What Student Employees Have Taught Me

As a new librarian, and as someone who is new to working at a university, there’s a lot to learn. I’ve learned about some of the university’s history and how it affects day-to-day operations, the degree programs and course offerings, different colleges on campus, how each college has their own rules regarding faculty promotion and tenure, and the ebb and flow of different semester schedules. Then, there’s the current environment and culture of the campus. Much of what I’ve learned comes from faculty and staff who have been on campus for decades, and for that I’m grateful. They have the best insight into the political and structural nature of campus and faculty life; however, it’s the students and more specifically, student employees, in the library that provide the most holistic view of campus life and culture.

Before January, I worked 9-hour shifts on Saturdays with the same staff. It was always me, a supervisor at circulation, and a mix of student employees. Saturdays, especially over the summer, were slow. My main duty on Saturdays was to staff the research help desk in case we had any drop-in questions. There would sometimes be long stretches where no one would come by with a question, and if I had nothing else going on, I frequently found myself chatting with the student employees.

I do not supervise any students, so I don’t have any insights about what that’s like (others have though, and talk about supervising and mentorship). I do, however, think that our student employees are great, which is why below, in no particular order, I’m listing out what I’ve learned from student employees along the way.

Campus life and history

Did you know that Main Hall is haunted by past Jesuits? And that, if you ask very nicely, campus safety will take you on a tour of the building’s basement on Halloween so that you can experience the ghosts firsthand? This tidbit came up in a larger conversation about ghosts, and suddenly, I knew about every haunted building on campus. This is the interesting type of myth that students know. Campus history is passed down from one class of students to another, and I’m not privy to it unless a student is willing to share. Any fun fact I know about the university most likely came from a student employee.

Beyond myths and campus lore, students have very strong opinions about their classes, professors, and perceptions of leadership. I’ve learned about what classes were difficult and why in different departments. One student ranted very openly and honestly about being treated as a dollar sign by campus administration instead of as a student who was learning and making mistakes in classes. Student employees will give you an idea of the general mood and morale on campus, especially during exams.

Basically, if I want to know how students feel about new construction plans, the history of a particular spot on campus, or the perception of an assignment, I just have to ask.

Reminder of what being in college is like

An employee had recently moved to off-campus apartments and was talking about how difficult grocery shopping was. They had never gone grocery shopping on their own before, and talked about trying to get the right amount of food on a college budget. They had to start from scratch with spices and staples, and it felt overwhelming. Conversations about life and firsts are a good reminder that, yes, college students are adults, but many that we label as traditional, undergraduate students are learning how to be independent for the first time. Students are taking classes, but also figuring out how to manage their bills, divide their time and energy, and take care of their health. Many of our student workers are undergrads, so I get the new college student perspective most often; however, I’m often reminded that graduate students or undergraduates that do not fit under the traditional student mold face a set of challenges all their own. It can be easy to fall into a trap of getting frustrated with the student in the back of the class that isn’t paying attention to my well thought-out and incredibly important assignment, but conversations about daily life and struggles remind me that student lives and experiences are rich, complex, and diverse. I’m grateful any time a student employee is willing to share their experience with me.

Great sounding board for ideas

I sometimes have what I think is a great idea for library instruction, or I want to try something new for outreach. I’ve taken these ideas to student employees who have been generous with their time to provide feedback. Now that they know me better, student employees are very honest about their opinions and provide some of their own ideas that have been helpful. I appreciate student input in things I’m designing for students. We’ve also had student employees play test the escape rooms we’ve created for finals week, give feedback about our surveys, and in general, be the student voice in the activities and materials we create for the library. Of course, student employees aren’t necessarily representative of the entire student population, so we don’t rely on them for everything; however, employees are a great start for engaging with students in general.

