Keeping in Touch: Maintaining Work Relationships After Changing Jobs

In my non-work life, I can be a persistent friend. I like reaching out and saying hi, letting friends know I’m thinking about them. I love catching up over the phone, FaceTiming to work on an embroidery project and gossip, or when travel allows, visiting friends and seeing their favorite spots in their city. Keeping in touch isn’t an easy task, especially during a pandemic. And during 2021, I’ve reflected on my big friendships and have tried to figure out what type of communication works best for us to keep in touch. 

In changing jobs, I’m thinking a lot about how I want to stay in touch with former colleagues. This keeping in touch includes both work friendships (which I’ve talked about on ACRLog before) as well as professional relationships and collaborations. After five years at an institution, there were some folks where it still feels weird not to hear from regularly. Especially colleagues I frequently worked with or colleagues who were part of my day-to-day working life. I’ve been at my new institution long enough to have new day-to-day work colleagues, but I still miss some of those past work relationships. 

So far, my strategies for keeping in touch have included the tried and true update email, finding time for a Zoom catch-up, brainstorming a conference proposal together, connecting them with new colleagues when interests match, and seeking out their expertise and perspective as I settle into my middle manager role. I’ve also appreciated colleagues who have reached out to check in, propose collaborative projects, and or share news.

Ultimately, I feel strongly that keeping in touch with folks from previous jobs is important. While my role and responsibilities might have changed, I like to imagine new ways former colleagues and I can collaborate and learn from one another. Just like any friendship, it’s exciting to see work relationships evolve and change as we grow into new positions and people. I also feel strongly that intentionally working across institutions through maintaining past work relationships is crucial. Working across institutions means we can always learn from each other and see how different situations play out based on student populations and institutional context. 

Something that’s tough for me in friendships is knowing when a friendship has changed. The same goes for former colleagues: not everyone is someone you have to keep in touch with. You grow apart and this can be especially true if you no longer see each other in your work ecosystem. I’m always reminded of wisdom I got from a professor at my college during my senior year: she told the graduating class we would only keep in touch with a couple of friends from our time at college. She told us that she knew we didn’t believe her (we optimistically thought we would stay close friends with everyone) but she was totally right. There’s only so much we can do to maintain friendships or work relationships. You can’t keep in touch with everyone and that’s okay. I’m hoping as in-person conferences return in the next few years, that will be a good space to reconnect and see those colleagues.

For me, I hope to apply a lot of my out-of-work friendship practices to maintaining former colleague relationships. Just like any friendship, keeping in touch requires a willingness from both parties and an understanding of what kind of communication works best for where we are now. I don’t know about you, but I think I’ve got a few catch-up emails to send out!


Featured image by Volodymyr Hryshchenko on Unsplash

Virtual Events are Awesome! Here’s Why

I became an academic librarian in February of 2021. Starting a new position during a pandemic is… weird, to put it lightly. For one thing, I’ve only done one in-person event. Everything else has been virtual. If I want to be honest about it, I kind of want it to stay this way.

Don’t get me wrong! As a former children’s librarian, I know the euphoria that happens when you have a good preschool story time or you can see, in real time, children growing from the services you’re providing. Nothing made me happier than watching kids learn and appreciate art in my Art for All Ages program. There’s a certain energy to in-person events that you can’t capture online.

The author with middle school students at a recent literacy outreach.

That’s not the point of this blog post, though. I’m writing this to tell you that virtual events are, in their own way, totally awesome. They’re unique and they have their own advantages, and every time I think about what we’re capable of now thanks to technology, I’m blown away.

