Being Pro-Pronouns

October is a time for National Coming Out Day, International Pronouns Day, and also happened to be the month in which I was added to our institution’s Diversity Council and attended my first meeting thereof. So I’ve been thinking about pronouns more than usual (which is actually pretty often to begin with) for a few weeks.

I think it’s fairly common knowledge now that including your pronouns as part of your introduction is a simple practice that we can all participate in, that makes everyone (especially the trans community) feel more welcome in any space. We as a profession (and as a society) are talking more about doing this, including here on ACRLog, with mentions in posts like this one from guest poster Adrianna Martinez, and this one from Emily Hampton Haynes.

One of the first things I noticed when I was offered my new job (I haven’t been here a year, it still counts as “new,” right?) was that the person in human resources who was sending me paperwork and instructions had included her pronouns in her email signature, and I thought that was great. One of the first things I did when I got my institutional email account set up was to write my email signature, and deliberate for a solid five minutes over where my pronouns should go in said signature. (Under my name? Under the wall of text that is my contact information? On a line unto itself, separated from both name and contact information by a blank line?)

I have seen many email signatures from people across the institution and outside our institution with their pronouns in their email signatures. I have seen conference nametags that provide space for your pronouns, and I’ve seen people add their pronouns to conference nametags that did not provide that designated space. I have seen one or two people with colorful buttons on their lanyards declaring their pronouns.

Honestly, at first, the English major that still resides inside of me was just really excited that so many people can identify a part of speech so readily. But then I also got really excited that normalizing the sharing of pronouns is really happening. The first few times I brought it up (in meetings, in conference presentations, in introductions to new people) it felt clunky and awkward, but now it’s a more natural thing to do. I like to introduce myself first or early when we “go around the room” in a meeting, because if I start the trend, others will follow my pattern: name, pronouns, job title.

To give you context for the rest of this paragraph, I am a cisgender woman. My name is Alex, as you may have noticed. Fun fact about me: my husband’s name is also Alex. So, clearly, I am very aware that our first name is a unisex name. But I’m also very aware that most people’s default assumption is that someone named Alex is male. Even with my pronouns listed in my email signature, I get email replies addressed to “Mr. Harrington.” (To be entirely fair, I also get email replies addressed to “Alexandria,” since my institutional Outlook listing uses “Alexandra” instead of “Alex.”) Also, for a few months after I got married, some people who knew my husband’s name called me “Mrs. [Husband’s last name]” even though I frequently made jokes about how I didn’t change my last name only because paperwork would be a nightmare if we both had the same first AND last names. Honestly, none of these things bothered me very much, because I don’t really care if people think I prefer “Mr.” over “Mrs.” or that my first name has an “i” in it, or that I took my husband’s last name. However, this is not all about me. It can be very upsetting, for example, for a trans or genderfluid person to be referred to as the incorrect gender, or for a woman in a same-sex marriage to be assumed to have taken her spouse’s last name.

The only point I have here is really just that we should all commit to paying attention. My rule of thumb has always been to address someone in an email however they signed their last email to me. This has also unfailingly helped me navigate issues like whether someone prefers to be called by their first name or “Dr. Last Name.” If I don’t have that option (I haven’t received an email from them before; they didn’t sign their email; I’m communicating in a different medium) I default to gender-neutral language whenever possible and address them by first name, risking informality over choosing the wrong title (Mr., Ms., Mrs., Dr., etc).

This is the first step of the conversation. In the past few days alone, I’ve heard or read people arguing over things like, “Jonathan van Ness identifies as non-binary, you can’t say ‘him’!” when he has gone on record as preferring he/him but being fine with she/her or they/them pronouns. It also seems like every week or so, I see another discussion of how “they” can’t be a singular pronoun, even though it has been in use that way for ages. (If you need an example, ask yourself where an unidentified person is going. Didn’t it feel natural to say, “Where are they going?”) If we start by paying attention to what others want to be called (whether that’s “Rob” versus “Robert” or “they” instead of “he” or “she”) we can move toward better understanding for everyone.

So, happy belated International Pronouns Day to all!

“One: Librarians Are Not Wearing Enough Hats”

If you’re familiar with Monty Python’s “The Meaning of Life,” you might recognize this joke. For the uninitiated, here’s the relevant clip, (less than two minutes), but I’ll explain. In a boardroom, there is a report being given about a team’s findings on the meaning of life thus far, and it starts with, “One: people aren’t wearing enough hats.” It goes on to be philosophical and I won’t ruin the rest of the joke because they tell it better than I ever could, but suffice it to say that I’ve been thinking about hats a lot lately.

I mean “hats” in the metaphorical sense, where they are equated with discrete jobs. I’ve been trying on a lot of these hats recently, because I have found a lot of opportunities to do things that are not in the traditional jurisdiction of a librarian.

I’ve been interviewing applicants to our MD program. I enjoy it because I get to talk to a diverse group of very intelligent, personable, and driven young people who want to pursue a very challenging and rewarding career in medicine. The college benefits because I am helping them identify the applicants who are most likely to succeed not only as students but as doctors, finding qualities such as empathy, integrity, and tenacity in addition to their academic and service achievements.

