Looking Back: A Yearly Wrap-Up

I’ve (almost) made it! As of May, I’m eleven months into my first not-so-new-anymore academic librarian position. Looking back on my first year in an academic library, there are a handful of lessons, moments, and people that come to mind – including just how fast time flies while working at a university. In the spirit of growth, this month’s post reflects back on my various lessons from this academic year.

Teaching a library credit-course has always loomed rather large for my first position. So, it makes sense that there’s more to be said about teaching than I have space for (see my January post, for example). That being said, here are couple of lessons from the library classroom.

Proper Preparation

I’m going to let you in on a little-known secret – I get nervous each and every single time I have to teach. It doesn’t matter how many years of teaching I have under my belt, it doesn’t matter if it’s a one-shot lesson I’ve delivered ten times. I always get at least a little nervous whenever I have to teach, and it took me a while to realize that that’s okay.  There’s something that’s always stuck with me from my alternative teacher certification days that still holds true for me to this day – proper preparation prevents pitiful performance. Aside from being an impressive example of alliteration, this maxim has become something I live by when it comes to teaching. 

Teaching is stressful. Each class, each lecture, each activity comes with its laundry list like number of considerations to think about. Activating students’ prior knowledge, preparing mini-lectures, creating opportunities for students to practice new skills, assessing those skills; these are just some of the few things an instructor has to take into consideration whenever planning an instruction session. Granted, some level of stress is unavoidable when teaching, but craving time out each day to prepare and plan instruction has made teaching a lot more manageable for me.

Reflection

Planning takes time, but actual instruction sessions themselves fly by. It’s because of this that reflection has become a staple of my pedagogical praxis. Thanks to my lovely colleagues who introduced me to the concept, I now have a journal specifically for both planning out my classes but also reflecting on each instruction session. Having a space for reflecting on each class session has afforded me a variety of insights. Something I learned early on about teaching is that classes don’t always turn out the way we image, so having a journal filled with the ups and downs of instruction helps me better plan for future sessions. In a way, my reflection journal works as a form of self-assessment, but it also serves as a marker of progress – comparing my notes from the first week of Fall classes to this Spring lets me know I’ve come a long way as both a librarian and an instructor.

Working Out a Workflow

Prior to my current position, my old workflow consisted of notes in a very lovely planner that I would consistently forget to regularly check. I regretfully admit that, because of my lax scheduling, there are a handful of work and nonwork related events that I missed. But, I’m happy to report that since starting at my current institution, I’ve become the type of person who lives by their Outlook calendar. My last to-do every day before leaving the office is taking a look at my calendar for the next day and locking in exactly what I need to be working on and when. More importantly, I’ve grown into the habit of setting my calendar up in advance as often as possible. This means that sometimes I place an event or deadline on my calendar months in advance but, thanks to my calendar’s reminders function, the likelihood of me forgetting to prep for that event or deadline is much smaller than it has ever been.

Outreach

It seems to me that figuring out your approach to outreach is an almost universal librarian experience. Each library and each campus come with their own set of distinct factors to take into consideration when planning outreach. Because of that, I think it’s safe to say that there’s no one hard and fast rule for conducting outreach to your campus community. What I’ve come to learn about outreach is that most of all it requires time and visibility.

Connecting with students has quickly become one of the most rewarding parts of my position. But, like that phrase about Rome, those connections aren’t built in a day. Whether it’s in the classroom or a campus cultural center, building relationships with students and the on-campus organizations that serve them require an investment of time and presence. My biggest success story in this regard has been my outreach to my campus’ César Chávez Cultural Center (I touched on this in my March post) which led to me being personally sought out by students.

Service

Service to the library, service to the university, service to the profession at large – service period is something I didn’t have much experience with till this year. Much like the other lessons, figuring out my approach to service work has taken time. Though it seems like a requirement typical of most academic libraries, service seems like the type of work that can either become an additional burden or a fulfilling joy. My approach to service has consisted of finding opportunities aligned to my passions. For example, back in March I took part in two training sessions with the library internship program I was in during grad school. During the sessions, I had the opportunity to discuss my experiences in the job market and my transition from intern to full-time librarian with current interns. Maybe it’s something to do with the type of people this profession attracts, but I’ve found that incoming librarians tend to be very responsive and appreciative of hearing earnest advice about the profession to which I usually reply with, “this is one of the fun parts about my job” – and, it’s true. I’ve found that sharing the experiences and advice I’ve received along my path to the profession thus far to be immensely gratifying. Doing so has made my service feel a lots less like work and more like giving back.