Let me break down why virtual events are totally awesome into four of their many benefits:

  1. You can get presenters from anywhere. I’m lucky in that I have a budget that would allow me to fly people in from other places and put them up in hotels. But is that the best use of those funds? Especially now, because tickets are so much more expensive and flying is so complicated. Webinars skip that whole step. Just this year, I’ve hosted lecturers from Florida, Maryland, Virginia, Washington, Massachusetts, California, and New Jersey. I didn’t have to worry once about booking a hotel or what would happen if a flight got canceled. My goal is to eventually get someone from a different continent. Imagine hosting a webinar with someone currently in Paris or Barcelona or Tokyo! How cool would that be?
  2. No masks or social distancing necessary. My friends and colleagues in public libraries know well the struggle of getting people to wear masks. Students at my campus have been incredibly courteous about wearing masks in our library and about campus, but it only takes one confrontation to ruin the atmosphere of an event. Then there are the logistics that go into limiting attendance and social distancing. No worries about that when everyone watching on their own devices in their own spaces. And if you plan for 50 but 200 show up, cool! Not as muh when you have limited seating in a real-world auditorium. Been there, done that. It wasn’t fun even pre-pandemic.
  3. Accessibility. Yes, I know the digital divide can make this a struggle—My college is in an area where there are large gaps in connectivity in communities. Thankfully, we’ve been awarded grants to address these issues. We distribute Wi-Fi hotspots and laptops now.

    Once students have those resources, our recorded webinars can be accessed from any device with an internet connection. This is a benefit to students with demanding schedules because of jobs, families, other classes, or any number of responsibilities they’re juggling. Webinars are also an excellent way to include students who continue to take classes from home because of mobility issues, vulnerability to COVID, or because online learning is the most convenient form for them. Students with hearing difficulties have access to subtitles and captions. They can replay portions of archived webinars if they need or want a refresher. YouTube also allows students to slow down or speed up a video to match their own pace. I love webinars for the same reason I loved e-books as a public librarian: the technology makes for a more accessible and user-friendly experience.
  4. Your audience is the world. This is especially true if you offer free webinars and advertise them on social media. We have had people tune in from all over the globe for a Shakespeare presentation in April, and it’s so neat to see attendees type in the chat that they’re tuning in from far, far away. Again, the excitement is different from watching a live audience absorb an idea or having a patron thank you in person, but it’s still thrilling.
Zoom Webinar held on September 1st, 2021, as archived on the South Texas College Library Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KNLbMCUVaVk&t=7s&ab_channel=SouthTexasCollegeLibrary

Job satisfaction can be hard to come by in a virtual world, especially if you’re not someone used to cultivating relationships online. That said, webinars can still give those of us who have been seeking out that feedback a bit of what we lost when libraries shut down. Even once our situation changes, which (depending on who you ask) could be years into the future, I don’t see virtual programs going away. I’m certainly not going to stop. I find it too valuable a resource for our students and faculty.

I will definitely do in-person events again, but mostly for local presenters and programs that don’t translate well to online formats, like anything that involves food. I might be able to find job satisfaction through Zoom webinars, but until someone figures out how to digitize pizza, popcorn, and cookies, it’s just not going to have the same draw for our students. Who knows, maybe in the future we’ll be able to share a virtual pizza with a class while they listen to someone lecturing about cloud computing from Trinidad.

That sounds totally awesome to me.

From clicks toward concepts in the information literacy classroom

I was mindlessly scrolling through Twitter the other day when a tweet caught my eye. I wish I could find it again to do it justice, but it was essentially a critique of the author’s missteps in the classroom early in their career by way of a funny apology to students. It immediately transported me back to some of the most disappointing and embarrassing teaching experiences in my own early career days. My whole body still cringes when I remember those moments: the one-shots where, for example, I droned on about database navigation and put students, and myself, to sleep; the ones where I stuffed every minute of class, often with insignificant minutiae, thereby camouflaging what really mattered. I didn’t know how to prioritize or pace instruction, much less how to engage students. 

I’m grateful to say that almost everything about my teaching has changed since then, and for the better. Now, more than a decade later, my teaching is much more grounded in constructivist pedagogy and organized around cultivating students’ awareness and understanding of their research processes. My approach then could perhaps be described as tool-driven and largely based in demonstration. It was common for me to develop some kind of resource guide for the course–essentially a long list of links to recommended databases, books, websites, etc.–and then to spend our time in class focused on modeling and practicing effective use of those tools. Of course, there are still plenty of occasions when it makes sense to orient students to effectively using library databases. But now uncovering, conceptualizing, and shaping the process of research–the methods, stages, and purpose–is my organizational blueprint. Today–guided by constructivist and metacognitive principles, active learning pedagogy, and formative assessment techniques–my teaching is much less about tools and much more about strategies, much less about clicks and much more about concepts. 

