A First Year Academic Librarian’s Teaching Journey

For this blog post, I decided to document my teaching journey so far as a first-year academic librarian. Before I secured my current position as a Reference & Instruction Librarian at Cal State University, Northridge (CSUN) in July 2023, I had already been an educator for over ten years. My teaching background was instrumental as I transitioned into my current position. I already had experience teaching (and learning from) scholars of diverse backgrounds, such as, students of color, first generation students, parenting students, neurodiverse students, and students of various age groups. For instance, I had gained valuable experience as a Library Intern at East Los Angeles College where I taught information literacy and research sessions for various disciplines. While my past experiences provided a strong foundation for my current line of work, I still underwent a learning curve.

Before I started teaching my own sessions, I was quite intentional about shadowing experienced academic librarians. Throughout summer and fall of 2023, I observed several sessions conducted by 3 different academic librarians. As the new librarian, who had not yet developed any professional relationships at CSUN, I found this process to be a bit awkward. While I recommend that early career librarians take this step, it is important to tread carefully. Due to heavy workloads, not all librarians feel comfortable with taking on the responsibility of mentoring early career librarians. If you sense hesitation, move on and ask someone else. In my case, my colleagues were quite gracious and offered a helping hand. They shared resources like PowerPoint presentations and library handouts that eventually became part of my own toolkit. Observing a few librarians allowed me to learn about different teaching styles, pedagogical practices as well as active learning strategies.

Early in the fall semester, I began to receive instruction requests from faculty members teaching English, Central American & Transborder Studies and University 100 courses. For each session, I prepared extensively and tailored the session to the instructor’s specific assignment (i.e., annotated bibliography, persuasive essay, research paper, or group project). With each session, I became more confident in my ability to teach students how to use the library’s resources. During the last week of October, my chair observed one of my sessions. Admittedly, I was very nervous and this feeling became amplified when the course instructor spontaneously asked me to showcase a database that I was not familiar with at all. Despite a few hiccups, I thought the session went well.

When I received my observation letter, I was relieved since my chair highlighted many of my strengths. She also offered fair feedback. I was encouraged to pause more often and call for questions. Because each session runs for an hour and 15 minutes, I struggle with incorporating more time for student engagement. Time goes by so quickly and there’s so much to cover. After I received my chair’s observation letter, I began to ask myself: How can I be more intentional about engaging students? As suggested, I started to weave in more “check-in” questions throughout my sessions. Once I integrated more time for questions, I still felt unsatisfied and I knew there was room for improvement.

Surprisingly, the answer came to me last week during a Zoom breakout session. I am currently enrolled in a course called Equity Minded Pedagogy, which is offered by the CSU Chancellor’s office. During a conversation with a course facilitator, we discussed the impact of co-creation. Together, we thought about ways to collaborate with students in order to create more equitable and inclusive learning environments. I disclosed that as a first-year academic librarian, I rely heavily on my script and I need to incorporate more ways to engage students. Prior to each session, I develop keywords, select the most suitable databases, and test links. This serves as the preliminary work for my live OneSearch demonstration. However, I realized that my seemingly flawless demonstration could mislead students. It’s critical for students to witness the messy process of trial and error that is inherent to the search experience.

As I came to this realization, the course facilitator referred me to Dr. Brene Brown’s TED Talk. This video expanded my perception about the importance of embracing vulnerability. By facing uncertainty and imperfection, I may create a space to authentically connect with students because as Dr. Brown mentions, “for connection to happen, we have to allow ourselves to be seen, really seen.” Moving forward, I intend to centralize student engagement by asking for volunteers, brainstorming keywords with the entire class, and relinquishing control. Along the way, students will notice broken links or unsuccessful searches. My hope is that students will value our shared experience, create a sense of belonging, and muster the courage to be imperfect in a vulnerable world.

