Your Personal Librarian

My daughter has a book called, Your Personal Penguin by Sandra Boynton, which is one of my favorites. In the book, a penguin follows a hippopotamus asking for its friendship. As with other children’s books, there aren’t many words, but the illustrations hint at the potential for a great friendship. I’ve found Sandra Boynton’s books to be endearing without being saccharine and they have brought light to a dark time.

In the meantime, our library started using a liaison model for instruction this semester. Students seeking degrees are required to take two classes covering the research process. It made sense to assign individual librarians to these sections so that they had one point of contact. We also thought it would make the library less of an abstraction since students can’t set foot inside. As a newbie it would also allow the chance to really get to know a few sections of students and be their personal librarian.

I am working with English and Communications classes. Last semester I did a one-off for a Communications class, but my instruction opportunities were limited as I had only started. That won’t be the case this semester as I have the chance to collaborate with another faculty member to talk about information literacy; how cool is that!? I feel equal parts overwhelmed and excited.

Even though I taught music for years before becoming a librarian, I’m still always amazed by the amount of preparation that goes into even shorter sessions. (Teachers need to be paid more.) I digress; I have a process for instruction, though it is evolving. First, I look at the instructor’s syllabus and create learning outcomes. My learning outcomes have the basic ingredients: an action verb, content, and context. I will admit that mine are a work in progress. It is too easy to create a bad learning outcome, “Learners will understand the thing at the place = success!” Ideally everything supports the learning outcomes, but if they aren’t up to snuff, nothing else will be either.

I want to create activities that reinforce the learning outcomes. I’ve been guilty, especially in my early days of teaching music, of creating activities that don’t justify the outcome. I also need to work on creating just enough scaffolding to provide context without giving the students information overload. Students don’t need to know everything inside of my head. Especially for brief sessions, a surface understanding is enough.

We are still working on assessment in this environment. During more typical semesters, paper surveys are handed out to students. That isn’t a realistic option and we still need to create standardized Google forms exclusively for library instruction. It surprised me though that I have enjoyed creating them.

The more I do this process, the more I can perfect it, and the more I can pivot in real time. Having plans is wonderful, but I want to have the flexibility and the experience to make changes when they aren’t working. As a newer librarian, I’m trying to follow best practices, believing that I need to both know and master the rules before I can break them. That time will come.

My hope is that this liaison model will allow me to be their personal librarian. Unlike the plucky little penguin, I know that we won’t go on adventures together, but I do hope that I can help them on their journey through research. I want to be a face and a name that is reliable and can be counted on. With any luck this model will translate back on campus, allowing the library to represent these same qualities.

Working Like Normal?

Nelly Antoniadou on Unsplash

Man, am I struggling. 

It’s felt like a day of mistakes, exacerbated by the fact that I haven’t seen my boss or colleagues in person for weeks. I’m isolated, and suffering from a lack of structure and routine. Deadlines are sneaking up on me and I’m remembering meetings at the last second, tying up my hair in an attempt at professionalism while frantically opening Teams. This isn’t me. I’m normally very organized and an efficient worker. 

But what is normal? What should we be expecting of ourselves, of each other, as this miserable pandemic rounds its first anniversary? The chorus last March was “Have grace for yourselves and each other, this is a traumatic event and no one should be expected to carry on as normal.” And yet, students have research papers, so we have reference questions. Committees continue to meet, timesheets continue to be due. Liaisons gotta liaise. 

It reminds me of grief. Some workplaces grant bereavement leave, usually around 3 days to deal with funerals and other logistics. And then what? You’re back at work on Monday, and even if your coworkers give you some leeway for your emotional recovery, you’ve still got emails waiting for you. 

When you’re the grieving person, it seems so inappropriate to be carrying on as normal. After a great loss, you walk around in a fog and it’s hard to believe that the people around you are having great days. You feel like screaming, “My person is gone. How can I be expected to bag my groceries, let alone present at a faculty meeting?”

