Achilles’ Heel?, or Coping Strategies Turned Strengths

I stumbled across this article the other day. The gist is that leaders can and should embrace their confusion when confronted with illogical situations. Whereas some might see confusion as a liability to be concealed or let confusion debilitate them, strong leaders embrace their confusion as a productive tool. The author suggests that the Reflective Inquiry and Action (RIA) framework can help folks negotiate and use confusion effectively. The five steps outlined in the RIA framework — “embrace your confusion,” “assert your need to make sense,” “structure the conversation,” “listen reflectively and learn,” and “process your response aloud” — feel like common sense really. Looking back, I can recognize some of my own attempts to navigate these steps and can see how productive they were for not only overcoming confusion, but for building relationships with colleagues, too. 

It makes me think about other techniques I’ve embraced — the organizational approaches I use, for example, to help me grab hold and make sense of the thoughts buzzing around in my brain. The reflective techniques I practice when I feel muddled. They’re coping strategies, really, that I’ve adopted to help navigate my work, my thinking, my overwhelm. They’re born out of a need to manage what have definitely felt like long-time weaknesses. But I can also see now that using and refining these organizational and metacognitive techniques over the years has actually turned them into strengths. These have become ways of working, ways of thinking that are powerful and constructive. 

I’ve often heard colleagues both in and out of the library describe how little formal education or training they had to prepare them for their teaching responsibilities. While I had the benefit of a bit of educational theory as an undergrad and a grad school class that gave a nod to teaching, I would largely characterize my own teaching preparation the same way — it’s been a learn-as-you-go situation. I can see how the organizational and metacognitive skills I’ve been developing have also served me well here, giving me a lens through which to examine and reflect on the why, how, and what of teaching and a foundation from which to develop pedagogical approaches. What started as experimentation with personal note taking techniques, for example, has evolved into strategies for working with students to grow their own brainstorming and organizational techniques as they develop topics, consider the different angles embedded in their questions, and manage the sources they’re using to explore those perspectives. The reflective techniques I use to process my own work have helped me introduce metacognitive practices into my teaching — to talk with students about why and how to use those brainstorming and organizational techniques, for example, or as a tool to direct students’ attention and reflection. 

I came to administrative and supervisory positions with little formal training either. And here, too, I’ve been able to translate and further grow these coping strategies turned skills, whether for facilitating collaborative decision-making processes or mentoring a colleague or setting priorities. It turns out these skills — skills for sense-making, really — can be cultivated to be a productive foundation across domains.

I’m about to take on some additional administrative responsibilities so it’s no surprise that my thoughts are lingering around questions of weakness and strength, questions of preparedness. I’ve reflected before on how truly powerful these kinds of “soft” skills are. It strikes me anew how important perception and attitude are in making good use of those soft skills. I feel I’m venturing into Pollyanna, let’s-make-lemonade-out-of-our-lemons territory here and that’s not my intention or not exactly. I just mean that frame of mind and point of view can make all the difference in setting the tone for how we approach a problem or a weakness, how we make use of what we’ve got. 

This all made me think of that statistic I’ve seen cited so often — the one about how women are less likely to apply for jobs than men if they feel they don’t meet 100% of the qualifications. Looking for that source just now, I came across this Harvard Business Review article. While the author doesn’t deny that women may need to build more confidence, which is how I’ve often heard that statistic interpreted, she layers on some additional dimensions. She contends that it’s not just a lack of confidence, but also too strict an adherence to what women see as the rules of hiring. “They thought that the required qualifications were…well, required qualifications. They didn’t see the hiring process as one where advocacy, relationships, or a creative approach to framing one’s expertise could overcome not having the skills and experiences outlined in the job qualifications.” I think it’s that “creative approach to framing one’s expertise” bit that really applies here. We might already be cultivating the skills we need. We might be more ready than we think we are. We just have to recognize our strengths and put them to use.

Supervising a Makerspace: Musings from the Fall

This semester, Stego Studio, our library’s makerspace, moved into the department I oversee. This makerspace opened up around the time I arrived at my institution (fall 2021) and I’ve watched, from a distance, as the studio has grown and evolved. I was excited but also slightly overwhelmed when I was asked to oversee this space (and supervise our makerspace coordinator). It has been a semester of learning and stretching and I’m excited for what’s to come. As we wrap up this year, I wanted to share some thoughts I’ve had this fall as the makerspace takes up more and more of my work brain.

My past experiences with makerspaces

Before Stego Studio, when I thought about makerspaces, I thought about my graduate work. During my first year in graduate school, I was part of a grant that focused on digital literacy in the local community. One of the partners on the grant was the local FabLab. I myself worked at a community space and would negotiate with the FabLab about technology the community space needed. As I got started on the grant, I spent some time in the FabLab, trying to learn more about their technologies and space. In particular, I had no knowledge of 3D printing and couldn’t quite wrap my mind around what you do with 3D printing. During those first visits, I felt excluded in the space. I didn’t have the expertise to join the conversations happening around me and I didn’t feel like my own making experience was valued. In the end, I stuck to more work around using the Cricut and using a laser cutter. This level of making ended up working best with the community center and students in that space.

