Reflecting on contract work and precarity

Like many others, as the year is coming to an end, I’ve been in a reflective mood. Last year around this time, I was anxious about graduating, the job hunting process, and the potential for un/underemployment in the spring.  A lot has changed since then. I left the city I lived in for over a decade to start my first academic librarian job. There’s been lots to celebrate! But I’m still kind of feeling anxious about the future. 

My job is a “contractually limited appointment,” meaning it’s a fixed-term position with an end date. I still have many more months to go before my contract ends, but it’s something that’s frequently on my mind. In particular, whenever there’s discussions about long-term projects and planning or relationship building, I become aware of the temporality of my position. I think, will I be here next year?

While I was in school, I was warned that it may be several years before I find an ongoing permanent position, as lots of the jobs out there are part-time, or full-time contracts. According to Brons, Henninger, Riley, & Lin (2019), 46% of academic librarian jobs advertised on the Partnership job board (a Canadian library job board) were precarious. It seems like contract work is or becoming the norm for many early career librarians. When I was job hunting, I framed these positions in my mind as opportunities to get my foot in the door or a chance to try a new aspect of librarianship. But now that I have my foot in the door with my dream job(!), I am realizing that contract work is more challenging that I had thought.  

In their article “Job Precarity, Contract Work, and Self Care,” Lacey (2019) points to financial insecurity and the emotional and mental costs of precarious work. In particular, their discussion about the cyclical stress of acclimatizing to a new organizational culture and place, including establishing relationships, resonated with me. Being on a contract means, you’re constantly looking for work, trying to orient yourself to a new job, city, and leaving behind relationships. 

I’m very lucky in that I didn’t need to move far for my current position. It’s only a short bus or train ride away, although some days it feels very far.  I’m also very lucky in that I have super supportive colleagues who have gone out of their way to make me feel at home and a valued member of the library. I feel guilty about not focusing on the present and being fixated on the future, thinking about when I should start job hunting or where I’ll be living next year. 

What has been helpful is knowing that I’m not alone in feeling this way. I’m encouraged by the growing conversations about precarious work in libraries. For example, I’m excited about projects focused on contingent labour in libraries, archives, and museums like the Collective Responsibility: National Forum on Labor Practices for Grant-Funded Digital Positions, the Precarity in Libraries research project, or the @OrganizingLIS twitter account.

Looking at the current climate with the rise of the gig economy, it feels like part-time and contract work in librarianship is not going to go away. But, I’m also feeling very hopeful! I am looking forward to learning more about shared experiences of precarity and collectively working towards better conditions for library workers.

Five Healthy Coping Strategies for Dealing with Rejection in Academic Librarianship

Photo by Ian Kim on Unsplash

“Do not fear failure but rather fear not trying.”

Roy T. Bennett

I put myself out there. A lot. I’ve lost count of the number of awards and scholarships I’ve applied to throughout my education and career. I do remember that I was rejected for every single one of them. I really love and recommend this free webinar by Dr. Kate Drabinski on dealing with rejection in academia. One of ACRLog’s former First-Year Academic Librarian bloggers, Quetzalli Barrientos, also wrote a fantastic post on getting rejected in the library world. While more and more of us are beginning to talk about rejection in academia, it’s still a fairly taboo topic that’s difficult and requires radical vulnerability to open up about. So this month, I want to discuss developing healthy coping strategies for getting comfortable with rejection. Here are five of my strategies for dealing with — and accepting — rejection in academic librarianship:

Keep an affirmations file

An affirmations file is a place to keep track of your successes: an e-mail congratulating you on a recent project from a colleague, an award you’ve won or been nominated for, and the positive things students and colleagues have said about you, for starters. Your affirmations file can be physical or digital; use whatever format you know you’ll return to when you need a quick hit of confidence and shot of self-esteem.

Be vulnerable and ask for help

I am a firm believer in the power of radical vulnerability. I think one of the bravest things we can do is ask for help. Whether you’re workshopping a potential journal article or writing a conference proposal, another person’s feedback can be invaluable as it lends a new lens to your work that can help you see things in new or different way and/or how you might improve your work. Find folks who are in your corner and are willing to help you with your work before you submit it – then return the favor when you’re able to, especially to new professionals!

Talk about it

Talking about rejection is crucial. Talking about the things we’re ashamed and fearful of or that are simply taboo is a way to take that power away from them while creating a space for others to share their stories and experiences as well. Ask your colleagues about how they deal with rejection.These conversations about rejections can also lend to new ideas and collaborative partnerships. You never know what might be born from a rejection!

