More Media, Less Social

As the year comes to a close, I’m seeing more and more people and organizations leave Twitter behind. This is not a new trend by any means — many deactivated their accounts after the 2016 U.S. presidential election, and the increase in hate speech and harassment has only escalated since then (especially since the platform’s purchase late last year and name change earlier this year). I do still have an account on Xitter (as the kids say), though I’ve stopped posting and solely retweet announcements from my place of work and other librarian and academic organizations.

It’s silly, frivolous, I’m not even sure what adjective to use to describe how strange I’ve found it that I’m feeling sad about Twitter’s demise. Not engaging substantially with the platform is an easy decision, but I’ll admit that it’s left a hole in my social media landscape that’s difficult to fill. 

I miss the early-mid-twenty-teens Twitter. I miss following librarians from all over who worked at all kinds of libraries, and reading about what’s happening in those libraries and places. I miss following academics across the disciplines, learning what kinds of digital research and scholarship was going on throughout higher ed, and sharing experiences with and concerns about educational technology (to name a few of my interests). I miss listening to and learning from BIPOC folx doing antioppression work, opportunities that strengthened my own commitment to antiracism and abolitionist practice. I miss being able to post about jobs at my institution, and answering questions from interested folx. I miss conference Twitter, when robust conversations happened on the front and back channels, when I could learn about what was presented at a conference even if I wasn’t actually at that conference. I miss the IRL conference meetups arranged using Twitter, and the opportunities to continue these library (and nonlibrary) conversations long after we all left the convention center.

And I miss the conversations around ACRLog posts, too. The ACRLog blogteam had noticed comments on our posts declining through the twenty-teens as discussion on Twitter became more active. But with fewer librarians on Twitter, there’s less discussion, too.

Since pulling back from Twitter I’ve created accounts (or started using accounts I’d let sit dormant) on a few other platforms. I have a Mastodon account, but I still struggle with finding folx on other instances. I have a Bluesky account, which seems to be most Twitter-like right now in both features and the folx there, but I’m wary about another social media platform started by the guy who started Twitter. I spend more time on LinkedIn, an account I’ve had since the late twenty-aughts, but that’s so job-focused; I do miss the social aspect of social media on that platform. I deleted my Facebook account in 2011, and I’m not going to create any accounts on the Meta platforms (as much as Instagram is tempting!).

Back in the day I used to say that I only had the time and attention for one social media platform, and that was Twitter. Now I have accounts on four platforms, but there are still folx who I don’t follow anywhere because they left Twitter for other places or ditched social media entirely (which I can’t fault anyone for!). As frivolous as it is, I miss Twitter.

Communication Successes and Challenges

As the semester winds down to a close, I’m finding myself thinking often about communication within our libraries. Like many colleges and universities, mine is still firmly in a hybrid work mode — on any given weekday we have some library personnel working onsite in the library, and others working remotely. Since this is my first semester in my new position I’ve been spending a lot of time in face to face and online meetings with colleagues, but as I’m settling in I’m thinking more about how we all communicate with each other, and ways for us to feel connected to one another and reduce the barriers in our work.

This month I’m the ACRLog blogteam collaborative post coordinator, and I’m wondering about how we all communicate at the different libraries and institutions where we work. What’s been effective and successful? What still needs some refining?

Angie: As Maura knows, *I* *am* *always* thinking about communication, both theoretical and practical. So I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to collaborate on this topic. Almost a year to the month before COVID changed our work dramatically, I wrote this post (mission statement?) on how I understand communication and work in libraries.  

Still rings true — maybe more so — in a post-pandemic work environment. The short of it calls for an intentionality we may take for granted when experiencing work the same way – onsite or remote.  


The first communication hurdle I hoped to solve returning to a hybrid work environment was making schedules more transparent. Right? I’ve found any and all ways one can communicate their particular schedule definitely worth the effort. I used to be the first to call out these extra, sometimes duplicate approaches as inefficient. Now I realize how fundamental their role is to whether communication happens at all. 

Some practical examples include physical IN/OUT cubicle signs. I created these and have used them for years at my office. The email signature is another opportunity some use to share onsite vs remote day. This creates visible and regular reminders through something you use everyday, as well as a subtle model for your recipient. My department also uses MS Outlook’s “Work Time” Settings and “Working Remote” free/busy status. As a department head, this makes it way easier to see everyone’s differences at a glance, plan for in person meetings or celebrations, and assess for schedule adjustments that may be needed. Harder to get library-wide adoption on this one, but baby steps!

