Communication & Leaving Things Behind

In March, I attended ACRL. The first session I attended was a morning panel entitled “Academic Library Leaders Discuss Difficult Topics.” The panelists (Jee Davis, Trevor Dawes, and Violete Illik) covered a range of topics and shared their insights with a full house. I took away many tidbits however, one insight stood out. The panel was discussing communication and how a common refrain from folks is that communication is just not transparent enough from leadership. In working through what this means, Trevor said, “Communication goes both ways.” 

A simple idea but for me, an insight that stood out. As both a current department head and someone who aspires to continue in administrator roles, I’m constantly trying to think about how to communicate information, at what level, and how frequently. But I think Trevor’s point serves as a good reminder; if you have the expectation for leaders to communicate, they also need you to communicate. Leaders can’t be expected to know everything, especially if the people who have that information aren’t sharing it up. Now granted, sometimes sharing up is hard because of the structures and or culture in place. However, this can be worked around. It requires folks to understand the structures and empower people to share, both good news and more challenging news. 

I’ve been thinking a lot about sharing up recently because of a situation I found myself in. A colleague left the institution and in an attempt to try to solve a problem at the reference desk, I opened a can of worms on a service I didn’t know much about. The colleague left behind some information but it wasn’t robust. They also hadn’t alerted the partners in this service about their departure so when I checked in to gain some more information, the partners were surprised to hear about me. 

Now I know that when folks leave institutions, it’s not always on the best terms or with the most generous timeline. I even wrote about the impossibility of tying up loose ends when I left my last institution a few years ago. There’s a lot procedurally to do to leave an institution and consequently, messes will get left for those still at the institution to clean up. However, what are ways to prevent messes, even before someone considers leaving? How do we encourage folks to lay the groundwork, document it along the way, and share that knowledge with more than just one person? This kind of structural work isn’t the most exciting but I think it can be some of the most important work.

This whole situation had me also thinking about my first post I wrote for ARCLog, about setting a project up for success, knowing full well that someday you might not be doing that work anymore. I know it can feel great to work on a project, know it inside and out, and feel secure that no one can do that work like you can. But ultimately, if we want that work to be sustainable and impactful, we have to make sure we are setting both the project and someone else up for success. I think this includes documentation of some kind and talking openly about the work (to all levels of the organization). 

To be honest, this scenario isn’t limited to only when someone leaves an institution. I remember one summer at my past institution where my colleague and I had some family issues arise. We were going to need to be out for parts of the summer, primarily over our larger outreach work that we co-led. When my supervisor asked what documentation we had to support our colleagues stepping in to do this work, we didn’t have anything. Luckily, we had some time to get everything squared away before we were out but life happens, our jobs are just one part of us, and we need to make sure we have information to pass along. 

So my takeaways from this situation is documenting what I can about this can of worms I opened up. I’m talking to folks (across, down, and up) in my organization about what I’m learning and how it applies to their work. I’m thinking even more about how I communicate department work to my supervisor and how I can create opportunities for the team to share their work, at a variety of levels, to various audiences. With summer just right around the corner, I’m hoping to get some time to work on some of that documentation for my work. It’s never too early to lay the groundwork for the work I’ve done and what I’ve learned along the way.

Would love to hear from you reader – do you have strategies to help communicate both ways? Do you have ways of creating work that is sustainable and actionable, even if someone has to leave your institution? Would love to hear your strategies and insights on this topic! 

Coming out of a January fog

January and the first part of February is usually a tricky time of year for me. I’m both buoyed by the promise of a new year and bogged down by the weather and amount of daylight available to me. January feels like a slog; I’m just trying to make it through. There are moments during the first days of the year where I feel like my motivation is at an all time high. I see the connections between work projects, I see the direction for the department, and I see the impact we can have. There are other moments where I feel stuck and there’s so much coming at me I’m not sure what to pick up next.

I think this January has also been an interesting time to be at my university. Similar to other colleges and universities, we are facing budgetary challenges and declining enrollment. We also recently named an interim president and are settling into new leadership. There’s a lot of uncertainty that you can feel every time you step foot on campus. When I talk with my colleagues about May, the summer, even the fall, there’s always an unspoken (or sometimes spoken) phrase of, “But who knows what the context will be then.” The uncertainty makes it hard to move forward confidently. We might decide to go left only to learn we’ll need to loop around to go right a few months later. 

All of these things – the slog, the uncertainty, the potential opportunities – has made me think a lot more about prioritization. How do we decide on what is a priority? How do we have those conversations? How do we make the tough decisions? How do we pivot? And how do we accept the change we know is coming but aren’t sure what it will look like yet? I don’t have any answers but I know that getting through the January slog means having the space to work through these questions and figure out where to step next.

