My First Conference (as an academic librarian)

I promise I did not vanish into the abyss. I did, however, disappear into an incredibly busy March and April and I offer profound apologies to my fellow ACRL bloggers, though I’m quite sure they understand how these things go in the wild world of libraries.

TLA 2022 in Forth Worth, TX. April 25-28. Theme: Recover, Rebalance, Reconnect.

One of the many events that consumed me during these past two months was the Texas Libraries Association conference, AKA TLA2022. If you are a member of #LibraryTwitter, you might be familiar with the controversy that was stirred up by one of the keynote speakers, Alyssa Edwards. I was unfortunately unable to go to this keynote due to a very long and tiring day waiting in lines (Sidenote: What do conference organizers have against chairs? I haven’t been able to sit on the floor without a monumental effort to get up again since undergrad. Do not make people stand in lines for hours! It’s not acceptable or disability inclusive or okay! Geez!) but the issue was echoed again and again in each session I did attend. Libraries are being badgered by bigots, zealots, and busybodies who jump on us the moment we show any support to LGBTQ communities.

It’s not as bad in academic libraries. My colleagues in public libraries and especially those in school libraries are taking the brunt of the abuse. However, the field itself is having a reckoning, if the thrust of nearly every main session at TLA is any indication. I attended sessions each day, and book banning and challenges, patrons abusing staff, programs being canceled and boycotted, and constant, aggressive censorship was a topic brought up at almost every one of them. Even while I was busily networking in the Exhibition Hall, my main goal of the conference, I saw it everywhere. The air hummed both with the tension of the amount of pressure librarians and library staff are under as well as understanding. Every time a speaker acknowledged how hard this has been on us, professionally, physically, emotionally, I could feel waves of relief coming off those surrounding me. I got it. I’m lucky to have a partner who is also a librarian, so he understands. But how many of the people I encountered at that conference had felt isolated in their struggles? If your family, friends, even colleagues just don’t grasp the severity of the anxiety you live in day after day, that the one book you order or the one event you plan is going to set off a tidal wave of complaints, how amazing must it feel to finally have someone recognize it? And not only that, but someone on stage, holding a microphone, speaking with authority?

Nadine Strossen addressed the audience of librarians during her mid-conference keynote when she said, “In the land of the free and the home of the brave, it should not take courage to be so brave to do your job.” And all I could think was yes, yes, thank you! Thank you for acknowledging what the people around me have been doing. Thank you for speaking that truth to the people who really needed to hear it.

And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how amazing Ibram X. Kendi’s session was.

TLA did my heart good. I took a risk by going, I know I did. Large gatherings like this are going to be a gamble for a while with the COVID pandemic still in full swing. We did have protections in place, particularly either a vaccination record or clear test being required to enter the convention center, but in the end I’m very happy that I went and experienced this validation. No, I’m not on the front lines of this fight, but I’m also not so sheltered that I can ignore it (nor insist on continued oppression-favoring neutrality like some  members of our field). It was a memorable and important first conference for me in my academic librarian career. I’m hoping to attend more in the future, especially because I don’t see today’s problems going away any time soon. I’m going to keep my head in the game to support fellow library workers. We all need each other right now, that’s how we make it through this.

One step at a time.

Service as a Resident Librarian

Though I often heard about the importance of membership in a professional organization and had some exposure to the concept of service as a graduate student, professional service is something I wasn’t very familiar until my current position. Part of the orientation process for my current position consisted of my department head going over and explaining the criteria for my yearly evaluation. Lo and behold, service made up a significant portion of my evaluation. As a first-year librarian and a library resident, figuring out my approach to service work has made for an interesting journey.

My experiences with service during grad school, specifically librarians active in service work, were fairly varied. Of course, there was my school’s own Library and Information Sciences Student Association. Though I was only ever a very casual member (grad school, work, and my personal life were more than enough for me at the time), I was always surprised by the number of events held by the organization as well as the variety of librarians involved with said events. By volunteering to staff my area’s annual archives event, I got a small glimpse into just how small librarianship is as well as how easy it can be to meet other librarians. Looking back, I realize I probably volunteered for the event more out of hearing about the importance of volunteering rather than the relevance of what I volunteered for – archives is something I’ve never really had any interest in. Through the events I was required to attend as a Spectrum and Kaleidoscope Scholar, I got a glimpse into just how powerful mentorship and community with other librarians and library students of color can be. In retrospect, Spectrum and Kaleidoscope is where the potential of service work clicked for me – service doesn’t necessary always feel like work whenever it’s related to one’s passion.