Observing my own overreliance on email communication since working remotely, I try to build simple intentionality by starting emails with a greeting and gratitude. Like “Hi, Angie. Thanks for doing this.” Yes, I have to intentionally remind myself to do this. I learned this working with folks on this blog team and others in my library for whom this comes naturally (or else struggle, but remember). While “This meeting could have been an email” remains relevant, there is also benefit to flipping this adage around on the regular. Now when I’m inclined to email, I ask myself if there is a better opportunity to connect in this communication in person.

 

I still sometimes wish face to face communication could be thought, typed, backspaced, cut, rearranged and sent as fluently and coherently as an email – or this blog. But the more intentionally I seek connection and dialogue through all types of communication, the less often it tends to feel like a jerky dance of mouth words, awkward pauses, and apologies. 

Hailley: As a department head, I’m frequently thinking about how I communicate with my team. We have a Teams group for the department, which functions for throughout the day chats and information sharing that feels too informal for an email. Sending a Teams message is definitely the quickest way to get a hold of me; I try hard to not have email up unless I’m actively sending emails. I send emails to the department for more formal purposes and it usually involves providing updates, reminders, and next steps. If possible, I try to gather several things I want to share before I send out an email. Recently, I’ve noticed that I started to use more headers and formatting in these emails, in the same ways I use headers in other types of documents. Helps me ensure I share all the information I want to share and hopefully it allows for easier reading from the people receiving it. 

Two other miscellaneous thoughts related to communication: 1) timing is important! Everyone has different gaps in their days/weeks and that is often when big emails go out. However, for some folks, receiving an email late in the day or close to the weekend can be stressful. Sometimes that timing is unavoidable, but I try to think strategically about when I’m sending things out. 2) I just finished reading Remote Work Revolution: Succeeding from Anywhere by Tsedal Neeley. She provides some useful tips and pointers about communicating across hybrid and remote teams. I’m still mulling the book over but it was definitely a good way for me to reflect on my own communication style! 

Maura: What we’re doing now is, I imagine, similar to how many libraries are communicating internally. Our institution uses the Microsoft suite and we in the Library use Outlook for shared calendaring. My colleagues and I each try to keep our own calendars up to date, and we have 3 shared calendars: planned vacation or other absences, remote workdays, and the reference desk schedule. I also put my institutional meetings on the shared calendar so that everyone knows when I’ll next meet with the Provost or the university’s library leadership. Our shared calendaring is working fairly well, and while Outlook is not my personal favorite it does have the advantage of being a system that all of us have access to both onsite and remotely.

Where I think we could use some discussion and perhaps change is for sharing files and communicating electronically. For filesharing we’ve got a shared drive that’s only accessible onsite or via VPN, Sharepoint via our institutional Microsoft suite, and the ever-present Google docs which many of us use with our personal Google accounts (we don’t have an institutional license). The shift from the shared drive to Sharepoint was well underway when I got here and I suspect will continue fairly organically. But Google is trickier — many (most?) of us have used Google docs heavily for years: outside of work, in our research, or (in my case, at least) at previous jobs. It’s hard to disinvest from the Googleverse, even if we know we should.

Electronic communication is the one I’m struggling most with right now. We have email, of course, and there is a Slack instance with multiple channels that all library faculty and staff have access to though not everyone uses. I’ve been thinking about Teams — again, not my personal favorite (I find the interface to be much less intuitive than other platforms), but my primary goal is to find a way for us to communicate that isn’t as overwhelming (for some) as email or as separate from institutional platforms as Slack. I’m happy to conform to whatever all of us decide on — it’s my strong belief that while we’ll never find one platform that everyone prefers, if we can find something that’s good enough *and* make sure that everyone is trained and supported in it’s use, that’s a reasonable goal.

Alex: We have a few different things going on as far as knowing who is where in this hybrid set-up we’ve had for two and a half years. The staff who cover the service desk have a set schedule that’s mostly in-person, but they each have their time to work at home. There is a group of three librarians who rotate being the in-person “manager,” which just helps everyone to know that (1) there is a librarian there every day, and (2) which one it is. We print a copy of the monthly schedule for us three and stick it to the service desk for quick reference, but it’s also on the shared Outlook calendar. That calendar was already in place in the before times, to share library closures and everyone’s time off (to reduce the number of “is Alex working today?” emails). There are a few other individuals with their own hybrid schedule, and those are on the shared Outlook calendar too. Most of them work with in-person things like interlibrary loan and the 3D printer, so this helps us know when we might expect those things to take place. Some people are still 100% working from home, so they aren’t listed on the shared calendar except for their days off. Beyond Outlook, we are a Teams institution, although some people dislike Teams enough that you’re better off emailing those individuals. We have an unspoken but ubiquitous assumption that everyone actively checks their email throughout their workday. So even our communication is pretty hybrid: email and Teams combo is usually all we need. We are also a Sharepoint institution, although I don’t think I’ve ever used that among my campus library colleagues, only with the wider institution.

