Bad Art Day in the (Academic) Library

Last week, I hosted Bad Art Day, my second public program at Carroll Community College. Bad Art Day (or usually, Bad Art Night) is a popular program at public libraries, and it’s something I’ve wanted to try at an academic library for a while. The concept is pretty self-explanatory: you set out a bunch of art supplies and tell participants to go to town trying to make the ugliest piece of art that they can. 

This program had simple objectives: Creativity is messy. It’s ok to make mistakes. You don’t have to be a perfectionist. I even quoted Jake the Dog from Adventure Time: “Sucking is the first step towards being sort of good at something.”

"Dude, sucking at something is the first step towards being sort of good at something," Jake the Dog quote

I made a call for donated art supplies through our faculty newsletter, and got most of our art supplies this way! The only thing I needed to purchase was a selection of glues (glitter, stick), because all the donated glue was dried out. 

I was anticipating that it would be a hard sell to get students to stop, sit down, and do an active-participation event. I was truly bracing myself to paste on a smile and say “well, sometimes the programs are a bust,” and dutifully clean up my art supplies. Instead, we had 17 participants, including a few faculty members! 

Student making bad art using art supplies
An artist at work

Since starting programming in Fall 2021, our participation has been surprisingly good; there has been a real appetite for screen-free, face-to-face, low-stakes activities on this campus.

Students came between classes, they brought friends, and they chatted with each other while creating. The program was self-explanatory and students were eager to dig in to the art supplies. For the Bad Art Contest, I had the students give their pieces titles, which added to the humor and depth of the entries. 

After Bad Art Day, I created little table-tents with each artist’s name and the title of their pieces, then put them all on display in the library lobby. Students could come see the ugly art, and could even vote on their favorites! Having the art on display stretched the program into the rest of the week; just about everyone who came into the library stopped to look and chuckle at the pieces.

Photo of Bad Art on display across two folding tables
The titles that the students chose were widely regarded as the best part!

Outreach and programming work is possible by yourself, but I don’t recommend it. Whether I’m making a puzzle, choosing a program, or thinking through the logistics of an interactive display, I find myself running my ideas past another person. Interested circulation staff, an eager student worker or volunteer, and even my partner and family have been called on for their two cents on the wording of a discussion question or the layout of a poster. My best ideas have come from these conversational brainstorm sessions at the desk. 

No programming librarian is an island. And if you don’t have colleagues, Pinterest, blogs, library literature, and your patron audience can be your collaborators. I am finding inspiration everywhere.

How are you doing? (redux)

Bird sitting outside a window
Photo by Ziba Maghrebi on Unsplash

We’re coming to the end of another year of grappling with pandemic-related changes across higher education, and the ACRLog blog team thought this might be a good time to check in on how things are going for all of us in our libraries, as we’ve done around this time for the past two years.

What’s the situation at your institution at the time of writing?

(Alex) As the College of Medicine’s library, we are attached to medical facilities and have the same masking requirements in place, visitors are still not permitted into academic spaces, and library employees are all still hybrid or entirely remote. The rest of our university, though, seems fairly back to normal; they don’t have the restrictions we do, but they do allow remote work on a case-by-case basis.

(Maura) Our campus and library fully reopened last Fall, and with the increase in in-person instruction at the college for the Spring we’re definitely seeing more students in the library than we did last semester. Still, it’s quieter than it was in the past, perhaps not surprising as about 50% of classes are still online this semester (we struggled a lot with crowding and noise pre-pandemic so this change is not entirely unwelcome). The university (and the college) lifted the mask requirement a little more than a month ago, though many folx are still masking on campus, both students and employees.

(Emily) We fully reopened last Fall as well, and in early March (coinciding with the CDC’s updated guidance), our school dropped the mask requirement, although as Maura said, many on our campus are still wearing masks indoors. Having more students on campus has meant more business for library services, both at the desk and over chat and email. I chalk it up to students becoming aware of our virtual communication options during the pandemic, and some finding that they prefer that mode even when face-to-face is available.

(Angie) My campus resumed in person classes last fall with a vaccine and mask mandate in place for a brief period. The summer prior, the Libraries began transitioning remote faculty and staff back to hybrid work that was at least 60% onsite. In the Spring semester mask mandates continued in all indoor campus spaces as Omicron was peaking. Then in March they became optional in non-classroom settings, and later that month became optional in classrooms. My impression of the physical spaces is they still seem sparsely populated by normal comparisons,  and request volume in technical services is still only 30-50% of pre-pandemic levels. We have had a lot of employee turnover and are in the middle of 3 of 5 faculty searches. This has definitely affected morale, especially since many, if not all, were already experiencing significant burnout before taking on additional duties these vacancies may have left to them. 

