Emerging as a Community-Engaged Librarian: Reflections on the Emerging Engagement Scholars Workshop

Context of the workshop

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to participate in the Emerging Engagement Scholars Workshop (EESW), sponsored by the Engagement Scholarship Consortium. This workshop is meant for PhD students and junior faculty who consider themselves engaged scholars or aspire to be engaged scholars. For those who don’t know about engaged scholarship, just look up Ernest Boyer, he’s the guy around this topic. At its core, engaged scholarship is about academia collaborating with the local community to share and leverage expertise and ultimately, make social change.

The workshop is meant to give participants an inside scoop on the history and current context of the field, connect them with their peers and mentors, and in general, get jazzed around doing community engaged scholarship. All workshop participants brought in a community project, and we had several hours of dedicated mentor time to talk through these projects and make some strides forward. I decided to explore building a community of practice for the undergraduate interns at our library (more on that later).

I have been wanting to participate in this workshop for a few years now, mainly based on a recommendation from my graduate school mentor, Martin Wolske.  I’d say Martin was the one who showed me what community engaged scholarship could like for librarians. He did that through his day-to-day work as a community member and librarian and by bringing me on as a Community Ambassador for the grant, Digital Literacy for ALL Learners, where community-engaged scholarship was the first outside the class thing I did in graduate school.

Overall, the workshop, and corresponding conference, was great. I did learn a lot, found some new language to talk about my job, and connected with new people. While I made an initial stab at my thoughts post workshop on Twitter, below is an expanded version of what I took away from participating in EESW.

Questions of identity

The workshop was billed as a space for PhD students and junior faculty (me). PhD students outnumbered junior faculty at least 2-1, which was not usually the case at previous iterations of this workshop. I was also the only librarian at the workshop, which meant I got to have a lot of conversations about what I do and why I was a participant with EESW.

At times I felt a little out of place. As with any space where you’re the sole librarian, there are questions about what we’re doing in that academic space. Do we actually do scholarship? What does an LIS research agenda look like? Can we really achieve tenure? As expected, talking about my faculty status, my ability to achieve tenure, and my research interests was the way in, and I definitely opened up some eyes. I will say that this space was incredibly welcoming; I had thoughtful peers who wanted to ask questions about my job and share experiences they have had with their subject librarians. My assigned mentor, Diane Doberneck, was also amazing. She’s doing great work at Michigan State and had such insightful feedback for my project around building a community of practice.

This workshop also reminded me that I do know a lot, more than I give myself credit. For example, we spent one section of the workshop talking about the tenure process and how to write about engaged scholarship in your dossier. While some PhD students had never discussed what tenure looks like, I felt prepared for the conversations and actually made good strides on my dossier (draft due soon!). Or, in one of our mentoring sessions, we talked about frameworks that supported our community projects and I was able to share reading suggestions (like Dorothea Kleine’s Choice Framework and Kimberlé Crenshaw’s many articles on intersectionality). In those moments, I felt like a librarian, passing along information, while also showcasing a bit of my expertise.   

Where do I want to go? And why am I doing this work?

As the workshop progressed, a few questions kept popping up for me. The first was, “Where do I want to go with this work?” And that question was quickly followed by “Why am I doing this work?”

Bottomline, I want to be a community-engaged librarian scholar. In learning about librarianship, it has always been in relation to communities – the community of Mt. Horeb, Wisconsin, New York City, Urbana, IL, and now, Penn State. As a librarian, I do my job better when I listen, include, leverage, and support communities. Decisions about services, resources, and programs should be made with the community, not on behalf of the community. Communities can be vibrant, complex, come with a lot of baggage, embrace a rich history and traditions, or be ready for change. I love discovering all those threads as a librarian.

