7 Tips for Starting Small and Coping with Overwhelm

I’ve been feeling overwhelmed lately: botched anesthesia during a surgery left me traumatized and everything became too much almost overnight. I’m sure many of you can relate to these feelings of overwhelm, anxiety, and burnout. Kaetrena Davis Kendrick has created so much amazing work librarians experiencing low morale, documenting and validating our journeys as we navigate these difficult feelings and the daily experiences that trigger them. LGBTQ+ librarians, librarians of color, disabled librarians, and those of us who live at the intersections, are especially at risk. As a white, (gender)queer, disabled, femme librarian, I feel this burden intensely, triggered by the recent medical trauma I endured. I decided to be proactive, vulnerable, and brave by talking to my supervisor about taking medical leave and working half-days. I’m grateful that my supervisor is incredibly supportive and has been there the whole way with me.

All this is to say that I’ve been thinking about how to manage the overwhelm by creating strategies that will allow me to survive this so I can once again thrive. I’ve found the key to managing my feelings of “this is too much” is starting small – and practicing radical acceptance and self-love along the way. Today, I want to share seven of those strategies with you.

01. Just start

Just start – and start small! I set a timer for five minutes and get to work. If I feel like I can handle it, I reset the timer and keep going.

02. Brain dumps and mind maps

Do a quick brain dump – or invest in creating a mind map – to manage large tasks and projects. When I do a brain dump, I draw a container and just write down – or as I call it, word vomit – whatever comes to mind, no filters. Mind maps can be a great way to organize a brain dump.

03. The Pomodoro Technique

I use the Pomodoro Technique to manage my time well. First, you choose a task to focus on and set a timer to 25 minutes. Then, you work on the task until your timer goes off and  PUT A CHECK OR STICKER OR WHATEVER YOU WANT ON A SHEET OF PAPER WHICH IS SO REWARDING! Next, you take a short break (5 minutes or so!) and finally for every 4 checks / stickers / whatevers you accumulate, you take a longer break. I use the Forest app on my phone which plants a tree for every 25 minute session you finish (bonus: the tree dies if you use your phone which eliminates one distraction!).

04. Set SMART goals

SMART goals are: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time bound. This system has really helped me set achievable goals and meet my deadlines with precision!

Art by @beckiebeans

05. Time-blocking

Time-blocking is a time management method that divides your day into blocks of time where each block is dedicated to accomplishing a specific task or group of tasks (called task batching) and ONLY those specific tasks I like to color-code my time blocks since I’m a visual learner.

06. Reminders and alarms

Setting up reminders and alarms on my calendar and phone to remind me it’s time to change tasks, go somewhere, meet someone, take my meds, take a break, hydrate, etc., are a lifesaver. Take that lunch break!

07. Affirmations

Utilize the power of affirmations. Remember, you’re doing the best you can and that’s more than good enough. Even if you’re in a situation that’s difficult, challenging, or just flat-out sucks, remember that you can grow, expand, and transform from those experiences. I know I have.

Finally, remember that there’s help available – and please utilize it because you deserve it. 

How do you cope with feeling overwhelmed?

Karina Hagelin is an artist, community organizer, and Outreach and Instruction Librarian and Diversity Fellow at Cornell University Library. You can find them tweeting about critical librarianship and cats under @karinahagelin or more about their work at KarinaKilljoy.com. They can be reached at karina.hagelin@cornell.edu.

Metaphors That Resonate

This Change magazine article, “#HashtagPedagogies: Improving Literacy and Course Relevance Through Social Media Metaphors,” which suggests using social media vocabulary to describe academic concepts that are familiar to faculty and professionals, but not students, has been rattling around my head this month.

The author, Micah Oelze, models his strategy by choosing a central hashtag for lectures and discussions, and teaches students to apply Instagram vocabulary, like hashtags and @ signs, as note-taking symbols in the margins of readings. He says, “By borrowing language from social media, longstanding critical reading strategies can be taught in a way that feels intuitive for students of the millenial and Z generations.” I like how he repurposes the @ sign (used on Instagram to tag other users) to relate another author’s ideas to the text at hand, which supports the “Scholarship as Conversation” frame.

Oelze says this social media language is second-nature to many students, which is why the metaphor is so successful.

“When educators point out the overarching principle and label it with #, something powerful happens. As an automatic reflex, students recognize this is no longer actual text, but rather a concept, one that is distinctively searchable and can be applied to any number of relevant cases.” 

In the classroom, I’ve compared subject headings to hashtags, particularly the hyperlinked subject headings in many of our databases. But I like that this article takes it a step farther, having students organize and “curate” class topics by choosing the hashtags themselves. This is no different than creating metadata or assigning subject headings, but without the scholarly name for it. 

