Pandemic Planning: A Balancing Act

Please join us in welcoming Heather Bobrowicz, Programming Librarian at South Texas College, as a new First Year Academic Librarian blogger for the 2021-2022 year here at ACRLog.

2021 has been an interesting year so far. I began my first academic librarian position this year, in February to be precise. I’ve been spending a lot of my time in webinars and trainings, reading about the challenges and unique experiences academic libraries face, and generally adjusting to a new environment. I’m not new to librarianship. I earned my MLS in 2014 and have since worked in two different public library systems, both as a “substitute librarian” and as a children’s librarian. Now I’m settling in to a community college as a programming librarian, and I’m running in to one itty bitty, teeny weeny problem.

How in the world can I plan for the future when everything is so uncertain?

Being a public librarian meant I had to go with the flow a lot. I moved between branches when I worked in Albuquerque, and I had to adjust to the different settings and communities I served. One branch was in an affluent area full of seniors, another was practically next door to a high school, and yet another was kitty-corner to the city’s main bus station. Every branch had different needs, and I bounced between all three on a weekly basis. While my schedule and my working conditions were on the chaotic side, I had reliability. Book clubs, technology help, and knitting groups were popular at the library with a lot of seniors. Teen programs actually got some attendance at the one near the high school. And with the bus station one, I just held on for dear life and was ready for anything. I made a lot of guest passes and visitor cards.

I’m running into a very different situation in my community college job. The pandemic has made everything unpredictable. One moment I’m planning in-person programs that I will also stream online to improve access and archive the recording, and the next the kibosh has been put on any face-to-face at all. My campus put off in-person classes for the first two weeks, and everyone is holding their breath to see if we’ll keep our in-person numbers through the rest of the semester.

I’ll be clear: I like online programs. I like that I can get people from all around the world to come talk to our students, staff, and faculty. I like keeping an archive of the webinar for faculty to use in their classes. I like the simplicity of not having to set up a space. However, I miss that energy an in-person program can carry. I miss having options for interactive events that just aren’t possible to rig up with Zoom Webinar, even with all its fancy features like breakout rooms and polls.

Most of all, I miss predictability. Yes, there are always contingencies, but I’d rather plan for “oh no, we didn’t buy enough snacks” than “oh no, the whole campus us shutting down because of an outbreak.” It’s a silly thing to complain about in comparison to all the other terrible things going on in the world, but I feel like it needs to be said: This is hard, and those of us who are struggling to get it done deserve a pat on the back. I can only imagine what it’s like to be a new librarian in these circumstances. Hang in there! It isn’t always this wild!

I guess the main thing 2021 is shaping up to teach me is to make all my plans in pencil, and never take for granted having steady ground beneath my feet. You never know when the world’s going to shake things up and you’ll be left scrambling in ways you never imagined, and honestly couldn’t prepare for back in Library School.

This field really is about learning as you go, especially now.

Planning with Uncertainty

Since 2008, ACRLog’s “First Year Academic Librarian (FYAL) Experience” series has annually featured 1-2 academic librarians in their first year on the job in an academic library. This new series, “Where Are They Now? Former FYALs Reflect,” features posts from past FYAL bloggers as they look back on their trajectories since their first year. This month, we welcome a post from Zoë McLaughlin, South and Southeast Asian Studies Librarian at Michigan State University Libraries. 

A few months ago, I had the opportunity to participate in the Virtual Minnesota Institute, which was a condensed form of the Minnesota Institute for Early Career Librarians that was organized once it was clear that meeting in person wasn’t going to happen. As part of the institute, participants were asked to think about where they would like to be five years from now, along a variety of axes—professional and otherwise.

I found this exercise to be surprisingly eye-opening. While many of the things I want to have accomplished professionally over the next five years were easy to identify, I had a much more difficult time putting the pieces together into one cohesive narrative. I’d like to develop more subject expertise and significantly improve my abilities in a few regional languages and become involved in national conversations about accessibility. I’d like to contribute meaningfully to the professional organizations that have really supported me and engage community members and work seriously with librarians from overseas. All of these things are connected, but many of these things are connected only because they are all interests of mine.

In my final post for ACRLog in the first year academic librarian experience series, I wrote that one lesson I learned was to be intentional in selecting and agreeing to projects. Putting this lesson together with the five-year visioning exercise, I’ve come up with a new method that I’m at least trying to use to organize and prioritize my projects.

My job responsibilities are already organized into three main categories: collections, cataloging, and accessibility. I spent my first year trying to figure out how to balance these different responsibilities, and if I’m being honest, I’m still working on it. What I learned, though, is that it helps to really break down my projects into these separate categories so that I can make sure I’m spending time on everything. The new layer I’ve added on to this system is to think about goals within these separate categories. What do I want to have accomplished in my collecting five years from now? What competencies in accessibility do I want to have developed five years from now?

Thinking of concrete, long-term goals has been made trickier by the realization that nothing is certain. Back when I wrote my final blog post, I did not think that I’d be spending a year working remotely. Sometimes goals have to change. Imagining the long term, however, has also helped me to realign my work with my values. What will I be proud of accomplishing five years from now? That’s likely much more aligned with my values than all the emails I should be writing that I keep ignoring.

