Preparing for my IRDL experience

This past weekend, I spent a large amount of time at my dining room table, reading Collecting Qualitative Data: A Field Manual for Applied Research by Greg Guest, Emily E. Namey, and Marilyn L. Mitchell. And I was enjoying it.

Now granted, this wasn’t a book I just happened to pick up as a fun weekend read. This book, along with a few others, are part of the curriculum for the Institute for Research Design in Librarianship (IRDL). I’m a proud member of their sixth cohort. IRDL is an IMLS grant that aims to bring together an enthusiastic and motivated bunch of librarians that want to conduct research but need a little extra training and help. Early this year, I submitted an application, where I proposed my research project, included a one page cover letter about what I hoped to gain from this experience, and provided a letter from my institution that they would support me if I was accepted into the cohort. Once I received the good news, I booked a flight to Loyola Marymount University for early June, where a weeklong in-person workshop will take place. The workshop is the jumping off point for our project; beyond that week, we will meet virtually throughout the next year and talk to our assigned mentor, who is there to make sure our project stays on track. All of these support mechanisms are to ensure we get our project completed and to help each other along the way. Now that my spring semester is over, it’s finally sinking I’m less than a month away from our in-person workshop. My pre-workshop preparation has stepped up!

Beyond the training and getting to know a cohort of enthusiastic librarians who want to conduct research, I am excited to spend the next year on a meaningful and complex research project. Those that know my position know that I have spent almost two years building relationships, getting library colleagues to define student engagement in a similar way, and understanding how students at Penn State navigate student engagement. I think I’m finally at a point where I’m ready to learn more while also thinking about ways to make an impact and influence future directions. That’s where my IRDL project comes in.

The quick sound bite of my project: I’ll be using journey mapping techniques to have students at Penn State chart their student engagement journeys. What I want to know is how our students actually experience student engagement during their undergraduate careers and who are the people, units, resources, and opportunities they discover along the way. Of course, through this all, I’m also curious about how the library has or has not played a role in their student engagement journey. Ultimately, I want to get a more nuanced picture of what our students experience and begin to identify common points where the library could get more involved. While I understand that each student engagement journey will be unique to the student, I assume there will be some trends that emerge from these maps that can inform the work of both the libraries and Penn State’s Student Engagement Network.  At times, the project seems daunting, but the more I read in preparation for IRDL, the more I begin to feel ready to take on this project. I know I’ll be learning a lot as I go, and also get more opportunities to meet students at Penn State, which I am all about.

Well, my qualitative research book is calling to me, got to get back to reading! But I will definitely be documenting my time at IRDL and my student engagement journey mapping research in a variety of online spaces: on this blog, on my personal blog, on Twitter, and on LibParlor. So, more soon!


Featured image by rawpixel.comfrom Pexels

Herd Immunity

I’ll add to the post-ACRL 2019 conference reflection writing with a nod to the presentation I can’t stop thinking about and sharing with colleagues:

When Research Gets Trolled: Digital Safety for Open Researchers
by Reed Garber-Pearson, Verletta Kern, Madeline Mundt, Elliot Stevens, and Madison Sullivan

This group of librarians from the University of Washington advocate for educating scholars on digital safety and privacy, particularly those who make their work publicly accessible, do research with or about people from marginalized groups, and/or identify as a member of a marginalized group. They acknowledge the risk that public intellectuals, or scholars who seek to make their work open, take on in this world of targeted online harassment, doxxing, and offline threats. People of color, and women of color in particular, are most likely to be impacted by these acts of sabotage and harassment; we need only look at Roxane Gay‘s Twitter feed at any given moment to see this kind of gross activity.

It is, quite frankly, terrifying.

The presenters make the case that this kind of trolling can have a serious impact on academic and intellectual freedom: If a researcher is brutally bullied online and threatened offline, will they be less likely to continue their line of research and make their work publicly available? For all that we in libraries push for open access to research, we need to be equally concerned about the safety and well-being of the researchers we are asking to share their work. In advocating for their safety and sharing information about protecting themselves online, librarians can help boost what the panelists’ referred to as “herd immunity.” Researchers who protect themselves online also protect their colleagues, friends, and families, as online harassers often jump between networks to target others.

