The Struggle: Getting and Staying Organized

            It’s slightly embarrassing to admit but staying organized is something I’ve had issues with since I was very little. From losing my homework in middle school to cramming all of my papers into a single binder in high school, it seems like every new stage in my life has been accompanied by a new stab getting and staying organized. My transition from graduate student to full-time academic librarian has been no different. Though going to graduate school for library science might seem like the perfect opportunity for someone like myself to finally come up with an organizational system that actually works, I’m here to lend a voice to my fellow disorganized librarians out there – The struggle to stay organized is real!

           During grad school, I came up with a number of different strategies for staying organized. Some of them I’ve held on to while others I’m in the process of dropping. They’ve all more or less revolved around what was most important to me at the time: reading articles for class, keeping a weekly schedule, and having a place for storing work related notes.

There’s this common misconception that people become librarians because they like to read/be surrounded by books (in my position, I only ever see the stacks as I walk to my classroom). That being said, the fact that reading relevant books and articles counts as work was a bit of a surprise to me whenever I started my current position. When it comes to reading, I’m still holding on to the color-coding scheme I came up with in grad school: yellow for important ideas, blue for possible quotes, and pink for words/concepts that I’m unfamiliar with. My scheme is essentially the same now with the addition of green for citations I’m interested in tracking. My color-coding system served me well during grad school and, as of right now, I’m planning on holding on to it. Yet, the same can’t be said of my other organizational strategies.

            Moleskine notebook planners have been a fixture for note-takers for quite some time. There’s a reason Ernest Hemingway, as well as several other well-known artists, swore by them. Their famous sturdy design last long after their pages have been well spent. From the time I taught high school English and till very recently, I counted myself among Moleskine’s many admirers.  The layout of my chosen Moleskine gave me space for planning individual days on the left page and a blank right page for personal, school, or work-related notes. Using the notebook meant I had a central, physical space where I could plan ahead while also looking back at past days/weeks for uncompleted tasks. The problem with my planner that eventually became evident was that I could plan ahead all I wanted but that planning would only ever come in handy if I remembered to check my notebook frequently – an oversight I hate to admit occurred more than once. I came to realize that what I needed was a reminder to check my reminders. Enter, my Outlook Calendar.

            This month I started working on my yearly evaluation and I have to admit that regularly using my Outlook Calendar has been a life saver. But, to be honest, using Outlook to plan out my days is a relatively new habit for me. Prior to my library residency, I’d really only ever use it to book meetings with the supervisor of my grad school internship. Back in the first month or so of my current position, I started having trouble juggling all of the different moving parts that come with being an academic librarian: preparing lessons for my course, finding and applying for different service opportunities, attending several meetings a month, planning out new library reference services, etc. Keeping up with all the different moving pieces of my job was not really something I anticipated having trouble dealing with. Thankfully, both my wonderful mentor and department head suggested that I start using Outlook as a way to plan out my daily routine. I’m happy to report that using Outlook as a daily planner has been a lifesaver for me. Though the calendar’s fifteen-minute reminder function sometimes feel like an overbearing big brother, I have to admit that it’s more than once saved me from missing meetings I completely forgot about.

            My road to getting organized has been long and full of failed attempts. I’m a tad bit sad at finally coming to the realization that I might have to drop my weekly planner all together. After all, if I keep forgetting to check my planner then should I even bother? I might just end up turning my planner into more of a weekly diary. Even though I still need to work on switching tasks and sticking to my established time limits, I’m glad to have finally found a scheduling system to help me keep track of what I’m working on and when. Maybe one day I’ll perfect a system that work for both my professional and personal needs.  

Virtual Holidays

As cliché as it sounds, the holiday season is easily my favorite time of year. My apologies to all the diehard Halloween fans out there, but something about the holiday doesn’t translate that well to the first-generation immigrant experience. Though, in my opinion, that might have more to do with trusting strangers with candy than the macabre.

As someone who’s favorite memories more often than not involve food and spending time with loved ones, it’s almost like the holiday season was made for someone like me. From my Mother turning the kitchen into a traditional tamale assembling line to staying up late on Christmas Eve to open presents – another of my Mother’s traditions is ensuring not a single present is opened before Midnight – I absolutely love the holidays. Though a self-professed avid eater and gift giver, my favorite part about the holidays is that there are days designated for spending time with those nearest to your heart. My family loves to work off our overindulgence by bouncing back-and-forth between playing games like loteria, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Studio Ghibli movies, and, of course, Elf. Though I wish time like this was afforded to all workers of the world, the promises of several big box stores to keep their doors closed at least on Thanksgiving is a positive sign – even if it took a pandemic to get them there.

