My First Conference (as an academic librarian)

I promise I did not vanish into the abyss. I did, however, disappear into an incredibly busy March and April and I offer profound apologies to my fellow ACRL bloggers, though I’m quite sure they understand how these things go in the wild world of libraries.

TLA 2022 in Forth Worth, TX. April 25-28. Theme: Recover, Rebalance, Reconnect.

One of the many events that consumed me during these past two months was the Texas Libraries Association conference, AKA TLA2022. If you are a member of #LibraryTwitter, you might be familiar with the controversy that was stirred up by one of the keynote speakers, Alyssa Edwards. I was unfortunately unable to go to this keynote due to a very long and tiring day waiting in lines (Sidenote: What do conference organizers have against chairs? I haven’t been able to sit on the floor without a monumental effort to get up again since undergrad. Do not make people stand in lines for hours! It’s not acceptable or disability inclusive or okay! Geez!) but the issue was echoed again and again in each session I did attend. Libraries are being badgered by bigots, zealots, and busybodies who jump on us the moment we show any support to LGBTQ communities.

It’s not as bad in academic libraries. My colleagues in public libraries and especially those in school libraries are taking the brunt of the abuse. However, the field itself is having a reckoning, if the thrust of nearly every main session at TLA is any indication. I attended sessions each day, and book banning and challenges, patrons abusing staff, programs being canceled and boycotted, and constant, aggressive censorship was a topic brought up at almost every one of them. Even while I was busily networking in the Exhibition Hall, my main goal of the conference, I saw it everywhere. The air hummed both with the tension of the amount of pressure librarians and library staff are under as well as understanding. Every time a speaker acknowledged how hard this has been on us, professionally, physically, emotionally, I could feel waves of relief coming off those surrounding me. I got it. I’m lucky to have a partner who is also a librarian, so he understands. But how many of the people I encountered at that conference had felt isolated in their struggles? If your family, friends, even colleagues just don’t grasp the severity of the anxiety you live in day after day, that the one book you order or the one event you plan is going to set off a tidal wave of complaints, how amazing must it feel to finally have someone recognize it? And not only that, but someone on stage, holding a microphone, speaking with authority?

Nadine Strossen addressed the audience of librarians during her mid-conference keynote when she said, “In the land of the free and the home of the brave, it should not take courage to be so brave to do your job.” And all I could think was yes, yes, thank you! Thank you for acknowledging what the people around me have been doing. Thank you for speaking that truth to the people who really needed to hear it.

And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how amazing Ibram X. Kendi’s session was.

TLA did my heart good. I took a risk by going, I know I did. Large gatherings like this are going to be a gamble for a while with the COVID pandemic still in full swing. We did have protections in place, particularly either a vaccination record or clear test being required to enter the convention center, but in the end I’m very happy that I went and experienced this validation. No, I’m not on the front lines of this fight, but I’m also not so sheltered that I can ignore it (nor insist on continued oppression-favoring neutrality like some  members of our field). It was a memorable and important first conference for me in my academic librarian career. I’m hoping to attend more in the future, especially because I don’t see today’s problems going away any time soon. I’m going to keep my head in the game to support fellow library workers. We all need each other right now, that’s how we make it through this.

One step at a time.

How We Meet: Making Use of Departmental Time

During the last few weeks, I started planning for the summer. I like to think summer is still months away, but the spring temperatures have returned and we are entering the final stretch of the semester. Summer is approaching!

For myself and the team I lead, summer will be busy. We’re slated to teach a five-week intensive information literacy credit course – two hours a day, five days a week. We are co-teaching three sections of the class and working together to edit the curriculum to fit the needs of the program this summer. The course will run from mid-July to mid-August. Once the course wraps up, we’ll get one week to recover, readjust, and then we jump straight into the fall semester. 

As we talked about how we would prepare for this summer course, I realized that we would need to prepare for the fall semester in May and June. This would allow us to focus on the teaching in July/August and then give everyone a break before the fall semester. In thinking through all the topics we wanted to cover in the summer, I realized I would need to be savvy with how I scheduled department meetings in May and June. Lucky for me, I love planning meetings.