While the impact of this long transformation has reaped many rewards in student engagement and learning, as well as my personal interest and satisfaction, I know there are many ways I could further improve what I’m doing and the way I’m doing it. I hope to keep iterating and advancing. Specifically, I’m thinking about a technique that I’ve long recognized as a weak spot in my teaching and that could support this road from clicks to concepts: storytelling. 

I’m using the word storytelling quite broadly for my purposes. Perhaps examples is more accurate (and less lofty and self-aggrandizing)? Yet examples feels just a bit narrow. I’m not referring only to developing instructive sample searches to demonstrate how to keep keywords simple yet precise or selecting the ideal sample article to model how to effectively organize a literature review. Of course, those are important kinds of examples and, when done well, very impactful ones. But when I say I want to use storytelling or examples, I’m thinking more about allegories, anecdotes, and analogies, case studies and real-world problems to wrap around the research strategies and concepts at the core of each class. I’m imagining that such storytelling techniques could extend or enhance information literacy teaching and learning by making abstract or technical concepts more accessible and concrete, facilitating recall, demonstrating relevance and impact, prompting reflection and meaning-making, not to mention simply providing inspiration or general interest. I’ve so far been thinking of these as discrete stories to insert at key moments in class to illustrate a point, hook a students’ interest, or propel us all toward moments of understanding.

The small amount of reading on this topic that I’ve done thus far seems to affirm the effectiveness of storytelling and precise, compelling examples in teaching (not to mention other domains like management and leadership). And the tips I’ve stumbled on so far suggest that, like many things in teaching, it’s best to start small by focusing on a single area or concept that students regularly struggle with in order to integrate storytelling where it’s most needed. Otherwise, I’m still a bit at sea here on how to do this best. It’s one thing to be able to identify where a story would be most helpful; it’s another to compose a compelling story that helps students reach a meaningful takeaway and recognize why that takeaway matters. I certainly need to do more research and thinking, but I’m curious about your experience. Have you incorporated storytelling and examples in your teaching? What kinds of stories? And to what effect? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Better Work Habits Through… Animal Crossing: New Horizons

Remember March 2020? We didn’t really know what to expect from the next weeks or months, and sought comfort where we could find it… some baked bread, some finally learned to play guitar… I’m one of the ones who chose Animal Crossing: New Horizons. I’ve played almost every day since its release on March 20, 2020, and my island is still my happy place. The other day, I realized that it has taught me some good habits I can apply to my work, so I wanted to share these insights. Don’t worry… if you don’t play, it’s still good advice.

Welcome to Xanadu 1 (My husband named it before we knew we had to share an island, don’t judge me)

Keep Your Tools on You, and in Good Shape

A lot of what you do on your island requires tools (bug net, shovel, fishing rod, etc.) and you never know what opportunities you’ll run across while walking around, so you should always keep your tools in your pockets, so you’re prepared for anything. Also, your tools will break after a certain number of uses, but you can reset that clock by customizing them, so if you keep on top of that “maintenance,” you can vastly prolong the life of your tools, and have to buy or craft new ones less often.

This advice overlaps with the number one lesson I’ve learned from years of watching Food Network: mise en place. Set up your physical AND mental workspace with all the tools you use frequently close at hand and ready to be used. Sharp pencils, fresh notebooks, a fat stack of Post-Its… and for your mental workspace, dust out the cobwebs with a brain teaser, or write down the to-do list swirling around in your head. Whatever you need to get the job done, have it ready to go.

Hard work pays off… my first lily of the valley appears!

Ten or Fifteen Minutes a Day Is Enough to Keep Things Tidy

Most days, I just do a single pass around my island to pick up fallen branches, dig up new fossils, pull any new weeds, and check on things in general. This takes about ten minutes (unless it rained the day before and there are a ton of rogue flowers springing up everywhere). It’s enough to keep the island tidy and earn me rewards, like the particular flower that only grows if your island is in really good shape. I don’t have to rearrange houses or build a new waterfall every day.

