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.

Reflecting on Library Instruction

Palms are sweaty, knees weak but I’m not talking about spaghetti (sorry, Eminem); I’m talking about teaching a credit-bearing library course! This last Fall semester, I not only started my first official librarian position, but I also taught my own credit-bearing library course for the very first time. It’s something I’ve briefly mentioned in previous posts, but it’s actually been a huge part of my experience as a first-year academic librarian.  

Within my library, my position falls under the Teaching and Outreach Department. In addition to outreach services, my department’s responsible for teaching several one-shot library instruction sessions per semester as well as teaching credit-bearing library courses. Most of our one-shots are delivered to first-year undergraduate courses, but we also offer the usual library orientation session and course specific instruction as well. Our credit-bearing classes are often co-requisites of corresponding courses. For example, we teach library research classes that support the following programs: Speech and Audiology, Honors, CHE (a TRiO Program for first-gen students), History, and Criminal Justice. The course I teach, LIB 160: Library Research, supports the Criminal Justice program.  

There are several components that come with teaching a co-requisite course. Myself and my colleague, who has been teaching 160 for some time now, regularly collaborate with the faculty member in charge of the course we’re a co-requisite of, CRJ 380: Research Methods in Criminal Justice. This means we do our best to ensure the work that’s done in 160 is closely aligned with what students are expected to do in 380. The major project students complete in 380 is a research proposal. The final assignment in 160 is a literature review which becomes a part of students’ research proposal for 380. Though we work hard to ensure that 160 provides students with the information literacy skills necessary to be successful in their field, planning for and teaching the course is not without its share of struggles.  

Some of the struggles that came with teaching 160 were fairly standard for teaching a new course. In spite of finishing my MS-LS with a solid understanding of information literacy, learning an entirely new curriculum designed for a subject matter outside of my expertise was my first big challenge. Though my colleague who taught the course before me was open to questions and more than willing to share her materials, I still had several lessons and assignments to familiarize myself with in a relatively short period of time – My position started in July and classes began in August. Thus, a great deal of my orientation process was dedicated to learning the ins and outs of 160. After starting to learn the curriculum, actually being in the classroom itself and teaching the lessons became my next challenge.  

Thanks to my colleagues who introduced me to the idea, reflection has become a part of my teaching process. Last semester, I got into the habit of journaling after every class. I’ll be the first to admit that not every day was my best last semester. To give you an idea, the words and phrases I used to describe my first week of class were: nervous, felt weird, stress, sweaty, talking too fast, and I think they liked my personality. Imposter syndrome loomed large for me. Though I have years of experience teaching high school, the thought of teaching in a university was intimidating for me. I was always a little nervous whenever I taught high school, but this was different. In hindsight, it may have been a combination of different things: new job, new responsibilities, first time teaching a new course. Yet, all of that isn’t to say that there weren’t any successes last semester.  

Seeing my students learn and grow has always been among my greatest successes as an educator. This past semester was no different. At the beginning of 160, my first assignment asked students to illustrate their current research process. At the end of the course, I asked my students to carry out the same assignment but to add any new steps they may have developed in 160. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the majority of my students added several steps to their old processes. Course evaluations were another new but pleasant surprise. 

Needless to say, teaching an in-person course during a pandemic is a challenge. Though my institution has a vaccine and mask requirement, the semester was not without its fair share of quarantines, sicknesses, or students dealing with labor shortages at their jobs. I’ve always felt that, before anything, students are people with lives outside of the classroom – Lives which are often subject to circumstances outside of their control. Because of this, I’ve always strived to be an open and understanding instructor. Even so, it was my surprise to see that several students noted my approach in their course evaluations with comments like, “Professor García truly cares about his students and them succeeding” and “He was very understanding with assignments and helped me when I needed an extension.” Though I often felt like maybe I didn’t know what I was doing, I’m happy to report that I never lost sight of my students’ humanity and my responsibility to them as an instructor.  

Flash forward to the present, my class is entering its third week and I’m happy to report that it’s been great! In spite of the current Omicron surge, students in quarantine, and snow days, I feel so much more comfortable as an instructor this time around. Looking at my reflection journal, the first week was described as comfy, easier, nice balance, and connecting with students well. Though I know improving one’s pedagogy is a continuous process, knowing the semester has gotten off to a great start fills me with great optimism. 

My view of my classroom. 

Impending Building Renovations

So last year when I started writing for the ACRL Blog, my first post was about the tightrope I was walking trying to balance programming during a pandemic. Things started to look up during fall semester, mostly because my college was able to lift some COVID restrictions. However, with the Omicron surge in our area, the campus administration has made the decision to re-implement some policies and procedures. We’re back to rotating work from home, and I expect to hear more about classes shifting from face-to-face and back to online. So, we’re back on the tightrope. But here’s the thing: We also have an upcoming building renovation.

