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Life Trajectories

Photo of rocket trajectory in the evening

Photo by SpaceX on Unsplash

So much about the world and country we live in sucks right now. If you want to read a really smart, nuanced librarian take on Charlottesville, white guilt and aggression, and subtle racism, read Fobazi Ettarh’s latest gem of a blog post. I’ve been limiting my news and social media intake these past few weeks in part to keep my sanity by avoiding our joke of a president and the non-stop show of outwardly condemning racism that’s easy to condemn. But really I’ve been avoiding the greater world because my small, personal world has become a bit overwhelming.

If you follow me on Twitter, you may have seen me mention that my partner has type 1 diabetes, and has since he was seven years old. Thirty years of a degenerative disease has done a number on his vascular system, his eyes, his kidneys, his mental health, and really, his body overall. I don’t want to disempower him, shame, or belittle him by stating this. Living with diabetes is HARD, and it takes a strong person to live that life.

A few weeks ago we began our journey back to Houston, Texas for a one-year academic sabbatical. We had plans to make this year one of renewal for ourselves–professionally, personally, and physically. My partner was going to focus on both his research and his health, and get the latter back on track through regular exercise and generally better living. But upon arrival to Houston, he landed himself in the hospital. The upside: It’s one of the best hospitals in the country for diabetics. The downside: Things are not good, and his various specialists recommend both a kidney and pancreas transplant. His sabbatical leave may end up morphing into medical leave, and his research may take a back seat to regular doctors’ visits, injections, and other maintenance medical appointments.

I write about this because my partner’s life is inextricably woven into my life, and my life is my family, myself, and my career. A month and a half ago I wrote about my own career reflections, my hopes for my future librarianship path, and my thoughts on my potential career trajectory. I don’t want to say that all of those ideas have been thrown out the window, but I will admit that these days I am thinking of my career in terms of

  • Where can I live and work that will give my partner access to the kind of quality, specialty medical care that he needs?
  • Is this a place where we can live on a librarian and academic (maybe part-time/adjunct) academic salary?
  • Will this job provide us with excellent health care benefits?
  • Is this a place where I have a support network to help with childcare when my partner is having a bad health day?

Rural Southern Maryland isn’t exactly a hotbed of medical research and specialized health care. It’s far from both of our families, and cost of living is surprisingly high. It likely isn’t going to be the right place for us long-term. I am thankful for the excellent health benefits the University of Maryland system offers, but the fact that they are being best used in the Texas Medical Center in Houston is worth noting. What does this mean for my own sabbatical? For my own career? I don’t know yet.

So much of the career advice literature focuses on the “career trajectory,” when really we’re on a “life trajectory” and the career piece is just a small part of that. My career has been shaped by all kinds of difficult, exciting, disappointing, happy life events and it certainly seems as though that will continue to happen. Am I disappointed? Sure. On my worst days I feel like my career will never move up and on. But when I am really honest with myself, I can’t and don’t see my career as suffering at the expense of my personal life. I don’t have two lives–one at home and one at work. It’s all me and it’s all one, and I need to find a way to be the best of myself in whatever situations I find myself in.

I’ve made no secret of my admiration for Zoe Fisher, and her latest essay on her recent career and life change is inspiring. I find strength in her sense of self, in her passion and motivation to do good. I want to try to gain a little of that each day. If I could bottle up that Zoe essence, I would (in a totally not-creepy, not-Victorian-penny-dreadful-novel kind of way). In the meantime, I’ll continue to write, read, learn, reflect, and repeat.

 

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On Ambition & Happiness

Finding my way back from the Land of Librarian Burn Out has meant doing a lot of what anxious introverts like me do best: constant introspection and self-reflection. It’s not quite obsessive, but it isn’t a slacker-style navel-gazing either. It’s almost like therapy homework: deep thinking paired with constructive action. I’ve been reading through Maria Accardia’s writing on librarian burnout, ordered this book in hopes of creating a more meaningful work experience, ordered this other book to help me do better in my current role, and am talking to friends in and out of Libraryland and academia about career choices and general life happiness.

