Work in Progress

Next month marks an important stage of my career, as I anticipate completing my two-year probation and entering a continuing appointment at my institution. This gives me a real sense of permanency, a role I can work in indefinitely, and a commitment to myself as librarian. Do you remember what it was like entering into new stages of your career? Being promoted, being granted tenure, being offered a new position; I guess you never really stop moving as an academic librarian.

Recently I read Richard Wilbur’s excellent poem, “The Writer”. The poem sees the narrator—who I see as a writer, but isn’t actually specified—looking somewhat condescendingly on his daughter, as she writes and creates “a commotion of typewriter-keys/Like a chain hauled over a gunwale”. Terrible noises, as seen from the narrator’s perspective early in the poem—something that would make a great many librarians ‘shush’ at, certainly. The narrator patronizingly muses, “Young as she is, the stuff/Of her life is a great cargo, and some of it heavy:/I wish her a lucky passage”.

By the end of the poem, the narrator sees their error and can’t help but see their daughter as becoming independent and capable: “It is always a matter, my darling,/Of life or death, as I had forgotten. I wish/What I wished you before, but harder”. The issues the narrator’s daughter is dealing with, however trivial or small they actually are, are “matter[s]…of life or death” to teenagers. The issues that new librarians deal with are “matter[s]…of life or death.”

In my professional life, I feel like a work in progress. I’ve made significant steps in my professional life: from my liaison duties—library instruction, collections management, research services, and reference services—to research and service opportunities, but you never stop working on yourself.

I look at Wilbur’s “The Writer” and envision myself as both child and as narrator. I am simultaneously continually learning and growing, something I don’t think I’ll stop doing throughout my career, a work in progress. But also, being “the writer” (i.e. narrator) in my career, recognizing that I can see others’ perspectives and imagine how much the issues of ‘life or death’ do matter to those experiencing them. Thinking in terms of the dyad in librarianship, or any profession more broadly, we are at times both teacher-student, librarian-patron, and parent-child.

I like to think that’s a trajectory a lot of us follow, but maybe we forget what it once was like being new and being in precarious work, not being seen as an expert, not knowing the right people; not being “the writer.” But the more you think about, “the writer” in the poem is both the narrator and daughter, both being equal in their pursuit of writing for a living.

As I move closer to a new stage of my career, I don’t want to forget what it once was like being new to the profession. I want to be able to identify with perspectives different than mine, especially as I hope to take on roles with greater responsibility, as I think this moves the profession holistically forward.

It is always a matter…of life or death as I had forgotten. I wish what I wished you before, but harder.

Engaging in Outreach Efforts & Meaningful Community Building

As a MLIS student at San Jose State University (SJSU), I often read about the importance of promoting library services through outreach efforts. During that time, I ran across the following quote that illustrates this point, and it continues to resonate with me:

Gone are the days when libraries can simply open their doors and expect to be perceived as the number one option for information services. With fierce competition for funding and more people assuming everything offered by a library can be found online, libraries are feeling the pressure to blow their own horn (Hallmark et al., 2007).

Last year, I started as a Lecturer Librarian at CSU Northridge. Since I began in the summer of 2023, I did not immediately have instruction requests or deadlines for collection development. Instead, I directed my attention to outreach opportunities, which continued to be part of my priorities throughout the fall and even now in the spring. I work closely with the Outreach Librarian to deliver outreach programming to keep patrons abreast of upcoming library events, and to promote library collection materials by designing book displays. I have collaborated with faculty, staff, students, and community members to make these events successfully happen. So far, I have remained committed to outreach efforts by participating in the “Ask a Librarian” tabling events, the Resources & Services Fair, the New Student Orientation, CSUN Open House, National Transfer Student Week, and library tours for K-12 students. I am particularly proud of my involvement in creating virtual and in-person book displays for Latinx Heritage Month and Black History Month.

While the outreach opportunities mentioned above have been quite rewarding, I was curious to participate in wider campus efforts centered on outreach and community building. Late last fall, I was selected to be a Library Liaison for the Office of Community Engagement (OCE) at CSU Northridge. This office strives to enhance academic experiences through community-based (service) learning, engaged research and sustained partnerships within the San Fernando Valley, and the greater Los Angeles Area. In my role, I support faculty members as they develop community-engaged projects and/or courses. Faculty members receive support in creating syllabi that outline community-based learning outcomes centered on equity, diversity, and inclusion. I expect that I will also recommend community-engaged readings, and activities for their syllabi.

Since I’m serving in the inaugural cohort, the other Library Liaisons and I have been working on recruitment. During our last departmental meeting, we offered our librarian colleagues a brief overview about the OCE, and we introduced them to grant opportunities designed for faculty members committed to community-engaged courses, projects, research, or creative activities. Additionally, I have been spreading awareness about the OCE to professors and lecturers in the department of Central American & Transborder Studies. After I teach my information literacy sessions, I’ll typically pitch an elevator speech to these faculty members. Usually, faculty members teaching Ethnic Studies already incorporate community-building into the design of their courses, which makes them great candidates.

