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The Intermediary We Don’t Need?


Photo by Mark Rabe on Unsplash

My first experience teaching an information literacy class (10 years ago!!!) was a dud. It was a Psychology Research Methods course. I did the requisite library catalog and PsycINFO demo. I used student-supplied keywords. They didn’t “work.” I got flustered, but doubled-down and stuck to panicked typing in hopes that a demo would finally yield the “right” results. I was terrified, frustrated, and no doubt frustrating to students.

I don’t do resource demos in classes anymore. I will occasionally talk a class through a particularly sticky part of our link resolver if everyone is having the same issue, but for the most part I let students explore in groups, pairs, or alone and offer one-on-one assistance as needed. It warms my little librarian heart to see students helping one another. I am excited to facilitate discussions and listen to students’ points of view, experiences doing research, and comments on the appropriateness of different information sources to various needs. Those are the classes I love. The ones rooted in conversation and reflection, the ones where I don’t go near an instructor podium computer, the ones where my teaching tech tools are dry erase markers.

Last week one of my favorite librarians sparked this pedagogical reflection with a tweet:

That last line was telling: I never go near the library website. It made me try to think about another discipline that relied on teaching a website or web tool as central to the study of that subject. I couldn’t think of one.

Then I read a fantastic article by Kevin Seeber and Zoe Fisher, in which they, among other things, revised their lesson plan for English Composition II to focus on source evaluation rather than database selection and searching. It was uncomfortable for some of their colleagues who were used to database demos, but ultimately fit in better with the English Composition curriculum and helped students practice a more nuanced version of information evaluation.

And, because all my reading and worlds seem to be converging together these days, I just opened up my blog reader to see a wonderful post by Dani Cook on the Rule Number One blog that lists 10 ideas for making your teaching more learner-centered. Some of my favorite suggestions focus on active practice, showing an interest in students as people, and authenticity as a teacher in the classroom.

When taken together, Jo’s tweet, Zoe and Kevin’s article, and Dani’s post made me jot down a flurry of questions: How amazing would our teaching be if we didn’t have an instructor computer at all? Is our focus on databases, websites, and functionality of resources interrupting our relationships with our students? How much more effective would we be as teachers and facilitators without that tech intermediary? Do we even need it?

I spent 4 years as the web developer and administrator for my library’s website, so I’m no technophobe. I understand the value of a simple, easy-to-use interface and good information architecture. But I also don’t see the value in teaching the technical details of digital resources that are becoming to easier to use, and, let’s be honest, that students won’t be able to access after they graduate. They aren’t paying attention, I’m bored, and we could all just be at home watching Drag Race. I know that at this point in information literacy practice and teaching many of us are all about active learning and exploring deeper information literacy concepts. But I know–because I do it too–we sometimes still revert back to click here, here’s where you go to access this one thing, this is what this one error message means, etc. What if we just completely eliminated that from our teaching? We could give students a URL and let them have at it, offering help as needed individually or in small groups. Or we could just not have a class in a computer lab. No computers. None. Zero. What would that kind of information literacy class look like?

Relationships are scary, especially when you are the temporary instructor for a class that knows one another much better than they will likely ever know you. We tend to place the computer, resource, or website at the center, as the focus of our relationship with students in the classroom because it is “the information” in information literacy. It is seen as primary, as the thing that’s important. It’s a security blanket we all hide behind (myself included) because it’s easier to focus on our ability to know information and information resources than it is to emphasize our roles as teachers and facilitators of discussion with ambiguous results. But this intermediary places a roadblock in our relationship with learners. It might be an annoying pebble or a boulder, but it’s the object that can block the librarian from cultivating a relationship.

I used to hope that if students could remember one thing from class, it was that I was available to help them whenever they needed help. But my actions in the classroom were emphasizing the website, libguides, and datbases–the things–not me or our relationship. Now I hope that students remember our connection in class, and I try to structure classes (as much as they can be structured) to foster that connection. I don’t want an intermediary between my students and myself, and if that means I never turn on my instructor computer, I’m ok with that.

