A Weekly Log of an Atypical Month

I don’t know what to say about COVID-19, and all the different ways we are experiencing loss at this time. I thought writing about it would help me process and reflect, but I’ve been struggling to focus. I realized that all of the anxieties I have about being a new librarian on a contract has been exacerbated by all the uncertainty happening in the world. 

So, today I’m going to write about what work has looked like for me this past month and reflect on how things have changed so quickly. I’m not sure what a “typical” day or week is supposed to look like during this unprecedented extraordinary time. 

Week 1

Looking back, the first week of March for me was jam packed with lots of learning! I attended a webinar on career planning for early career librarians, went to a talk on archival optimism, listened to a colleague’s guest lecture, and learned about making accessible educational resources. I also FaceTimed with a library mentor, had a meeting with a colleague about library discovery and citation management tools, and had coffee with a colleague to ask about their experience with ACRL Immersion. On top of that, I had a reference shift everyday that week, so it was filled with lots of student interaction. I don’t remember the week as being busy or overwhelming though. I think it was a week where I felt energized and excited to learn. My agenda was filled with goals and todos, related to professional development this summer. This week was my last “business as usual” week. 

Week 2

Although my mom had been cautioning me about COVID-19 for weeks, particularly through relaying news about the situation in Korea, this was the week where I started to worry. Some conferences had started to cancel events, and some universities started to move classes online. I could no longer ignore the news. I had plans to attend and present at LILAC, an information literacy conference in the U.K. But with the escalating news about COVID-19 around the world, I became increasingly uneasy about the idea of travelling. I worried that I was overreacting, and that I was letting my impostor syndrome about presenting influence my decision. However, I couldn’t shake the uneasy feeling, and ended up dropping out of the conference. 

It was strange trying to tamp down my increasing panic and worry, while doing my normal work. I taught two classes that week. Other than saying “wash your hands!” at the end, it was a regular information literacy session. While I went through the motions of my regular work week, answering reference questions, and pointing students to university web pages on COVID-19 updates, it was clear that things were evolving rapidly. 

Week 3

Monday, I went into work, mostly to pack up my things. The university had announced on Friday afternoon that classes would be moving online. The library was still open, but I could do my work from home. We had our first virtual team meeting that day, and much of the week was coming to terms with our new work environments and figuring out ways to stay in touch with one another. Because my classes had all wrapped up, I did not have to worry about moving my teaching online. Instead I reached out to instructors I had worked with, reminding them that online research help is available for students. The week was a blur, and I tried to give myself small concrete tasks, like making sure my stats were up to date, compiling online webinars and resources in a spreadsheet, and reading through student feedback forms. I was also on Twitter constantly throughout the week, looking for updates about library closures, at my place of work and elsewhere. The library finally closed on Friday.

Week 4

This week, things started to feel more settled — at least in terms of work. I had virtual meetings, check-ins, and lots of online lunches with colleagues. I’ve also had the time and space to think about scholarship and professional development. I’ve started looking into online classes, enrolled myself into webinars, and updated my CV. Coincidentally, I recently also got peer reviewer feedback on and article I submitted, and am beginning to revisit the article. My work consists of 70% professional practice and 30% of scholarship and service. I had always found it challenging to set aside time to read, think, and engage with scholarship while balancing my professional practice work. I’m hoping that being outside of my office will help me focus and dedicate actual time to reading and reflecting this spring and summer. 

That being said, I’m still very aware that we are living in a global pandemic, and that peoples lives are being uprooted. I’m glad to have a supportive community around me to help navigate how to be an academic librarian during this time. Hopefully my April will be less about anxiety and worry, and more about rebuilding and excitement about the future.

See y’all next month, and in the meanwhile take care and stay safe!

7 Tips for Starting Small and Coping with Overwhelm

I’ve been feeling overwhelmed lately: botched anesthesia during a surgery left me traumatized and everything became too much almost overnight. I’m sure many of you can relate to these feelings of overwhelm, anxiety, and burnout. Kaetrena Davis Kendrick has created so much amazing work librarians experiencing low morale, documenting and validating our journeys as we navigate these difficult feelings and the daily experiences that trigger them. LGBTQ+ librarians, librarians of color, disabled librarians, and those of us who live at the intersections, are especially at risk. As a white, (gender)queer, disabled, femme librarian, I feel this burden intensely, triggered by the recent medical trauma I endured. I decided to be proactive, vulnerable, and brave by talking to my supervisor about taking medical leave and working half-days. I’m grateful that my supervisor is incredibly supportive and has been there the whole way with me.