Overall, I’m hoping my efforts evolve into effective partnerships, so that I may further engage in meaningful practices centered on community building and social justice. I’m definitely in the early stages of developing my own approach towards outreach and community service. I was hoping to hear from experienced academic librarians. Would anyone be willing to share their own strategies?

Achilles’ Heel?, or Coping Strategies Turned Strengths

I stumbled across this article the other day. The gist is that leaders can and should embrace their confusion when confronted with illogical situations. Whereas some might see confusion as a liability to be concealed or let confusion debilitate them, strong leaders embrace their confusion as a productive tool. The author suggests that the Reflective Inquiry and Action (RIA) framework can help folks negotiate and use confusion effectively. The five steps outlined in the RIA framework — “embrace your confusion,” “assert your need to make sense,” “structure the conversation,” “listen reflectively and learn,” and “process your response aloud” — feel like common sense really. Looking back, I can recognize some of my own attempts to navigate these steps and can see how productive they were for not only overcoming confusion, but for building relationships with colleagues, too. 

It makes me think about other techniques I’ve embraced — the organizational approaches I use, for example, to help me grab hold and make sense of the thoughts buzzing around in my brain. The reflective techniques I practice when I feel muddled. They’re coping strategies, really, that I’ve adopted to help navigate my work, my thinking, my overwhelm. They’re born out of a need to manage what have definitely felt like long-time weaknesses. But I can also see now that using and refining these organizational and metacognitive techniques over the years has actually turned them into strengths. These have become ways of working, ways of thinking that are powerful and constructive. 

I’ve often heard colleagues both in and out of the library describe how little formal education or training they had to prepare them for their teaching responsibilities. While I had the benefit of a bit of educational theory as an undergrad and a grad school class that gave a nod to teaching, I would largely characterize my own teaching preparation the same way — it’s been a learn-as-you-go situation. I can see how the organizational and metacognitive skills I’ve been developing have also served me well here, giving me a lens through which to examine and reflect on the why, how, and what of teaching and a foundation from which to develop pedagogical approaches. What started as experimentation with personal note taking techniques, for example, has evolved into strategies for working with students to grow their own brainstorming and organizational techniques as they develop topics, consider the different angles embedded in their questions, and manage the sources they’re using to explore those perspectives. The reflective techniques I use to process my own work have helped me introduce metacognitive practices into my teaching — to talk with students about why and how to use those brainstorming and organizational techniques, for example, or as a tool to direct students’ attention and reflection. 

I came to administrative and supervisory positions with little formal training either. And here, too, I’ve been able to translate and further grow these coping strategies turned skills, whether for facilitating collaborative decision-making processes or mentoring a colleague or setting priorities. It turns out these skills — skills for sense-making, really — can be cultivated to be a productive foundation across domains.

I’m about to take on some additional administrative responsibilities so it’s no surprise that my thoughts are lingering around questions of weakness and strength, questions of preparedness. I’ve reflected before on how truly powerful these kinds of “soft” skills are. It strikes me anew how important perception and attitude are in making good use of those soft skills. I feel I’m venturing into Pollyanna, let’s-make-lemonade-out-of-our-lemons territory here and that’s not my intention or not exactly. I just mean that frame of mind and point of view can make all the difference in setting the tone for how we approach a problem or a weakness, how we make use of what we’ve got. 

This all made me think of that statistic I’ve seen cited so often — the one about how women are less likely to apply for jobs than men if they feel they don’t meet 100% of the qualifications. Looking for that source just now, I came across this Harvard Business Review article. While the author doesn’t deny that women may need to build more confidence, which is how I’ve often heard that statistic interpreted, she layers on some additional dimensions. She contends that it’s not just a lack of confidence, but also too strict an adherence to what women see as the rules of hiring. “They thought that the required qualifications were…well, required qualifications. They didn’t see the hiring process as one where advocacy, relationships, or a creative approach to framing one’s expertise could overcome not having the skills and experiences outlined in the job qualifications.” I think it’s that “creative approach to framing one’s expertise” bit that really applies here. We might already be cultivating the skills we need. We might be more ready than we think we are. We just have to recognize our strengths and put them to use.

More Media, Less Social

As the year comes to a close, I’m seeing more and more people and organizations leave Twitter behind. This is not a new trend by any means — many deactivated their accounts after the 2016 U.S. presidential election, and the increase in hate speech and harassment has only escalated since then (especially since the platform’s purchase late last year and name change earlier this year). I do still have an account on Xitter (as the kids say), though I’ve stopped posting and solely retweet announcements from my place of work and other librarian and academic organizations.

It’s silly, frivolous, I’m not even sure what adjective to use to describe how strange I’ve found it that I’m feeling sad about Twitter’s demise. Not engaging substantially with the platform is an easy decision, but I’ll admit that it’s left a hole in my social media landscape that’s difficult to fill. 