Furthermore, I see community engaged scholarship as a foundation of my research agenda. The work I’ve been doing as the Student Engagement Librarian has been building relationships, getting to know the various communities I engage with; these relationships will allow us to conduct meaningful research. To be a community-engaged librarian scholar means that understanding and working with communities not only drive forward my day-to-day, but influence and shape my research. Everything I do should be in service to or connected to the communities.

Finding the language and lingo

Recently, as my second-year tenure documentation due date looms, I’ve been low key freaking out. Some of the freak out was due to the me wanting to be intentional about how I build my dossier and the words I use to describe my work. I wanted to paint of picture that both my tenure colleagues AND my non-librarian colleagues can understand. This pressure, totally put on by myself, stopped me cold from getting some of that legwork for my dossier completed.

This workshop was exactly the push I needed to think about that language again. Our pre-readings and then workshop conversations highlighted how I could use community-engaged scholarship lingo to describe my work. I am grounded in community, and for me, I define and work mainly with communities connected to Penn State – undergraduate students, library student employees, undergraduate and student affairs professionals, and my Commonwealth library colleagues. I am hoping framing my work through a community engaged scholarship lens will resonate with others (we shall see!).  

What’s next?

Well, I have emerged as an engaged (librarian) scholar. I’m glad I had the opportunity to participate in the workshop and know those conversations will stick with me for the next few months. I would encourage others to consider applying and attending this workshop, especially for those who work closely with communities, in academia or with the local community. Does anyone else do engaged scholarship at your institution and if so, what does it look like? I’m always trying to find more community engaged librarians!  


Featured image by Park Troopers on Unsplash

Question Everything: Librarian Research and #IRDL

How is the fall semester already in swing, but I’ve not yet shared my amazing research experience as an IRDL Scholar this summer?

IRDL stands for the Institute for Research Design in Librarianship.  It is itself the product of an IMLS grant-funded research project to develop librarians’ research skills specifically as researchers (in addition to our role as providers of research support).  Its primary investigators, Marie Kennedy and Kris Brancolini, co-direct this project with grant matching funds from their home institution, Loyola Marymount University William H. Hannon Library.  Their direction in partnership with the San José State University School of Information, the Statewide California Electronic Library Consortium (SCELC) and others are what make this life-changing experience for librarians possible. A 9-day workshop on the LMU campus (aka beautiful Los Angeles, CA!) kicks off the institute, but the experience continues for an entire year with progressive networking, mentoring, and collaboration opportunities built in to prepare researchers for disseminating their work.

When this opportunity first came to my attention, the timing of the proposal deadline fell (like so many others seemed to) way too late for me to pull anything together.  With ambivalent hope, I added this to my calendar and annual goals to apply for the following year.  Turns out, as I began approaching my application, I realized what great timing (falling from December to January) the call for proposal offers. Besides the usual window of downtime in academia, just the difference between a month-long window for proposals, as opposed to a single application deadline, is the kind of careful thought and facilitative detail that permeate everything about the IRDL experience and what set it apart.


I admit, there’s kind of a weird mixture of both honor and humility in becoming an IRDL Scholar.  We are by design:

“a diverse group of academic and research librarians who are motivated and enthusiastic about conducting research but need additional training and/or other support to perform the steps successfully”.

It takes an uneasy bit of vulnerability to recognize your own limitations in a skill so necessary for your field.  Maybe this opportunity seems natural and reasonable for librarians at the beginning of their career, or someone changing library specialization (say from public to academic).  The Institute’s generous interpretation of a novice researcher includes new librarians for sure, but also recognizes the variation and barriers that exist for library research support.  That could be in the variety of institutional resources, MLS program strengths, or even research methods education undertaken too many years and paces-of-change ago to adequately support today’s research needs.  What about librarians who have already published research?  Yes!  That too!  And we can call it all into question, which is a good thing.

