Supporting Each Other as Librarian Researchers

We’re at an interesting stage in the library where I work. Retirements and folks moving on to other opportunities have meant that we’ve done a fair amount of hiring over the past almost-five years. The result is that right now we have more untenured library faculty than tenured, and most of our tenured library faculty are interested in seeking promotion in the future. With so many research-active librarians (myself included!), I’ve been thinking a lot about how best to support us all in our scholarly goals. We’re all at different stages in our scholarly work, some beginning to develop a research agenda, and others immersed in long-term projects; some of us working individually, and others in collaboration with colleagues in and outside our library, at our institution and others.

I’ve been interested to read about Angie’s and Hailley’s experiences at the Institute for Research Design in Librarianship, which have provided lots of food for thought about how to integrate research into our work as academic librarians. At my university we’re fortunate that library faculty have research leave available for the first 5 years of their tenure track (as do faculty in other departments), and all librarians have a fairly generous annual leave allocation and can apply for additional research time as well. While library faculty are on 12-month contracts and still don’t have as much time for their research as do faculty in other departments, the various forms of leave are super important for making progress on our scholarship.

Even with our leave, it can be a challenge to develop and sustain our research in practice. Over the summer I spent some time talking with my colleagues in small groups of folks who are at roughly the same point in their tenure or promotion track, chatting over coffee about what kinds of support they’re most interested in, and thinking on ways we might all support each other. Collectively our research is topically diverse: some of us work primarily in LIS, others outside of LIS, and some do both. We’re a small library — including me, we have 13 library faculty right now — and, combined with our varying degrees of experience in scholarly research, we’re in a good position to mentor each other both collaboratively as well as individually.

It’s been terrific to see the informal mentoring and support we’re all giving each other at the library where I work, and I’m actively working on ways we can keep that going and add more structure. Each week over the summer I blocked two hours in our library classroom for what we’re calling reading-writing-research coworking. Scholarly work can be lonely work, and while it’s expected that we’ll do our scholarship off-campus while on those various forms of leave, we wanted to make some space for that work together in the library as well. Everyone’s schedule is different, and of course folks were out for vacation over the summer, too, but we held that space and time every week for whomever was around and available (myself included!) to come in and get some work done on their research.

With the busy semester starting up soon (and our library classroom needed for instruction) we will probably reduce the coworking timeslots to once or twice a month, and I’m thinking on other opportunities for support. Earlier in the summer I pulled together an annotated list of research-focused resources, including long-time favorites like A Library Writer’s Blog and relative newcomer The Librarian Parlor, just to name two. I’ve shared this with my colleagues and left it open for editing so that we can continue to add to it. During our summer group chats I also heard that more informal opportunities for research conversations would be welcome, so I’m hoping to schedule some time for coffee and cookies and research conversations a few times during the upcoming semester, too. And I’ll keep asking my colleagues what they need to support their research; in my experience it’s completely normal for a research agenda and practice to evolve over time, and I expect we’ll need to change or add to our scholarly support strategies over time, too.

What are your best practices for supporting librarian research? Drop us a line in the comments and let us know.

Seeking First Year Academic Librarian Bloggers

With the new academic year coming up soon (or perhaps, for some, already begun!), we’re looking to bring on a few new bloggers here at ACRLog. We’d like to thank our 2018-2019 FYAL bloggers Melissa DeWitt and Zoë McLaughlin for their terrific posts this past year in our First Year Academic Librarian Experience series. We’d also like to encourage new academic librarians — those who are just beginning in their first position at an academic library — to blog with us during their first year.

FYAL bloggers typically publish posts monthly during the academic year. If you’re interested in applying to be a FYAL blogger for 2019-2020 here at ACRLog, applications are due by Saturday, September 7, 2019. Send an email to msmale@citytech.cuny.edu that includes:

– a sample blog post
– a brief note describing your job and your interest in blogging at ACRLog

Proposals are evaluated by the ACRLog blog team. When selecting FYAL bloggers we consider:

  • Diversity of race/ethnicity/sexual orientation/ability
  • Voices from a range of academic institutions (for example, community colleges, research universities, etc.) and job responsibilities within academic libraries (for example, instruction, cataloging, scholarly communications, etc.)
  • Clear and compelling writing style
  • Connection between day-to-day work and bigger conversations around theory, practice, criticism, LIS education, and other issues

Please send any questions to msmale@citytech.cuny.edu. We’re looking forward to hearing from you!

