I Love How We Laugh: A Year into Being a Department Head

Last week, I celebrated my one-year anniversary as a department head. The day consisted of teaching students, celebratory cookies, and a few reflective moments on the last 365 days. I can’t believe it has been a year! 

The last year has gone by quickly. We’ve adapted to changing pandemic seasons, dealt with staffing changes and hiring freezes, and continued to support student success. I feel like I’ve grown so much, as a librarian and as a manager. This job continues to be challenging in positive ways and I feel like I’m stretching and learning every day. I definitely haven’t had the perfect year; I’ve made mistakes, tried stuff that didn’t work, and dropped some balls. However, on the whole, I think last year was successful. I got the chance to work with the team I lead, participate in the work, and dream about what we can do as a department. I think this work builds so nicely from my experience as the Student Engagement Coordinator and allows me to take that work one step further. As a department, we collaboratively created our own mission, vision, and scope of work document, and continue to find ways to maximize the various expertises and experiences we each bring to the group. I’ve made connections with colleagues across campus and have had the chance to do what I think I do best, promote the library and envision new ways we can collaborate to support our students. 

One thing I’ve thought about a lot the last few months is the energy of the department I’m a part of. Even during my interview, I felt the enthusiasm and excitement for information literacy and students in the department meeting. That hasn’t changed since I arrived. The group I lead is always willing to try something new, talk through the pros and cons of a situation, and collaborate with one another to put an idea into action. It’s great to be on a team like this and I feel lucky to support and champion our work. 

The other thing that this department loves is laughter (as the title of this blog post suggests). In the past year, we’ve collected several inside jokes and I appreciate the department meetings where something funny happens and we’re all doubled over, laughing. There’s so much joy in that kind of laughter. I appreciate the space we as a department create for that joy. We can disagree and debate, but there’s something really nice about our ability to come together, share some stories, and laugh. For me, despite the stress I feel in this job or some of the dynamics outside of my control, I feel grounded knowing we can laugh as a department and figure things out.

As I think about my second year, I know we will continue to make changes and try new things. I’m excited to continue to learn from my colleagues and grow as a manager. And I’m thankful the laughter will continue. 

Tell me – what are some things about the team you work on that you appreciate? Would love to know from others if this idea resonates with you!

Our TBR Lists

Summer is often the time where we hope we can dig into the articles and books we’ve put off reading during the academic semesters. In this collaborative post, ACRLoggers share what they have been reading, watching, or listening to and what’s on their TBR list for the summer.

Things we have read, watched, or listened to

Hailley: A colleague in my department was part of a learning community this spring where they read Creating Wicked Students: Designing Courses for a Complex World by Paul Hanstedt. She recommended I read it, especially as I was preparing to teach a five week credit course this summer. As soon as I started reading, I was hooked! I appreciated the way Hanstedt talked about course creation and how we can design authentic projects for our students to encounter in a course. While I was reading it with my eyes on credit-course design, I still think this book is relevant for folks not teaching a full semester long course. 

Alex: I’ve been reading Writing from These Roots by J. M. Duffy (2007) for my summer M.Ed. class on literacy and its intersections with culture, identity, and language. It’s not directly library-related, but it details a unique case of literacy: the Hmong people. It has really broadened the way I look at how not only literacy happens and what it is, but how information is shared in different cultures.

Justin: I’ve been reading up on information literacy instruction, specifically in the sciences since I was recently hired as a Science librarian at the University of Manitoba. In mid-June I attended ACRL’s Sciences & Technology Section’s annual program, where they presented a draft of a sciences companion document to the ACRL Framework. Some really good examples were shown of how the Framework was adapted and being used for sciences students – I’m looking forward to using this in my own instructional sessions. I also found Witherspoon, Taber, and Goudreau’s recently-published article “Science Students’ Information Literacy Needs” really helpful in providing evidence for when to introduce specific info lit concepts throughout a science student’s program.

As I’ve been developing some new sciences-focused library presentations, I’ve been rereading Bull, MacMillan, and Head’s article on proactive evaluation, published last summer. I’m trying to figure out where to put and how to frame proactive evaluation and other evaluative frameworks in my sessions for sciences students.

