. This week I’ve created a lot of Zoom links, talked through remote possibilities for student work and events, and watched how the students I work with adapt to using remote methods. As someone who normally participates in a lot of online meetings, it never really occurred to me to change my display name or add a colorful background of a sunset. In some ways, it feels like I’m learning Zoom all over again. 

In attempting to find a new normal (if we even want to call it that), I noticed the tension between wanting to just up and move everything online, as if this is a choice we willingly made, and the need to slow down and accept what’s happening around us. While some things cannot simply be plucked from face-to-face and moved online, there are other things that seem better suited to this new environment. I imagine that whenever we return to our offices, there will be residual effects from this. For someone who considers herself a bit of a workhorse, a “stay late and get it done” sort of gal, this change to teleworking has pushed me. I’ve been trying to accept the idea that it’s okay to take a beat to regroup and refocus. I try to hold that same space for my colleagues and students. As I was reminded in a meeting today, this “normal” we feel this week could look drastically different next week. There’s so much uncertainty in the air.

What this week has shown me is that even in this uncertainty, we have community. I feel a new sense of community and an intention to build. This intention comes in a variety of ways, from the group texts, the Gchats, the Marco Polo videos, and the virtual happy hours. When you’re not with people all the time, there’s a stronger need to (virtually) congregate. It has been reassuring for me to log into a Zoom room and see a friendly face. Even if we spend the first 15 minutes sharing all the information we’ve read and heard on COVID-19, it feels nice to share and know that we’re trying to get through this together. And if this pandemic lasts for weeks on end, our community is the thing that’s going to get us through.

In wrapping up this week, I’ve figured out my own ways of coping and marking time. I’ve started a daily picture of me at work and another thread on things that give me joy. I would be curious to hear how you all are getting through and ways you’ve found to build your community — at your institution or with friends and family, near and far. 
So I’ll end this post with my new sign off, a play on the Call Your Girlfriend signoff — see you in another Zoom room!

Will this work?

In May 2017, I had an idea. I wanted to create a credit-bearing course, one that would provide students the foundation they needed to be peer research consultants (PRCs) within the libraries. The class would have the same vibes as writing tutor classes that are taught across the United States and called many different names (for example ENGL 250 at Penn State, Topics in Composition at Coe College). As a concept, the class made sense to me. Instead of cramming initial PRC training into a few weeks, we could have the space within a course to really dive into ideas and prepare students. It could also be a way to expose students to research through the lens of librarianship. 

In 2017, I had no clue about how to put together a semester long course, or the process at Penn State to get an actual class on the books. The course was a pipe dream, one that rattled around in my head, and had me jotting down stray thoughts in various notebooks and online documents. I would write out “Week 1” through “Week 16” and attempt different combinations of course content. My first drafts were a bunch of one-shots sessions, strung together, somewhat haphazardly, but with brief moments of clarity.

The more I thought about the class and the more I tinkered with it, the more I wanted to make it happen. About a year ago, I paired up with my colleague, co-teacher, and friend, Claire, and we started to take steps to get the course approved. At a large research institution, nothing is ever as easy as it seems. Beyond documentation around learning objectives, assessment techniques, and a rough course outline, we also had to find 15 people to consult on our course. After these consults, we submitted it into the ether and eventually, our proposal made its way up the Liberal Arts chain. Finally, in November, it reached our Faculty Senate.

We found out the class passed with little fanfare. It was approved in a committee meeting and we found out from a colleague in the group who sent us a Slack message. It was December and our immediate thought was, “crap, now we have like six weeks to put a course together.” Luckily, Claire and I had one another, and a framework we had continued to tweak while the course was being reviewed. LST 250: Peer Tutoring in Research was official and on January 14, we taught our first class.

This class is all about turning a research idea around and around. We were inspired by Allison Hosier’s 2019 article in College & Research Libraries entitled “Research is an Activity and a Subject of Study: A Proposed Metaconcept and Its Practical Application.” It probably wasn’t an article we needed our students to read in the first week, but it has helped us find the core of the class. We focus our energies on a topic, of our choice, and spend the semester researching it from all angles. The goal is that by the end, the students are really knowledgeable in a topic they care about, and also deeply understand their own research process, embedded within their discipline. If you can understand how research works, then I believe you can help someone else through that process. Of course, the question always is, “Will that actually work as a course?”