Playing with Fall Planning

Editor’s note: We are pleased to welcome Jade E. Davis to the ACRLog team. Jade is Director of Educational Technology & Learning Management at the University of Pennsylvania Library. She leads a team committed to strategic technological innovation in library spaces, student engagement, play, teaching, research, and learning support. She was previously the inaugural Director of Digital Project Management and Columbia University Libraries. She has a PhD in Communication studies with a focus in media, technology and culture from UNC Chapel Hill. Her research looks at new modes of knowledge production, how digital information complicates information literacy, the ethics of digital knowledge production, digital media & learning, and empathy culture. Prior to earning her PhD she worked in digital project management and production, a digital humanities lab, and HASTAC.

Happy Fiscal Year 2022-23 to those who celebrate! On my team we celebrate by beginning our fall planning. I started my current role at the beginning of the remote phase of the pandemic. A significant portion of my work, to date, has been attempting to counterbalance burnout (of staff, students, faculty, etc) with new ways of bringing our community into our work, and thinking differently about how we approach our work. For the part of my team that manages our Commons spaces we are focusing on undergraduate engagement and something that has caused some organizational tension: play. There are three reasons for this.

  1. Supporting students, especially undergraduates, supports the health of the University.
  2. Play is a low-stakes, high-reward way to bring people together. 
  3. Play can be cultivated given the Academic Library’s super power*.

*The Academic Library’s Super Power According to Jade

The Library is a central part of the university with access to a plethora of resources, material and flexible spaces. Our engagement with patrons is not bound by time in the way courses are. We can create many of our own assessments without the baggage of grades. We know why our audiences are here: to learn and create knowledge. We can participate in and create co- & extra-curricular activities, and experiential learning through play that facilitate the generation of new ideas and approaches which, in turn, supports the mission of the University.

Why Now?

A pattern we’ve seen when we look at surveys of faculty now is faculty feel they have less time for research and service given their own pandemic+ burnout. Faculty, graduate students, and other lecturers feel they are spending more time providing support to students, not just for course material, but in general as students try to figure out how they fit into the campus community. Generally there is a sense that the remote period or other dynamics (there are so many dynamics right now), have led to student disengagement, which we are seeing reflected in patron counts. This is where play comes into play.

I like to call “play” a total empowerment move because it addresses so many things. It creates a space where people are able to meaningfully engage social dynamics and take risks with controlled consequences. It allows for creativity, exploration, discovery, and joy for participants and staff. In my experience it also reminds people that they play all the time by doing things like playing with ideas and finding solutions to problems. There is a good amount of research on play and learning/pedagogy, and there’s been a recent uptick in looking at play in Higher Education. I’ve put together a talking points table that I use to walk people through how play-empowered libraries, students, and culture & society are better able to navigate our current context and develop resilience and shared purpose based on takeaways from the research. 

Play Empowered

LIBRARIESSTUDENTSCULTURE & SOCIETY
Are inclusive engagement spaces by design. They allow multiple ways to engage. This creates a safe space for exploration and experimentation.Are allowed to be more vulnerable, take risks, and play with ideas including their own positionality and power without fear of failure.Imagine and create different worlds because we know we can be in the world together differently.
Create community within the University. Students are accountable to themselves  and to each other.Practice being part of a paraprofessional community through  low stakes, high reward socialization.Understand that society is a network/global and our choices produce results and consequences.
Cultivate a productive and positive  orientation towards the moment and “failure” by experiencing surprise and delight through experimentation without the risk or anxiety of getting a bad grade.Navigate unexpected obstacles or changes because experimenting with different solutions, materials, and expertise is possible and encouraged.Recognize that current problems are temporary but require intentional engagement through collective action to be remedied.
Empower students to define their own success by making space for multiple destinations and ways of getting to the end.Have agency to imagine and design the future relevance and applicability of the material and skills.Assess their positionality and subjectivity by asking who am I in this? What is my impact? What are my choices? Who or what am I adding to, taking from?
Allow for and validate emotional responses & reactions in learning and coping through taking detours and non-linear pathways.Fully engage in the process of learning by acknowledging feelings of accomplishment, joy, and levity, in addition to stress, overwhelmedness, and other emotions/feelings.Become lifelong learners

