A First Year Librarian’s First Service

Outreach has quickly become one of my favorite parts of being a librarian. I love the fact that I get to work and interact with students in several nonjudgmental capacities. Whether it’s a research consultation or a one-shot library session, I love telling students that the library isn’t here to judge you; it’s here to provide the support you need to be successful. I trace this habit back to my library internship and my old supervisor. Coincidently, my internship is also where I picked up the idea for my first library service – Research and Writing Lab (R&W Lab).

Much of my current philosophy of librarianship is informed by my internship’s supervisor. For instance, the importance of one-on-one interactions between students and librarians is something I picked up from him. As part of my internship, I often observed my supervisor in several capacities. One of those was sitting in on his R&W Lab sessions. The R&W Lab was designed as a one-stop shop for students needing help with either or both the research and writing components of their assignments. It was through these observations that I realized how important student-librarian interactions really are – especially since typically the highest number of interactions librarians have with students are through one-shots. This is most certainly the case at my current institution as well.

Aside from our credit-bearing courses, one-shots, and consultations, our library doesn’t really have a set time devoted to helping students with their research. On top of that, our Writing Center is typically booked up well in advance. Because of this, I realized that replicating my previous supervisor’s service at my institution could go a long way for our students. The thing is that, since this was to be my first library service, I wasn’t entirely sure how to get the ball rolling.

Like all good ideas, I proposed R&W Lab on a whim during one of my department meetings. Lucky for me, my department head was receptive to the idea and helped me get the service going. She set up the initial meeting between us and the Writing Center director, and I came up with a game plan. This might sound a bit basic, but I drafted my plan using the tried-and-true method of answering the Five Ws – who, what, when, where, and why. After coming up with and proposing a plan to the Writing Center Director, the next thing the service needed was volunteers and promotion.

In comparison to the rest of the planning process, this next step was relatively easy. I’d attribute this to my colleagues’ commitment to service and the wonderful support of our libraries’ communication specialist. Thanks to my lovely colleagues, we were able to staff the service from mid-terms to the week before finals. I sent out emails about R&W Lab to our campus cultural centers as well as groups focused on first-generation/first-year students. But, we were really able to promote the service across campus thanks to our communication specialist who knew exactly which channels to use in order to get the word out.

Flash forward to this semester, we’ve actually expanded R&W Lab. Instead of starting at mid-terms, this semester the lab has been running since the fourth week of classes. Though it feels a bit early for assessments, if there’s one thing I learned from starting R&W Lab it’s that nothing happens in a vacuum – especially on a college campus. Much like campus itself, there are often several moving pieces that need to be taken into consideration before a service can even be planned out. Thankfully, I had several people in my corner to aid and support me throughout the process.  

This semester’s flier for Research & Writing Lab

Reflecting on Library Instruction

Palms are sweaty, knees weak but I’m not talking about spaghetti (sorry, Eminem); I’m talking about teaching a credit-bearing library course! This last Fall semester, I not only started my first official librarian position, but I also taught my own credit-bearing library course for the very first time. It’s something I’ve briefly mentioned in previous posts, but it’s actually been a huge part of my experience as a first-year academic librarian.  

Within my library, my position falls under the Teaching and Outreach Department. In addition to outreach services, my department’s responsible for teaching several one-shot library instruction sessions per semester as well as teaching credit-bearing library courses. Most of our one-shots are delivered to first-year undergraduate courses, but we also offer the usual library orientation session and course specific instruction as well. Our credit-bearing classes are often co-requisites of corresponding courses. For example, we teach library research classes that support the following programs: Speech and Audiology, Honors, CHE (a TRiO Program for first-gen students), History, and Criminal Justice. The course I teach, LIB 160: Library Research, supports the Criminal Justice program.  

There are several components that come with teaching a co-requisite course. Myself and my colleague, who has been teaching 160 for some time now, regularly collaborate with the faculty member in charge of the course we’re a co-requisite of, CRJ 380: Research Methods in Criminal Justice. This means we do our best to ensure the work that’s done in 160 is closely aligned with what students are expected to do in 380. The major project students complete in 380 is a research proposal. The final assignment in 160 is a literature review which becomes a part of students’ research proposal for 380. Though we work hard to ensure that 160 provides students with the information literacy skills necessary to be successful in their field, planning for and teaching the course is not without its share of struggles.  

Some of the struggles that came with teaching 160 were fairly standard for teaching a new course. In spite of finishing my MS-LS with a solid understanding of information literacy, learning an entirely new curriculum designed for a subject matter outside of my expertise was my first big challenge. Though my colleague who taught the course before me was open to questions and more than willing to share her materials, I still had several lessons and assignments to familiarize myself with in a relatively short period of time – My position started in July and classes began in August. Thus, a great deal of my orientation process was dedicated to learning the ins and outs of 160. After starting to learn the curriculum, actually being in the classroom itself and teaching the lessons became my next challenge.  

Thanks to my colleagues who introduced me to the idea, reflection has become a part of my teaching process. Last semester, I got into the habit of journaling after every class. I’ll be the first to admit that not every day was my best last semester. To give you an idea, the words and phrases I used to describe my first week of class were: nervous, felt weird, stress, sweaty, talking too fast, and I think they liked my personality. Imposter syndrome loomed large for me. Though I have years of experience teaching high school, the thought of teaching in a university was intimidating for me. I was always a little nervous whenever I taught high school, but this was different. In hindsight, it may have been a combination of different things: new job, new responsibilities, first time teaching a new course. Yet, all of that isn’t to say that there weren’t any successes last semester.  

Seeing my students learn and grow has always been among my greatest successes as an educator. This past semester was no different. At the beginning of 160, my first assignment asked students to illustrate their current research process. At the end of the course, I asked my students to carry out the same assignment but to add any new steps they may have developed in 160. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the majority of my students added several steps to their old processes. Course evaluations were another new but pleasant surprise. 

Needless to say, teaching an in-person course during a pandemic is a challenge. Though my institution has a vaccine and mask requirement, the semester was not without its fair share of quarantines, sicknesses, or students dealing with labor shortages at their jobs. I’ve always felt that, before anything, students are people with lives outside of the classroom – Lives which are often subject to circumstances outside of their control. Because of this, I’ve always strived to be an open and understanding instructor. Even so, it was my surprise to see that several students noted my approach in their course evaluations with comments like, “Professor García truly cares about his students and them succeeding” and “He was very understanding with assignments and helped me when I needed an extension.” Though I often felt like maybe I didn’t know what I was doing, I’m happy to report that I never lost sight of my students’ humanity and my responsibility to them as an instructor.  

Flash forward to the present, my class is entering its third week and I’m happy to report that it’s been great! In spite of the current Omicron surge, students in quarantine, and snow days, I feel so much more comfortable as an instructor this time around. Looking at my reflection journal, the first week was described as comfy, easier, nice balance, and connecting with students well. Though I know improving one’s pedagogy is a continuous process, knowing the semester has gotten off to a great start fills me with great optimism. 

My view of my classroom. 

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.

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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.

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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).

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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.