Parenting as an Academic Librarian

Being a working parent is challenging; there’s a lot to manage and prioritize. Thinking of both your personal and professional lives — how do you make it work with an extremely busy schedule? I recently read Courtney Stine’s, Sarah Frankel’s, and Anita Hall’s interview “Parenting and the Academic Library” in C&RL News. Hearing about other parents’ experience is great to hear, and these three bring up a lot of salient points: work-life balance, childcare, academic library support for caregivers, and precarity.

I’ve done a fair amount of writing about being a parent, especially during the pandemic. My daughter was born in February 2020, as my son was two and a half years old. In 2022, I wrote about how important it is to feel a part of a community of parents, and connection more broadly:

I find comfort in the fact that I’m not alone in feeling challenged as a father and as a husband. I’ve felt this with other aspects of my life, like job searching or dealing with challenging parents and family. I like knowing there’s others with similar experiences to myself, others that are living parallel lives, with aspects of your lives matched up.

I want to know about other people’s lives and experiences, and get their perspective on similar situations that they’ve found themselves in; to know that it’s not just me, to hear their insight and advice, and to learn and grow.

It’s rooted in this sense of finding common, universal experience that I want to share with others and have others share with me. I learn so much from others and I really appreciate that. There’s solace to be found there, among others who find parenting challenging.

After attending a great writing workshop offered by my institution, “Writing Your Parenting Journey,” I’ve revisited some of my pandemic reflective writing. I’ve thought a lot about what’s required of you to be both a parent and a librarian (or, really any other profession). Working while parenting is challenging!

During a recent CALM 2024 presentation from Courtney Drysdale (“…Supporting Librarian Parents & Caregivers”), she outlined parental supports in academic libraries, specifically aimed at women caregivers. I was struck by how little maternity and paternity leave academic librarians get, especially in the United States. I’m very lucky that in Canada we have substantial maternal and parental leaves.

Through parenting two young kids while working as an academic librarian, here’s what I’ve learned and try to model:

Prioritize

You have limited time as an academic librarian parent. Okay, I’ll admit it, on occasion I work in the evenings. Sometimes it’s something time-sensitive, sometimes I didn’t have enough time at work to finish or work on something. It’s not common, though, and I prioritize my to-do items during the workday so this doesn’t become more common.

You have to prioritize what needs to get done, and what can be left for another day.

Ask For Help

Ask. For. Help. Always! I get help from a lot of different people in my life: my wife, my parents and in-laws, my friends, and of course my coworkers. My colleagues have helped me a lot in a lot of different ways: I’ve asked them for advice, I’ve leaned on them when I’ve been overloaded with work, and I’ve listened to –this can help you in immeasurable ways.

Sometimes just having someone you can talk with, and work something through, is enough.

Learn to Say No

This is something I struggle with and I’m sure it is something you have at times in your life. I’m working on getting better at saying no and figuring out where I want to put my energy.

As Sarah Frankel says, “learning how to say no is hard, but it does get easier. I value my job and the people I work with, but my family has to come first. As my kids get older, I may find myself with more time to do career-related things that I have had to put off since becoming a parent, so that is something to think about for the future.”

You don’t have to do everything or be everything to everyone.

Take Advantage of Flexible/Remote Work (If You Can)

Those of us lucky enough to have some sort of remote work arrangement or having flexible schedules should take full advantage of those perks. Pick up from childcare, early soccer practices and dance lessons, your kid’s doctor’s appointments – it never stops.

For all those administrators, managers, and supervisors who don’t recognize how nice it is for your employees to have flexibility on your schedule – you do now! Flexible and remote work don’t fix everything, but it helps. I’m working on a research project that explores engagement, burnout, and the effect of remote work and flexible scheduling on academic librarians. Stay tuned!

In her closing keynote to CALM 2024, Katherine Goldstein says she “normalizes caregiving through sharing stories.” I think we’ve all got a story to tell. What’s yours?