I also spend ten or fifteen minutes every workday morning just tidying up… my calendar, my to-do list, my email inbox, my desktop (both physical and virtual). Dedicating that time every morning keeps things tidy enough to make room for the actual work to happen. I wouldn’t start construction on my island without pulling weeds and transplanting flowers that are in the way; I don’t start work projects until my schedule and email inbox are under control.

Greta gives the best advice

Skipping a Day is Okay; Skipping a Lot Is Not

(I’m not talking about vacation… Use your days off, they’re part of your compensation!)

Sometimes, if I have a busy day, or I go out of town, or I’m just not feeling it, I don’t log into the game, and I skip a day on the island. No big deal. There will be a few more weeds the next day, I miss an opportunity to buy things from a particular vendor who only comes once a week, it’s fine. But if I don’t log in for weeks, I get cockroaches in my (virtual) house, the weeds overrun the island, and the animals that live on the island start to think I don’t like them anymore and get upset.

Having a light, easy day at work when you need it is like skipping a day in the game. When you can, give yourself a day where you’re not working on big, heavy projects, and do whatever type of work you find relaxing and easy. (In my case, schedules and agendas are very relaxing work.) But if it turns into procrastinating and never tackling the difficult work, your island (work) will be overrun with weeds (projects) and the villagers (your coworkers) will get made at you (will get mad at you).

Sometimes mental health looks like a pocket full of scorpions

Visit a Mystery Island for More Resources

You can collect a lot of usable resources on your island: stone, gold, clay, wood, weeds, flowers, etc. But your island is a finite space, and sometimes you can’t find enough resources there, so you can buy a ticket to fly to a “Mystery Island” and collect resources there to bring home.

In this metaphor, the resources are your patience, inspiration, creativity, and sometimes literal resources like people to work with or space to work in. If you’re in a rut (out of resources), try visiting a different space. I know that, where COVID restrictions are still in place, this can be difficult, but if you can’t pick up your laptop and go work in another room, building, or campus, try rearranging your office. Even if you can’t move the furniture, redecorating your desk can make it feel like a new space. If possible, go work in a coworker’s office with them for a while. If you’re working from home, move from the living room to the dining room (or my favorite, the porch on a nice day! Soak up that beautiful fall weather, if you have it!)

I spent a whole weekend last October blocking out every blank space of grass on the island, so the randomly-assigned rocks would pop up where I wanted them. A. WHOLE. WEEKEND.

Planning Terraforming Is More Fun than Actually Terraforming

This is an ongoing joke in the Animal Crossing community. You have a lot of control over the layout of your island… you can build up a second level above the ground, dig up waterways, add inclines and bridges, and move buildings around. But many players have found that planning major changes like this is more fun than pulling out your shovel and actually digging it up, because it can be tedious.

Don’t get stuck in planning stages. It’s a problem I frequently have: I love a list, a plan, and a schedule, but getting to the actual work is a whole different story. I have read a little about how you get dopamine in the planning stages and for some people, that’s sufficient and they (we) no longer feel motivated to seek the dopamine from accomplishing the planned-for goal. Don’t give in; do the terraforming!

This would not have been possible without visiting someone else’s island… Get by with a little help from your friends, as the Beatles would say.

Get Help from Friends to Accomplish Your Goals

When you first start your island in the game, it is randomly assigned a native fruit (peach, apple, orange, pear, or cherry). You can find two of the other fruits by visiting Mystery Islands (see above), but the other two will never show up for you naturally… you must visit other people’s islands to collect them. There is no way to collect all five fruits without help from another living human being.

The lesson here, of course, is: teamwork makes the dream work. Expecting yourself to accomplish everything alone is not realistic (and sometimes, like in the fruit example, literally impossible), so bring in outside help when you need it. And know that everyone else is in the same situation; sometimes you can trade fruit (help) with someone, win-win!

The tambourine makes me happy, it makes the cat happy… best in-game item, if you ask me.

