Feeling Connected & Supported: An End of Academic Year Reflection

It’s summer here on campus. The library is quiet and I feel a sense of calm as I look at the things I want to accomplish this summer. As each academic year comes to a close, I find myself naturally reflecting on the year, to identify common themes, big successes, and challenges.

One thing that stood out to me as I thought back on this academic year was the way in which connections with others played a big role in me feeling supported. Within this “connections” theme, I see three subcategories. In this post, I want to take a minute to expand on these subcategories.

Opportunities outside the library

During the past academic year, I had the chance to participate in two opportunities that existed outside of the library (and didn’t have any other library colleagues involved in them). I was part of an inaugural Leadership Institute and participated in a mentoring circle for 3rd and 4th year tenure-track faculty. I appreciated the opportunities to connect with other colleagues across campus and to sort of pave my own path as I was the only library faculty member in these groups.

The Leadership Institute was a newly developed program on campus to bring together leaders across campus to discuss issues, challenges, and opportunities within higher education. I have previously written a little about this program when we took the leadership orientations questionnaire. Overall, I found the group to be a nice touchstone each month. With changes happening on campus, having this group to check in, talk about what was happening, and hear from other leaders and administrators across campus was really useful. In many ways, being in this group confirmed my desire to continue in leadership and administrator roles. I feel that this group helped me connect with colleagues and also continued to give me the language and resources as I grow in this space. 

The mentoring circle was also a monthly commitment. Each month our mentor would bring us together to discuss campus resources, bring in speakers from different units, share insight on the tenure and promotion process, and create space to talk about what was happening with the university. I looked forward to these meetings each month because I appreciated the opportunity to be with others on the tenure-track. I’m currently the only person in the library on the tenure-track, so having others across campus navigating this campus process felt so supportive. I also appreciated our mentor, who was kind, took time to get to know us, and provided so many words of encouragement. I didn’t realize how much I needed to hear from someone, outside of the library, that I was doing well and on the right track with my work towards tenure. 

The departmental team

Within the library, the department I lead (Education & Outreach Services, EOS for short), was another important spot of connection. As I mentioned in my one-year job anniversary post, I love the team I lead and especially the ways we laugh and enjoy our time together. This year the laughter continued and so did our work. Countless times during the fall and spring semesters I would leave a department meeting and feel such excitement for how we were all working together. I appreciated the moments where someone on the team poised an idea or next step that was in line with where I was leading the team. It felt good to assign projects to the department and watch them come to life. I feel like my relationships with each member in the department continue to grow and having that sense of community has been so grounding.

My network

The final subcategory that contributed to me being connected and supported was my personal network. From the group texts, the weekly Zoom lunches, the regular check-ins, Teams messages, and the in-person meets up at ACRL, I felt lucky to have a great group of colleagues and friends by my side. I was especially thankful for my regular check-ins with other teaching and learning department heads at other libraries (shout out to Charissa and Rosan). It was so nice to have colleagues leading similar teams to discuss our challenges, our opportunities, and support one another. As I think back on the year, I couldn’t have done what I did without this network of support and encouragement. 

Overall, I feel like I’m headed into the summer with two feet firmly on the ground, ready to take on some big projects. I’m going to continue to create space to sustain these connections and seek out more opportunities to build and be in community. 

I’d love to hear from you – who helped you feel connected and supported this past year? What other themes did you see from this past academic year? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments of this post. 


Featured image by Conny Schneider on Unsplash

Sharing Our Work With Each Other

As the spring and summer terms begin, we enter conference season. Recently I’ve been thinking about the ways that academic librarians share their work with one another. In terms of traditional, formal sharing, this happens at conferences, webinars, or other sorts of lectures, and of course, through publications. But there’s so many more opportunities to talk about your research or other work you’re doing. I find sharing your work, knowledge, and experiences with your colleagues increases workplace culture and community, and lets you get to know your colleagues more closely. 

I remember attending the Ontario Library Association’s Super Conference last year and attending one of my coworker’s sessions. I loved hearing her share about the great work and research she’d been doing, but I couldn’t help but think, it took attending a library conference from a different province to hear about it. I never knew my coworkers were working on such interesting research projects! It just had not come up in our conversations.

At the University of Manitoba Libraries (UML), there is an annual Librarians’ Research Symposium, where our librarians can share brief presentations about their research. While the Research Symposium hasn’t been held since the pandemic, our library also hosts a series of brown bag lunch presentations called “UML Presents,” where presenters can talk about their research, fellowships, or anything else they would like to share. We also have a monthly newsletter that highlights librarian publications and other accolades. These spaces give a chance for anyone who wants to share about their work and let their coworkers in on the great work they’re doing.