Knowing that service was required of me, I decided to make sure that whatever service work I became involved with related to one of my areas of passion. After taking inventory of what those passion are – library instruction, BIPOC library organizations, supporting library students – I ultimately landed on a couple of organizations. REFORMA (The National Association to Promote Library & Information Services to Latinos & the Spanish Speaking) and ACRL’s Residency Interest Group (RIG) were where I first decided to try my hand at service work.

Through REFORMA and RIG, I realized that sometimes interest is really all that’s needed in order to get involved with a professional organization. Neither organizations asked for much to serve: REFORMA required an application while RIG brought to my attention a call for volunteers to help develop a program for library students. Through REFORMA, I was able to join the scholarship committee which assess applications and selects recipients of the two scholarships given out by the organization (as I’ve been working on this post, we’ve actually begun this work). After sending an email expressing interest in the RIG project for LIS students, I found myself in a small planning group consisting of four other library residents. After our initial meeting, we decided our program would be a panel series that would serve as an introduction to the world of academic libraries. The series, aptly named Into the Stacks: An Academic Libraries Panel Series, took place once a month from January to April with one resident taking charge of a panel each month. Admittedly, I was nervous to host a panel by myself, but luckily my panelist were librarians who are a part of my own journey through librarianship. As such, my nerves calmed down a bit after we got going. If anything, the panel just reinforced how much I really enjoy chatting about librarianship period.

Understanding that service work can function as a form of professional development turned out to be a surprise lesson for me. It was determined during my orientation that, due to the temporary nature of my position, my service work would have a national focus. This led me to seek out national service opportunities and this is where ALA’s Emerging Leaders program came in. Through the program, early career librarians like myself are given the opportunity to participate in a national working group with their peers. Once selected for the program, I was given a number of different options in regard to the type of project I would work on. Luckily for me, among the options was a working on a LibGuide over inclusive pedagogy. Through my working group’s discussions and the collection and evaluation of resources for our LibGuide, I’ve been able to further develop my knowledge of pedagogical best practices. This has allowed me to reflect on my current instruction praxis with an eye for ensuring said practices are as inclusive as possible.

Looking back on my introduction to service work, there are a handful of lessons I’ve come to learn. Planning ahead is crucial. For instance, whenever I initially applied for Emerging Leaders last Fall semester, I knew that the program and its project would end by June. Thus I made sure to apply for some ACRL committees, knowing that they would begin right around the time Emerging Leaders would end. Yet, perhaps my biggest takeaway is that aligning my service work with my passions has made the work itself far more enjoyable than I could’ve imagined. Though service is a typical requirement for academic librarians, framing that requirement as an opportunity to give back to a field I love has made the work all that much more gratifying.

The flyer for our panel series

Outreach as a Resident Librarian

Being a library resident has made my first year as an academic librarian an interesting experience to say the least. Through my residency, I have a level of autonomy I’ve come to realize isn’t afford to every first-year librarian. Some of my responsibilities are non-negotiable. Being an information literacy librarian on a campus where librarians are considered faculty means I have to teach a credit course, I have to publish, and I have to complete service work. Aside from teaching, I have a significant say in what the other aspects of my position look like.

Though my position didn’t come with any predesignated liaison areas, I’m still responsible for conducting outreach to my institution’s community. My autonomy has allowed me to think about the areas and populations I’m passionate about and focus my outreach efforts there. I ultimately decided that I wanted my outreach work to benefit others from similar backgrounds as mine. This meant that my outreach would be geared towards undergraduate, underserved, first-generation students. Since I wasn’t able to get much outreach experience during grad school – the second year of my program and internship was entirely remote – I knew I had to seek out advice and guidance from other librarians.

Luckily for me, my wonderful campus mentor was already working with several of the groups I was interested in supporting. More importantly, he was more than willing to let me collaborate with him in his outreach efforts. My mentor’s outreach areas include our institution’s McNair Scholars Program and the Center for Human Enrichment (CHE), another TRiO program focused on first-generation college students.