As a woman of color who does most of her thinking and writing openly online, I will admit that this presentation hit me hard. I have friends and acquaintances who have been horribly bullied on social media and in comments (yes, I always read the comments and know it is the wrong thing to do). I always thought this was to be endured. Trolls gonna troll. I am so appreciative of this collective of librarians who are sharing ways to prevent, or at least mitigate this harm and harassment. I thought the presenters struck the right tone–not alarmist, but informative and considerate. They had the best interests of researchers–and yes, that includes us as librarians–in mind. Their goal was to embolden us, not frighten us into retreating. This presentation was a good reminder that supporting researchers doesn’t end when the research concludes. If we want to push for open access and a public discourse of scholarship we have a professional obligation promote the digital safety that allows this open exchange to flourish.

You can read notes from the panel on a collaborative GoogleDoc, view their presentation slides online, and begin thinking about how you can create digital herd immunity at your institution.

Supporting the other side

So far in my research career, I’ve put a lot of stock, energy, and passion around the benefits of hiring and supporting student employment in the library. It’s the topic that gets me most fired up at conferences, the thing I’ll tweet about until I can’t tweet anymore, and one part of my job that I keep coming back to, regardless of my job title. I believe in the potential of undergraduate employees to be crucial part of the library. I believe that if you set the bar high, undergraduates will rise to the occasion. But recently, I’ve realized that in that belief, I had forgotten about the other side: the role of the supervisor.

A few months ago, I worked with a colleague to put together a landscape survey around student employment in our libraries. The goal was to discover who in the library was supervising students and if we could find areas of synergy. We asked questions around hiring, on-boarding, continual training, and barriers to success. As we reviewed the answers, the one I remember the most clearly mentioned that as a supervisor, they felt unprepared because the rules and policies around hiring, training, and supporting student employees were unclear. It’s one of those things they never give you a manual for, you’re just suppose to know. And of course, any manual that might exist is in pieces, scattered throughout HR websites, the library’s intranet pages, and library legends told to you by your colleagues. This stuff isn’t clear or transparent and often requires lots of time to figure out. This was the first moment where I thought, “Okay, building a program is more than just for the students. The supervisors also are an audience to consider.”

Recently, I’ve been reminded of this fact when I was leading an informational session on our internship program. In the session, as we talked about the components of the program, including a new community of practice group I’m building, one participant asked, “Will the supervisors also meet regularly, just like the students?”

After a small beat, I nodded. “Of course.” I was reminded of the survey and once again reminded of my own assumptions around supervision. In reflecting on that situation, I think I assume that people who had studente employees for a long time just knew how to do in a meaningful way. But it’s becoming more clear that just because you have student employees, doesn’t mean that you know everything or feel supported.

And upon even further reflection, I realized that since I started trying to create some program structures for our interns, I’ve done my share of complaining about how I never hear from some interns and that I can’t seem to get through to some of their supervisors. I often chalk it up to structural issues, or a desire for an official announcement to the library about my role with our interns. However, the more I think about this angle, the more I realize part of the problem is that while I logically understand having an intern takes a ton of time and energy, I’m not valuing that idea in practice. I’m not recognizing or finding ways to support my colleagues who do this work. In other aspects of my job, I talk about how I am there to support my colleagues who do student engagement, and this also applies to student employees and their supervisors. This support can happens in many ways — from having intern community of practice meetings to getting the supervisors together to let them know they’re not alone in this. I’m a coordinator and that means both for students and for my colleagues.

For every program that we create to support our student employees, we are also responsible for creating the necessary structures and support for our supervisors. If we want unified programs, complimentary training modules, and a shared vision for student employment in the libraries, we have to create the network for our supervisors. This lines up so nicely with George Kuh’s definition of student engagement, where institutions must be willing to provides the resources and support for these opportunities. If we want meaningful internships or purposeful part-time employment, we have to be willing to provide the support (through professional development, regular meetings, and honest conversations) to our supervisors. Neither the students nor supervisors can do this work alone and both groups need to feel supported in this endeavor.

