More Final Reflections

Like Melissa, the time for my farewell post has come. I’ve greatly enjoyed my time writing for ACRLog—I’ve always found that writing helps me to process my thoughts and to reflect on my experiences. ACRLog has allowed me to do just that as I took my first steps into the life of a library professional. Looking back on it, the year has gone very quickly and, on the cusp of my second year, it feels like this year was a practice run. I tried some instruction, I tried some liaison work, I tried some purchasing, and now I’m ready to do it all over again in a more focused, organized manner.

I want to start this post with a few things I’ve learned along the way, or things that have surprised me.

You will be busy

My first few weeks, I had several different people tell me that I would probably feel like I had nothing to do for a good chunk of time, until suddenly I would feel like I had too much to do. They were right. This is exactly what happened for me. My first few weeks, I rattled around the library and filled my days with campus talks because I didn’t know what else to do. Then all of the sudden I had so much to do. I can’t pinpoint when that transition happened, but I know that it happened because, on top of learning more about what my job responsibilities really meant, I had also been saying yes to everything. Yes, I’ll go to that meeting, I have nothing better to do. Yes, I’ll write that book review, I have nothing better to do. These things eventually really do fill up your time.

This isn’t a bad thing, because I like to be busy, but now I’ve entered phase two: trying to figure out what I actually need to work on and what I can let go. Advice for those just starting out: you really can be picky. Your schedule will eventually fill up either way. Take that beginning time just to explore campus and explore where and how you really want to be involved.

Ask for things

Though it may be hard for the timid introverts among us, if there’s something you want, ask for it. You might be surprised. Whether you need something in your space like an extra bookcase or a standing desk, or you want time to pursue a new interest, or you need some extra professional development support, it doesn’t hurt to ask. I’ve been surprised at the help I’ve received when I needed it, but I shouldn’t be. Generally, people do want to support and help you.

Making time for research is hard

I was excited to start organizing my professional life and finally carve out some time for my own research. (Step one: figuring out what my research interests actually are.) It turns out, this isn’t quite so easy to do. As I already mentioned, it’s easy to get busy, and when that happens, it’s even easier for research to slip through the cracks, since it’s such a long-term practice and there are so many more time-sensitive things that need my attention.

I don’t have a good solution to this one yet. Yes, there’s always blocking off time in the schedule, but I’m not always disciplined enough to guard that time judiciously, so sometimes I don’t follow through. At least for now, though, this is my strategy.

How to learn?

It came as no surprise to me that there were things I would need to learn on the job: everything from library culture to how to subscribe to a new database to where donated books go. Generally, I’ve learned by doing. I needed to learn how to make a LibGuide, so I worked at creating one. I needed to learn how to write a book review, so I wrote one. However, I’ve also found that it’s very helpful to be taught things, or to follow along while someone else does something. Yes, I do like taking the time to figure things out on my own, but sometimes it’s more efficient and I learn more if I let someone know that I need help and they show me how they accomplish whatever it is I need to do myself. This way, I can see a good example and ask questions before I make my own attempt.

So, again, ask for help when you need it!


Despite learning some things and certainly feeling more comfortable than I did beginning this job, I still have a long way to go. Some of my goals for this coming year include really getting to know my faculty and their work. I want to be more engaged with the communities I serve, especially students, and I want to develop a deeper knowledge of the subject areas that I cover. This, in turn, will only improve my collection development. There’s also a buying trip in my future, which will be an entirely new challenge and another reason to turn to my colleagues for help and support.

And then there’s all the networking and conferencing that I have yet to learn to do properly. I’ve been working on building my online presence this year, while at the same time working on networking and understanding conferences. I can’t say I have figured everything out about online or in-person networking, but luckily I have more than year to learn and grow. I’m looking forward to everything this next year has in store for me, be it working more with others or getting deeper into librarianship.

Once again, it’s been a pleasure blogging this year and I want to thank ACRLog for the opportunity. Going forward, find me on Twitter or at my website.