In order to comprehend new information they’re reading, students must be able to make connections that are text-to-self, text-to-text, and text-to-world. Forming connections between the reading and oneself is one of the easiest to teach, and there are excellent prompts to get students thinking about how a text might apply to the world. But I see students struggle to master synthesizing sources with other texts and their own arguments in papers. Using hashtags to track overarching concepts is one great way to practice this text-to-text connection.

A student’s research process, the way they organize information, is an important component to their success. I’m interested in the literal ways that they go about a school project: Do you use Google docs, or citation managers like Noodlebib? Do you write your draft on paper first? Do you outline, or highlight as you read?  I’ve found that the students that have some type of research process, a routine they consistently follow for each project, are more prepared for assignments and able to build on their skills over time. 

In the one-shot classroom, I encourage students to consider their research process. “How I organize my research might not be the best way for you to do it. But it’s important for you to discover the way that works best for you.” When students take ownership over their process, confidence and efficiency emerge. 

If hashtagging your way through a scholarly article helps you connect the concepts, that’s great. A single metaphor won’t resonate with every student, so I’m always looking for new ways to describe this important part of college success. This article got me thinking, and I recommend checking it out! 

Are there ways you communicate scholarly concepts to students so that they’re less intimidating? What are some metaphors you’ve used to translate academic jargon into relatable language?

Image: Pexels

Credentials, Credentials!: Demonstrating Your Potential Value in Academic Libraries

ACRLog welcomes a guest post from Karen Sobel, Teaching & Learning Librarian, Auraria Library, Denver, CO.

The ACRL Webcast that I presented last fall, “Making Yourself Marketable for Academic Librarian Positions” had a particularly lively Q&A session. Attendees shared detailed questions about how different types of credentials and work experience will support their case as they apply for academic librarian positions. In this post, I will respond to eight of the most common questions, moving from easiest to trickiest.

Special shout-out to Rachel Minkin of Michigan State University. In addition to being a wonderful moderator, Rachel managed to copy down and categorize the questions most important to attendees while keeping the presentation running smoothly. Thank you!

And now for the questions:

Does a library school “field experience” that I performed for credit count as work experience?

  • Absolutely! Work is work, no matter whether you received pay, course credit, or simply gratitude for doing it.

Does GPA count for anything?

  • Honestly? Potential employers typically don’t ask for your GPA. I don’t recall ever sharing my library school GPA, except for when I applied to my doctoral program. That said, making a positive impression of your work ethic within your program is important. So are your skills in respectful communication and collaboration, as well as insight and creativity. Your professors may be the ones to recommend you for work experiences that you want to have during library school. They may also serve as references for professional positions. But no, it’s unlikely that anyone will ever ask you to state your GPA. You don’t have to focus on that goal of earning a 4.0.

CV and cover letter: I have a gap in my library work history, how do I talk about it? (In this case, it was to work in K-12 education)

  • This situation is easy to “spin” in a positive way. You chose to spend several years working in a profession that librarians value highly. Depending on the area of academic libraries that you want to work in, you probably built many skills that will support your librarianship—perhaps teaching skills, curriculum building, and so on. You’ll only need to discuss this in a sentence or two in your cover letters. Be sure to phrase it positively: You chose to pursue your interests in K-12 education through studies and work. Now you look forward to returning to academic libraries and applying skills that you’ve developed in multiple settings. You’ll have the chance to discuss this in more detail when you interview.
  • If there’s a period of time where you were not formally employed, whether you were caring for a family member, dealing with medical concerns, searching for work after a lay-off, or another scenario, that gap will show up on your CV or resume. Make sure that you address it in a sentence or two in your cover letters. You can mention your situation in more detail at interviews—but make sure to stick to a level of detail that you and your interviewer will both feel comfortable with. Stay as positive as you reasonably can.

Second master’s degree: Necessary? Not really necessary? Does this mean I’m overqualified? Should I emphasize my second degree?

  • Oh, my goodness—one of the trickiest ongoing debates in academic libraries. Let’s address the easier parts first. I’m going to assume that we’re discussing positions where a second master’s is either preferred or not required. (If it is required, then it’s probably only worth applying if you do have that second master’s—though you can take a chance.)
  • Don’t worry about seeming overqualified due to a second master’s. If no second master’s is required but you have one, it will typically be seen as value added. You have extra expertise in a subject area, PLUS you have additional experience with graduate-level studies and research. Those experiences are worth emphasizing in an interview. Discuss the ways in which your research in the other field would help you to better support faculty and students. This will be true even if you’re interested in a subject specialist position in another field.
  • If you’ve earned your MLIS degree but don’t have another master’s degree, the choice is up to you. Whether candidates with an additional master’s degree are placed above you in a candidate pool depends on the nature of the jobs, as well as on that institution’s values.
  • Many articles and blog posting on this topic exist online. Try searching for “second master’s degree librarians” to find articles with a variety of perspectives. You may want to get more specific with your searching if you’re interested in a type of position that sometimes does require a second master’s.

