We have tents and grand speeches, branded masks and slogans, rehearsals and schematics and all of the plans that accompany major performative events. And to be honest, that’s exactly what college, university, and academic library reopenings feel like to me: A Performance.
We’re reopening because of political pressure and financial need, not because it’s suddenly safer to do so. We can’t talk about closing after reopening; in fact we pretend it’s not even an option. We only talk about cutting services, socially distancing, limiting crowds in the library, and cleaning and sanitation. We suspend disbelief so that we can say it will all be as safe as possible because this is the story we are telling; this is the performance we are giving. We see some universities cancelling these performances, but most of us are persisting.
I, like many of you, am not great at this performance. I can’t “Yes, and…” these plans as I sit safely working from home for the next few months. I am not putting myself at risk but my colleagues are going to be doing that everyday. It’s a dangerous performance set on a foundation of hopes, best laid plans, willful ignoring/ignorance, and government incompetence. I don’t know how long it will run–2 weeks? 2 months? a whole semester?–but it’s not a show I thought we would ever be performing. It feels like living in a McSweeney’s essay or an article from The Onion.
I am grateful to have a job / part to play in this performance. I am grateful to have health insurance and meaningful work I can do from home. I am grateful for my paycheck. But do I love this performance? No.
My diversity fellowship at Cornell University has been such a transformative journey, with so many opportunities to learn, grow, and expand as an academic librarian. I spent the first six months of my fellowship working as an Assistant Archivist in Rare and Manuscript Collections (RMC). During this time, I worked with the Human Sexuality Collection (HSC), cataloging visual resources to improve access and description for researchers and community members, processing collections, and working alongside the curator, Brenda Marston, to grow the HSC’s Instagram presence. Serving on RMC’s Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging Task Force, I also co-authored a 40-page report on recommendations and best practices on our commitment to social justice (something I am passionate about and see as an integral common thread to all of our work).
I spent the rest of my fellowship working as an Instruction and Outreach Librarian at Albert R. Mann Library, Cornell’s library serving the College of Agriculture and LIfe Sciences students, staff, and faculty. Here, I rediscovered my passion for teaching (especially with zines!) and put my community organizing background and skills to use through creative outreach strategies and innovative programming. For example, I founded and facilitated a makers night for women, transgender, and femme makers – communities that have often been excluded from and left out by Makerspaces – at the mannUfactory (Mann Library’s Makerspace). This biweekly event introduced students to our Makerspace to build their skills (and confidence) as makers. I directly sought out the expertise and experiences of LGBTQ+ students on campus so we could plan projects they were enthusiastic and excited about, such as a gender-inclusive fashion night. I also built interdisciplinary, cross-campus, collaborations with staff, faculty, and graduate students to bring together a diverse array of skillsets, knowledges, and experiences.
Another project I undertook was co-founding the Equity and Empowerment Reading Group, a social justice reading group for librarians and library workers, with two of my amazing colleagues, Eliza Bettinger and Wendy Wilcox. Together, we created a set of collective guidelines to facilitate our discussions, picked an initial topic (recruiting diverse candidates for library jobs) and selected a few articles, booked a room, ordered food, and sent out an invitation to the library’s listserv. At the end of our first meeting and discussion, we solicited feedback from everyone about topics they’d like to read about and discuss in the future. Before COVID closed down our campus, we met at Olin Library, with anywhere from a dozen to twenty librarians and library workers trekking across campus to meet each month. Since then, we’ve begun meeting and facilitating the reading group via Zoom, which has been a successful experiment and transition. Together, we’ve been able to create a community within our library system that pulls people together around social justice across physical and disciplinary boundaries. I’ve had the opportunity to present on topics ranging from zines as an intervention in trauma recovery to queer worldmaking through art, as well as to teach webinars on trauma-informed librarianship and supporting survivors in libraries. And of course, to blog here at the ACRLog as a First-Year Academic LIbrarian blogger. During my year blogging here, I’ve explored topics such as trauma-informed librarianship, dealing with rejection, and radical vulnerability and empathy in libraries. As my year blogging at the ACRLog comes to a close, I want to reflect on – and share with you – the lessons I’m taking with me from my fellowship to wherever I may land next (I’m on the job market and excited about instruction, outreach, and student success positions in the Northeast).
Lesson #1: Ask for help
Asking for help is a sign of bravery, strength, and wisdom. I want to acknowledge that asking for help is really hard to do, especially as academics. However, I’ve found the benefits of reaching out for support far outweigh the challenges, both personally and professionally. Whether you’re having a hard time learning a new technology or struggling with your mental health, it’s important to reach out and ask for the support you need – and deserve.