Do you anticipate changes in your library or campus situation in the Fall semester?

(Alex) We were recently asked how many days per week each person would like to work in-person after Labor Day, so the plans are being made for changes, but they aren’t finalized yet. It’s hard to say what other changes may come at that time.

(Angie) It’s hard to imagine *not* anticipating changes, right? But I hope the drive for normalcy will hold some sway in keeping major changes to a minimum. Orienting some new faculty and staff will bring positive, new change. In my area of the library we’re also seeing an urgency to support new orientation for all students – not just new ones. With the university experience of the past few years being so irregular, many haven’t had the chance to experience the usual things libraries offer students, like our spaces, the help desk, or ILL. Talking with my leadership, I’ve learned there is actually a campus-level priority to ramp up outreach as a matter of mental health as much as academic success. I love this acknowledgement of my favorite philosophical problem (not knowing what you don’t know) and the stakes and responsibility involved in helping solve it.

(Maura) We do anticipate that there will be more students on campus in the Fall, with an estimated 80% of classes scheduled fully in person or hybrid next semester (though that can certainly change as students continue to register throughout the summer). We’re starting a strategic planning process here in the Library that we aim to complete by the end of the Fall semester, so in many ways we’re not anticipating changes as much in the short term as we are thinking about changes we’d like to make in the next 3-5 years.

What pandemic-related challenges are you still facing in your library work?

(Maura) Librarians and staff are required to work at least 70% in person this semester, which has made scheduling somewhat complex, especially for service desk shifts. We’re managing it, though it took a few weeks to settle into our new routines. It’s not clear what the requirement for on-campus work will be for fall, but we’re keeping an eye on that. It’s also been somewhat challenging this year to reach students who started at the college last year and to raise their awareness of library services and resources. While that group did have information literacy instruction in their English Composition I course, as all students do, since those courses were fully online last year they didn’t have the opportunity to come to the physical library. We’re continuing to do outreach to all students and hopefully have reached at least some of that cohort with in-person instruction in their Comp 2 class this year. 

(Emily) The library staff where I work are all facing burnout and morale-related challenges, caused by negotiating telework and on-desk scheduling, feeling unrecognized by campus administration, and a protracted expectation to “keep the trains running” over the last 2 years. In light of this, our library director has instructed us to treat this summer as a period of recovery, urging us to take vacation time and avoid piling on extra projects like a usual summer. I’m hoping that this recovery period, combined with a reconsideration of some of our processes, will be enough to improve our overall morale.

(Angie) Hybrid schedules have turned out to be really challenging, both for those onsite who rely on others’ consistent onsite availability and for those who feel their work could continue to be done entirely remote. Selfish example: it has been much more difficult to grab coffee with my work bestie on a whim! The freedom we have been given to set the type of hybrid schedule is certainly nice, but it has proven practically at odds with rebuilding the kind of serendipitous connection for which it was intended. The variety of schedules means fewer people in the office at the same time for serendipity, or even intentional connection, to take place. The supportive technology onsite for hybrid meeting rooms is necessary but still kind of awkward – I think we prefer seeing each other in individual Zoom boxes rather than a combination of seeing individual’s boxes with another box of people distantly meeting in another room. I’m observing (guilty of) remote attendance at meetings happening from an individual desk in the same room! And maybe that’s OK. Maybe that is what we learned is necessary to preserve from remote work after all. I do worry that people’s pandemic-related burnout has been exacerbated, rather than eased (yet) by a logistical “return to normal.” The motions may be mostly normal, but people’s lived experiences have not returned to normal, and this makes it very difficult to authentically connect at large –  as a team, as an organization. Wherever our library has created those very intentional opportunities to connect, even in a hybrid way – award ceremonies, holiday parties, all staff meetings – this has seemed to help the most. It’s curious, right? That intentionality should be the necessary ingredient for serendipity.  

What positive changes have you seen this year in the ways your library supports the mission of the institution?

(Alex) We don’t hesitate to make changes that we think will benefit our users. I wouldn’t say we were “afraid” to make change before, but I think we’ve grown accustomed to pivoting (ugh that word) at the drop of a hat, so saying things like “let’s change this policy, it isn’t fitting students’ use of our resources” or “should our hours be this way, or can we adjust them to work better for us?” has become easier.

