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?

Keeping in Touch: Maintaining Work Relationships After Changing Jobs

In my non-work life, I can be a persistent friend. I like reaching out and saying hi, letting friends know I’m thinking about them. I love catching up over the phone, FaceTiming to work on an embroidery project and gossip, or when travel allows, visiting friends and seeing their favorite spots in their city. Keeping in touch isn’t an easy task, especially during a pandemic. And during 2021, I’ve reflected on my big friendships and have tried to figure out what type of communication works best for us to keep in touch. 

In changing jobs, I’m thinking a lot about how I want to stay in touch with former colleagues. This keeping in touch includes both work friendships (which I’ve talked about on ACRLog before) as well as professional relationships and collaborations. After five years at an institution, there were some folks where it still feels weird not to hear from regularly. Especially colleagues I frequently worked with or colleagues who were part of my day-to-day working life. I’ve been at my new institution long enough to have new day-to-day work colleagues, but I still miss some of those past work relationships. 

So far, my strategies for keeping in touch have included the tried and true update email, finding time for a Zoom catch-up, brainstorming a conference proposal together, connecting them with new colleagues when interests match, and seeking out their expertise and perspective as I settle into my middle manager role. I’ve also appreciated colleagues who have reached out to check in, propose collaborative projects, and or share news.

Ultimately, I feel strongly that keeping in touch with folks from previous jobs is important. While my role and responsibilities might have changed, I like to imagine new ways former colleagues and I can collaborate and learn from one another. Just like any friendship, it’s exciting to see work relationships evolve and change as we grow into new positions and people. I also feel strongly that intentionally working across institutions through maintaining past work relationships is crucial. Working across institutions means we can always learn from each other and see how different situations play out based on student populations and institutional context. 

Something that’s tough for me in friendships is knowing when a friendship has changed. The same goes for former colleagues: not everyone is someone you have to keep in touch with. You grow apart and this can be especially true if you no longer see each other in your work ecosystem. I’m always reminded of wisdom I got from a professor at my college during my senior year: she told the graduating class we would only keep in touch with a couple of friends from our time at college. She told us that she knew we didn’t believe her (we optimistically thought we would stay close friends with everyone) but she was totally right. There’s only so much we can do to maintain friendships or work relationships. You can’t keep in touch with everyone and that’s okay. I’m hoping as in-person conferences return in the next few years, that will be a good space to reconnect and see those colleagues.

For me, I hope to apply a lot of my out-of-work friendship practices to maintaining former colleague relationships. Just like any friendship, keeping in touch requires a willingness from both parties and an understanding of what kind of communication works best for where we are now. I don’t know about you, but I think I’ve got a few catch-up emails to send out!


Featured image by Volodymyr Hryshchenko on Unsplash

Virtual Events are Awesome! Here’s Why

I became an academic librarian in February of 2021. Starting a new position during a pandemic is… weird, to put it lightly. For one thing, I’ve only done one in-person event. Everything else has been virtual. If I want to be honest about it, I kind of want it to stay this way.

Don’t get me wrong! As a former children’s librarian, I know the euphoria that happens when you have a good preschool story time or you can see, in real time, children growing from the services you’re providing. Nothing made me happier than watching kids learn and appreciate art in my Art for All Ages program. There’s a certain energy to in-person events that you can’t capture online.

The author with middle school students at a recent literacy outreach.

That’s not the point of this blog post, though. I’m writing this to tell you that virtual events are, in their own way, totally awesome. They’re unique and they have their own advantages, and every time I think about what we’re capable of now thanks to technology, I’m blown away.

Let me break down why virtual events are totally awesome into four of their many benefits:

  1. You can get presenters from anywhere. I’m lucky in that I have a budget that would allow me to fly people in from other places and put them up in hotels. But is that the best use of those funds? Especially now, because tickets are so much more expensive and flying is so complicated. Webinars skip that whole step. Just this year, I’ve hosted lecturers from Florida, Maryland, Virginia, Washington, Massachusetts, California, and New Jersey. I didn’t have to worry once about booking a hotel or what would happen if a flight got canceled. My goal is to eventually get someone from a different continent. Imagine hosting a webinar with someone currently in Paris or Barcelona or Tokyo! How cool would that be?
  2. No masks or social distancing necessary. My friends and colleagues in public libraries know well the struggle of getting people to wear masks. Students at my campus have been incredibly courteous about wearing masks in our library and about campus, but it only takes one confrontation to ruin the atmosphere of an event. Then there are the logistics that go into limiting attendance and social distancing. No worries about that when everyone watching on their own devices in their own spaces. And if you plan for 50 but 200 show up, cool! Not as muh when you have limited seating in a real-world auditorium. Been there, done that. It wasn’t fun even pre-pandemic.
  3. Accessibility. Yes, I know the digital divide can make this a struggle—My college is in an area where there are large gaps in connectivity in communities. Thankfully, we’ve been awarded grants to address these issues. We distribute Wi-Fi hotspots and laptops now.

    Once students have those resources, our recorded webinars can be accessed from any device with an internet connection. This is a benefit to students with demanding schedules because of jobs, families, other classes, or any number of responsibilities they’re juggling. Webinars are also an excellent way to include students who continue to take classes from home because of mobility issues, vulnerability to COVID, or because online learning is the most convenient form for them. Students with hearing difficulties have access to subtitles and captions. They can replay portions of archived webinars if they need or want a refresher. YouTube also allows students to slow down or speed up a video to match their own pace. I love webinars for the same reason I loved e-books as a public librarian: the technology makes for a more accessible and user-friendly experience.
  4. Your audience is the world. This is especially true if you offer free webinars and advertise them on social media. We have had people tune in from all over the globe for a Shakespeare presentation in April, and it’s so neat to see attendees type in the chat that they’re tuning in from far, far away. Again, the excitement is different from watching a live audience absorb an idea or having a patron thank you in person, but it’s still thrilling.
Zoom Webinar held on September 1st, 2021, as archived on the South Texas College Library Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KNLbMCUVaVk&t=7s&ab_channel=SouthTexasCollegeLibrary

Job satisfaction can be hard to come by in a virtual world, especially if you’re not someone used to cultivating relationships online. That said, webinars can still give those of us who have been seeking out that feedback a bit of what we lost when libraries shut down. Even once our situation changes, which (depending on who you ask) could be years into the future, I don’t see virtual programs going away. I’m certainly not going to stop. I find it too valuable a resource for our students and faculty.

I will definitely do in-person events again, but mostly for local presenters and programs that don’t translate well to online formats, like anything that involves food. I might be able to find job satisfaction through Zoom webinars, but until someone figures out how to digitize pizza, popcorn, and cookies, it’s just not going to have the same draw for our students. Who knows, maybe in the future we’ll be able to share a virtual pizza with a class while they listen to someone lecturing about cloud computing from Trinidad.

That sounds totally awesome to me.

Scenes from the start of the fall semester

I work at an institution with no mask mandate and no vaccine requirement. The emphasis is on personal responsibility, sphere of influence, and individual liberty. Our Access Services workers have kept our building open over the last year and a half while I and my other liaison services colleagues have been able to work from home, parent at home, teach virtual school to our children from home, etc. We returned to the library part-time this summer and full time now that the semester is in full swing.

The fall semester started on Monday. Masked and unmasked students enter the building in a surging mass looking for computers between classes, a place to sit and study, a break from the oppressive heat, or a working printer. I’m sitting in my office with my door closed fielding class requests from instructors who may or may not want a virtual option. Because of our institution’s politics it’s a weird dance of “we can offer…” and “what are your options?” We can’t come out and say “That’s way too many unmasked students in a classroom built for 30.”

I have virtual meetings with colleagues down the hall. We get together to go on masked walks–unmasked if the crowds are thin–and it’s odd but better than nothing. We are all in sneakers or birks and our comfiest workwear. Everyday brings a new administrative email about vaccine incentives, testing options, contact tracing, flow-charts for classroom instructors, temporary remote work guidelines, etc. We all feel at turns hopeful, fearful, gaslit, angry, and exhausted.

I don’t know what fall semester will look like in 2 weeks much less 2 months from now, and I mean that in terms of work, family, health, and general well-being. I don’t do well with broad uncertainty (hello, anxiety!) but it’s the way of life right now. I’ll take joy in a well-placed LEGO set, an iced coffee, or a day off work to go to an empty beach with my family. I will do what I need to do to do my job well and keep my family safe and healthy.

