Navigating an Uncharted Path in Liaison Librarianship

Towards the end of fall 2023, the STEM Librarian stepped down from her position at CSU Northridge. Throughout her tenure, she covered liaison duties that spanned across many Science and Engineering departments. I heard about this news during a monthly department meeting. Our department chair requested support and asked us to reach out if interested in taking over the STEM liaison roles. Despite the fact that I have an academic background in the Humanities and Social Sciences, I recognized the urgency of the situation and offered my support. In the spirit of camaraderie, I contacted my chair and volunteered to help. Soon after, I was assigned to be the liaison for the single department of Chemistry & Biochemistry, which includes library instruction and collection development responsibilities.

When I started at CSU Northridge, I was initially assigned to be the Central American & Transborder Studies liaison. Due to my background in Ethnic Studies, particularly Chicana/o Studies and Latina/o Studies, I felt quite comfortable with this assignment. I felt at home as I taught information literacy sessions, facilitated research consultations, and performed my bibliographer duties for the department of Central American & Transborder Studies. It wasn’t until I became the liaison to Chemistry & Biochemistry that I began to feel like I was navigating an uncharted path.

Recently, I had to select publications to update the collection for Chemistry & Biochemistry. Since it was my first time performing my collection development duties for this department, I was out of my depth. As a liaison librarian, I must meet 3 important collection development deadlines throughout the academic school year. Just over a week ago, I met the second deadline and I spent 75% of all available funds. To be frank, this was easier said than done for an early career librarian without a STEM background. For more support, I reached out to several librarians in the Collection Access and Management Services (CAMS) department. Although I was already diving into book reviews and book spotlights offered by professional associations, I realized that I needed more guidance. As a result of my colleagues’ mentorship, I learned about ALMA analytics and I discovered how to search for slips in Gobi. These lessons allowed me to finalize my selections for Chemistry & Biochemistry.

As for library instruction, the fall semester will start tomorrow, so I have not taught any information literary sessions for Chemistry & Biochemistry. However, I already received 3 instruction requests from a professor teaching CHEM 464L – Principles of Biochemistry. To prepare, I have been exploring the already established CHEM 464L LibGuide. So far, I have set my focus on current topics and the American Chemical Society (ACS) citation style. Additionally, I intend to contact the former Science and Engineering Librarian with the hopes that she will be open to sharing her Google Slides, instructional handouts, and/or other resources. My intention is to learn as much as possible to help students locate the proper library resources. While I recognize that I have immersed myself into a completely different academic discipline, I am reassured by own professional experience, particularly my 10-year trajectory as an educator.  I am learning to trust the process, so that I may rely on my own skillset, which includes teaching topics like keyword selection, information evaluation, citation practices, and database search mechanics.

As I wrap up this blog post, I would like to encourage other liaison librarians to please reach out if you’ve had a similar experience. What were some of your approaches? How did you become familiarized with your new role? I would definitely appreciate guidance as I continue to dive into science liaison librarianship.

Supervising a Makerspace: Musings from the Fall

This semester, Stego Studio, our library’s makerspace, moved into the department I oversee. This makerspace opened up around the time I arrived at my institution (fall 2021) and I’ve watched, from a distance, as the studio has grown and evolved. I was excited but also slightly overwhelmed when I was asked to oversee this space (and supervise our makerspace coordinator). It has been a semester of learning and stretching and I’m excited for what’s to come. As we wrap up this year, I wanted to share some thoughts I’ve had this fall as the makerspace takes up more and more of my work brain.

My past experiences with makerspaces

Before Stego Studio, when I thought about makerspaces, I thought about my graduate work. During my first year in graduate school, I was part of a grant that focused on digital literacy in the local community. One of the partners on the grant was the local FabLab. I myself worked at a community space and would negotiate with the FabLab about technology the community space needed. As I got started on the grant, I spent some time in the FabLab, trying to learn more about their technologies and space. In particular, I had no knowledge of 3D printing and couldn’t quite wrap my mind around what you do with 3D printing. During those first visits, I felt excluded in the space. I didn’t have the expertise to join the conversations happening around me and I didn’t feel like my own making experience was valued. In the end, I stuck to more work around using the Cricut and using a laser cutter. This level of making ended up working best with the community center and students in that space.