All this is to say that I’ve been thinking about how to manage the overwhelm by creating strategies that will allow me to survive this so I can once again thrive. I’ve found the key to managing my feelings of “this is too much” is starting small – and practicing radical acceptance and self-love along the way. Today, I want to share seven of those strategies with you.

01. Just start

Just start – and start small! I set a timer for five minutes and get to work. If I feel like I can handle it, I reset the timer and keep going.

02. Brain dumps and mind maps

Do a quick brain dump – or invest in creating a mind map – to manage large tasks and projects. When I do a brain dump, I draw a container and just write down – or as I call it, word vomit – whatever comes to mind, no filters. Mind maps can be a great way to organize a brain dump.

03. The Pomodoro Technique

I use the Pomodoro Technique to manage my time well. First, you choose a task to focus on and set a timer to 25 minutes. Then, you work on the task until your timer goes off and  PUT A CHECK OR STICKER OR WHATEVER YOU WANT ON A SHEET OF PAPER WHICH IS SO REWARDING! Next, you take a short break (5 minutes or so!) and finally for every 4 checks / stickers / whatevers you accumulate, you take a longer break. I use the Forest app on my phone which plants a tree for every 25 minute session you finish (bonus: the tree dies if you use your phone which eliminates one distraction!).

04. Set SMART goals

SMART goals are: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time bound. This system has really helped me set achievable goals and meet my deadlines with precision!

Art by @beckiebeans

05. Time-blocking

Time-blocking is a time management method that divides your day into blocks of time where each block is dedicated to accomplishing a specific task or group of tasks (called task batching) and ONLY those specific tasks I like to color-code my time blocks since I’m a visual learner.

06. Reminders and alarms

Setting up reminders and alarms on my calendar and phone to remind me it’s time to change tasks, go somewhere, meet someone, take my meds, take a break, hydrate, etc., are a lifesaver. Take that lunch break!

07. Affirmations

Utilize the power of affirmations. Remember, you’re doing the best you can and that’s more than good enough. Even if you’re in a situation that’s difficult, challenging, or just flat-out sucks, remember that you can grow, expand, and transform from those experiences. I know I have.

Finally, remember that there’s help available – and please utilize it because you deserve it. 

How do you cope with feeling overwhelmed?

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.

What the Numbers Say and Don’t Say

I am not a numbers person. Likely, due to my humanities background, I am unfamiliar with numbers and also suspicious of them. Yet, I find myself constantly thinking about numbers at work. I count: the number of classes I’ve taught, the number of consultations, the number of conferences I’m going to, the number of hours devoted to committees and service, etc. 

I stare at my current numbers and compare them to past and institutional numbers, which I use as a reference point (or in other words, a benchmark). For example, I noticed that the number of classes I’ve taught this year is less than the number taught in years prior. This drop in numbers bothered me. Am I not working hard enough, doing enough outreach, am I not supporting my colleagues enough, am I being a slacker? My goals as a librarian is focused on student learning and engagement, not increasing numbers, but I found it challenging to ignore what the numbers might say.

I think my preoccupation with numbers is somewhat due to the fact that I am a new librarian. I have no frame of reference, as I can’t draw on my previous experience. I do, however, have access to statistics that we gather about classes, workshops, and consultations, which are reported to the Association of Research Libraries (ARL). After every class, consultation, and reference interaction, I diligently enter stats into a form. I record things like how many students participated, the program/college associated with the interaction, and the duration of the interaction. 

While these numbers provide evidence of the work I’ve done in the past 7 months, in many ways they don’t say much. What is counted, documented, and recorded is limited. The statistics don’t capture the time and labour spent on preparing for and reflecting on a class. They don’t capture the often invisible, maintenance work that Veronica Arellano Douglas wrote about recently. While some qualitative information is recorded, the larger context surrounding a consultation, or a student’s learning journey within a class, or my own feelings and experience with a reference interaction is not accounted for. 

I’ve been getting to know and share the context of all these numbers through conversations with colleagues: sharing a quick anecdote from class, describing a new strategy or activity they tried, or discussing what’s been happening at the reference desk in weekly drop-in meetings. Even if these stories aren’t recorded or documented, they’ve given me a lot of insight into the work that’s happening, more so than the numbers have. 

I’ve been thinking a lot about a talk given by Donna Lanclos a couple months ago at my library about open-ended ethnographic research, and the problems of quantifying library work. In the talk, she points to how numbers are increasingly valued more than qualitative data, even though they provide an incomplete picture. Moreover, she mentions how these numbers are frequently used to make institutional decisions.

In fact, the province I’m located in has introduced a new government funding model based on performance metrics. Meaning numbers related to graduation, employability, skills and competencies, and other measurements will become increasingly important. 