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Self-Care & Relief via Podcasts

Thank you, Kelly McElroyJessica SchombergKate DeibelCourt, and Cecily Walker for #LISMentalHealth week 2017. I missed last year’s events at a time when I probably could have really used them, and I feel so fortunate to be able to connect with other LIS workers about the daily continuing struggles of coping with mental illness, maintaining mental health, and seeking support. This post isn’t about my own mental health, as I don’t completely feel comfortable sharing all of that out in the open for reasons that lots of folks have already described on Twitter. But if you’ve read a few of my posts on this blog, you’ll know that I’ve dealt with my fair share of burnout, anxiety, insecurity, imposter syndrome, and life challenges. Everyone makes their own treatment choices, whether it’s therapy, medication, neither or both, and we all have different strategies for coping with particularly difficult days/weeks/months/years. I know that the term “self-care” has a tendency to be used to describe everything from a cup of tea to a mani/pedi to taking a mental health day from work. I don’t want to diminish the concept of “self-care” by divorcing it from its roots in political activism. I do want to say that as a woman, as a woman of color, as a WOC in a field heavy on emotional labor, self-care is important to me and many of my colleagues.

A big part of my own self-care toolkit is taking the time to listen to podcasts made by women, people of color, and queer folks (sometimes all three at once!). Hearing a familiar accent or cadence of speech, listening to experiences that resonate with me, and feeling validated in my own thoughts, fears, and hopes are all things that I get from podcasts. They lift my spirit but also make me smile, nod my head, and shake my fist in anger. Sometimes I laugh so hard I have to pull over if I’m listening while driving.

I know not everyone is a podcast fan. It might not be your thing. But if you are not listening to podcasts because they don’t seem relevant to you, or you’re just tired of NPR-voice (no shade, I love NPR), try browsing through the Podcasts in Color directory. Berry has done an amazing job curating a fantastic collection of black and POC podcasts, and even hosts her own podcast about POC podcasts. Everyone has their favorites, but here are a few that have a special place in my heart:


In no particular order, they are:

What podcasts help you get through the day?

black mug on desk with text that reads "we work"
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Humblebrags, Guilt, and Professional Insecurities

Thank you, @AcademicsSay for this oh-so-timely nugget of truth. I’ve never felt so seen or so read. I’ve been trying to measure the success of a sabbatical that’s more than half over in terms of the hours I’ve spent at my kitchen table reading, writing, analyzing, and typing. It’s been strange to not be rushing to meeting after class after class after meeting. I can’t say I’m sooooooo busy or things are soooooooo crazy right now in the same way my working colleagues can right now, and it’s been making me feel sooooooo guilty.

Where does that guilt come from? Why am I being so hard on myself for not spending more hours working when I have some decent sabbatical accomplishments already in the bag, my partner’s been through (and continues to go through) a major health crisis, and I have a young son? A lot of this self-imposed pressure is just, unfortunately, a part of my personality. I always want to do more, better, faster, GO! Over the past year I’ve learned that I’m more ambitious than I originally thought I could be.

But a large part of these professional insecurities come from a culture of academia that constantly forces us to ask ourselves: Am I doing enough? The answer to this question is almost always a resounding YES, and yet…AND YET, we can always point to someone who is doing more, better, faster, GO! Our emails to our colleagues always start with, “This week is CRAZY busy,” or “I have so much to do,” or “I have meeting after meeting; class after class.” I recognize that some of these statements might be genuine venting. People are tired and they sometimes need to share their woes. But when this is the constant tenor of conversation in academia, something is wrong.

We are, as @AcademicsSay so aptly stated, valorizing overwork. In our culture of tenure, continuing appointment, or promotion (whatever it may look like in your library), NOT being overworked and overwhelmed means you’re not working enough. I’m sure we’ve all been on the receiving end of shady comments from colleagues–“Wow, I wish I had time to have lunch! OMG your desk is so clean. Mine’s covered in papers to grade. When do you find time to work out? I have 2 papers to revise and resubmit.” And how do we respond? Do we say, “Regular meals and workouts are important to my mental and physical health?” Probably not. The response is more like, “Oh, that’s just today. Last week I was at work from 7am-7pm and reading well past midnight!” It’s almost as if self-care is an alien concept, and to engage in any measure of separation between work life and personal life means you aren’t “doing academia” correctly.