Friendship

Last and most certainly not least, friendship. Having people that you know that you can lean-on, as well as making space for those people to lean-on you, goes a long way for me in my personal life. But, I’ve come to learn that that’s also the case for me at work. I know, I know – librarians typical tend to identify as introverts (myself included) but having a close-knit circle of work friends has been huge for me. All of us have our fair share of bad days, but not everyone has someone that they can lean on during those times. Being open and vulnerable with my circle at work has gotten me through some of my roughest days at the library.

In a lot of ways, I feel like I’ve finally gotten adjusted to my new career. I fully recognize I still have much to learn but reflecting back on my first year has allowed to realize just how far I’ve come in a relatively short period of time. Though I’m happy to report that I’ll be taking some time off this Summer – I’m really excited to catch Rage Against the Machine and Kendrick Lamar in July – I’m looking forward to all the new lessons and challenges the coming academic year will bring.

Service as a Resident Librarian

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

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

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

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

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

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

The flyer for our panel series

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

The Back of the iPad Cart And Other Things I Didn’t Anticipate as a New Department Head

What felt like the longest month (January) is finally over. I don’t know about you, but the combination of cold temperatures, snow, the surge in COVID cases, and the push to “de-densify” the campus really put me in a pandemic funk. Each week felt out of my control and full of back-to-back virtual meetings. After spending a full semester working entirely in-person and only having a few virtual meetings each week, my body definitely needed time to readjust to working from my dining room table.The days went by fast, I was full of hectic energy, but January as a whole felt like a slog. 

As I emerge and jump headfirst into February (my favorite month for many reasons, including the arrival of my birthday), I tried to identify the reason for a hectic January. I think part of it was encountering some things I hadn’t anticipated. As I’ve talked about on the blog before, I’m new to being a department head. I’m finding it challenging and rewarding in all the right ways and an opportunity for me to grow. But like any new position, things pop up that you don’t think would happen. As I stood in front of our iPad cart, trying to determine what cords went where, I figured it would be fun to discuss a few of the things I’m navigating! 

Balancing team vs. me time

One of the things I enjoy about my new role is the ability to take a bird’s eye view at what the team is doing. It’s great to see how each individual is moving a project forward and I love to connect teammates when their interests and skill sets match up. I love thinking through the vision of the department and how our individual goals work towards collective goals. But sometimes I get to the end of the work day and realize that I’ve been spending so much time thinking about the team, I haven’t thought about me. 

By me, I mean the individual projects and work I do that is connected, yet separate in some ways, from my department head role. For example, the awesome work I get to do with LibParlor and the IMLS grant we received. Or writing this blog post for ACRLog or planning a one-shot instruction session. I’m still trying to find the balance between how I assist and support the success of the team I’m leading, but also find time to work on the things that are part of my portfolio. Recently, I’ve gotten around to blocking off chunks of time for certain projects, closing out my mail when I’m not actively sending email, and using my virtual to-do list to label when work will be done (morning vs. afternoon) and if it will require ample brain space. I know a perfect balance will never be achieved, but I’m working on being more cognisant when one side is overtaking the other. 

Defining workflows and processes 

The name of this blog post comes from a recent experience where the department got new iPads (yay). As the department head, I got thrown into how we might manage them and how we work with our central IT to maintain them. I’m a process-oriented person, who is also aware that we should capture the success of using this technology (so future funding can be secured when we need it). As I watched our IT department deliver our iPads to the library, I realized that managing 24 iPads is not the same as managing my own personal iPad that I watch Hulu on. In the process of figuring out these new devices, I inevitably spent more time on them than I anticipated. And time I didn’t even consider – like rearranging the cords in the back of the iPad cart to be neat and orderly! Was that necessary? (Probably not). Did it make me feel more organized and together? (Sure did). I know this preparation work will pay off – I’ve gotten to know folks outside of the library and think about how these iPads are part of our bigger instruction work. However, the long game doesn’t mean the short game doesn’t feel hectic!  

The pandemic (enough said, right?)

I feel like my pandemic journey at my current institution is backwards – I interviewed for the role in June 2021, during the sweet period of no masks. I started the job as the mask mandate was put back into place, and now my 2022 started off with my institution deciding to push the start of the semester back a week and encourage work from home as much as possible. I’m thankful that I had a full semester with the team before jumping into an almost entirely remote work situation. It has been weird not to see my colleagues on a daily basis and at times, I feel a bit disconnected from some of their day-to-day work. This was also really my first chance as a manager to manage in an evolving pandemic situation. It means I’m sending a lot of emails and trying to model the ways I remember feeling supported in my previous role when the pandemic was shifting and changing. We are just all trying to survive.

What’s next? 

I wish I knew what was next! Ideally, I’ll go back to a “pandemic fall normal” on Monday. I’ll keep doing my thing and figuring out strategies along the way. I’ll keep celebrating the small wins, like functioning classroom iPads that have wifi! I’m curious – did anyone else have a particularly dreary January? What happened that you didn’t anticipate? 

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.