Our outreach to McNair and CHE takes on a variety of forms, but the overall strategy consists of being present during the times students will most likely be on campus. For example, both my mentor and I staff monthly office hours for each individual group. For CHE, they take place during their monthly study nights – students in the program are required to attend a certain number of CHE sponsored events each semester. For McNair, office hours are held an hour before their class starts in the McNair office. In addition to office hours, we also provide both groups with library instruction sessions. For CHE, this took the form of a library services session during orientation for the newest cohort. For McNair, instruction was more hands-on. For these students, we taught three separate sessions covering a variety of topics such as library research services, writing a literature review, and an overview of citation styles. That being said, our involvement with these groups isn’t limited to academics.

My library mentor introduced me to the idea of attending the events of your liaison groups. Though it may seem like a small gesture, I’ve come to realize that being present and participating in the social aspects of students’ lives is not only beneficial for their social-emotional wellbeing, but also demonstrates that librarians care about more than just academics. For example, this past Fall semester, my mentor and I both attended CHE’s student employee orientation and McNair’s Annual Awards Banquet. Attending these events allowed me the opportunity to get to better know the students we work with and vice-versa. Though I’m still new at my institution, I’ve quickly come to realize just how much more willing students are to meet with and ask for help from librarians they regularly see and interact with versus approaching a stranger at the reference desk. The outreach I’ve done for our campus’ César Chávez Cultural Center has served to reinforce this realization.

My institution is home to eight different cultural centers. From the Marcus Garvey Cultural Center to Veteran’s Services, each center focuses on one of the various populations present on campus. It’s important to note that resources like cultural centers can be crucial to supporting the success of underserved students, especially since BIPOC students account for half of all first-generation students. This, along with my desire to give back to and support students from my background, is why I provide outreach to my institution’s César Chávez Cultural Center.

My outreach to the Chávez Center is not that different than the outreach my colleague and I provide CHE and McNair. The Chávez Center typically hosts support events during both mid-terms and finals. In order to meet students where they’ll be, I work with the Chávez Center’s director and graduate assistant to coordinate office hours to coincide with other mid-term/finals week events held at the Center. When possible, I also do my best to attend cultural events held by the Center such as their annual Latinx Heritage Month Celebration Kickoff.

Like all good things, I’ve come to learn that building healthy outreach relationships takes time. Earning the trust of campus partners, especially those focused on supporting traditionally underserved students, doesn’t happen overnight. Assessing the fruits of that trust can be tricky but, for me, being recognized by students outside their respective social spaces serves as a significant marker of success. In one such instance, a cultural fraternity recognized me from the Chávez Center and used that connection to request a library session for the brothers themselves. Though I’m still crafting my outreach methods, being specifically sought out by students has been among my proudest moments as a first-year librarian.  

A First Year Librarian’s First Service

Outreach has quickly become one of my favorite parts of being a librarian. I love the fact that I get to work and interact with students in several nonjudgmental capacities. Whether it’s a research consultation or a one-shot library session, I love telling students that the library isn’t here to judge you; it’s here to provide the support you need to be successful. I trace this habit back to my library internship and my old supervisor. Coincidently, my internship is also where I picked up the idea for my first library service – Research and Writing Lab (R&W Lab).

Much of my current philosophy of librarianship is informed by my internship’s supervisor. For instance, the importance of one-on-one interactions between students and librarians is something I picked up from him. As part of my internship, I often observed my supervisor in several capacities. One of those was sitting in on his R&W Lab sessions. The R&W Lab was designed as a one-stop shop for students needing help with either or both the research and writing components of their assignments. It was through these observations that I realized how important student-librarian interactions really are – especially since typically the highest number of interactions librarians have with students are through one-shots. This is most certainly the case at my current institution as well.

Aside from our credit-bearing courses, one-shots, and consultations, our library doesn’t really have a set time devoted to helping students with their research. On top of that, our Writing Center is typically booked up well in advance. Because of this, I realized that replicating my previous supervisor’s service at my institution could go a long way for our students. The thing is that, since this was to be my first library service, I wasn’t entirely sure how to get the ball rolling.

Like all good ideas, I proposed R&W Lab on a whim during one of my department meetings. Lucky for me, my department head was receptive to the idea and helped me get the service going. She set up the initial meeting between us and the Writing Center director, and I came up with a game plan. This might sound a bit basic, but I drafted my plan using the tried-and-true method of answering the Five Ws – who, what, when, where, and why. After coming up with and proposing a plan to the Writing Center Director, the next thing the service needed was volunteers and promotion.

