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.

Vulnerability, Connection, and Reflection During a Global Pandemic: Bringing the Personal Back to the Profession During a Strange, Strange Time

This guest post was submitted by Justin Fuhr, University of Manitoba.

Never a forced smile from the sun in the sky

Never the same cloud as it passes by

As the earth takes shape, as so should I

The weary are weary for they always ask, “why?”

Daniel Romano, “Never a Forced Smile”[1]

Introduction

At the beginning of the global pandemic due to COVID-19 when my work moved to working from home, I was in the middle of my five-week parental leave following the birth of my second child. I feel fortunate to have had this time with my family but more than a year later, have a feeling of emptiness that I continue to work from home. Don’t get me wrong, I feel extremely privileged to have a job that I can do from home, as well as an employer that is not rushing their employees back during an extremely volatile, unpredictable, and quite frankly dangerous, time.

My WFH situation also could be much worse: my kids could be home during the day while I try to work, as was the case in Spring 2020. Again, I am privileged to have childcare for both, allowing my wife and I a quiet house in which to work. The isolation, however, is difficult a year into this thing. I have little in-person contact beyond my immediate family and small bubble. I love my family and my friends, but it is difficult to go from seeing your co-workers in-person daily to seeing them solely over video conferencing software. For me, it’s a missing piece of the regularness of life.[2]

This feeling of isolation prompted me to talk and connect with my colleagues. Connection to colleagues, which for me led to vulnerable, authentic, and trusting relationships, is extremely valuable to me, something I have appreciated at a deeper level while working from home. These connections can lead to collaboration, throughout both research and work-related projects, in addition to providing much needed support and community.

Connection

I have been working at the University of Manitoba Libraries (UML) since 2015. I began work as a library technician, before attending grad school in 2016 to get my MLIS. I graduated in 2019 and was hired as a two-year term librarian at UML at the beginning of 2020. I have known many of my colleagues for a long time; there is a stable staff at the Libraries. I switched positions several times as a library technician and later as a librarian, so I have worked with a fair number of library staff and worked closely with quite a few. You naturally get to know your colleagues better the more you work with them.  However, I tried to maintain a work/home balance, which included my relationships with co-workers. Work was work and home was home, the professional and the personal stayed on each side. This changed while working from home, as I simultaneously became comfortable working as a librarian and found I needed more connection with colleagues. I felt isolated from my colleagues without seeing them daily. I wanted to connect with them at a time of isolation, to not only be more engaged in my work and research, but to actively build a community of collaboration and collegiality by bringing the personal back to the profession.

Connections can also be important to get to know more about your colleagues’ work, research, and professional interests. This can lead to collaborative and trusting relationships, extremely valuable and rewarding in any workplace. Connections also build community.  One of UML’s strategic directions is “building community that creates an outstanding learning and working environment.”[3]  One of the goals of this strategic direction is “the Libraries promotes staff success through…developing our internal communication tools and mechanisms for conversations within the UML in order to enhance our ability to provide efficient and effective services and increase satisfaction with our own work.” In this strategic direction, I see clearly two aspects that I really relate to: using unified communication software and conversations between colleagues, both of which are important for building connections and for future collaboration with colleagues.

Online communication

A benefit to everyone working from home was library staff using the same online communication software. I found when working from home, if your colleagues are connected by the same online communication platform — we use Microsoft Teams — it was in some ways easier to connect. Sure, you no longer run into your colleagues before and after meetings or chat at the front desk when you’re passing by, but it connects you to your colleagues in other ways.

Not only does the University of Manitoba have two campuses, separated by almost eleven kilometres, but there are also eleven libraries at UML, ten on the main campus. This separates staff located on different campuses and in different libraries; it can be difficult to connect with colleagues spread all over the place. Having many library staff using the same communication tool connects us in a way that working in-person throughout our eleven libraries and two campuses does not.

However, online communication is often an intentional act. You initiate conversation with others in a way that’s different than in-person communication. Often this is a one-on-one interaction. This can be vulnerable and you will need trust, which I touch on below.

Conversations as an Early-Career Librarian

Another factor for my feeling of isolation is that I am an early-career librarian. I need guidance as I navigate how to become a better librarian and researcher, and my colleagues, who are extremely friendly and supportive, are a fantastic support. As a librarian, I have flexibility and independence in my workload. I am early in my career and I have tons of questions about my work, research, future career plans, and direction to take in academic librarianship. I am eager to ask my colleagues for answers or advice, having an appreciation of perspectives different from mine, especially with their deep and varied experience. My colleagues very graciously share with me their own experiences, which I can apply to my own context, and otherwise provide support and advice relevant to me.

