Virtual Holidays

As cliché as it sounds, the holiday season is easily my favorite time of year. My apologies to all the diehard Halloween fans out there, but something about the holiday doesn’t translate that well to the first-generation immigrant experience. Though, in my opinion, that might have more to do with trusting strangers with candy than the macabre.

As someone who’s favorite memories more often than not involve food and spending time with loved ones, it’s almost like the holiday season was made for someone like me. From my Mother turning the kitchen into a traditional tamale assembling line to staying up late on Christmas Eve to open presents – another of my Mother’s traditions is ensuring not a single present is opened before Midnight – I absolutely love the holidays. Though a self-professed avid eater and gift giver, my favorite part about the holidays is that there are days designated for spending time with those nearest to your heart. My family loves to work off our overindulgence by bouncing back-and-forth between playing games like loteria, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Studio Ghibli movies, and, of course, Elf. Though I wish time like this was afforded to all workers of the world, the promises of several big box stores to keep their doors closed at least on Thanksgiving is a positive sign – even if it took a pandemic to get them there.

With the holidays fast approaching, I find myself thinking about other first year academic librarians who may not have the opportunity to share the holidays with their loved ones – chosen, or biological. Thinking about those who, for whatever reason, will miss the company of the people they care about reminds me not only of how I felt during quarantine but how my family, friends, and I adapted the best we could to the limitations of a world pre-COVID vaccine. Though Zoom’s no substitute for the real thing – the biggest FOMO I’ve felt in recent years is watching my sibling hug our parents during a call – it’s something. With that being said, I’d like to share a little bit about what worked for my virtual holidays.

During the holiday season I was able to have a total of three separate virtual holiday dinners. One a Secret Santa get together with colleagues from my internship program and the others were Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve dinners with my family. Let’s start with Secret Santa first.

Though the idea of having a virtual Secret Santa get together with people scattered across various different cities may sound like a logistical puzzle, let me assure you that there weren’t too many pieces to figure out. The biggest puzzle piece was arguably the most important – getting the gifts to their respective locations on time. Part of the deal of participating in Secret Santa was being okay with sharing your address. With that in hand, we were all able to either order gifts using Amazon or sending them through good ol’ USPS. Once that was taken care of, all we really had to do was figure out what else we’d be doing during our call, aside from guessing who our Santa was and opening gifts of course. Luckily for us, the director of our internship program already had tons of experience playing Jackbox games remotely. If you’ve never had to virtually play a game with others, Jackbox is a great way to start (Quiplash turned out to be a favorite during both Secret Santa and Christmas Eve). I know this to be the case because the games even turned the spirits of some of my family members who were initially reluctant to having a virtual holiday in the first place. Jackbox and Zoom were useful for fulfilling my need for friend/family time, but we can’t forget an arguably just as crucial holiday component – the food.

Food is powerful. It has the ability to bring people together in a shared experience which often reinforces familial and cultural traditions. So, what’s a holiday without food? How do we work food into a virtual holiday? The answer’s surprisingly simple – You cook. And, that’s exactly what my partner and I did. We put on our best chef hats and got to work.

No Mexican holiday season is truly complete without certain traditional plates. For my family, that means tamales, pozole, and arroz con leche. With my partner taking care of the masa, or dough, for the tamales, we became a two-person assembling line. Arroz con leche, or rice pudding, has always been a holiday favorite of mine so I handled that one myself. Though neither of our culinary skills are a match for my Mother’s, I humbly admit that our food came out pretty good. Making our holiday favorites definitely helped us feel the holiday spirit a little more, but what really recreated some of the holiday vibe was having a designated family dinner time during our call. This is something we made sure to do for New Year’s Eve, too. Except that dinner consisted of a champagne and a charcuterie board gracefully put together by my partner. Aside from dinner and games, we also made sure to make time for the traditional New Year’s toast.

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My partner’s charcuterie board

There’s no question that a virtual holiday is no match for the real thing. But, making a few small adjustments helps. Cooking those traditional dishes you love, toasting with your favorite holiday beverage, and trying some online games can go a very long way. I know that it did for me.

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.

Transitions

Please join us in welcoming Ramón García, Resident Information Literacy Librarian & Assistant Professor at the University of Northern Colorado, as a new First Year Academic Librarian blogger for the 2021-2022 year here at ACRLog.