(Maura) We’ve also seen what Alex highlights — my colleagues and I are definitely more amenable to making changes in library services to align them more closely with what students and other library patrons seem to need, even if it’s different from what we’ve done before, or a change in the middle of the semester. We’ve adjusted printing limits to better accommodate students who are coming to campus less often, and shifted our study room policy to allow single-student use for taking online classes. We’ll be thinking about how students and faculty use the library now as we head into our strategic planning process, too, and will hopefully hold some focus groups in the Fall to help us learn more.

(Angie) At both our Library and University levels, there has been intentional effort by the administration to address salaries and diverse hiring in meaningful ways. We have had three different tiers of staff already getting across the board increases based on market studies. In my experience it is the hiring process that provides the most intentional and practical avenue for scaling awareness and development of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. Given that we are doing so much hiring, and that those serving on search committees are experiencing that process, these are both positive changes to increasing DEIB awareness and (hopefully!) growth into other areas.

We’d love to hear how things are going in your library, please drop us a line in the comments.

Who Gets to be a Researcher?

One of my favorite days of the academic year is Undergraduate Research Day. The Honors College and the Libraries collaborate to showcase undergraduate student research done through various scholarship programs, experiential learning programs, and independent research with faculty mentors. Our main library’s second and third floors are filled with research posters from students in every discipline imaginable, and the students themselves are bouncing with enthusiasm and excitement. They’re eager to tell people about their research and are able to speak about their work with clarity and precision with fellow scholars. They also offer compelling narratives to a more general audience who might not be familiar with the conventions of the research in that discipline.

April 14 marked the 2022 Undergraduate Research Day, and it was so exciting to be back in person after 2 years of a virtual event. As I listened to a student talk about their work researching Spanish language newspapers in the U.S. during the 1918 influenza pandemic, I wondered what it would take to expand this kind of excitement and enthusiasm for research to a wider group of students. There were about 200 presenters this year, at a school that boasts an undergraduate population of over 37,000 students. Yes, there may be some students doing research who weren’t able to present or weren’t far enough along in their research to do so, and yes, there are students engaging in research in their classes, too. But there is something about making research public, having a conversation about what you’ve learned and what you still want to learn, that seems to foster a sense of enthusiasm and pride.

I would love for all of our undergraduate students to be able to proudly share their scholarly or creative output and say, “I did that!” It might not all be groundbreaking or revolutionary, but shouldn’t the work of novice researchers be celebrated, too? At my last place of work there was a day where all students in first-year seminars could share their coursework and/or research, projects, papers, etc. with the entire campus community. It was a way to celebrate the work of first-semester, first-year students, who all displayed a commitment to what they’d learned and excitement in sharing it with others. It was a way of planting the seed of research, investigation, curiosity, and knowledge building in these students, that they could then carry with them all the way to their senior thesis project.

How can we develop opportunities to recreate the kind of enthusiasm and curiosity that was present at that first-year student event and at Undergraduate Research Day? I’m interested in extending those experiences beyond a small, select group of students to a wider university population. I’ve sometimes heard the argument that some students just aren’t “ready” for research. This may or may not be accurate depending on the context, but what are we even doing if we aren’t entering teaching relationships with students assuming that they are intellectually curious? They might not have the scholarly background of an experienced researcher, but they may possess the same inquisitive spirit and excitement to learn. So where is their Undergraduate Research Day? How do we celebrate their work and progress? Are they not researchers as first-year students, writing their first synthesis paper or lab report? Who decides whose research is celebrated? In creating opportunities to do this we might then pave a pathway for those students to continue to research throughout their years in higher education and afterward.

Service as a Resident Librarian

Though I often heard about the importance of membership in a professional organization and had some exposure to the concept of service as a graduate student, professional service is something I wasn’t very familiar until my current position. Part of the orientation process for my current position consisted of my department head going over and explaining the criteria for my yearly evaluation. Lo and behold, service made up a significant portion of my evaluation. As a first-year librarian and a library resident, figuring out my approach to service work has made for an interesting journey.

My experiences with service during grad school, specifically librarians active in service work, were fairly varied. Of course, there was my school’s own Library and Information Sciences Student Association. Though I was only ever a very casual member (grad school, work, and my personal life were more than enough for me at the time), I was always surprised by the number of events held by the organization as well as the variety of librarians involved with said events. By volunteering to staff my area’s annual archives event, I got a small glimpse into just how small librarianship is as well as how easy it can be to meet other librarians. Looking back, I realize I probably volunteered for the event more out of hearing about the importance of volunteering rather than the relevance of what I volunteered for – archives is something I’ve never really had any interest in. Through the events I was required to attend as a Spectrum and Kaleidoscope Scholar, I got a glimpse into just how powerful mentorship and community with other librarians and library students of color can be. In retrospect, Spectrum and Kaleidoscope is where the potential of service work clicked for me – service doesn’t necessary always feel like work whenever it’s related to one’s passion.