I love being an academic librarian. I love being faculty at a higher education institution. What I don’t love is the humblebrag olympics we engage in on a daily basis. I don’t love to poor modelling we are demonstrating to our students, who seem to think that working more is better than working efficiently. I don’t love the ways in which we uphold overwork to the point where we are setting up a culture that in turn exploits adjuncts, post-docs, and visiting professors who are told that if they “just stick with it” they’ll eventually earn the privilege of also being too stressed to function. I don’t love that we are told to wait until after tenure to start a family, focus on our health, and, well, have a life, as though before that we were some human-shaped dough only focused on promotion.

I’ve thought about work-life balance, work-life separation, and vocational bleed (no separation between work and life) a lot these past few months as I attempt to live through a sabbatical I can be proud to call my own. I am proud. I am proud that I signed a book contract. I am proud that I can finally chaturanga in yoga class without bending my knees. I am proud that I made a kick-ass dinner last night for my family. I’m proud I read a few chapters yesterday. I am proud that I put moisturizer on my face (with SPF!) this morning. I’m proud I’ll be presenting at LOEX. There is so much for all of us to be proud of on a daily basis.

There is also so much for us to examine. What kind of examples are we setting for our junior colleagues? In promoting our overwork as some kind of martyrdom are we contributing to their own overwork and ultimate burnout? Are we contributing to an academic culture that leaves folks ripe for exploitation? What are some changes we can make to the way we move through our day to create the work culture we want?

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Spring Reading

Photo of a Spring Reading List

I did not do the best job documenting my fall sabbatical reading. It’s sort of a jumble of confusing Zotero folders, hard copies of articles, bookmarks of blog posts, and screenshots of Tweets (because I am old). I’m trying to remedy that this spring and realized that best way keep track of my reading is to use the tool that’s basically taken over the running of my professional life: my bullet journal (see above).

Here’s what’s at the start of my spring 2018 reading list:

It’s just the beginning, but I’m already excited about increasing my understanding of relational theory, digging into writing about race and feminism, and learning more about the day-to-day practice of our field.

What are you excited about reading this spring? What’s at the top of your TBR list?

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Giving Up on Project Managing My Life


Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

It’s no secret that I haven’t been blogging, interacting on Library Twitter, or replying to emails. This past month has been intense. My partner underwent a kidney-pancreas transplant on Nov. 19. I don’t know what it is about November that has become such a central month in our family’s life. On Nov. 8 we said goodbye to our first son; on Nov. 17 we welcomed our second son into the world; and now Nov. 19 is my partner’s new “birthday,” the day his life was extended. Needless to say, when Daylight Savings time ends, my emotions are running are high and low–sometimes simultaneously!

I’ve spent the last week emerging from a month of caretaking, parenting, and household managing to try to cobble together some kind of a sabbatical workday. It’s mostly consisted of me catching up on books, articles, blog posts, and Twitter threads. I always appreciate the writing of my fellow authors on ACRLog, and one of our newest contributors, Abby Flanigan, wrote a great post on time management as a new academic librarian. She was wonderful suggestions for productivity within the workday, and even suggests using the system she’s adopted (based on David Allen’s Getting Things Done) “to keep track of the things that need doing in my personal life.” I think this is great for small things, as she suggests, but trying to apply a productivity system to Life is troublesome. Let me be clear: Abby does not suggest this. Her post just did what any good blog post should do: It got me thinking. It got me thinking about my own life, my own productivity efforts, and my own feelings. Thank you, Abby!

My own organization/productivity system centers on my bullet journal, but lately not even my tried-and-true system of dots, dashes, and crossmarks has been able to make me feel as though I’m living up to my productivity potential. There doesn’t seem to be a good way to project-manage life. It’s too messy, too tied up with emotions, day-to-day health experiences, and unexpected occurrences. I may have planned out a full day of grocery shopping, gift mailing, and kayaking, but when my kiddo comes down with a nasty cold, we’re going to be eating canned soup for a few days and watching Moana over and over again. If my partner is having a bad reaction day to a new dose of his meds there is no laundry happening and we can all wear those socks one more time. After a long week I might not feel like cleaning the floors and will just go get a pedicure instead.

