Transitioning Supervision Models

Three years ago I would start my day by opening a restaurant – taking down the chairs, laying out the silverware, starting the coffee, turning on the food warmers, setting up the bar, and commiserating with coworkers. On long days, I would end my day 14 hours later closing up a different restaurant – putting up the chairs, rushing the silverware back to the dish pit, dumping out the old coffee, tearing down the server station, and sweeping the floors. In those moments, I was quietly working by myself or catching up with a coworker. In either case, I was free from supervision – the front of house manager was usually counting money somewhere or just relaxing in an office with a coffee or beer depending on the shift. I mostly enjoyed working in the food service industry, particularly in the moments when my coworkers and I were free to exist and work without being monitored and surveilled.

There are a myriad of difficulties that come with transitioning from food service industry work to library and information science work, but one of the most bizarre has been the transition away from a strict supervision model. As a food service industry worker I was often micro-managed in my work and there were specific workflows. There was little room for creativity or taking time for self-care. As I transitioned to a gig as a reference graduate assistant, I found that I had more freedom but still had guidance. Projects and tasks were defined for me, workflows were mostly established without my input, but I was not micromanaged or surveilled. I enjoyed the work that I did and I learned a ton, but I still longed to define my own projects and workflows.

As it turns out, that freedom is a bit of a double edged sword. In my current role as a librarian, I have generally defined goals from the strategic plan of our library and my job posting, but my path is totally up to me. This has been a little anxiety inducing. While I know that I could reach out to my colleagues at any time, the nagging thoughts loom: You’re doing it wrong! You don’t know what you’re doing! Shouldn’t you have someone check your work?! These thoughts are vestiges from work and education experiences past. The reality is, I know that in choosing my own projects and pursuing my own workflows, I am able to bring a unique and valuable approach to the tasks at hand. But how do I ward off those nagging thoughts?

A few strategies have been helpful in combatting the ever present self-doubt. One is regular communication with my colleagues and peers. It has been particularly encouraging to have honest conversations with folks that have more experience. One of my colleagues told me they regularly ask themselves what the heck they are doing. Which helps remind me that being cautious and critical is natural and can be positive!

I’ve also found it helpful to stay connected with librarians through social media and regional and national library organizations. I’ve been able to ask questions when I need to, but often times I find that just reading and hearing that other librarians are struggling with similar issues and even making similar decisions has been helpful.

I do miss the work I did as a food service industry worker, but I don’t miss the strict supervision model. Librarianship comes with its own responsibilities and challenges, but also rewards! Some have said that imposter syndrome never really goes away. While I hope that this is not true, I suspect that I wouldn’t be a critical and creative librarian without a good healthy dose of self-doubt.

Facilitating Class Conversations: Learning to Listen

Last month, my institution hosted a workshop on facilitating discussions on difficult issues, specifically in the classroom. We discussed how to engage in constructive dialogue and practiced handling unanticipated remarks that fall outside of our comfort zone. 

The first half of the workshop focused on active listening. The facilitator acknowledged that listening is hard; it’s a low-incentive, low-reward task, but it’s important. She shared a few tips for being a better listener:

  • Slow down. Aim to contemplate ideas, not to come to agreement in one conversation. Tell yourself, “Nothing has to be settled tonight.”
  • Give your full attention. If it’s a controversial or personal subject, put your phone on silent and try to be present.
  • Work from the assumption that all voices have something valuable to contribute. Be sincerely curious about and even grateful for what they have to say.

She also shared tips for speaking to be heard:

  • Be transparent about your own positions.
  • Slow down. Again, aim to explain, not persuade or convince.
  • Use your own language and where possible, ground your ideas in stories about yourself, that connect your ideas to your underlying values.
  • Move away from media talking points.

We also discussed the characteristics of a Brave Space, as coined by Brian Arao and Kristi Clemens. We want to foster a space of respect for one another, where students are listening to understand, and are willing to experience some discomfort so they can learn. 

