Physical data visualization & data literacy

It’s hard to believe that my first semester as an academic librarian is nearly over. Scheduling the reference desk and hiring a new student worker for spring semester have taken a lot of my attention these past few weeks. I’ve started a personal project based on my work in the meantime though, which was inspired by this book chapter by McDonough and Lemon. Essentially, they created physical artifacts of their work data – specifically, the number of meetings they had – and it helped them become more mindful of their work life balance. I decided to track my own email data and crochet a scarf based on the number of emails I send in a day. I’ll do this for my entire first year as a librarian, so I did go back and record how many emails I’ve sent every day since July.  

There are a few notes about the project: I only counted different email threads in the emails I sent per day, not the number I sent within a thread (so if I had an email about finals week planning and I replied twice on Thursday, once on Friday, it would be recorded once per day). My color key is as follows: 

  • Off: grey 
  • Weekend: White  
  • 12+: Red 
  • 10-11: Bright pink 
  • 8-9: light pink 
  • 6-7: Light purple  
  • 4-5: Medium purple 
  • 2-3: Dark purple 
  • 0-1: Dark brown 
  • Bobbles: Mail Merge was used 

The next question you might have is: why bother recording this data in a physical format? I wonder about this too, so I wanted to try doing it myself. I am endlessly fascinated by this phenomenon of using crafting and other physical forms to track one’s own data. We see it in the trend of temperature blankets (knitting or crocheting a row a day based on the average temperature wherever you are), mood tracking in bullet journals, and embroidering an icon a day for a year. Why are people compelled to do this? How does it contribute to mindfulness? For me, it is a nice routine to crochet my five rows for the week on Friday or Saturday.  

After that, you may ask: what does this have to do with your librarianship or higher ed? For one, it’s helping me track my own work-life balance. I have to crochet a new row of white every time I send an email on the weekends or on a day off, so that makes me very aware of how often I’m even checking my Outlook inbox. I am also the liaison to our new data science major, so I hope to someday bring in collaborations with my faculty and students that focus on these physical visualizations as a concept. Beyond that, it’s very much a personal interest. I took Data Storytelling for my masters’ degree, and my time at the Library of Congress as a junior fellow really focused on data as well, so it’s something I want to continue to explore and nurture.  

Data literacy is also at the forefront of my mind when I’m creating and editing lesson plans. I like the definition that Carlson et al (2011) put forth: “data literacy involves understanding what data mean, including how to read charts appropriately, draw correct conclusions from data, and recognize when data are being used in misleading or inappropriate ways.” That’s a big ask, especially when we as academic librarians are often trying to fit as much information literacy as we can into one session. I think data often has this connotation of being accurate, factual, or inherently correct; and though this is slowly changing, it’s also a bit scary as a concept. Big Excel sheets with rows and rows of data would frighten anybody without the knowledge to dive into and interpret that data.  

The idea of “big data” and machine learning is in our faces all the time, too. To me, a crucial part of data literacy as a concept is remembering the real human beings behind the data – or data humanism, a concept by Giorgia Lupi. This is part of understanding what data mean, as per Carlson et al’s definition. The number of emails I send is one thing, but it’s attached to me as a new librarian, a white woman, a new Maryland resident… my list of positionalities can go on. The same goes for any institutional data we collect on students, for charts from a database like Statista that supports a student’s final presentation topic, and the like. Even though it often doesn’t have personal identifiers, that data came from someone.  

Perhaps that’s the power of this slow data visualization; taking the time to record how many emails I send in a week isn’t revolutionary like some data viz projects are, but it is forcing me to appreciate the work that goes into data collection and the humans behind it. Data literacy isn’t just knowing how to collect, find, or process data; it’s reflecting on where, and who, it came from. 

The scarf as of 11/17/22. White and light pink are a bit closer in tone that I wanted.  


FYAL Observations

Editor’s Note: Please join us in welcoming Rosemary Medrano, Collections Management and Research Librarian at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, as a new First Year Academic Librarian blogger for the 2022-2023 year here at ACRLog.

As I slide past the 3 month mark that concludes my probationary period as the Collections Manager and Research Librarian at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, it’s a good time to reflect. This is my first job at an academic library, but I had been working at a local public library for close to 5 years before this. After graduating with my MLIS in May, I knew I wanted to make a shift that would better match my professional interests. A position opened up in the same city that I live in, and while it was hard to leave the public library and all the good work we were doing, I think I made the right decision. I’ve been thinking a lot about the day-to-day work in each library and here are some of my general observations:

  • In public libraries you’re expected to be all things to all people, or maybe you expect yourself to be. I found this to be completely unsustainable. So far in this job, I’ve been able to focus on the two aspects of my job title, but I can see how even that demonstrates a trend in the workforce of having to fill multiple roles. They are totally different skill sets that could be filled by two people. I’m sure this is mirrored at countless other academic libraries where librarians are pulling double-duty. It will be interesting to see if and how this trend will change as the workforce changes in age and culture.  
  • There are different kinds of busy. At the public library, I could not sit at the computer in my office for very long before being interrupted by a phone call that bounced back from the reference desk, a coworker needing help after a long line of patrons started forming, or patrons casually strolling into the office to chat or ask for help. At times, it was difficult to complete other tasks. Now, I am rarely not at my desk, the work still piles up, but I look forward to being interrupted by students needing research help. I wonder if a year from now I will be an open door or closed door type of librarian when I am not having office hours.
  • I was worried about making the shift, but skills I developed at the public library are definitely transferable to the academic setting. What has been difficult is the transition to a different service model. It’s not better, or worse – just different. I’m sure I’ll be spending this next year developing this different style of research help where we teach how to search and how to use the catalog instead of just giving people their answers. Honing collection development to be more data-driven and curriculum supporting will also be a lot different than purchasing for the public library collection based on reviews and usage. I have some ideas on improving circulation that I brought with me, and I want to experiment with here. I’ll report back if I’ve had any success on the implementation or on the increasing circulation part.

Before I graduated, I was able to connect with some librarians across the US and Canada. They generously shared their time and talked about their paths to academic librarianship. It really gave me an advantage when I was applying for this job. It also gave me some perspective when I was thinking about changing jobs. To me, the academic library was shiny and new, and I held it up on a pillar. I’m thankful for the reality check and I look forward to the challenges this job brings.   

Prepared? Reflecting on grad school after 3.5 months on the job

Lately, I’ve been thinking about how well my MS/LIS degree and its related experiences prepared me for my job now as a Research and Instructional Services Librarian. It’s important to note that I worked in my undergraduate library for three years while receiving my bachelors. I also worked in my hometown public library for a year before heading off to graduate school. I’d worked at a physical reference desk before, had worked with LibChat, and had a base knowledge of databases. I had more library experience than some, and therefore had a better idea of what classes I needed to be taking to become an academic librarian.   

I feel like a broken record saying this, but my graduate experience was quite different and chaotic at best; my first year, I was entirely online (unplanned), assistantship and all. Online classes weren’t necessarily a surprise, given my alma mater’s strong online MS/LIS program, but setting foot in the library I worked for exactly once during the 2020-2021 school year wasn’t something I was expecting. I did chat and email reference, team meetings, and taught workshops all from my tiny bedroom in Urbana, IL. I’d moved to Illinois specifically to have an in-person program, but alas – Covid ruined those plans. My supervisor and the other librarians I worked with did their best to train my cohort remotely, but as you can imagine, the physical reference desk is a whole other beast compared to a virtual one. Even when we went back in person in summer 2021, things felt constantly up in the air. Policies were changing left and right as folks tried to reconcile COVID-19 restrictions with being back in person. If anything, my “chaos cohort” of other graduate assistants were prepared to be adaptable! 

collection development

With that being said, one aspect of my degree that might seem controversial to some is that I actively chose not to take collection development, despite never having done that in any of the previously mentioned library jobs. This was based on some of my friends’ experiences in the class; it was useful, for sure, but there were other classes they’d wanted to take that they couldn’t as a result. I had the thought too that wherever I ended up, they would “do” collections differently. I’d have to learn new processes no matter what classes I took. Now that I’m here at Salisbury, I am responsible for collections in areas like Environmental Studies, Public Health, and Exercise Science, to name a few. I lean on my faculty for book recommendations, as well as Choice Reviews from ACRL and book reviews in journals. I am also part of our Leisure Reading committee, where our main responsibility is to develop our leisure collections for students, faculty and staff. Here, the collection development is a group effort. Personally, I don’t feel like I’ve missed out on too much; I’ve learned how to use GOBI on the job, and my university has a great faculty request system in place.  


A theme I have noticed in literature regarding the master’s degree is that many academic librarians feel they weren’t adequately prepared to take on instruction. It’s also been written about on ACRLog before. This is something I felt fairly confident about, as I took the class “Instructional Strategies and Techniques for Information Professionals” with Merinda Hensley. We created a lesson plan, struggled through writing learning outcomes (emphasis on the struggle), and wrote teaching philosophies. I also took “E-Learning” with Melissa Wong, which gave me language and strategies for teaching virtually. On top of all of this, I was teaching for the UIUC library via my graduate assistantship. So when setting up instruction sessions with my faculty at Salisbury, I felt confident. I’m always going to be nervous before teaching, but it’s never been because I have no idea what I’m doing.  

faculty communication

Where I feel shaky in regards to my job duties is in communication with faculty. Some of this is to be expected with a new librarian, but where I find myself unsure is how many emails to send, how to reach faculty that don’t already request library instruction… essentially, I am struggling in this aspect of “proving” myself and my job to other faculty at the university. I attended the CLAPS (Critical Librarianship & Pedagogy Symposium) two weeks ago, and Baharak Yousefi’s closing keynote has really stuck with me. Some of these tweets capture the essence of this powerful keynote, which had some focus on one-shot instruction:  

“No physicist, historian, or geographer on our campus teaches this way – going around begging for the right to teach in a one-off manner.” (tweeted by @lydia_zv)  