Even if you haven’t lost loved ones to Covid, we’ve all suffered great losses this year. Financial, emotional, social, professional. And our society (I’m inclined to blame capitalism, personally) leaves no room to stop and grieve these losses. As if 10 months of constant, universal loss is something we can get used to.

I can get used to the feeling of a mask on my face, to the sensation of teaching to a webcam. But I will not get used to the daily loss of thousands of citizens, nor will I become numb to frightening attacks on our democracy, like at the beginning of this month. Resilience may get us through this catastrophe, but who will we be after?

I don’t know about you all, but I still need grace. And I will be continuing to dispense it to my students and colleagues this year; no matter how long it’s been, this is not our new normal, and our hearts know it. This post has more questions than answers, but it’s my attempt to hold space for loss, even as a new semester swirls around us.

The December Post

I don’t have a title for this post, so I will simply call it, “The December Post.” Our semester finished at the end of last week. While I remember the academic calendar particularly from my high school and undergraduate years, I’m still getting used to it at work. Things slowly ramp up with two peaks: midterms, and then the end of the semester. The last couple of weeks after Thanksgiving were a race to the end that still took me by surprise. Now we can rest, except I can’t really unwind for a number of reasons.

During a normal semester we close up with Finals Fest, which is part celebration of the end of term, and part coping mechanism for all of us. While this event is aimed at students, but we can all use hot chocolate. There is periodic programming, like games and tutoring. I hear that by the end the library staff are full of sugar and then leave in a haze of chocolate.

Since we can’t do any of these things this year, I did my best to replicate the whimsy remotely. I’m proud of this, though turnout was not high:
Virtual Finals Fest Fall 2020
I realize that when I wrote, “As the character Arthur Dent says in the book, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, “‘Don’t Panic. It’s the first helpful or intelligible thing anybody’s said to me all day’” I was trying to reassure myself just as much as our students. I’m scared right now, and I didn’t need to take tests during a pandemic!

I remember dry heaving on a test handed to me by my scariest professor, Dr. Adams (name changed) my freshman year. I remember after a semester of studying, staying up late to make that final push. I never pulled an all nighter, but I remember getting little sleep. I remember working in the computer lab (that was a thing) to crank out papers since I wasn’t sent to school with a computer. Lastly, as was common for me, once the stress ended, I got sick first and then a break second. I remember this time of sheer panic well.

My college experience wasn’t ideal in some ways, but I didn’t have to go through this period of time while worried about friends and family. I wasn’t grieving the loss of people who died of this disease, maybe, while getting sick myself. I wasn’t living with extended family who one, by one passed the virus around. I can only sympathize, but haven’t lived this experience. I have to say to our students: you made it. You finished, and that is enough for now. If you are able, get some sleep.

From the Other Side of the Table: Academic Search Committee from the Inside

This guest post comes to us from Ruth Monnier, who is an Assistant Professor and Learning Outreach Librarian at Pittsburg State University in Pittsburg, Kansas. She provides reference and instruction services and engages with the greater campus and community.

Last year, I was job hunting and, like many others, was worried about CVs, resumes, cover letters, tracking jobs, and application deadlines. Recently, I served on the other side of the table as a search committee member. In books, blogs, and Twitter feeds, everyone has advice to offer to the job seeker, and most of the advice is good. However, just because advice is given, does not mean the advice is taken. After being on the other side of the table, here are six pieces of advice I offer for anyone who is job searching.

  1. Reading Truly Matters

It seems obvious based on our profession’s stereotype, but it bears stating again: reading carefully truly matters. We, as a society, are trained to skim any text (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/aug/25/skim-reading-new-normal-maryanne-wolf). The committee can tell who is skimming the job posting, and particularly the job description. The job description lays out the expectations for the role and is the guiding document of the search. The committee uses the job description as a template for interview questions and to create a rubric for evaluating each candidate’s response. You should directly answer every job duty raised in the job description via CV or cover letter, especially if there are any unusual or nontraditional job duties. By directly addressing the listed duties, you eliminate any doubt committee members might have on your ability to complete job-related functions. The more uncertainty committee members have about a candidate, the less likely it is for the candidate to move on in the search process.