I am not interested in librarianship and higher education that is governed solely by numbers. As I’ve gotten more settled into my work, I’ve spent less time worrying about numbers. I have a better idea of the ebbs and flows of an academic year, and I have my own experience to draw on as a guide. I’ve also been jotting down my experiences and reflections more. Currently, a lot of it is ad hoc, on various pages in my agenda, on sticky notes, and on these blog posts! Hopefully, by the time I write my annual report this summer, I’ll have amassed stories and narratives that will help me convey what the number’s don’t say.

Being okay with confusion

I do a one minute paper for most of my library instruction sessions, where I ask students: what was the most useful or interesting they learned, what remains confusing or unclear. I also give them the space to add any additional comments or questions they have. Most leave that section blank, or provide quick feedback, like good job! Or thanks for the presentation! One time, a student wrote that the session made them more confused and more stressed about their upcoming assignment than before — I felt awful, and worried that as an instructor, I failed the student.  

When I’m feeling insecure about my teaching, I worry about this a lot. I worry that I’ve made an information literacy concept too complex and too hard to digest. My worries aren’t limited to classroom teaching. I worry too, when I’m providing reference help, particularly when it feels like I did not give the student the answer or solution they were looking for. 

In response, I’ve thought a lot about how I can communicate more clearly, and simplify my explanations. I’ve worked to incorporate more examples and make my lessons easier to understand. But after this past month of teaching multiple information literacy sessions on source evaluation and identifying scholarly sources, I’ve been thinking a lot about how learning doesn’t necessarily lead to more clarity. 

Many of the undergraduate classes I visit, specify what type of source students should use for their assignment. These sources are also described in multiple ways: scholarly sources, academic sources, peer-reviewed sources, secondary sources, primary articles, etc. I find myself trying to interpret what each assignment requirement means, and it varies depending on the class and discipline. For example, are textbooks scholarly sources? What if your textbook is a scholarly monograph that’s designed for use in undergraduate classrooms? Is a peer-reviewed student journal a scholarly source? Is a research article a primary or secondary source (why does it change depending on the discipline)? If a theoretical text doesn’t have citations, is it not a scholarly source? Although I know what these sources are, the answer can be complex, involving a critical understanding of disciplinary context and how academia and society value specific types of authority. 

In an effort to make identifying scholarly sources easy to understand, I fear that a potential takeaway of my lesson was the sources (peer-reviewed articles) you need for your assignment is good and other sources are bad. If that’s the case, even if students feel like they have a clear understanding of scholarly sources, I feel like I’ve failed them as an instructor. 

I want to bring complexity and critical thinking into my classrooms, but I also don’t want students to be discouraged or lost when doing their assignments. Since I usually only see the students once, I feel added pressure to get it right (you get one shot!).  I think discomfort and confusion are part of the learning process, but how do you know when the confusion is not generative?  

With a semester of teaching under my belt, I thought teaching information literacy would become easier. I am more confident about teaching in some ways, but more confused and uncertain in other ways. I’m grappling with my own feelings of confusion and discomfort — particularly, when I feel a class or reference interaction didn’t go well. 

I’ve been experimenting with journaling and recording my reflections, and in that process, I’ve been reminding myself that even if it felt like the class didn’t go well, that doesn’t mean that learning didn’t happen. Learning is complex and messy for both instructors and students. I’m working through embracing the fact that confusion is stressful, but wading through that discomfort can be rewarding and transformative!

Creating Cultures of Radical Vulnerability and Empathy: 5 Ways to Support Colleagues Who Are Survivors

Today, I thought I’d share a little bit about how we can do just that – supporting survivors who are colleagues by cultivating a culture of radical empathy and vulnerability in our libraries. These recommendations are based upon my personal experiences as a survivor who is also an academic librarian, my final project, and my upcoming book chapter in LIS Interrupted: The Intersections of Mental Illness and Library Work, titled “Surviving to Thriving: Creating a Culture of Radical Vulnerability in Libraries.” Here are five ways we can support colleagues who are survivors in academic libraries…

Photo by Dan Meyers on Unsplash.

I recently had the opportunity to take a class on trauma-informed librarianship with S. Bryce Kozla. This course gave us the skills to describe the importance of trauma-informed care in library spaces and services, consider ways to keep an interaction from escalating (and to keep calm and present in a potentially stressful situation,) name some ways trauma-informed principles can be applied in libraries, identify the role of historical trauma and institutional oppression in trauma informed care, and reflect on the effects of trauma in the workplace and how a workplace can become trauma-informed. By the end of the course, we had developed a document, artifact, or action plan for the concepts learned in this course, going forward. 