Facepalm | rue89.nouvelobs.com/2016/10/17/proces-dune-ado-co… | Flickr
Facepalm, by Luigi Rosa

This has been in the works since long before the pandemic, and our library needs it. However, this has thrown a significant wrench into planning, well, anything. The timing for National Library Week (which we always try to celebrate) makes it even tougher. My team is looking to move out of our building around the same time, then we have a semester break, and then I’m off to the Texas Library Association’s conference! April is going to be crazy!

Staring all this down at the beginning of the semester plus the back-and-forth of COVID-19 is a lot. So far, my coping strategy has been taking things one week at a time. I have most my contracts in for guest speakers, and I’m working on planning two more events for National Library Week. This week’s goal is to arrange a speaker from the Library of Congress (fingers crossed!), and next week’s is to start the process of getting a virtual author panel together.

Breaking events down into smaller, manageable tasks isn’t a new idea to me, but I really like planning months ahead! Resisting the urge to set everything in stone hasn’t been easy. I sincerely don’t know where I will be in a few months’ time, though, both physically and mentally. Will we still be dealing with variant surges? Will I be on another campus? Will everything be pushed back as it has in the past? On-campus, off-campus? As a female role-model from my childhood would say: ACK!

Wherein the author dates herself with a Cathy reference. Cathy is copyright Cathy Guisewite. https://www.cathyguisewite.com/

I don’t have the answers for any of that. I’m learning to be better about not knowing. As anyone in librarianship probably understands, not knowing something is anxiety-making for me, but I can’t research my way out of the uncertainty.

At least I know I’m not alone. I hope everyone else is handling the balancing act we’ve found ourselves in as we start a new semester. We can do this!

The Struggle: Getting and Staying Organized

            It’s slightly embarrassing to admit but staying organized is something I’ve had issues with since I was very little. From losing my homework in middle school to cramming all of my papers into a single binder in high school, it seems like every new stage in my life has been accompanied by a new stab getting and staying organized. My transition from graduate student to full-time academic librarian has been no different. Though going to graduate school for library science might seem like the perfect opportunity for someone like myself to finally come up with an organizational system that actually works, I’m here to lend a voice to my fellow disorganized librarians out there – The struggle to stay organized is real!

           During grad school, I came up with a number of different strategies for staying organized. Some of them I’ve held on to while others I’m in the process of dropping. They’ve all more or less revolved around what was most important to me at the time: reading articles for class, keeping a weekly schedule, and having a place for storing work related notes.

There’s this common misconception that people become librarians because they like to read/be surrounded by books (in my position, I only ever see the stacks as I walk to my classroom). That being said, the fact that reading relevant books and articles counts as work was a bit of a surprise to me whenever I started my current position. When it comes to reading, I’m still holding on to the color-coding scheme I came up with in grad school: yellow for important ideas, blue for possible quotes, and pink for words/concepts that I’m unfamiliar with. My scheme is essentially the same now with the addition of green for citations I’m interested in tracking. My color-coding system served me well during grad school and, as of right now, I’m planning on holding on to it. Yet, the same can’t be said of my other organizational strategies.

            Moleskine notebook planners have been a fixture for note-takers for quite some time. There’s a reason Ernest Hemingway, as well as several other well-known artists, swore by them. Their famous sturdy design last long after their pages have been well spent. From the time I taught high school English and till very recently, I counted myself among Moleskine’s many admirers.  The layout of my chosen Moleskine gave me space for planning individual days on the left page and a blank right page for personal, school, or work-related notes. Using the notebook meant I had a central, physical space where I could plan ahead while also looking back at past days/weeks for uncompleted tasks. The problem with my planner that eventually became evident was that I could plan ahead all I wanted but that planning would only ever come in handy if I remembered to check my notebook frequently – an oversight I hate to admit occurred more than once. I came to realize that what I needed was a reminder to check my reminders. Enter, my Outlook Calendar.

            This month I started working on my yearly evaluation and I have to admit that regularly using my Outlook Calendar has been a life saver. But, to be honest, using Outlook to plan out my days is a relatively new habit for me. Prior to my library residency, I’d really only ever use it to book meetings with the supervisor of my grad school internship. Back in the first month or so of my current position, I started having trouble juggling all of the different moving parts that come with being an academic librarian: preparing lessons for my course, finding and applying for different service opportunities, attending several meetings a month, planning out new library reference services, etc. Keeping up with all the different moving pieces of my job was not really something I anticipated having trouble dealing with. Thankfully, both my wonderful mentor and department head suggested that I start using Outlook as a way to plan out my daily routine. I’m happy to report that using Outlook as a daily planner has been a lifesaver for me. Though the calendar’s fifteen-minute reminder function sometimes feel like an overbearing big brother, I have to admit that it’s more than once saved me from missing meetings I completely forgot about.