Can one create their own internship, (i.e. get meaningful experience outside of library school program) and still call it an internship on one’s resume/ cv?

  • Many MLIS students create their own work experiences in one way or another. I did this myself—when I realized that I wanted to gain experience in collection development, I inquired in that department at the library where I was working. A librarian generously offered to train and supervise me in a project that we designed together. My advisor and I were able to arrange for me to receive course credit. Work experiences that you co-design can be incredibly valuable. And yes, you can often call them “internships.” One word of advice is that you should agree with your supervisor on exactly what you will call this work experience on your resume or CV. Regardless of what the two of you decide to call it, you don’t want someone who is serving as a reference for you to sound surprised at the beginning of a reference call.

How I can I use my background in teaching online to market myself for “in-person” instruction positions?

  • When academic libraries hire for instruction positions, they’re looking for a number of qualities and specific areas of experience. These vary, depending on the nature of the position. As colleges and universities offer more and more courses and degrees online, there is increasing demand for instructors who can teach online. If you have experience teaching asynchronously, you already have very marketable skills for those positions: for example, choosing content and creating online teaching materials, and interacting with students online.
  • If you’re looking to move from teaching online (synchronously or asynchronously) to teaching in person, yes, you do have marketable experience with some of the necessary skills. You understand selecting content, creating lesson plans and curricula, and interacting with students. To make yourself more marketable, it’s worth trying to build experience and confidence with day-to-day interactions in the classroom. Find opportunities to work on your teaching confidence, as well as your skills with classroom management. Think broadly: Can you volunteer to teach workshops at your local public library? Could you practice teaching in another group that you’re involved with, such as your child’s scout troop, your church, or another community organization?
  • Different library instruction positions will have different levels of competition. Some may have three applicants; others may have a hundred. You may need to keep trying before you get your first opportunity – but once you have an instruction position, you can build from there.

How can I start building a scholarly record if my MLIS program and/or my current job don’t give me opportunities to do so?

  • Getting started building a scholarly record can feel overwhelming, especially if you don’t have opportunities from your degree program or workplace. It can still feel overwhelming if you do—I’ve been there! (You can learn more about what a scholarly record is beginning on slide 19 of the November 12, 2019 webcast.)
  • I’ll reiterate a couple of points from the webcast for readers who are still enrolled in an MLIS program.
    • It’s unusual that your professors offer writing a manuscript for a scholarly paper as an option for an assignment. However, they’re often open to this as a course final project if you ask well in advance.
    • You may have opportunities to gather data, perform cutting-edge work in informatics or many other subspecialties, or simply to spend significant time thinking about theory and praxis. The data you gather, and the thoughts you put together, can form the basis of articles, presentations, and blog posts when you write them, or later.
    • Speaking of “later”—you can absolutely revisit the work you did during your MLIS and write about or transform it later.
    • Speaking of articles, presentations, and blog posts—remember that a scholarly record usually *doesn’t* begin with peer-reviewed articles. Rather, it often begins with a few thoughtful professional blog posts, a presentation at a local or student-oriented conference, or an article for a professional magazine (“non-peer-reviewed publication”). Look creatively for opportunities to show off your writing and analytical skills. (Check out the slideshow linked above for suggestions on finding opportunities.)
  • If you’re working in the field, you can almost certainly write and create professional or scholarly materials on your own time. That isn’t as great as having work time set aside—but it’s how many librarians start building a scholarly record.
    • Ask your employer if you may write about innovative work that you and your colleague have done. Aim for a professional publication—or for a scholarly one, if you feel that you have the information needed to meet that publication’s requirements. Or present locally—that’s a great way to build recognition for your library as well.
    • Talk with your employer about whether you may analyze data that you have available to serve as the basis for a scholarly manuscript. Or consider designing a project that will ethically gather data about your work. You will need to investigate policies at your institution to make sure that you are following all of their ethical regulations related to patrons and patron data, if applicable. That said, once you’ve made sure that you are following regulations, you’re set for meaningful and productive work.

As always, I look forward to hearing additional questions, as well as insights based on your experiences. Please feel free to comment, or to contact me.

Best of luck to you with your career goals for 2020!

What the Numbers Say and Don’t Say

I am not a numbers person. Likely, due to my humanities background, I am unfamiliar with numbers and also suspicious of them. Yet, I find myself constantly thinking about numbers at work. I count: the number of classes I’ve taught, the number of consultations, the number of conferences I’m going to, the number of hours devoted to committees and service, etc. 