It’s Your Island

Do things your way. Not everybody logs in every day. Not everybody participates in the world events. Not everybody buys and sells turnips (it’s called the Stalk Market, you can extrapolate from there). Not everybody plays all parts of the game, and that’s fine… it’s your island, play it your way. I carry around a tambourine in my pocket because it makes me really happy to pull it out and hit it sometimes. I put up signs naming my waterfalls and bridges, and not all of them are family-friendly. It makes me laugh. You do you; it’s your island.

The flip side of “it’s your island” is that it’s your responsibility, too. Nobody else is going to log in and move those trees around the way you want them. The villagers aren’t suddenly going to dig up that rose garden you made a year ago and are sick of now. You have to change it if you don’t like it.

So do your work your way (within the confines of the rules of the “game,” of course), but also take responsibility for it.

Short Cuts for the Easily Distracted

I’m a couple of weeks later than I’d hoped to be with this blogpost, one result of what’s continuing to be an unusually hectic and unusually uncertain semester for me (and probably for many of you, too). But I had a thought on my morning commute-substitute walk today: why not write small amounts on a few different library topics that have been bouncing around my brain recently? So here are some short cuts, for (and from) the busy and distracted.

Hybrid is not the same as remote or onsite

This semester at the college where I work, library faculty and staff are working partially in person at the Library and partially remote, a situation that we usually describe as hybrid when referring to classes. I will admit that one of the things I’ve learned since the pandemic began last year is that I don’t prefer a 100% online job, and I’m grateful to be working in my office on campus 3 days/week. But it’s been surprising to me how much administrative overhead our new hybrid work environment involves. Last year when we went into lockdown it seemed to take ages for us to figure out some of our new processes and workflows; I especially remember the pain point of trying to figure out how to get PDFs signed and shared between multiple people who were all working on different devices at home. There are definitely administrative advantages to being on campus part-time — three cheers for easy access to printing and scanning! But it has taken more time than I anticipated to fully grasp which tasks are best done onsite and which I can still easily complete at home. On the (very) plus side: as long as the weather holds it’s possible to have face to face meetings outside on days when my colleagues and I are in at the same time, and that has been amazing.

Terrific award news

Library Twitter blew up on earlier this week with the news that Safiya Noble, among lots of other amazing and smart folx, has been named a 2021 MacArthur Fellow. If you’ve not read her 2018 book Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism, I strongly recommend it, or you can search up videos of one of the many, many talks she’s given in recent years. I remember being so disappointed that I had to miss her invited paper at the ACRL Conference in Portland in 2015 because my own session was scheduled at the same time, and my City University of New York colleagues and I were delighted that she gave the keynote at the CUNY IT Conference in 2017. Noble’s work is timely and necessary, and this recognition is so well-deserved.

Thinking about teaching and libraries and interdisciplinarity

As soon as I saw the MacArthur news I posted it in the Slack workspace for the course I’m teaching this semester in the CUNY Graduate Center’s Interactive Technology and Pedagogy program. We’d started the semester reading Noble’s chapter Toward a Critical Black Digital Humanities which provoked a robust discussion in class, and our students are looking forward to returning to her work later in the semester too. I’ve blogged a bit in the past about teaching in this program; students come to this program from graduate departments in a variety of different disciplines, and the course is a great opportunity to think through using technology in teaching and research from multiple perspectives. I appreciate that I always seem to learn so much every time I teach it, both from my coteacher (this semester, a colleague in English) and from our students, who are often also teaching undergraduate courses at CUNY colleges themselves. This is my first time teaching the course fully online, and I’m also appreciating the opportunities to have even more discussion about open digital pedagogy and scholarship than we do usually, and to be able to bring the work of libraries into the course as well.

Ending with gratitude

It’s a tough semester all around on campuses and in libraries, I expect, with the pandemic far from over, and I’ve been trying to pay more attention to the things I’m grateful for, large and small: the clouds and sky on my walk to work in the morning, sharing physically-distanced bagels in the library with colleagues last week, and the time I carve out (almost) each day for meditation (thanks to the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction course I took last year). And I’m aiming for a longer, less-distracted cut here next time around.