Proctoring exams is another opportunity I’ve recently accepted. The library provides an ideal space for taking exams, and it takes little time and effort for me to set up a space for an exam-taker and ensure that their test-taking conditions are met.

I’ll be wearing three hats at once tonight when I combine my hobby of running, my employment at Penn State Hershey, and my position as a urology resident’s spouse, to participate in a 5K for prostate cancer awareness with a very large team that includes most of the urology department. I mention them specifically because while this activity may seem the least related to my librarian role, of these examples, it might be the closest, since I am the library’s liaison to all the surgical specialties. I doubt we’ll discuss their research needs on our three-mile trek, but making the connections is important, however you do it.

I’m not counting various committees I’ve joined, because I do think that, for example, being on the Diversity Committee is a part of library work, because I’m representing our library there and bringing diversity matters back to the library to integrate them into our resources and services. Being in the Group for Women in Medicine and Science strengthens the partnership the library already has with that group, and I am, again, representing the library there.

I know I’m not unusual in this hat-wearing regard: most librarians do “non-library” things in the course of their work. So I’m not arguing that we don’t wear enough of these hats, despite the Python quote (in fact, a lot of us probably have to juggle too many hats), but I am pointing out that wearing them gets the library’s face out there and shows that we are just as integrated into the fabric of the college (or other institutions you may be a part of or partnered with) as any other department.

What fun, non-library-specific “hats” do you love to wear?

Embracing the Coordinator Role

Earlier this week, my boss went into our HR system and changed my title. I went from the Student Engagement & Outreach Librarian to Student Engagement Coordinator. The change happened for many reasons, some political, and others, more practical. As a whole, the change recognizes the work I have done in this role the past two years and signals to others how my position is set up. My scope of work and job responsibilities don’t change, but I feel confirmed. 

Upon reflection, I think I’ve seen myself as a coordinator for a while. When I was preparing to go “on the road” in order to meet up with my colleagues at other campuses to discuss student engagement, I created this slide: 

Slide of a highway with the words "Coordinator" "Facilitator" and "Bridge Builder" on it

I told my colleagues that I see myself as a coordinator, facilitator, and bridge builder. This signals that I cannot do everything on my own, but I’m here to help connect us, bring us together under a shared understanding of student engagement, and advocate for the resources we need to make our ideas a reality. This work is mediated through librarianship, and provides the lens through which I tackle projects. Librarian might not be in my title anymore, but it provides the foundation for the work I do within the world of student engagement.  

And I have done a lot of coordinating while I have been the Student Engagement Librarian. I coordinate an undergraduate research award, the Short Edition dispensers, a library internship program, a student advisory group, and several committees with my colleagues to help get this work done. It’s work, but it’s something I enjoy and like to think I thrive at.

Of course, as my title changed (and I updated all the appropriate places online), I took a minute to look at the formal definition of co-ordinate, from OED. When used as a verb, this was one of the definitions:

To place or arrange (things) in proper position relatively to each other and to the system of which they form parts; to bring into proper combined order as parts of a whole.

This definition resonated with me because I think bringing things together has always been a strength of mine. I like knowing about what people are up to, programs happening around me, and the context for which these things occur. For something like student engagement at Penn State, it’s big, wielding, nuanced, and complex. I love the challenge of finding and connecting the various pieces within this system. It’s exciting and I like to imagine the little gears in my brain turning and tumbling, connecting and imaging new possibilities.  

As I fully embrace the word “coordinator” in my title, I’m also starting to look more closely at the literature out there. In libraries, my first thought is the research done on library instruction coordinators. I immediately went back through work by Veronica Arellano Douglas and Joanna Gadsby, like their ACRL 2017 contributed paper and their more recent In the Library with a Lead Pipe article. I’m excited to re-read and reflect, with my coordinator hat more firmly on. There’s lots at play and I want to be conscious of how I navigate and investigate this as I keep moving forward. 

For me, this blog post is a starting spot. I don’t have any grand conclusions or big ideas to leave you with. But I’m excited, for this title and for embracing the coordination. 

Do you coordinate in your role? If so, tell me more! I’m curious at the ways we think about this and do our work around this title.

Nothing New Under the Sun

Decorative image of a sun and clouds.

Photo by Tanishq Tiwari on Unsplash

At my community college, we’re piloting new information literacy instruction for English 101. The director hopes to move away from powerpoint lectures to give students more hands-on opportunities, and since I’m the liaison for the English department I’ve been spending a lot of my summer on this project, brainstorming, reading, and chewing the ends off all my pens.

We saw that students felt overwhelmed by the content of our traditional English 101 session, both in volume and complexity. So we scaled our learning outcomes for the one-shot way back — students don’t need to leave their first visit to the library as proficient searchers. We’re establishing a foundation of info lit concepts, and even more importantly, initiating a relationship between student and librarian. What this will mean in practice is two class visits: one informal, where we evaluate sources together with space for discussion, and one where we get into the specifics of database demonstrations and work on actual research for their assignment.