Stephanie: I’m often listening to podcasts, and one that is currently in rotation is 99% Invisible. I greatly enjoyed their recent episode, Meet Us by the Fountain, which focuses on the heyday of indoor shopping malls. As someone who began working in a mall when I was a sophomore in high school and continued working there until I graduated from college, the mall holds a place in my heart as a place where I discovered who I was, from my clothing likes and dislikes to my social circle and extended group of friends. Listening to the episode reminded me that it’s hard for me to imagine what my life would have been like if I hadn’t worked at the mall for nearly six years; returning to my shift on a regular basis kept me grounded during an age and time of much uncertainty. The episode also shines insight into the gravitational pull of the mall and the history of suburbia in general. 

Jen: I’ve become more and more interested in the idea of storytelling as a pedagogical technique–allegories, analogies, anecdotes, case studies, memes, real-world problems–to make abstract or technical research concepts more accessible to students, facilitate students’ recall and meaning making, and/or provide general interest in the classroom. So reading about how instructors in a wide range of disciplines use storytelling and to what effect–things like Frisch and Saunders’ “Using stories in an introductory college biology course”–has been helpful so far.  This exploration has led me into a bit of research on how instructors think about their teaching and how they make changes. Articles like Kirker’s “Am I a teacher because I teach?: A qualitative study of librarians’ perceptions of their role as teachers” and Baer’s “Academic librarians’ development as teachers: A survey on changes in pedagogical roles, approaches, and perspectives” have been helpful here. Both of these areas have started to lead me to think about these concepts in other contexts: storytelling as a tool to improve clarity and connection in communication in other arenas (say, administrative) and also what contributes to openness to change in other parts of our professional (not to mention personal) lives. 

Things we hope to read, watch, or listen to this summer

Hailley: I’m hoping to spend some time reviewing the recorded presentations from CALM this spring. I wasn’t able to attend the virtual conference at the end of April, but I’m excited many of the sessions were recorded. I recently watched (and loved) “Flying the Plane While You’re Building It: Cultivating a New Team Through Organizational Change” from Mea Warren and (fellow ACRLogger) Veronica Arellano Douglas so I can’t wait to learn more from those who presented!

Alex: I’ve barely started it, so I don’t count it in the “have read” section, but I’m looking forward to working my way through A Place for Everything, by Judith Flanders, because who doesn’t want to read a history of alphabetical order? (That’s a little adjacent to library work, but probably has some interesting insights into shelving schemes, if nothing else.) I also have a lot of driving ahead of me this summer (we’re talking 7 hours at a time) so I’d like to get into some podcasts to pass that time more quickly: The Librarian’s Guide to Teaching, Dewey Decibel, and Book Club for Masochists have all caught my eye (ear?) recently. Even though a lot of library podcasts are focused on public libraries, I think there’s a lot for an academic librarian to learn there.

Justin: A couple of my colleagues are really into Anne Helen Petersen’s writing and recommended her book, co-written with partner Charlie Warzel, Out of Office: The Big Problem and Bigger Promise of Working From Home. I switched from working-from-home back to working on-campus in February of this year. I think a lot of us have been moving towards this over the past year or so. I’ve heard Warzel and AHP’s book layout ideas for a healthy work/life balance, rethinking what your real work means, and getting more involved in your community, so I’m looking forward to reading it. (Also: if you haven’t seen it, AHP’s CALM keynote is shared here, which I highly recommend reading, The Librarians Are Not Okay.)

I just finished up a research project on relational-cultural theory and Canadian academic librarians, and now that that’s done, I’m hoping to do some reading into LIS mentorship programs and other supports for librarians to start up a new project; articles like Malecki & Bonanni’s “Mentorship Programs in Academic Libraries” and Ackerman, Hunter, & Wilkinson’s “The Availability and Effectiveness of Research Supports for Early Career Academic Librarians.”

