Thinking About Space, Still

About a year ago I was knee-deep in scheduling focus group sessions with students at one of the colleges at my university, along with my fellow team members as part of our Data Doubles research. The focus groups were terrific — I always appreciate the chance to talk with students and hear their perspectives, in this case on data privacy and learning analytics. Recently I’ve found myself thinking about one student in particular. We’d shifted the focus groups from in person to online, and with campus access still restricted at our university last Spring, most of the students were zooming in from off-campus, some from laptops, others from phones. As we progressed through the questions and discussion in one focus group, I noticed that one of the students had moved from sitting at a table to walking outside. And a few minutes later, that student climbed onto a bus, swiped their MetroCard, and sat down with their phone and laptop, all the while continuing to participate in the focus group during their bus commute.

I’m sharing this anecdote in part because it’s still, even nearly a year later, amazing to me that the student could so seamlessly move into a commute while thoughtfully considering and responding in our discussion. But now that we’re back on campus more fully, I’m also thinking more about space, and how the library’s spaces can meet needs for students that may have changed since the pandemic began.

ACRLoggers have written a lot about space over the years, both before and since the pandemic, and I confess that I am almost always thinking about space when I’m in the library where I work. Like so many academic libraries at institutions with high enrollments and space constraints (sometimes but not always in urban areas), pre-pandemic we were regularly one of the most crowded spots on campus; at our busiest students sat on the floors when all chairs were occupied. Pre-pandemic we were also a nearly completely in-person college, with I believe less than 10% of courses offered fully online. This semester we’re closer to 50% in-person, 50% online, and while it has been truly lovely to see more students in the library space this year, our onsite use is not nearly what it was before March 2020. And in many ways that’s fine — every student who wants a seat can get one, and it’s much quieter in the library, too, which I know many students really appreciate.

Perhaps the biggest shift we’ve seen (and I’m sure we’re not alone in this) is the drastic reduction in demand for our physical computer labs in the library. I’ve heard from the director of academic technology that she’s seeing something similar in the other computer labs on campus, too. While a huge change (and, honestly, a relief from the long lines we used to have), it’s not entirely surprising to see this shift: lab use is down, but we have many, many more students bringing their own laptops to work in the library. Printing is also down, and it’s clear that our terrific tech team’s efforts to implement printing from students’ own devices, beginning before the pandemic, are meeting the needs of students who do still want to print their course materials.

The return to our physical space has also meant a return to students sharing feedback with us. It’s been gratifying to read students’ comments, which have been overwhelmingly appreciative sprinkled with occasional grumbling about the noise of students taking their online courses in the library (and we’re likely going to restart lending headphones). We’re also back to our pre-pandemic practices of walking through the library to take a headcount a few times each day, and continuing to observe how students are using the space. It’s clear to us that students who are taking both in person and online classes aren’t necessarily coming to campus as often as they did before the pandemic, how can we shift services and spaces to better meet their needs? And the library is still in need of a renovation. I’m looking forward to revisiting our renovation proposal — especially for one underused area that might be reimagined for more student seating — and thinking about ways that we might make our space more accommodating and flexible for multiple different kinds of use by students.

What’s Bringing You Joy? An ACRLogger Collaborative Post

For this month’s ACRLoggers collaborative blog post, we’re talking about things that are bringing us joy these days. We hope this post also brings you joy and or allows you to reflect on things bringing you joy this month.  

Ramón – I do my best to not think about work in my free time, so currently I’m reading Robert Crumb’s Book of Genesis – The illustrations are amazing, of course. The last book I really enjoyed was Blood Brothers: The Fatal Friendship Between Muhammed Ali and Malcom X.

Alex – I’m trying to become more of a “podcast person.” I haven’t found any library podcasts to add to my list of regular listening, but I’m trying an episode here and there of any library podcasts that sound interesting! (And I’ve finally listened to the “Room of Requirement” episode of This American Life. It only took 3 years of recommendations from others!)