Falling Off, Getting Back On

I can’t be the only person in academia who heads into summer thinking of new year’s resolutions. I’d guess that the lure of making resolutions at multiple points in the calendar year is kind of an occupational hazard for resolution-inclined folks who work in higher education. Our workload and responsibilities can shift fairly dramatically between the regular semesters and the summer (or other intersessions), and in that transition from one to the other it’s tempting to pause and take stock of how things are going and what we might want to change.

I have once again fallen off my almost-daily-writing-practice wagon, and it is time for me to get back on.

I do have a (mostly) consistent habit of taking about 45 minutes each morning as research time at home before I head into work. That length and timeslot aligns well with my family’s schedule for now — my brain works best on research-related tasks in the morning — though that might change in the fall when school starts up again. While 45 minutes is not an enormous amount of time, applied (week)daily it does move my projects forward. I try my best to protect this time for myself, though during particularly busy times in the semester it’s easy to let other work tasks expand to fill this space, easy to let myself be convinced that it’s more important to use this time to catch up on other work than to focus on my research.

The current state of my research and writing projects typically determines how I use that morning time, so even when I’m consistently spending 45 minutes it’s often not 45 minutes of writing. I might be analyzing data for a research project, reading and taking notes on sources, managing citations, or thinking through an IRB application or research questions. That time is still useful, but it’s not the same as time used specifically for writing. Writing is different. Writing is hard. And the more I write, the slightly-more-easily writing comes to me (though full disclosure: it’s still challenging).

Falling off and getting back on the almost-daily-writing wagon is something I’ve done so many times in the decade plus since I’ve been an academic librarian, and in a way it gets easier every time. It’s true that during busy times it’s easy to fall off — when my day is more meetings than not and ends with a to-do list that’s longer than when the day began, taking any time at all for writing can feel like an insurmountable goal. But it’s also true that it’s getting easier to dust myself off without judging myself too harshly for the fall, and to climb on back up. It’s 100% completely normal to fall off the writing wagon, and that wagon will always stop to let me jump back on and begin again.

Scrolling through Twitter this week I noticed a few fellow academics committing to writing for 15 minutes each day, and that feels like an achievable, worthwhile goal to me as I settle back into my seat on this wagon. There are plenty of seats — consider climbing up with me if you’re so inclined.

When Busy Leads to Block

I had an idea for my post this week, and came to work this morning thinking it would be relatively easy to get the words on the page (type the letters on the screen). I’m working on revisions right now for a chapter for a book about service and identity in academic librarianship and, somewhat ironically, I have a heavier-than-usual college service commitment this semester. I’m super, super, super busy, and have service on my mind, so I thought I’d write a few paragraphs about service outside the library and how that impacts my work inside the library.

Except that whoops, I’ve already done a lot of writing about service here, apparently: this post from almost a decade (!) ago, and another from a couple of years later, and one even more recently after I’d taken my current position a director. Between those posts and the chapter I’m working on, I think I’m fresh out of service-related ideas for this post.

So what now? What do we do with blogger’s block? Perhaps less formal than writer’s block, blogger’s block is most definitely A Real Thing, and I’d guess many folks suffer from it from time to time. I’ve tried various strategies to counter my bouts of blogger’s block in the past:

  • Reading! This is old faithful advice that I’ve found usually works: the more I read, the more I find to write about. I (still!) have an RSS feed of library and higher ed blogs that I follow, and I try to keep up with library and higher ed news media as well.
  • Twitter! Melissa’s post last week was a great primer on the benefits of Twitter, where there’s a robust library and higher ed community sharing and discussing information and news. Despite the very real problems with the platform, I’ve stayed on Twitter because I do find value in being able to interact with friends and colleagues, and to listen and learn from librarians, academics, and others.
  • Research! Often there are aspects of whatever research projects I’m working on that can serve as inspiration for blog posts. I’ve also found that blogging about my research can be useful as a way to work out my initial thoughts and ideas before sharing results in a more formal way at conferences or in publications.
  • A List! I’ve sometimes kept a list of possible topic ideas, many of them half-baked (if that!), and returned to the list periodically to see if anything catches my eye. This strategy works best for ideas that are less time-sensitive (says the person who is just realizing that she hasn’t looked at her list in a while).
  • Work Stuff! Not unexpectedly, the main source of inspiration for my posts here at ACRLog is what’s happening in my job (and associated work responsibilities). Similar to research, sometimes blogging about job-related ideas, questions, or concerns is useful for figuring them out, and I’ve gotten lots of great suggestions from commenters as well.

Right now I think my main problem is that I’ve been too busy to rely on my usual strategies, unfortunately. But listing them out here reminds me that they exist (because my busy brain has a hard time remembering that), so I’ll for sure be in much better shape when it’s time to write my next blog post.

Digital Musings on the High School to College Transition

This year my kid is a senior in high school, and we’ve spent the past month recuperating from the flurry of college application activity last fall. As should not be a surprise, college admissions have changed lots since I applied to colleges in the pre-internet era, though I somehow still found parts of the process surprising.

It’s 2019, so of course all colleges use online applications. All of the schools my kid applied to accepted one of the common applications, which allow applicants to use one platform to submit the same application to multiple schools. My kid took the SAT and several subject tests, which required registering and sending scores to colleges via the College Board’s website. We were also required by his high school to use an online platform to manage their part of the application process — sending teacher recommendations and transcripts — by linking up that platform to the common application platform. And don’t even get me started on the FAFSA.

There are about 1,500 students in my kid’s senior class, and four (4!) guidance counselors. He attends one of New York City’s public specialized high schools and lots of students apply to selective schools, each of which require additional essays, video uploads, or other materials. Throughout this whole process last fall — which we were fortunate to be able to complete in our apartment where we have broadband internet access and laptops — I could not stop thinking about all of the kids in his school who don’t have that kind of access. They’re filling out college applications in the school library, the public library, maybe at their parents’ workplaces. They may have questions; they definitely have questions, it’s a complicated process on platforms that are not always intuitive to use, and they might have to make several appointments with counselors to have their questions answered.

Throughout my kid’s high school years I’ve thought about the digital divide. The classes he’s taken have required multiple accounts on multiple online systems, some provided by the NYC Dept of Education, some homework systems offered by other entities, and of course the everpresent Google for his high school email account. From talking with other parents in and outside of NYC it seems like most K-12 students are required to use multiple different digital platforms throughout their schooling. In our experience there has been little guidance or training for students or parents on how to use these systems, and no way to opt out of their use.

While I’m concerned with digital literacy, and the assumptions that the persistent “digital native” trope encourages us to make about how students use these required platforms, I’m also concerned about data privacy. My kid’s high school and all of these various college application systems have so much information about him and created by him. Each college he applied to required him to set up an account on their system to communicate admissions decisions. How many schools — primary through higher ed — have digital information about students who are no longer enrolled or perhaps won’t even be admitted? Yes, educational institutions retained student (or prospective student) data in the past, but file cabinets full of paper applications in an admissions office don’t have the same information security implications as a digital database.

While it’s certainly been cathartic for me to write out my frustrations, how does this connect to libraries? I continue to keep in mind our students’ experiences with technologies, remembering that they’ve likely had varying exposure to training on digital platforms for school use, as well as varying access to the technology needed to use those platforms. Not every student has a computer with broadband internet access at home. It also feels ever more urgent to me for libraries to strengthen our data privacy practices, a huge issue that we don’t have complete control over, with so many of our digital platforms controlled by vendors. I’m cheered that there are librarians and others doing great work on data privacy issues, including the National Web Privacy Forum (which I was fortunate to participate in), focusing on how we might protect patrons from third-party tracking, and the Data Doubles project, which is examining students’ perspectives on data collection by libraries and institutions of higher ed. I’m looking forward to digging into the results of this work as these projects progress. And in the meantime, perhaps I’ll work with my kid to see what data we might delete from all of these systems once he no longer needs them to have it.