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.

What is “research,” anyway?

I’ve been thinking recently (or maybe my whole career) about what the word “research” actually means. It’s a word I use frequently: in conversation, in the classroom, in one-on-one consultations. And broadly, too — in relation to acts of inquiry and information seeking, large and small, whether I’m helping a student look for an article for a discussion board post or mentoring a student working on designing their own semester-long study. I like the sense of intention the word engenders, the space it creates for reflection on process, how it helps us think about such work in terms of concepts, not just clicks.

It was some years ago, early in my career at my former institution in a reference and instruction librarian position, when I got my first inkling that my expansive use of the word “research” could feel prickly to others. I remember sensing, on a few occasions, some tension or territoriality with faculty. I think their concern stemmed from anxiety about the library’s possible infringement on their autonomy or their domain expertise. Being mindful to define my scope and intentions — specifying “research” as “library research” or research skills as “information literacy skills or concepts” and acknowledging “research” as a larger umbrella — seemed to help. 

Some years ago, when I first came into my current institution and position, I was eager to connect with my new colleagues around our undergraduate research program. Helping support and grow this program at my campus has since become a priority area for me. This work has also given me further perspective on another kind of disconnect, wherein I continue to use “research” expansively and some prefer to preserve the integrity of the term for the highest levels of inquiry and the most independent work. To me, though, it continues to feel both relevant and important to use the word early and often in order to show how small acts of inquiry can be part of a developmental spectrum, a way to build stepping stones to the ultimate “undergraduate research.” 

In the last year or two, the Council for Undergraduate Research (CUR), a leader in this arena, updated their definition of “undergraduate research.” Their earlier definition — “an inquiry or investigation conducted by an undergraduate student that makes an original intellectual or creative contribution to the discipline” — always gave me pause. It seems to me very much in the vein of reserving “research” for the loftiest pursuits. And that bit about “original,” especially, always tripped me up — a tall order and is that the point anyway? Their new definition feels more on track to me: “Undergraduate research, scholarship, and creative inquiry is fundamentally a pedagogical approach to teaching and learning. With an emphasis on process, CUR defines undergraduate research as: A mentored investigation or creative inquiry conducted by undergraduates that seeks to make a scholarly or artistic contribution to knowledge.” The revised version suggests that undergraduate research is much more about process and less about product, aligning with that developmental lens I’m aiming to foreground and justifying the use of “research” more broadly.

This all makes me think, too, about the podcast that my colleague and I have been working on, “From Concept to Creation: Uncovering the Making of Scholarly and Creative Accomplishments.” (Shameless plug: you can find season 1 on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and Google Podcasts. Season 2 coming soon!) We started “From Concept to Creation” because we think it’s important to share stories about research and inquiry — not just the what, but the why and the how. So often, when we talk about research, we just talk about the final polished product, our findings or outcomes. Those final products and takeaways are of course important, but our goal here is to take a peek behind the curtain to see how folks get from start to finish. By uncovering the steps, increasing the transparency of the processes of research and inquiry — the parts that are so often hidden from view — we think those projects and paths become more approachable to everyone. 

And that’s really the larger point behind this wordsmithing, or nit-picking some might say. It seems to me that framing even small acts of information seeking or other small forays into inquiry as “research” lends them a kind of gravity; it enlarges our thinking and can empower students to engage. 

I’d love to hear how you approach, define, and use the word research in an undergraduate context (or otherwise). Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Digging In: Reflecting on a Work Anniversary

This week, I celebrated my two year work anniversary. I feel like I say this a lot, but I both can’t believe I’ve been here two years and also feel like I just started. A lot has happened in a short amount of time! In addition to this anniversary, I’ve also spent most of July compiling my dossier for tenure consideration this fall. Naturally, I’m spending a lot of time taking stock of how I got here, what I’ve accomplished, and what’s next.

When I think about my two years at my current institution, I see a different focus each year. My first year was focused on getting to know my team, understanding the dynamics of the library, and figuring out the type of supervisor I wanted to be. I felt very internal, but knew I wanted to establish a strong foundation before trying to face more externally. My second year was focused on getting out of the library and building relationships with folks across campus. This external relationships piece is one of my favorite parts of the job. I like to represent the library, hear about challenges and successes across campus, and seek out intersections for collaboration. These days, I find that I’m more comfortable walking around campus, seeing people I know, and getting together to figure out what’s next. I can only hope that year three will be a nice mix of work happening inside the library and collaboration with folks across campus.

The thing I’ve been thinking about a lot is the “figuring out what’s next” piece. During my meetings this summer, I felt like I was working with folks and we were laying out ideas that spanned more than just this upcoming academic year. I found myself referencing AY 24-25 or even AY 25-26! As I left those meetings, I thought about the ways I am “digging in” to the work. I’m envisioning a future at this institution for many years. This isn’t something I’ve experienced before. I’m both a little scared of this feeling and also excited about what it means for me.

