Recruiting New Librarians

It’s been such a tough pandemic for academic librarian job seekers, particularly new graduates. Enrollment declines led to shrinking budgets which in turn meant disappearing job opportunities when so many librarians needed them most. I feel very lucky to be in a library that has had the budget, personnel, and time to hire several new librarians this academic year. Later this summer I’ll be in a position to hire both a Teaching & Learning Librarian and a Student Success Librarian. I’ve been working on the job description and thinking a lot about the recruitment of new colleagues. I definitely have the usual concerns about the construction of the job advertisement:

  • Is the language used to describe the position responsibilities accessible to librarians new to the profession?
  • Are we including a salary range?
  • Am I asking too much under Required Qualifications?
  • Does the job ad emphasize our library’s commitment to anti-racism, equity, and inclusion?
  • Will the position description sound appealing and welcoming to librarians from different backgrounds and communities?
  • Does it make our department sound like a good place to work?

I shared my initial draft with our assistant department head and two new(ish) librarian colleagues who had recently been through the job search process. They offered helpful edits and suggestions, and I was able to pass on our draft to our Associate Dean for Organizational Development and Learning.

But there are the OTHER factors to consider when thinking about recruitment, ones inextricably linked to the pandemic, politics, and legislation. The last few years have been and continue to be difficult for people with disabilities, compromised immune systems, families, income precarity; and all of the most vulnerable individuals. Are new or experienced librarians in a position–financially, emotionally, personally–to move for a new job? What kind of support and flexibility can we offer to individuals who may have unique health, family, or other needs? Are we prepared to have those conversations when negotiating with potential candidates? I hope that we’re ready.

Living in Texas I’m familiar with the common refrains online urging people to either (a) get out and vote or (b) get up and move. Both make a lot of assumptions about finances, personal situations, and other extenuating circumstances. So as we are hiring I will continue to think about how we can make work as safe and welcoming a place as it can be for the people who work within it.

Are you also hiring and onboarding new librarians this year? If so, what’s been your approach?

Who Gets to be a Researcher?

One of my favorite days of the academic year is Undergraduate Research Day. The Honors College and the Libraries collaborate to showcase undergraduate student research done through various scholarship programs, experiential learning programs, and independent research with faculty mentors. Our main library’s second and third floors are filled with research posters from students in every discipline imaginable, and the students themselves are bouncing with enthusiasm and excitement. They’re eager to tell people about their research and are able to speak about their work with clarity and precision with fellow scholars. They also offer compelling narratives to a more general audience who might not be familiar with the conventions of the research in that discipline.

April 14 marked the 2022 Undergraduate Research Day, and it was so exciting to be back in person after 2 years of a virtual event. As I listened to a student talk about their work researching Spanish language newspapers in the U.S. during the 1918 influenza pandemic, I wondered what it would take to expand this kind of excitement and enthusiasm for research to a wider group of students. There were about 200 presenters this year, at a school that boasts an undergraduate population of over 37,000 students. Yes, there may be some students doing research who weren’t able to present or weren’t far enough along in their research to do so, and yes, there are students engaging in research in their classes, too. But there is something about making research public, having a conversation about what you’ve learned and what you still want to learn, that seems to foster a sense of enthusiasm and pride.

I would love for all of our undergraduate students to be able to proudly share their scholarly or creative output and say, “I did that!” It might not all be groundbreaking or revolutionary, but shouldn’t the work of novice researchers be celebrated, too? At my last place of work there was a day where all students in first-year seminars could share their coursework and/or research, projects, papers, etc. with the entire campus community. It was a way to celebrate the work of first-semester, first-year students, who all displayed a commitment to what they’d learned and excitement in sharing it with others. It was a way of planting the seed of research, investigation, curiosity, and knowledge building in these students, that they could then carry with them all the way to their senior thesis project.

How can we develop opportunities to recreate the kind of enthusiasm and curiosity that was present at that first-year student event and at Undergraduate Research Day? I’m interested in extending those experiences beyond a small, select group of students to a wider university population. I’ve sometimes heard the argument that some students just aren’t “ready” for research. This may or may not be accurate depending on the context, but what are we even doing if we aren’t entering teaching relationships with students assuming that they are intellectually curious? They might not have the scholarly background of an experienced researcher, but they may possess the same inquisitive spirit and excitement to learn. So where is their Undergraduate Research Day? How do we celebrate their work and progress? Are they not researchers as first-year students, writing their first synthesis paper or lab report? Who decides whose research is celebrated? In creating opportunities to do this we might then pave a pathway for those students to continue to research throughout their years in higher education and afterward.

A love letter to bell hooks

pink carnations resting on a tan envelope on a white background
Photo by Edward Howell on Unsplash

bell hooks died on December 15, 2021, at her home in Kentucky. I found out about her death on Twitter, then NPR. Like so many others, I was heartbroken. This brilliant woman I had never met fundamentally changed my approach to teaching and scholarship. In post after post people around the world have said the same, sharing their connection to her writing and her impact on them. It’s a testament to hooks’ ability to reach out from the page and screen and hold our hand, letting us know that we aren’t alone, that we are loved.

The first invited talk I ever gave, at the ACRL DVC Fall Forum, was called “A love letter to bell hooks.” It was an expression of connection to hooks as a writer, whose simplicity of expression highlighted the sophisticated connections she was able to make between pedagogy, culture, and interpersonal relationships. But it was also just my appreciation for her as a person, as a Black woman who brought race and ethnicity front and center in her work, and as someone whose joy and love came through in every written word.