Earlier this month, I presented what I came up with to the rest of the teaching librarians. It was well-received, but funnily enough, someone who’s been at the institution awhile said my plan resembles what they used to do way back when.

I’ve only been in the library biz for about 4 years, so hearing that my “bold new ideas” echo the early 2000s gave me pause. Am I on the right track? Or is there some yet-undiscovered and perfect way to introduce students to types of information and help them tune in to their own critical thinking instincts? I came to the conclusion that there really is nothing under the sun, and we might switch up the methods of delivery as the information landscape evolves, but the goals of information literacy instruction remain the same.

In fact, focusing on the foundational concepts of information literacy is appropriate for English 101 students. I am learning that a good teacher doesn’t flood a student with way too much information on new subject. I have to have faith that the students who want to know more will return, or that another teacher in the future (someone I may never meet) will build on the knowledge I’m helping them create now.

And if our new program is really a callback to a few decades ago, that tells me that technology is not always the perfect tool for learning. When a row of computer screens come between me and the students, I’ve noticed that students are more reluctant to take an active role in the class. Sometimes a worksheet or the chairs pushed into a circle is the simplest way to get students talking.

So after all this research and my fantasy about the elaborate games and software I could use to “transform” the way instruction is done, I came back around and landed where we’ve always started. That was humbling, but I’m excited to start this new year with an open mind about what I can learn from past librarians and future students.

Am I Productive or Just Busy?

Since I’m new to medical libraries / academic medical centers this year, my summer takes a slightly different shape from what I’m used to. We get waves of new users starting at the end of June when the new residents show up, then a new group (nursing, PAs, etc.) every few weeks or so until we also get new undergrad students when the rest of the university does. So we still get the cycle of, “Summer is here; I can finally get everything done; wait, where did the summer go?” but it’s condensed. Late July feels like summer outside but like September in the library!

So I was thinking about how college librarians tend to think of summer as this magical time when we “won’t be busy” and can “get things done.”

I started thinking about this several years ago, when I was just starting to pick up bigger projects, earn more responsibility, present at conferences, etc. Everyone was always talking about how busy they were, and how tiring and stressful it could be, and that they couldn’t get anything done because they were so busy.

Wait… if you’re busy, shouldn’t that mean that you’re getting things done?

Well, no. This may seem obvious, but for confirmation, let’s turn to our good friend, the OED:

  • Busy, adj. “Occupied with or concentrating on a particular activity; actively engaged; doing something that engrosses the attention.”
  • Productive, adj. “Having the quality of producing something, typically through effort or work; that produces, esp. some significant amount or result; creative, generative”

So being busy (without being productive) really is a problem. Playing Sudoku or binge-watching “Stranger Things” counts as “busy.” But to be “productive,” I need to actually be getting things done… with the added caveat that they should be things that need to get done, like research, writing, answering reference questions, teaching classes, etc.

Whenever I catch myself about to say, “I’m so busy!” or “What a busy day I had today,” I stop and ask myself, am I busy or am I actually productive? Ideally, I’ll be able to say “productive” more often than not, and it feels so much more satisfying than saying I’m just busy. Everyone has days where they keep spinning their wheels and nothing gets done. Maybe the internet goes out and prevents you from getting anything done, or there are a lot of little fires to put out. And that’s okay. The goal is to have more actually-productive days than just-busy days.

How you go about making that a reality is, ultimately, up to you. There are as many systems for organization and task/time management as there are people. I, for example, combine the forces of Google calendar, Outlook, and bullet journalling to create a monstrosity of planning that intimidates most who see it. However, when I have too much on my plate, or can’t focus for one reason or another, or have had too many “just-busy” days and not enough “actually-productive” days lately, I condense everything into one Post-It note with five things I really need to buckle down and get done that day. (It’s worth mentioning that I usually combine work and home tasks on Post-It days… for example, one day this week I had this Post-It: “Outline conference proposal; edit ACRLog post; meeting; clean cat litter; mail rent check.”) But this won’t work for everyone, so if you don’t already have a way to keep yourself productive, there are a ton of systems for you to try.

I also use other strategies, like the dedicated Spotify playlist I listen to if I’m writing or editing, getting up and taking a walk, and occasionally when I really need to get something written, Write or Die, which I found thanks to NaNoWriMo a few years ago… you set your own parameters (amount of time, how much needs to be written, and the consequences (like annoying sounds) or rewards (like photos of cute puppies)).

Better bloggers than myself have touched on this topic before right here at ACRLog, so I recommend checking out When Busy Leads to Block; Self-Care: Focusing on You; to consider the difference between busy and productive in the context of meetings, A World with No Meetings?!; and one of the posts that got me thinking about this topic several years ago with the sentence, “Busy-ness is just another social competition,” Lost Time Is Never Found.

What techniques work for you? What have you tried and found wasn’t a good fit for you?