A little meeting context

In stepping into a department head role, I’ve tried to be intentional about when and why we meet. Especially when I started in the job, I wanted to make sure we had time as a team to come together, discuss current topics, and make decisions together. I used those meetings to gain additional institutional context and open up space for the team to see connections between their experiences. Those were the types of meetings that truly could not be an email and helped to establish a strong team foundation. For the most part, I scheduled the meetings in advance and would occasionally add a meeting into the rotation if a topic came up we needed to spend time discussing. I learned a lot from the fall, including some ways I wanted to change up our meeting schedule in the spring. 

In true pandemic fashion, our spring semester started off remotely. However, having a strong meeting foundation allowed us to go virtual without too many issues. I introduced a new format for the team – the monthly business meeting. Each month, we have a meeting to discuss individual team news and share updates related to some of our bigger projects (like one-shot instruction, our GEARUP program, and our Library Informatics program). The goal for this format is to open communication and encourage folks to share news to keep everyone in the loop. Originally, I had blocked 30 minutes for updates and 30 minutes for feedback on a certain topic. I quickly learned that dividing the time like that doesn’t work for the team. So business meetings are now focused on just updating and looping everyone in. I think they are working and I’m excited to keep tweaking the format throughout the year. Similar to the fall, I’ve had to add in a few extra meetings, but I think I’ve started to understand the semester rhythms and in extension, the department rhythms. A few meeting types we’ve established as a team are:

  • Instructional data sharing meeting: This meeting happens near the end of the semester and focuses on our one-shot instruction. We discuss data we collected from our students and instructors and also use the time to plan for changes to one-shots for the upcoming semester. It’s a great way to celebrate our work, see the impact, and discuss changes.
  • End of semester celebration meeting: This meeting idea came from someone in the department, who asked if we could have a meeting where we didn’t have a formal agenda and could just spend time together. It was probably my favorite meeting in the fall, because we got to be together, do a craft, and enjoy some holiday snacks. It’s a nice way to celebrate our hard work from the past semester.

Summer planning

With all of this meeting knowledge, I wanted to take a wider view as I planned for our summer meeting schedule. I printed off a full 2022 calendar and marked off when we had met this year and then tried to identify our summer meeting schedule. I started to notice the frequency of our meetings and the many meeting topics we covered each semester. I pinned up the four pages to my corkboard and you can see the full spread in the photo below.

Four sheets of paper are displayed and each piece of paper contains three months. Each month is marked up with meetings and notes about the purpose of each meeting.
The full 2022 EOS meeting schedule. There’s some meaning behind the colors and patterns, but it’s not important to tell the overall story!

As I penciled in our summer meetings, I quickly saw that June would not only go by fast, but we would have to be intentional on what we chose to focus on. Ultimately, we could not cover everything. I tried to identify things I knew we needed to cover in order to start the fall semester off on the right foot. In planning our June meetings, I tried to incorporate some new meeting formats to see what might work best. I’m hoping to pilot the following meeting types this summer:

  • Mega meeting: Borrowing the name from a former department I worked in, this longer meeting is meant for bigger, conceptual discussions and collaborative work. For us, we’ll be doing a full day meeting (with food) to begin the work of preparing for our summer teaching.
  • Pre-Sprint Meeting: In the middle of June, I hope that the team can work on some larger projects and can focus on specific projects during a week-long sprint. To kick off that work, I want to begin with a department meeting on a Monday where we discuss the topic at hand, assign the work, and then go off into smaller groups to get the work done. For example, we’re going to revisit our curriculum maps and I want us to build out time to really focus on this work. 
  • Optional working meetings: I’ve blocked this time on everyone’s calendars and reserved a space, but it will be up to each individual on how they’d like to use that time. If they are working in small groups, it’s a block of time to get together and collaboratively work. But, I also scheduled these knowing folks will be on vacation or have other things to focus on. 

The summer meeting schedule still looks a little overwhelming, but I’m hoping these meeting formats will help us have the team conversations we need to have and help to assign the smaller group work. I’m curious to see how these meetings pan out and what I learn along the way. I know this summer will inform how we set up meetings in the fall. 

I won’t lie that after laying out all our department meetings in this calendar format, I had a minor freakout. Was I trying to do too much? Were we switching between topics and projects too quickly? Were we focusing on the “right” things? In speaking to a colleague, she reminded me that department meetings can be as frequent as I would like, as long as I feel that the time is used to move work forward. This was a good reminder. I know my leadership style is collaborative and during my first year, I will err on the side of too many meetings, because I want the team to understand my thought process and weigh in on the department decisions. Overtime I know the team will establish a rhythm and we will develop other mechanisms for making decisions. I feel like I’m learning a lot from organizing department meetings, something I didn’t anticipate when stepping into this role! 