On secondary assignments and exploration

One of the things that got me excited—almost a year ago now—when I was applying for my job, was that here at the Michigan State University Libraries, it’s commonplace to have what we refer to as a secondary assignment. Essentially, this means that at least 25% of any given librarian’s week is spent working in a separate unit from that of their primary assignment. For example, many of my coworkers have secondary assignments in reference, but secondary assignments can be in anything from digital scholarship to special collections.

When I applied to this job, I was excited about the opportunity for cross-pollination and breaking out of single specializations that having secondary assignments provides. While I am in a residency program, which means that I am offered the space to explore different interests within librarianship, I also knew coming out of library school what sort of work I wanted to be doing. A secondary assignment seemed like the perfect way to balance exploring with focusing on my specific interests.

Thus far, secondary assignments have worked out well for me. I currently have two: accessibility and cataloging. Cataloging has been an interest of mine since library school, but my school also only offered one cataloging class, so after that any practice I got was exclusively through my internships. Having a secondary assignment in cataloging has helped me gain a more solid foundation as well as a chance to explore some of cataloging’s intricacies. Scheduling blocks of time for cataloging has also helped to make my schedule, which can sometimes feel untethered, a bit more structured.

My accessibility secondary assignment has been equally fruitful. I came into this position with little prior experience in accessibility work, but did know that I was interested and wanted to get involved. And thus far my secondary assignment has allowed me to do just that. I’ve not only learned about all the various accessibility initiatives happening in the libraries and on campus, but I’ve also started to make meaningful contributions, especially working with vendors. Having a secondary assignment has also given me time to focus on my own education with regard to accessibility, disability studies, and assistive technology. A secondary assignment so different from my area studies primary assignment also means that I can shake my days up, moving between different sorts of work to keep myself engaged.

Of course, having three different focuses can also be hectic. I have definitely spent a good deal of time trying to figure out how to balance everything and which of my assignments deserves focus at any given moment. There are weeks when one or another just doesn’t get attended to, but this is also the nature of library work in general: no day is completely routine, no matter what your job description might be.

Overall, though, I have certainly benefitted from my secondary assignments and have found them to be useful ways to interact with more people in the library and to learn about the work of other units. Ultimately, secondary assignments have been exactly what I hoped they would be.

Even if your library does not have an equivalent setup, there are ways to create a similar, if more informal experience. For example, I don’t have any reference responsibilities, but I have found attending reference meetings to be beneficial in hearing more about library-wide happenings and connecting with colleagues I might not otherwise see on a regular basis. Meetings, discussion groups, or other similar events can lead to opportunities for collaborations across units. Look for other ways to reach beyond your unit to find others with similar or complementary interests.

Another avenue to explore would be finding areas where your job is flexible. If you’ve always wanted to learn more about a certain area of librarianship, are there ways you can work that learning into your current practice? To whom can you reach out to learn more and open up doors for collaboration? Carving out time and space might not be possible for everyone, but it’s worth looking for small ways to explore if that’s something you’re interested in.


Does your library have anything similar to secondary assignments? What strategies have you used to interact with others beyond your closer colleagues or to learn about new-to-you areas of librarianship?

Accessibility and Universal Design: A report on the BTAA Library Conference

This month, along with several others from my library, I was able to attend the Big Ten Academic Alliance Library Conference. Every year, the Big Ten Academic Alliance (BTAA) chooses a topic of interest to libraries, finds experts and organizes speakers, and holds a conference on that topic. This year, the conference was about accessibility, and since one of my secondary job responsibilities is accessibility, I had the opportunity to attend. This was my first BTAA conference and my first conference that didn’t offer breakout sessions, so I was excited to see how it would play out.