I’ve noticed other associations host these small, informal events as well. A local library association that I’m a part of, the Manitoba Association of Health Information Providers, hosted their own research symposium last year. It was a chance for members to present lightning talks about the research they’re working on – or thinking about starting up. It was a low-stakes way to let others in on your work that might never be seen by those you work alongside.

I’ve always loved sharing my work with others and hearing about the work my colleagues do. And it’s not just sharing research, it’s all parts of our job: teaching, collections management, liaison duties, and on and on. It leads to new perspectives and ways of completing your work. I know that I have reconsidered how I’ve done something because I’ve heard of a different (and oftentimes quicker!) way of doing it. It can also lead to collaboration, whether that’s on a research project, co-teaching, or something else entirely. One of the best ways to get a coworker involved in a project is to know their interests. Outside of the people who read your article or scholarly work, sharing your work in formal or informal ways connects you in a way you might never otherwise have the chance.

If you know what your coworkers are instructing on, or researching, or involved in, it lends itself to letting others know about things that might interest them, like calls for proposals, conferences, interesting journal or news articles, or communities of practice. Not to mention, you can celebrate the work of your coworkers and be proud of the work that we’re all doing.

I’m always looking for places to share my work. I don’t know about you, but I have a puny number of Twitter followers—which is pretty much the only social media I use to post about my work as an academic librarian—so if I get the chance, I’ll think long and hard about volunteering to speak. What are the ways you share your work with your colleagues? Conferences? Communities of practice? Over coffee or a walk? Feel free to share below.

I encourage you to find ways to share your work with others. It can start a conversation, and you might never know what you’ll learn or where it will lead.

Communication & Leaving Things Behind

In March, I attended ACRL. The first session I attended was a morning panel entitled “Academic Library Leaders Discuss Difficult Topics.” The panelists (Jee Davis, Trevor Dawes, and Violete Illik) covered a range of topics and shared their insights with a full house. I took away many tidbits however, one insight stood out. The panel was discussing communication and how a common refrain from folks is that communication is just not transparent enough from leadership. In working through what this means, Trevor said, “Communication goes both ways.” 

A simple idea but for me, an insight that stood out. As both a current department head and someone who aspires to continue in administrator roles, I’m constantly trying to think about how to communicate information, at what level, and how frequently. But I think Trevor’s point serves as a good reminder; if you have the expectation for leaders to communicate, they also need you to communicate. Leaders can’t be expected to know everything, especially if the people who have that information aren’t sharing it up. Now granted, sometimes sharing up is hard because of the structures and or culture in place. However, this can be worked around. It requires folks to understand the structures and empower people to share, both good news and more challenging news. 

I’ve been thinking a lot about sharing up recently because of a situation I found myself in. A colleague left the institution and in an attempt to try to solve a problem at the reference desk, I opened a can of worms on a service I didn’t know much about. The colleague left behind some information but it wasn’t robust. They also hadn’t alerted the partners in this service about their departure so when I checked in to gain some more information, the partners were surprised to hear about me. 

Now I know that when folks leave institutions, it’s not always on the best terms or with the most generous timeline. I even wrote about the impossibility of tying up loose ends when I left my last institution a few years ago. There’s a lot procedurally to do to leave an institution and consequently, messes will get left for those still at the institution to clean up. However, what are ways to prevent messes, even before someone considers leaving? How do we encourage folks to lay the groundwork, document it along the way, and share that knowledge with more than just one person? This kind of structural work isn’t the most exciting but I think it can be some of the most important work.

This whole situation had me also thinking about my first post I wrote for ARCLog, about setting a project up for success, knowing full well that someday you might not be doing that work anymore. I know it can feel great to work on a project, know it inside and out, and feel secure that no one can do that work like you can. But ultimately, if we want that work to be sustainable and impactful, we have to make sure we are setting both the project and someone else up for success. I think this includes documentation of some kind and talking openly about the work (to all levels of the organization). 

To be honest, this scenario isn’t limited to only when someone leaves an institution. I remember one summer at my past institution where my colleague and I had some family issues arise. We were going to need to be out for parts of the summer, primarily over our larger outreach work that we co-led. When my supervisor asked what documentation we had to support our colleagues stepping in to do this work, we didn’t have anything. Luckily, we had some time to get everything squared away before we were out but life happens, our jobs are just one part of us, and we need to make sure we have information to pass along. 

So my takeaways from this situation is documenting what I can about this can of worms I opened up. I’m talking to folks (across, down, and up) in my organization about what I’m learning and how it applies to their work. I’m thinking even more about how I communicate department work to my supervisor and how I can create opportunities for the team to share their work, at a variety of levels, to various audiences. With summer just right around the corner, I’m hoping to get some time to work on some of that documentation for my work. It’s never too early to lay the groundwork for the work I’ve done and what I’ve learned along the way.