So far, I think so. This week we wrote research questions on whiteboards and made concept maps. We explored databases we recommend students “try first” and talked about how that could set us up for a certain research journey. We also read LIS articles that spoke of students in strange, disconnected, deficit-like ways around their ability to do research. I’ve been thinking a lot about how we talk about the students we teach, how we think about their research process, and how those attitudes influence our work. This class seems like a natural extension to the work I’ve been doing with students and finding ways to keep them in the center. 

A friend asked, “How’s it going professor?” and while that still feels weird to be a professor, things are good. We’re four weeks in and I have a much better understanding of what readings will work than I did a year ago. While the first few classes felt like 75 minutes was too much, we’re now scrabbling at minute 70 to finish class on time. I haven’t taught many one-shots so far this semester, but I imagine my presence will be different. I feel more confident in leading a class, and some of that is probably due to regularly teaching twice a week. The course is a challenge, and I need that in 2020. I feel lucky that I get to tackle the course with Claire and we can navigate these credit-bearing waters together. I can’t believe it has been almost three years since my initial idea; a lot has changed in the evolution of the course, but I look forward to where the course will go. If you’ve taught a credit-bearing class before, do you have any advice? What has worked for you in the past? What do you wish you would have known before you started? 


Featured image by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Ending the year with questions

It’s the end of the year and all the things I expect are happening. Students are camping out in the library, I’m working on end-of-the-semester recaps,  and I’m already thinking ahead to 2020. With the way the holiday lines up, I’ll leave campus before finals are over and graduation has occurred and when I return, it will be empty and quiet. Like many people, I’m looking forward to the break, turning on my out-of-office email and basking in several meeting-free days in a row.  

As I gear up for this last week, I’m leaving 2019 with a lot of questions. Asking questions is part of my job but recently my questions have gotten harder to easily answer. You might have read my post in October, which raises a lot of questions about my type of librarianship. But beyond that I’m also thinking about: 

  • What does space mean to us?
  • What does it mean to be productive in a capitalist society and what space lends itself to being productive?
  • Where is my research agenda going? 
  • Where is my research project going to take me in 2020? 
  • How do we, as libraries, promote ourselves to students? Does it actually work? 
  • What is the spectrum of experiences in the library that we want our students to have?
  • How do you push back against the idea that a scholarly article is always reliable? And how do you do that in just 50 minutes? 
  • What should reference in an academic library look like? How is that tied with our instruction?  
  • Is it possible to lead transparently?
  • How do we tell a compelling story to administrators? What data do we need and how do we tell the story if we don’t have it? 
  • Will we recruit enough students for our new class

I’m lucky I can talk through these questions with my friends in academia, my supervisor, my formal and informal mentors, the students I work with, and my colleagues. While sometimes it feels strange to have so many questions and so little direction on how to answer them, I wonder if this means I’m getting somewhere. Or maybe I’m just getting more seasoned. But I’m ready to unpack these questions in 2020. Stay tuned to see what I discover.

What questions do you have as we end 2019?


Featured photo by Matthew Henry from Burst

Work weeks, schedules, and supporting students

Recently, Facebook reminded me of a picture I posted when I was in undergrad. It’s a picture of my Google calendar, in the fall of 2012. I was a busy undergrad, especially that fall, but my caption when I reposted this picture was something like, “If only 2012 Hailley knew what 2019 Hailley’s calendar would look like.” 

A screenshot of a Google calendar, with many appointments, from 6 AM in the morning until 9 PM at night.
My 2012 calendar

Between working in Admissions, being a writing tutor, sitting on two committees, being a part of student government and a literary journal, taking four classes, and clarinet lessons, I was never bored. Back in 2012, it was normal for days to stretch from 8 AM until 9 PM. The day wasn’t even officially done at 9 PM: that just meant it was time for readings, homework, or hanging out with friends. I felt busy, and at times, busier than than my friends, but overall, the pace of my schedule felt normal and what it should be like as an undergrad. 

These days, a meeting ending at 9 PM seems “late.” I was on campus walking with friends to a play and overheard a student say they had a meeting starting at 9 PM. My friends and I shared a look that said, “I would not want to start a meeting at 9.” College can be a time when traditional 9-5 is lost. If you’re awake, a meeting can happen. 

As the Student Engagement Coordinator, working with undergraduates is a fundamental part of my job. It has always felt normal for me to stay late, to host a workshop after dinner, meet with a student group, or run a Pop Up Library. And when I saw that Facebook memory pop up this time, I started to think about who else (faculty, staff) had to stay late when I was in college to support my student engagement. In some ways, it’s all coming full circle, as I stay late to support a new group of students. 