Library schools do their best to prepare their students for the countless aspects of librarianship. From conducting reference interviews to cataloging and everything else in-between, I left my program feeling well-rounded and ready to come into my own as an academic librarian. Yet, I found the biggest thing library school didn’t prepare me for was making the tremendous transition from full-time graduate student to full-time librarian.

I started my search for my first academic librarian position back in the Fall of 2020. From my mentors and library Twitter, I learned that the hiring process at academic libraries is a long and drawn out one. So, early on, I started preparing myself to apply for several position. This meant drafting countless cover letters, pouring over my CV, and constantly asking my mentors for feedback on both. Once Spring 2021 came around, I had my foot in the door and found myself a first-round candidate for multiple positions. Flash forward to a week after graduation and I had my first official offer from the University of Northern Colorado! Success! But, what was next?

Up to this point, I’d lived in the Dallas-Fort Worth area since I was four so this would not only be my first time living in another state but my first, big out-of-state move. Figuring out the logistics of the move alone could’ve been a course in library school: Hiring movers for the first time, planning a driving route, finding housing that wouldn’t charge my partner & I an obscene amount of pet rent, and, of course, towing my tiny hatchback with a U-Haul loaded with all our belongings. This was all in addition to the regular tasks that come with a move like setting up utilities and realizing that we own way more stuff than we thought. Thirteen hours and 800 miles later, we made it to our new temporary home. Little did I know that the transitions were only just beginning.

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My mother-in-law, Elizabeth, & all of our stuff

I like to think about this transitional period in two ways: the transitions in my personal life and those at work. The most immediate change for me was going from being a graduate student to a full-time academic librarian. This meant a few things. Gone were my days of working part-time for two different libraries while balancing school with my personal life. I now found myself unsure of what to do with my newfound free time. My 45-minute commute by car (on a good day) became a ten-minute bike ride. Making work friends was another challenge. Why doesn’t anyone tell you how hard it can be to make new friends when you’re an adult? Gone was the need to hide indoors from Texas’ infamously oppressive heat and humidity. The new struggle was getting used to higher elevation (I had no idea elevation baking was a thing). But, I was ecstatic to be able to enjoy being outdoors during the summer. In fact, since moving, my partner and I have become big fans of taking day hikes throughout Colorado’s numerous state parks and, of course, Rocky Mountain National Park.

The transitions in my personal life were challenging but compared to my work life, it was a piece of cake. My first month at my new position felt like a whirlwind of brand-new information that just seemed to just keep growing and growing. From meeting countless library staff and faculty members to getting accustomed to a brand-new library catalog system, there was tons for me to learn and get accustomed to in a short of amount of time – I started in July, so the beginning of the semester was right around the corner. But, perhaps the biggest challenge I had to face was preparing myself to teach a credit bearing information literacy course.

Like others in the field, librarianship is my second career. Before libraries, I spent four years teaching various levels of English at a public high school. I’m no stranger to the classroom, but I can’t say the same for my new subject. The class I was scheduled to teach this semester was LIB 160: Library Research for Criminal Justice Majors. My undergrad degree is in English so I’m probably one of the last people you’d want to talk to about criminal justice. Luckily for me, the purpose of the course is to help students write the literature review portion of their research proposal for their research methods course. On top of that, I was fortunate enough to have one of my wonderful colleagues guide me through the course as she’s taught it multiple times. Yet, all of this support wasn’t enough to keep me from sweating bullets on the first day of class. Imposter syndrome much anyone?

At the time of writing, I’ve made it to week nine of the academic year and my partner and I have officially been living in Colorado for almost four months. I still get a little nervous every time I teach, but I now have a solid group of work friends – Our Teams chat’s called The Lunch Club. I’m still enjoying my bi-monthly hikes, but I also made a quick Labor Day weekend trip home to ward off homesickness. I’ve officially met everyone who works in my building, but I’m still learning more and more about our newly adopted kitten, Hubie (yes, he’s named after the movie).

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Hubie “Halloween” García-Socall

In the spirit of transparency, I don’t have any quick solutions for embarking on the transition from grad student to librarian. But, there are few tips I’ve picked up along the way:

  1. When it comes to feeling homesick, FaceTime is a life saver. While not a permeant fix, regular video calls with my family have helped me stay connected and close to what was happening in their lives.
  2. Temporarily embrace (some) discomfort. As an introvert, feeling uncomfortable in new situations is a given, but accepting lunch invites from colleagues and taking risks to share myself helped me find my circle at work.
  3. Having a confidant makes a huge difference. Whether it’s a previous mentor, a friend from grad school, or a partner, having someone in your corner that can listen to your complaints and worries about your new profession goes a long way.