By reaching out to colleagues to get their advice on a wide range of topics, I can shape my direction and outlook on my work and research, now and in the future. With greater independence in my position compared to when I worked as a library technician, this guidance and connection is all the more important for me. Over the past year, I have found three important aspects to connection with my colleagues: vulnerability, authenticity, and trust.

Vulnerability

Connecting with others and bringing the personal to work may mean you are vulnerable. Sharing your fears, doubts, and reservations can be difficult to do (and not necessarily necessary). This is even more difficult to share with your co-workers. I don’t know about you, but I try to cultivate a ‘better me’ at work. Wouldn’t sharing your vulnerabilities run counter to this? You would think so. However, confiding in your colleagues on difficult issues or scenarios can be really rewarding for both you and your co-worker. You would be surprised how putting yourself out there can benefit both you and the person you’re confiding in, in a mutualistic-type of relationship. Also sharing vulnerabilities does not negate the ‘better you,’ in fact it enhances your image by being authentic to present the ‘best you.’

Mentioned earlier, online communication is often intentional. On some level, you have to put yourself out there to contact others. You trust that the person you’re contacting is supportive and collegial. In addition, confidence in your co-workers, in terms of privacy, is key here, which also helps to build trust. Sharing professional vulnerabilities is difficult and immensely personal, so if your confidence is broken that can do long-term damage to you and your colleague’s relationship. Also be cautious about sharing very personal information. Though I advocate for bringing the personal back to the profession, there still should be some sort of line between work and home. Where this line lies, though, is for you to decide.

Authenticity

Being authentic with your colleagues builds a stronger community and deeper connections — authentic connections. I advocate for being authentic in your work relationships, regardless of past experiences or history with your colleagues. Of course, don’t let yourself be taken advantage of, but learn to forgive and forget. Collegiality plays a large role here and should not be forgotten.

I also think honesty begins with yourself; knowing your boundaries, being aware of your work style, and conscious of your personality. Be honest with yourself and you’ll find it easier to be honest with others, especially in the workplace.

Trust

Trust is integral for strengthening connections among co-workers. Wojciechowska (2020) claims trust, when looked at from a social capital context, “strengthens relationships with the neighbourhood, facilitates cooperation with partners and colleagues, reduces fear and conflicts, and may also stimulate development.”[4] Trust is built in different ways. Sometimes it’s built over years of relationship building. Sometimes it’s based on someone’s personality, reputation, or history at the workplace (or your own!). Sometimes you just click with someone and trust comes quickly.

When you trust who you are speaking with, it is so much easier to have honest conversations. There’s also an element of trust where you need to trust that your conversations are honest. I find vulnerability and trust work hand in hand: it is easier to be vulnerable when you can trust your colleague has your back. In addition, trusting that the colleague you are speaking with won’t pass on any conversations held between the two of you is so important, and of course goes hand-in-hand with being authentic. 

Another thing I had to get over was my worry of bothering my co-workers, especially because I have so many questions! I had to learn to trust that my relationships with my colleagues were strong, that my colleagues are eager to chat and help, and that they would let me know if they had to complete time-sensitive work.

In Conclusion

I appreciate the camaraderie and collegiality received from my colleagues over the past year. I’ve said in the past that it takes a village to raise a librarian, which I find is more relevant than ever right now. I am very fortunate to work in a library system that has so many supportive, knowledgeable, and friendly colleagues.

I feel that over the past year, I have connected at a deeper level with a substantial number of my co-workers in vulnerable, authentic, and trusting ways. These connections have provided me with a strong librarian mentor who is encouraging, empathetic, and experienced, colleagues with whom I regularly meet up with to go on walks, and co-workers who I now consider friends. Most of all, I can connect and collaborate with my colleagues on work, research, our future careers, and just life.

Acknowledgements

I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the importance of Daniel Romano’s music over the past year, whose lyrics appear at the beginning of this reflection and whose music has brought me comfort during the isolation of working from home.


[1] Romano, D. (2011). Never a forced smile. On Sleep Beneath the Willow [LP]. Welland, ON: You’ve Changed Records.

[2] Unlike Christopher Moltisanti, I love the regularness of life and can’t wait to get back to it.

[3] University of Manitoba Libraries. (2021). Strategic infrastructure. https://www.umanitoba.ca/libraries/administration/strategic-infrastructure

[4]  Wojciechowska, M. (2020). Trust as a factor in building cognitive social capital among library workers and users. Implications for library managers. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 47(1), p. 1. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.acalib.2020.102300

Introducing Yourself When You’re a New Librarian

Please welcome our new First Year Academic Librarian Experience blogger Yoonhee Lee, Learning & Curriculum Support Librarian at McLaughlin Library at the University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada.

