The Quiet Solidarity of National Coming Out Day Through Queer Storytelling and Coffee

ACRLog welcomes a guest post from Adrianna Martinez, Reference and Instruction Librarian at New York Institute of Technology.

In the Fall of 2018, I started my first full time librarian position. I work at New York Institute of Technology in Long Island, and I hold the position of reference and instruction librarian. As a queer latinx woman of color, I was (and am still) thrilled to work with such a diverse group of students. The students here are a mix of locals and international students. They come from different economic backgrounds, ethnicity, religious affiliations, and primary languages. I wanted to introduce myself to the NYIT community with instruction and programming that made my approach to academic librarianship clear: to elevate and support underrepresented voices with approachable and critical pedagogy. I want to make the academic library a space that reflects and holds resources for the NYIT community as intellectual individuals, not just their program.

Key to this work is constantly reassessing my language and actions by a) greeting people at the reference desk with gender neutral language b) starting every interaction with my pronouns, and asking for others to do the same c) starting literacy instruction and workshops with a traditional territory acknowledgement.

These practices may seem small but make a great impact on inclusion for the entire community– they have resulted in positive feedback from students as well as an increased interest in research help. Yet, I felt that there was a more visible way to reach those students that have not attended an instruction session by me or stepped foot in the library, which made me think, how can I try to reach those students? One answer was creating space for different kinds of students to feel comfortable in, even if that space is only temporarily highlighted as specifically for them.

One group I wanted to advocate for inclusion in the library was queer folks. The LGBTQIA+ representation on campus was hard to find. For resources, events, even the club itself I found only a sprinkling of information. There was no queer resources page, no official website or office, only an email address to contact. A campus for higher education without visible queer representation can be dangerous, not only for those on the LGBTQIA+ spectrum, but all marginalized people on campus. In making one group seen, it opens the door for others to both see themselves reflected in their institutions and be active about wanting to be represented. The academic library can and should be a center for diverse support and inclusion to better serve its community, as well as motivate the rest of the institution to make change. In order to be a voice for marginalized folks on campus, I inquired about the PRIDE student group and administrative diversity initiatives. I already had an idea for an event that would draw attention to the unique experience of queer folks and wanted to include the community.

Student Life and some members of the PRIDE group relayed to me the reason for such an absence in queer life at NYIT. Safety was the main concern for these students. Some members were not out yet, and others had been harassed on campus, therefore they felt that it was safer to have a closed group. This method did, however, isolate those students not included in the closed group. With this knowledge, it was clear that the first event held by an entity that is not traditionally involved in outreach about inclusion. I needed to create an environment that was approachable for students concerned about outing, invite queer folks outside the group into a space of representation, as well as the general public to encourage allyship.

National Coming Out Day occurs every year in the United States on October 11. It was the perfect opportunity to host an event that created the environment the students appeared to be craving. Coming Out is an activity that can symbolize many modes of being. It exists for queer folks of all kinds and those that exist in the margins; talking about it recognizes those people that experience it without isolating them. For this day, I wanted to create a space on campus that was specifically queer for the entirety of the day.

Creating a temporary queer space in the library for this occasion extends beyond the duration of the event in that space. It shows that the library is a safe space for that community year round as well. The event was located behind a counter created in a pseudo-cafe area near vending machines and a microwave. The space was surrounded by small tables and couches, the most casual space in the library (an important note for not only accessibility but also for comfort and noise level). With such little public representation, an all-day event allowed for students to study in a queer centered environment on camps, something that does not happen often. A full day event that did not require myself to maintain needed to be visual and had to do with storytelling. Free to use tools, and accessible material were essential in the medium choice for this event. As a medium for storytelling, YouTube functioned perfectly. Projected from a mondopad the videos could play all day without issue.

People all over the world share their perspectives and experiences on YouTube. The dialogue about National Coming Out Day had to have individual experiences and perspectives at it’s center. To make this event as inclusive as possible, it needed to reflect culturally diverse experiences, from every part of the LGBTQIA+ spectrum. With this criteria in mind, I created a playlist of stories from the queer community from the material available on YouTube. The playlist was not only composed of queer material but also varying perspectives from allies.

Another element to the playlist was videos from the It Gets Better Project. In 15 minutes of sitting in the cafe drinking coffee one could encounter a video of four tips for coming out to your parents by the parent of a queer child, a video of individuals coming out to their immigrant parents, and a clip from the first National Coming Out Day celebrated on the Oprah Winfrey Show. In another 15 they could encounter a video explaining the concept of two spirit, a Buzzfeed video of individuals talking about how they felt before and after coming out, as well as someone talking about the similarities in coming out in the queer community and coming out in the disabled community. The mix of experiences and moments of high impact in American culture to do with the LGBTQIA+ community that a student may be discovering for the first time created an environment of curiosity for everyone involved.