Stephanie: Following up on the 99% Invisible episode I was listening to earlier, I’m eager to pick up the book the episode is based on: Meet Me by the Fountain: An Inside History of the Mall by Alexandra Lange. While I haven’t started reading the book just yet, I’m looking forward to gaining more insight on how malls have both become something we remiscenice about while also being something we also malign. I’m drawn to social histories in general, and I appreciate that this book focuses on how malls played a vital role in creating and maintaining suburbs, and how towns are faring during the ongoing reinvention of the mall.

Jen: Geez, there’s so much I’ve been meaning to catch up on. What isn’t on my to-be-read pile is perhaps a more accurate question for me. But I’m thinking here especially about some synergies in a few projects I’m working on related to open pedagogy and the “students as partners” movement and information literacy. So I’m adding things like “A systematic literature review of students as partners in higher education” to the pile to round out some of my foundational understanding in these areas. 

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.

What’s Bringing You Joy? An ACRLogger Collaborative Post

For this month’s ACRLoggers collaborative blog post, we’re talking about things that are bringing us joy these days. We hope this post also brings you joy and or allows you to reflect on things bringing you joy this month.  

Ramón – I do my best to not think about work in my free time, so currently I’m reading Robert Crumb’s Book of Genesis – The illustrations are amazing, of course. The last book I really enjoyed was Blood Brothers: The Fatal Friendship Between Muhammed Ali and Malcom X.

Alex – I’m trying to become more of a “podcast person.” I haven’t found any library podcasts to add to my list of regular listening, but I’m trying an episode here and there of any library podcasts that sound interesting! (And I’ve finally listened to the “Room of Requirement” episode of This American Life. It only took 3 years of recommendations from others!)

Emily “lofi hip hop radio – beats to relax/study to” on Youtube. This isn’t technically library-related, but makes me feel like an undergrad again! Instrumental music always helped me focus on homework, and these Lofi Girl videos fill my office with fuzzy, beat-forward good vibes.

Maura – I’m almost finished reading The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson and it’s such an amazing novel that I’ve found myself recommending it to people practically nonstop in the past couple of weeks. (I may also be dragging my feet a bit on finishing it, it’s that good.)

Jen – While I’m definitely finding joy in the various things I’m reading, watching, and listening to right now, those things aren’t explicitly library-related either. But I do enjoy when I can follow the thread of an idea I’ve been working on or thinking about in my professional space into whatever recreational book or movie I’m immersed in. For example, I just finished Writers and Lovers by Lily King (highly recommend, by the way) and was struck by the insights into the writing process (among other things) that it offered. I love to see those moments of connection across divides or contexts. 

What’s something bringing you joy in the workplace? 

Alex – I’m working on a lot of things with different committees and groups, and they’re all actually moving forward. None of the groups are stuck in that space of “what do we do next” or “let’s table that indefinitely,” and it feels great.

Ramón – The 10 plants I keep in my office! Whenever my eyes are tired from looking at screens or I feel stressed, I turn around in my chair & admire my green friends. 

Emily – Little flashes of community amongst students has brought me joy lately. After being virtual, then hybrid for so long, it felt like students stopped seeing the library as a lively, social place. It was getting lonely and sad! It’s great to see students study in small groups again, or meet with friends between classes in the library.

Maura – Like Emily I’m also enjoying seeing more students in the library again. While we were open last semester it was still fairly quiet on campus as most of the college’s courses were still mostly (or solely) online. Welcoming students back to the library to study, use our resources, or catch a nap between classes has been a bright spot for sure.

Jen – It’s been a hectic few weeks and I feel like I’m working just about five minutes ahead of every deadline — which is not my favorite context to work in nor the one in which I feel I’m able to produce my most thoughtful work. But at the end of the workshop I facilitated today (after having finalized it only this morning), a colleague who participated commented how helpful it was, that it was “just what I was looking for.” The point I want to make here isn’t that this particular comment from this particular colleague brought me joy, although it did. Reflecting on this brief exchange today in light of this prompt reminds me how much it matters to recognize each others’ effort and impact. I used to hesitate to share acknowledgements like this because I thought my small comments were expendable, disposable. But I feel exactly the opposite now: that such comments, however small, acknowledging that we see the work that our colleagues and our students are doing, that we appreciate their efforts, that we recognize their significance can go a long way. With them, I think we can create a bit of joy for each other and ourselves.