And in these moments, when my head is turning, I am so thankful to have a network of support. The friends and colleagues I turn to get through the slog, hold the uncertainty, and celebrate the successes. I’ve been so appreciative to have fellow department heads at other institutions to talk to, a research group to get excited about and hold me accountable to research, my various text message threads with friends who send funny gifs, screenshots, all the emojis, and voice messages, my colleagues within the library to strategize with, and my colleagues across the institution who I can get coffee with and chat about what we can do together. 

I feel that I’ve emerged from the January fog and that feels wonderful. What about you? How are you getting through these first couple of months? What’s been on your mind and who has been there to help support you? 

On-Boarding Colleagues: A Collaborative ACRLoggers Post

Recently, I’ve found myself talking and thinking about on-boarding. How do you successfully bring a new colleague into your organization? What types of on-boarding have you experienced that have worked? If you could be in charge of on-boarding, how would you do it? How can every person in an organization be an active participant with on-boarding? I thought these questions might be good to bring to the ACRLoggers group for our February collaborative post. Readers, feel free to add your thoughts in the comments! 

We often think of on-boarding as the logistical pieces – getting a new email, setting up a laptop or device, knowing where to park, and having access to all the right systems and listservs. However we know there’s much more to on-boarding. In your opinion, what should be our philosophy with on-boarding? What should our ideal approach be? 

Justin: I always think of on-boarding as setting up the new hire for success. That definitely includes the more logistical components that Hailley mentions, but also providing long-term support, things like mentorship, communities of practice, and more relational components to the profession. We’re in a helping profession and that includes helping and supporting your colleagues. 

Alex: In addition to what Justin said about giving the new hire what they need to succeed, I think it’s important to give them the knowledge and opportunities they need to find their own place in the organization. A lot of that “place” is dictated by the job they were hired to do, but this extends to committee involvement, social ties, etc. It’s important to be aware of your own biases when introducing someone new to an organization you may have been with for a long time. Are they the right person to fill a gap on a committee that you highly value the work of? Maybe, maybe not. Do they need to know you had a negative experience with someone in this other department ten years ago? Probably not. Introduce them to everyone and give them the room to have their own interactions, identify where they can be of help, and draw their own conclusions.

What’s something you experienced when being on-boarded at an organization that you really appreciated or valued? 

Justin: I really appreciate my library’s community of practice for early-career staff, called the New Archivists’ and Librarians’ Group. It’s a great place to share any issues early-career librarians and archivists have, and to talk about it in a safe space with your colleagues. We often talk about logistical pieces like our annual performance reviews and preparing for promotion, but we recognize the value in creating community; getting to know the early-career librarians and archivists you work is such a wonderful thing.

Alex: During the interview for my current position, I was given equal time to talk to and interact with staff as well as faculty in the library, which I appreciated. This extended into the onboarding, as I had one-on-one meetings with everyone in my library in the first two weeks, to get to know their roles and responsibilities as well as them as people.

Hailley: When I started my first academic library job, my immediate supervisor set up meetings for me that stretched throughout the first six weeks of my job. I got to meet many people, at many levels, throughout the library. It was a nice way to ease into things, move around the building, and create connections. In this job I also had a secondary supervisor. She found an opportunity for me to join the Common Read Committee, which put me in touch with colleagues across campus and gave me a project to jump into. When I think about on-boarding, I often think of these two supervisors; they were intentional about bringing me into the fold, getting me connected with colleagues, and giving me work I could start.

For supervisors, what are strategies or approaches you take when getting ready to on-board someone new into your department/unit/organization?

Hailley: As I mentioned above, I am definitely informed by my past supervisors and the ways I have been on-boarded into organizations. In thinking about on-boarding people into my department, I remind myself not everything and every introduction has to happen right away. I try to space out information and introductions over a longer period of time. I find ways to provide documentation, but also give colleagues space to read, digest, and reflect on their own time. I also try to involve as many folks as possible in on-boarding. While it’s great to hear from me as their supervisor, I want new colleagues to hear about the organization and department from their peers. Finally, when I think about on-boarding students into the library, I try to think about what context they will need to be successful. How do I set up conditions for them to have the information they need to do the work I want them to complete? 

For those not supervising, what are approaches or things you do to help welcome and on-board someone who is joining your department/unit/organization?

Justin: As someone who’s been leading our new archivist and librarian group, I heartily encourage them to join us and attend meetings; it’s such a great and welcoming group! I also encourage new hires to reach out and talk to me or other librarians with any questions they have. I try to live my life by treating others how I would want to be treated, and I really, really, really appreciated the welcome and support I was shown when I was first hired. I try to remember that for anyone new that starts at my library. 