My role after the playlist was set up for presentation was to invite people into discussion about coming out. To maintain a casual tone of the event, I made coffee for anyone that stopped by. If a student just wanted coffee, while the coffee brewed, I told students what the event was about, and if they knew what National Coming Out Day was celebrating. I would highlight information about the current video playing and allowed the student/s to direct the conversation. Some students discussed in brief their own coming out story, or asked questions which I answered on an individual level, and one even came out to me and we discussed in depth family dynamics and whether he would feel comfortable coming out to them, or if he wanted to stay in the closet until he felt more independent.

This kind of event has never been hosted by NYIT before, to build community in this way, especially not by a librarian, which makes this event significant not only for the queer community but for all marginalized groups. In entering the event space on October 11 students were exposing themselves to voices that had not been elevated on campus before. Whether they were getting an extra caffeine jolt, or working while quietly listening or even just heard about the event; this made an impact. It showed that the library space is for the entire NYIT community, and we as librarians are conscious that representation matters.

I felt the real impact after the event ended. The event sparked a trust among the queer students and myself. Some students would find me in the library to share with me their experiences on campus as queer folks. The planning and follow through of this event allowed me to have a platform show my support for the community even when they didn’t ask for it. In doing so, it built a trust between myself and the closed PRIDE group that benefits the entire NYIT community. I am now working with the PRIDE group to become their adviser.

As a member of the queer community, I am personally invested in supporting the NYIT LGBTQIA+ folks during my time here. However, one does not need to be a part of a marginalized group in order to support them in a forward facing way. This kind of event does not require a lot of materials or space. Especially in a reference and instruction there are simple steps that one can take in order to make students feel visible. Solidarity and representation is happening on many fronts of librarianship: from the reimagining of knowledge organization systems, to archival work, but there is more to be done, especially on the fronts of outreach and instruction at the academic level. The process of inquiring about an underrepresented group can be an act of advocacy. Communities change through allyship and conversation.

An academic library can exist as many things, including a center for reflection and self growth, not just scholarly thought. If underrepresented populations are not placed into these spaces, it is a disservice to the community. This is just one example of a way that outreach at an academic level can exist that strengthens the queer community. In the upcoming months I will be bolstering the library’s collection in order to fill in the intellectual gaps here, as well as creating a library guide about LGBTQIA+ resources through the library and beyond. This is only the beginning of my time at NYIT, but it is not the beginning of this train of thought. On a commuter campus like NYIT it is hard to make an impact that leaves an impression of what someone can get out of the library; adding queer solidarity and acceptance to that list may motivate more students to seek them out.

How I’m setting my goals for this year

When I started at my job four months ago, one of my first tasks after getting settled was to write out a list of goals for the year. All the librarians here do this as part of the evaluation process, and for me personally I’ve found it very helpful to be able to look back at my written goals in order to figure out what I should be working on during any given day. That said, what with the new year and the new semester fast approaching, it felt like it was time to reevaluate my priorities in order to assess the progress I’ve made so far and to work better next semester.

My first step in this process was thinking about where I want to be at the end of the semester and in a year’s time in terms of knowledge, skills, and experience. For the most part, this has meant figuring out what I need to learn to feel more capable of carrying out my job. For me, this covers all sorts of things: learning more about faculty research interests, learning more about the collection I manage, learning more about South Asia, learning more about LibGuides. Basically, I started out by thinking about where I want to be and what I need to learn to get there.

Then comes the part I’m more excited about. For every goal, I’ve made a list of actions to complete in order to achieve it. For most of these actions, I’ve made them general enough that they can be repeated over and over to build experience or knowledge. For example, in order to learn more about my subject areas, I’ve decided to read at least one monograph per month (that I would not otherwise have set aside time for) and one journal article per week. Or, in order to increase accountability, I’ve decided to update my work journal every Friday. I’m now working on scheduling recurring reminders for these tasks in my to do list so that I can better integrate them into my work week.

Since I’m still new, a lot of my goals have to do with learning and exploring, but so far I’ve found that this method of scheduling repeating tasks works for other goals as well. You can schedule time to review calls for papers or book chapters or time to work on developing instruction skills or working on lesson plans. In the same way that some people schedule every task on their calendar in order to make sure they get done, this method makes sure tasks appear on my to do list consistently. It also helps to establish a routine so I know that, for example, I’ll be reminded at the end of each month to organize my reading for the next month.