The Work Right Now

Like many libraries, we had an exodus of staff during the pandemic. Once it became clear that the burnout being experienced was going to exist in waves, I rethought some of the roles on my team. This fall will be the first semester with Program Coordinators of Technology and Play. It was a title I campaigned for because it attracted people who already understood “play” as a powerful mode of engagement. To date, they’ve carted equipment and material from the Maker Space to the main Library to host some very successful pop-ups. The pop-ups allowed them to meet students, faculty, and staff semi-organically, and see what would be interesting for specific populations while still being fun for the staff. We are planning to expand these across the Library and bring in other units in the fall because they were so successful. And we are just starting to put together our fall plans. They’ve been given my one rule for cultivating play:

Design an experience YOU will be excited to be a part of. 

So, how about you all? Are you planning any play-filled activities or events to reintroduce patrons to your spaces and resources in the fall?

Finding the “yes and…” and getting out of my head

As the semester and end of the year approaches, I find myself reflecting on this question more frequently:

“Am I currently just trying to make it through the day or do I have the capacity and bandwidth to do other things?”   

I, like many of you reading this post, am tired. I feel like I’m doing just enough to stay a few steps ahead of everything. My best days are when I focus on one project and make slow and steady progress. I’m frustrated and anxious and that has bled into the ways I feel about work and the people I work with. I have felt stuck, in many ways, this fall. The jazzy Hailley some of you know can be a bit harder to find some days. 

What I’m slowly realizing is that my best strategy for handling these feelings is to step outside the library. Earlier this week, I attended another meeting of the Improv & Pedagogy Teaching Community, a group funded by our center for teaching excellence and led by faculty members who also are founders for a local improv group, Happy Valley Improv (HVI). 

Now, for some context, you should know I took an improv class with HVI at the start of 2020 (which seems like another lifetime ago). I had several motivations for taking the course, but mainly I wanted to try something new and was able to take the course with a close friend (shout out to my gal, Giorgia!). What I didn’t expect was that I truly loved doing improv. In an improv space, you’re asked to trust the people around you, get into the flow and energy of that group, and know that you’ll be accepted for whatever ideas you put forward. Everyone has agreed to the “Yes and…” philosophy and you make it work, with whatever you have been presented. While taking the in-person classes, I found it refreshing to turn the part of my brain that thinks about the next 10 moves and tap into my creative side, coming up with stories and backstories on the spot. I enjoyed the class so much, I had signed up for level 2 but obviously, the pandemic got in the way. 

So when I got the email about the fall meetings for the Improv & Pedagogy Teaching Community, I figured this was my way back into improv. I attended a session about a month ago and left the session feeling happier and more energetic than I had been in a while. It wasn’t a large group of us, no more than 12. We talked about our position at the university and how it’s related to teaching, and what we were experiencing in our virtual classrooms. During that first happy hour, we played a few games, where we got to rename ourselves, pass around the ball of energy, and dream up some new characters. 

When the next happy hour came around this past week, I thought about skipping it. There was a lot of library drama this week and I felt weighed down by everything. However, I reminded myself that I would probably feel better if I logged on. So, as 4:30 rolled around, I got onto Zoom and as soon as I got into the room, I started to smile. What struck me about this happy hour was that it was refreshing to talk to people not deeply interconnected with the library. Widening my group of colleagues gave me a new perspective I needed. As we sat in that Zoom room, we were all educators, sharing our experiences, testing out some games, solving problems, and thinking about our teaching pedagogy and how improv plays a role in our work. Sure it wasn’t quite the same as standing in the ballet studio HVI used for their classes but the way the happy hour helped me and my brain definitely felt the same. I feel lucky to have this teaching community and am appreciative that this space is available to me.