There are plenty more I could add to the list, but these three pieces have helped me the most so far on my new journey called librarianship.

Pandemic Planning: A Balancing Act

Please join us in welcoming Heather Bobrowicz, Programming Librarian at South Texas College, as a new First Year Academic Librarian blogger for the 2021-2022 year here at ACRLog.

2021 has been an interesting year so far. I began my first academic librarian position this year, in February to be precise. I’ve been spending a lot of my time in webinars and trainings, reading about the challenges and unique experiences academic libraries face, and generally adjusting to a new environment. I’m not new to librarianship. I earned my MLS in 2014 and have since worked in two different public library systems, both as a “substitute librarian” and as a children’s librarian. Now I’m settling in to a community college as a programming librarian, and I’m running in to one itty bitty, teeny weeny problem.

How in the world can I plan for the future when everything is so uncertain?

Being a public librarian meant I had to go with the flow a lot. I moved between branches when I worked in Albuquerque, and I had to adjust to the different settings and communities I served. One branch was in an affluent area full of seniors, another was practically next door to a high school, and yet another was kitty-corner to the city’s main bus station. Every branch had different needs, and I bounced between all three on a weekly basis. While my schedule and my working conditions were on the chaotic side, I had reliability. Book clubs, technology help, and knitting groups were popular at the library with a lot of seniors. Teen programs actually got some attendance at the one near the high school. And with the bus station one, I just held on for dear life and was ready for anything. I made a lot of guest passes and visitor cards.

I’m running into a very different situation in my community college job. The pandemic has made everything unpredictable. One moment I’m planning in-person programs that I will also stream online to improve access and archive the recording, and the next the kibosh has been put on any face-to-face at all. My campus put off in-person classes for the first two weeks, and everyone is holding their breath to see if we’ll keep our in-person numbers through the rest of the semester.

I’ll be clear: I like online programs. I like that I can get people from all around the world to come talk to our students, staff, and faculty. I like keeping an archive of the webinar for faculty to use in their classes. I like the simplicity of not having to set up a space. However, I miss that energy an in-person program can carry. I miss having options for interactive events that just aren’t possible to rig up with Zoom Webinar, even with all its fancy features like breakout rooms and polls.

Most of all, I miss predictability. Yes, there are always contingencies, but I’d rather plan for “oh no, we didn’t buy enough snacks” than “oh no, the whole campus us shutting down because of an outbreak.” It’s a silly thing to complain about in comparison to all the other terrible things going on in the world, but I feel like it needs to be said: This is hard, and those of us who are struggling to get it done deserve a pat on the back. I can only imagine what it’s like to be a new librarian in these circumstances. Hang in there! It isn’t always this wild!

I guess the main thing 2021 is shaping up to teach me is to make all my plans in pencil, and never take for granted having steady ground beneath my feet. You never know when the world’s going to shake things up and you’ll be left scrambling in ways you never imagined, and honestly couldn’t prepare for back in Library School.

This field really is about learning as you go, especially now.

Call for FYAL Bloggers!

With the new academic year coming up soon (or perhaps, for some of you, already begun!), we’re looking to bring on a few new bloggers here at ACRLog. We’d like to thank our 2020-2021 FYAL bloggers Valerie Moore and Kevin Adams. We’d also like to encourage new academic librarians — those who are just beginning in their first position at an academic library — to blog with us during their first year.

FYAL bloggers typically publish posts monthly during the academic year. If you’re interested in applying to be a FYAL blogger here at ACRLog, applications are due by Monday, September 13. Send an email (please include “ACRLog FYAL” in the subject line) to aharrington@pennstatehealth.psu.edu that includes:

– a sample blog post

– a brief note describing your job and your interest in blogging at ACRLog

Proposals are evaluated by the ACRLog blog team. When selecting FYAL bloggers we consider:

  • Diversity of race/ethnicity/gender/sexual orientation/ability
  • Voices from a range of academic institutions (for example, community colleges, research universities, etc.) and job responsibilities within academic libraries (for example, instruction, cataloging, scholarly communications, etc.)
  • Clear and compelling writing style
  • Connection between day-to-day work and bigger conversations around theory, practice, criticism, LIS education, and other issues

Please send any questions to aharrington@pennstatehealth.psu.edu. We’re looking forward to hearing from you!