For example, during the month of October, my post-traumatic stress disorder always worsens. Last year, I asked for help before the month started by reaching out to a person I felt safe and comfortable with, my supervisor, about getting accommodations for my disability. Not only was I able to get the help I needed to succeed professionally, my supervisor also looped in colleagues (with my consent) to set up a collective care document to help me through the month. Instead of just surviving that month at work, I was able to truly thrive as an academic librarian.
None of us can do this work all on our own, alone, or in isolation. I believe wholeheartedly in interdependence, which is one of the ten principles of disability justice. In an interview with writer and organizer Mia Mingus, she states that interdependency is “thinking about how […] we build relationships and how […] we build in such a way that really pushes back against the myth of independence and this myth that we can and should be able to do everything on our own. Or even this myth that that’s what everybody wants to do, that that’s what everybody desires, is to be independent.” Approaching our work and lives through the lens of interdependency acknowledges that we all bring unique experiences, wisdoms, and knowledges to the table, that we all have things to offer, and that we value everybody – because as people, we are inherently valuable. As I often remind my friends and colleagues (and myself!), you are not your productivity.
Lesson #2: Find your niche
When I started my diversity fellowship at Cornell, I had no idea what I wanted to do, outside of being an academic librarian. My past work experiences included managing an LGBTQ+ resource library, organizing library and information science conferences, and making my university’s special collections accessible as digital collections. It wasn’t until after I started teaching and doing outreach at Cornell that I realized that was what I wanted to do! I had always loved teaching but stopped pursuing an education degree due to my identity as a (gender)queer disabled femme after learning the realities of what queer, trans, and disabled K-12 teachers experience. Working as an Instruction and Outreach Librarian helped me rediscover my passion for teaching.
My background as an interdisciplinary artist and zinester led to me teaching classes from a variety of disciplines, ranging from communications courses to pre-med ones, using creative instructional tools and feminist pedagogies. I ended up receiving tons of instruction requests based on my reputation as the “zine librarian” at Cornell. This, in turn, led to receiving paid opportunities to educate professors about using zines as feminist pedagogical tools within their college classrooms.
Within my professional community, I began taking courses on and writing about trauma-informed librarianship. My work is informed both by my experiences as a survivor and by my education and professional research. Talking, writing, and even tweeting about trauma-informed librarianship led to paid speaking opportunities, such as webinars for professional library organizations. Having a niche can lead to a plethora of opportunities, including ones I hadn’t imagined for myself. Who thought I’d receive honorariums to talk about topics I love and am deeply passionate about? I certainly hadn’t!
Lesson #3: Build community
As an early-career librarian, it’s been especially important to build communities of practice and support. Twitter has been an invaluable tool in connecting with other librarians for me. While I was earning my MLIS, I knew that lots of librarians were active on Twitter, so I began following folks doing research I was interested in, who had jobs that seemed like something I wanted to pursue, and/or who shared identities with me and could relate to some of the struggles of being in this profession as someone who is trans, queer, and/or disabled. I reached out to folks, tweeted regularly, and built relationships, even friendships, with other librarians who have continued to help me as my career shifts, transforms, and evolves. As my fellowship comes to an end, so many other librarians have sent me relevant job opportunities, offered to help me practice interviewing, and edit cover letters, my CV, and so on. It’s easy to feel isolated within academia. Having a community, even an online one, is incredibly important.
Lesson #4: Explore the world outside of your bubble
Establishing your niche is important – but so is getting outside of your bubble! Academic librarianship can be so siloed; it can sometimes be difficult to break outside of our expertise or speciality area. I’ve found some of the best learning and professional development opportunities I’ve had, though, have happened when I stepped outside of my comfort zone to try something new.
If you have the funding available, make a case to explore a conference, class, or workshop outside of your area. I’ve found attending conferences like Creating Change, an organizing and skill-building conference for the LGBTQ+ community and our allies, and Allied Media Conference, a conference focused on relationship-building across issues, identities, organizing practices and creative mediums, to be incredibly useful for shaping my practice as an academic librarian. (Bonus: the Allied Media Conference typically has a Radical Libraries, Archives, and Museums track too!) If attending a conference outside of your field is out of the question, try exploring an offering at a conference you’re already attending that sparks joy or interest for you.
Unfortunately, many of us are having our professional development funding gutted or lack this crucial resource altogether. If you’re in a similar boat, I suggest checking out blogs, articles, or Twitter chats on topics that may not seem to be directly “relevant” to your work but are something you care about. Jessica Dai, a Resident Librarian at West Virginia University, has graciously put together a directory of free webinars and trainings for academic librarian workers, organized by topic, that you can learn from as well!