Upon further reflection, I’ve been thinking a lot about how the ethos of “Yes and…” plays into my student engagement and outreach work. I’ve always seen myself as a connector and the “yes and…” helps bring new ideas, events, and workshops to life. In two meetings this week, after the improv happy hour, I found myself taking the “yes and…” stance. The first came in a conversation with two groups of colleagues, where we were connecting two peer mentoring services and imagining new ways to bring them together and provide instruction. The second was with two colleagues in Outdoor Adventures, as we began to finalize a semester-long Wikipedia Edit-a-thon to increase the coverage of POCs who are involved in the outdoor industry. In both situations, I felt that spark of making connections and building something I didn’t anticipate when I entered the meeting. It will definitely be this sort of work that sustains me, during this pandemic and beyond. And this week has been about clarifying what that dynamic is, so I know how to get back to that space when I need it.  

I’m curious if any readers have something like improv that helps you? Both for getting out of your head but also might have applications to your work? Would love to hear how others are continuing to grapple with today’s reality (and if there are any other library improv folks out there!).  

Student clubs and making zines

Slowly but surely we’re making it through this fall semester. For a librarian focused on student engagement and outreach, this semester has been a pivot (probably a large understatement). As Valerie discusses in her first FYAL post, part of the challenge for our work is finding ways to connect with our students. With limited hours and closed spaces, our normal outreach strategy “Let’s host an event, market it, but also know some students will wander in” doesn’t work. It’s been a moment to stop and reset. I’ve tried to ask myself (and the students I work with) what do they need to survive this semester. In asking those questions, some events we would normally host in-person get cut. At the same time, I’ve hosted events this semester and sat patiently in a Zoom room for 15 minutes with no other participants, before calling it off. I’m sure I’m not alone in that experience. All of this is to say I’ve been thinking a lot about how outreach and student engagement work tie into the larger university experience. How do we create programs that help our students do the things they value doing, especially in a moment where our uncertainty for 2020 and 2021 is visible and present in every meeting and interaction? 

One way we’ve been exploring these ideas is through direct programs for student clubs. We were lucky that the past two years our student engagement & outreach intern (and colleague), Lily, built relationships with a couple of active student clubs, Triota and Schreyer for Women. In pre-pandemic times, we hosted book clubs and zine workshops with these students. We always had a good turnout and the students seemed excited to partner with the Libraries. As the fall semester began, we turned out attention to finding a way to do at least one program with these clubs. Some colleagues and I got together to plan these events. We chose zines and specifically thinking about ways to tie it in with women’s activism and voting, due to the impending election and a theme around women’s activism that is being sponsored by our Liberal Arts College. Our plan was to host a virtual zine workshop and include scanned copies of materials from our Special Collections and university archives. We figured we could put together packets of zine-making materials and either send them to students or coordinate a pick-up time if the student was on campus. 

Both clubs were interested and we got to work setting up Zoom registration links and zine-making packets. This past week we led the two workshops and it was wonderful to spend an hour with these students. We made zines, talked about Halloween costumes, and discussed our voting plans. We laughed, had moments of silence, and shared stories with one another. Our hour together flew by and I got off each call feeling more hopeful than I had been when I logged on. It was nice to craft and to mentally prepare for whatever next week will bring. I’m sharing my papers from my zine below, along with the prompts in case you too are interested in making a zine. Figuring out new ways to do outreach and engagement definitely keeps me on my toes but at the end of the day, it’s always nice to connect with our students. 



Our zine prompts (for an 8 page zine):

 Guided question
Cover Up to you!
#2What are three words that sum up how you’re feeling about the 2020 election?
#3Tell us about the first time you voted and or an election that was (or is) important to you
#4What does activism mean to me?
#5
#6How was your definition/meaning of activism changed over time?
#7What work is left to do?
BackWhat gives you hope for the future?