In Teaching to Transgress, hooks wrote, “one may practice theorizing without ever knowing/possessing the term.” It was, to me, an invitation. This declaration that theory is not for just for others but for me, too. Her encouragement to view our lives, in my case, as a Latina, as sites of critical reflection and action was revolutionary. hooks notes that “theory is not inherently healing, liberatory, or revolutionary,” but that we have the opportunity and ability to make it so. In our work as teachers and librarians we have the capacity to demystify theory and encourage critical reflection, to show that you don’t have to know theory to have experienced it. We have the ability to make our work–librarianship, research, and service–meaningful in support of our communities and ourselves. hooks empowered me, much as I am certain she has empowered and inspired countless others.

I would love to hear from others who have made a strong connection to hooks’ writings. What are your favorite quotes of hers? Which of her books or essays will stay with you always? What did she teach you?

Scenes from the start of the fall semester

I work at an institution with no mask mandate and no vaccine requirement. The emphasis is on personal responsibility, sphere of influence, and individual liberty. Our Access Services workers have kept our building open over the last year and a half while I and my other liaison services colleagues have been able to work from home, parent at home, teach virtual school to our children from home, etc. We returned to the library part-time this summer and full time now that the semester is in full swing.

The fall semester started on Monday. Masked and unmasked students enter the building in a surging mass looking for computers between classes, a place to sit and study, a break from the oppressive heat, or a working printer. I’m sitting in my office with my door closed fielding class requests from instructors who may or may not want a virtual option. Because of our institution’s politics it’s a weird dance of “we can offer…” and “what are your options?” We can’t come out and say “That’s way too many unmasked students in a classroom built for 30.”

I have virtual meetings with colleagues down the hall. We get together to go on masked walks–unmasked if the crowds are thin–and it’s odd but better than nothing. We are all in sneakers or birks and our comfiest workwear. Everyday brings a new administrative email about vaccine incentives, testing options, contact tracing, flow-charts for classroom instructors, temporary remote work guidelines, etc. We all feel at turns hopeful, fearful, gaslit, angry, and exhausted.

I don’t know what fall semester will look like in 2 weeks much less 2 months from now, and I mean that in terms of work, family, health, and general well-being. I don’t do well with broad uncertainty (hello, anxiety!) but it’s the way of life right now. I’ll take joy in a well-placed LEGO set, an iced coffee, or a day off work to go to an empty beach with my family. I will do what I need to do to do my job well and keep my family safe and healthy.

What is your fall semester looking like this year?

Trust and Teaching

In late April I (virtually) presented alongside Shawn(ta) Smith-Cruz and Elvis Bakaitis at the CUNY Mina Reese Library’s event, Towards a Critical, Decolonized Pedagogy: An Interactive (Re)Visioning. Shawn presented a thought-provoking and compelling search for ancestral connection through pedagogy, while my portion of the workshop centered on the idea of trust in critical pedagogy.

I view trust in an educational context as both essential and fragile. It’s difficult to build and sustain and can be easily broken, but without it we don’t have the kind of connected needed in critical, engaged learning environments to foster transformative learning. One of my favorite definitions of trust comes from Judith V. Jordan, who describes it as “confidence in the relationship.” Seeking help and connection and expressing vulnerability is scary, and it’s what we all do as learners: share what we don’t know, ask for what we want to learn, and hope that we’ve connected enough with others (our peer learners, our teachers) for them to support us through the process. If there is no confidence in the relationship between learner and teacher or learner and learner, then there is no trust that this is an educational experience where everyone learns and grows as people.

A few weeks after this talk I received an unsolicited email from a sales representative at an academic-adjacent company touting a new software product that would help teachers track and record the “time [students] spent reading, working with sources, [and] taking notes” online, all in the name of good assessment. Shortly after receiving that email I learned about faculty who review hundreds of video recordings of students taking exams because the proctoring software flags them as potential cheaters for not looking at the screen. These are students who are working out complex problems on a sheet of paper at their desk. After that eye-opener, I then attended a pedagogical discussion that devolved into a lamentation over cheating (not the point of the discussion) and the inability for instructors to preserve the integrity of the test. And just last week I reviewed dozens of syllabi for a curriculum mapping project where the tone and language used automatically assumed students were going to cheat or try to scam their course professor.

The trust that could/should have existed between learners and teachers or learners and learners has instead been placed in browser lockdown software and surveillance technology. Students are assumed to be scammers, professors have to protect their exams, and any energy that could be put towards meaningful learning is instead diverted to cheating prevention. I know this is not the norm in every class or with every professor at every campus. But it is a mindset that I find particularly insidious in higher education.

This mindset sees rampant cheating as the real problem, not the 300 person classes students have to take their first year at college. This mindset characterizes students as dishonest and unmotivated to learn, when really they might be juggling work, school, and family and struggling to buy books. This mindset assumes professors are just out to catch you when do something wrong, rather than help you get what you need to learn. It’s a mindset without trust or connection, one that is easily monetized by education-adjacent companies whose profits grow as learning suffers. The inertia of practices in higher education is strong, and I fear that we are hurtling towards more distrust in teaching and learning. But I find solace in the small moments of trust I have with learners and teachers, in the instances of grace that others extend to me and that I can reciprocate, and in the small spaces after class (that are all virtual these days) where students ask questions and we can just talk as people, connect, and trust.