So then how have I moved from thinking about goals and values to organizing my day-to-day work? Essentially, every time a project or task comes up, I ask myself whether it advances my progress toward one of my goals. If it does, great! I say yes to working on the project and I make a note of which goal the project relates to. If something isn’t actually related to my goals, then that’s a good sign that I should be saying no. Of course, I can’t say no to everything (I really do have to write all of those emails), but it is a way to make me feel a lot better about declining to participate on another committee or deciding not to submit to a semi-interesting conference.

This summer, I’m going to hit three years in this position, which means that I need to start thinking about promotion and tenure. My hope is that in conceptualizing my day-to-day work in terms of long-term goals, I’ll also be able to build a cohesive and logical promotion/tenure dossier. Thinking about how each task I complete relates to a larger plan means that all my tasks are building upon one another and that I am continuing to make progress, even if it doesn’t always feel that way.

So where am I now? Like everyone else, the past year has hit me hard. But I’m lucky enough to still have a job and with a fair amount of security and the space to work from home comfortably. I’ve had to make adjustments and relearn aspects of my job when I’d only just felt like I’d gotten my feet under me, but I do feel like I’m learning and growing and am more confident in my work. I’m excited to see what the future holds for me.

And for you? It’s a new year, so now might be the perfect time to look at your own goals and consider the ways in which you can make your everyday work align with your values.

Where Are They Now? Former FYALs Reflect : An Update from Nisha Mody

Since 2008, ACRLog’s “First Year Academic Librarian (FYAL) Experience” series has annually featured 1-2 academic librarians in their first year on the job in an academic library. This new series, “Where Are They Now? Former FYALs Reflect,” features posts from past FYAL bloggers as they look back on their trajectories since their first year. This month, we welcome a post from Nisha Mody, Associate Director of the Network of the National Library of Medicine, Pacific Southwest Region at UCLA.


The question “Where am I now?” seems heavier that it might have felt a month ago, and way heavier had this been a year ago in the “before times.”

I have stayed true to my interest and commitment to social justice in libraries and in the world, which has made the past year, and this month, especially challenging in terms of doing the work and in terms of emotional regulation. Since I was an FYAL, I went to many conferences, presented, worked on great projects, and have had a chance to lead teams, but, in the end, so much of of my “progress” comes back to meeting myself where I’m at and allowing myself to (1) not know everything (2) take a break from being a “professional” when the world is overwhelming me and (3) ask for help.

With that being said, a few notable things have changed for me since I started at UCLA Library in 2017. I had the opportunity to become Team Lead of the Teaching and Learning Functional Team, and as of June 2020, I became the Associate Director of the Network of the National Library of Medicine, Pacific Southwest Region at UCLA. I feel like this all happened so quickly. However, I know that my pre-library experience in multiple settings equipped me with the tools to be in this position.

Being in administration has helped me examine how it feels to be someone who is in middle management, someone who has transitioned from being a librarian to a manager, and how to best embody my values as a leader and a person. While it has been exciting to be a leader, I miss engaging with students during teaching and research consultations. But I’m still glad to have the opportunity to teach a little bit in other venues.

In my post “I Liked, I Wished, I Wondered: A One-Year Review” from March 2018, a year after I started at UCLA, I closed with:

What Now?

I have always disliked the idea of having a 5-year or 10-year plan. I believe in intention, serendipitous moments, and blending that with your personal drive and abilities. I did not come to librarianship through a straight path, and, while I don’t want to change my career again, I am open to different possibilities that can harness and enhance my skill set. Writing this out has definitely forced me to reflect upon the past year, see how far I have come and what the future might hold. One year down and many more to go!


I still dislike a 5-year or 10-year plan, but I have come to a place where I can create goals based upon my values instead of quantitative outcomes. I recently wrote about creating values-oriented goals. While I still don’t care for 5- or 10-year plans, I do care about embodying my values in different areas of my life including my professional trajectory.

As I mentioned in the article, my core values are community, compassion, vulnerability, equity, curiosity, humility, creativity, and unlearning. In the context of my work, here are some ways I’d like to lead with these values.

  • Examine my biases toward my team, my institution, and the people I serve.
  • Imagine more community-based partnerships to serve marginalized communities.
  • Share my mistakes and hopes with people in all levels of my organization, especially when it comes to anti-racist work.
  • Unlearn traditional ways of leading when working with others as a leader or as a contributor.

I think these goals are useful regardless of my position. On the practical side, I had to truly take charge when it came to project management as I transitioned into leadership. I had no idea that I would be in my current position when I wrote about leadership and project management. And even though I had experience in the corporate world, it took a significant mental shift for me to implement project management concepts. But I’m glad that I was able to set up these structures because I noticed it created a lot of ease with my team, and for myself! Before I entered this role, I also had the opportunity to take DeEtta Jones’ Inclusive Manager Toolkit which was also very supportive for my values and my work.