Collaboration over competition

It’s easy to see our colleagues as our competition when we have a scarcity mindset (the belief that there will never be enough, thus our thoughts and actions stem from a place/fear of lack.) Capitalism encourages this. Academia does too, convincing us that our colleagues are our enemies, rather than potential allies and advocates, to keep us from building collective power. While not everyone has our best interests at heart, many of our colleagues could be fantastic co-conspirators, collaborators, and partners in projects, papers, or proposals. I would especially encourage more seasoned librarians to reach out to early-career librarians and ask them what their research interests and career goals are, with the end goal of partnering on a paper or project in mind. On our own, we can only do so much. Together, whether as collaborators, co-conspirators, and/or as a collective, we can create real change.

View rejection as a learning opportunity and keep going!

After being rejected for so, so, SO, many scholarships to attend conferences, I finally started asking for feedback on what would make my application stronger from the awards committee. Thanks to their generous feedback, I learned a lot about what I could do to not only write better statements but to make myself a stronger candidate for awards and scholarships. Finally, this year, I was awarded my first conference scholarship – the ACRL/NY 2019 Symposium Early-Career Librarian scholarship award! 

Discuss further

In the comments section, I encourage you to share what feelings rejection brings up for you, as well as your own tips for coping with rejection.

Karina Hagelin is an artist, community organizer, and Outreach and Instruction Librarian and Diversity Fellow at Cornell University Library. You can find them tweeting about critical librarianship and cats under @karinahagelin or more about their work at KarinaKilljoy.com. They can be reached at karina.hagelin@cornell.edu

Feeling my way as a teacher

This month, I’ve been participating in the Instructional Skills Workshop (ISW), an intensive three-day program that involves presenting mini-lessons, peer feedback, and discussions on learner-centred teaching practices.  

My experience with teaching is not extensive. While I did have opportunities to assist with library instruction and co-teach some classes in library school, I had never designed or developed an information literacy (IL) lesson before starting my current position. While I had crammed as much as I could about learning outcomes, active learning techniques, frameworks and standards, and educational philosophies, the idea of creating an IL lesson on my own was daunting. 

When I first started my position in the summer, I had grand plans to explore and be creative in my teaching, and spent time perusing Project CORA, ACRL Framework for Information Literacy Sandbox, and various library instruction books and guides, particularly around critical approaches. But when September rolled around and my calendar started filling up, exploration and creativity went out the window! As a new librarian, lesson planning took longer than I had anticipated, filled with constant questions of “am I doing this right? Is this going to work?”

I was extremely grateful to my colleague who shared their detailed lesson plans with me, and I heavily relied on what they had already created and delivered. While it was amazing to not have to create lessons from scratch and approach faculty with IL lessons that they were already familiar with, I also felt that I wasn’t developing my own teaching style and philosophy. I was reluctant to take risks or try anything new.

While the ISW program isn’t focused on information literacy, it’s been a valuable opportunity for me to learn and to try out (and fail at!) new teaching techniques and learning activities in a relatively risk-free environment. For example, I’ve explored looking at evaluating sources and peer review through online recipes, which was a fun for me because I got to talk about my current obsession with Bon Appétit! Last week I tried designing a 10-minute lesson around mapping out research journeys and exploring research strategies based on everyone’s personal journey. I ran out of time and didn’t feel super great about how the lesson went, but it was a great opportunity to experiment with learning activities that involve giving over control to the learners.

I’m not entirely sure if I’m going to try to take any big risks in my IL classes next semester. In the ISW, I didn’t have to consider what faculty want, the pressures of an assignment, or even the challenges of teaching in a large classroom. The context of the one-shot class is another thing to consider when thinking about experimenting with new teaching techniques. As a new librarian, I’m still feeling my way. But I did gain a bit more confidence in my teaching while participating in the ISW, and the opportunity to try new things was invigorating. I’m hoping that confidence will encourage me to try new things, however small, in my IL classes. 

One of the small goals for my teaching next semester is a suggestion one of the ISW facilitators made: make the implicit explicit. I hope to make my teaching decisions (the why am I doing this) more transparent to the classroom and also for myself through written reflection. 

I have one more ISW session left this upcoming Friday. While I won’t miss watching recordings of myself teaching, I will miss the dedicated time spent on talking about teaching. I’m definitely going to try and find more opportunities to share teaching practices with my colleagues, other librarians, and other instructors.