For me, this technique also works because (as with so many people before me) I’m still working out how to deal with all the freedom my job affords me. With this method, I’m able to divide up my time based on priorities to make sure things don’t fall by the wayside (as definitely happened sometimes this past semester).


What about you? How do you like to organize your time and goals? What new resolutions do you have for this semester or year?

Weaving It Together

Image from "Technology of textile design. Being a practical treatise on the construction and application of weaves for all textile fabrics, with minute reference to the latest inventions for weaving" by E.A. Posselt is in the public domain. Courtesy of the Internet Archive via Flickr.
Image from “Technology of textile design. Being a practical treatise on the construction and application of weaves for all textile fabrics, with minute reference to the latest inventions for weaving” by E.A. Posselt (1899) is in the public domain. Courtesy of the Internet Archive via Flickr.

I recently finished writing my narrative statement for my second year tenure review file. It felt like pulling teeth. The statement required me to weave together the aspects of my work as well as my research and service to tell a meaningful personal story about my professional purpose and goals. The other sections of the file–the description of accomplishments, presentations and publications, committee work, etc.–were a piece of cake by comparison. I’m not sure why the statement felt quite so difficult, but, boy, did it ever.

All my teeth-gnashing about my narrative statement made me think about a program I developed with colleagues this semester, a series of panel discussions that we called “From Concept to Creation: Uncovering the Making of Scholarly and Creative Accomplishments.” We developed this program in order to celebrate the work of our faculty and staff. Even more importantly, though, the idea for this series grew out of a desire to share stories within our campus community about how we engage in research and creative work. We wanted to host conversations about process, not just product. In sharing a behind-the-scenes look at their work, we were hoping panelists would reveal their steps and stages, but also the information literacy and digital literacy skills, habits, and attitudes that were important to each project. I was excited about the potential of this panel series because I think uncovering process is not just interesting, but empowering. And by increasing the transparency of their component parts, we hoped these kinds of research experiences might feel more approachable to our students.

In conversations with panelists as we prepared for the series, we offered guiding questions they might consider as they prepared their remarks like the following: How did you take your first steps?, How did you ask questions?, How did you identify a path for your research?, How did you engage with other scholars’ work on the topic to develop your own?, How did your work change course during the process?, What attitudes were important to your process?, What skills and tools were key to your process?, How did you gather/organize/analyze data?, How did you draw conclusions?, and What did you learn along the way?.

I had imagined panelists would likely select a particular publication or project and discuss some aspects of its development. Instead, most chose to talk about their undergraduate experiences and their entry into graduate work or their field. Panelists described choices they made, challenges they encountered, and how their paths changed over time. Embedded in each of their stories, too, were practices and perspectives related to information literacy that seemed to me to have been crucial to their process.

What strikes me most now, though, is how each panelist interpreted the program theme and the guiding questions and how they chose to tell the story of their work. When my collaborator and I asked our colleagues to talk about their research processes, I didn’t give much thought to how personal their stories might be. As I reflect on the difficulty I felt in drafting my narrative statement, I’m thinking about the balance I, too, was trying to strike. I’m thinking now about how we weave together process and purpose, personal and professional to help focus and understand our work.

Tales from an Unintentional Science Liaison

I’m sure this comes as a surprise to literally no one, but I have a B.A. in English Literature, which, along with History, is one of the most common, librarian backgrounds. Many of the librarians at my current workplace have a similar background to my own, though some librarians have second Master’s degrees in areas outside of librarianship. At my workplace, librarians are given collection development and liaison duties to different subject areas, and if you have a second Master’s degree in, say, Business Management, you’ll most likely be the liaison in that subject area. You’ll build relationships with faculty in that department, purchase materials related to that subject area, and teach information literacy to students taking classes in that subject. Librarians who have worked at the library for a while have obtained liaison duties in areas that fit their backgrounds or interests. As the newest librarian at my workplace, I was left with slim pickings, which is how I ended up as a liaison to biology and environmental science.

I have a tiny bit of background in environmental science from my work with both the National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management while getting my MLIS; however, it wasn’t the sciency stuff I was doing. I created online content and digital collections, which was super cool and in line with my library degree, but gave me no understanding of mechanical girdling and bark beetle fungi. As for biology, the last class I’d taken in that subject area was my freshman year of high school. Suffice it to say that these liaison subjects are not in my wheelhouse. Goodbye, Austen; hello, Darwin.