“So, tell me about yourself…” is a question that I dread. Whether it’s in an interview situation or when you’re meeting someone for the first time in a professional or personal setting, I struggle with how to introduce myself in a succinct but engaging way. I’ve been introducing myself a lot the last couple months, as I’ve started my first academic librarian job. I’ve been meeting library colleagues, faculty, staff, and students in the hallway, meetings, orientation events, and classrooms. Depending on who I was talking to and the situation, I introduced myself in various ways, ranging from just saying my name to talking about my job as a Learning & Curriculum Support Librarian.

While in library school the importance of having a 30-second elevator pitch was stressed throughout my studies, particularly in relation to looking for work and networking. I’ve tried to hone my “I’m a library student looking for a library job” pitch while participating in networking events, attending library conferences, and going to interviews. Fumbling through answering questions about my new role, I realized that I needed to develop something similar for my new professional identity as an academic librarian. But I found it challenging to sum up what I do when I wasn’t sure or comfortable with this new identity yet. Even saying “I’m a librarian” still felt foreign to me.

A lot of the questions I have surrounding how to introduce myself is rooted in anxieties about my newness. Not only was I new, but due to my appearance, I’m often mistaken as a student. I wanted to present myself as someone who is confident and authoritative, particularly when I was talking to faculty about coming into their classrooms and providing library instruction. Trying to transition from library student to a professional librarian, I was super focused on presenting myself professionally.

Fortunately, I had the opportunity to think about introductions differently during an orientation session for new faculty. In the morning, we did typical introductions, which involved going around the room sharing our name, department, and field of research. Many folks also shared their academic history, including previous institutions, degrees, and current projects. Feeling a bit conscious about not having research interests yet (imposter syndrome strikes again!), I quickly said my name and the subject areas I support. Later in the afternoon, during a session with the Office of Teaching and Learning, we were asked to reintroduced ourselves to the person sitting beside us. But, instead of listing our research interests, we were asked to introduce ourselves through discussing our parents and grandparents. This exercise was an intimate experience, as we shared our personal lives and journeys with one another. It was both thrilling and terrifying at the same time.

I felt awkward sharing about my Korean immigrant parents, which usually only my close friends know about — not my work colleagues. I felt vulnerable and a bit exposed. My family, however, is an integral part of who I am and how I view the world, not just personally but as a librarian too.

I’ve been inspired by the many librarians who’ve been discussing vulnerability, like sharing personal experiences or practicing supported vulnerability. Engaged and transformative learning involves taking risks and being vulnerable. In my library instruction classes (and at the reference desk), I ask students to share their previous experiences with library research, including challenges they’ve faced. I ask them to share what they already know and what they don’t know. I’m asking students to be vulnerable. But I also understand that I can’t ask students to be vulnerable without being vulnerable myself.

I’m not sure how to incorporate all this when I introduce myself at the beginning of class. I believe in teaching with your whole self and that my teaching is influenced by who I am, my position in the world, and my worldview. Some of who I am can be gleaned from my name and my appearance. Other aspects of myself, like the fact that I’m a new academic librarian that was a student just a few months ago, I would need to explicitly share. Usually, you gradually share yourself as you get to know someone better. With my library colleagues, as I develop relationships, they’ll get to know me beyond my name and job title and work. But with students in a classroom, I might only see them one time in a one-shot class. How do I introduce my authentic self? How can I share but also set boundaries? How do I share what I don’t know without undermining myself?

I don’t have the answers. Maybe I’ll have a better idea once I’m more confident in my role as a new academic librarian, or maybe I won’t. But I’m super excited to continue to think and reflect on this throughout my career and hone my “I’m a librarian who can help you, but also I don’t know everything, and I’m here to learn with you — also I’m a whole person with varying knowledge and lived experience just like you” pitch to students.

Resolutions for Failure

How bout that January, eh?  Lots of memes out lately about the longest month ever.  Yet, like this reddit thread, I don’t really get it. I mean, despite my Oklahoma-born, summer-loving upbringing, I do expect that January is supposed to be snowy and damn cold.

I also don’t love, but expect annual evaluations.  They provide a time to reflect on the highlights of the year and set goals for the next.  Most often I approach this task (and leadership generally) from a strengths-based perspective, which has its roots in positive psychology research.  I encourage people to own what they are best at, even using it to build areas at which they feel not so great.   But, as January has brought a lot of harsh realities to the fore, it feels necessary to juxtapose this month’s normal, optimistic resolution with a page from Brene Brown and ponder what didn’t go quite right this year.