With the holidays fast approaching, I find myself thinking about other first year academic librarians who may not have the opportunity to share the holidays with their loved ones – chosen, or biological. Thinking about those who, for whatever reason, will miss the company of the people they care about reminds me not only of how I felt during quarantine but how my family, friends, and I adapted the best we could to the limitations of a world pre-COVID vaccine. Though Zoom’s no substitute for the real thing – the biggest FOMO I’ve felt in recent years is watching my sibling hug our parents during a call – it’s something. With that being said, I’d like to share a little bit about what worked for my virtual holidays.

During the holiday season I was able to have a total of three separate virtual holiday dinners. One a Secret Santa get together with colleagues from my internship program and the others were Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve dinners with my family. Let’s start with Secret Santa first.

Though the idea of having a virtual Secret Santa get together with people scattered across various different cities may sound like a logistical puzzle, let me assure you that there weren’t too many pieces to figure out. The biggest puzzle piece was arguably the most important – getting the gifts to their respective locations on time. Part of the deal of participating in Secret Santa was being okay with sharing your address. With that in hand, we were all able to either order gifts using Amazon or sending them through good ol’ USPS. Once that was taken care of, all we really had to do was figure out what else we’d be doing during our call, aside from guessing who our Santa was and opening gifts of course. Luckily for us, the director of our internship program already had tons of experience playing Jackbox games remotely. If you’ve never had to virtually play a game with others, Jackbox is a great way to start (Quiplash turned out to be a favorite during both Secret Santa and Christmas Eve). I know this to be the case because the games even turned the spirits of some of my family members who were initially reluctant to having a virtual holiday in the first place. Jackbox and Zoom were useful for fulfilling my need for friend/family time, but we can’t forget an arguably just as crucial holiday component – the food.

Food is powerful. It has the ability to bring people together in a shared experience which often reinforces familial and cultural traditions. So, what’s a holiday without food? How do we work food into a virtual holiday? The answer’s surprisingly simple – You cook. And, that’s exactly what my partner and I did. We put on our best chef hats and got to work.

No Mexican holiday season is truly complete without certain traditional plates. For my family, that means tamales, pozole, and arroz con leche. With my partner taking care of the masa, or dough, for the tamales, we became a two-person assembling line. Arroz con leche, or rice pudding, has always been a holiday favorite of mine so I handled that one myself. Though neither of our culinary skills are a match for my Mother’s, I humbly admit that our food came out pretty good. Making our holiday favorites definitely helped us feel the holiday spirit a little more, but what really recreated some of the holiday vibe was having a designated family dinner time during our call. This is something we made sure to do for New Year’s Eve, too. Except that dinner consisted of a champagne and a charcuterie board gracefully put together by my partner. Aside from dinner and games, we also made sure to make time for the traditional New Year’s toast.

A picture containing food, dish

Description automatically generated
My partner’s charcuterie board

There’s no question that a virtual holiday is no match for the real thing. But, making a few small adjustments helps. Cooking those traditional dishes you love, toasting with your favorite holiday beverage, and trying some online games can go a very long way. I know that it did for me.

Transitions

Please join us in welcoming Ramón García, Resident Information Literacy Librarian & Assistant Professor at the University of Northern Colorado, as a new First Year Academic Librarian blogger for the 2021-2022 year here at ACRLog.

Library schools do their best to prepare their students for the countless aspects of librarianship. From conducting reference interviews to cataloging and everything else in-between, I left my program feeling well-rounded and ready to come into my own as an academic librarian. Yet, I found the biggest thing library school didn’t prepare me for was making the tremendous transition from full-time graduate student to full-time librarian.

I started my search for my first academic librarian position back in the Fall of 2020. From my mentors and library Twitter, I learned that the hiring process at academic libraries is a long and drawn out one. So, early on, I started preparing myself to apply for several position. This meant drafting countless cover letters, pouring over my CV, and constantly asking my mentors for feedback on both. Once Spring 2021 came around, I had my foot in the door and found myself a first-round candidate for multiple positions. Flash forward to a week after graduation and I had my first official offer from the University of Northern Colorado! Success! But, what was next?