When I was first given biology and environmental science as liaison areas, I felt, and still do feel, that I would face some challenges establishing myself as the go-to person in these areas. For example, I was told that that library hadn’t done instruction in these subjects for a while, so it might be hard to get into classes. I had no idea how I was supposed to purchase books for biology because I wasn’t sure how to assess our current collection. Biology is basically every living thing ever, so it felt daunting to try and build a collection that encompassed all areas of life with such a limited budget. I also wasn’t sure how I’d connect to faculty with a PhD in areas I knew little about. At first I thought, maybe I’ll learn some stuff about plants so that I can contribute to a conversation. This turned out to be a bad idea because I can name about four houseplants while one faculty member was able to identify every type of grass on campus by sight. As Zoë recently talked about, the liaison imposter syndrome was real. How was I supposed to become a science liaison?

At the beginning of the semester, I decided to individually email all faculty members in my liaison area to introduce myself, let them know I would buy them stuff, and offer to come to their classes and talk to their students about research. This kind of worked. I got some responses thanking me, some requesting a particular book, and one or two who seemed interested in having me come to a class. I found the most luck in a new faculty group. Any faculty member who was new to campus was invited to a retreat and a learning community so that we could get to know the university and each other. There were three biology faculty in this group, and I was able to talk to and get to know them over the course of several days. They later invited me to their classes. Building in-person relationships was valuable to establishing myself as a liaison.

Building relationships with faculty is important to me, but I really wanted to support students and their information needs. I was initially concerned that students would balk at my un-scientific background and I felt most nervous about teaching a Master’s in Biomedical Sciences class at the beginning of the semester. I was to talk to them about scientific, primary literature, which I know a lot about, but I definitely felt out of my element talking to students who were working in medical fields and knew much more about bio-med than I did. It turns out, I didn’t need to worry. After teaching the class, multiple students scheduled consultations with me, not because they needed my limited knowledge about biology, but because they were still not confident they could identify primary, scientific literature; weren’t sure how to narrow down their topics; needed help with APA; or wanted help organizing their research.

What I learned from these consultations is that I don’t need to be an expert in biology to talk about research and information literacy to biology students (though I know our field is divided about who gets to be qualified for science librarianship). This was true for master’s students, and I had one memorable consultation with a student where we were trying to find information on receptors, and both outwardly cringed at a very jargon-heavy article title. We were instantly on the same page; neither of us wanted to click on that article because the title sucked and we had no idea what it was talking about. For the freshman biology courses I taught, I needed even less subject-specific knowledge because I know about as much about biology as freshmen do. What does a biology freshman need to know about research anyway? Probably the same as freshmen in other fields, which includes finding, identifying, understanding, and synthesizing sources into their own research (amongst other information skills).

I also realized that I know more about my liaison areas than I thought I did. For instance, I may not be able to describe every scientific fact driving climate change, but I am familiar with the conversations surrounding climate change, the change in terminology over time, the contentious and political nature of the subject, and that there is a scientific consensus that climate change is happening. I also know that genetics, CBD receptors, concussions, maternal mortality in the US, polio reemergence, cancer immunotherapy, antibiotic resistance, and renewable energy are hot topics right now as well. Guess what students are writing about? If I remain up-to-date on scientific news and understand the general conversations surrounding those topics, I’ll know what students care about researching. If I don’t know something about a subject, students have been really cool about sharing their own knowledge about a topic, and I get to learn something new.

Remaining up-to-date with student work and research trends is something that I can do on my own campus as well. I think it’s important for me to support student and faculty scholarship, especially in my liaison areas. I recently attended an event where students in science departments shared posters of the research they’d conducted over the semester. Biology faculty were there and several students I’d worked with over the semester were sharing their work. They were very excited to talk to me about their research and some students recognized me from classes or consultations. In fact, one of the biology faculty members introduced me to a student as the biology librarian, and the student responded, “I know. She talked to my class about primary research.” I’m considering everything about that interaction as a win.

Though I’m achieving small victories and growing my confidence that I can be a good liaison, most days, I feel a little anxious and unsure about what I’m doing. Collection development is still tricky, but luckily, I have colleagues that know this subject area fairly well and can help, and faculty in biology have made their own requests for materials. There’s also subject lists and all sorts of resources to help me figure out what materials to purchase. I still haven’t connected with every faculty member in my liaison area, and I’m not sure if I’ll ever be able to. Despite the challenges, I’m enjoying science liaisonship more than I thought I would. I hope that my confidence continues to grow and I become even better at supporting the research needs of my institution.

Are you a subject liaison? What are your experiences with librarian liaison roles?

How to Make it to Winter Break

It’s finally here: Finals Week. I’ve been reflecting on the emotional state of our students – I see a blend of exhaustion, procrastination, and shame that forms a vicious cycle in the last month of the semester. And although I’m not facing exams or major papers, I can relate. In fact, the general atmosphere of the library this time of year can make those emotions pretty infectious. Here’s how I’ve coped with the cycle of weariness and urgency in December.