My acceptance into the 2018 cohort of the Institute of Research Design in Librarianship (IRDL) certainly put a postive move on a long-stuck research agenda, and in all respects (except one) it was an a-ma-zing experience. That same week, I was also furtively struggling to complete editor changes for a book chapter on knowledge management in libraries (ala this past post).  Trying to do research while learning how little you actually know about research is one thing.  Working on two research project simultaneously with that fragile skill set is another.  Working against an already extended deadline on a near-complete redo of said research and writing certainly takes one down a peg or two.  But wait!  There’s more.  None of these humiliations can beat the crushing horror four (4) months after submitting the final revised draft, realizing that I’d attached the wrong file.

Yes. Epic. Fail.

I have never asked for an extension I couldn’t meet. I have never wanted to write about a topic more than I wanted to write about meetings and knowledge management in library organizations.  Needless to say, the editors confirmed they’d moved forward without my chapter included. But if we’re being honest, while I was satisfied with the final draft I thought I’d submitted, this blunder was a blessing in disguise that helped me realize how far my cart was in front of this particular horse.

My actual and ongoing research for IRDL has been more like an extremely long January. I’ve progressed in some ways with ease and others with more groping at the dark.  Navigating my mentoring and research  network, I’ve partnered with a friend and colleague who is familiar with my topic and who has strengths in areas that I need to grow.  She and I have spent most of the year sorting out data after messy, incomplete data, just trying to figure out how to approach a sample to use for our analysis.  It’s been frustrating, paving over the same paths and feeling you’ve come up no further along.  We met again this week to pave with our local hub of digital research librarians. In the process we made breakthrough.  A face-palming breakthrough, but a breakthrough nonetheless.

I like to think Winston Churchill, as he’s often quoted, understood the better that lies ahead of the struggle.  Better even than the adage that this too shall pass (because, kidney stones?),  I prefer to remind myself and others that research is just messy until it’s not messy. This is what we teach as librarians, but sometimes forget to tell ourselves.

If I hadn’t been introduced to Brene Brown’s research, or learned what I did from IRDL, or had this particular editorial experience, or the practice of using my strengths, I don’t know that I could as easily take fails forward into something better and more genuine.  That I can say moving through vulnerability has become easier for me, is precisely because that is what the concept of strengths brings to bear for anyone’s vulnerabilities.  My top five Gallup strengths – Learner, Activator, Strategic, Analytical, and Individualization — help me more easily learn from my mistakes, analyze and strategize new paths, know myself and who to go to for help, and take action to keep going!  But even if you can’t yet  see your own strengths this way, research has shown vulnerability is a necessary part of personal and professional growth.

When I complete my current IRDL research, and when (not if) I  get back to research and writing about meetings and knowledge management in libraries, you and I both want it to be good and valuable and cleaner than the path it takes to get there.  So, I embrace the mess!  It may not always be pretty, but it’s a path that moves you forward if you let it.

Supported Vulnerability and Help-Seeking

Early in my career I was my library’s liaison to the Graduate College of Social Work. The commonly held sentiment among my colleagues was that I would have no trouble encouraging social work students to meet with me or ask for help outside of class. In fact, the trouble I might have would be in finding the time to meet with all them individually. There was an unspoken judgement that, I’ll admit ashamedly, I initially bought into. It was that these students, who were primarily women, were needy. They needed a lot of “hand-holding” and “reassurance” and I would have to “set appropriate boundaries,” to do my work well.

The more I worked with and got to know these students, the less inclined I was to buy into this characterization of them as somehow deficient, less-than, or needy. They were intelligent, motivated, and eager to do good work. Meeting with them was easily the best part of my day. I remember eventually discussing my feelings towards these wonderful students with a colleague who shared a great bit of insight: Maybe they, as individuals entering a helping profession, were more comfortable with help-seeking and more confident that the people who say they are there to help you are actually, well, happy to help you. It was the best explanation I could muster for these students’ behavior, and their openness and acceptance at the time. I was a 26-year-old new librarian. Many of these students were returning to graduate school to bolster or change careers. They trusted me when I said I was there to help them and I was so thankful that they did.

The Courage of Asking for Help

It’s a decade later and I’ve never been able to shake the early connection I felt to students in that program and social workers in general. I’ve recently joined a Relational-Cultural Theory reading group, inspired to focus on this branch of scholarship by conversations I had a few years ago with a social worker friend of mine. In our reading group (shoutouts to Alana Kumbier, Anastasia Chiu, Lalitha Nataraj, and Jo Gadsby), we’ve been focusing on The Complexity of Connection, which are a series of writings from the Stone Center’s Jean Baker Miller Training Institute that explore the concept of connection and relational activity as central to human growth and empowerment. In a chapter on Relational Resilience, which is not the kind of resilience that’s proven so problematic in libraries in recent years, Judith V. Jordan writes:

Asking for support directly…is…putting the person doing the asking most at risk–we feel most vulnerable when we let people directly know about our need.

