Your Personal Librarian

My daughter has a book called, Your Personal Penguin by Sandra Boynton, which is one of my favorites. In the book, a penguin follows a hippopotamus asking for its friendship. As with other children’s books, there aren’t many words, but the illustrations hint at the potential for a great friendship. I’ve found Sandra Boynton’s books to be endearing without being saccharine and they have brought light to a dark time.

In the meantime, our library started using a liaison model for instruction this semester. Students seeking degrees are required to take two classes covering the research process. It made sense to assign individual librarians to these sections so that they had one point of contact. We also thought it would make the library less of an abstraction since students can’t set foot inside. As a newbie it would also allow the chance to really get to know a few sections of students and be their personal librarian.

I am working with English and Communications classes. Last semester I did a one-off for a Communications class, but my instruction opportunities were limited as I had only started. That won’t be the case this semester as I have the chance to collaborate with another faculty member to talk about information literacy; how cool is that!? I feel equal parts overwhelmed and excited.

Even though I taught music for years before becoming a librarian, I’m still always amazed by the amount of preparation that goes into even shorter sessions. (Teachers need to be paid more.) I digress; I have a process for instruction, though it is evolving. First, I look at the instructor’s syllabus and create learning outcomes. My learning outcomes have the basic ingredients: an action verb, content, and context. I will admit that mine are a work in progress. It is too easy to create a bad learning outcome, “Learners will understand the thing at the place = success!” Ideally everything supports the learning outcomes, but if they aren’t up to snuff, nothing else will be either.

I want to create activities that reinforce the learning outcomes. I’ve been guilty, especially in my early days of teaching music, of creating activities that don’t justify the outcome. I also need to work on creating just enough scaffolding to provide context without giving the students information overload. Students don’t need to know everything inside of my head. Especially for brief sessions, a surface understanding is enough.

We are still working on assessment in this environment. During more typical semesters, paper surveys are handed out to students. That isn’t a realistic option and we still need to create standardized Google forms exclusively for library instruction. It surprised me though that I have enjoyed creating them.

The more I do this process, the more I can perfect it, and the more I can pivot in real time. Having plans is wonderful, but I want to have the flexibility and the experience to make changes when they aren’t working. As a newer librarian, I’m trying to follow best practices, believing that I need to both know and master the rules before I can break them. That time will come.

My hope is that this liaison model will allow me to be their personal librarian. Unlike the plucky little penguin, I know that we won’t go on adventures together, but I do hope that I can help them on their journey through research. I want to be a face and a name that is reliable and can be counted on. With any luck this model will translate back on campus, allowing the library to represent these same qualities.

The December Post

I don’t have a title for this post, so I will simply call it, “The December Post.” Our semester finished at the end of last week. While I remember the academic calendar particularly from my high school and undergraduate years, I’m still getting used to it at work. Things slowly ramp up with two peaks: midterms, and then the end of the semester. The last couple of weeks after Thanksgiving were a race to the end that still took me by surprise. Now we can rest, except I can’t really unwind for a number of reasons.

During a normal semester we close up with Finals Fest, which is part celebration of the end of term, and part coping mechanism for all of us. While this event is aimed at students, but we can all use hot chocolate. There is periodic programming, like games and tutoring. I hear that by the end the library staff are full of sugar and then leave in a haze of chocolate.

Since we can’t do any of these things this year, I did my best to replicate the whimsy remotely. I’m proud of this, though turnout was not high:
Virtual Finals Fest Fall 2020
I realize that when I wrote, “As the character Arthur Dent says in the book, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, “‘Don’t Panic. It’s the first helpful or intelligible thing anybody’s said to me all day’” I was trying to reassure myself just as much as our students. I’m scared right now, and I didn’t need to take tests during a pandemic!

I remember dry heaving on a test handed to me by my scariest professor, Dr. Adams (name changed) my freshman year. I remember after a semester of studying, staying up late to make that final push. I never pulled an all nighter, but I remember getting little sleep. I remember working in the computer lab (that was a thing) to crank out papers since I wasn’t sent to school with a computer. Lastly, as was common for me, once the stress ended, I got sick first and then a break second. I remember this time of sheer panic well.

My college experience wasn’t ideal in some ways, but I didn’t have to go through this period of time while worried about friends and family. I wasn’t grieving the loss of people who died of this disease, maybe, while getting sick myself. I wasn’t living with extended family who one, by one passed the virus around. I can only sympathize, but haven’t lived this experience. I have to say to our students: you made it. You finished, and that is enough for now. If you are able, get some sleep.

On Tenure

My position is on the tenure track. This is something I find a mixture of daunting, humbling, exciting, and embarrassing. Part of me is still looking for the adult in the room and then realizing it is me. The other part wonders why I have so much cartilage damage in my knees because balance is important.

I’m preparing the documentation for my first tenure review, which is at the end of November. The process is less of the hazing you hear about in many institutions and more focused on growing in your role. This was my goal anyway, and I feel grateful that the process supports my professional development. Having lacked many opportunities for professional development in my previous career, I’ve been taking to every chance possible like a fish to water. I love that I have a job where I am paid to learn so that I can help others do the same. The trouble is that there is so much to learn and so few hours in the day, but this has given me empathy for the information overload that so many of our students experience.

Still, the process of documenting everything I’ve done in four months’ time is daunting. I think that I’m coping with the pandemic by staying busy. Maybe if I pour myself into my work, then I can forget that as of this writing, Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center says that 251,029 Americans have died. That’s such a mindboggling number, and I have the magical thinking that if I stay home and work hard, then maybe this isn’t happening.

So, I have collected all of the committee work, webinars, a LibGuide, several videos, social media, a marketing plan, emails, newsletters, memberships, and webinars to show that I’m moving along. The good news is that I am doing just that. I’ve found the process of structuring instructional sessions with learning outcomes first and then working backwards rewarding. The process has been an empowering one, but I can’t shake the feeling that I don’t understand why I get to do meaningful work and be (relatively safe) in the face of so much suffering.

Librarianship in the Time of COVID

As I write this, I’m entering my third month as an Outreach and Engagement Librarian. I’m excited to be starting this new position in a new field, but must admit that this is a strange time to be starting anything well…new. Yet, 2020 has been nothing but new adjustments in our household as we also welcomed a baby in the spring during the height of the pandemic.

It has now been eight months since the pandemic began and the campus remains quiet as students learn remotely. Faculty are teleworking, and with little reason to be there, most students are scattered as well. This means that I’m doing outreach and engagement from my bedroom rather than on campus. I quickly realized that I was presented with a challenge: I need to “put myself out there” on campus without being there.

I realized that to do my job I needed to be proactive and reach out to others rather than simply walking over to their offices. This has involved reaching out individually to campus members who typically work with the library, like the writing and student success centers. I’ve looked into a social media plan and am dusting off our old library newsletter. What has been far more challenging is finding ways to replicate online the student experience in the library. This is something that I continue to mull over in my mind. How can I create an online experience that is even a shadow of the one in person?

It is an honor to work with these students and I can’t believe that I get paid to talk about the library. Still- I can’t help reflect about the bizarre and terrifying situation unfolding in parallel with my work. I’m trying to ensure that we highlight the ways that students can receive basic care: counseling services, food assistance, help with utilities, alongside information literacy and citation help. My brain almost can’t process this dichotomy, but I suppose there is no time like the present to start trying.