Since that first experience with a FabLab, I’ve continued to make in my own way. I embroider and I make zines and I learned more about makerspaces that contained textile equipment like sewing machines and other paper crafts. I also learned more about 3D printing when I worked at Penn State and was working next to our Media Commons (which housed over 30 printers!). I still couldn’t quite see the use case for me, but I finally started to have a better sense of how the technology worked and the language I needed to be a part of the conversation.  

I’m thinking so much about my past experiences because now I have a chance to help shape how our community interacts with our makerspace. I want to help folks understand the power of these spaces and be able to understand what they can do in this space. And I want to make sure the work of the makerspace is communicated in a way that resonates with folks. I think my past experiences help guide me in how to talk about this work and how to connect it to folks who might be new to this area. 

Information Literacy & Maker Literacies

As we wrap up the semester, I’m thinking a lot about the intersections between makerspace instruction and one-shot information literacy instruction. How do we as a department weave these two instruction programs together? How do we collectively talk about teaching that spans from discussing Google’s algorithm, to slicing a 3D model before we print it, to using keywords to find peer-reviewed sources, to evaluating the worthiness of an article or even a design we might print or laser cut? And how does the team of educators in this department learn from our makerspace coordinator and vice versa? I see a long runway here and am itching to really dig into these conversations and connections and ideas.  

Student Impact

Our makerspace has also had some great news coverage recently (story 1 and story 2). Stego Studio has been collaborating with an Honors class and a local community organization, Clovernook, to 3D print objects that help tell a story to blind and visually impaired students in Africa. For these stories, I was down in the makerspace, listening to our students talk about their work and their learning. Many students had wanted to learn about 3D printing but hadn’t had the chance to learn. This class not only provided them an opportunity to support a larger community, but also gain those skills through trial and error. As I watched one student explain, in-depth, how they took different models and modeled them together, I was reminded of the impact this space has. And the potential this space has if we are able to create more learning opportunities, both curricular and co-curricular

What’s Ahead

It’s time for me to jump more fully into makerspaces in 2024. We’re building infrastructure, processes, and expanding our awareness across campus. Those things (infrastructure, process, and outreach) feel like skills I have and am good at. What I’m less confident in is my language around what happens inside makerspaces. I am grateful I’m entering a niche within the field where so much has been done and discussed. I’ve picked up Re-Making the Library Makerspace: Critical Theories, Reflections, & Practices  and look forward to engaging with the ideas presented in the chapters and learning from folks across the field. I’m grateful for an enthusiastic and creative makerspace coordinator who I’m learning from each day. I’m also grateful for a supportive supervisor (whose work is featured in a Re-Making the Library Makerspace chapter) who has experience in this area and is coaching me on how to do this work. I’m excited to have gotten the chance to work with makerspaces again and look forward to what’s to come in the new year.

ALA’s 2023 Emerging Leaders Program

Over this past year, I have been in ALA’s Emerging Leaders’ program, for the class of 2023. I consider myself very fortunate to have been selected to be a part of this year’s Emerging Leaders; it’s been a transformative experience. The people involved in putting this program on do an amazing job, and the people I met through the Emerging Leader program show me the future of librarianship is bright. I wanted to write a reflection on Emerging Leaders so others can think about taking part in a program to increase their library community of peers and enhance their leadership skills.

ALA Emerging Leaders, Class of 2023

Overview

The ALA Emerging Leaders program is a leadership program for librarians with less than five years professional experience, intended to gain leadership skills through working groups and introduce participants to the ALA governance structure to use leadership skills through future ALA volunteerism.

ALA Emerging Leaders attend LibLearnX (previously called ALA Midwinter) and ALA Annual to meet with their group and the other leaders, work on projects, hear from guest speakers, make connections, and ultimately present their project work with a poster presentation at ALA Annual.

I found the program useful for three main reasons: leadership development (ALA-specific and librarianship more generally), working on an ALA division or section-sponsored project, and making lasting connections.

Leadership Development

The motivation for my application to Emerging Leaders was to develop my leadership skills. I want to continue to develop as a librarian and as a leader, both formally and informally. While the program does not offer in-depth leadership training, you develop leadership skills through collaborative working groups and other settings throughout the program. You work closely with your group throughout the first-half of the year, working as a team to accomplish the goals of your group’s project.

Through this collaborative working group, there’s the typical leadership skills you’ve likely encountered while working in groups throughout grad school or at your library—things like organizing, delegating, time management, communication, and ensuring group members are meeting their deadlines.