If you are a job seeker, take time to review your application documents and ask someone else to review them as well, especially if you are using a base template to apply for multiple positions. Do your cover letter and CV address every duty in the job description? Did you spell the institution’s name correctly? Does the job title match? Is your contact information correct?

  1. Selection of the Committee

Honestly, when I was a job seeker, I did not think about how individuals became a part of the search committee. However, understanding the search committee’s composition can assist you in the process. At my institution, per department policies, it is required that there be at least one staff person and three faculty members elected to the committee. The search committee makeup and the process will vary by institution. The important takeaways are to recognize that not all committee members will have a master’s degree in the field nor know all of the position’s day-to-day tasks. With your knowledge of the search committee composition, you can better understand their overall perspective on the institution and library department, terminology and acronym usage, and whom some of your questions should be directed towards. Be mindful of who is on the other side of the table throughout the interview process.

  1. Little Things Matter

Time and care should be taken to craft the initial interview documents, such as your cover letter, and to the interview process as a whole. Search committee members are interviewing multiple candidates back-to-back. Even with taking notes, candidates’ information can run together, which makes the little things stand out. Being prepared can help you stand out.

If you are interviewed, have questions ready to ask the search committee and for a campus interview, have questions to ask anyone. Also, feel free to re-ask previous questions from earlier stages in the interview to different individuals.Before the phone interview, write out key points and activities that you want to highlight to the committee, particularly for those commonly asked questions.It is easy to freeze up or stumble if you are nervous or not used to the technology. If possible, practice a phone/video interview with a friend or Career Services and use what you plan on having for the actual interview. During the phone interview, take notes on the questions asked and your responses as well as ask for time to process a question as needed. As the interview process changes due to budget constraints and a global pandemic, be prepared and familiarize yourself with multiple technology platforms. If you go for a campus visit, remember that you, as the candidate, are always being interviewed unless you are left completely alone. Your conversations in the car, at meals and breaks, and walking on campus are all being used to evaluate you, just as you are evaluating the position, committee, and institution.

  1. Take a Break

If you have an itinerary, check it. Are there breaks for you? Do you need to ask for anything to ensure a smoother interview? Whether participating in a phone interview, multi-hour video call, or visiting in-person, ensure breaks for yourself. For a phone interview, this might simply mean having water to drink while the committee is asking questions. For a longer interview process, advocating for a couple of quick breaks by yourself allows you to recharge. If you are given the opportunity for a break, take it. Breaks also allow search committee members an opportunity to check their email or complete other quick tasks. Depending on the candidate’s schedule, the search committee can feel fatigued too. Breaks benefit all involved to process information, relax, and recharge for the next portion of the day.

  1. Expenses

Typically, your expenses are paid if a search committee brings you physically to the campus. Frequently your expenses are reimbursed after the fact versus at the point of purchase. Before you arrive on campus, ask for clarification on the expense process (reimbursement or otherwise), including who is responsible for meals, receipts needed for reimbursement, and any other questions you have. If it is a financial burden for you to travel to campus and any of the related expenses, talk to the search committee’s chair. There may be ways to ease the up-front financial burden depending on the institution.

Be an advocate for yourself and communicate with the committee. Remember you are interviewing the committee as much as they are interviewing you, and no one wants an awkward or uncomfortable situation.

  1. Thank you

Common advice for any job seeker is to send a thank you note. The typical advice given is to send a handwritten note, but if a handwritten note will not arrive in time an email is also acceptable.

By being on the other side of the table, I was surprised at how few thank you emails and notes were sent. Thank you notes reiterate your interest in the position, provide an additional opportunity to clarify an answer to an interview question you may have not answered to the best of your ability, and can make you stand out to the committee. It is one more time that the committee is seeing your name and interest in the position.