…we live in a cultural milieu that does not respect help-seeking and that tends to scorn the vulnerability implicit in our inevitable need for support (p. 33-34).

Reading these lines was mind-blowing. It completely reframed the way I remembered those social work students operating in an academic setting and has made me rethink the ways in which I conceptualize help-seeking in students now. Those social work students, who had no qualms about sharing their research ideas, talking through their searching dilemmas, and asking for feedback on their understanding of an issue, were brave. They were making themselves vulnerable to judgement, but were willing to take that risk in an effort to forge a connection with me, and seek empowerment for themselves as students, scholars, and clinicians. They couldn’t have known that I would be supportive or that I wouldn’t judge them in silence (or in conversation). But they took that risk, and that took so much courage.

Those students were practicing what Jordan refers to as “mutual empathy,” the willingness to be open to growth through connection. Our meetings always started off with what I initially thought of as “just a talk.” They always, without fail, wanted to learn about me–my background, my day, my semester, my work–and it in turn really made me interested in them as people and students. I never realized how rare that was. To me, it was just a part of library-work, but really, I was learning from those social work students how to engage in mutual empathy and understanding. They were modelling a method of fostering connection and affirmation, and it’s a practice I continue to engage in to this day.

The Judgement in Our Questioning

We are the profession of “Ask Us,” and “Get Help Here.” We lament that reference statistics keep dropping and encourage/cajole/beg our students to come to us for help. We are anxious about library anxiety and work to actively create positive interactions with students/patrons who come to us. What I think we don’t do enough of is considering the courage and vulnerability it takes for students to come to us for help. The onus is on them to seek us out and to admit what they may see as their own shortcomings. And how do we respond? We do the reference interview, which is built on the assumption that people don’t completely understand their own (information)needs. We ask questions that seem to be value-neutral:

  • when is this assignment due?
  • when did you start?
  • what have you done?
  • where have you looked?
  • what do you need?
  • is that really what you need?
  • really?

Yet I have seen far more students than not who, in the face of these questions, look guilty and ashamed. I’ve had students apologize in response to these questions. I’ve seen their bodies hunch over and their eyes look away. I’ve heard their voices get smaller or louder and defensive. I’ve listened to stories that explain their answers to these questions that broke my heart. I’ve had to actively work to combat the judgement inherent in those seemingly innocent questions. I’ve explicitly said, “there is no judgement in this space between us right now.” How can I, who am sitting on a pile of email that I’m too afraid to respond to, in good conscience be frustrated at any student who has decided to start researching at a time that is close to the project due date?

Supported Vulnerability

Jordan advocates for a model of connection that encourages “supported vulnerability.” We all need help and support to grow and be our best selves. As librarians, I think we need to stop advocating for two very different ideals that are in direct conflict with one another: the notion of the independent, information literate researcher/student and the researcher/student who feels supported in the vulnerability necessary to seek help. By holding up the independent individual as our ideal we are implicitly saying that the help-seeker is dependent, weaker, and not quite fully developed. There is no way to full-development in this model unless what you want is a researcher who is so afraid of appearing wrong or vulnerable that they just persist in their ignorance without bothering to learn from the people around them.

So what does that mean for our reference practice? One of my reading group buddies talked about a time when they had a 30 minute conversation with a student about their research. There was no “help” involved, no bestowing of knowledge from librarian to student, but it wasn’t really about that. It was about fostering a connection. Now the librarian knows what the student is working on and feels invested in them as a person and interested in their research. It’s the beginning of a foundation on which to build a relationship.

I don’t just want students to come to me when they have a problem or need help. I don’t want them to feel like they have to put themselves out there without me having to do the same. I want to get to know them as people and foster a connection that will help both of us grow and learn. I’ve seen students eager for even the slightest kernel of connection and relatability during a one-on-one. It’s both heartening to know they want this and depressing to think it’s so rare.

I don’t think this focus on connection and mutuality is a part of the model of research support and reference we currently adhere to collectively, as a profession, but I do think it’s one that we could easily shift towards. I know that I am writing about vulnerability from a position of privilege. I am tenured. I read as white to others (despite my best efforts to the contrary). I am a femme ciswoman. But I do think that there is a place for this kind of supported vulnerability in our profession if those of us with privilege could be courageous enough to support the vulnerability of our peers and characterize it as an asset and a strength, not a liability.