Maura: Many thanks to my blogteam colleagues for all of this useful detail on communication in our workspaces! After the winter break I’m hoping to convene a communications working group of library faculty and staff, full-time and part-time, and I will probably recommend that they begin by reading this post. And we’d love to hear from readers in the comments — what’s working/not working in communication at your workplace?

Committing and Recommitting to Open

This semester I’ve had a few opportunities to think and talk through my librarian and pre-librarian work, and especially my commitment to open scholarship and teaching. First I was delighted to welcome the graduate students from across the disciplines who are working with my smart library colleagues to develop OER in our open knowledge fellowship this semester. And a few weeks later I was a guest in the Foundations of Information course which is required for Masters students in Pratt Institute’s School of Information. Funnily enough, I wrote about open access publishing in my very first post on ACRLog back in 2008. Revisiting that post was clarifying — it’s easy to forget what our thinking was and how it might have changed, and I’m retroactively grateful to my past self for documenting my thoughts then.

In talking with the students about my disciplinary background and journey to open I started with an introduction: I’m Chief Librarian at the CUNY Graduate Center, and before that was Chief Librarian at NYC College of Technology (City Tech), and before that Head of Instruction at City Tech. Prior to getting my MLIS I worked in digital publishing, in project management and web production jobs. And before that I was an archaeologist and anthropologist, in graduate school and doing fieldwork and contract work in Ireland, New Jersey, and New York City.

In graduate school at New York University in the early 1990s, very little of the research and scholarship I needed access to was digital. I remember spending lots of time subwaying around to other academic libraries in the city and the New York Public Library’s research libraries for journals and books, and lots of time and dimes photocopying (and inhaling copier fumes). While time-consuming, being in NYC meant that I was usually lucky to be able to get access to all of the resources I needed for my coursework and research, and of course the textbooks and coursepacks we were assigned were much less expensive than they are now. Then as now, interlibrary loan was a lifesaver; I’m probably not the only academic to confess to having interlibrary loaned a few out-of-print books that I then photocopied in their entirety, completely oblivious to the copyright implications.

I started working in online media in the latter half of my doctoral program, and my time in publishing made it clear that digital materials were going to be critical to research and scholarship, and also that the transition would be challenging. Thinking back on those positions I’m struck now by how much work, at that time in the late 1990s, it took to figure out how to get the content in our print media published online to our websites as well. And because I was working in commercial publishing there was a lot of concern about how to retain subscribers once our magazine articles were available online.

What I didn’t realize then was what was happening with academic publishing, especially scholarly journals. It wasn’t until I went back to graduate school for my MLIS that I learned about the serials crisis, now a sort of old-fashioned term to describe the continuous price increases by commercial academic journal publishers. And of course commercial textbook publishers have also raised their prices enormously and out of step with inflation. When I look back now, I see that there are a few things that insulated me from this realization during my archaeology degree. One was that NYU (a private institution) and New York City have robust research libraries, for which I’m grateful. But another was the disciplinary conventions of archaeology. I did a lot of citation tracking in my research, and also relied heavily on my advisors’ networks. And realistically there weren’t that many scholars working in medieval Irish zooarchaeology (for example) — if I needed an article by one of them I would ask my advisor or the scholar themselves.

Learning about open access publishing in my MLIS program certainly opened my eyes to the unsustainability and fundamental inequity of scholarly communications. When I started working at City Tech and learned more about our students and CUNY’s public mission to educate “the whole people” of New York City, the imperative for open access publishing (and, a bit later, open educational resources) felt even more urgent to me. I’ve published all of my own scholarship open access, even before I got tenure, and I was vocal about the benefits and quality of open access publishing inside and outside the library at City Tech. My experience as a practitioner and researcher working with CUNY students, including work with my colleague Mariana Regalado of Brooklyn College on how, where, when, and with what tools undergraduates do their academic work, has only strengthened my commitment to open: our scholarship relies on CUNY students’ lived experiences, and should not be locked behind a paywall.

Disciplinary and institutional differences remain a challenge for librarians committed to shifting researchers and educators to open scholarship and curricular materials, though there’s been so much work before and since I’ve been in librarianship. I’m grateful to be joining smart folx at and beyond my institution in this work, and for the chance to speak with students in LIS and other graduate programs about its importance.