Engaging in Outreach Efforts & Meaningful Community Building

As a MLIS student at San Jose State University (SJSU), I often read about the importance of promoting library services through outreach efforts. During that time, I ran across the following quote that illustrates this point, and it continues to resonate with me:

Gone are the days when libraries can simply open their doors and expect to be perceived as the number one option for information services. With fierce competition for funding and more people assuming everything offered by a library can be found online, libraries are feeling the pressure to blow their own horn (Hallmark et al., 2007).

Last year, I started as a Lecturer Librarian at CSU Northridge. Since I began in the summer of 2023, I did not immediately have instruction requests or deadlines for collection development. Instead, I directed my attention to outreach opportunities, which continued to be part of my priorities throughout the fall and even now in the spring. I work closely with the Outreach Librarian to deliver outreach programming to keep patrons abreast of upcoming library events, and to promote library collection materials by designing book displays. I have collaborated with faculty, staff, students, and community members to make these events successfully happen. So far, I have remained committed to outreach efforts by participating in the “Ask a Librarian” tabling events, the Resources & Services Fair, the New Student Orientation, CSUN Open House, National Transfer Student Week, and library tours for K-12 students. I am particularly proud of my involvement in creating virtual and in-person book displays for Latinx Heritage Month and Black History Month.

While the outreach opportunities mentioned above have been quite rewarding, I was curious to participate in wider campus efforts centered on outreach and community building. Late last fall, I was selected to be a Library Liaison for the Office of Community Engagement (OCE) at CSU Northridge. This office strives to enhance academic experiences through community-based (service) learning, engaged research and sustained partnerships within the San Fernando Valley, and the greater Los Angeles Area. In my role, I support faculty members as they develop community-engaged projects and/or courses. Faculty members receive support in creating syllabi that outline community-based learning outcomes centered on equity, diversity, and inclusion. I expect that I will also recommend community-engaged readings, and activities for their syllabi.

Since I’m serving in the inaugural cohort, the other Library Liaisons and I have been working on recruitment. During our last departmental meeting, we offered our librarian colleagues a brief overview about the OCE, and we introduced them to grant opportunities designed for faculty members committed to community-engaged courses, projects, research, or creative activities. Additionally, I have been spreading awareness about the OCE to professors and lecturers in the department of Central American & Transborder Studies. After I teach my information literacy sessions, I’ll typically pitch an elevator speech to these faculty members. Usually, faculty members teaching Ethnic Studies already incorporate community-building into the design of their courses, which makes them great candidates.

Overall, I’m hoping my efforts evolve into effective partnerships, so that I may further engage in meaningful practices centered on community building and social justice. I’m definitely in the early stages of developing my own approach towards outreach and community service. I was hoping to hear from experienced academic librarians. Would anyone be willing to share their own strategies?

Dwindling Reference Questions

“If you build it, [will] they will come[?]”

As another season of baseball is just around the corner, I’ve been thinking about ways to get hits and avoid strikes—so decided to break out a classic quotation from Field of Dreams and apply it to academic libraries. In recent years, our library has seen dwindling reference questions. We’re not getting nearly the number of students at our front desk asking questions, nor making as many appointments with librarians, compared to pre-pandemic.

I’m not totally sure what to make of this. I can’t imagine students not needing library services, such as help with literature searching, questions about using databases, or help with citation management software. Not to pump our tires up too much, but these skills typically don’t come intuitively or out of thin air—at least at the level academic librarians support students. Our help is still needed, but without students seeking us out to get that help, we’re missing out on a huge number of opportunities to make students’ lives easier. We want to help.

I suspect that in our post-pandemic era, a ‘generation’ of students don’t have the same familiarity with libraries as they did in previous generations. Did these students miss out on using their high school libraries when they were completing high school largely from home? Did social interactions change post-pandemic? Do students prefer online reference questions and consultations, rather than in-person? And is this affecting the number of questions we’d normally get?

While this is a problem, there’s also opportunity; opportunity to devote more time to seeking in-class instruction—where you seek students out and not vice-versa; opportunity to work on offering enhanced library services; opportunity to plan library events; and more.