Since that first experience with a FabLab, I’ve continued to make in my own way. I embroider and I make zines and I learned more about makerspaces that contained textile equipment like sewing machines and other paper crafts. I also learned more about 3D printing when I worked at Penn State and was working next to our Media Commons (which housed over 30 printers!). I still couldn’t quite see the use case for me, but I finally started to have a better sense of how the technology worked and the language I needed to be a part of the conversation.  

I’m thinking so much about my past experiences because now I have a chance to help shape how our community interacts with our makerspace. I want to help folks understand the power of these spaces and be able to understand what they can do in this space. And I want to make sure the work of the makerspace is communicated in a way that resonates with folks. I think my past experiences help guide me in how to talk about this work and how to connect it to folks who might be new to this area. 

Information Literacy & Maker Literacies

As we wrap up the semester, I’m thinking a lot about the intersections between makerspace instruction and one-shot information literacy instruction. How do we as a department weave these two instruction programs together? How do we collectively talk about teaching that spans from discussing Google’s algorithm, to slicing a 3D model before we print it, to using keywords to find peer-reviewed sources, to evaluating the worthiness of an article or even a design we might print or laser cut? And how does the team of educators in this department learn from our makerspace coordinator and vice versa? I see a long runway here and am itching to really dig into these conversations and connections and ideas.  

Student Impact

Our makerspace has also had some great news coverage recently (story 1 and story 2). Stego Studio has been collaborating with an Honors class and a local community organization, Clovernook, to 3D print objects that help tell a story to blind and visually impaired students in Africa. For these stories, I was down in the makerspace, listening to our students talk about their work and their learning. Many students had wanted to learn about 3D printing but hadn’t had the chance to learn. This class not only provided them an opportunity to support a larger community, but also gain those skills through trial and error. As I watched one student explain, in-depth, how they took different models and modeled them together, I was reminded of the impact this space has. And the potential this space has if we are able to create more learning opportunities, both curricular and co-curricular

What’s Ahead

It’s time for me to jump more fully into makerspaces in 2024. We’re building infrastructure, processes, and expanding our awareness across campus. Those things (infrastructure, process, and outreach) feel like skills I have and am good at. What I’m less confident in is my language around what happens inside makerspaces. I am grateful I’m entering a niche within the field where so much has been done and discussed. I’ve picked up Re-Making the Library Makerspace: Critical Theories, Reflections, & Practices  and look forward to engaging with the ideas presented in the chapters and learning from folks across the field. I’m grateful for an enthusiastic and creative makerspace coordinator who I’m learning from each day. I’m also grateful for a supportive supervisor (whose work is featured in a Re-Making the Library Makerspace chapter) who has experience in this area and is coaching me on how to do this work. I’m excited to have gotten the chance to work with makerspaces again and look forward to what’s to come in the new year.

A First Year Academic Librarian’s Teaching Journey

For this blog post, I decided to document my teaching journey so far as a first-year academic librarian. Before I secured my current position as a Reference & Instruction Librarian at Cal State University, Northridge (CSUN) in July 2023, I had already been an educator for over ten years. My teaching background was instrumental as I transitioned into my current position. I already had experience teaching (and learning from) scholars of diverse backgrounds, such as, students of color, first generation students, parenting students, neurodiverse students, and students of various age groups. For instance, I had gained valuable experience as a Library Intern at East Los Angeles College where I taught information literacy and research sessions for various disciplines. While my past experiences provided a strong foundation for my current line of work, I still underwent a learning curve.