            My road to getting organized has been long and full of failed attempts. I’m a tad bit sad at finally coming to the realization that I might have to drop my weekly planner all together. After all, if I keep forgetting to check my planner then should I even bother? I might just end up turning my planner into more of a weekly diary. Even though I still need to work on switching tasks and sticking to my established time limits, I’m glad to have finally found a scheduling system to help me keep track of what I’m working on and when. Maybe one day I’ll perfect a system that work for both my professional and personal needs.  

Finals Week is Different Now

It will be ten years since I earned a Bachelor’s degree this upcoming May. In 2012, I graduated from the University of New Mexico where I had attended classes in person since 2009. And while that both feels like forever ago and like it happened yesterday, I do remember one particular aspect of college student life:

Finals Week.

A pink blobby person says "oh no." An arrow pointing to them says "you."
The Oh No blob, copyright Alex Norris. https://www.instagram.com/webcomic_name

As a new academic librarian, I knew I wanted to make sure our various campuses did something to support our students during finals, because I remember the stress and the strain. Graduate school was different—I did that from home and spent most my time just pacing my apartment or playing with my two cats and the laser pointer to put off finishing my final projects. Undergrad was the “authentic” experience. I went from classroom to classroom with my blue books and my mechanical pencils and took the exams necessary to pass, and by the end of each day I was exhausted, even if I’d only had one or two tests to complete. It’s the anxiety and the worry that wears you out. Will I completely forget everything I’ve been studying? What if my chronic stomach issues act up? What if I forget the date and time entirely? (Note, that only happens in nightmares. Unfortunately, I still get said nightmares.)

But here’s the thing: I’m realizing now that my finals experience, and those of others who graduated before 2020, is completely, totally different than what students are dealing with now. That’s been made more obvious by the response we got to our finals support event. It was a good response, mind you, but no where near as large as we would have had in the past. That’s because most finals have moved online, and after the penultimate week of the semester, students have disappeared.

Okay, not all students. We still have those that come to use the computers and print, we still have students whose exams are in-person due to needing hands-on evaluations. Largely, though, most our students are back to being online. And that makes perfect sense to me. We’re dealing with new variants in a global pandemic. When I was in undergrad, my biggest health issues during finals were food poisoning (Summer 2009, also my first semester back at college) and the flu (Fall 2010, the last time I will ever go without a flu shot). Now we’re dealing with Delta, Omicron, and potentially more variants of COVID-19 on the horizon. Yes, if you can stay home during a very stressful time when your immune system is probably being affected by your anxiety levels, please do so!

But what does that mean for our finals programming? I remember seeing events like “stress-free week” where libraries provide massages and aromatherapy and even cute animals to cuddle. Then there are the scavenger hunts, the movie screenings, the coloring sheets… All great stress-busters, but not possible when your student population has moved online.

A week-long schedule of events being held at the University of Dayton during finals week.
That’s a lot of stuff. Schedule from Katy Kelly’s article on Programming Librarian “Finals Week: We’ll Be There for You” https://programminglibrarian.org/blog/finals-week-we%E2%80%99ll-be-there-you

I don’t see things changing in the immediate future. So what can we do to address this sudden shift in the Finals Week experience? Well, for one, we can shift our events to when we know students will still be around. Our library had guitar performances in the week before finals, which was soothing for both our students in the library as well as for our busy staff. Additionally, the guitar students got to practice their recital pieces in a place full of little distractions like opening and closing doors, ringing phones, and people going here and there. We even had a tour of high schoolers come by.

A group of guitar students and their instructor stand in front of a Christmas display in the Pecan Library of STC.
Guitar instructor Jaime A. Garcia and his students performed at the Pecan Library at South Texas College.

Another option is to just dial it back. Our other event this year involved handing out popcorn and prizes. That’s all. It worked really well for most of our campuses. We aren’t booking masseuses or asking participation of frazzled students, but we’re still telling them hey, we’re here for you. We see you. Best of luck with this Finals Week, we know it’s tough. And I think that’s a good way to go about it. Students appreciate little gestures. Stopping to get popcorn and play a Plinko game for a prize might have been the first time they paused to do something other than study that day. I could see myself, more than a decade younger and on the verge of tears after a frustrating final exam, grateful for a snack and something fun to take home. Bouncy balls are still surprisingly popular.

That’s what’s important, after all. Maybe the big Finals Week bashes are a thing of the past, but that’s okay. We can still show students we care about them and be there. And that positive experience will bring them back next semester, so we can do it all again.