New Year, New Job

With the fall semester well underway, we’re all adjusting to more classes and services on the 25 campuses of my university than last year. There are more students on our campuses which is lovely, though there are still lots of hybrid and online classes and services, too. And this year has also featured a different kind of adjusting for me: this past summer I started a new position as director of the library at the City University of New York’s Graduate Center.

I’m enjoying my new job which is an interesting mix of similarities and differences from my last position. I’ve worked in the CUNY system for 15 years, 8 of those as a director, and spent most of that time at a comprehensive college that offers associate and baccalaureate degrees. I’ve also been on the faculty in two programs at the Graduate Center for a while now (and have blogged before about that teaching), so I came into my new role having some familiarity with the GC already. I’m most grateful to know about some of the university’s bureaucratic processes, and since our libraries are consortial and highly collaborative I have that insight and familiarity, too.

But as with any new job, there are lots of differences and lots for me to learn. The GC is an interesting place — while some of our faculty are solely at the GC, many teach undergraduates at the colleges across the system as well as masters and doctoral students at the GC. And our graduate students are also both here and there — they take courses and do research at the GC, and (many) teach courses at CUNY colleges. And while our library services and resources support the GC community in their academic work, as at all academic libraries, it’s been interesting to think about the local and distributed ways that we do and might work with students and faculty and students who are faculty.

Though I miss my colleagues at my prior institution, it’s been lovely to get to know my new colleagues and to work with such a terrific team. We’ve started a strategic planning process in the library, and our relatively-new administration is also beginning the strategic planning process at the GC this semester. I’m really looking forward to thinking with my library faculty and staff colleagues about our vision and mission, and how we can advance our broad goal of equitable access as we work with our patrons in their different roles.

How are you doing? (redux)

Bird sitting outside a window
Photo by Ziba Maghrebi on Unsplash

We’re coming to the end of another year of grappling with pandemic-related changes across higher education, and the ACRLog blog team thought this might be a good time to check in on how things are going for all of us in our libraries, as we’ve done around this time for the past two years.

What’s the situation at your institution at the time of writing?

(Alex) As the College of Medicine’s library, we are attached to medical facilities and have the same masking requirements in place, visitors are still not permitted into academic spaces, and library employees are all still hybrid or entirely remote. The rest of our university, though, seems fairly back to normal; they don’t have the restrictions we do, but they do allow remote work on a case-by-case basis.

(Maura) Our campus and library fully reopened last Fall, and with the increase in in-person instruction at the college for the Spring we’re definitely seeing more students in the library than we did last semester. Still, it’s quieter than it was in the past, perhaps not surprising as about 50% of classes are still online this semester (we struggled a lot with crowding and noise pre-pandemic so this change is not entirely unwelcome). The university (and the college) lifted the mask requirement a little more than a month ago, though many folx are still masking on campus, both students and employees.

(Emily) We fully reopened last Fall as well, and in early March (coinciding with the CDC’s updated guidance), our school dropped the mask requirement, although as Maura said, many on our campus are still wearing masks indoors. Having more students on campus has meant more business for library services, both at the desk and over chat and email. I chalk it up to students becoming aware of our virtual communication options during the pandemic, and some finding that they prefer that mode even when face-to-face is available.

(Angie) My campus resumed in person classes last fall with a vaccine and mask mandate in place for a brief period. The summer prior, the Libraries began transitioning remote faculty and staff back to hybrid work that was at least 60% onsite. In the Spring semester mask mandates continued in all indoor campus spaces as Omicron was peaking. Then in March they became optional in non-classroom settings, and later that month became optional in classrooms. My impression of the physical spaces is they still seem sparsely populated by normal comparisons,  and request volume in technical services is still only 30-50% of pre-pandemic levels. We have had a lot of employee turnover and are in the middle of 3 of 5 faculty searches. This has definitely affected morale, especially since many, if not all, were already experiencing significant burnout before taking on additional duties these vacancies may have left to them. 

Do you anticipate changes in your library or campus situation in the Fall semester?

(Alex) We were recently asked how many days per week each person would like to work in-person after Labor Day, so the plans are being made for changes, but they aren’t finalized yet. It’s hard to say what other changes may come at that time.

(Angie) It’s hard to imagine *not* anticipating changes, right? But I hope the drive for normalcy will hold some sway in keeping major changes to a minimum. Orienting some new faculty and staff will bring positive, new change. In my area of the library we’re also seeing an urgency to support new orientation for all students – not just new ones. With the university experience of the past few years being so irregular, many haven’t had the chance to experience the usual things libraries offer students, like our spaces, the help desk, or ILL. Talking with my leadership, I’ve learned there is actually a campus-level priority to ramp up outreach as a matter of mental health as much as academic success. I love this acknowledgement of my favorite philosophical problem (not knowing what you don’t know) and the stakes and responsibility involved in helping solve it.