What’s a win (big or small) that has brought you joy in 2022? 

Ramón – Feeling more comfortable teaching my library research course & looking back on my previous work plan to see that I accomplished almost everything I set out to do!

Alex – A colleague and I got a chapter proposal accepted! The actual writing is not currently bringing me a lot of joy, but once I’m on the other side of the first draft, it will bring me joy again.

Emily – In Fall 2020, we started using LibGuides CMS to embed LibGuide pages into Canvas. This semester I’ve noticed more and more instructors requesting our “Ask a Librarian” feature (our embedded chat and contact page), and even embedding resources all on their own! It’s been good to see it catching on.

Maura – We’re hiring (again)! Near the end of last semester one of our IT staff moved on to another opportunity, and I’m grateful that we’ve been able to recruit for their replacement so quickly. I’m also grateful for my colleagues in the library who are taking the time to run the search so thoughtfully. I’m looking forward to welcoming our new colleague in the (fingers crossed, not too distant) future.

Hailley – During the fall semester, I spent a lot of time facilitating conversations around our reference services. These conversations led us to make some big changes this spring, including launching a new form to help track our interactions on and off the desk, across multiple departments. Watching this form come to life (and knowing all the hard work and conversations that went into creating it) is definitely bringing me joy.


Featured image by Bekka Mongeau from Pexels

Keeping in Touch: Maintaining Work Relationships After Changing Jobs

In my non-work life, I can be a persistent friend. I like reaching out and saying hi, letting friends know I’m thinking about them. I love catching up over the phone, FaceTiming to work on an embroidery project and gossip, or when travel allows, visiting friends and seeing their favorite spots in their city. Keeping in touch isn’t an easy task, especially during a pandemic. And during 2021, I’ve reflected on my big friendships and have tried to figure out what type of communication works best for us to keep in touch. 

In changing jobs, I’m thinking a lot about how I want to stay in touch with former colleagues. This keeping in touch includes both work friendships (which I’ve talked about on ACRLog before) as well as professional relationships and collaborations. After five years at an institution, there were some folks where it still feels weird not to hear from regularly. Especially colleagues I frequently worked with or colleagues who were part of my day-to-day working life. I’ve been at my new institution long enough to have new day-to-day work colleagues, but I still miss some of those past work relationships. 

So far, my strategies for keeping in touch have included the tried and true update email, finding time for a Zoom catch-up, brainstorming a conference proposal together, connecting them with new colleagues when interests match, and seeking out their expertise and perspective as I settle into my middle manager role. I’ve also appreciated colleagues who have reached out to check in, propose collaborative projects, and or share news.

Ultimately, I feel strongly that keeping in touch with folks from previous jobs is important. While my role and responsibilities might have changed, I like to imagine new ways former colleagues and I can collaborate and learn from one another. Just like any friendship, it’s exciting to see work relationships evolve and change as we grow into new positions and people. I also feel strongly that intentionally working across institutions through maintaining past work relationships is crucial. Working across institutions means we can always learn from each other and see how different situations play out based on student populations and institutional context. 

Something that’s tough for me in friendships is knowing when a friendship has changed. The same goes for former colleagues: not everyone is someone you have to keep in touch with. You grow apart and this can be especially true if you no longer see each other in your work ecosystem. I’m always reminded of wisdom I got from a professor at my college during my senior year: she told the graduating class we would only keep in touch with a couple of friends from our time at college. She told us that she knew we didn’t believe her (we optimistically thought we would stay close friends with everyone) but she was totally right. There’s only so much we can do to maintain friendships or work relationships. You can’t keep in touch with everyone and that’s okay. I’m hoping as in-person conferences return in the next few years, that will be a good space to reconnect and see those colleagues.

For me, I hope to apply a lot of my out-of-work friendship practices to maintaining former colleague relationships. Just like any friendship, keeping in touch requires a willingness from both parties and an understanding of what kind of communication works best for where we are now. I don’t know about you, but I think I’ve got a few catch-up emails to send out!


Featured image by Volodymyr Hryshchenko on Unsplash