I stare at my current numbers and compare them to past and institutional numbers, which I use as a reference point (or in other words, a benchmark). For example, I noticed that the number of classes I’ve taught this year is less than the number taught in years prior. This drop in numbers bothered me. Am I not working hard enough, doing enough outreach, am I not supporting my colleagues enough, am I being a slacker? My goals as a librarian is focused on student learning and engagement, not increasing numbers, but I found it challenging to ignore what the numbers might say.

I think my preoccupation with numbers is somewhat due to the fact that I am a new librarian. I have no frame of reference, as I can’t draw on my previous experience. I do, however, have access to statistics that we gather about classes, workshops, and consultations, which are reported to the Association of Research Libraries (ARL). After every class, consultation, and reference interaction, I diligently enter stats into a form. I record things like how many students participated, the program/college associated with the interaction, and the duration of the interaction. 

While these numbers provide evidence of the work I’ve done in the past 7 months, in many ways they don’t say much. What is counted, documented, and recorded is limited. The statistics don’t capture the time and labour spent on preparing for and reflecting on a class. They don’t capture the often invisible, maintenance work that Veronica Arellano Douglas wrote about recently. While some qualitative information is recorded, the larger context surrounding a consultation, or a student’s learning journey within a class, or my own feelings and experience with a reference interaction is not accounted for. 

I’ve been getting to know and share the context of all these numbers through conversations with colleagues: sharing a quick anecdote from class, describing a new strategy or activity they tried, or discussing what’s been happening at the reference desk in weekly drop-in meetings. Even if these stories aren’t recorded or documented, they’ve given me a lot of insight into the work that’s happening, more so than the numbers have. 

I’ve been thinking a lot about a talk given by Donna Lanclos a couple months ago at my library about open-ended ethnographic research, and the problems of quantifying library work. In the talk, she points to how numbers are increasingly valued more than qualitative data, even though they provide an incomplete picture. Moreover, she mentions how these numbers are frequently used to make institutional decisions.

In fact, the province I’m located in has introduced a new government funding model based on performance metrics. Meaning numbers related to graduation, employability, skills and competencies, and other measurements will become increasingly important. 

I am not interested in librarianship and higher education that is governed solely by numbers. As I’ve gotten more settled into my work, I’ve spent less time worrying about numbers. I have a better idea of the ebbs and flows of an academic year, and I have my own experience to draw on as a guide. I’ve also been jotting down my experiences and reflections more. Currently, a lot of it is ad hoc, on various pages in my agenda, on sticky notes, and on these blog posts! Hopefully, by the time I write my annual report this summer, I’ll have amassed stories and narratives that will help me convey what the number’s don’t say.

We Have Already Made It

I’ve spent the last few weeks of what has been an unusually hectic start to the semester thinking lots about Emily’s post from last month, Breaking the “Fake It” Habit. If you haven’t read it yet, I recommend that you head on over and do, I can wait. Emily writes about fear of not knowing at work, especially topics or workflows that it seems like everyone else knows, and feeling the pressure to present ourselves as knowledgeable and competent (imposter syndrome, for example).

Emily’s terrific post hit home for me, and I’m planning to share it with all of my colleagues in the library where I work. As the director I strive to create an environment where all library workers in all of our various titles and full-time/part-time status can feel comfortable asking questions, making mistakes, learning and adding to our skill sets. I also struggle with the embarrassment that I’ve felt and feel when I make mistakes, am asked a question I don’t know the answer to, or realize that others around me seem to know something that I don’t. In my best moments I can stall for a bit of composure-regaining time with that classic reference interview opener, “that’s a good question!” But not-knowing is hard: it can make us feel exposed and unworthy, which is an uncomfortable place to be.

In trying to build a habit of being gentle with myself when I’m in that uncomfortable space, I’ve found it helpful to remember that our patrons likely have these same experiences. When we don’t know something we are just like our students, when they come to the library for the first time and aren’t sure how to find what they need. Or our faculty colleagues, who may be newly-hired with prior experience at very different institutions from our own, or who are so busy with their work that they haven’t been able to keep up with announcements about library resources and services.

The university system my college is part of is in the midst of our library services platform migration this year, which, while stressful in many ways, could give all of us the opportunity to build stamina around not-knowing. The system will be new to all of us and used by all of us, from the folx hired just this year to those with 30+ years under their belts, for public services and technical services and everything else our small but mighty library does. No one knows everything, and there are always opportunities for learning in library work. With the migration here I’m hoping we can all — myself included — ask questions when we need to learn more, ask for help when we need it, and be gentle with ourselves, our colleagues, and our patrons.

Emily concludes her post by discussing a new opportunity she’s taking on at her library, and vowing to ask questions and stand in the uncomfortable space of not-knowing. I’m drawing inspiration from her, pushing back on “fake it til you make it,” and reminding myself that we have already made it, because asking questions is part of the job.