In comparison to the rest of the planning process, this next step was relatively easy. I’d attribute this to my colleagues’ commitment to service and the wonderful support of our libraries’ communication specialist. Thanks to my lovely colleagues, we were able to staff the service from mid-terms to the week before finals. I sent out emails about R&W Lab to our campus cultural centers as well as groups focused on first-generation/first-year students. But, we were really able to promote the service across campus thanks to our communication specialist who knew exactly which channels to use in order to get the word out.

Flash forward to this semester, we’ve actually expanded R&W Lab. Instead of starting at mid-terms, this semester the lab has been running since the fourth week of classes. Though it feels a bit early for assessments, if there’s one thing I learned from starting R&W Lab it’s that nothing happens in a vacuum – especially on a college campus. Much like campus itself, there are often several moving pieces that need to be taken into consideration before a service can even be planned out. Thankfully, I had several people in my corner to aid and support me throughout the process.  

This semester’s flier for Research & Writing Lab

Adulting 101

One of the biggest shifts I’ve had to make since changing jobs has been reframing my thinking around the audience for any resources. I spent a good chunk of my professional “growing years” as a children’s librarian, and therefor have internalized a lot of stuff that mostly applies to kids. Simple language, simple topics, bright colors, bold images. I’ve started dipping my toe into the world of creation for college students and have had to fight back the urge to simplify too much. Yes, I can use cursive fonts if I want and our patrons will be able to read them. (And no, lessons on the art of cursive writing are not going away! Not yet, anyway.)

Another change in my thought process has come from brainstorming what younger adults need versus what the ten-and-under population need from the library. I spent a lot of time at my previous job making booklists that categorized books by AR reading level—a system I don’t necessarily support in a professional capacity but completely understand why parents were so thankful I had a list of 15+ 3.0-3.9 books ready to go and organized by author name. Booklists aren’t so much in demand on a college campus, partially because students get their research help from reference and searching our databases and who really has time to read a whole book when pursuing a college degree? I know I didn’t.

So instead, I decided to create something that might present some value to our students, provided I can get it into their hands: a guide to adulting.

For those of you who don’t speak Millennial, Time has a nice article on what “adulting” means, and why its use has grown exponentially in the past few years. Basically, it’s a blanket term for all those things you find yourself doing when you are an independent person living on your own, from the mundane (laundry), to the unforeseen (fixing a broken washing machine), to the ridiculous (cleaning your washing machine on a weekly basis so hopefully it never breaks again and coming to enjoy the process at some point for reasons you cannot explain).

If you want a more thorough look at the etymology of the word, Merriam-Webster has you covered. And if you want more pithy, quotable examples, I recommend Twitter.

Tweet by @rashida_farhath: Adulting is being tired even after getting 8 hours of sleep
https://twitter.com/rashida_farhath

I’m utilizing LibGuides for this Adulting 101 resource list, and while I’m not ready to unleash it onto the world just yet, I can give you a small preview of what lies within the unpublished drafts. Before I started my guide, I did some Googling, and found that I’m certainly not the first academic librarian to see this kind of a guide as useful. I’ve actually referred back to quite a few LibGuides, including:

And there are many more out there, no doubt. In fact, if you know of one with some great resources, feel free to comment here or send it my way.

So far, I’ve divided the guide into 5 sections: Housekeeping, Digital Citizenship, Food & Nutrition, Finances, and Jobs & Career. I’m about 75% of the way through filling in all the information, then I’ll be able to put the polish on the final result and get it published to our Research Guides.

Adulting 101: Harder than we all thought, right?
Header for the Adulting 101 Libguide, as made in Canva.

While I really hope students can use and benefit from the information I’m giving them in this guide, what I really hope to accomplish is a little subtler. One of my goals as a Programming Librarian is to foster a sense of belonging at out libraries, and I’m hoping that providing this kind of information to students who may be living on their own for the first time in their lives, they feel supported and seen. There seems to be an expectation that you understand how to do everything on your own the moment you start attending college (especially for women, but that’s too big to unpack here). How often do you hear about college students not knowing how to use a laundromat, though? Or filling their dishwasher with dish soap and flooding their apartment? Or having their utilities shut off because they didn’t realize power wasn’t included in their rent?

I’ve been spending more time on TikTok lately. I hear these stories there.

So if I can provide information to a student on renter’s insurance, how to clean an oven, what future employers look for on their social media, and how to avoid bouncing a check, it’s so worth the time and effort to do so.

Maybe eventually someone will be as thankful for my adulting guide as those parents were for those AR level booklists. And this feels far less like a compromise of my principles.