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. 

On the Mend: Falling Into and Out of Overwork

I’d meant to write this post earlier in the week. Actually I’d meant to write an entirely different post earlier in the week. But after weeks of avoiding the winter cold going around at the end of last semester, and weeks of colder than usual temperatures where I live, last week my time was up. I’m fortunate that I don’t tend to get sick all that often, and fortunate to have paid sick time, too. Which I needed last week for multiple days of bundling up in blankets with congestion, fever, coughing, and aches.

I’m mostly better this week though still playing catchup from having been out. So I want to write a bit about self care and overwork and libraries. We’ve written about the importance of self care on ACRLog in the past. Quetzalli’s post a couple of years ago highlighted both the need for self care and some of her own strategies. And Ian’s post from a bit earlier reminds us that just as we may be dealing with issues that are invisible from the outside, so too are other folks, and it’s important to practice self care and have a generous heart (a lovely term).

I am not always the best at self care. Historically, I’ve sometimes struggled to use my sick days (when I’ve had them) for anything but the very worst illness. Some of this is my own internal work mindset — I’ve worked in academia for a long time, and the siren song of just one more project/article to read/grant or conference to apply for can be tough for me to resist. I’ve tried to be much more intentional about self care in the past few years. Some of this is a natural side effect of getting older, but also because I do feel that self care is important for everyone, as much as I still sometimes struggle myself. I need to use my sick days when I’m sick, not only because it’s better for me to rest and recuperate (and keep my contagions to myself), but also because I want to be sure that my coworkers feel comfortable using their sick days, too. A sick boss is not the best boss, on multiple levels.

Last week Abby wrote about vocational awe and our professional identity as librarians, discussing Fobazi Ettarh’s terrific recent article in which she defines and explores vocational awe in libraries (a term she developed). Fobazi and Abby both point out that vocational awe can lead to overwork and burnout in libraries, and I agree. Vocational awe contributes to making it hard for me to use my sick days. I’m working on it. I’ve been thinking a bit about bibliographic emergencies — the library is not a hospital, and there are thankfully very few situations or issues that cannot wait while someone takes a sick day. Our work is important, but it’s also important to put our own masks on first before helping others.