I’ve thought about how to address shrinking reference questions. If you assess the number and type of reference questions you’re getting, and it’s different from before—such as fewer or simpler questions—in broad strokes you can approach the issue from a couple perspectives:

  • You can make decisions reactively (e.g. less library staff at the front desk, shorter library or front desk hours), or
  • You can make decisions proactively (e.g. broad, university-wide promotion strategies to inform students what library staff can do for them, reinforce there are no stupid questions and it’s worth getting help from library staff).

Whichever approach you take, you need to think about your goal: are you reacting to fewer reference questions to maintain the status quo or are you proactively trying strategies to ensure students are getting the help they need, and meeting them where you are?

I always think that if we build it, they will come. But maybe we have to tell them what we’ve built. And one thing’s for sure: we must think hard about what to build.

Unveiling the Deceptive Duo: Inclusive Access and Equitable Access – A Threat to Student Choice and Library Reserves

Academic libraries have a new battle on the horizon: inclusive access and equitable access. These two models are the newest ventures of bookstore vendors to get students to purchase costly textbooks and other course materials. Stealing library jargon to disguise the truth, bookstore vendors are advertising inclusive access and equitable access as being a positive move for universities. These models, however, are far from it.

Inclusive Access

Bookstore vendors market this option as being convenient for faculty and students as students are guaranteed access to course materials on the first day of class. Sounds great, doesn’t it? At first glance, it appears to be truly inclusive; however, this option is deceptive. When faculty choose to use inclusive access, they select their textbook and/or access codes for homework as they normally would. Then, instead of students purchasing these materials on their own, students are billed an additional charge for their tuition to include the cost of the course materials. This means students lose the ability to buy used versus new as well as shop around for their course materials (e.g., Amazon). According to these vendors, they do provide students with an “opt-out” option. The problem with this “opt-out” option is two-fold. One, the ability to “opt-out” is not communicated clearly to students. Bookstore vendors tend to use intimidating language that ultimately prevents students from opting out. Two, if students “opt-out” of an access code needed to complete their homework, they are unable to submit their homework; therefore, they will likely fail the class. How is that inclusive?

Equitable Access

While I had heard of inclusive access, the equitable access model was unbeknownst to me until recently. According to bookstore vendors, equitable access is a model that, like inclusive access, ensures that all students have access to their required course materials on the first day of class. Prior to classes beginning, students would receive a box of all of their needed materials. Again, this sounds great, doesn’t it? The catch is found in how students are billed for these materials. Once faculty make their textbook and course material selections, the university divides the total cost of all faculty-selected items amongst all students. Then, every student is charged the same “textbook cost” fee as part of their tuition and fees. While this may be beneficial to students majoring in subjects such as chemistry or accounting, majors notorious for high textbook costs, this is a huge disservice to majors with historically low textbook costs, such as English or history. This model also takes away the ability for students to shop around for cheaper alternatives to new textbooks and provides zero transparency in how much their materials actually cost. This means that a student who could purchase all of their textbooks used for a total of $30 could instead be charged $600. How is that equitable?

Contract Limitations for Academic Libraries

In addition to the effect inclusive and equitable access models have on students, the contracts to implement them can severely impact and even eliminate libraries’ efforts in providing course reserves and other textbook support to students. For instance, one bookstore vendor’s contract explicitly prohibits libraries from purchasing a copy of a course textbook to place on reserve in the library for students to check out. With the equitable access model, libraries would be completely written out of the textbook equation. If universities began shifting towards these models, my position as an Affordability and Digital Initiatives Librarian, as well as similar positions, would be eliminated, and the major strides made in providing true equitable access to textbooks through academic libraries would come to a halt.

Federal Intervention

The good news is that the Department of Education is aware of and currently discussing these misleading models. As the Biden-Harris administration works towards adopting more open policies, they have turned their focus towards higher education. More specifically, on January 2, 2024, the Department of Education released six issue papers with proposals for more student-friendly policies. One of these papers propose to “eliminate the provision allowing institutions to include the cost of books and supplies as part of tuition and fees.” If passed, this proposal would be a huge win for academic libraries.

