[one person giving another person a bowl of cherry tomatoes] - Photo by Elaine Casap on Unsplash
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My Service is Not Selfless

This past Friday I attended the Gender and Sexuality in Information Studies Colloquium (GSISC18) at Simmons College in Boston, MA. It was an empowering, invigorating, and thoughtful conference that left my heart and mind so so full. Please forgive me as I spend the next few blog posts working through some of the thoughts and and feelings that surfaced during this day and have been percolating ever since.

I had the privilege of presenting at the end of the day with my colleagues Joanna Gadsby, Sofia Leung, and Jennifer Brown on Deconstructing Service: Identity and Expectations. We wanted to have an informal, semi-structured discussion on the idea of service in libraries, and the ways in which it is complicated by different facets of our identities and expectations surrounding people like us in libraries. I feel like I could listen to Jo, Sofia, and Jen talk for hours about anything and everything. They are brilliant women. One theme that kept resurfacing as I listened to them address different topics we raised during our presentation was something I mentioned early on in our panel session:

My service is not selfless.

I don’t see myself as selfless or giving to a fault. I do the work of helping and teaching in libraries because I gain satisfaction from this work. I enjoy facilitating learning in and out of the classroom because I want to help people recognize the critical thinkers and researchers inside themselves. I feel like in doing this, I am doing some good in the world. I am helping to build an educated, critical populace. In helping to empower others I am also empowering myself.

BUT (of course there is a “but”), I want to be valued for this work. I want to be paid adequately. I want to feel as though the relationships I engage in through my work are reciprocal and genuine, not exploitative. This is a job I enjoy, but it is still my job. I offer my care and good work at this job, and I expect care in return.

How does service play out in practice?

That was my ideal. This is my reality: I feel as though service is performative. The ethos of service in libraries makes it solely for the benefit of others. I have to actively work to prevent my service from becoming a drain. Maria Accardi and Megan Browndorf have both explored the phenomenon of librarian burnout, which is often rooted in a mismatch in affect (performative vs. genuine), job ambiguity, and overwork. Fobazi Ettarh’s groundbreaking article on vocational awe talks about the dangers of this selfless altruism, and the ways in which it is used to silence critique and further exploit library workers.

Jo, Jen, and Sofia all brought up the ways in which our service-oriented job culture contributes to the exploitation of librarian hidden labor, particularly for women of color. The effort behind our service remains hidden, because we don’t want to show, or, more likely, people don’t want to see, the hard work that goes into reproducing the work of libraries, scholarship, teaching, and learning. At one point, a conference participant stated that she often felt like The Giving Tree, giving of herself to others at work until there was nothing left! I don’t want to be that tree.

A feminist version of service

I want to reframe my service through a relational-cultural lens. I want my service to be rooted in empowerment for myself and others. I want libraries to value service when it comes time to promotion and pay increases, and not just traditional service on committees within the library, university/college, and profession. I think we need to value the emotional work we do as teachers, researchers, and librarians and compensate it accordingly. Just because we can’t quantify our relational work doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. It is the bedrock of our profession.

I understand we are working within the confines of patriarchal academia, and that academic libraries often replicate that structure, but I also see opportunity–thanks to adrienne marie brown’s Emergent Strategy–to start small and begin a culture change within our libraries/departments/units. I want to be the start of a new fractal that replicates outward, replacing a harmful version of service with one that feeds and nurtures ourselves. I want to see libraries replicating the helping behavior we want to put our into the world within our own working structure. Our ethic of care should be ourselves as well as others.

More to come

As I mentioned at the start of this post, this is likely going to be the first of many reflections from GSISC18. I’d love to hear from other participants and continue conversations we started on Friday. Also, many thanks to the conference organizers:

Emily Drabinski, Long Island University, Brooklyn
Derrick Jefferson, American University
Allison Gofman, Tufts University
Rebecka Sheffield, Simmons College
Stacie Williams, Case Western Reserve University

If you didn’t get a chance to attend, you can also read through the live notes from the conference thanks to the many volunteer note-takers. Your service is appreciated and valued!

 

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash; toddler hand moving blocks along a wire toy.
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Teach to Dismantle?

I’m putting together a professional development workshop for my teaching librarian colleagues on creating learning outcomes. It’s part of a larger summer prof dev series on teaching and learning in libraries that really focuses on foundational aspects of teaching IL. We’re essentially walking through the process of initiating, prepping, implementing, and following up on a class. It’s really just me externalizing my internal instructional planning process, which is why I think I am struggling with learning outcomes.

I write learning outcomes when I teach. They help shape and offer a scope to my classes. That said, sometimes those learning outcomes fly out the window when I actually get to class. I write outcomes with the best information I have at the time: assignment details, course syllabus, comments from the course instructor, previous experience working with students in this course, etc. But sometimes even the best planned class doesn’t turn out as planned, and I’ve learned to just go with it. Sometimes my written outcomes become obsolete or silly once I actually meet the students I’m going to be teaching for the next 1 to 2 hours. I’ll admit that in my early teaching years I just powered through my lesson plan, not wanting to deviate from my carefully crafted script. It would have been too scary, too messy, and too out of my control.

Now, I still put a lot of effort into crafting outcomes and lesson plans, but I tend to start every class by asking students if there are things they really want to learn today, questions they want answered, or things they want to get out of our time together. I’ve been reading Learner-Centered Pedagogy by Kevin Michael Klipfel and Dani Brecher Cook and am loving their emphasis on learner motivation, narrative, connection, and meaning making in information literacy education. Their central question is “What is it like to be a person learning something?” which I just want to have printed on a giant poster and up on my office wall. That should be first and foremost on our minds as teachers. One of the first answers that came to mind when I read that question was that as a person learning something, I want to care about what I am learning, and I want my teacher to care about what I want to learn. Yes, I know that’s a terribly constructed sentence, but you get the sentiment. I want to care about what my students want to learn, and sometimes that means my predetermined learning outcomes don’t have a place in my classroom. And that’s ok.

So where does that leave me as I plan this workshop? I’m teaching the standard Zald and Gilchrist model of learning outcome construction, while acknowledging that it’s not the only way to write an outcome. I’m introducing affective outcomes, not just cognitive and behavioral ones. I’m acknowledging that sometimes classes don’t follow our carefully crafted learning outcomes and lesson plans. In short, I’m teaching learning outcomes so that people feel free to disregard, reimagine, remix, or dismantle them later. But should I teach them at all? I know they are an important framework within higher education and our culture of assessment and value. I acknowledge their connection to learner-centered teaching and their ability to help provide structure for new instructors. But I also have first hand experience with their rigidity and constraints. Does bringing this up in a workshop try to do too much? Or does it bring up conversations we should be having as teaching librarians?

Feel free to discuss as I revise my workshop lesson plan yet again…(but do I even need to do so?)