Emily “lofi hip hop radio – beats to relax/study to” on Youtube. This isn’t technically library-related, but makes me feel like an undergrad again! Instrumental music always helped me focus on homework, and these Lofi Girl videos fill my office with fuzzy, beat-forward good vibes.

Maura – I’m almost finished reading The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson and it’s such an amazing novel that I’ve found myself recommending it to people practically nonstop in the past couple of weeks. (I may also be dragging my feet a bit on finishing it, it’s that good.)

Jen – While I’m definitely finding joy in the various things I’m reading, watching, and listening to right now, those things aren’t explicitly library-related either. But I do enjoy when I can follow the thread of an idea I’ve been working on or thinking about in my professional space into whatever recreational book or movie I’m immersed in. For example, I just finished Writers and Lovers by Lily King (highly recommend, by the way) and was struck by the insights into the writing process (among other things) that it offered. I love to see those moments of connection across divides or contexts. 

What’s something bringing you joy in the workplace? 

Alex – I’m working on a lot of things with different committees and groups, and they’re all actually moving forward. None of the groups are stuck in that space of “what do we do next” or “let’s table that indefinitely,” and it feels great.

Ramón – The 10 plants I keep in my office! Whenever my eyes are tired from looking at screens or I feel stressed, I turn around in my chair & admire my green friends. 

Emily – Little flashes of community amongst students has brought me joy lately. After being virtual, then hybrid for so long, it felt like students stopped seeing the library as a lively, social place. It was getting lonely and sad! It’s great to see students study in small groups again, or meet with friends between classes in the library.

Maura – Like Emily I’m also enjoying seeing more students in the library again. While we were open last semester it was still fairly quiet on campus as most of the college’s courses were still mostly (or solely) online. Welcoming students back to the library to study, use our resources, or catch a nap between classes has been a bright spot for sure.

Jen – It’s been a hectic few weeks and I feel like I’m working just about five minutes ahead of every deadline — which is not my favorite context to work in nor the one in which I feel I’m able to produce my most thoughtful work. But at the end of the workshop I facilitated today (after having finalized it only this morning), a colleague who participated commented how helpful it was, that it was “just what I was looking for.” The point I want to make here isn’t that this particular comment from this particular colleague brought me joy, although it did. Reflecting on this brief exchange today in light of this prompt reminds me how much it matters to recognize each others’ effort and impact. I used to hesitate to share acknowledgements like this because I thought my small comments were expendable, disposable. But I feel exactly the opposite now: that such comments, however small, acknowledging that we see the work that our colleagues and our students are doing, that we appreciate their efforts, that we recognize their significance can go a long way. With them, I think we can create a bit of joy for each other and ourselves.

What’s a win (big or small) that has brought you joy in 2022? 

Ramón – Feeling more comfortable teaching my library research course & looking back on my previous work plan to see that I accomplished almost everything I set out to do!

Alex – A colleague and I got a chapter proposal accepted! The actual writing is not currently bringing me a lot of joy, but once I’m on the other side of the first draft, it will bring me joy again.

Emily – In Fall 2020, we started using LibGuides CMS to embed LibGuide pages into Canvas. This semester I’ve noticed more and more instructors requesting our “Ask a Librarian” feature (our embedded chat and contact page), and even embedding resources all on their own! It’s been good to see it catching on.

Maura – We’re hiring (again)! Near the end of last semester one of our IT staff moved on to another opportunity, and I’m grateful that we’ve been able to recruit for their replacement so quickly. I’m also grateful for my colleagues in the library who are taking the time to run the search so thoughtfully. I’m looking forward to welcoming our new colleague in the (fingers crossed, not too distant) future.

Hailley – During the fall semester, I spent a lot of time facilitating conversations around our reference services. These conversations led us to make some big changes this spring, including launching a new form to help track our interactions on and off the desk, across multiple departments. Watching this form come to life (and knowing all the hard work and conversations that went into creating it) is definitely bringing me joy.