There was a keynote each day, from Jay Dolmage and Amelia Gibson. Both were fantastic. Dolmage began by discussing the design of buildings, including libraries, with several examples of buildings designed around stairs. Though there may be a ramp or elevator available, it is not the focal point of the building. Of course, then, we must ask, “Why?” Why is universal design not prioritized? Why is universal design not the norm? Taking the buildings as an example, Dolmage then moved on to discussing universal design in other contexts, especially with regard to teaching and learning. Dolmage stressed the importance of “positive redundancy,” ensuring that there are multiple modes of engagement, such as having information for a lecture in slides, in a handout, and in an electronic form.

Amelia Gibson touched on similar themes as Dolmage, such as the existence of internalized ableism that must be identified and worked against. Gibson advocated for moving beyond ADA requirements and instead focusing on meeting individual needs, beginning with the premise that anyone who is at a school is there because they can succeed and that it is our job to help them succeed. Gibson also discussed the fact that identities, including disability identities, are intersectional. This means that challenges can be even greater for people of color who also have disabilities. Gibson asked us to consider the various reasons that people might not seek information or help from a library, citing cases where potential library patrons have faced ridicule for their child’s behavior because their child was on the autism spectrum, or cases where black patrons have been thrown out of libraries. For some people, concern about being in library spaces is real and justified.

Finally, a point brought up by both Gibson and Dolmage and throughout the conference was how often people with disabilities are asked to disclose their disabilities and how detrimental this is. People with disabilities should not be asked to disclose their status; instead, we should be creating inclusive spaces that do not retroactively try to account for disabilities but instead are designed to accommodate various needs right from the beginning. For example, there is no need for publishers to require an individual student disclose their disability before an accessible version of a document is supplied. Electronic publications could be accessible from the start or, if remediation is necessary, the extra step of disclosing a disability does not need to be mandated. There are also numerous reasons that people might not disclose their disabilities, be they financial (getting diagnosed is expensive) or out of fear of repercussions. Again, designing with accessibility in mind is key.

This brings us back to the idea of universal design. These principles can be applied in any library space, from making library instruction more welcoming to people with a variety of learning styles to working with vendors and publishers to ensure that content is readable not only for screen readers but for users who want to change the font size or color to suit their own needs. We cannot make everything completely accessible immediately; in many cases, accessibility will be an iterative process, with changes made over time. However, we can strive to bring principles of accessibility and universal design into our own individual practices as librarians to begin making changes today.

Overall, I found this conference extremely worthwhile. I often find myself a bit untethered at conferences, unsure how to choose which sessions to attend from a long list and drawn in several different directions because of all my different interests. This conference provided a more concentrated experience and, because of the more focused theme, there was enough time and space to delve into library accessibility in more detail than I’ve experienced in other conferences. Now it’s time to refocus, take what I’ve learned, and find more ways to incorporate accessibility into my work on a daily basis.


For more on universal design, get started by looking at the UDL guidelines website.

Read more about the BTAA’s e-resource testing initiative.

And check out the conference hashtag, #BTAALib19, for more on the conference.

Library Open Mic

I work in a large library, and even after eight months, there are still people I barely know and certainly people whose work remains nebulous to me. And I continue to come up with new questions about one thing or another without any idea of who to ask. Which then means I have to direct my questions to someone at random and hope they can at least point me in the right direction.

This is probably the way of things in all large libraries and I know I’ll learn more with time. But that’s not what I want to talk about today. Instead, I want to talk about one thing that has helped me see more of the library and more of what others are doing. One of my first days on the job, there was what seemed to me a rather confusing event occurring, in which people were going to give lighting talks about…something. Since I was new, looking to fill my day, and looking to meet people, I went. And I’m so glad I did.

As it turns out, the event was slowly morphing into what is currently known here as “open mic,” in which people closely associated with the library (but not necessarily librarians!) give five-minute talks on topics that interest them: something they’re working on, a thought they had that they’re still exploring, an interesting new tool they just discovered. Each of the sessions generally has a theme, but the themes are broad, and you don’t have to stick to them if you don’t want to. I’ve found that the themes are helpful to get my brain started thinking about different topic ideas, even if I veer away from the theme in the end.