I have zero conclusions and virtually no wisdom to share, but I have thoughts. So. Many. Thoughts. Hang in there kitten-poster-style:

Thought #1: I am in a good situation.

This is something I am constantly trying to keep in mind, particularly on days that aren’t going well. Talking to a friend this weekend was a good reminder of all the ways in which my partner and I are living that academia-dream life. Tenure! A house! Health insurance! I enjoy the work of being a librarian. I have a whole sabbatical year to question my career confusion (among other things). What other career gives you that option? Also: University of Maryland affiliated institution benefits are amazing.

Thought #2: I am tired of being so risk averse.

My parents were both school teachers. They each taught at the same school, in the same subjects for over twenty years. TWENTY YEARS! My mom went back to school in her 50s, earned a master’s degree, and switched to a different education-related career but still worked within the same school district. That was the model I had for career trajectories. I thought I’d get a job after graduating from college and that would be MY JOB. I’m on my 3rd professional, full-time, post-college position and have been overcome by fear each and every time I switched jobs. My first month at my first library job I was sure the people who hired me were going to regret it. At the job I have now I negotiated a higher salary than what I was offered but agonized over doing so (really over even just thinking about it).

I look at interesting job postings these days and immediately begin to catalog all of the reasons why I can’t/shouldn’t/won’t apply for that job. What will my partner do at this new location? Will he be able to get a job? Can we afford to buy a house there? I don’t have the exact required qualifications. I don’t know if now is the right time to make a move. What if I regret it? What will I be giving up tenure for instead? 

You get the idea.

I am so tired of doing this. I am tired of shutting down options before they even present themselves. I am tired of being afraid of taking a risk in my professional life. I am tired of not possessing the confidence of a mediocre white dude. I read Jessica Olin, Michelle Millet, Maura Smale, and April Hathcock and think: YES. GET IT. So why shouldn’t I?

Thought #3: I may be more ambitious than I originally thought.

This thought came from a recent G-chat with my virtual library work-wife. Why am I even looking at these job postings if I am not secretly, or not so secretly interested in library leadership? Why am I writing about the pitfalls of instruction coordination if I can’t see a better, alternative model for this professional position? Why do I bother to write about libraries and librarian identity here and elsewhere? Why do I present?

I do these the last few things in large part because they make me happy. I like to learn. I like to read and write and think (and repeat). I never thought I’d want to be in an administrative or managerial position in libraries, but I do see the limitations of the position I’m currently in. I remember reading a blog post a few years ago that I cannot for the life of me find or name about whether or not to “go deep” or “go up” in a career in libraries. One option was to work hard as a liaison librarian, gain tenure and continue to grow/refine your practice. The other was to consider management or leadership positions. I always wondered why it was presented as a dichotomy. Why can’t you do both? Can I?

Thought #4: (which is really more like a question) How can I take a more active role in cultivating my own happiness at work? 

I am definitely hyper-aware of workplace structures–both at the library and institutional level–and the ways in which I can work to change them, or not. They have a huge impact on my day-to-day happiness at work. I also have a role to play. I don’t buy into the grit/resilience narratives so many people are trying to sell these days, and I recognize there are limitations to the power I have over my own workplace situation. But I do have some power over myself at work. So how can I use that to help me be happier?

I’m sure I’ll have more #IntrovertThoughts over the next year that I’m away from work, and hopefully they’ll work themselves into more constructive / concrete ideas and actions.

 

 

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What Does Research Look Like?

I’m participating in the St. Mary’s Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF, but really, SMURF) this summer as more than just a librarian and EndNote software troubleshooter. Thanks to a series of un/fortunate events, I’m a research mentor for an amazing religious studies major investigating Muslim Americans’ experiences at work through a series of interviews. She is specifically focused on: policies regarding religious practices; Muslim Americans’ relationships with coworkers, supervisors, and employees; and their sense of inclusion in the workplace. My mentee and I have an interesting relationship. She’s without a doubt more knowledgeable about Islam than I am, and I bring a knowledge of qualitative research about work in feminized professions that makes our pairing a really constructive one.