Up to this point, I’d lived in the Dallas-Fort Worth area since I was four so this would not only be my first time living in another state but my first, big out-of-state move. Figuring out the logistics of the move alone could’ve been a course in library school: Hiring movers for the first time, planning a driving route, finding housing that wouldn’t charge my partner & I an obscene amount of pet rent, and, of course, towing my tiny hatchback with a U-Haul loaded with all our belongings. This was all in addition to the regular tasks that come with a move like setting up utilities and realizing that we own way more stuff than we thought. Thirteen hours and 800 miles later, we made it to our new temporary home. Little did I know that the transitions were only just beginning.

A picture containing text, road, tree, outdoor

Description automatically generated
My mother-in-law, Elizabeth, & all of our stuff

I like to think about this transitional period in two ways: the transitions in my personal life and those at work. The most immediate change for me was going from being a graduate student to a full-time academic librarian. This meant a few things. Gone were my days of working part-time for two different libraries while balancing school with my personal life. I now found myself unsure of what to do with my newfound free time. My 45-minute commute by car (on a good day) became a ten-minute bike ride. Making work friends was another challenge. Why doesn’t anyone tell you how hard it can be to make new friends when you’re an adult? Gone was the need to hide indoors from Texas’ infamously oppressive heat and humidity. The new struggle was getting used to higher elevation (I had no idea elevation baking was a thing). But, I was ecstatic to be able to enjoy being outdoors during the summer. In fact, since moving, my partner and I have become big fans of taking day hikes throughout Colorado’s numerous state parks and, of course, Rocky Mountain National Park.

The transitions in my personal life were challenging but compared to my work life, it was a piece of cake. My first month at my new position felt like a whirlwind of brand-new information that just seemed to just keep growing and growing. From meeting countless library staff and faculty members to getting accustomed to a brand-new library catalog system, there was tons for me to learn and get accustomed to in a short of amount of time – I started in July, so the beginning of the semester was right around the corner. But, perhaps the biggest challenge I had to face was preparing myself to teach a credit bearing information literacy course.

Like others in the field, librarianship is my second career. Before libraries, I spent four years teaching various levels of English at a public high school. I’m no stranger to the classroom, but I can’t say the same for my new subject. The class I was scheduled to teach this semester was LIB 160: Library Research for Criminal Justice Majors. My undergrad degree is in English so I’m probably one of the last people you’d want to talk to about criminal justice. Luckily for me, the purpose of the course is to help students write the literature review portion of their research proposal for their research methods course. On top of that, I was fortunate enough to have one of my wonderful colleagues guide me through the course as she’s taught it multiple times. Yet, all of this support wasn’t enough to keep me from sweating bullets on the first day of class. Imposter syndrome much anyone?

At the time of writing, I’ve made it to week nine of the academic year and my partner and I have officially been living in Colorado for almost four months. I still get a little nervous every time I teach, but I now have a solid group of work friends – Our Teams chat’s called The Lunch Club. I’m still enjoying my bi-monthly hikes, but I also made a quick Labor Day weekend trip home to ward off homesickness. I’ve officially met everyone who works in my building, but I’m still learning more and more about our newly adopted kitten, Hubie (yes, he’s named after the movie).

A cat lying on a blanket

Description automatically generated with medium confidence
Hubie “Halloween” García-Socall

In the spirit of transparency, I don’t have any quick solutions for embarking on the transition from grad student to librarian. But, there are few tips I’ve picked up along the way:

  1. When it comes to feeling homesick, FaceTime is a life saver. While not a permeant fix, regular video calls with my family have helped me stay connected and close to what was happening in their lives.
  2. Temporarily embrace (some) discomfort. As an introvert, feeling uncomfortable in new situations is a given, but accepting lunch invites from colleagues and taking risks to share myself helped me find my circle at work.
  3. Having a confidant makes a huge difference. Whether it’s a previous mentor, a friend from grad school, or a partner, having someone in your corner that can listen to your complaints and worries about your new profession goes a long way.

There are plenty more I could add to the list, but these three pieces have helped me the most so far on my new journey called librarianship.

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.

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.