So where do I go from here? I’m trying to be more intentional and start thinking of how I can help build those structures in my role. I’ve started using the word “support” in talking to supervisors about my role with our interns. I’ll probably add monthly intern supervisor meetings to my calendar this fall, and start to note down obstacles that this group might face (and how we can problem solve together). As the moderator for both groups (students and supervisors), I’m in the best position to provide feedback to either group and translate each other’s needs to one another.  

At your library, how do you (or others) support the supervisors who oversee your student employees? Do supervisors meet on a regular basis? Are they given chances for professional development or ways to gain new supervisory skills? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter!


Featured image by Riccardo Bresciani from Pexels

Celebrating friendships in academia

I first saw this tweet in a direct message between myself, Chelsea, and Charissa, after we got back from a little writing weekend in Austin. It seemed so appropriate that would see that tweet after spending four days eating breakfast tacos, running through the rain, and writing our LibParlor ACRL paper.

In the following days, I couldn’t stop thinking about that tweet. So, I want to spend this post creating a little space to talk about and celebrate friendships in academia. Spoiler alert: the goal of this post is to confirm that yes, these friendships are important. For me, my friendships in academia are also bound up in the fact they almost exclusively female friendships, so this post also seems apt with Galentine’s Day approaching.  

When I think about who knows the most about my day-to-day, it’s friends who are either are at the institution with me, or at another academic library somewhere in the United States. The common thread that  pulls us together is how we, as professionals, navigate the ecosystem of higher education. What we’ve learned through our friendship is that despite being in different places, departments, or stages within our careers, there is still a lot we share in common as we figure out how to work within and disrupt this system. And from that common thread, our friendship expands, into the rest of our lives.  

Last year I read Text Me When You Get Home: The Evolution and Triumph of Modern Female Friendship by Kayleen Schaefer. I couldn’t put it down, mainly because Kayleen’s thesis of the importance and recognition of female friendship really resonated with me. In seeing that tweet about friendship in academia, I immediately thought of Kayleen’s book. I think a lot of the conclusions she comes to could be transposed into an academic context.  

For example, Kayleen states that, “We’re reshaping the idea of what our public support systems are supposed to look like and what they can be” (6) through female friendships. Both in graduate school and now in my job at Penn State, I look to my gals to celebrate successes and work through challenges. When I first “became” a librarian, I use to get frustrated that my family didn’t understand what I was doing. I had been taught that a close family meant they would understand all the intricacies of my job. I finally realized that my family wouldn’t get why I did outreach, would not understand the full extent to which I tried to build community in an academic library, and would forever to fuzzy with what tenure was and how I was trying to achieve it. That is okay. Instead, I realized it was more meaningful to turn to my friends who are also in this academic space. They are my support system; they keep me in check, talk through ideas, cheer me on, and show up when I need them. And in being each other’s support system, we all find ways to show up for each other; if they shine, I shine.  

To bring these ideas together, I do want to share one friendship in academia story. When I first started at Penn State, I was lonely. I didn’t work typical, 9-5 hours or even the normal Monday-Friday work schedule. In the beginning months, as I stayed true to my hours, I missed opportunities to get to know other librarians who were in my department and across the library. However, as I got acquainted with the library during those off hours, I also got to know my closest friend at the library: Rachel. Rachel works in our Lending and Circulation department and in those first months, she taught me so much about the library. I could count on her to help me with just about anything — from looping her employees in on how to get a hold of me, to understanding the ins and outs of closing the library, and more. It was nice to have a gal working similiar hours. Eventually we our work friendship became just a good old friendship. While my job doesn’t overlap as much with hers anymore, we still find ways to collaborate and since she has just as much passion as I do around training student employees, we have found our own ways to make our jobs cross paths. If something is bothering me at work, you know she’s the one I’ll send a Slack message to or hope that I see her when I go pick up a book at the desk. Our friendship is one big part of my work-life narrative and I know my thoughts about the library would be different if we weren’t friends.     