Would love to hear from you reader – do you have strategies to help communicate both ways? Do you have ways of creating work that is sustainable and actionable, even if someone has to leave your institution? Would love to hear your strategies and insights on this topic! 

Mysteries of Liaison Librarianship

I’m not saying I’m worried about faculty and students taking me seriously as a librarian, but harkening back to my days as a teenager who used to be a big fan of emo music: sometimes I feel misunderstood.

I recently read the article “The Librarians Are Not OK: A years-long attack on their status is bad for all of us,” written by Joshua Doležal, and published in The Chronicle of Higher Education. Despite Joshua using the same title as Anne Helen Petersen’s empathetic and heralding CALM 2022 keynote, he gets at several things I’ve experienced in my early tenure as a librarian.

I’m an early-career librarian who is still sorting out what it means to be an academic librarian. I work as a liaison librarian, supporting several departments in our Faculty of Science. My entire ethos as a liaison librarian—and one that I share constantly when speaking to students—is that I want to make things easier for them, to save them time. And I do, if they and their professors let me.

I search for opportunities to talk to students about information literacy and save them time as they search for and access library resources. But there’s a misunderstanding of what librarians do. I recently had lunch with a faculty member and graduate student. We were talking about library services for graduate students, and neither had much idea of what library services are available to them. This isn’t their fault; in a lot of ways, libraries have a marketing and advocacy problem. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve spoken with my friends, and they have no idea about the bulk of my job. I need to liaise with students and faculty in my subject areas, but if they don’t have any idea of what I can do for them, doesn’t that fall—at least in part—on me?

As librarians, we’re knowledgeable and we have deep professional knowledge. We’re the ones implementing and maintaining the systems that allow our patrons to find resources in our catalogue; we’re the ones ensuring our collections support curricula at the institution; and we’re the ones expertly and concisely instructing on how to find, access, and use all kinds of information. We need to make sure our community knows this and for more people to know what our work consists of.

Shirley Phillips writes in a recent Globe & Mail opinion article, that librarians she knew would “literally search the world over, using their knowledge and uncanny problem-solving skills to find needles in haystacks. But they also helped high school students with their homework. No matter the question, there was no judgment. They went out of their way to put people at ease, ferreting out their true needs, especially those who were ashamed to display what they thought of as ignorance in a knowledge-based institution. It was public service at its finest.”

I think so, too.

Core-Skills Based or Task-Focused Academic Librarianship?

In the forecourt of his temple were inscribed the words ‘Know yourself’, since it was only with self-knowledge that a human could unravel the confusing tangle of the priestess’s words.
Charlotte Higgins, Greek Myths: A New Retelling

I read an interesting column in University Affairs that argues work in academia is often task-focused. The authors, Alexander Clark and Bailey Sousa, gives task-focused examples such as organizing meetings, responding to email, and teaching. However, they advocate that to be a happy academic, you should adopt a core-skills based approach. This includes improving your learning and writing skills, being creative and influential, and working well with others and yourself. While Clark and Sousa’s advice is interesting to think about and certainly aspirational, I can’t help but think of my work as task-focused, but at the same time I want to continue to develop core skills.

As someone fairly new to librarianship, I like to think I am actively cultivating the habits that Clark and Sousa write about: by challenging myself and applying and volunteering for opportunities, practicing my formal and informal writing, and taking time to reflect on challenges and success alike. Many of us in academic librarianship continue to build these core skills. Our jobs consist of short- and long-term tasks, projects, advancement, professional development, and so on. I think there’s room for both core skills and tasks.

At the University of Manitoba, our library is currently going through a reorganization by implementing functional roles for liaison librarians, things like research data management, collections development, and instruction. At the same time, we’re evaluating our current level of liaison library services and determining which services to prioritize. Within our library, we will be holding focus groups with liaison librarians to ask what it means to be a liaison, what the core parts of our job are, and what tasks are we doing as liaisons? I appreciate having my voice heard during this process and it gets me to reflect on what I do in my role.

I think it’s important for all academic librarians to think about the work they’re doing and whether they find meaning in and are actively engaged in librarianship. I am reminded of the words of Kim Leeder, in her wonderful article from 2010, My Maverick Bar: A Search for Identity and the “Real Work” of Librarianship, wonders what exactly her job is. Ultimately Leeder discovers what her job consists of: “[m]y real work is Knowledge. If I hold that goal in mind, the details of how I accomplish it on daily basis begin to fall into place.”

Some of my duties, like instruction, support Knowledge directly. Other tasks, like tracking how many reference questions I respond to, are not tied to that higher goal–they’re more administrative–but are necessary for the reality of my workplace. If I want to continue in my job, I can’t just stop doing those less crucial tasks, but I can prioritize my efforts and most of all, reflect on what our work really comprises.

I challenge each of you to think about your real work of librarianship and how you build your core skills and continue with your task-focused duties.