Knowing that service was required of me, I decided to make sure that whatever service work I became involved with related to one of my areas of passion. After taking inventory of what those passion are – library instruction, BIPOC library organizations, supporting library students – I ultimately landed on a couple of organizations. REFORMA (The National Association to Promote Library & Information Services to Latinos & the Spanish Speaking) and ACRL’s Residency Interest Group (RIG) were where I first decided to try my hand at service work.

Through REFORMA and RIG, I realized that sometimes interest is really all that’s needed in order to get involved with a professional organization. Neither organizations asked for much to serve: REFORMA required an application while RIG brought to my attention a call for volunteers to help develop a program for library students. Through REFORMA, I was able to join the scholarship committee which assess applications and selects recipients of the two scholarships given out by the organization (as I’ve been working on this post, we’ve actually begun this work). After sending an email expressing interest in the RIG project for LIS students, I found myself in a small planning group consisting of four other library residents. After our initial meeting, we decided our program would be a panel series that would serve as an introduction to the world of academic libraries. The series, aptly named Into the Stacks: An Academic Libraries Panel Series, took place once a month from January to April with one resident taking charge of a panel each month. Admittedly, I was nervous to host a panel by myself, but luckily my panelist were librarians who are a part of my own journey through librarianship. As such, my nerves calmed down a bit after we got going. If anything, the panel just reinforced how much I really enjoy chatting about librarianship period.

Understanding that service work can function as a form of professional development turned out to be a surprise lesson for me. It was determined during my orientation that, due to the temporary nature of my position, my service work would have a national focus. This led me to seek out national service opportunities and this is where ALA’s Emerging Leaders program came in. Through the program, early career librarians like myself are given the opportunity to participate in a national working group with their peers. Once selected for the program, I was given a number of different options in regard to the type of project I would work on. Luckily for me, among the options was a working on a LibGuide over inclusive pedagogy. Through my working group’s discussions and the collection and evaluation of resources for our LibGuide, I’ve been able to further develop my knowledge of pedagogical best practices. This has allowed me to reflect on my current instruction praxis with an eye for ensuring said practices are as inclusive as possible.

Looking back on my introduction to service work, there are a handful of lessons I’ve come to learn. Planning ahead is crucial. For instance, whenever I initially applied for Emerging Leaders last Fall semester, I knew that the program and its project would end by June. Thus I made sure to apply for some ACRL committees, knowing that they would begin right around the time Emerging Leaders would end. Yet, perhaps my biggest takeaway is that aligning my service work with my passions has made the work itself far more enjoyable than I could’ve imagined. Though service is a typical requirement for academic librarians, framing that requirement as an opportunity to give back to a field I love has made the work all that much more gratifying.

The flyer for our panel series

How We Meet: Making Use of Departmental Time

During the last few weeks, I started planning for the summer. I like to think summer is still months away, but the spring temperatures have returned and we are entering the final stretch of the semester. Summer is approaching!

For myself and the team I lead, summer will be busy. We’re slated to teach a five-week intensive information literacy credit course – two hours a day, five days a week. We are co-teaching three sections of the class and working together to edit the curriculum to fit the needs of the program this summer. The course will run from mid-July to mid-August. Once the course wraps up, we’ll get one week to recover, readjust, and then we jump straight into the fall semester. 

As we talked about how we would prepare for this summer course, I realized that we would need to prepare for the fall semester in May and June. This would allow us to focus on the teaching in July/August and then give everyone a break before the fall semester. In thinking through all the topics we wanted to cover in the summer, I realized I would need to be savvy with how I scheduled department meetings in May and June. Lucky for me, I love planning meetings.

A little meeting context

In stepping into a department head role, I’ve tried to be intentional about when and why we meet. Especially when I started in the job, I wanted to make sure we had time as a team to come together, discuss current topics, and make decisions together. I used those meetings to gain additional institutional context and open up space for the team to see connections between their experiences. Those were the types of meetings that truly could not be an email and helped to establish a strong team foundation. For the most part, I scheduled the meetings in advance and would occasionally add a meeting into the rotation if a topic came up we needed to spend time discussing. I learned a lot from the fall, including some ways I wanted to change up our meeting schedule in the spring. 