I miss the early-mid-twenty-teens Twitter. I miss following librarians from all over who worked at all kinds of libraries, and reading about what’s happening in those libraries and places. I miss following academics across the disciplines, learning what kinds of digital research and scholarship was going on throughout higher ed, and sharing experiences with and concerns about educational technology (to name a few of my interests). I miss listening to and learning from BIPOC folx doing antioppression work, opportunities that strengthened my own commitment to antiracism and abolitionist practice. I miss being able to post about jobs at my institution, and answering questions from interested folx. I miss conference Twitter, when robust conversations happened on the front and back channels, when I could learn about what was presented at a conference even if I wasn’t actually at that conference. I miss the IRL conference meetups arranged using Twitter, and the opportunities to continue these library (and nonlibrary) conversations long after we all left the convention center.

And I miss the conversations around ACRLog posts, too. The ACRLog blogteam had noticed comments on our posts declining through the twenty-teens as discussion on Twitter became more active. But with fewer librarians on Twitter, there’s less discussion, too.

Since pulling back from Twitter I’ve created accounts (or started using accounts I’d let sit dormant) on a few other platforms. I have a Mastodon account, but I still struggle with finding folx on other instances. I have a Bluesky account, which seems to be most Twitter-like right now in both features and the folx there, but I’m wary about another social media platform started by the guy who started Twitter. I spend more time on LinkedIn, an account I’ve had since the late twenty-aughts, but that’s so job-focused; I do miss the social aspect of social media on that platform. I deleted my Facebook account in 2011, and I’m not going to create any accounts on the Meta platforms (as much as Instagram is tempting!).

Back in the day I used to say that I only had the time and attention for one social media platform, and that was Twitter. Now I have accounts on four platforms, but there are still folx who I don’t follow anywhere because they left Twitter for other places or ditched social media entirely (which I can’t fault anyone for!). As frivolous as it is, I miss Twitter.

Milestone

Photo by Kyle Peyton on Unsplash

During an especially busy Fall—especially in my professional life—I got sick and took some days off work. During this time, along with not feeling great, I felt the crush of my busy Fall. I took time to reflect on what was all going on at work and where I could re-prioritize.

I was talking with a colleague, and she suggested focusing or reflecting on some good part of my day, big or small, which gives reprieve from focusing on work. It could be watching the sunrise, an especially good meal, or taking time to read an intriguing book, to give some examples.  

There are other good parts, though, good parts at work: the casual conversation with library staff, the feeling after a reference consultation that you’ve helped a student, an especially rewarding library instructional session.

There’s a big milestone for me—professionally—coming up next Spring as I complete my probationary period of two years and (hopefully) am offered a continuing position at my institution. But in a lot of ways, I feel this Fall has been a milestone, a precursor to what’s to come in my career.

Along with appreciating the small (or big) positive things in life, I found it helpful to reflect on progress I’ve made. I want to take the time to note a couple things I’ve learned, or been reminded of, over the past few months.

  1. Make Small Steps Toward Comfortability

As a liaison librarian who is relatively new to their subject areas, I’ve been hustling to get to know faculty and students in my departments. It takes time and this is something I’ve been having to acknowledge. Was Rome built in a day? I don’t think so and neither is my liaison outreach (but possibly just as impressive as the city of Rome).

You make slow progress; some increased in-class instruction, more student questions, faculty coming to you for help. It takes time to build connections and to learn your subject areas but pays off in a multitude of ways.

  1. Learn New Skills

As academic librarians, I feel a lot of us love to continually learn new things. We’re in a profession that makes it easy to do this; there’s so many webinars to attend, certificates to get, and conferences to go to. There’s many niche areas of academic librarianship and services that we offer (or could offer) that make it easy to learn something new. This semester I’ve been learning the basics of LaTeX and referencing with BibTeX, which is great to offer to help students, along with exploring different scholarly generative AI tools. Learning new skills not only benefits your students and faculty but feels rewarding to challenge yourself.

  1. You Don’t Have to Do It All

I really like being busy as an academic librarian and filling up my days with my liaison duties, service, and research. I find a lot of our job rewarding in different ways and being involved in different individual and collaborative work is great. But I’m learning to commit to what I can reasonably do; having enough time and capacity to take something on. No sense burning out early in your career (no sense burning out in any stage of your career!).

  1. Encourage Your Friends at Work (and Vice-Versa)

There’s something great about the power of friends at work. I feel fortunate to work with some great people, people to talk to about challenges, successes, or the latest episode you watched last night. I’ve written about this in the past and I still think it’s true; developing and sustaining friends is rewarding in so many ways. Not only does working with people you’re friendly with lead to better, more enjoyable work, but it’s fun.

I think even though we’re all really busy and try to put forward the best work we can, taking time to reflect on all you’ve done and learned helps get through the tougher, more challenging times. I know it’s helped me.