Diversity Fellowships: Finding Your Place in Academic Librarianship

Please welcome our new First Year Academic Librarian Experience blogger Karina Hagelin, Outreach and Instruction Librarian and Diversity Fellow at Cornell University Library.

Hello there, colleagues and comrades. I’m Karina and I’m one of your new First-Year Academic Librarian bloggers! I’m currently a Diversity Fellow and Outreach and Instruction Librarian at Cornell University Library (CUL). For my first post, I thought I’d introduce myself and share about what being a diversity fellow is like. 

Outside of my position as a librarian, I am also an artist and organizer. I create art, especially zines, centered around radical vulnerability, queer femme joy, and healing as resistance. I love cats; I adopted two kittens a day after I started working at Cornell and volunteer as a “feline friend” at the shelter I adopted them from. I think it’s extremely important to have a life and identity outside of librarianship. I enjoy writing snail mail to my penpals, collecting unicorns, reading, bullet journaling, and being crafty/crafting in general.

Many diversity fellows are structured around rotations, giving the fellow the opportunity to explore several departments. My fellowship at Cornell is similar, allowing me to learn more about academic libraries while building on core competencies and skills in instruction, scholarship, and research. My fellowship is supported through a mentoring program, continuing education, professional development, specialized training, and participation on library committees. Since I knew I wanted to be an academic librarian – but I didn’t know what I wanted to focus on just yet – this fellowship was an ideal fit for me. 

I spent my first rotation working in Rare and Manuscript Collections (RMC) where I focused on working with our Human Sexuality Collection through archival processing and metadata creation, policy, and procedure. I was also trained on the reference desk with specific attention to the special collections and archives environment I was working in.

During this time, I processed my first archival collection – the James D. Merritt Collection – which includes the personal journals, correspondence, and other personal papers of Dr. Merritt. I utilized my knowledge of this collection (obtained through research and archival methodology) to arrange the materials from this collection (ranging from photographs to fifty years of journaling to bags of hair and dirt to social justice and activist papers) to facilitate research access and long-term preservation of the records. After I finished rearranging and rehousing the materials from this collection, I prepared a finding aid for use by scholars, using current technology, descriptive standards, and techniques (like Encoded Archival Description aka EAD). I also prepared scope and content notes for this collection. 

My primary focus was making digitized photographs from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Collection accessible by creating metadata for each of the 600+ images that had been digitized. Around the 50th anniversary of Stonewall, my hard work paid off and the photographs were finally available to the public via Cornell’s Digital Collections.

And of course, what is librarianship without committee and service work? I also was active on the Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DIB) Council, RMC’s DIB Task Force, as well as a few subcommittees dedicated to specific projects, like creating research and resource guides on diversity. With RMC’s DIB Task Force, we collaborated to create a 40+ page “best practices” guide for our department, covering topics from social media to events and programming and instruction. 

Eventually, it was time to move on from RMC, although I still collaborate with Brenda Marston, the curator of the Human Sexuality Collection, on a regular basis. My next rotation and current rotation is at Albert R. Mann Library, Cornell University’s library that serves students in our College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, where I will be finishing my fellowship. I focus on instruction informed by queer and feminist pedagogies, outreach to marginalized campus communities, our Makerspace, and social justice advocacy.

In this time, along with two fellow colleagues, I co-founded the Equity and Empowerment Reading Group, a monthly social justice reading group focused on libraries for librarians and library workers. So far, we’ve read articles about and discussed topics such as recruiting and retaining marginalized librarians, salary transparency and wage equity, the invisibility of race in library and information studies, and sexism in women-majority workplaces. These sessions have proved valuable for cultivating rich discussions and building community at CUL.

I also founded the Women, Trans, Femme, and Nonbinary Makers Night: a biweekly meeting where all are welcome to come learn about making in our Makerspace. We recently collaborated with a LGBTQIA2S+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and/or Questioning, Intersex, Asexual, Two-Spirit, and the countless affirmative ways in which people choose to self-identify) student group, as well as Fiber Science and Apparel Design students, to host a gender-affirmative fashion night, where we shared our sewing skills and made, mended, and altered clothes together. It was a really fun and engaging evening!

This week, I’m reflecting on a First-Year Writing Seminar session I led on creating zines about Black feminist icons, activists, and organizations, focusing on organizing a disability justice event for the library system, working on coursework for a class on Trauma-Informed Care in Libraries, researching starting a zine collection at my library, and shadowing my colleagues as they lead instruction sessions. I appreciate the ability to explore and try out new things, learn from my brilliant colleagues, and do work on subjects I’m passionate about. 