Yes, there are things that have to get done: Those medications need refills. My son needs to go to school in something resembling clothing. I should probably pay that electricity bill. But I am done thinking about my life as a project that will either succeed or fail, because life isn’t a project. There is no winning or losing. There is just the experience of the day-to-day. I can work towards what I need and want, but ultimately what I have control over are my own reactions to each day. It’s taken me a long time to realize that as much as I want to treat my personal life as a work project, it doesn’t work that way. I can’t checklist my way to a cleaner house and happier family. I’ll just end up upset that I haven’t accomplished everything I want to within a day and not be proud of the things I have done. I may not have added “diffuse a six-year-old’s emotional outburst” to my bullet journal list, but it happened today, and I got through it, and I should be proud.

You should be proud of what you’ve managed to do today too.

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Spaces of (Dis)Comfort

Photo of the NYPL Rose Reading Room

NYPL Rose Reading Room by Sebas Ribas via

When my partner and I decided to spend our sabbatical year in Houston, we thought long and hard about where we wanted to live. Criteria included:

  • In Town (we’d had enough of rural suburban living)
  • Affordable (think very small apartment)
  • Within walking/biking distance of Rice University (where my partner would be working on his research)
  • Zoned to a good public school (my son was starting kindergarten)

That last criteria, when combined with the others, pretty much restricted us to a very small and tidy garage apartment in a very upscale neighborhood near Rice University and the Texas Medical Center. When deciding on a place to live, I had lots of discussions about what made a school a “good school” with other POCs, white friends who get it, and my parents, who were both public school teachers. “Good school” is such a loaded term, and is often, unfortunately code for “white” for many white people and POCs alike. For us, good school meant a school that wasn’t falling apart, had caring teachers, a diverse student body, and good learning opportunities for students. Our son’s school has all of these things, thanks to the VERY WEALTHY families who live within its zoned boundaries and their ridiculously expensive property taxes.

As much as I love my son’s school, it makes me very uncomfortable on a daily basis. My husband and I might posses combined education equal to or greater than most of the parents in the neighborhood, but it certainly doesn’t translate into dollars (thanks, academia!), and it shows. The school repeatedly asks for money for upkeep, special events, classroom needs, teacher professional development, etc. and I can’t help but think a) I don’t have that kind of cash; and b) there are other schools with a much poorer tax base that need that money so much more. I was terrified at kindergarten registration that we wouldn’t have the necessary documentation to prove that we were actually living within the school zone boundaries after being asked to bring in far more documents than the school district actual requires because, and I quote “so many families try to sneak in” (side note: what does that say about other schools in this district and distribution of funding?). I felt small and brown and poor as I waited for the registrar to give us the ok (which we eventually got, after having to go home for more documentation). I felt like I was trying to sneak in.

I feel like an imposter at PTO meetings. Despite the diversity of the school, I can still count the number of black and latino students on my hands. The wealth is overwhelming. There are small apartments and duplexes hidden in this neighborhood, but I don’t ever meet those parents at PTO meetings or school events because they are, as I would be if I weren’t on sabbatical, working. I want to feel as though I have every right to be at this school with my son, but somehow I haven’t internalized the comfort in all situations that comes naturally to my white, male partner.

I write all this not to air my grievances at public school funding or socioeconomic stratification in large cities–ok, maybe I want to do this a little. I write this because I don’t stop to think often enough about the ways in which students may feel completely out of place and uncomfortable in our library spaces. There are likely many students who walk into an academic library for the first time and immediately think: nope, not for me. I had a wonderful time at the Identity, Agency, and Culture in Academic Libraries conference at the University of Southern California this summer, but again, felt way out of place in that library space. It felt old and dignified and rich and not for me. I feel that way (and did when I was an undergrad) about the Rice University library as well. It sounds ridiculous but if I see heavy wooden trim and oak desks I immediately feel like someone is going to tell me “I’m sorry but you can’t be in here,” and I’ve worked in libraries for 10 years!