You can find out more information about the Department of Education’s movement to restrict these models at https://www2.ed.gov/policy/highered/reg/hearulemaking/2023/program-integrity-and-institutional-quality-session-1-issue-paper-cash-management-final.pdf

Supervising a Makerspace: Musings from the Fall

This semester, Stego Studio, our library’s makerspace, moved into the department I oversee. This makerspace opened up around the time I arrived at my institution (fall 2021) and I’ve watched, from a distance, as the studio has grown and evolved. I was excited but also slightly overwhelmed when I was asked to oversee this space (and supervise our makerspace coordinator). It has been a semester of learning and stretching and I’m excited for what’s to come. As we wrap up this year, I wanted to share some thoughts I’ve had this fall as the makerspace takes up more and more of my work brain.

My past experiences with makerspaces

Before Stego Studio, when I thought about makerspaces, I thought about my graduate work. During my first year in graduate school, I was part of a grant that focused on digital literacy in the local community. One of the partners on the grant was the local FabLab. I myself worked at a community space and would negotiate with the FabLab about technology the community space needed. As I got started on the grant, I spent some time in the FabLab, trying to learn more about their technologies and space. In particular, I had no knowledge of 3D printing and couldn’t quite wrap my mind around what you do with 3D printing. During those first visits, I felt excluded in the space. I didn’t have the expertise to join the conversations happening around me and I didn’t feel like my own making experience was valued. In the end, I stuck to more work around using the Cricut and using a laser cutter. This level of making ended up working best with the community center and students in that space.

Since that first experience with a FabLab, I’ve continued to make in my own way. I embroider and I make zines and I learned more about makerspaces that contained textile equipment like sewing machines and other paper crafts. I also learned more about 3D printing when I worked at Penn State and was working next to our Media Commons (which housed over 30 printers!). I still couldn’t quite see the use case for me, but I finally started to have a better sense of how the technology worked and the language I needed to be a part of the conversation.  

I’m thinking so much about my past experiences because now I have a chance to help shape how our community interacts with our makerspace. I want to help folks understand the power of these spaces and be able to understand what they can do in this space. And I want to make sure the work of the makerspace is communicated in a way that resonates with folks. I think my past experiences help guide me in how to talk about this work and how to connect it to folks who might be new to this area. 

Information Literacy & Maker Literacies

As we wrap up the semester, I’m thinking a lot about the intersections between makerspace instruction and one-shot information literacy instruction. How do we as a department weave these two instruction programs together? How do we collectively talk about teaching that spans from discussing Google’s algorithm, to slicing a 3D model before we print it, to using keywords to find peer-reviewed sources, to evaluating the worthiness of an article or even a design we might print or laser cut? And how does the team of educators in this department learn from our makerspace coordinator and vice versa? I see a long runway here and am itching to really dig into these conversations and connections and ideas.  

Student Impact

Our makerspace has also had some great news coverage recently (story 1 and story 2). Stego Studio has been collaborating with an Honors class and a local community organization, Clovernook, to 3D print objects that help tell a story to blind and visually impaired students in Africa. For these stories, I was down in the makerspace, listening to our students talk about their work and their learning. Many students had wanted to learn about 3D printing but hadn’t had the chance to learn. This class not only provided them an opportunity to support a larger community, but also gain those skills through trial and error. As I watched one student explain, in-depth, how they took different models and modeled them together, I was reminded of the impact this space has. And the potential this space has if we are able to create more learning opportunities, both curricular and co-curricular

What’s Ahead

It’s time for me to jump more fully into makerspaces in 2024. We’re building infrastructure, processes, and expanding our awareness across campus. Those things (infrastructure, process, and outreach) feel like skills I have and am good at. What I’m less confident in is my language around what happens inside makerspaces. I am grateful I’m entering a niche within the field where so much has been done and discussed. I’ve picked up Re-Making the Library Makerspace: Critical Theories, Reflections, & Practices  and look forward to engaging with the ideas presented in the chapters and learning from folks across the field. I’m grateful for an enthusiastic and creative makerspace coordinator who I’m learning from each day. I’m also grateful for a supportive supervisor (whose work is featured in a Re-Making the Library Makerspace chapter) who has experience in this area and is coaching me on how to do this work. I’m excited to have gotten the chance to work with makerspaces again and look forward to what’s to come in the new year.