(Maura) We do anticipate that there will be more students on campus in the Fall, with an estimated 80% of classes scheduled fully in person or hybrid next semester (though that can certainly change as students continue to register throughout the summer). We’re starting a strategic planning process here in the Library that we aim to complete by the end of the Fall semester, so in many ways we’re not anticipating changes as much in the short term as we are thinking about changes we’d like to make in the next 3-5 years.

What pandemic-related challenges are you still facing in your library work?

(Maura) Librarians and staff are required to work at least 70% in person this semester, which has made scheduling somewhat complex, especially for service desk shifts. We’re managing it, though it took a few weeks to settle into our new routines. It’s not clear what the requirement for on-campus work will be for fall, but we’re keeping an eye on that. It’s also been somewhat challenging this year to reach students who started at the college last year and to raise their awareness of library services and resources. While that group did have information literacy instruction in their English Composition I course, as all students do, since those courses were fully online last year they didn’t have the opportunity to come to the physical library. We’re continuing to do outreach to all students and hopefully have reached at least some of that cohort with in-person instruction in their Comp 2 class this year. 

(Emily) The library staff where I work are all facing burnout and morale-related challenges, caused by negotiating telework and on-desk scheduling, feeling unrecognized by campus administration, and a protracted expectation to “keep the trains running” over the last 2 years. In light of this, our library director has instructed us to treat this summer as a period of recovery, urging us to take vacation time and avoid piling on extra projects like a usual summer. I’m hoping that this recovery period, combined with a reconsideration of some of our processes, will be enough to improve our overall morale.

(Angie) Hybrid schedules have turned out to be really challenging, both for those onsite who rely on others’ consistent onsite availability and for those who feel their work could continue to be done entirely remote. Selfish example: it has been much more difficult to grab coffee with my work bestie on a whim! The freedom we have been given to set the type of hybrid schedule is certainly nice, but it has proven practically at odds with rebuilding the kind of serendipitous connection for which it was intended. The variety of schedules means fewer people in the office at the same time for serendipity, or even intentional connection, to take place. The supportive technology onsite for hybrid meeting rooms is necessary but still kind of awkward – I think we prefer seeing each other in individual Zoom boxes rather than a combination of seeing individual’s boxes with another box of people distantly meeting in another room. I’m observing (guilty of) remote attendance at meetings happening from an individual desk in the same room! And maybe that’s OK. Maybe that is what we learned is necessary to preserve from remote work after all. I do worry that people’s pandemic-related burnout has been exacerbated, rather than eased (yet) by a logistical “return to normal.” The motions may be mostly normal, but people’s lived experiences have not returned to normal, and this makes it very difficult to authentically connect at large –  as a team, as an organization. Wherever our library has created those very intentional opportunities to connect, even in a hybrid way – award ceremonies, holiday parties, all staff meetings – this has seemed to help the most. It’s curious, right? That intentionality should be the necessary ingredient for serendipity.  

What positive changes have you seen this year in the ways your library supports the mission of the institution?

(Alex) We don’t hesitate to make changes that we think will benefit our users. I wouldn’t say we were “afraid” to make change before, but I think we’ve grown accustomed to pivoting (ugh that word) at the drop of a hat, so saying things like “let’s change this policy, it isn’t fitting students’ use of our resources” or “should our hours be this way, or can we adjust them to work better for us?” has become easier.

(Maura) We’ve also seen what Alex highlights — my colleagues and I are definitely more amenable to making changes in library services to align them more closely with what students and other library patrons seem to need, even if it’s different from what we’ve done before, or a change in the middle of the semester. We’ve adjusted printing limits to better accommodate students who are coming to campus less often, and shifted our study room policy to allow single-student use for taking online classes. We’ll be thinking about how students and faculty use the library now as we head into our strategic planning process, too, and will hopefully hold some focus groups in the Fall to help us learn more.

(Angie) At both our Library and University levels, there has been intentional effort by the administration to address salaries and diverse hiring in meaningful ways. We have had three different tiers of staff already getting across the board increases based on market studies. In my experience it is the hiring process that provides the most intentional and practical avenue for scaling awareness and development of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. Given that we are doing so much hiring, and that those serving on search committees are experiencing that process, these are both positive changes to increasing DEIB awareness and (hopefully!) growth into other areas.

We’d love to hear how things are going in your library, please drop us a line in the comments.