Assistance with our projects

Most of our student employees have defined job roles, but they are sometimes excited to try new projects or learn about different aspects of the library. For instance, I was working with our digital content librarian to weed DVDs in my subject area. A student employee I know very well was in the area, and I knew that she was heavily involved with the literature and poetry community. She ended up looking through content relevant to her major so that we could seek her input into the collection as well. Another student employee recommended popular biology titles that we didn’t have for our collection that she thought other students would be interested in checking out. If I haven’t made this point clear yet, then I’d like to emphasize that student voices are valuable to library operations. We can guess what materials are most relevant to students, or we can ask for their input. Student employee involvement in collection development has taught me more about what’s popular in certain subject areas or what students might be interested to see in a collection. Having student employees involved in library projects brings me to my final point.

Potential future librarians

If you ask your colleagues about their first library job, many of them will talk about being employed in the library as a student. I’m not sure what percentage of librarians started as student workers, but I think it’s significant. Some of our student employees today might be librarians in the future. The way that we engage with student employees, the projects that we give them, and the perception that we share of the library may shape future librarians.

Student employees are valuable to libraries. They provide honest feedback, give insight to campus life and culture, and have interesting perspectives. Getting to know the student employees has been one of my favorite parts of being a new librarian. If you haven’t already, take the time to find out more about the student employees in your library. I think we all have something we can learn from them.

#ACRL2019 reflection: My first, large conference

Last week, I attended ACRL 2019, which was my first, major conference. I prepared for the conference by selecting anything that looked interesting on the app (everything looked interesting. Woops), reading through posts like Hailley’s, and talking to my my ACRL buddy that I was paired with. I’m still thinking through the panels and sessions I attended, and I’m using this post as an opportunity to reflect on my experience and prepare for my next conference.

Meeting new people

For me, the highlight of ACRL was meeting so many cool people. I’ve admired people from afar on Twitter, and this was the first opportunity I’ve had to meet them in person or attend their talks. I was able to have lunch with many of the people who write for this blog (thanks for putting that together, Maura!), and it was nice to put names and faces together. There was a #libparlor meetup one night, the reception at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, vendor parties, and informal opportunities to meet and talk with people after the conference was done for the day. Socializing during and after the conference was as valuable as attending the conference itself.

I also mentioned above that I was partnered with a librarian, Emilie, who answered my questions before the conference and then met up with me during the actual conference to check in and chat. For anyone who is attending their first, large conference, I highly recommend taking advantage of buddy programs because you’ll be paired with someone who has experience attending that conference. Emilie had great advice about choosing sessions, using the app, and finding special events at the conference. It was also an easy way to meet someone new who had similar job duties and interests as myself, and I hope we stay in touch.

In addition to meeting new people, I was able to catch up with old friends. With everyone spread out around the country, this was one of the few opportunities I had to see everyone.

Attending conference sessions

The main, and most obvious, reason that I attended ACRL was to hear from colleagues. I’m anxiously waiting for the panels and sessions I missed to be uploaded because it was impossible to attend everything. I also plan to read through some of the papers and view the posters that I missed at the conference. I chose my sessions based on topics, but also based on the people I wanted to hear from. some of the time slots were a bit weird, so I had to be careful about choosing sessions that didn’t overlap. I realized later in the conference that some people attend multiple sessions in the same time slot. I won’t go into detail about every panel or session that I attended, but there was something to take away from every conversation that I was a part of. I’ve started creating a list of action items I want to tackle over summer (and in the future) based on the panels and talks I attended. Attending sessions also allowed me to reconnect with people I’ve met in the past, sparked new ideas for research, and helped me identify gaps in my thinking or understanding. I’m sharing out what I’ve learned with my workplace as well.

Presenting work

I had a lightning talk accepted, so on Friday during the conference, I had five minutes to talk about my topic. Five minutes, it turns out, is not a lot of minutes. I’d given two lightning talks before, but was given more time. I’m a fast talker as it is, so I had to be very cognizant not to jam too much stuff into five minutes. I discussed connecting athletics and libraries (and if you’re interested in working with student-athletes too, I’d love to chat with you about it!), and my first challenge was to decide the points that I wanted to make. We were then supposed to make 20 slides, with each slide transitioning every 15 seconds. I spent a few hours practicing the talk, switching slides around, and making sure that there wasn’t too much content on each slide. The day of the talk, I was very nervous and had consumed too much coffee; however, I am told that the talk went well. As I mentioned, five minutes goes by fast, and I definitely zoned out and don’t remember what happened. I am thankful for friends and colleagues who showed up to the talk because it was easy to focus on them and their encouragement. I’d love to expand this topic out for a longer panel or session in future conferences.