Am I exhausted or burned out?

“Burnout” is a word I throw around, and sometimes I conflate actual burnout (chronic exposure to workplace stress) with ordinary fatigue. Kevin Harwell wrote an article called Burnout Strategies for Librarians that helped me understand the difference.

A key element of burnout is depersonalization, where you start to see your library patrons as “queries, questions, or cases, rather than people.” When students approach the desk and my first reaction is dread, that’s when I know it’s time to take a break and recharge. For me, this increased cynicism is the major symptom, but it’s not the only facet of burnout. The other two major pieces of burnout are overwhelming exhaustion and “a sense of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment.”

So if you’re dead-tired, you’ve started to see your daily responsibilities as irritating stressors, and you can’t remember why you signed up for all this in the first place – congratulations, you have something in common with students at finals week. But for students and librarians alike, there may be a remedy!

Of course the long-term remedy is to take meaningful breaks and adjust your workload. But it’s December; many of us just need a solution to get us to the winter break. These are the strategies I’ve use when I feel like my resources are all but used up. My recommendations come in the form of two mental exercises:

  1. List your accomplishments
  2. Practice compassion (for others and yourself)

List Your Accomplishments

I happened upon this exercise by accident, but I found it surprisingly meaningful. First, make a list of the things you’ve achieved this year. It can be as granular or as general as you’d like. I focused on professional accomplishments from 2018, but you could incorporate your personal achievements or progress you’ve made on creative or financial goals as well.

Then I found someone who was willing to hear me read off this list of accomplishments. Maybe you already have some kind of check-in with your supervisor at the end of the year, or maybe you can pull your best work friend aside for a few minutes while you toot your own horn. I read my list to my husband, and it was meaningful to share how much I’d learned in one year.

Creating a list of your accomplishments might offset how motivation seems to dry up in December. This exercise helped me say to myself, “I know you don’t feel motivated and you just wish it was Winter Break already. But look at all you did get done this year.” The burned-out feeling of inefficacy, the sense of diminished personal accomplishment, can be counterbalanced by an objective list of things you did indeed achieve.

While I haven’t assigned this exercise to any of my students, I’ve been able to informally remind them of the ways I’ve seen them grow over the semester. Being reminded of how far you’ve already come may be a useful jolt to help you cross the finish line.

Practice Compassion

Shame is a major emotion students are feeling this time of year. Shame prevents them from moving forward on projects, even as due dates draw perilously near. It discourages them from asking help. I’ve been thoughtful about how I contribute to an environment of shame, and how I can instead encourage self-compassion.

I’ve talked with faculty who believe that intense pressure can force better academic results from students. After all, if they’re just “lazy” and carelessly procrastinating all semester, then the “tough love” of a scary deadline could be an effective motivator. However, I’ve read some blogs and essays by educators who insist that a shaming approach is counterproductive. Instead, Leslie Bayers and Eileen Camfield call for “academic empathy”:

“Brené Brown offers a definition of shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love” (60). She observes that shame produces fear, risk-aversion, and the creation of a negative shame spiral. In Brown’s description, shame has no prosocial effects: “Researchers don’t find shame correlated with positive outcomes at all—there are no data to support that shame is a helpful compass for good behavior” (72)…shame not only hurts students but in fact also creates barriers to equitable teaching and learning.”

In fact, even the “lazy student” trope should be interrogated. Devon Price critiques the myth of the lazy student better than I can in this piece on Medium:

People love to blame procrastinators for their behavior. Putting off work sure looks lazy, to an untrained eye. Even the people who are actively doing the procrastinating can mistake their behavior for laziness. You’re supposed to be doing something, and you’re not doing it — that’s a moral failure right? That means you’re weak-willed, unmotivated, and lazy, doesn’t it?

For decades, psychological research has been able to explain procrastination as a functioning problem, not a consequence of laziness. When a person fails to begin a project that they care about, it’s typically due to either a) anxiety about their attempts not being “good enough” or b) confusion about what the first steps of the task are. Not laziness. In fact, procrastination is more likely when the task is meaningful and the individual cares about doing it well.

Most librarians react with compassion when we watch students ride the procrastination/shame spiral. But is it as easy for you to be compassionate to yourself? Shortly after graduating my therapist advised me to let go of the need to be perfect, to strive for personal excellence instead. (This is the grown-up version of “Just try your best.”)

So the message I want to communicate to my colleagues and my students this time of year is: be gentle with yourself. Shame makes us isolate ourselves and berate ourselves for not doing enough, but it’s counterproductive. Take your time. Take breaks. Ask for help. You got this.