So now reader, how do you meet with the people you work with? How many meetings are too many meetings for you? How do you keep in touch and keep the work going outside of regular meetings? I would love to hear from you on how you think about departmental time.

The Back of the iPad Cart And Other Things I Didn’t Anticipate as a New Department Head

What felt like the longest month (January) is finally over. I don’t know about you, but the combination of cold temperatures, snow, the surge in COVID cases, and the push to “de-densify” the campus really put me in a pandemic funk. Each week felt out of my control and full of back-to-back virtual meetings. After spending a full semester working entirely in-person and only having a few virtual meetings each week, my body definitely needed time to readjust to working from my dining room table.The days went by fast, I was full of hectic energy, but January as a whole felt like a slog. 

As I emerge and jump headfirst into February (my favorite month for many reasons, including the arrival of my birthday), I tried to identify the reason for a hectic January. I think part of it was encountering some things I hadn’t anticipated. As I’ve talked about on the blog before, I’m new to being a department head. I’m finding it challenging and rewarding in all the right ways and an opportunity for me to grow. But like any new position, things pop up that you don’t think would happen. As I stood in front of our iPad cart, trying to determine what cords went where, I figured it would be fun to discuss a few of the things I’m navigating! 

Balancing team vs. me time

One of the things I enjoy about my new role is the ability to take a bird’s eye view at what the team is doing. It’s great to see how each individual is moving a project forward and I love to connect teammates when their interests and skill sets match up. I love thinking through the vision of the department and how our individual goals work towards collective goals. But sometimes I get to the end of the work day and realize that I’ve been spending so much time thinking about the team, I haven’t thought about me. 

By me, I mean the individual projects and work I do that is connected, yet separate in some ways, from my department head role. For example, the awesome work I get to do with LibParlor and the IMLS grant we received. Or writing this blog post for ACRLog or planning a one-shot instruction session. I’m still trying to find the balance between how I assist and support the success of the team I’m leading, but also find time to work on the things that are part of my portfolio. Recently, I’ve gotten around to blocking off chunks of time for certain projects, closing out my mail when I’m not actively sending email, and using my virtual to-do list to label when work will be done (morning vs. afternoon) and if it will require ample brain space. I know a perfect balance will never be achieved, but I’m working on being more cognisant when one side is overtaking the other. 

Defining workflows and processes 

The name of this blog post comes from a recent experience where the department got new iPads (yay). As the department head, I got thrown into how we might manage them and how we work with our central IT to maintain them. I’m a process-oriented person, who is also aware that we should capture the success of using this technology (so future funding can be secured when we need it). As I watched our IT department deliver our iPads to the library, I realized that managing 24 iPads is not the same as managing my own personal iPad that I watch Hulu on. In the process of figuring out these new devices, I inevitably spent more time on them than I anticipated. And time I didn’t even consider – like rearranging the cords in the back of the iPad cart to be neat and orderly! Was that necessary? (Probably not). Did it make me feel more organized and together? (Sure did). I know this preparation work will pay off – I’ve gotten to know folks outside of the library and think about how these iPads are part of our bigger instruction work. However, the long game doesn’t mean the short game doesn’t feel hectic!  

The pandemic (enough said, right?)

I feel like my pandemic journey at my current institution is backwards – I interviewed for the role in June 2021, during the sweet period of no masks. I started the job as the mask mandate was put back into place, and now my 2022 started off with my institution deciding to push the start of the semester back a week and encourage work from home as much as possible. I’m thankful that I had a full semester with the team before jumping into an almost entirely remote work situation. It has been weird not to see my colleagues on a daily basis and at times, I feel a bit disconnected from some of their day-to-day work. This was also really my first chance as a manager to manage in an evolving pandemic situation. It means I’m sending a lot of emails and trying to model the ways I remember feeling supported in my previous role when the pandemic was shifting and changing. We are just all trying to survive.

What’s next? 

I wish I knew what was next! Ideally, I’ll go back to a “pandemic fall normal” on Monday. I’ll keep doing my thing and figuring out strategies along the way. I’ll keep celebrating the small wins, like functioning classroom iPads that have wifi! I’m curious – did anyone else have a particularly dreary January? What happened that you didn’t anticipate? 