At the same time that IRDL scholars recognize these limitations, we also must recognize — and are recognized for — the fact that our research is worth pursuing and generously supporting.   My unique brand of novice researcher stems from working primarily in technical services and leadership positions, on and off the tenure track, and directly involved a lot of organizational restructuring and change.  This has meant wide variation in available time, focus, and research methods application. Ever- “motivated and enthusiastic” however, I’ve sought out countless webinars, brown bags, mentor conversations, e-forums, and conference sessions on making time for research, developing research questions, networking for publication, and more. Yet nothing has been as effective as what I took away from IRDL.

The secret sauce (*winks to Marie*) that IRDL offers library researchers includes:

First, other motivated and enthusiastic scholars like you with the same (and yet unique) gaps in trying to cross their own research bridge.  You learn from others in a way you can’t learn in just a textbook, or webinar, or conference session.  Part of that is because the learning frames a specific and applicable need. But the other part is the community of expertise IRDL provides and how it includes the expertise of the novice researchers.  As these ITLWTLP blogging librarians discovered, it’s an important distinction between needs based learning (aka problem based learning) and critical pedagogy.   Taking the skills learned at IRDL, I am certainly more confident in my ability and ways to help my colleagues’ research.  However, I don’t approach this in a teach-the-teacher way, but as true peer researchers – vulnerabilities, strengths, and all.  This peer dynamic is what I think  we expect to happen professionally between colleagues,  but somehow haven’t always managed to achieve.

Secondly, IRDL intentionally builds real and ongoing research network relationships. Not just talking about networking or giving networking tips. Not just one kind of research network, or mentor, or just colleagues you know who are also responsible for research.  I mean a variety of differently strength-ed researchers in your network who are committed themselves to a network of research relationships, as well as committed to improving the design, methods, and impact of published library research literature.

Finally, IRDL (in true California style) offers the value of reflection. Throughout the week together with my IRDL cohort, we reflected on our research as it changed dramatically from day to day; reflected as a group as we learned and struggled to learn together; and reflected individually about our experiences, needs, and interpersonal growth.  Now we have begun reflecting on our progress and ultimate goals with an expanded network of IRDL scholars and mentors as we continue this year-long (life-long) endeavor.

If you are interested in applying to become a IRDL scholar, I encourage to follow @IRDLonline  and set a goal for preparing your 2019 proposals.  You won’t regret it and I will be delighted to meet you!

Responding to Communities in Crisis

Charlottesville and the University of Virginia have been in the news a lot recently. In Summer 2017, a series of white supremacist rallies took place in Charlottesville, culminating in the August 2017 Unite the Right rally which erupted in violence between counter-protestors and the white supremacists. In 2014, UVA was the focal point of a conversation about sexual assault on campuses after an article in Rolling Stone detailed, and later retracted, a story titled “A Rape on Campus.” A few years before, UVA’s president was forced out by the board and later reinstated, resulting in national conversations about the future of higher education centered around the scandal at UVA. While it wasn’t specific to our institution, some also viewed the 2016 presidential election and its aftermath as a community crisis, since it was traumatizing for many people and resulted in local conflicts.

In light of this recent string of traumas, and our lack of clarity about what to do when they occur, my colleagues and I wanted to start a conversation with other academic librarians about how we can respond when our communities are in crisis. A few weeks ago, we had the opportunity to travel to Knoxville, Tennessee for the Library Collective Conference, where we facilitated a roundtable discussion centered on crisis response in libraries informed by our own experiences as librarians at UVA.  I’ve been in Charlottesville for 14 months, so I was only personally present for the events of August 2017. I am very grateful to the colleagues I worked with on this session, Maggie Nunley, Paula Archey, Erin Pappas, and Jeremy Boggs, who were able to speak about their experiences at UVA during each of these events.

While Charlottesville has been the locus of a lot of national attention, campuses all over the country are dealing with crises in their local communities and the impacts of national events. We wanted to make this session an opportunity for people to talk about whatever type of incident they feel most impacted by or worried about, so we organized participants by type of institution and asked each group to choose a type of scenario they wanted to discuss.  We asked participants to consider a series of discussion questions related to their incident, taking into account institutional, personal, and collegial levels of response. After discussing and writing down their ideas, each group arranged their thoughts in an incident response matrix. An example of the matrix, which we filled out using August 12th as an example, is pictured below.