In true pandemic fashion, our spring semester started off remotely. However, having a strong meeting foundation allowed us to go virtual without too many issues. I introduced a new format for the team – the monthly business meeting. Each month, we have a meeting to discuss individual team news and share updates related to some of our bigger projects (like one-shot instruction, our GEARUP program, and our Library Informatics program). The goal for this format is to open communication and encourage folks to share news to keep everyone in the loop. Originally, I had blocked 30 minutes for updates and 30 minutes for feedback on a certain topic. I quickly learned that dividing the time like that doesn’t work for the team. So business meetings are now focused on just updating and looping everyone in. I think they are working and I’m excited to keep tweaking the format throughout the year. Similar to the fall, I’ve had to add in a few extra meetings, but I think I’ve started to understand the semester rhythms and in extension, the department rhythms. A few meeting types we’ve established as a team are:

  • Instructional data sharing meeting: This meeting happens near the end of the semester and focuses on our one-shot instruction. We discuss data we collected from our students and instructors and also use the time to plan for changes to one-shots for the upcoming semester. It’s a great way to celebrate our work, see the impact, and discuss changes.
  • End of semester celebration meeting: This meeting idea came from someone in the department, who asked if we could have a meeting where we didn’t have a formal agenda and could just spend time together. It was probably my favorite meeting in the fall, because we got to be together, do a craft, and enjoy some holiday snacks. It’s a nice way to celebrate our hard work from the past semester.

Summer planning

With all of this meeting knowledge, I wanted to take a wider view as I planned for our summer meeting schedule. I printed off a full 2022 calendar and marked off when we had met this year and then tried to identify our summer meeting schedule. I started to notice the frequency of our meetings and the many meeting topics we covered each semester. I pinned up the four pages to my corkboard and you can see the full spread in the photo below.

Four sheets of paper are displayed and each piece of paper contains three months. Each month is marked up with meetings and notes about the purpose of each meeting.
The full 2022 EOS meeting schedule. There’s some meaning behind the colors and patterns, but it’s not important to tell the overall story!

As I penciled in our summer meetings, I quickly saw that June would not only go by fast, but we would have to be intentional on what we chose to focus on. Ultimately, we could not cover everything. I tried to identify things I knew we needed to cover in order to start the fall semester off on the right foot. In planning our June meetings, I tried to incorporate some new meeting formats to see what might work best. I’m hoping to pilot the following meeting types this summer:

  • Mega meeting: Borrowing the name from a former department I worked in, this longer meeting is meant for bigger, conceptual discussions and collaborative work. For us, we’ll be doing a full day meeting (with food) to begin the work of preparing for our summer teaching.
  • Pre-Sprint Meeting: In the middle of June, I hope that the team can work on some larger projects and can focus on specific projects during a week-long sprint. To kick off that work, I want to begin with a department meeting on a Monday where we discuss the topic at hand, assign the work, and then go off into smaller groups to get the work done. For example, we’re going to revisit our curriculum maps and I want us to build out time to really focus on this work. 
  • Optional working meetings: I’ve blocked this time on everyone’s calendars and reserved a space, but it will be up to each individual on how they’d like to use that time. If they are working in small groups, it’s a block of time to get together and collaboratively work. But, I also scheduled these knowing folks will be on vacation or have other things to focus on. 

The summer meeting schedule still looks a little overwhelming, but I’m hoping these meeting formats will help us have the team conversations we need to have and help to assign the smaller group work. I’m curious to see how these meetings pan out and what I learn along the way. I know this summer will inform how we set up meetings in the fall. 

I won’t lie that after laying out all our department meetings in this calendar format, I had a minor freakout. Was I trying to do too much? Were we switching between topics and projects too quickly? Were we focusing on the “right” things? In speaking to a colleague, she reminded me that department meetings can be as frequent as I would like, as long as I feel that the time is used to move work forward. This was a good reminder. I know my leadership style is collaborative and during my first year, I will err on the side of too many meetings, because I want the team to understand my thought process and weigh in on the department decisions. Overtime I know the team will establish a rhythm and we will develop other mechanisms for making decisions. I feel like I’m learning a lot from organizing department meetings, something I didn’t anticipate when stepping into this role! 

So now reader, how do you meet with the people you work with? How many meetings are too many meetings for you? How do you keep in touch and keep the work going outside of regular meetings? I would love to hear from you on how you think about departmental time.