As a new librarian, this event has been extremely helpful for me. Not only have I heard more about what people are working on (a fascinating reading of letters to the editor on women’s place in golf, for example, taught me about our Turfgrass Information Center), I’ve also learned a lot more about my particular library’s culture. Presentations often lead to larger group discussions about broader trends in the library or projects that need more people to work on them.

Organizing these sessions was not my idea—well-deserved credit for that belongs elsewhere—but they have become something I look forward to every month. Since starting my job here, I’ve heard about text mining projects, Library of Congress crowdsourcing efforts, the Christmas tree economy in Michigan, and enjoyed a MARC-inspired sonnet. I’ve also heard from people all across the library, outside of my unit and outside of the area where my desk is, making me feel more engaged and more connected. I do feel like I’m still settling in, but these open mic sessions have certainly helped that process along. One day soon I’ll feel inspired enough to give my own little lightning talk!


How do you communicate across departments in your library? What opportunities do you have for more informal interactions concerning your current projects or interests?

Reflections after the Association for Asian Studies Conference

A few weeks ago, I attended the Association for Asian Studies annual conference. This conference has been a staple of my repertoire since I started library school, because along with all the usual scholarly panels, there are also several meetings of librarians. With two years under my belt, I was excited to approach this conference as a professional, voting on CRL global resources projects for the first time, and actually representing an institution instead of just coming along for the ride to observe discussions.

I also wanted to approach this conference thinking about librarianship more broadly and how subject librarians interact both with the world of their subject and the world of librarianship. At least in my areas, I sometimes feel like I’m splintered off from the rest of the library world, focusing on regions outside of the United States and languages other than English, which sometimes bring with them different challenges than what the rest of the profession in the United States might be facing. I wanted to make sure I paid attention to all facets of my librarian identity during this conference.

This year also happened to be the fiftieth anniversary of the Committee on Research Materials on Southeast Asia, which meant an extra celebration and a lot of reflection. Many librarians, including me, presented on some aspect of their work, either highlighting unique collections or discussing collaborative relationships between institutions both in the United States and abroad. We also honored retiring and past members, which was a good history lesson for me: there’s a lot of work that’s been done already for me to build upon. I appreciated this introspective and retrospective time, as it showed me all the things that have been done and helped to inspire me to do things like work harder on building my own library’s collection. I’m now thinking about might make the collection here unique and how I can help in that process.

A good portion of all my meetings also focused on looking outward. Even if we’re dealing with materials from our subject areas, we still encounter the trends seen throughout librarianship. For example, an increasing demand for electronic materials means that we had discussions about everything from digitization initiatives to projects collecting electronic journals from South and Southeast Asia. It was exciting to hear about everything that was going on, and a little intimidating as well. A big lesson from my year so far has been that I need to be involved but that I also need to be selective about my involvement. When I hear about all these initiatives, I want to participate in all of them, if only to learn more about them. There were definitely times during the conference when I had to sit back and remind myself that I can learn from the sidelines, at least for now.

Finally, there were also discussions about more unique concerns for area studies librarians, such as support for cataloging in languages other than English. With problems like this one, which seem so specific to a certain subset of librarians, it might be useful to take a step back and look at librarianship more broadly to see what solutions there might be. One thought that particularly interested me was to work on training librarians within the countries of origin. While we did not follow through on this discussion, it does take me back to broader questions I’ve had recently about collaboration and how collaboration that crosses geographic lines can be accomplished. We’ve managed it in other projects, can we manage it in realms such as cataloging as well? What considerations—such as indigenous systems of organizing information—do we need to take into account? I don’t have the answers yet, but I’m trying my best to crosspollinate what I learn in subject-specific conferences with what I learn in library-specific conferences: I’m very excited to see what new ideas and potential solutions ACRL’s conference will bring.


What sorts of conferences do you regularly attend? How do you leverage information from conferences that aren’t focused on librarianship?