Apart from our weekly meetings, my mentee and I are part of a larger SURF cohort of students and faculty who gather every Wednesday for discussions, activities, and presentations of their research in progress. The group is a bit science-heavy, which is to be expected, but there are students from the humanities, social sciences, and theater/art departments in the mix, too. It’s been fascinating to examine the idea of “research” from a multi-disciplinary perspective and learn more about my faculty colleagues’ personal and professional epistemologies. One of the more challenging discussion questions our SURF cohort unpacked was What does all research, regardless of discipline, have in common? (That’s a rough summary since I can’t remember the exact question–Sorry, Liz!).

Keeping in mind that this question was being discussed by anthropologists, chemists, artists, biologists, filmmakers, and well, librarians, you can understand how there would be disagreement. I had at least one person try to convince me that the scientific method is applicable to ALL research. (Nope. Not here for that.) Where everyone seemed to agree, or at least come to a shared understanding, was about the affect and emotions surrounding research.

Research requires persistence.
You have to be flexible to be a good researcher.
Research is all about creativity.
You have to be curious.
In research, it’s ok to make mistakes. You just need to learn from them.

We could all agree on the dispositions that a good researcher would possess, regardless of discipline, methodology, or project. It was a much more engaging approach to discussing research and creative activity, and it’s one I wish I could better incorporate into my college’s curriculum. I’ve tried to focus on information exploration and curiosity in my own IL classes and workshops, but I only see my students once or twice a semester. My emphasis on process and research dispositions is fleeting, which is why I think it’s important for faculty to reinforce those ideas throughout the semester. It’s what I like best about this SURF program. It’s a deep dive into research as an iterative process–a messy, frustrating, confusing, satisfying, engaging, fascinating process.

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New ACRLog Post

I have a new post up on ACRLog today: You Are What is Killing Librarianship.

After a few weeks spent conferencing, coming to terms with burnout, and just basking in the smarts and awesomeness of librarian colleagues across the country, I’m hoping to do a lot more writing as I ease into sabbatical. Despite the click-bait-y title to my ACRLog post, it is my attempt to share the way I’ve been trying to work through my own burnout, work angst, and professional frustration.

More to come!

 

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Conflicts in Curriculum Mapping


Last week I presented at the 2017 LOEX Conference with my Instruction Coordinator colleagues Joanna Gadsby (UMBC) and Natalie Burclaff (University of Baltimore). We wanted to tackle the messy, complicated process of curriculum mapping for information literacy programs, but not in a this-is-how-you-do-it sort of way. We each (briefly) shared our own experiences with the curriculum mapping process at our home institutions, but really tried to focus on

  • what makes curriculum mapping problematic
  • the ownership of information literacy and its impact on educational planning
  • the tensions between critical pedagogy and curriculum mapping
  • conflicts between our personal pedagogical values and the entire notion of curricular efficiency planning
  • and ways to incorporate our teaching values/identity and reflection into the planning process

Like our topic, our presentation is a little messy and a little complicated. We don’t purport to have all the answers. We just want to let other teaching librarians and information literacy coordinators know that if curriculum mapping has you scratching your head, rolling your eyes, or feeling the panic, we are with you.

Slides are above, and clicking on the gear will get you to our speaker notes.

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An Apology

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Photo by Freddy Castro via Unsplash.com

Last week I wrote a blog post about burnout, specifically, my own struggles with burnout these past few months. I ranted. I wrote. I cried. I wrote some more. What I didn’t stop to consider before I clicked published was the way some of my writing might make someone feel.

I was frustrated, and remain so, about what I believe is a general devaluing of feminized labor in libraries (e.g. teaching, cataloging, etc.), and librarianship’s tendency as a field to constantly want the next big thing. It makes me feel #libraryleftbehind and like there’s not a clear place for me, and others like me who focus on teaching information literacy to undergraduates in the library of the future where everyone rides hoverboards.

