Emerging as a Community-Engaged Librarian: Reflections on the Emerging Engagement Scholars Workshop

Context of the workshop

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to participate in the Emerging Engagement Scholars Workshop (EESW), sponsored by the Engagement Scholarship Consortium. This workshop is meant for PhD students and junior faculty who consider themselves engaged scholars or aspire to be engaged scholars. For those who don’t know about engaged scholarship, just look up Ernest Boyer, he’s the guy around this topic. At its core, engaged scholarship is about academia collaborating with the local community to share and leverage expertise and ultimately, make social change.

The workshop is meant to give participants an inside scoop on the history and current context of the field, connect them with their peers and mentors, and in general, get jazzed around doing community engaged scholarship. All workshop participants brought in a community project, and we had several hours of dedicated mentor time to talk through these projects and make some strides forward. I decided to explore building a community of practice for the undergraduate interns at our library (more on that later).

I have been wanting to participate in this workshop for a few years now, mainly based on a recommendation from my graduate school mentor, Martin Wolske.  I’d say Martin was the one who showed me what community engaged scholarship could like for librarians. He did that through his day-to-day work as a community member and librarian and by bringing me on as a Community Ambassador for the grant, Digital Literacy for ALL Learners, where community-engaged scholarship was the first outside the class thing I did in graduate school.

Overall, the workshop, and corresponding conference, was great. I did learn a lot, found some new language to talk about my job, and connected with new people. While I made an initial stab at my thoughts post workshop on Twitter, below is an expanded version of what I took away from participating in EESW.

Questions of identity

The workshop was billed as a space for PhD students and junior faculty (me). PhD students outnumbered junior faculty at least 2-1, which was not usually the case at previous iterations of this workshop. I was also the only librarian at the workshop, which meant I got to have a lot of conversations about what I do and why I was a participant with EESW.

At times I felt a little out of place. As with any space where you’re the sole librarian, there are questions about what we’re doing in that academic space. Do we actually do scholarship? What does an LIS research agenda look like? Can we really achieve tenure? As expected, talking about my faculty status, my ability to achieve tenure, and my research interests was the way in, and I definitely opened up some eyes. I will say that this space was incredibly welcoming; I had thoughtful peers who wanted to ask questions about my job and share experiences they have had with their subject librarians. My assigned mentor, Diane Doberneck, was also amazing. She’s doing great work at Michigan State and had such insightful feedback for my project around building a community of practice.

This workshop also reminded me that I do know a lot, more than I give myself credit. For example, we spent one section of the workshop talking about the tenure process and how to write about engaged scholarship in your dossier. While some PhD students had never discussed what tenure looks like, I felt prepared for the conversations and actually made good strides on my dossier (draft due soon!). Or, in one of our mentoring sessions, we talked about frameworks that supported our community projects and I was able to share reading suggestions (like Dorothea Kleine’s Choice Framework and Kimberlé Crenshaw’s many articles on intersectionality). In those moments, I felt like a librarian, passing along information, while also showcasing a bit of my expertise.   

Where do I want to go? And why am I doing this work?

As the workshop progressed, a few questions kept popping up for me. The first was, “Where do I want to go with this work?” And that question was quickly followed by “Why am I doing this work?”

Bottomline, I want to be a community-engaged librarian scholar. In learning about librarianship, it has always been in relation to communities – the community of Mt. Horeb, Wisconsin, New York City, Urbana, IL, and now, Penn State. As a librarian, I do my job better when I listen, include, leverage, and support communities. Decisions about services, resources, and programs should be made with the community, not on behalf of the community. Communities can be vibrant, complex, come with a lot of baggage, embrace a rich history and traditions, or be ready for change. I love discovering all those threads as a librarian.

Furthermore, I see community engaged scholarship as a foundation of my research agenda. The work I’ve been doing as the Student Engagement Librarian has been building relationships, getting to know the various communities I engage with; these relationships will allow us to conduct meaningful research. To be a community-engaged librarian scholar means that understanding and working with communities not only drive forward my day-to-day, but influence and shape my research. Everything I do should be in service to or connected to the communities.

Finding the language and lingo

Recently, as my second-year tenure documentation due date looms, I’ve been low key freaking out. Some of the freak out was due to the me wanting to be intentional about how I build my dossier and the words I use to describe my work. I wanted to paint of picture that both my tenure colleagues AND my non-librarian colleagues can understand. This pressure, totally put on by myself, stopped me cold from getting some of that legwork for my dossier completed.

This workshop was exactly the push I needed to think about that language again. Our pre-readings and then workshop conversations highlighted how I could use community-engaged scholarship lingo to describe my work. I am grounded in community, and for me, I define and work mainly with communities connected to Penn State – undergraduate students, library student employees, undergraduate and student affairs professionals, and my Commonwealth library colleagues. I am hoping framing my work through a community engaged scholarship lens will resonate with others (we shall see!).  