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) “Concept of Trauma and Guidance for a Trauma-Informed Approach”, an organization that is trauma-informed: “realizes the widespread impact of trauma and understands potential paths for recovery; recognizes the signs and symptoms of trauma in clients, families, staff, and others involved with the system; and responds by fully integrating knowledge about trauma into policies, procedures, and practices, and seeks to actively resist re-traumatization.” Based on this definition, I decided that my final project would be a presentation on “Supporting Survivors as Workers in the Academic Library,” which I will be presenting at Cornell University Library’s Engagement and Outreach Forum next month!

Today, I thought I’d share a little bit about how we can do just that – supporting survivors who are colleagues by cultivating a culture of radical empathy and vulnerability in our libraries. These recommendations are based upon my personal experiences as a survivor who is also an academic librarian, my final project, and my upcoming book chapter in LIS Interrupted: The Intersections of Mental Illness and Library Work, titled “Surviving to Thriving: Creating a Culture of Radical Vulnerability in Libraries.” Here are five ways we can support colleagues who are survivors in academic libraries:

1. Cultivating a culture of radical empathy and vulnerability

The expectation to perform sanity is stifling and isolating for those of us who are survivors. As librarians, we’re expected to put on a shining face for our patrons and colleagues rather than “cause discomfort” if they were actually faced with our real-life, human struggles (physically, emotionally, mentally, etc.) This prioritization of others’ potential discomfort with our very real anguish is dangerous, creating a culture of silencing, fear, and stigma. As a community, we need to foster a culture of radical empathy and vulnerability, without the fear of repercussions from colleagues, supervisors, and/or HR. This isn’t an easy task but it’s something to work toward. A little progress each day can add up to big changes in the lives of our peers and colleagues.

As librarians and library workers, we need to commit ourselves to creating a culture that radically celebrates vulnerability, compassion, and empathy – a culture that allows folks to bring their whole, authentic selves to work. 

We need to show up for each other. I think sometimes people are afraid of doing it “wrong” – but showing up is what’s important, letting your colleague know they’re not alone, that you see them, and that you’re someone they can go to and trust. Doing so from a genuine place of care and concern is essential. 

2. Participating in mental health first aid

We can also participate in trainings on Mental Health First Aid or speak to our local survivor support organization or counseling center about how to best support colleagues if we’re nervous. These trainings should be offered periodically and everyone should be encouraged to attend to improve the overall health of our workplaces.  

I’m incredibly grateful for the colleagues and comrades who have supported me in bringing my whole self to work. They’ve made it a possibility for me. I hope I can pay their kindness forward by cultivating a similar culture wherever I go.

3. Changing ableist language

Something that seems small, but that really affects me and many other survivors, is the usage of ableist slurs, such as crazy and insane, as descriptors – usually not in the positive sense, never in the reclaimed sense. 

People have used these slurs to discredit me and my experiences as a crazy, disabled, and sick/chronically ill queer femme. They are both harmful and hurtful. It’s important to learn new language, to question why we feel it’s necessary to use ableist slurs, and to interrupt ourselves and others when we slip up. 

There are many resources available to help us communicate more compassionately. Lydia X. Z. Brown of Austic Hoya has a fantastic resource on ableism and language. This living document they’ve created (with the help and input of many different disabled people,) is an ever-growing, expanding, and changing glossary that includes lists of ableist words and phrases (including slurs), as well as words which people can consider using instead. 

4. Knowing your resources

One of the simplest things we can do as librarians for each other, for our patrons, and our communities, with the potential for the greatest impact is to know our resources (such as those related to mental health and sexual and domestic violence) both locally and nationally: What is their phone number? Where are they located? What services do they offer? 

It’s absolutely crucial to be familiar with resources outside of the police (and forced/nonconsensual institutionalization) which can be violent and even deadly for marginalized communities such as disabled people, people of color, and queer and transgender folks. 

When someone experiencing a mental health crisis is taken by police to the hospital, they may be forcibly stripped and injected with tranquilizers, as I have been before. This can be extremely traumatizing, especially if the person you’re “concerned” about is already a survivor. “What To Do Instead of Calling the Police: A Guide, A Syllabus, A Conversation, A Process” is a living document of resources on alternatives to policing, which range from the theoretical to practical, including best practices and guiding questions.

5. Practicing community care

During October, a month when my PTSD tends to worsen, my supervisor put together a community care shared document in which colleagues could sign up to assist me with various tasks to help make the month easier for me. Here’s an example of what one might look like:

Image via Karina Hagelin.

These are just a few examples of ways you can support colleagues who are survivors at work. Support looks different for each and every one of us and it never hurts to ask what that might look like.

How do you support survivors at your workplace?