Next steps

ACRL 2021 is going to come around faster than I think. In preparation, I’d like to get some of my own research together so that I can submit proposals for panels or papers. To do this, I plan to connect with people who can help me make that happen. There are some projects that I can do on my own, but some things are easier and more complete with collaboration.

I’m considering what I’ve learned from this conference and how I can apply it to my own work and workplace. I think that there’s a lot of projects that I can start over summer that are inspired by what I heard from others at the conference. I’m also talking to others about what I attended, thinking about what can apply to my own teaching, and finding more to read so that I can keep on learning. The #acrl2019 hashtag is still live on Twitter, so I’ll continue going through that and finding recommendations and resources from others.

Overall, this conference was a positive, though overwhelming, experience. I think I greatly benefited by attending, and I can’t wait to attend more conferences in the future.

The Benefits of Library Twitter

I first created a Twitter account back in 2008 because I heard that it was going to be A Thing. Back then, I used my account in a similar way I was using Facebook: to connect with people I already knew and talked to everyday. I also used it to chat with the Harry Potter fandom, but that’s a different story. My account sat mostly dormant after 2012 until I became a graduate assistant during library school. My supervisor, an awesome academic librarian, recommended that we jump on Twitter to connect with other library professionals and engage in chats.

I’d never used my personal social media account to enter professional conversations before. I started with #critlib chats, which is how I found librarians with ideas I really liked. I followed them, lurked for a bit, and then eventually started participating in conversations. Three years later, I’m following an awesome, robust network of librarians.

Is this a love letter to all of the wonderful and supportive librarians on Twitter? Kind of. But, for me, library Twitter has been a great source of professional development and collaboration with people who are far away from my geographic area. I wouldn’t know about the amazing work that’s being done if not for this platform.

I’ll also note that I’m not naive enough to think that this is a perfect space. There’s crap people who spout racist, sexist, and homophobic views (both in the library profession and outside of it). There’s people I don’t agree with and that I don’t like. Twitter, as a platform, has been criticized for not moderating its platform against hate. It is, by no means, a neutral space.

That said, there’s a lot of good things that come out of library Twitter that encourage learning, engagement, and entertainment. Here’s all of the ways librarians on Twitter have helped me in my first year as a professional librarian.

Staying connected with the profession

One of my favorite things about library Twitter is that everyone is constantly sharing their work, other people’s work, their ideas, what’s happening at conferences, and everything in between. It’s been a way to find out what important topics are cropping up and what issues we have as a profession. Is there an article that everyone’s talking about? I’ll probably find it on Twitter. Who cancelled Elsevier? I heard about this on Twitter before anywhere else. You can find calls for proposals, opportunities to collaborate on research, and a place to share your own stuff. I also follow conference hashtags, which has allowed me to 1. find out that the conference exists, and 2. know what’s being presented at that conference so I can decide if I want to go in the future. I like that this network exists so that I feel connected to everyone’s work and scholarship.

A place to solicit ideas and get recommendations

Over the past year, I’ve had a couple of ideas that I wasn’t sure how to execute. Enter library Twitter. I’ve asked for help with an instruction idea,

A tweet asking instruction librarians for their activities on creating research questions

wondered what conferences everyone attends,

A tweet asking library folks what conferences they are excited about attending

and asked a variety of other questions as well. People responded! It’s been immensely helpful to have a space where I can ask a question or for feedback outside of my workplace, and then crowdsource the answers. I’ve seen others ask work-related questions or promote their research and surveys, so dialogue between librarians is constantly happening in this space.

It’s not just academic librarians

I can get stuck in my little, academic bubble, so it’s nice to hear from librarians who work in different areas. There can be a lot of crossover between academic and public, federal and academic, or any combination of libraries. That’s easy to forget sometimes. I’m not only interested in where libraries intersect, but also where different types of libraries don’t crossover. There’s unique considerations and issues in each of our spaces. The library folks in areas outside of academia remind me of that.