I also feel like there is an expectation that I’ll stay late. Part of that pressure is internal, because I remember what it was like to be a student and trying to find time to meet with faculty or advisors during the day (see calendar above). Part of that is my personality, and the ways that I let my personal and professional life bleed together. Part of that also comes from my first experience at Penn State, where I worked from 1-10 PM and saw how the library changed after 5 PM, when the “day folks” left and something new settled in its place. Part of that pressure comes from my conditioning to be helpful, as a woman in a service-orientated profession (Harris, 1992; Hicks, 2014) and some of that pressure is probably imagined.

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about this pressure and how my ability to stay late is partially built on my identity. I’m a young, single lady with no dependents. I’m often (in both positive and negative connotations) told that I have a lot of energy. The undercurrent of some of these statements imply that with that energy I’m well-suited to work with undergraduates. I feel that these characteristics make people think that of course, I’ll always stay late, handle that evening workshop, or be okay with an after-dinner meeting. They assume that my lack of any dependents means my evenings are always open. If this is the logic, what does it mean when my life inevitably changes? Does the pressure go away? Do I stop staying late or doing workshops on the weekends? Is it implied that eventually I’ll move away from “after hours”? If I move away from that work, will I lose touch with the undergraduates I serve? And if I do stop staying late, how will that change my work (and impact) with undergraduate students? 

In a recent study, Lily Todorinova (2018) examined job position descriptions for undergraduate and first year librarian positions. In this process, she discovered that between 2014 and 2016, these types of positions were on the rise. Many of those positions were listed as entry-level and were offered entry-level salaries, for example, lower than the average salary in 2016 (Todorinova, 2018, p. 209). What does this trend mean for the profession? If we want these positions to recognize and respond to movements within higher education and find ways to integrate the library (broadly: information literacy, instruction, services, etc.) more meaningfully into student life, how are we supporting these new professionals? And how are we being flexible in that support, so that these colleagues are not regularly working 12 hour days, as they accommodate both the traditional work hours and the student hours? Do we allow for time to be flexed in these positions? Do we force our colleagues in these positions to “grow” out of them?

These structures and this tension aren’t limited to academic librarians in engagement and first-year positions; student affairs professionals also have a high burnout rate (Marshall, Gardner, Hughes, & Lowery, 2016; Mullen, Malone, Denney, & Dietz, 2018). Many of the reasons why student affairs professionals leave are due to long hours and the struggle to maintain a work-life balance (Marshall et al., 2016). In a study done on new student affairs professionals, one respondent mentioned the long hours were a sacrifice that would result in long-term payoffs (Renn & Jessup-Anger, 2008). But that also feels problematic, especially in thinking of a library setting: if I set a precedent, what structure am I putting into place for those who do this work after me? Is that a tradition I want to instill?

So, what helps keep you student-centered, while setting boundaries and without it consuming your entire schedule? My thinking these days is remembering what it was like to be a student, who posted that picture of her calendar on Facebook because she was feeling overwhelmed, personally and academically. To remember those people who supported me in college and find ways to give that back, to a new group of students. And probably most importantly, to keep asking questions to the students I work with about their day-to-day. What does it mean to be a college student at Penn State? As Todorinova discovered, many librarians in engagement positions feel that they responsibility is to leverage student experiences (something I strongly agree with), and there has to be a way to get that insight, both within traditional working hours and sometimes, after 5.

At the end of the day, students will still meet at the end of their day. In wanting to support students, folks in these positions will work outside the bounds of 9-5. What we can do, both as employees and supervisors of these types of positions? I don’t have any firm answers but I do have a lot of thoughts. Currently they include:

  • Articulate our values and how those plays out in our work. If we want to be student-centered, what does that look like, for us as an organization?
  • Understand that just because you have “engagement” or “first-year” in your title, doesn’t mean that you’re the only person who can support the entire student population. This work has to be done collectively and not placed solely on one individual. 
  • Recognition that everyone’s time (ours, others, students, etc.) is valuable. It’s not a competition of who works the most, but instead an understanding that we all have things we care about and want to pursue outside our work responsibilities.   
  • Identify your colleagues that work outside the bounds of 9-5. Articulate why that is (position type, job description, population to serve, etc.) and reflect on something you’re doing to support their schedule. If you’re not sure of your answer, ask that person what’s one new way you can support their schedule.