But when someone says something problematic, either before class or as part of a class discussion, it can be easy to freeze and not know how to respond. I know my first instinct is to correct the record as quickly as possible, but that may shut the student down or make them feel ganged up on, which is not productive. 

The workshop suggested that in a moment of conflict, suggest to the whole class, “Let’s take a moment to breathe.” Inserting a moment to pause before responding is important, and gives us a chance to choose the best response.

If you’re like me and you devour advice columns like sugary cereal, you may be familiar with the idea of “scripts” for awkward social situations. What do I say when my neighbor makes a weird comment about my body? How do I ask my boss for a raise? This workshop shared strategies and scripts to address unpopular comments from students:

  • “I understand why you’d feel that way/That’s a common view. But what if…”
  • “Under what circumstances might you feel/act in the same way?”
  • “It can be tough bringing up an opposing view. It helps us better understand why this is such a difficult issue to discuss.”
  • “I’m sure this wasn’t the intent of that comment, but that stereotype is harmful because…”
  • Validate someone’s feelings even if their perspective is not based in fact.
  • Focus on what was problematic in a student’s comment, rather than calling someone racist or sexist.
  • Address your comments to the class as a whole, rather than zeroing in on the student who spoke.

There is clearly a difference between dissent and bigotry. The workshop emphasized that expressions of hatred or contempt are not to be tolerated in the classroom, and when a student uses slurs or other microaggressions, that should be interrupted. For example, you might remind the students of the established rules of engagement for the class: “Using a word like that is not showing respect to your classmates.”

Their final takeaways:

  • Accept that you can’t make everyone feel comfortable all the time.
  • Accept that you may not be able to change a student’s values.
  • If you offend someone, own it and do better next time.
  • Don’t expect to be a perfect facilitator all the time: We are all unlearning and growing!

Student clubs and making zines

Slowly but surely we’re making it through this fall semester. For a librarian focused on student engagement and outreach, this semester has been a pivot (probably a large understatement). As Valerie discusses in her first FYAL post, part of the challenge for our work is finding ways to connect with our students. With limited hours and closed spaces, our normal outreach strategy “Let’s host an event, market it, but also know some students will wander in” doesn’t work. It’s been a moment to stop and reset. I’ve tried to ask myself (and the students I work with) what do they need to survive this semester. In asking those questions, some events we would normally host in-person get cut. At the same time, I’ve hosted events this semester and sat patiently in a Zoom room for 15 minutes with no other participants, before calling it off. I’m sure I’m not alone in that experience. All of this is to say I’ve been thinking a lot about how outreach and student engagement work tie into the larger university experience. How do we create programs that help our students do the things they value doing, especially in a moment where our uncertainty for 2020 and 2021 is visible and present in every meeting and interaction? 

One way we’ve been exploring these ideas is through direct programs for student clubs. We were lucky that the past two years our student engagement & outreach intern (and colleague), Lily, built relationships with a couple of active student clubs, Triota and Schreyer for Women. In pre-pandemic times, we hosted book clubs and zine workshops with these students. We always had a good turnout and the students seemed excited to partner with the Libraries. As the fall semester began, we turned out attention to finding a way to do at least one program with these clubs. Some colleagues and I got together to plan these events. We chose zines and specifically thinking about ways to tie it in with women’s activism and voting, due to the impending election and a theme around women’s activism that is being sponsored by our Liberal Arts College. Our plan was to host a virtual zine workshop and include scanned copies of materials from our Special Collections and university archives. We figured we could put together packets of zine-making materials and either send them to students or coordinate a pick-up time if the student was on campus. 

Both clubs were interested and we got to work setting up Zoom registration links and zine-making packets. This past week we led the two workshops and it was wonderful to spend an hour with these students. We made zines, talked about Halloween costumes, and discussed our voting plans. We laughed, had moments of silence, and shared stories with one another. Our hour together flew by and I got off each call feeling more hopeful than I had been when I logged on. It was nice to craft and to mentally prepare for whatever next week will bring. I’m sharing my papers from my zine below, along with the prompts in case you too are interested in making a zine. Figuring out new ways to do outreach and engagement definitely keeps me on my toes but at the end of the day, it’s always nice to connect with our students. 