Before I started teaching my own sessions, I was quite intentional about shadowing experienced academic librarians. Throughout summer and fall of 2023, I observed several sessions conducted by 3 different academic librarians. As the new librarian, who had not yet developed any professional relationships at CSUN, I found this process to be a bit awkward. While I recommend that early career librarians take this step, it is important to tread carefully. Due to heavy workloads, not all librarians feel comfortable with taking on the responsibility of mentoring early career librarians. If you sense hesitation, move on and ask someone else. In my case, my colleagues were quite gracious and offered a helping hand. They shared resources like PowerPoint presentations and library handouts that eventually became part of my own toolkit. Observing a few librarians allowed me to learn about different teaching styles, pedagogical practices as well as active learning strategies.

Early in the fall semester, I began to receive instruction requests from faculty members teaching English, Central American & Transborder Studies and University 100 courses. For each session, I prepared extensively and tailored the session to the instructor’s specific assignment (i.e., annotated bibliography, persuasive essay, research paper, or group project). With each session, I became more confident in my ability to teach students how to use the library’s resources. During the last week of October, my chair observed one of my sessions. Admittedly, I was very nervous and this feeling became amplified when the course instructor spontaneously asked me to showcase a database that I was not familiar with at all. Despite a few hiccups, I thought the session went well.

When I received my observation letter, I was relieved since my chair highlighted many of my strengths. She also offered fair feedback. I was encouraged to pause more often and call for questions. Because each session runs for an hour and 15 minutes, I struggle with incorporating more time for student engagement. Time goes by so quickly and there’s so much to cover. After I received my chair’s observation letter, I began to ask myself: How can I be more intentional about engaging students? As suggested, I started to weave in more “check-in” questions throughout my sessions. Once I integrated more time for questions, I still felt unsatisfied and I knew there was room for improvement.

Surprisingly, the answer came to me last week during a Zoom breakout session. I am currently enrolled in a course called Equity Minded Pedagogy, which is offered by the CSU Chancellor’s office. During a conversation with a course facilitator, we discussed the impact of co-creation. Together, we thought about ways to collaborate with students in order to create more equitable and inclusive learning environments. I disclosed that as a first-year academic librarian, I rely heavily on my script and I need to incorporate more ways to engage students. Prior to each session, I develop keywords, select the most suitable databases, and test links. This serves as the preliminary work for my live OneSearch demonstration. However, I realized that my seemingly flawless demonstration could mislead students. It’s critical for students to witness the messy process of trial and error that is inherent to the search experience.

As I came to this realization, the course facilitator referred me to Dr. Brene Brown’s TED Talk. This video expanded my perception about the importance of embracing vulnerability. By facing uncertainty and imperfection, I may create a space to authentically connect with students because as Dr. Brown mentions, “for connection to happen, we have to allow ourselves to be seen, really seen.” Moving forward, I intend to centralize student engagement by asking for volunteers, brainstorming keywords with the entire class, and relinquishing control. Along the way, students will notice broken links or unsuccessful searches. My hope is that students will value our shared experience, create a sense of belonging, and muster the courage to be imperfect in a vulnerable world.

Divisive Concepts: Academic Freedom Under Attack in Tennessee

Editor’s note: This guest post has been authored by John LaDue. John is the Information Literacy Librarian at the Paul Meek Library which serves the University of Tennessee at Martin.

In their latest attack on public education, the Tennessee legislature has voted to amend 2022’s so-called “divisive concepts” law to expand its reach further into public higher education. Beginning with 2021’s anti-critical race theory bill, the Tennessee legislature has repeatedly attempted to dictate what can and cannot be taught in public schools. In 2022, the legislature enacted the first iteration of the “divisive concepts” law, which, in terms of in-class instruction, targeted primarily public K-12 schools, although there were many provisions that targeted higher education. That law was recently amended to apply the in-class instruction restrictions to public higher education institutions, such as the one I work at, the University of Tennessee at Martin.

Tennessee State Senator Joey Hensley denied that the legislation would inhibit the teaching of the role of racism in the United States, stating “We’re not saying people shouldn’t teach about that, and they should teach about that and how the Native Americans were treated—they were treated badly, too, [but] all of that was many years ago”. The idea that the mistreatment of Native populations ended “many years ago” flies in the face of reality and stands in sharp contradiction to the ACRL 2023 opening keynote address by Rebecca Nagle. The same legislature that recently expelled two Black legislators wants us to not teach about systemic racism because that would be divisive.