What I didn’t mean to do was call out people in non-teaching focused library positions, such as those who work in digital scholarship, web services, user experience research, digital humanities, scholarly communication, or other specializations. The people in these positions do good work–important work–and should be valued. They help improve the work I do as a teacher, and I have much to learn from them.

That unintended call out was wrong, and I am sorry.

I don’t want to play at competing for status at the expense of others. I am still frustrated that teaching jobs in academic libraries seem to be the only ones open to recent graduates, and that teaching in academic libraries doesn’t seem to be a specialization. I don’t want teaching elevated above others’ jobs. I just want to feel like the work I do is important to my library and my college, to my colleagues and my peers. I think it’s what we all want: to matter, to feel valued.

Apologies again. I value you.

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Burn Out. It’s Real.

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Photo by Anastasia Polischuk via Unsplash.com

I’ve had every intention of blogging recently, particularly about ACRL (seeing as how I only ever managed to write up Part 1 of my reflections), but I just haven’t had it in me. I’ve been feeling, alternately:

  • tired
  • angry
  • disconnected
  • upset
  • sad
  • angry-sad
  • annoyed
  • overwhelmed
  • unsure
  • sad-angry
  • unsure of myself
  • uncertain about my future in libraries

If it weren’t for the last bullet point of emotion, and if the proceeding feelings weren’t all intimately tied to my work-life, I’d worry that perhaps the underlying depression & anxiety I live with and usually manage well on the daily was flaring up again. But I feel like I know myself well enough and am able to reflect enough on my feelings (thank you, therapy!) to recognize these emotions for what they are:

Burnout.

In Burnout Among Bibliographic Instruction Librarians (1996, hence the title, also: paywall), Mary Ann Affleck uses the Maslach & Jackson definition of burnout in people work, which is characterized as a

“syndrome of emotional exhaustion…loss of empathy…and a tendency to evaluate oneself negatively.”

It’s quite common among librarians and other human services workers. If you haven’t read Maria T. Accardi’s Librarian Burnout blog, you’ll find a number of stories there on the ways in which librarians suffer from, cope with, and work to stave off burnout. As with all of Maria’s writing, the blog is thoughtful and validating and gives a name to the feelings I’ve been experiencing these past few months.

The disconnect is hardest for me. I’ve always prided myself on caring deeply about my work–my colleagues, students, faculty, staff, and library overall–but lately I’ve been finding it so difficult to CARE. This difficulty is incongruous with who I feel I am as a person and a librarian. I want to care. I want to empathize and develop new ideas and plan for the future of my library and connect with people. I just don’t feel like I have it in me at this point.

This burnout is coming from six years of feeling like I’m not doing enough, like I should be doing more in my library work, service, and scholarship. It’s coming from a few years of instruction coordination and the role ambiguity that accompanies that job. It’s coming from the everyday microaggressions academia throws at librarians, women, and people of color. It’s coming from not seeing the sort of “payoff” of my work that you see when you work on tangible projects rather than “people projects,” for lack of a better word. It’s coming from feeling like teaching and teaching information literacy in particular is not valued in libraries because it isn’t new or sexy. It isn’t user experience or digital this or scholarship that or data data data (note: Please see my apology to this sentence. I didn’t want to delete it in an effort to be transparent and admit my mistake). It’s the workhorse that shares the library with campus but then doesn’t get any snacks afterwards (side note: horses snack, right?). This burnout is real, and, I think, warranted.

I have a few more months before my year-long sabbatical begins, and I’ll be honest, every day is starting to feel a bit like that cardio class you know is important to do but just can’t quite bring yourself to enjoy. I hope that this sabbatical year will be a time to center myself, reinvigorate my research and professional practice, and revive my love of libraries, and my library in particular.

How have you dealt with burnout? What advice might you have for me, or people in a similar situation? I’m all ears.