And Rachel’s wasn’t the only story that came to mind when I saw that tweet; I’ve got a whole little collection of friendship meet cutes stories. I feel lucky to know so many wonderful women, doing great things in academia and I’m glad I get to be there to watch it all unfold. In the beginning chapter of Text Me When You Get Home, Kayleen says, “I look to my friends for the kind of support that comes from wanting only to be good to each other”(5). This idea feels important for academic friendships, especially when we are in an ecosystem that can be competitive, especially between women. Female friendships within academia can be a way we can subvert that competition aspect. Sure, at times we might be in competition, but these friendships remind us that at the end of the day, we want the best for one another and need to show up for our friends. Having good friends who can help you through academia does count and does make a difference. So, what does friendship in academia mean to you? How do you celebrate these friendships? Let’s keep this conversation going.  

 

Resolutions for Failure

How bout that January, eh?  Lots of memes out lately about the longest month ever.  Yet, like this reddit thread, I don’t really get it. I mean, despite my Oklahoma-born, summer-loving upbringing, I do expect that January is supposed to be snowy and damn cold.

I also don’t love, but expect annual evaluations.  They provide a time to reflect on the highlights of the year and set goals for the next.  Most often I approach this task (and leadership generally) from a strengths-based perspective, which has its roots in positive psychology research.  I encourage people to own what they are best at, even using it to build areas at which they feel not so great.   But, as January has brought a lot of harsh realities to the fore, it feels necessary to juxtapose this month’s normal, optimistic resolution with a page from Brene Brown and ponder what didn’t go quite right this year.

My acceptance into the 2018 cohort of the Institute of Research Design in Librarianship (IRDL) certainly put a postive move on a long-stuck research agenda, and in all respects (except one) it was an a-ma-zing experience. That same week, I was also furtively struggling to complete editor changes for a book chapter on knowledge management in libraries (ala this past post).  Trying to do research while learning how little you actually know about research is one thing.  Working on two research project simultaneously with that fragile skill set is another.  Working against an already extended deadline on a near-complete redo of said research and writing certainly takes one down a peg or two.  But wait!  There’s more.  None of these humiliations can beat the crushing horror four (4) months after submitting the final revised draft, realizing that I’d attached the wrong file.

Yes. Epic. Fail.

I have never asked for an extension I couldn’t meet. I have never wanted to write about a topic more than I wanted to write about meetings and knowledge management in library organizations.  Needless to say, the editors confirmed they’d moved forward without my chapter included. But if we’re being honest, while I was satisfied with the final draft I thought I’d submitted, this blunder was a blessing in disguise that helped me realize how far my cart was in front of this particular horse.

My actual and ongoing research for IRDL has been more like an extremely long January. I’ve progressed in some ways with ease and others with more groping at the dark.  Navigating my mentoring and research  network, I’ve partnered with a friend and colleague who is familiar with my topic and who has strengths in areas that I need to grow.  She and I have spent most of the year sorting out data after messy, incomplete data, just trying to figure out how to approach a sample to use for our analysis.  It’s been frustrating, paving over the same paths and feeling you’ve come up no further along.  We met again this week to pave with our local hub of digital research librarians. In the process we made breakthrough.  A face-palming breakthrough, but a breakthrough nonetheless.

I like to think Winston Churchill, as he’s often quoted, understood the better that lies ahead of the struggle.  Better even than the adage that this too shall pass (because, kidney stones?),  I prefer to remind myself and others that research is just messy until it’s not messy. This is what we teach as librarians, but sometimes forget to tell ourselves.

If I hadn’t been introduced to Brene Brown’s research, or learned what I did from IRDL, or had this particular editorial experience, or the practice of using my strengths, I don’t know that I could as easily take fails forward into something better and more genuine.  That I can say moving through vulnerability has become easier for me, is precisely because that is what the concept of strengths brings to bear for anyone’s vulnerabilities.  My top five Gallup strengths – Learner, Activator, Strategic, Analytical, and Individualization — help me more easily learn from my mistakes, analyze and strategize new paths, know myself and who to go to for help, and take action to keep going!  But even if you can’t yet  see your own strengths this way, research has shown vulnerability is a necessary part of personal and professional growth.

When I complete my current IRDL research, and when (not if) I  get back to research and writing about meetings and knowledge management in libraries, you and I both want it to be good and valuable and cleaner than the path it takes to get there.  So, I embrace the mess!  It may not always be pretty, but it’s a path that moves you forward if you let it.