Twitter chats

I mentioned Twitter chats above. There are a ton of chats out there that happen at a scheduled time with a selected topic. There’s #critlib, #LISProChat, #Medlibs, and a large list of other chats. There’s chats outside of the profession too. To participate, you show up at the scheduled time, follow the hashtag, and answer questions as they emerge from the moderator. It’s a fast-paced way to discuss an important topic. It’s how I’ve found people I want to follow, and I think it’s fun.

The fun stuff

Speaking of fun, library Twitter is fun. I’m going to ACRL next month, which I’ll write about next time, and I’m excited to meet some of the people I’ve talked to on Twitter. There’s also pictures of people’s pets, gifs galore, and fantasy baseball leagues. There’s spaces to rant, share accomplishments, and connect with one another.

At the end of the day, library Twitter is composed of people who are sharing pieces of their lives (the good and the bad). I’m happy to be a part of it.

You can follow me on Twitter @badgersssss

When do new librarians start publishing anyway?

Confession: I’m 10 months into my first job in an academic library and I haven’t published anything. I haven’t been on a conference panel, and I haven’t given a full length presentation about my research. I’m not tenure track, so there’s no pressure to publish or perish; but conducting research, presenting ideas, and publishing papers is something that I definitely want to do.

Here’s the thing. I have a lot of ideas, and I know some of my research interests. I think I’m fairly lucky in that regard because creating a research agendas isn’t easy. I feel as if I’m just now getting the hang of things in my day-to-day professional life (learning my job, how this university functions, billions of acronyms) and can start to consider my next steps in regards to research. I’m settling in and thinking about what I can do next.

I’m not sure when new academic librarians publish their first paper or give their first presentation. Is there a typical timeline? Is this something everyone should do within the first year? The second year? These questions are probably coming from the little place where my imposter syndrome lives, but I’d genuinely like to know the answer to this as well. I follow a lot of prolific librarians on Twitter, so it seems like everyone is publishing and presenting all of the time, or like they walked out of the womb with a CV full of citations. It’s hard not to compare myself to others.  

That said, I’m glad that there are resources like The Librarian Parlor out there that help demystify this process, or else I’d be super lost. It’s also a place that addresses some of my questions. A recent article by Allison Rand really stuck with me because she talks about how hard the process is and what her beginnings as a researcher looked like. I’m trying to take this quote of hers to heart: “don’t let your past professional experience (or inexperience) define your professional path.” It’s good to remember that what I do next isn’t necessarily defined by what I’ve done before.

I’ve taken a few baby steps towards publications and presentations. For one, I’ve been writing for this blog, which is a helpful way to gather my ideas and write for a larger audience (quite frankly, this can be scary). I’ve started research projects with colleagues in the field and am putting some proposals out in the world. Even having informal conversations about research with others has been useful. I’ve also given a few lightning talks. Lightning talks are a low stakes way to begin presenting because you only have to prepare a 5-7 minute talk about a specific topic. I can talk about almost anything for 5 minutes. I presented two lightning talks locally, and am excited that my most recent lightning talk proposal will be presented at ACRL in April. This talk, and others that I’ve given are a stepping stone to what I envision will be a much larger conversation and research topic in the future.

And, for any other new librarians out there who aren’t sure if they’re on the right track with research, presentations, and publications, I feel you. We weren’t taught how to navigate the publishing field, and we haven’t had a lot of practice creating research studies; however, if we keep talking to each other about our research, are transparent about where we are and how we are doing, we’ll get there in the end.

When did you first publish or present your research?