Featured image by Bekka Mongeau from Pexels

The Back of the iPad Cart And Other Things I Didn’t Anticipate as a New Department Head

What felt like the longest month (January) is finally over. I don’t know about you, but the combination of cold temperatures, snow, the surge in COVID cases, and the push to “de-densify” the campus really put me in a pandemic funk. Each week felt out of my control and full of back-to-back virtual meetings. After spending a full semester working entirely in-person and only having a few virtual meetings each week, my body definitely needed time to readjust to working from my dining room table.The days went by fast, I was full of hectic energy, but January as a whole felt like a slog. 

As I emerge and jump headfirst into February (my favorite month for many reasons, including the arrival of my birthday), I tried to identify the reason for a hectic January. I think part of it was encountering some things I hadn’t anticipated. As I’ve talked about on the blog before, I’m new to being a department head. I’m finding it challenging and rewarding in all the right ways and an opportunity for me to grow. But like any new position, things pop up that you don’t think would happen. As I stood in front of our iPad cart, trying to determine what cords went where, I figured it would be fun to discuss a few of the things I’m navigating! 

Balancing team vs. me time

One of the things I enjoy about my new role is the ability to take a bird’s eye view at what the team is doing. It’s great to see how each individual is moving a project forward and I love to connect teammates when their interests and skill sets match up. I love thinking through the vision of the department and how our individual goals work towards collective goals. But sometimes I get to the end of the work day and realize that I’ve been spending so much time thinking about the team, I haven’t thought about me. 

By me, I mean the individual projects and work I do that is connected, yet separate in some ways, from my department head role. For example, the awesome work I get to do with LibParlor and the IMLS grant we received. Or writing this blog post for ACRLog or planning a one-shot instruction session. I’m still trying to find the balance between how I assist and support the success of the team I’m leading, but also find time to work on the things that are part of my portfolio. Recently, I’ve gotten around to blocking off chunks of time for certain projects, closing out my mail when I’m not actively sending email, and using my virtual to-do list to label when work will be done (morning vs. afternoon) and if it will require ample brain space. I know a perfect balance will never be achieved, but I’m working on being more cognisant when one side is overtaking the other. 

Defining workflows and processes 

The name of this blog post comes from a recent experience where the department got new iPads (yay). As the department head, I got thrown into how we might manage them and how we work with our central IT to maintain them. I’m a process-oriented person, who is also aware that we should capture the success of using this technology (so future funding can be secured when we need it). As I watched our IT department deliver our iPads to the library, I realized that managing 24 iPads is not the same as managing my own personal iPad that I watch Hulu on. In the process of figuring out these new devices, I inevitably spent more time on them than I anticipated. And time I didn’t even consider – like rearranging the cords in the back of the iPad cart to be neat and orderly! Was that necessary? (Probably not). Did it make me feel more organized and together? (Sure did). I know this preparation work will pay off – I’ve gotten to know folks outside of the library and think about how these iPads are part of our bigger instruction work. However, the long game doesn’t mean the short game doesn’t feel hectic!  

The pandemic (enough said, right?)

I feel like my pandemic journey at my current institution is backwards – I interviewed for the role in June 2021, during the sweet period of no masks. I started the job as the mask mandate was put back into place, and now my 2022 started off with my institution deciding to push the start of the semester back a week and encourage work from home as much as possible. I’m thankful that I had a full semester with the team before jumping into an almost entirely remote work situation. It has been weird not to see my colleagues on a daily basis and at times, I feel a bit disconnected from some of their day-to-day work. This was also really my first chance as a manager to manage in an evolving pandemic situation. It means I’m sending a lot of emails and trying to model the ways I remember feeling supported in my previous role when the pandemic was shifting and changing. We are just all trying to survive.

What’s next? 

I wish I knew what was next! Ideally, I’ll go back to a “pandemic fall normal” on Monday. I’ll keep doing my thing and figuring out strategies along the way. I’ll keep celebrating the small wins, like functioning classroom iPads that have wifi! I’m curious – did anyone else have a particularly dreary January? What happened that you didn’t anticipate? 

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.