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This Conversation is Sort of About That, But Also Really Not: ACRL Reflections Part 1

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Wall Street Art in a Public Place, Photo by Christos Barbalis via Unsplash.com

I feel this intense need to apologize immediately if I learn that I’ve hurt someone’s feelings. IMMEDIATELY. Profusely. Extensively. This feeling emerges regardless of whether or not the hurt person was partially or completely in the wrong, or whether or not I was also hurt in the process. My therapist might have some things to say about that (“not everyone needs to like you”), but it’s my truth.

If you read my blog or follow me on Twitter you can probably guess where this post is going. Yes, I’m going to talk about THAT Twitter exchange, because I think it needs talking about and reframing. I understand if you don’t want to read about it, but I still feel the need to write about it.

A Recap

You can gain some context for the situation by reading Zoe Fisher’s blog post ,  Erin Leach’s blog post, or Meredith Farkas’ blog post, and you can see Erin Smith’s very public apology on Twitter. As Zoe mentioned in her blog post, folks were very quick to praise Erin for her public apology and openness (which I 100% agree with; that was brave, gurl) and equally ready to brand #LibraryTwitter as sneaky, snarky, and hurtful (which I do not agree with).

Switchtracking, Sort of

One thing I’ve found troubling about this conversation is the shift in focus from (a) the way we talk about and treat our students to (b) social media civility, etiquette, and professional courtesy. I’ve written about switchtracking before, and I can’t help but see a version of that playing out in this situation as well. I think the focus on the “social media pile-on” as Meredith mentions is overshadowing the larger issue that it is socially acceptable to put-down our students in public in order to express librarian-solidarity or get a laugh at conference.

A Running Theme

I wrote to Erin after her apology thanking her for being so proactive, but also offering context for my own statements on Twitter. Her presentation was not the only one that spoke about students in a negative light. There were at least two others I attended that made, I thought, very hurtful comments about students in a “humorous” way. I don’t know about other sessions that I didn’t attend, but I would venture to guess this kind of “students, aren’t they silly?” sentiment gets expressed fairly regularly in public spaces. The especially troublesome part of the sessions I attended in which these comments were made was that most of the audience LAUGHED. There’s been a lot of push for those us who were upset on Twitter to make our disagreement known at the conference session during the Q&A, which I think can be difficult given the tenor of the room. (That said, I do need to challenge myself to speak up at conferences.)

These negative comments about students were happening at the same time that there was a running theme of student peer assistance, peer learning, and student empowerment at the conference. The UNLV Libraries include three bright, engaging, and frankly, charismatic, student peer leaders are co-presenters, which made me wonder, “What if those students were at any of these sessions? What must they think of us? How must it make them feel?” That was the point of anger for me. These students’ stories were amazing — being peer leaders helped them work on their shyness, gave them teaching experience they could use towards their chosen career, and helped them become better researchers. One of the presenters admitted to never having written a research paper before college, and qualified it by saying, “If you know the high school I went to, you would understand why.”

Students: They’re Just Like Us

This student’s comment was so important to me, because it centers something we often lose sight of in libraries and in academia more broadly. It’s simple, really. Our students are people. Yes, they are younger people, but they have experiences, hopes, fears, likes, and dislikes. The make decisions based on what they think is best for themselves or others, and shocker: Our classes may not be the most important things going on in their lives.

Students, as people, have absolutely gotten on my nerves, but so have colleagues in and out of the library, and people in my day-to-day life. Students aren’t unique in their capacity to frustrate me. I’ve vented and complained about students to my friends and colleagues, but I’ve also vented and complained about faculty, librarians, family, and friends to other faculty, librarians, family, and friends. I know I’ve made my own mistakes in how I talk about and treat students, but I don’t ever want to give my stamp of approval to this sentiment of general, constant eye-rolling about students. They are the reason my job exists. They can be the best part of my day. They were the point of the “collective outrage” on Twitter, which was really just collective critique, in my opinion, and I don’t want us to lose sight of that.