There’s something about the University of Houston library and my local public library that doesn’t feel that way at all. They’re bright and bustling. I hear people speaking Spanish, Arabic, Chinese, and a host of other languages I can’t readily identify. It’s loud. I see brown faces studying, working the service desk, conducting campus tours, and leading story time. It all makes a huge difference. It makes me feel like I belong.

I know that there is this tendency to want to blame people for their own feelings of imposter syndrome; that somehow it’s their fault that they are feeling that way and should just get over it. I want to call bullshit on that tendency. There are real divisions in our society that break down along racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic status lines. Class, gender, and sexuality all have an impact on how we experience the world. We can’t expect all students to find our libraries comforting and helpful unless we think about ways to actually make those students feel welcome and comfortable. Re-examining our library spaces shouldn’t be confined to studies of function and use; they should include studies of feelings as well, particularly those feelings of students who never set foot in our spaces because it’s a source of discomfort to them.

I don’t know if I’ll ever feel 100% comfortable among the parents and teachers at my son’s elementary school, but I keep going to school events in hopes that one day I’ll sit next to another parent living in a duplex or garage apartment in this neighborhood. We’ll see each other’s worn out shoes, Target t-shirts, and outdated phones and think: Yes, I do belong here.




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Growth in Connection

two hands holding one another

Hand in hand as one by Anete Lusina via

Last summer I read Women’s Growth in Connection: Writings from the Stone Center, and it may have changed my life. It was published in 1991 by a group of women psychologists working at the Wellesley College Stone Center as a feminist response to traditional (aka clinically accepted, aka Western, aka masculine) models of human psychological development. It turned the notion of women as emotionally deficient on its head, arguing that existing models of development didn’t account for women’s experiences in the world. The Stone Center scholars, clinicians, and educators used their experiences working at women both in and out of Wellesley to describe what they saw as a relational model of human development, one where women, and really all of us, grow in our lives through relationships with others. What traditional developmental researchers at the time saw as co-dependency, these women framed as a healthy way of working through the world. Their development of relational cultural theory was, and continues to be (to me) mind-blowing. We grow through connections with others. We grow through relationships.

Before reading these essays and case studies I’d never really stopped to think why I’d internalized this idea of being independent, alone, and totally self-sufficient as being successful in life, when culturally, my Mexican-American upbringing always stressed family and strong ties among women within that family unit. It also forced me to think about ways in which I was forcing that independence, and really distance, on my son, who is just naturally one of those children who thrives on the confidence and positive reinforcement he receives from close meaningful relationships. Why can’t he take a bit more time to grow through our connection as mother and son?

This collection of course also brought to mind so much of the work that we do in libraries. I have a chapter in the forthcoming book, Reference Librarianship & Justiceon relational theory, the concept of mutuality, and reference work, and am thinking more and more about the ways in which so much of our work as librarians is rooted in relationship, and how those relationships can either be vehicles for empowerment and personal growth, or simply leave us unchanged and unmoved. There is of course, the issue that relationships require the involvement of someone beyond yourself, but in keeping with the writings of the Stone Center folks, there are ways in which we can move through the world that increase the likelihood of more meaningful, even powerful relationships.

The word empathy gets thrown around a lot these days, in conversations about everything from child-rearing to website development, to user experience research. What I like about the Stone Center definition of empathy is that it is a deep connection in which people are open to truly understanding one another. It is affirming and mutually enriching. It isn’t about using empathy for some kind of corporate gain like creating a better user interface, or selling more product. It’s about using empathy to forge a meaningful connection that will help both people grow and change.

But back to librarianship…

I’ve been thinking so much about the notion of the “information literate individual” and how our concept of this mythical person in many ways conflicts with a relational theory of development and also contradicts itself. In academic libraries we want to create independent, information literate researchers, but we also want them to know that they are part of a scholarly community. We want them to have their own voice and question the authority of others, but we don’t talk about the ways in which we all compromise both our voice and authority in our daily lives. We want our students to be able to do things on their own, do their own work, find their own information, but so much of our work is about working together with other colleagues, faculty, and and students. Our Framework for Information Literacy talks about communities of learning and seeking guidance from others, but I wish it also spoke to the need for relationships in learning and understanding the world of information, and the ways in which we as librarians can forge those relationships.