Taking Care of my Mental Health

It’s not LIS Mental Health Week, but I’ve been thinking about mental health since starting my job as a librarian. In academic libraries, we work with students who are dealing with their own mental health issues. In my first, full semester as a librarian, I saw a student break down after she found out she failed a class and would not graduate on time; I talked to a student over chat who told me they were on the verge of tears because they weren’t prepared to do research for their project; I spoke with countless students on the phone who felt overwhelmed; and I’ve had grad students in my office who didn’t actually need help with research, but really needed encouragement and validation that they were doing alright. Beyond the university population, many of us work with the public and face the same traumas and difficult situations as our public library colleagues (I’ll never forget the  drunk individual who crashed my library instruction when I was a grad student, which is a story for another day). I often feel completely unprepared, but I do my best to keep learning and supporting the individuals in my library.

This can take its toll, but for me, figuring out how to support individuals struggling with their mental health is just one part of the equation. I also have my own mental health, including fear of inadequacy that will probably never go away, that I’m trying to take care of. I can only speak to my own experiences with things like panic attacks as a young adult, which disappeared after college, but came back during graduate school; or of lying awake at night, remembering everything I’ve ever done wrong and wondering why I’m the worst. Library school wasn’t the greatest time for my mental health, and studies have found that graduate students struggle with mental health issues at higher rates than the general population. I was worried and stressed out by a lot of things;  I worried I was inadequate, that I wouldn’t get a job, that I wasn’t doing enough, and that I would drown in my debt. I got sick and injured and fretted about healthcare. I cried a lot.

When I graduated and got a job, a lot of stress disappeared, but my mental health didn’t magically resolve itself. I found new things to worry about, which I imagine a lot of new professionals struggle with as well. It’s things like figuring out the politics people are playing, trying to gain the respect of your peers, unfamiliarity with tasks and processes that you’re now in charge of, paying back student loans, figuring out how to publish, starting a workplace revolution, wondering if you should be on more committees or in more organizations, and (at least for me) worrying if people even like you. I’ll also acknowledge that I’m a white female in a profession dominated by people that look like me. Librarians from diverse backgrounds have to navigate work spaces that uphold whiteness and engage in practices that are detrimental to their mental health, which is an added layer of crap some new professionals have to deal with. It’s easy to get stuck in a cycle of spiraling, negative thoughts that are difficult to interrupt.

For my own mental health, I decided to find a therapist. For the first time in a few years, I had stable healthcare. Unfortunately, I know that good healthcare is as a luxury in this country. It’s expensive, and it’s not accessible for a lot of people. When you do get things like sick days or time off, people can feel guilty using it. I also found out that I had my own stigma towards therapy. A lot of therapists in the area talked about helping those who were at a crisis point, and I didn’t feel like I was having a crisis. I started thinking that I didn’t really need a therapist, that I just needed to get out of my own head and sort myself out. Luckily, my fiance pushed me to find someone, and I requested an appointment with a therapist near me.

Having never gone to therapy, I didn’t know what to expect. I was super nervous to talk to a stranger about my feelings because I didn’t like acknowledging my own feelings in the first place. Now that I’ve been going to my therapist for a few months, I’m so happy that I contacted her. We get along really well, which is important in a therapeutic relationship. I’ve heard that some people have to visit a few therapists before they click with someone, and that’s totally normal.

The biggest thing my therapist has done for me is validated my feelings. Yes, it’s totally normal that I’m angry or upset about a situation at work. Anyone would feel that way! Academia is a weird place, and it’s fine to find things confusing. I’m allowed to feel stressed or scared or overwhelmed about things that happen to or around me. I just have to figure out how I want to respond to my feelings and the situation. She’s given me underlying theories about why people behave in certain ways, the evolution of emotions, interpersonal effectiveness, and the values we hold. I’ve been given strategies and homework to work on whatever I want to work on. Therapy has helped me feel less anxious and stressed, and given me the opportunity to explore who I am, what I value, and who I want to become.

Besides therapy, I try and make time to hang out with people I love. I ski and run and water plants and bring my dog to cool dog parks. I know other people who craft, learn new skills, read books, listen to music, and do whatever else makes them happy. Finding hobbies and doing things we enjoy are vital to good mental health. I hope that other new professionals find ways to take care of themselves, whether that’s through therapy or partaking in activities that relax them. This is the beginning of what is, hopefully, a long career.

How do you take care of your mental health?