This outlines our imagined ideal response. The actions we actually took are highlighted.

We created this matrix after reflecting on our own response to the rallies in August 2017. Of all the events we discussed, this was the one we felt the most prepared for. The Library, in collaboration with the University, was planning to host a day of reflection and conversation on the day of the rallies, with speakers, discussions, film screenings, and a community potluck. Around noon, the governor called a state of emergency and the events had to be canceled, although the Library was kept open. While we had prepared an institutional pedagogical response, it became clear that we were not prepared on other levels. For example, we weren’t clear on our gun policy and there was confusion about whether or not weapons were allowed inside building on campus. Since then, we’ve clarified our policy, and signs have been posted outside buildings to clarify that guns are not allowed in our libraries. While it’s obviously impossible to prepare for every possibility, in hindsight, it may have been helpful to consider these different levels of response prior to that weekend’s events in order to fill some of the gaps.

We also asked participants to consider the constraints that might prevent them from achieving the ideal scenario outlined in their response matrix.  It will probably be no surprise to hear that participants had a lot of constraints to share, ranging from the constraints most libraries face all the time, like lack of resources, to more complicated problems of emotional labor, legal issues, power imbalances, and fear. Conversations like this one can be hard to have, because constraints vary so widely by institution and individual person, but it was interesting to hear the roadblocks that different people experience in trying to align their personal values with their professional responses. As each group reported out about their chosen scenarios, responses, and constraints, we asked them to also share actionable takeaways their group had generated.  The conversation constellated around a few key needs, which I hope library administrators may take into consideration as they think through these same issues:

  • To feel empowered to respond by administration without fear of retribution or judgement.
  • Proactive policies and procedures for crisis response.
  • Frequent trainings for library staff.
  • Space to reflect on and share experiences.

While there are no right answers to a lot of the questions we discussed, this session made it clear that many of us feel unprepared in the face of crisis and that there’s a lot of interest in starting these types of conversations. I appreciate everyone who shared their insights with us and hope it will be part of an ongoing conversation about how we can support our communities and colleagues while practicing self care during times of crisis.

Personal Development As Professional Development

Like many of us I was dismayed by the results of the last US presidential election, and at one year in I’m even more concerned for the nation and the people who live here. One of the things I resolved to do in the aftermath was to make the time for some training that I’d long been interested in but hadn’t prioritized. Over the course of this year I’ve taken a bystander intervention workshop as well as a 5-week self-defense course, both facilitated by a local organization that focuses on violence prevention programs for marginalized communities. I also attended a one-day medical first aid training session offered by my university, and a one-day mental health first aid training held at my local public library and provided by the NYC Department of Health.

I consider these workshops to be more for my own personal than professional development: they were programs I attended on my own time rather than work time, and I’ve felt generally safer and more aware since, which I appreciate. But I definitely think these experiences have been useful for my work in the library, too. As a workshop participant I’m focused on listening to and learning the content, but I also pay attention to how the facilitators run the program. Do they lecture, use slides or handouts, or show video clips? For longer trainings, how often do they intersperse opportunities to participate in an activity (and breaks) with sitting and listening? How do they handle groups with folks who are reluctant to answer questions, or folks who take up more than their share of conversational space? I’ve learned so much about strategies for effective workshops from watching successful (and less-successful) facilitators work, strategies that I can bring to my work when I teach, lead a meeting or workshop, or give a presentation.

Most valuable, I think, is the opportunity these programs have given me to think about my community, both narrowly — family, friends, colleagues — and broadly, in my neighborhood and city. I’m more introvert than not, and talking about or working through sometimes sensitive topics with a group of people I’ve never met before is somewhat daunting to me. But for all of my hesitation I’ve appreciated the opportunity to listen to and learn from my fellow participants, diverse in age, experience, and background.