One of the outcomes of these laws is the creation of a reporting function where students or employees who feel that the school, or an instructor, has violated the law can file a report with the school and the school would have to investigate the claim and file a yearly report to the comptroller of the treasury on all such reports.

Some of the special programming I put on this year could easily come under attack, such as a lunch series on researching Black liberation movements. However, even some of the basic functions of my job can become a point of contention. As an example, I teach about information, which includes who owns and controls the production and distribution of information: the political economy of information. In my teaching, I explain to students that there are publishing companies who take works given freely by academics and then sell access to them back to institutions like UTM at shockingly high profit margins and that part of what their tuition and fees goes toward is funding those profit margins. If I do that and a student feels that I am promoting resentment of the class that owns publishers like Elsevier and EBSCO, then I can be reported for violating the law, specifically divisive concept 10 (“Promotes division between, or resentment of, a race, sex, religion, creed, nonviolent political affiliation, social class, or class of people;”).

The ALA code of ethics, in part, states, “We work to recognize and dismantle systemic and individual biases; to confront inequity and oppression; to enhance diversity and inclusion; and to advance racial and social justice in our libraries, communities, profession, and associations through awareness, advocacy, education, collaboration, services, and allocation of resources and spaces. To uphold the ethics of our profession puts me in violation of Tennessee law.

Personally, I have no intentions of altering what I teach or how I teach it; I would rather be unemployed than unprincipled. However, this legislation has an obvious and intentional chilling effect on educators throughout the state. At the University of Tennessee at Martin, both the Student Government Association and Faculty Senate have passed resolutions condemning these laws; I call on all individuals and organizations in Tennessee and beyond to stand with us and join in our condemnation.

REFERENCES

Allison, Natalie. 2021. “Tennessee Bans Public Schools from Teaching Critical Race Theory amid National Debate.” The Tennessean. May 5, 2021. https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/politics/2021/05/05/tennessee-bans-critical-race-theory-schools-withhold-funding/4948306001/.

Buranyi, Stephen. 2017. “Is the Staggeringly Profitable Business of Scientific Publishing Bad for Science?” The Guardian, June 27, 2017, sec. Science. https://www.theguardian.com/science/2017/jun/27/profitable-business-scientific-publishing-bad-for-science.

Fawcett, Eliza, and Emily Cochrane. 2023. “Tennessee House Expulsions: What You Need to Know.” The New York Times, April 13, 2023, sec. U.S. https://www.nytimes.com/article/tennessee-house-democrats-expulsion-shooting-gun-control.html.

Garcia, Raymond. 2023. “The Stories We Tell.” American Libraries Magazine. March 28, 2023. https://americanlibrariesmagazine.org/blogs/the-scoop/the-stories-we-tell/.

Kim, Jane, and Randall Barnes. 2023. “UT Martin’s Faculty Leadership Formally Condemns Two Tennessee Laws as Racist, but behind Closed Doors.” WPSD Local 6. April 25, 2023. https://www.wpsdlocal6.com/news/ut-martins-faculty-leadership-formally-condemns-two-tennessee-laws-as-racist-but-behind-closed-doors/article_efd94a4e-e3de-11ed-a033-07fccfd39aaf.html.

Kruesi, Kimberlee. 2022. “Colleges Face Legal Risks under ‘divisive Concept’ Bill.” AP NEWS. March 8, 2022. https://apnews.com/article/education-lawsuits-race-and-ethnicity-racial-injustice-tennessee-072fe36a7a05b3f931a71ba82d217209.

Lamb, Zacharie. 2023. “UT-Martin Student Government Passes Resolution Condemning Tennessee’s Laws as Racist.” WKMS. February 27, 2023. https://www.wkms.org/education/2023-02-27/ut-martin-sga-passes-resolution-condemning-tns-recent-education-laws.