I see and feel the tension, and don’t know exactly how those feelings and tension will change over the next few years. But I’m reflecting on these structures and trying to sort it out. I’m curious about what others think about these ideas and strategies around this topic.


Reference

Harris, R.M. (1992). Librarianship: The Erosion of a Woman’s Profession. Norwood, NJ: Ablex Pub. Corp.

Hicks, D. (2014). The Construction of Librarians’ Professional Identities: A Discourse Analysis / La construction de l’identité professionnelle du bibliothécaire?: Une analyse de discours. Canadian Journal of Information and Library Science, 38(4), 251–270. https://doi.org/10.1353/ils.2014.0017

Marshall, S. M., Gardner, M. M., Hughes, C., & Lowery, U. (2016). Attrition from Student Affairs: Perspectives from Those Who Exited the Profession. Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice, 53(2), 146–159. https://doi.org/10.1080/19496591.2016.1147359

Mullen, P. R., Malone, A., Denney, A., & Dietz, S. S. (2018). Job Stress, Burnout, Job Satisfaction, and Turnover Intention Among Student Affairs Professionals. College Student Affairs Journal, 36(1), 94–108. https://doi.org/10.1353/csj.2018.0006

Renn, K. A., & Jessup-Anger, E. R. (2008). Preparing New Professionals: Lessons for Graduate Preparation Programs from the National Study of New Professionals in Student Affairs. Journal of College Student Development, 49(4), 319–335. https://doi.org/10.1353/csd.0.0022

Todorinova, L. (2018). A Mixed-Method Study of Undergraduate and First Year Librarian Positions in Academic Libraries in the United States. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 44(2), 207–215. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.acalib.2018.02.005

Embracing the Coordinator Role

Earlier this week, my boss went into our HR system and changed my title. I went from the Student Engagement & Outreach Librarian to Student Engagement Coordinator. The change happened for many reasons, some political, and others, more practical. As a whole, the change recognizes the work I have done in this role the past two years and signals to others how my position is set up. My scope of work and job responsibilities don’t change, but I feel confirmed. 

Upon reflection, I think I’ve seen myself as a coordinator for a while. When I was preparing to go “on the road” in order to meet up with my colleagues at other campuses to discuss student engagement, I created this slide: 

Slide of a highway with the words "Coordinator" "Facilitator" and "Bridge Builder" on it

I told my colleagues that I see myself as a coordinator, facilitator, and bridge builder. This signals that I cannot do everything on my own, but I’m here to help connect us, bring us together under a shared understanding of student engagement, and advocate for the resources we need to make our ideas a reality. This work is mediated through librarianship, and provides the lens through which I tackle projects. Librarian might not be in my title anymore, but it provides the foundation for the work I do within the world of student engagement.  

And I have done a lot of coordinating while I have been the Student Engagement Librarian. I coordinate an undergraduate research award, the Short Edition dispensers, a library internship program, a student advisory group, and several committees with my colleagues to help get this work done. It’s work, but it’s something I enjoy and like to think I thrive at.

Of course, as my title changed (and I updated all the appropriate places online), I took a minute to look at the formal definition of co-ordinate, from OED. When used as a verb, this was one of the definitions:

To place or arrange (things) in proper position relatively to each other and to the system of which they form parts; to bring into proper combined order as parts of a whole.

This definition resonated with me because I think bringing things together has always been a strength of mine. I like knowing about what people are up to, programs happening around me, and the context for which these things occur. For something like student engagement at Penn State, it’s big, wielding, nuanced, and complex. I love the challenge of finding and connecting the various pieces within this system. It’s exciting and I like to imagine the little gears in my brain turning and tumbling, connecting and imaging new possibilities.  

As I fully embrace the word “coordinator” in my title, I’m also starting to look more closely at the literature out there. In libraries, my first thought is the research done on library instruction coordinators. I immediately went back through work by Veronica Arellano Douglas and Joanna Gadsby, like their ACRL 2017 contributed paper and their more recent In the Library with a Lead Pipe article. I’m excited to re-read and reflect, with my coordinator hat more firmly on. There’s lots at play and I want to be conscious of how I navigate and investigate this as I keep moving forward. 

For me, this blog post is a starting spot. I don’t have any grand conclusions or big ideas to leave you with. But I’m excited, for this title and for embracing the coordination. 

Do you coordinate in your role? If so, tell me more! I’m curious at the ways we think about this and do our work around this title.