A shout out to my colleagues, Angel Diaz, Clara Drummond, and Danica White for collaborating on these events! I hope there are many more zine workshops in the future.

Work weeks, schedules, and supporting students

Recently, Facebook reminded me of a picture I posted when I was in undergrad. It’s a picture of my Google calendar, in the fall of 2012. I was a busy undergrad, especially that fall, but my caption when I reposted this picture was something like, “If only 2012 Hailley knew what 2019 Hailley’s calendar would look like.” 

A screenshot of a Google calendar, with many appointments, from 6 AM in the morning until 9 PM at night.
My 2012 calendar

Between working in Admissions, being a writing tutor, sitting on two committees, being a part of student government and a literary journal, taking four classes, and clarinet lessons, I was never bored. Back in 2012, it was normal for days to stretch from 8 AM until 9 PM. The day wasn’t even officially done at 9 PM: that just meant it was time for readings, homework, or hanging out with friends. I felt busy, and at times, busier than than my friends, but overall, the pace of my schedule felt normal and what it should be like as an undergrad. 

These days, a meeting ending at 9 PM seems “late.” I was on campus walking with friends to a play and overheard a student say they had a meeting starting at 9 PM. My friends and I shared a look that said, “I would not want to start a meeting at 9.” College can be a time when traditional 9-5 is lost. If you’re awake, a meeting can happen. 

As the Student Engagement Coordinator, working with undergraduates is a fundamental part of my job. It has always felt normal for me to stay late, to host a workshop after dinner, meet with a student group, or run a Pop Up Library. And when I saw that Facebook memory pop up this time, I started to think about who else (faculty, staff) had to stay late when I was in college to support my student engagement. In some ways, it’s all coming full circle, as I stay late to support a new group of students. 

I also feel like there is an expectation that I’ll stay late. Part of that pressure is internal, because I remember what it was like to be a student and trying to find time to meet with faculty or advisors during the day (see calendar above). Part of that is my personality, and the ways that I let my personal and professional life bleed together. Part of that also comes from my first experience at Penn State, where I worked from 1-10 PM and saw how the library changed after 5 PM, when the “day folks” left and something new settled in its place. Part of that pressure comes from my conditioning to be helpful, as a woman in a service-orientated profession (Harris, 1992; Hicks, 2014) and some of that pressure is probably imagined.

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about this pressure and how my ability to stay late is partially built on my identity. I’m a young, single lady with no dependents. I’m often (in both positive and negative connotations) told that I have a lot of energy. The undercurrent of some of these statements imply that with that energy I’m well-suited to work with undergraduates. I feel that these characteristics make people think that of course, I’ll always stay late, handle that evening workshop, or be okay with an after-dinner meeting. They assume that my lack of any dependents means my evenings are always open. If this is the logic, what does it mean when my life inevitably changes? Does the pressure go away? Do I stop staying late or doing workshops on the weekends? Is it implied that eventually I’ll move away from “after hours”? If I move away from that work, will I lose touch with the undergraduates I serve? And if I do stop staying late, how will that change my work (and impact) with undergraduate students? 

In a recent study, Lily Todorinova (2018) examined job position descriptions for undergraduate and first year librarian positions. In this process, she discovered that between 2014 and 2016, these types of positions were on the rise. Many of those positions were listed as entry-level and were offered entry-level salaries, for example, lower than the average salary in 2016 (Todorinova, 2018, p. 209). What does this trend mean for the profession? If we want these positions to recognize and respond to movements within higher education and find ways to integrate the library (broadly: information literacy, instruction, services, etc.) more meaningfully into student life, how are we supporting these new professionals? And how are we being flexible in that support, so that these colleagues are not regularly working 12 hour days, as they accommodate both the traditional work hours and the student hours? Do we allow for time to be flexed in these positions? Do we force our colleagues in these positions to “grow” out of them?