Each institution is different, but being prepared and following through gives you the best opportunity of landing the position. Good luck!

Virtual Holiday Parties

With the holidays starting, yet another surreal “I guess this is COVID” moment is upon us: we’re really going to go a whole December without office holiday parties? Did we ever think we would miss such a thing?

I have only worked in three libraries, but I have been fortunate enough to work in three libraries with amazing cooks and bakers. Missing out on a library potluck is a top ten COVID-year bummer for me. But we’ve gotten pretty good at this remote celebration thing, right? Here are some ideas for how to safely celebrate with your library staff (and maybe some of these will work for your family non-gatherings as well):

  • Games:
    • Many in-person games translate well to Zoom or other video chat platforms:
      • Pictionary (using the whiteboard feature)
      • Charades (no risk of accidental talking; just mute yourself!)
      • Trivia (use the hand-raising feature or chat to “buzz in”)
      • Scavenger hunt (pick items people are likely to have at home)
      • Themed hunt (for example, have people pull from their bookshelves at home the oldest book, longest book, book with a blue cover, etc., and compare your finds! Other themes might be the fridge, things within reach of where they sit when they work from home, or clothing.)
      • Online scavenger hunt (find pages/links/information instead of objects)
      • Name that tune (play instrumental versions over host’s mic)
      • Buzzword (each person gets a holiday-themed word; if you catch them saying it during the virtual get-together, they’re out!)
  • Contests:
    • Ugly sweater contest
    • Holiday costume contest (get elaborate, you don’t have to wear it in public!)
    • Gingerbread house contest (send out kits ahead of time)
  • Gift exchanges:
    • A virtual gift exchange (gift card codes, for example)
    • If everyone lives in the same area, arrange for them to pick up a gift from a local shop
  • Other activities:
    • Holiday playlist (share screen with audio sharing enabled)
    • Holiday photo booth (create your own props, interact Brady-Bunch style!)
    • Take an online class together, either live or a pre-recorded class
    • Recipe exchange: share what you would have brought to a regular potluck, or have a theme, like cookies

Keep these important considerations in mind when planning your celebration, some of which you should already consider when planning in-person, in-office celebrations, and some that are new this year:

  • Keep employees’ diversity in mind:
    • Know the dates of holidays you’re not familiar with; someone may be taking the day off to celebrate. Try to find a date everyone is available and that doesn’t conflict with other celebrations.
    • Be aware of holidays with food restrictions, like daytime fasting or abstaining from certain foods. It’s easier to not include food in a virtual celebration.
  • Keep employees’ privacy in mind:
    • While a tour of everyone’s holiday decorations sounds fun, not everyone will want to show you the inside of their home.
    • Remember to schedule your celebration during work hours, just as you would an in-office celebration.
    • Gift exchanges are nice, but some people may not be comfortable sharing their mailing address with colleagues.
    • If playing an online game together, choose one that doesn’t require the sharing of personal information to access it. Games that don’t have to be downloaded are preferable, too.
  • Keep employees’ needs in mind:
    • If you’re doing anything food-related, remember to consider allergies and dietary restrictions, as you would for an in-person potluck.
    • So many people are on their second, third, twentieth wind of Zoom fatigue. Don’t try to do all of these things; pick one or two and do them well.
    • Be considerate of everyone’s time: the party is over at the designated time.
    • December is a busy time for the whole family. Some employees may be caring for others who also are participating in holiday-related activities. Be understanding of those who can’t dedicate extra time and energy for activities like the suggested costume or gingerbread contests.

One last idea: Anecdotally speaking, I’ve heard several of my friends express that something they really miss about working in person together with their colleagues is the casual conversation time. Remotely, that’s something you have to carve out time for and decide to do, since you don’t bump into each other in hallways or stop at the desk or a doorway to chat. Maybe your staff would really just like to get together and have an hour of dedicated casual chat time?

Whatever you and your staff do, I hope you do it safely, comfortably, and happily, and that you get to do it in person for the 2021 holiday season.