Our zine prompts (for an 8 page zine):

 Guided question
Cover Up to you!
#2What are three words that sum up how you’re feeling about the 2020 election?
#3Tell us about the first time you voted and or an election that was (or is) important to you
#4What does activism mean to me?
#5
#6How was your definition/meaning of activism changed over time?
#7What work is left to do?
BackWhat gives you hope for the future?

A shout out to my colleagues, Angel Diaz, Clara Drummond, and Danica White for collaborating on these events! I hope there are many more zine workshops in the future.

Librarianship in the Time of COVID

As I write this, I’m entering my third month as an Outreach and Engagement Librarian. I’m excited to be starting this new position in a new field, but must admit that this is a strange time to be starting anything well…new. Yet, 2020 has been nothing but new adjustments in our household as we also welcomed a baby in the spring during the height of the pandemic.

It has now been eight months since the pandemic began and the campus remains quiet as students learn remotely. Faculty are teleworking, and with little reason to be there, most students are scattered as well. This means that I’m doing outreach and engagement from my bedroom rather than on campus. I quickly realized that I was presented with a challenge: I need to “put myself out there” on campus without being there.

I realized that to do my job I needed to be proactive and reach out to others rather than simply walking over to their offices. This has involved reaching out individually to campus members who typically work with the library, like the writing and student success centers. I’ve looked into a social media plan and am dusting off our old library newsletter. What has been far more challenging is finding ways to replicate online the student experience in the library. This is something that I continue to mull over in my mind. How can I create an online experience that is even a shadow of the one in person?

It is an honor to work with these students and I can’t believe that I get paid to talk about the library. Still- I can’t help reflect about the bizarre and terrifying situation unfolding in parallel with my work. I’m trying to ensure that we highlight the ways that students can receive basic care: counseling services, food assistance, help with utilities, alongside information literacy and citation help. My brain almost can’t process this dichotomy, but I suppose there is no time like the present to start trying.

Re-envisioning an Instruction Program with Critical Information Literacy in Mind

My name is Kevin Adams and I am one of the new First Year Academic Librarian (FYAL) bloggers! My pronouns are he/him/his. I am interested in critical information literacy, pedagogy, all things punk, and a bunch of other stuff. I am so happy to be writing for this blog and I hope that by sharing some of my experiences I can spark some fun conversations or just brighten somebody’s day.

I am the Information Literacy Librarian at Alfred University. Alfred University is a small private university in a little village in upstate New York. The closest city of note is Rochester. Because Alfred University is so small, I am one of eight librarians (including the dean and director). I don’t want to speak too much to other librarians’ workloads, but suffice to say we all have a lot of different responsibilities. One responsibility that we all share is instruction, and in my new position I find myself leading the instruction team. In this post I want to share my experience navigating reconstructing an information literacy program shaped by Critical Information Literacy. I hope to share what my goals are, what some of my strategies are, and the challenges I have faced.

Goals

The United States is a hell scape. Late stage capitalism is siphoning money from the working and middle class folks in this country to support billionaires’ and corporations’ hoarding habits; cops are continuing to murder innocent black and brown folks with no significant repercussions; climate change is driving natural disasters that are forcing people from their homes; innocent immigrants are being held in concentration camps where agents of the state are carrying out forced sterilizations; over 200,000 people have died in the United States from COVID-19; and the list goes on. I am aware of this, my colleagues are aware of this, other teaching faculty at my university are aware of this, and students are ABSOLUTELY aware of this. So, creating a standard information literacy program that doesn’t recognize what is going on in the world felt totally useless. For this reason, and others, I am trying to create an information literacy program that integrates Critical Information Literacy (CIL) throughout the instruction design and delivery process.