There are also guest speakers that present to the Leaders at both LibLearnX and Annual, and webinars between the conferences. These speakers address a variety of topics, but you can learn a lot about what it takes to be a library leader, both at their library and throughout ALA. While some speakers were more relevant and engaging than others, I appreciated the time they took to speak to our group, and I took away something from every speaker.

Group Project

One of the main goals of the program is for participants to contribute to projects proposed by ALA divisions and sections. Between LibLearnX and Annual, Leaders are put into working groups and work on one of that year’s projects. In this way, the Emerging Leaders give back to ALA throughout the program. There were ten projects to choose from for 2023, some examples were examining censorship to update statistics and informational material, developing new membership onboarding, documenting forty years of the Asian Pacific American Librarians Association (APALA), and engaging library community members to vote.

Group B: Chris Vaughn (Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary), Justin Fuhr (me!), Kelli Anne Gecawich (Georgia Southern University), Julia Martyniuk (University of Toronto), and Lee Bareford (Georgia Southern University) (L-R)

I selected a project by my sponsoring section, ACRL’s Distance and Online Learning Section, to develop and publish a survey to gain insight into accessible online learning tools that academic librarians are using.

This involved:

  • Scanning the literature to find research on accessibility issues and universal design,
  • Developing survey questions and creating a draft in Qualtrics,
  • Piloting the survey and implementing feedback, and
  • Presenting our work through a poster, video, and written report.

To see our group’s work, it’s available at http://hdl.handle.net/1993/37407.

Lasting Connections

One of the greatest benefits of the program, at least for me, was meeting people: meeting my working group members, meeting the program coordinators and hosts (special shout out to Beatrice Calvin, Christina Fuller-Gregory, and Libby Holtmann!), meeting Chimene Tucker and other members of ACRL’s Distance and Online Learning Section, and attendees of ALA LibLearnX and Annual.

But along with this great group of people, there are the other Emerging Leaders. The 2023 class of leaders were an eager, productive, fun-loving group of future library leaders. These are people who I believe will end up leading our libraries and leading ALA; they’re inspirational and you know they’re headed towards great things in librarianship. We came from all corners of the continent, from all types of libraries.

I can remember in the week leading up to LibLearnX, one of the members of our cohort created a collab Google doc to arrange carpooling from the airport. I put my name on there, along with when I was arriving, and I got a text in the week leading up to LibLearnX asking if I wanted to share a ride into the city, with a couple other people. I didn’t know it at the time, but the two people I shared a ride with – we spent nearly the entire conference together, along with others from our cohort.

After walking down Frenchmen Street in New Orleans with daiquiris in hand, well, I like to think we’ve solved librarianship. Not quite, but I did bond with my cohort and now have a strong network of inspirational future library leaders who are so fun to talk with and very, very supportive.

Beth Jarrell (Sanibel Public Library), Stacey Akahoshi (Maricopa County Library District), Justin Fuhr (me!), and Laura Tadena (Austin Public Library) (L-R) at Jackson Square, New Orleans, LA

While the Emerging Leaders program consist of librarians from all types of libraries, these were mainly public librarians that I was talking to and walking around New Orleans with. This was so nice because I’m often stuck in academic libraryland, talking with other academic librarians about very important and very serious issues in academic librarianship. It is nice to have a close group of friends who are public librarians, to expand our connections throughout librarianship, and hear new perspectives. To hear from these librarians about their experiences both inside and outside the library, from their personal and professional lives, I can say these people are role models. I’m so thankful to have met them.

Then there was my working group, a group of academic librarians working on our project. Unlike some projects I encountered while at library school (so sorry, University of Alberta SLIS alumni!), this was a highly motivated group, eager to meet our goals with work that we’re all proud of. Our group of academic librarians met regularly between the conferences, and before and after our working meetings, we’d chat about the weather (who knew it varied so much across the continent?!) and catch up with what’s going in in our lives. These were great moments, and it was an honour to work with the others in my group.

The Memory of The Time

Overall, the Emerging Leaders program is a fantastic leadership development initiative and one I took away a lot from. With elements of leadership development, ALA volunteerism fast-tracking, creating deliverables for ALA’s divisions and sections, and making lasting connections, there’s so much to the Emerging Leaders program. I’ve enriched myself and set myself up for future stages of my library career. This was a group of future library leaders who—knowing nothing about each other—left the program as friends.

I am so thankful I was accepted to the program, that my library, supervisor, and library director were supportive of my attendance, that I was sponsored by ARCL’s Distance and Online Learning Section, and that I was privileged enough to attend conferences in New Orleans and Chicago.

If you’re able and eligible, I highly recommend considering applying. Applications are now open for the Class of 2024 Emerging Leaders program. The deadline to apply is September 9, 2023. If anyone has any questions about Emerging Leaders, or is considering putting together an application and wants some advice, please reach out to me! I’d be happy to share.

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

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!