Alex: I emphasize that I have an open-door policy whether you have a work-related question, want to know where the best Mexican restaurant is in the area, or just need to decompress and talk about literally anything else for a few minutes. Sometimes you need Alex the Access Services & Instruction Librarian, and sometimes you need Alex the Chimichanga Enthusiast or Alex the Pretty Good Listener.

How can or does on-boarding look different for those coming in as new professionals vs colleagues joining our organization who are mid or late career? Should we employ different strategies (and why)? 

Justin: Definitely introducing those logistical things unique to your institution is important and ensuring mid- and late-career librarians are aware of anything unique to your institution (e.g. promotion and tenure guidelines). I’d also focus on establishing a welcoming and supportive work environment, which I think every librarian, regardless of career stage, can appreciate. 

Hailley: Okay, so I wrote this question but I’m having a hard time answering it. This is a question I’ve been mulling over. I think as Justin mentions, there are obviously common on-boarding threads across all new hires. However, I’m wondering if there are different focuses depending on when you’re coming into a new organization and at what level (middle management, admin, etc.). No fully formed thoughts yet but something I’m chewing on.

Any other thoughts on on-boarding? Are there any resources you rely on or any last comments you’d like to make? 

Justin: With job precarity becoming more common, I think it’s important to ensure you’re setting up librarians with skills and knowledge that not only benefits their current position, but also positions in the future. I recommend reading Julia Martyniuk, Christine Moffatt, and Kevin Oswald’s “Into the Unknown: Onboarding Early Career Professionals in a Remote Work Environment.” Though focused on remote on-boarding, I think their recommendation to “[cultivate] a sense of belonging for new hires” is such an important part of the on-boarding process.  

Alex: I think we generally think of onboarding as being done after a couple days or weeks, but it should really be a one-year process, in my view. I started my job on January 2 several years ago, and all the year-end reports and statistics and processes like that were brand new to me even though my one-year anniversary was a week or two away the first time I encountered them.

Hailley: I agree with Alex. Especially within academic libraries, on-boarding is a year-long process so you can see the rhythms of fall, spring, and summer!

Setting departmental goals: The process of one department head

As my fellow blogger Justin wrote about earlier this week, the start of a new year means a focus on developing goals to guide us for the next 365ish days. As a department head, the development of individual goals means it’s also time to think about departmental goals. I’m a firm believer that if departmental work is going to get done, it needs to be thoughtfully incorporated into individual goals and co-created by all members of the department. Departmental goals can create focus and point the team in the same direction. I figured I would focus my blog post this month on my thought process behind co-developing yearly departmental goals. 

Last year when it was time to set departmental goals, I was about five months into being a department head. A few months into the job, I worked with the team to co-create departmental mission and vision statements and we had developed our plate of work. Our plate of work was a visual of the areas we focused our team’s time and energy. When it was time for departmental goals, we used Jamboard to brainstorm potential goals, mapped those to our plate of work priorities, and established a series of goals we thought we as a team could achieve in 2022. I then worked with individual department members to either assign team goals to them or organized small groups who worked towards some of our goals. Throughout the year I would glance at the departmental goals document and make note of our progress. 

This year, with more than a year under my belt, I tried a different approach to brainstorming departmental goals. To start, I wanted to get some insight from the team about what they felt went well in 2022. I had everyone review our 2022 goals and reflect on the year. Then we had a group discussion, using the questions below as guiding questions:

  • What went well in 2022 for us as a department?  
  • What were some of our challenges (beyond budgetary concerns)?  
  • When were moments where you felt like we were firing on all cylinders? 
  • When were moments where you felt like we were out of sync?  

I particularly liked the last two questions, which really focused on getting everyone on the team to articulate high and low moments of collaboration and cooperation. These questions also brought up times when the department made good progress and also times when other institutional constraints got in our way. We had a great discussion and it helped lead us into thinking about 2023.

As we transitioned to talking about 2023 departmental goals, I had already kick started this conversation at the end of 2022. I had begun to get feedback from the department about the scope and deliverables for two projects I wanted us to focus on in the spring (one around LibGuides and one around instructional videos). I then asked the department to reflect on our 2022 goals, think about what they’d like to do in 2023, and begin to brainstorm potential goals in a shared Jamboard. When I looked at the Jamboard, I was so proud to see how aligned the team was on our potential goals. What had been brainstormed were things we as a department have discussed previously and or built off the work of our anticipated spring projects. It was amazing to see this alignment and made me so excited about what we as a department could accomplish this year.

To round out our brainstorming, I had the department do an activity that I call “Remix a Goal.” This is an activity that’s part of the 75 Tools for Creative Thinking toolkit I use in my participatory design practice. In the activity, folks are asked to brainstorm wishes (in this case, goals) that seem “normal.” Then, folks are asked to brainstorm more whimsical wishes/goals. These are goals that do not have to be tied to reality and are truly an exercise in imagination. The activity wraps up with the groups pairing a normal goal with a whimsical goal and looking for ways this can create a modified/amplified/innovative goal. When I used this with my department in our meeting, I saw more large scale programs being developed. I think these are the types of stretch goals that could be used to help push us throughout the year, even if we don’t fully implement this idea in 2023. 