Challenging Ideas

For better or worse, when we write or present, we put our work out in the public sphere, and we can’t control the way others respond to it or discuss it. Nor should we. Our work becomes a separate entity and may not be interpreted in the way we intended. I don’t agree with personal attacks. I do agree with challenging ideas and being critical of problematic attitudes and structures.  I deeply regret things I’ve written in the past.

I think, that in making this conversation about social media, we aren’t challenging the right idea.

This is not about social media.

This is about how we talk about our students in public spaces, the attitudes and sentiments that make certain comments socially acceptable, and how those feelings can then shape the way we treat and interact with our students.

 

 

 

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ACRL 2017 Excitement!

confetti against a white brick wall

Last week I was mentally, if not completely physically, on Spring Break, and this week I’m already in full-on ACRL Conference mode. The Critlib Unconference takes place tomorrow (Wed) and I am so looking forward to driving up to Baltimore to learn from smart enthusiastic colleagues and chill with old and new friends. Despite living only two hours away I rarely make it up to Baltimore, so this is a great opportunity to see more of the city, and–let’s be real–eat, drink, and shop my way through Fells Point and Hampden.

Shameless Plug Time

I’m presenting a conference paper with my wonderful colleague Joanna Gadsby, Instruction Coordinator & Reference and Instruction Librarian at University of Maryland, Baltimore County, on Thursday at 4:00pm (to 4:20pm) in Room 310. It’s called Gendered labor & library instruction coordinators: The undervaluing of feminized work, and you can read our paper or take a look at our presentation slides if you won’t be attending ACRL.

Sessions on My Must-See List

I’ve been combing through the conference schedule trying to mark a few must-attend panel sessions, papers, posters, and discussion roundtables, and although I’m nowhere near done, I thought I’d share a few that stood out to me (as of today). If you’ve put any of these on your list, let me know! Maybe we can meet up.

I’m also planning to hang out in the Art Lounge a bit and perhaps learn to crochet (finally), as well as attend the keynotes by Roxane Gay and Carla Hayden.

Thursday

*Library Leadership and Gender: Expectations and Lived Experiences
Jennifer Brown, April Hathcock, Erin Leach, Jessica Olin, Maura Smale, Michelle Millet
8:00-9:00, Room 309

*How it all Comes Together: The Theory & Application of Intersectionality Studies in Academic Libraries
Annie Pho, Azusa Tanaka, Isabel Gonzalez-Smith, Juleah Swanson, Rose Chou
8:00-9:00, Room 341-342

*I might get some cardio in and dash between these two sessions.

Resilience, Grit, and Other Lies: Academic Libraries & the Myth of Resiliency
Angela Galvan, Jacob Berg, Eamon Tewell
9:40-10:40, Room 308

Embedded Peer Specialists: One institution’s successful strategy to scale information literacy services
Marc Levis-Fitzgerald, Annie Pho, Danielle Salomon, Casey Shapiro
3:00-3:20pm, Room 321-323

Friday

Who Steers the Boat? On Women in a Feminized Profession
Roxanne Shirazi, Emily Drabinski, Nicole Pagowsky
8:30-9:30, Room 327-329

Reclaiming Knowledge as a Public Good: Librarians Leading Campus OER Initiatives
10:30am – 11:30am, Room 327-329

Suffering from Midcareer Malaise? Re-energize your worklife!
10:30-11:30, Roundtable 7

How would you like to be remembered? Expanding your pedagogy & professional practice
Nicole Cooke
4:15-5:15, Room 314-315

Saturday

Student-led Educational Experiences: The Risks & Rewards of Letting Go
8:30-9:30, Room 327-329

Try Something New

I am also trying to leave plenty of room in my schedule to attend sessions that don’t immediately stand out to me, or are completely outside of my usual professional focus. What sessions are on your must-attend list? Anything stand out to you? Is there something you’re presenting that you’d like to plug? I’d love to hear what everyone is doing.