My fellowship has taught me so much – and I hope that I’ve been able to teach my amazing colleagues at Cornell a few things too.
Thank you all for reading along with my adventures – and struggles – this incredible year at both the ACRLog and Cornell. I want to leave you with a quote from one of my favorite writers, Anaïs Nin:
“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”
If I were in a movie, we would be at the part where the scene speeds up and you see me, moving through the weeks. My outfits change, and I move around my one-bedroom apartment, sitting and standing in all different places as I work and try to get my work done. Some days I use my second monitor and other days, I prop my laptop up on a shoebox to recreate the standing desk I deeply miss. In the middle of the montage, it cuts to me cutting my bangs, realizing they are cut at a slight angle, but they’re out of my face and I can go back to speeding around my apartment.
Like many people, these days I’m worn out. The pandemic continues, the racial injustices in our country continue to happen, and some days all I want is to be able to hug my friends again. My institution, like others around the county, grapples with how to “come back for the fall.” My library puts together a dozen committees to figure out how to reopen the libraries. We learn that ICE has new rules for our international students. We pass three million COVID-19 cases in the United States.
For most of my (short) professional life, I’ve taken a lot of personal joy and satisfaction from my work. I like the work I do and I care about the undergraduates I work with and support. I try to build programs that are sustainable and ones that respond to community needs. I reflect regularly on my practice and learn from my colleagues and peers who I look up to. And I gain energy and excitement about being in a work environment where I can run into my friends and colleagues throughout the day. But recently, with everything I mentioned in the paragraph above, I’m not getting that same level of joy and satisfaction these days. My remote work looks different and what I do this fall, with and for students, will look different. The plan I have right now is most likely going to change, in a few weeks, in a month, and in a few months. This heightened uncertainty (far more visible and palpable these days) resulted in me feeling more irritable, negative, and frustrated, with a touch of hopelessness. My whole vibe of, “Hailley is jazzed about everything” was really lacking in the last few weeks. It hasn’t been great and it hasn’t been good for my work, personally or professionally.
To combat this, I’ve realized that I’ve started to find ways to “get out of..”
My department, by holding space for time with my friends at other institutions. LibParlor meetings continue to be a source of joy, to know we’re in similar boats at each of our institutions, but can still support one another, either through a nice little vent session or energetic celebrations of good things.
State College. I’m writing this blog post tucked away in a cabin several hours away from State College. I feel grateful for the chance to do this, safely, and could feel myself relaxing as I got into my car and drove away on Wednesday afternoon.
My job, by creating space to talk to friends not in the library world, and making time in my day to do non-work things. It has been so nice to catch up with old friends, get the scoop on people I went to college with, and laugh at a whole host of things.
My head. This one can be tough, but I’m learning. Embroidery is good for that, and so is taking a long walk around my neighborhood, or going for a morning paddleboard (when I’m near a body of water). This is usually away from screens and the buzzing of notifications.
Finally, I’ve started to be more intentional about grounding myself before starting something. I’ve seen grounding exercises more recently when I watched my friend prepare for a job talk and at the opening remarks for the Advancing Racial Equity and Inclusion in the Workplace Symposium. It’s a small act, but personally, has helped me focus on what I’m trying to accomplish and hone in on what needs to be done, ignoring the other distractions.
I’m curious about what others are doing during this time. Have you found strategies or techniques that work for you? How are you stepping away or changing your librarianship during this time? What has been difficult and what has been bringing you joy?
This is not a post about tools and software for teaching online, holding class lectures via Zoom or Microsoft Teams, editing on-the-fly instructional videos, or developing interactive lessons in Articulate Rise 360.
Yes, my colleagues and I are doing these things and trying our best at them. But we are also anxious, tired, busy, scared, distracted, lonely, overwhelmed, frustrated, etc. You get the idea. We’re all doing the best we can under the circumstances and finding joy in the little things: Playing Animal Crossing, watching our child’s face light up when they figure out a tough math problem from the homeschooling curriculum, holding video chat parties with friends, texting while watching Drag Race together, etc.
We’re also teaching and interacting with students and faculty who are feeling all the same feelings and doing all the things they can stay healthy and comfortable. So what does that mean for all of us librarians now (or continuing to) teach online? What does, or what can, our teaching online look like now?
Compassionate Students may have children, parents, or extended family at home. They may be dealing with hunger, food insecurity, safety issues, or depression. They are likely scared, worried, and anxious about their health and the health of those they love as well as their ability to participate in a class successfully. In short, we don’t know students’ situations and we can’t make assumptions about their state of mind, internet access, health, or well-being.