This is definitely a journey, and I’m glad to have had so many opportunities to grow within one institution. With that being said, I started my career at the beginning of a problematic U.S. Presidency which shifted to COVID-19 and then to the events at the beginning of 2021. And I think this is important to name because the world still keeps going while we are working. And the beliefs that are projected on a global scale also exist on a local scale.

These are opportunities to take a look inward on an institutional level, on a work relationship level, and on a personal level. Some questions I have pondered are:

  • How does my positionality in terms of identity and hierarchy denote my privilege(s)?
  • When should I speak up? When should I stand down?
  • What does equity mean when everyone has different ways of working, needs, and professional goals?
  • How am I unintentionally speaking for others?
  • What am I being transparent about? What am I not being transparent about? What am I afraid of when I’m being transparent or not transparent?
  • Am I meeting the expectations others have of me? Do I need to meet those expectations? How do I acknowledge and/or reset expectations?

These questions come up a lot, and I think they are important to write about and discuss at different points in time during your career. The answers to these questions can help with setting your own expectations, communicating with people in your organization, and examining how your metaphorical and literal positions have changed over time.

If 2020 taught us anything, it is that time is relative and super weird. But it has also taught me to take a step back to reflect, reset, and rest. I hope that we can all find space to slow down, question urgency, and restore ourselves in the face of challenging times.

Where Have I Been?

Since 2008, ACRLog’s “First Year Academic Librarian (FYAL) Experience” series has annually featured 1-2 academic librarians in their first year on the job in an academic library. This new series, “Where Are They Now? Former FYALs Reflect,” features posts from past FYAL bloggers as they look back on their trajectories since their first year. This month, we welcome a post from Quetzalli Barrientos, Student Success Librarian at Tufts University.

Hello! I am so glad to be back at ACRLog. It has been a couple of years since I have written a post, but I always think back to my very first ACRLog post that I wrote in the Fall of 2015. That fall, I began my first professional librarian job as a resident librarian at a small, private university in Washington, D.C. I was new, eager, terrified, and more lost than I’d like to admit. 

It has been five years and much has changed since then. I spent three years in D.C. and once my residency ended, I moved to Massachusetts. I started as the Arts and Humanities Research and Instruction Librarian at Tufts University. Recently, due to a reorganization at our library, I am now the Student Success Librarian. When thinking of what I would write for this post, I thought that maybe I would talk more about new job duties, expectations, projects, etc. However, the more I thought about it, the more I reflected on where I truly am as a librarian and as a person. 

The past five years have been a continuous wave of changes, both exciting and hard. I’d like to say that the past five years have been amazing, but to be honest, it has been a struggle. While my work in D.C. led to my position at Tufts, the road was paved with stress, anxiety, and learning to maintain an actual work-life balance. 

While as a resident librarian, I was overwhelmed with stress and a growing anxiety that I did not understand. While on the outside, one might think that I had it together, I did not. I overworked myself, I kept myself busy with conferences and presentations, and I navigated work-place politics that had a negative effect on my mental health and well-being. Since the end of my residency in 2018, I have learned invaluable skills. I want to share some of them:

  • I have learned to stand up for myself. For me, standing up for yourself is different than advocating for yourself. I learned early on in my residency that I would have to be the one to speak up about the type of work I wanted to do. Standing up for yourself meant respectfully speaking up when faced with conflicts within the organization or when disrespected, belittled, or treated in a condescending way. I am not someone who likes conflict or seeks out conflict, but over the years, I have finally learned to stand up for myself and use my voice to defend myself. That being said, I was also careful not to burn bridges. After all, the reality is that the library world is small and very chatty. 
  • I have learned to say no to others and to myself. I often found myself taking on new projects and saying yes to everything, because I knew it would look good on my resume. While I don’t regret most of these experiences, it was hard for me to find a balance. Now that I find myself more settled in the work I want to be doing, I am a little more particular about what I spend my time on. I give myself time to decide if I want to take on a big project and try to be more realistic about workload or other events. 
  • I have discovered and rediscovered passions. I have discovered that I love liaison librarianship and teaching subject-specific library instruction sessions. At Tufts, I was liaison to the history department and while it was intimidating at first, I learned to love it. I loved working with the history faculty, learning about their research/scholarship, and I loved working with history students. I continue to teach first-year writing library sessions and continue to experiment with active learning activities and assessment. While sometimes it gets repetitive, it is the freshman students who make it worth it. Every fall semester, I look forward to their new faces and excitement. 

Something I am still working on: 

  • Taking care of my mental health will always be ongoing, but I am happy and on the right track. I realized a while ago that my trouble with mental health was also related to work and when I moved to Massachusetts, I was determined to change that. I had to be intentional about forming a good work/life balance for myself. I made my mental health and well-being my number one priority, not only for my sake, but for the sake of my partner, relationships with colleagues, and friends. 

In conclusion, I look back at my position as a resident librarian and for the most part, I am fond of it. I met colleagues who have become close friends and am part of a community of resident librarians (past and present) that uplift me and everyone else. I am excited about my work and I hope that wherever you are in your career, that you care for yourself and know that I am rooting for you. 

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.