Reflecting on Library Instruction

Palms are sweaty, knees weak but I’m not talking about spaghetti (sorry, Eminem); I’m talking about teaching a credit-bearing library course! This last Fall semester, I not only started my first official librarian position, but I also taught my own credit-bearing library course for the very first time. It’s something I’ve briefly mentioned in previous posts, but it’s actually been a huge part of my experience as a first-year academic librarian.  

Within my library, my position falls under the Teaching and Outreach Department. In addition to outreach services, my department’s responsible for teaching several one-shot library instruction sessions per semester as well as teaching credit-bearing library courses. Most of our one-shots are delivered to first-year undergraduate courses, but we also offer the usual library orientation session and course specific instruction as well. Our credit-bearing classes are often co-requisites of corresponding courses. For example, we teach library research classes that support the following programs: Speech and Audiology, Honors, CHE (a TRiO Program for first-gen students), History, and Criminal Justice. The course I teach, LIB 160: Library Research, supports the Criminal Justice program.  

There are several components that come with teaching a co-requisite course. Myself and my colleague, who has been teaching 160 for some time now, regularly collaborate with the faculty member in charge of the course we’re a co-requisite of, CRJ 380: Research Methods in Criminal Justice. This means we do our best to ensure the work that’s done in 160 is closely aligned with what students are expected to do in 380. The major project students complete in 380 is a research proposal. The final assignment in 160 is a literature review which becomes a part of students’ research proposal for 380. Though we work hard to ensure that 160 provides students with the information literacy skills necessary to be successful in their field, planning for and teaching the course is not without its share of struggles.  

Some of the struggles that came with teaching 160 were fairly standard for teaching a new course. In spite of finishing my MS-LS with a solid understanding of information literacy, learning an entirely new curriculum designed for a subject matter outside of my expertise was my first big challenge. Though my colleague who taught the course before me was open to questions and more than willing to share her materials, I still had several lessons and assignments to familiarize myself with in a relatively short period of time – My position started in July and classes began in August. Thus, a great deal of my orientation process was dedicated to learning the ins and outs of 160. After starting to learn the curriculum, actually being in the classroom itself and teaching the lessons became my next challenge.  

Thanks to my colleagues who introduced me to the idea, reflection has become a part of my teaching process. Last semester, I got into the habit of journaling after every class. I’ll be the first to admit that not every day was my best last semester. To give you an idea, the words and phrases I used to describe my first week of class were: nervous, felt weird, stress, sweaty, talking too fast, and I think they liked my personality. Imposter syndrome loomed large for me. Though I have years of experience teaching high school, the thought of teaching in a university was intimidating for me. I was always a little nervous whenever I taught high school, but this was different. In hindsight, it may have been a combination of different things: new job, new responsibilities, first time teaching a new course. Yet, all of that isn’t to say that there weren’t any successes last semester.  

Seeing my students learn and grow has always been among my greatest successes as an educator. This past semester was no different. At the beginning of 160, my first assignment asked students to illustrate their current research process. At the end of the course, I asked my students to carry out the same assignment but to add any new steps they may have developed in 160. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the majority of my students added several steps to their old processes. Course evaluations were another new but pleasant surprise. 

Needless to say, teaching an in-person course during a pandemic is a challenge. Though my institution has a vaccine and mask requirement, the semester was not without its fair share of quarantines, sicknesses, or students dealing with labor shortages at their jobs. I’ve always felt that, before anything, students are people with lives outside of the classroom – Lives which are often subject to circumstances outside of their control. Because of this, I’ve always strived to be an open and understanding instructor. Even so, it was my surprise to see that several students noted my approach in their course evaluations with comments like, “Professor García truly cares about his students and them succeeding” and “He was very understanding with assignments and helped me when I needed an extension.” Though I often felt like maybe I didn’t know what I was doing, I’m happy to report that I never lost sight of my students’ humanity and my responsibility to them as an instructor.  

Flash forward to the present, my class is entering its third week and I’m happy to report that it’s been great! In spite of the current Omicron surge, students in quarantine, and snow days, I feel so much more comfortable as an instructor this time around. Looking at my reflection journal, the first week was described as comfy, easier, nice balance, and connecting with students well. Though I know improving one’s pedagogy is a continuous process, knowing the semester has gotten off to a great start fills me with great optimism. 

My view of my classroom. 

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?