“We are deprofessionalized by being given work we can’t do well, and the very fact that we can’t do it well makes us reluctant to resist the condition of our de-professionalization” (tweeted by @RoxanneShirazi) 

I didn’t have the words for what I was feeling, but Yousefi has captured it perfectly. I was hired at Salisbury to perform a job, I have faculty status, and yet, it sometimes feels like I need to prove the merit of library instruction. I’ve got some great faculty who know the value of a librarian for their students, but even then, I’m in front of them maybe once a semester. If the timing of our session isn’t quite right, students won’t see the value of what I teach yet or won’t want to re-do their research based on what I’ve shown them. I imagine that confidence in faculty communication will come with time and effort; is this even something an MS/LIS could prepare a new librarian for? I’m inclined to say no. We can perhaps be warned about the phenomenon by professors and mentors, but it strikes me as something a librarian has to experience and address themselves at their institutions.  

These are just a few things I’ve been pondering since graduating. How did your MS/LIS prepare you for your library position? How did it not? Feel free to sound off below. This post by Sarah Crissinger on tips for graduate school might be of interest too. 

Landing the first librarian job

Editor’s Note: Please join us in welcoming Emily Zerrenner, Research and Instructional Services Librarian at Salisbury University on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, as a new First Year Academic Librarian blogger for the 2022-2023 year here at ACRLog.

The process of landing my first academic job was a whirlwind with a steady downpour. From about February on, nearly every day I was scouring job boards, writing cover letters, tweaking my resume and creating a CV. First interviews were always exciting before nerve-wracking; I could count on some of the questions asked (Why do you want this job?) and I would daydream about the location. In every place I applied, I checked PetFinder. I wanted a job, and I wanted a dog. Sometimes my questions would have less of a straight answer. Could I fit there? Could I make a life there?

I distinctly remember the first interview I got. I was so excited, because it was on the East Coast and the campus was beautiful, and, and, and. I came up with many reasons. I thought I nailed the interview. It was a bright spot in the seemingly endless gloom of a Midwestern February.

Then I wasn’t invited for a second interview.

I wasn’t surprised, necessarily; but I had hoped so hard that it would work out. I had long been warned about the academic job seeking process, and I saw the graduate assistants a year before me go through it in Spring 2021. At that point, I steeled myself for the marathon ahead.

I had a spreadsheet to input information about every job I applied to. Light green highlight meant I got a first interview, dark green meant a second round, and I just moved the rows of rejections to a separate sheet so I didn’t have to look at them. No highlight meant my application was received, but I didn’t hear anything. (This happened to more jobs than you might expect.) Google Drive learned my habits of opening that sheet pretty much anywhere I went: “you usually open around this time.” I had a general resume and CV, a general cover letter with everything I could possibly talk about, and folders where I dropped the customized materials for each position.

I was still in three graduate school classes during this time, working 15 or so hours a week as a graduate assistant, and teaching workshops and one-shot library instruction in the meantime. Even though I began graduate school in Fall 2020, this felt like the hardest pandemic semester yet; I was so close to the end of my degree and so burnt out from juggling not only my responsibilities as a full-time student, but also managing the risk of COVID-19 at every turn.

April was the worst month. I had a second-round interview every week; all of them were over Zoom (which, eight hours over Zoom is perhaps its own form of torture) but I was flown out to visit one campus. The day after I got back from that campus visit, I had the second-round interview for the place I work now. I was so incredibly exhausted that I was convinced I wouldn’t get that one, but I kept pushing through. It was like having a final project every week, except these final projects determined the course of my life. In total, I applied to 17 jobs and completed 30 hours of interviews across institutions (not including the travel and preparation time).

I received and accepted a job offer at Salisbury University a week before I graduated, which I recognize is so lucky on my part. Moving to an entirely new state alone, away from everything I knew was its own challenge – one that I am still adjusting to. In this field, it’s almost expected that you will move away from friends and family; you have to follow the work. The long job application process is well known and documented, and yet we’re still using that same system. Additionally, I have a lot of thoughts about reimbursement culture in academia; grateful as I am for moving cost reimbursement, that initial financial burden almost made it impossible to actually make the move for this job.

But I’m happy to report that my Petfinder browsing paid off, and I’m slowly making a life here – both as a new academic librarian, and as Emily.

A dog's face with black and white markings

Call for FYAL Bloggers!

With the new academic year coming up soon (or perhaps, for some of you, already begun!), we’re looking to bring on a few new bloggers here at ACRLog. We’d like to thank our 2021-2022 FYAL bloggers Ramón García and Heather Bobrowicz . We’d also like to encourage new academic librarians — those who are just beginning in their first position at an academic library — to blog with us during their first year.

FYAL bloggers typically publish posts monthly during the academic year. If you’re interested in applying to be a FYAL blogger here at ACRLog, applications are due by Tuesday, September 6. Send an email (please include “ACRLog FYAL” in the subject line) to that includes:

– a sample blog post

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

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

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

Please send any questions to We’re looking forward to hearing from you!