I went to these trainings because I wanted to learn strategies to deal with multiple kinds of potentially scary situations, but I’m grateful that they also provided me the chance to build empathy. The end of the semester is approaching with speed, the political situation continues to be disturbing, and everyone is stressed. I was struck last week by a Twitter thread by a social worker that reminded me how important it is, especially right now, to start with empathy. Let’s commit to being gentle with ourselves, our colleagues, our students, and our communities in this busy time of year.

Digging for Gratitude

A little over a year ago, I took a flight to Los Angeles to interview for my job at UCLA – it was the night before the election. At the time, natives and their allies were fighting to re-route Dakota Access Pipeline. I found out towards the end of my flight to LA, that the gentlemen in the aisle seat of my row was from North Dakota and thought natives were “making a big deal” out of it. I woke up the next morning to learn that my less preferred candidate won the election, and I cried in disbelief. I had no idea how I was going to get through my interview.

A year later, I am in my position at UCLA, and recent news of the Keystone Pipeline 210,000 gallon oil spill has come to light days before Thanksgiving, a holiday based upon the false notion of unity between natives and colonizers. I don’t mean to be a Debbie Downer, but I just wanted to place this article in it’s appropriate historical context of my life as a first-year librarian. While I am beyond grateful for my job, my amazing colleagues, and the sunny skies around me, I started in this profession during, what I believe is, a grave time in global history.

I approached librarianship as a career because I loved being able to provide individuals information. However, as I mentioned in my first post, I also embraced the critical possibilities within the profession. I would be lying if I said I have been able to sustain the enthusiasm for deneutralizing the library because between moving across the country, starting a new job, and the current political climate, I am emotionally exhausted.

The good news is I have still found outlets that affirm my place in this field. So here is a list of what has kept me going. I want to share this for anyone else feeling a lack of hope and/or motivation to keep sticking with the fight:

  • Multiple students have approached me with a research question that focuses upon a marginalized population.
  • The UCLA Medical Education Committee held a retreat to discuss diversity, inclusion and equity in medical education. This included speakers that used words such as “racism”, “oppression”, and “microaggressions”.
  • I have been able to collaborate with amazing South Asian women librarians for an upcoming chapter in Pushing the Margins: Women of Color and Intersectionality in LIS. On top of it, my co-authors and I were able to share our experiences about being South Asian women in librarianship in a panel at a symposium at UCLA. And even better, I was able to meet and listen to the other incredible authors that will be included in this book!
  • My colleagues and I were able to create an in-person and virtual exhibit to highlight Immigrants in the Sciences in response to the DACA reversal and the White nationalist march in Charlottesville.
  • UCLA’s Powell Library held a successful Conversation Cafe for International Education Week.
  • I attended a fulfilling professional development opportunity about systematic reviews.
  • I have shared tears and memories with several other LIS students through the ARL IRDW and Spectrum Scholar program.
  • I was able to visit Seattle for the first time and attend my first (of many) Medical Library Association conference.
  • I gained a mentor and friend.
  • Every time I teach, I learn something new about active learning, teaching methodology, and how to teach to specific audiences. Most importantly, I feel like I am truly in my element.
  • I met the Librarian of Congress! #swoon
  • I inherited two precious cats (librarian status achieved).
  • I’m way less clueless about being a librarian than I was when I started in April!
  • And now I am able to share my first-year experiences through ACRLog!

This is not an exhaustive list, however, it proves that in less than 8 months of working in my position, I have been blessed to create, pursue, attend, and feel a part of unique opportunities within my profession, especially at my institution. So while I might feel disillusioned and hopeless because of the world and its inequities, I have to admit that there have been several upsides.

Thank you for reading, and I hope you too can discover these golden nuggets amongst the rubble around us.