What we can be is empathetic and compassionate. We can build in allowances knowing situations are less than ideal right now. Move from making things mandatory to making things optional enrichment. Do away with synchronous anything and let people learn at their own pace as they are able to do so. We can stop creating hard deadlines and look at ways to learn together.
Pared down We don’t need to cram in all the content we normally would in a session or in a semester class into the online classroom. What do students really need to know? NO, REALLY? You may find that it is FAR LESS than what standard curriculum dictates.
My son’s teacher sends us a grid every week and asks us to pick a few activities to complete. It’s self-directed, a fraction of what they would learn in the classroom, but it’s enough. My partner is re-evaluating his class content and stripping it way way wayyyyyy down to just the essentials.
Messy The videos, lessons, webinars, and learning objects we create are going to be messy and unpolished and that is good! We might excuse them by saying, “This is not my best work,” but it is amazing work. It’s the best work we can do during a global pandemic and that work is worth celebrating.
Connected If ever there was a time to focus on the human side of online learning, this is it. Don’t make it just about the content. Focus on the students. Give them time and opportunities to connect to one another and to you.
How are you tackling online learning during this time?
Last week, things didn’t seem so bad and I told myself I wasn’t going to write about the coronavirus for this month’s blog post. I told myself I would write about a project I’m working on or an element of librarianship I wanted to do a bit of a deep dive into. But this, this pandemic, is a “rapidly evolving situation” and now it would just feel strange if I didn’t talk about it. I’m using this post to mark time, to capture my early thoughts about working remotely, using Zoom, and growing a community while being contained in my apartment in Central Pennsylvania.
So much has changed in just a week. Each day feels like we are waiting for another shoe to drop. My institution has moved entirely online for the spring semester, commencement is canceled, and my days often revolve around checking maps, watching press briefings, thinking about vocational awe as libraries debate about closing to the public, and listening to podcasts on the pandemic.
I’ve been teleworking for about a week. It seems that every day is a bit of a rollercoaster. A slow start to each morning followed by an increasingly accelerated series of meetings, decisions, chats, and emails. The ride returns to the starting line between 5-5:30 PM and I quickly pack up my remote office, in an effort to stop myself from picking at work until bed. I’ve started to go for a post-work walks in my neighborhood and can’t help but notice the large amount of lion lawn ornaments folks have. Transitions between activities, especially work and personal, seem more important these days. Time has a new meaning, with nowhere to go and no plans to make.
As a student engagement librarian, my semester has bottomed out. Many of my events have either been canceled or are in the process of going fully online. This week I’ve created a lot of Zoom links, talked through remote possibilities for student work and events, and watched how the students I work with adapt to using remote methods. As someone who normally participates in a lot of online meetings, it never really occurred to me to change my display name or add a colorful background of a sunset. In some ways, it feels like I’m learning Zoom all over again.
In attempting to find a new normal (if we even want to call it that), I noticed the tension between wanting to just up and move everything online, as if this is a choice we willingly made, and the need to slow down and accept what’s happening around us. While some things cannot simply be plucked from face-to-face and moved online, there are other things that seem better suited to this new environment. I imagine that whenever we return to our offices, there will be residual effects from this. For someone who considers herself a bit of a workhorse, a “stay late and get it done” sort of gal, this change to teleworking has pushed me. I’ve been trying to accept the idea that it’s okay to take a beat to regroup and refocus. I try to hold that same space for my colleagues and students. As I was reminded in a meeting today, this “normal” we feel this week could look drastically different next week. There’s so much uncertainty in the air.
What this week has shown me is that even in this uncertainty, we have community. I feel a new sense of community and an intention to build. This intention comes in a variety of ways, from the group texts, the Gchats, the Marco Polo videos, and the virtual happy hours. When you’re not with people all the time, there’s a stronger need to (virtually) congregate. It has been reassuring for me to log into a Zoom room and see a friendly face. Even if we spend the first 15 minutes sharing all the information we’ve read and heard on COVID-19, it feels nice to share and know that we’re trying to get through this together. And if this pandemic lasts for weeks on end, our community is the thing that’s going to get us through.
In wrapping up this week, I’ve figured out my own ways of coping and marking time. I’ve started a daily picture of me at work and another thread on things that give me joy. I would be curious to hear how you all are getting through and ways you’ve found to build your community — at your institution or with friends and family, near and far. So I’ll end this post with my new sign off, a play on the Call Your Girlfriend signoff — see you in another Zoom room!