At the end of the meeting, we had a myriad of potential goals. Now it’s my job to put those goals into a document, map them to our plate of work, and bring it back to the department for some prioritization. This prioritization will work concurrently as I meet with each individual in the department to finalize their 2023 librarianship goals. I’m hoping that once again this year we can tie departmental goals to individual work. I’m feeling excited about what goals were offered up by the team and cannot wait to see where we can take them in 2023. 

How does your department or unit decide on departmental goals? And how much do they tie to your own individual goals? Would love to hear your experiences in the comments of this post! 


Featured image by Possessed Photography on Unsplash

Learning to Teach Credit-Bearing Courses

One element that excited me about my current job was the opportunity to teach credit-bearing courses in our Library Informatics bachelor’s degree program. In my role as department head, I not only get the chance to teach and but also lead the program. For my first year, I mostly did the administrative work of leading a program. I worked with our advisor (one of our librarians in our department) to resolve student issues, coordinated our program assessment, set up our course rotation each semester, and assigned classes to the folks that report to me. My first year was really a chance to dive into the program, learn about its creation and context, and lead conversations with the department about the program’s future. It seems that my second year here has focused more on actually teaching the classes, something that excites me and also gives me a lot to think about.

My first chance to teach happened this past summer, where I co-taught LIN 175: Information Literacy, our general education course that covers the research process and gives students a look at research through an IL lens. We taught in a five-week, five days a week, two hours a day, synchronous format. I was able to learn the content, teach about ? of the class sessions, and work closely with the students enrolled. Their final project was a group poster (inspired by the better poster template introduced by Mike Morrison) on an IL related topic of their choice. This version of the class was also a heavy revision from ways the class had been taught previously; our team got together in May and reimagined how the content was introduced and created the final poster project. In many ways, our revisions worked well and the new structure kickstarted a lot of good discussion within the department about how we want this class to work. 

This fall, I had to pinch hit and teach a seven week, asynchronous version of LIN 175. I had never taught a credit course asynchronously before and relied on my department colleagues who let me look at their past syllabi and lurk in their Canvas shells. Teaching a seven week course was definitely eye opening. It was fast paced and pushed me to juggle my day-to-day job, creating content, and evaluating student work. Particularly, I ran into the following challenges and opportunities: 

  • Out of sight, out of mind. At first, I sort of forgot I was teaching an online class. I was involved in so many other projects and in-person activities that I had to actively remind myself there were students, online, waiting for my instruction and feedback. Like any other project, I had to find ways to build it into my to-do lists and my calendar.
  • Developing weekly content aka building the airplane while I was flying it. In general, I roll my eyes at the “building the airplane while we’re flying it” phrase, but it definitely was my experience this fall. Especially at the beginning of the course, I felt that the day before I “dropped” a new module, I was frantically recording lectures, organizing learning materials, and double checking the assignments were set up correctly. While I had a lot of the content from the summer class, there are vast differences between working with students daily, in-person, and having a student work online asynchronously. It’s not an easy transfer! It did get a little easier in terms of setting up modules as time went on, but it was anxiety inducing to start. 
  • How much content is too much content? With the in-person, five-week class, we had two hours each day to go through context, do activities, and learn the materials. I feel comfortable with lesson planning for two hours. I did not feel as confident designing asynchronous content. I still am learning what is reasonable/doable for a week’s worth of learning materials. I want to pick things that are relevant, engaging, and applicable to the students. I also want content that connects to each other and sets the stage for application assignments. Those assignments are really my only way to know if students have absorbed and learned the material, I don’t have the same in-person cues. I ended up with some good modules and I also made plenty of notes of how to improve content for future iterations of this class.  
  • Building connections with students. Something I’ve heard from both faculty who teach online courses and students who have taken online courses is that connecting with each other is tough. Just because I have students complete a reflection over VoiceThread doesn’t mean they connect with their peers or feel connected to me as their professor. I know there’s learning I need to do to better understand how to cultivate community in this time frame and virtual environment. In many ways, I feel like I’m VERY behind on this conversation after the pandemic (but look forward to reviewing all the content created in this time). 

When I submitted my grades on Monday afternoon, I felt a sense of relief. I did it! I don’t think I’ll teach this class, in this format, until the fall, so I have time to make some tweaks and build off what I learned the past seven weeks. For now, I’ll make a transition to preparing for a different seven-week class that starts in January. Wish me luck!


Featured image by Kelli Tungay on Unsplash