If you’re interested in learning more about diversity fellowships, I recommend checking out the ACRL Residency Interest Group which “provides opportunities and a platform for current and former resident librarians and other interested parties to share their experiences, research, and availability of library residencies.”

Karina Hagelin is an artist, community organizer, and Outreach and Instruction Librarian and Diversity Fellow at Cornell University Library. You can find them tweeting about critical librarianship and cats under @karinahagelin or more about their work at KarinaKilljoy.com. They can be reached at karina.hagelin@cornell.edu

Introducing Yourself When You’re a New Librarian

Please welcome our new First Year Academic Librarian Experience blogger Yoonhee Lee, Learning & Curriculum Support Librarian at McLaughlin Library at the University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada.

“So, tell me about yourself…” is a question that I dread. Whether it’s in an interview situation or when you’re meeting someone for the first time in a professional or personal setting, I struggle with how to introduce myself in a succinct but engaging way. I’ve been introducing myself a lot the last couple months, as I’ve started my first academic librarian job. I’ve been meeting library colleagues, faculty, staff, and students in the hallway, meetings, orientation events, and classrooms. Depending on who I was talking to and the situation, I introduced myself in various ways, ranging from just saying my name to talking about my job as a Learning & Curriculum Support Librarian.

While in library school the importance of having a 30-second elevator pitch was stressed throughout my studies, particularly in relation to looking for work and networking. I’ve tried to hone my “I’m a library student looking for a library job” pitch while participating in networking events, attending library conferences, and going to interviews. Fumbling through answering questions about my new role, I realized that I needed to develop something similar for my new professional identity as an academic librarian. But I found it challenging to sum up what I do when I wasn’t sure or comfortable with this new identity yet. Even saying “I’m a librarian” still felt foreign to me.

A lot of the questions I have surrounding how to introduce myself is rooted in anxieties about my newness. Not only was I new, but due to my appearance, I’m often mistaken as a student. I wanted to present myself as someone who is confident and authoritative, particularly when I was talking to faculty about coming into their classrooms and providing library instruction. Trying to transition from library student to a professional librarian, I was super focused on presenting myself professionally.

Fortunately, I had the opportunity to think about introductions differently during an orientation session for new faculty. In the morning, we did typical introductions, which involved going around the room sharing our name, department, and field of research. Many folks also shared their academic history, including previous institutions, degrees, and current projects. Feeling a bit conscious about not having research interests yet (imposter syndrome strikes again!), I quickly said my name and the subject areas I support. Later in the afternoon, during a session with the Office of Teaching and Learning, we were asked to reintroduced ourselves to the person sitting beside us. But, instead of listing our research interests, we were asked to introduce ourselves through discussing our parents and grandparents. This exercise was an intimate experience, as we shared our personal lives and journeys with one another. It was both thrilling and terrifying at the same time.

I felt awkward sharing about my Korean immigrant parents, which usually only my close friends know about — not my work colleagues. I felt vulnerable and a bit exposed. My family, however, is an integral part of who I am and how I view the world, not just personally but as a librarian too.

I’ve been inspired by the many librarians who’ve been discussing vulnerability, like sharing personal experiences or practicing supported vulnerability. Engaged and transformative learning involves taking risks and being vulnerable. In my library instruction classes (and at the reference desk), I ask students to share their previous experiences with library research, including challenges they’ve faced. I ask them to share what they already know and what they don’t know. I’m asking students to be vulnerable. But I also understand that I can’t ask students to be vulnerable without being vulnerable myself.

I’m not sure how to incorporate all this when I introduce myself at the beginning of class. I believe in teaching with your whole self and that my teaching is influenced by who I am, my position in the world, and my worldview. Some of who I am can be gleaned from my name and my appearance. Other aspects of myself, like the fact that I’m a new academic librarian that was a student just a few months ago, I would need to explicitly share. Usually, you gradually share yourself as you get to know someone better. With my library colleagues, as I develop relationships, they’ll get to know me beyond my name and job title and work. But with students in a classroom, I might only see them one time in a one-shot class. How do I introduce my authentic self? How can I share but also set boundaries? How do I share what I don’t know without undermining myself?

I don’t have the answers. Maybe I’ll have a better idea once I’m more confident in my role as a new academic librarian, or maybe I won’t. But I’m super excited to continue to think and reflect on this throughout my career and hone my “I’m a librarian who can help you, but also I don’t know everything, and I’m here to learn with you — also I’m a whole person with varying knowledge and lived experience just like you” pitch to students.