Quinn, Ryan. 2023. “Tennessee Again Targets ‘Divisive Concepts.’” Inside Higher Ed. April 18, 2023. https://www.insidehighered.com/news/faculty-issues/diversity-equity/2023/04/18/tennessee-again-targets-divisive-concepts.

Tennessee General Assembly Legislation. n.d. “HB 1376.” Tennessee General Assembly Legislation. Accessed April 28, 2023. https://wapp.capitol.tn.gov/apps/BillInfo/Default.aspx?BillNumber=HB1376.

WBIR. 2023. “TN Bill That Allows Students to Report Professors Who Teach ‘divisive Concepts’ Passes House and Senate.” Wbir.Com. March 6, 2023. https://www.wbir.com/article/news/education/new-bill-would-strengthen-rules-over-what-can-be-taught-in-classrooms/51-ddd267e4-3d98-4de0-bb2e-3284740b4cb7.

Zalusky, Steve. 2021. “ALA Adopts New Code of Ethics Principle on Racial and Social Justice.” Text. News and Press Center. July 28, 2021. https://www.ala.org/news/member-news/2021/07/ala-adopts-new-code-ethics-principle-racial-and-social-justice.

Returning & Relearning

This month I returned to a yoga studio for the first time since March 2020. The studio I used to frequent did not make it through the pandemic, despite pivoting to online class offerings, so I spent the majority of the past 2.5 years with a fitness routine aimed primarily at boosting my mental health in the outdoors. It was a safer alternative and helped lessen the feeling of being cooped up at home.

This winter I finally felt like I was in a place to practice yoga in a studio (which I recognize is a decision each person needs to make for themselves). A new one opened up near me, and I decided to try it out for a month. I signed up for a beginners hot yoga class, knowing that it had literally been years since I’d had a solid yoga practice. When I entered the room on a Wednesday evening I was excited and nervous. The room was quiet, there was plenty of space between people, and I began to feel a familiar sense of calm.

The class began at a slow, beginner’s pace, with the instructor calling out modifications for those who needed them, as well as opportunities to up-level certain poses. I remembered most of the poses but my movements were stiff and clumsy. I didn’t have the balance or range of motion I had previously gained from practicing multiple times a week. My body was different, older, and my joints reminded me of that with a pop! every time I moved between certain poses. There were a few poses I couldn’t quite remember, so I relied on the guidance and example of the instructor and others in the class. There were some poses I remembered but just couldn’t do anymore.

I wasn’t a complete novice–I had a decent yoga practice before the pandemic–but I was returning to an activity that I hadn’t done in years. I needed a beginner’s pace, but not necessarily beginner instruction. I sometimes knew what to do but couldn’t quite make my body do it. I felt like I was relearning the flow of yoga: how to begin, transition, and end at my new pace. I need different supports (blocks, bolsters, etc.) at different points in class now, and I need time to work on my flexibility and ability to meditate.

This isn’t the first time that a yoga class has made me reflect on what it means to be a learner, but it did foster a different kind of understanding. In my department my colleagues and I often work with learners who are returning to the classroom after a significant amount of time away from university. They might be working on completing an undergraduate degree, or, more commonly, working on a graduate degree. They often bring a wealth of experience from their jobs and work in the community, but admit that the university, and the library, look very different from when they first attended. They grasp certain concepts quickly, while others require more time to internalize. Their research often benefits from their strong content knowledge and practical experience, however some are just beginning to flex their research, reading, and writing skills again.

As teaching librarians, it’s an interesting balance we need to strike with returning learners. We want to honor their existing knowledge but also can’t make assumptions about what they know or don’t know. We want to give them the space an opportunity to try things out on their own, but also want to be available for assistance as needed. There is no room for “You’re a graduate student so you should know this,” in this space. What I think it comes down to is an awareness and respect of what it means to be a learner returning to the classroom, nervously excited (or in a state of dread or somewhere in between), and wanting to be seen not as a novice but as a learner in a different state. I don’t think there is a good word for a returning student. “Relearner” sounds clunky and inaccurate. I don’t even necessarily think these learners require a label, as long as we remember to check our assumptions and hold space for all learners to begin from their own beginning points.