What’s next?

Well, I have emerged as an engaged (librarian) scholar. I’m glad I had the opportunity to participate in the workshop and know those conversations will stick with me for the next few months. I would encourage others to consider applying and attending this workshop, especially for those who work closely with communities, in academia or with the local community. Does anyone else do engaged scholarship at your institution and if so, what does it look like? I’m always trying to find more community engaged librarians!  


Featured image by Park Troopers on Unsplash

Let It Go: A Non-Frozen Story

Editor’s Note: We welcome Hailley Fargo to the ACRLog team. Hailley is the Student Engagement & Outreach Librarian at Penn State University, University Park campus. Her research interests include peer-to-peer services in academic libraries, critical librarianship, digital and information literacy, outreach, and undergraduate research.

I’ve always had a hard time letting things go. I remember when I was in high school, I was the Student Council (Stuco) president. I got elected as a junior and ran for re-election as a senior. At the time, it was unheard of for someone to be the Stuco president twice. In those two years, I got a lot done, put a lot of things in place, and documented the heck out of what I did (I was using binders before Leslie Knope). I was proud of what we were able to accomplish and was so excited to see where my predecessor would take the group next.

When I came back from my first year in college, my younger brother (who was still in Stuco) filled me in on what had been happening. My predecessor hadn’t followed any of the documentation and took the organization in a completely different direction. I got physically worked up, annoyed and frustrated that all I had done was for nothing. My mom, who always had the right things to say, told me, “Hailley, you need to let this go. You did your best and you don’t have any control over what happens after you. And that’s okay.”

While I reluctantly agreed at the time, I still have a hard time letting projects go, especially the ones I invest a lot of time in. I’ve spent almost 10 years trying to be better at this skill, and I can’t say with full confidence I’ve got remarkably better. This story is all leading up to the fact that even though I had to give up projects when I left graduate school, I had this weird idea that projects in my professional life might be different. That I might be able to hold onto everything I created, organized, and ran.

Boy, I was in for a surprise. Just like high school student council and graduate school, priorities change. People change. Job descriptions evolve. You might spend months or years working on an idea or writing in niche and then, suddenly, you stop doing that. You change directions and move on. Sometimes you ask other folks to step in, to take it forward, other times the project ceases to exist, and sometimes you don’t get the choice and the project is given away. This task of letting projects go doesn’t stop just because you’re not in school anymore. And unlike the luxury of graduating (and therefore moving on to a new location), in your professional life, you might have to watch your project evolve right in front of your eyes. For someone who has a hard time letting things go, this can be tough (and a time suck).

With two years at Penn State under my belt, I’ve had to give up a few projects. My job position has changed, as well as some of my priorities for the job I’m currently in. I can’t say it has been the easiest process for me, but I’ve had good bosses to help me navigate this new terrain. In conversations with them, they have reminded me that when you give up a project, it should be able to be carried on without you. You want to have created a project that people can get fired up about, and have left the project in such a way that folks feel empowered to make it their own. I just have to stop letting my perfectionism get in the way of their work once I hand over the reins. I’ve also been lucky in the fact that I’ve had plenty on my plate, so giving up a project is tough, but does open the door for me to devote my time on something new.

Recently, I’ve felt myself go back into my old habit of getting all worked up about a project I’ve given up. In some deep reflection (and channeling my mom), I came to a realization about projects like these. At the end of the day, projects are just made up a bunch of ideas strung together. These ideas might be connected by a vision, by a context or history, or by a person with some serious spunk. Ideally you want a project that reflects, builds, connects, and responds to the context but ultimately you want a vision to drive those ideas forward. A vision you can pass on, a person, on the other hand, is a little harder to pass on. As I think about the leader I want to be, I need to make sure I’m creating projects that have a vision and don’t need me to be successful. I have to find ways to set up that framework, and trust my colleagues they can take the project where it needs to go. When I spin projects that way, it opens up the possibility of me using some of my best strengths — organization, documentation, and intentionality. So, in theory, it becomes a win-win for everyone? I sure hope so.

I also think what my mom was getting at was that I was spending too much time and energy worrying about a project I no longer have control over. Time and energy that could be spent in better ways, working on new projects, spending time with new people coming up with new ideas, and in general, not working myself up into a tizzy. There are only so many hours in the day to work on these projects. The more time I waste spinning my wheels, the fewer opportunities I get to do the work currently on my plate. It’s a lesson that I’ll still be learning today, tomorrow, and next year. But I’ll keep trying to just let it go.

Do you have a hard time letting go of projects you start? Do you have any good strategies for dealing with this sort of change? Comment on this blog post and let us know!   


Featured image by Jon Tyson on Unsplash