CIL is not the answer to all of the problems that I have listed above, but it is an approach that does not actively ignore the situation that we find ourselves in. CIL is an approach to information literacy that is informed by critical theory and critical pedagogy. It recognizes that information is not neutral or objective; rather, it reflects social, political, and economic power systems and privileges. CIL engages with learners as contributors in the classroom to investigate, understand, and use the contours of information structures and manifestations (Wong and Saunders, 2020). In many ways, this is an approach to information literacy that uses a social justice lens. 

This approach has two elements: 1) a deep understanding that information and libraries are not neutral, and 2) a centering of students in the classroom stemming from an understanding that students are important, active agents in the classroom. This agency allows students to contribute their ideas, experiences, and even expertise.

Strategies

When I applied and interviewed for this position, I centered my commitment to an inclusive information literacy program that, if possible, would implement CIL. Keeping this method front and center in my communications with potential new colleagues set the stage for me to have challenging conversations about neutrality and the role of instruction librarians as I began my new position.

Fast forward to my first month on the job. After getting acclimated to the new culture and climate of the position as best I could over Zoom, I started putting together a written Information Literacy Plan. I found myself in a unique position. Due to some shifts in the library prior to my joining, the previous instruction models were still primarily based on the ACRL Standards. This created a need for a new plan that centered the ACRL Framework. In filling this need, I saw an opportunity to incorporate CIL as a basic tenet of the Information Literacy Plan.

In order to tie the Information Literacy Plan into the values of my library and university, I consulted the strategic plans and mission and values statements for each. Alfred University strives to be “outside of ordinary” and uses language about inclusivity and diversity, affecting individual students, and changing the world for the better. While this type of branding sometimes leaves an unsavory taste in my mouth, it has allowed me to connect the CIL goals of social justice and inclusivity to the broader goals of the university. This has proven to be a failsafe as the White House has released statements that attack Critical Race Theory, an important theoretical foundation for CIL.

Implementing a plan for information literacy that negates that libraries and information are neutral from the very first page might not be possible at all institutions and might be highly controversial at others. In addition to creating a plan that ties in the values of the university, I worked closely with library administration. The Dean of Libraries at my institution is very sympathetic to social justice issues and information literacy. He has provided ample support for this idea from the outset. This has been extremely helpful in drumming up support for the idea amongst the other librarians, all of whom have been very receptive.

CIL does not exist in a vacuum. I was thrilled to find that AU libraries were actively working on a commitment to anti-racism and anti-oppression. In this commitment the librarians showed that they were already thinking about many of the concepts that inform a CIL approach, for example anti-racism, false neutrality in academic spaces, the history of white supremacy in libraries, etc. Finding ways to talk to fellow librarians about these topics created fertile ground for the seeds of CIL.

Challenges

A little over a month ago I introduced the librarians to the Information Literacy Plan. The plan is still a living document and will be adapted as necessary, but it lays out a shared groundwork that can inform each librarian’s instruction practice. The plan was so well received that I nearly cried after sharing. It can be difficult to find high points this semester, but that was certainly one of them.

In spite of how well received the plan was, explaining and implementing it is and will continue to be challenging. Most of the instruction practices at my institution have, up until recently, been primarily informed by the ACRL Standards. Updating the program to include both the ACRL Frameworks and CIL is a dramatic shift. While working with fellow librarians that are excited and curious, I continue to find myself asking and answering new questions about how to best connect with and platform students in the classroom.

These challenges are compounded by the fact that all our instruction sessions have been online this semester. Centering students in a meaningful way during a one shot can be challenging in any circumstance. Add to that Zoom fatigue, frequent technical difficulties, and all the social, political, and environmental challenges weighing on our minds in 2020. JEEZE. It is not easy, and feeling encouraged by or excited about a session is becoming a rare occurrence.

I am still figuring out new strategies to overcome these challenges. I am excited to continue to share about this and other new developments in my first year as an academic librarian! I would be thrilled to speak with anyone about what this process has looked like, share strategies, or just commiserate. You can reach me by email, or hit me up on twitter @a_rad_librarian.