What is your fall semester looking like this year?

Time out! In defense of taking vacation

During a bit of downtime last week, I sat down with my calendar and penciled in a few long weekends and a full week of vacation this summer. 15 whole days! During most of 2020, it felt “pointless” to take a vacation if I couldn’t go anywhere new or visit anyone I loved. At most, I took a personal day here and there, and one family trip in August when Covid rates in my area were low.

So as the summer approaches, and many of us in academic libraries anticipate quieter days in the stacks or our home offices, let’s talk vacation. 

No-Vacation Nation

First, you’ve probably heard that in general, Americans don’t use most of their vacation. Our country doesn’t guarantee paid leave and paid holidays, and those who do have jobs with PTO leave a lot of days unused every year. Even if we do take time off, a lot of us struggle with guilt around using vacation time, or truly unplugging while we’re away.

For most of us, the summer is the quietest and easiest time to take vacation. And yet I still felt kinda funny requesting off, worrying how it would affect my colleagues’ workloads, whether it was even “worth it.” I thought I’d share the anxious objections that came up when I considered PTO, and how I addressed them:

It’s unfair to my coworkers

Do you feel like when you take a day off, you’re screwing over everyone else in your office? If the culture in your library is a microcosm of the “No-Vacation Nation,” it can make it really difficult to take guilt-free time off. But I’ve noticed that taking vacation is contagious (in a good way). When one employee (especially a manager!) ensures they use their leave each year, it affirms that it’s okay to take a break.

At my library, we work a hybrid of remote and in-person shifts on a rotation, which means there is a little extra coordinating to do if someone wants to take a week away. My fellow librarians have been great about communicating and covering for each other. Could you team up with a trusted coworker, and plan to cover for each other while the other person takes a needed break?

There’s too much work to do / If I leave, the whole place falls apart

Let me gently remind you that we work in libraries. The work is not life or death. I know you care very much about your work, your students, and your colleagues, and that care is a beautiful thing. In order to keep giving that authentic care, you’ve got to avoid burnout, and taking scheduled leave is one way to help with that. As Alex wrote recently, you gotta fix your own mask before you metaphorically help someone with their own. 

Also, girl. It is not a virtue to be so irreplaceable that you can’t leave the office for a few days. 

Working from home is restful enough

Do I even need to entertain this hesitation? If the tone of ACRLog’s blog posts this year is any indication, we’re all working longer and more stressful hours this year, and just because we’re doing it in sweatpants doesn’t mean it’s rest. 

I can’t go anywhere

If you can’t travel, which most of us can’t, how can we make a staycation actually restful? Here’s a few ideas:

  • Unplug: I intend to sign out of my email on my phone, and tell my partner about the intention for accountability.
  • Plan something: Get some pleasure reading, or devote a day to exploring an outdoor space you’ve never been before.
  • This article from the Chronicle had some other great ideas for restorative breaks at home. 

My family can’t take off with me

My spouse has very little PTO, and uses most of it for their creative career. I’ve had to accept that I could either only take time off when they can, or become comfortable taking more breaks on my own. In past years, I’ve used my solo vacation time to visit faraway friends, do long-haul craft projects with my mom, and spend the time on activities my partner isn’t interested in. These have been some of my most rejuvenating experiences in the last few years!

Do I deserve a vacation? (Spoiler: Yes!)

I recognize that I’m writing this from a place of privilege, as someone with a full time job and good PTO. If you’re in the same boat, remember that vacation time is part of the calculation of your compensation. As Renee Graham wrote directly to my anxieties (and for the Boston Globe, I guess): “Don’t leave your vacations on the table. You’ve worked for it, and it is owed to you. In these difficult and disorienting times, a vacation taken is not a vacation wasted.”

To be honest, I was nervous to ask off for the dates I did, and I was nervous to write this post. The academic culture of burnout and overwork as a signal of your virtuous commitment to education is really hard to push against. But please take breaks. Real ones, where you pretend your library doesn’t exist for 3, 4, or 5 whole days. Do it for your coworkers, so they feel inspired to take breaks too, do it for your students, who need models of healthy academic life, and do it for you.