While I was at my former institution for five years, I can’t place a time where I felt this “digging in.” Sure, I thought about the future of my work, but I don’t think I saw it as clearly on the horizon as I do right now. I can’t quite parse if that’s because I’m in a department head role and I naturally think forward multiple years, or if there’s something different about this role and location where I feel comfortable thinking ahead like that. In some ways, I think it is a combo of being wearing that department head and the location where I’m living. I genuinely enjoy living in Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky and I have a community around me that feels permanent in a way that I didn’t always feel in other spots, where everyone around me felt transient. 

Of course the other factor that could play into this “digging in” feeling is tenure. At my former institution, I left before I encountered my sixth year dossier. Now, it’s right there on the horizon. This summer, it was so satisfying to put all my work together and shape the narrative of my career trajectory. I found more parallels between my work as the Student Engagement Coordinator and as a department head. I could more clearly see the shifts in my thinking and my scholarship. I see my growth and I hope I’ve articulated that in a way that everyone can see. For me, achieving tenure doesn’t feel like stopping at the top of the mountain, but instead, gates opening up onto a new space, full of possibilities and options. 

Now this post isn’t meant to imply that everything is great. My institution is facing issues similar to other colleges and universities; enrollment challenges, budget concerns, and smaller staff/faculty numbers. We’re searching for new leadership and colleagues across the institution are stepping into interim roles while we wait to see how things pan out. We’ve definitely got our work cut out for us this year. I come to work every day, wondering what will happen next. As a supervisor, I’m trying to find ways to share information, hear questions, concerns, and fears from the team, and focus on the things we have in our control. Despite the uncertainty, I feel ready to dig in. Looking forward to seeing what’s next in year three. 


Featured image by Hadija on Unsplash

Advocating with an Open Heart

Editor’s note: This guest post has been authored by Alejandro Marquez. Alejandro is a Collection Development Librarian at the Auraria Library which serves the University of Colorado Denver, Metropolitan State University of Denver, and the Community College of Denver.

I recently heard a term in passing called guerilla librarianship which I envision is similar to guerrilla theatre. I imagine it to be the idea of fast moving and small-scale actions. Library workers who are subverting the way things are normally done. Library professionals who aren’t allowed to do a LGBTQ+ display during pride month so they do another display on summer reads with only queer authors. Individuals who are taking action whenever and wherever possible to advocate for change behind the scenes. Other visible actions would be starting a union, writing editorials to the newspaper, or political advocacy.

I feel like there needs to be more action in the world. I don’t like reading the news anymore. Book challenges, anti-intellectualism, and DEI higher education legislation makes me hide away from it all. This is just what is happening in library land. I see the spike in anti-trans legislation, assaults on women’s health care, and Tennessee’s drag ban. It often feels like there is not going to be a white knight coming to save us.

As a queer and BIPOC librarian, it makes me fearful for the future. Growing up Hispanic and gay meant that I was always having to assess my surroundings. From this early age, I felt like if I could control myself, my actions, thoughts and desires then I wouldn’t face the disapproval of my parents, school, and society. I became hypervigilant. By trying to control everything, I was unconsciously trying to protect myself from experiencing trauma again. I would make myself invisible.

I feel like all of this political legislation is erasing all the marginalized communities that I love and care about. The worst part of feeling invisible is that I feel like I am the only one. Do others feel the same way? Do others care to try something? If this message is resonating with you, know that you are not alone. Take care of those beaten down. As the cliche airline phrase goes, “Put your own air mask on first.”

It begs the question, Where do we go from here? James Baldwin once said, “You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.” Black, Brown, and Queer folx have been around for millennia. They have been documenting their history and making their contributions to society. They weren’t afraid to go out on the streets and live their lives. They have left behind a rich legacy of photographs, diaries, books, and pamphlets. If we stand tall, it is because we stand on the shoulders of our many ancestors.

As library workers, our learning materials provide our communities a chance to connect with themselves and others. It is an opportunity to connect to our spiritual and historical ancestors both real and fictional. Marcus Garvey famously wrote, “A people without knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.” Libraries provide a space to connect with our collective history and hopefully heal.

The recent political legislation and systemic barriers are a harm to marginalized communities and a harm to everyone. Even people who we feel are on the other side of the issue. Just like I monitored myself growing up, maintaining rigid rules is exhausting. The world we live in is rarely binary but rather a spectrum of diversity. This inflexible thinking keeps us as a society from building connection, health, vulnerability, and joy which makes us human.

It is hard to show up every day with an open heart. It means feeling vulnerable, offering critiques, and speaking up. I invite everyone to be a hero in library land by creating the world they want everyone to live in.