These structures and this tension aren’t limited to academic librarians in engagement and first-year positions; student affairs professionals also have a high burnout rate (Marshall, Gardner, Hughes, & Lowery, 2016; Mullen, Malone, Denney, & Dietz, 2018). Many of the reasons why student affairs professionals leave are due to long hours and the struggle to maintain a work-life balance (Marshall et al., 2016). In a study done on new student affairs professionals, one respondent mentioned the long hours were a sacrifice that would result in long-term payoffs (Renn & Jessup-Anger, 2008). But that also feels problematic, especially in thinking of a library setting: if I set a precedent, what structure am I putting into place for those who do this work after me? Is that a tradition I want to instill?

So, what helps keep you student-centered, while setting boundaries and without it consuming your entire schedule? My thinking these days is remembering what it was like to be a student, who posted that picture of her calendar on Facebook because she was feeling overwhelmed, personally and academically. To remember those people who supported me in college and find ways to give that back, to a new group of students. And probably most importantly, to keep asking questions to the students I work with about their day-to-day. What does it mean to be a college student at Penn State? As Todorinova discovered, many librarians in engagement positions feel that they responsibility is to leverage student experiences (something I strongly agree with), and there has to be a way to get that insight, both within traditional working hours and sometimes, after 5.

At the end of the day, students will still meet at the end of their day. In wanting to support students, folks in these positions will work outside the bounds of 9-5. What we can do, both as employees and supervisors of these types of positions? I don’t have any firm answers but I do have a lot of thoughts. Currently they include:

  • Articulate our values and how those plays out in our work. If we want to be student-centered, what does that look like, for us as an organization?
  • Understand that just because you have “engagement” or “first-year” in your title, doesn’t mean that you’re the only person who can support the entire student population. This work has to be done collectively and not placed solely on one individual. 
  • Recognition that everyone’s time (ours, others, students, etc.) is valuable. It’s not a competition of who works the most, but instead an understanding that we all have things we care about and want to pursue outside our work responsibilities.   
  • Identify your colleagues that work outside the bounds of 9-5. Articulate why that is (position type, job description, population to serve, etc.) and reflect on something you’re doing to support their schedule. If you’re not sure of your answer, ask that person what’s one new way you can support their schedule.

I see and feel the tension, and don’t know exactly how those feelings and tension will change over the next few years. But I’m reflecting on these structures and trying to sort it out. I’m curious about what others think about these ideas and strategies around this topic.


Reference

Harris, R.M. (1992). Librarianship: The Erosion of a Woman’s Profession. Norwood, NJ: Ablex Pub. Corp.

Hicks, D. (2014). The Construction of Librarians’ Professional Identities: A Discourse Analysis / La construction de l’identité professionnelle du bibliothécaire?: Une analyse de discours. Canadian Journal of Information and Library Science, 38(4), 251–270. https://doi.org/10.1353/ils.2014.0017

Marshall, S. M., Gardner, M. M., Hughes, C., & Lowery, U. (2016). Attrition from Student Affairs: Perspectives from Those Who Exited the Profession. Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice, 53(2), 146–159. https://doi.org/10.1080/19496591.2016.1147359

Mullen, P. R., Malone, A., Denney, A., & Dietz, S. S. (2018). Job Stress, Burnout, Job Satisfaction, and Turnover Intention Among Student Affairs Professionals. College Student Affairs Journal, 36(1), 94–108. https://doi.org/10.1353/csj.2018.0006

Renn, K. A., & Jessup-Anger, E. R. (2008). Preparing New Professionals: Lessons for Graduate Preparation Programs from the National Study of New Professionals in Student Affairs. Journal of College Student Development, 49(4), 319–335. https://doi.org/10.1353/csd.0.0022

Todorinova, L. (2018). A Mixed-Method Study of Undergraduate and First Year Librarian Positions in Academic Libraries in the United States. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 44(2), 207–215. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.acalib.2018.02.005