I’ll end with one last thought from the October issue of the SGI Living Buddhism magazine, which, in the way that all things converge in my life, was about mentoring relationships. The description of mentor-mentee or teacher-student relationships was so in line with relational theory. The bonds we make with our students and colleagues shouldn’t be hierarchical; the foundation should be one of “mutual trust” and “common purpose.” When we work together, through a relationship, towards a shared goal, we bring a piece of ourselves to the interaction, but we also open ourselves to possibility and growth. In those moments I’m happiest being a librarian because I’m happiest as a person. I feel as though I’ve actually connected to someone else and made a small imprint on them, and they’ve done the same to me.


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Why Do You Teach?

True confession time, y’all: Until last month I had never written a teaching philosophy statement.

I’ve been teaching in academic libraries for 10 years and have managed to evade formally articulating my approach to teaching in writing. I can write student learning outcomes all day and night, love to talk pedagogy with brilliant colleagues, and relish the time I now have to think about revising my college’s information literacy education program. You want a blog post about my teaching style and thoughts on critical information literacy? YOU GOT IT. So why did I find writing a teaching philosophy statement so daunting? Here are a few reasons:

Reason 1: It Feels So Formal (also Intimidating) 

There is something about including the word “philosophy” in anything that makes me want to run far, far away from it. It feels not for me, and if I’m being honest, a bit intimidating. As much as I truly believe in bell hook’s idea that you don’t have to know theory to have lived it, as much as I feel that critical theory has made me a better person, there is something about “philosophy” that still feels “other” and intimidating. It makes me instantly defensive. It makes me think of PhilosophyBros: those guys who want to “engage in a lively debate” in which they are always right, you just don’t follow their impeccable logic and therefore don’t understand they are right. I feel like I don’t have the language for philosophy and I question if I actually want it.

All of this is to say that tacking the word “philosophy” after teaching is a sure way to get me to shut down and hide. It seems silly, but the only way I could even begin to write a teaching philosophy statement was to begin by thinking about it as a “teaching approach” statement or a statement of pedagogy. A slight shift in wording made all the difference to me, and allowed me to think about the theories that influence my teaching, and what my teaching looks like in practice.

Reason 2: My Teaching Changes

No big surprise here. Who I am as a teacher now is not the same as who I was 10, 5, or even 1 year(s) ago. I love Sarah Crissinger’s comment about her own teaching philosophy statement, which she describes as “a living, developing document that I hope will continue to grow and change as I grow and change.” It can be hard to start writing a document you know will likely be obsolete in the next few years, so I had to start thinking about my teaching philosophy statement the same way I think about my CV. I’m going to update it every year. Some years might mean drastic changes while others might just mean a slight tweak or two.

Reason 3: Why am I Writing This? 

The easiest answer to this question is because a job application requested it. It’s why my partner and my non-librarian academic friends all wrote their teaching philosophy statements. They were a required part of the job hunt documentation. In those situations your teaching philosophy isn’t really for you and might not even accurately reflect who you are as an educator. It’s a performative document that is hopefully true to you, but being 100% honest, you have to eat, and that teaching philosophy statement is meant to help you land a job. However, by taking a suggestion from the lovely Sofia Leung, Teaching and Learning Program Manager at MIT Libraries, you can MAKE your teaching philosophy a piece of critical self reflection. Sofia suggests asking yourself the following questions:

  • What does teaching mean to you?
  • Do you think of yourself as a teacher and why?
  • What kind of teacher do you want to be?

I love the idea of exploring all of these questions in a statement on teaching, and even adding on the way more basic question: “Why do you teach?” Your teaching philosophy statement can be just for you, and that’s ok.

Reason 4: Writing a teaching philosophy takes time…right?

Yes, and no. A second piece of advice I received about writing a teaching philosophy comes from Dani Brecher Cook, Director of Teaching & Learning at UC-Riverside. She shared an exercise from her 2016 UCR Library Instruction Mini-Retreat, that encouraged teaching librarians to remember:

  • There is no right or wrong way to write a teaching philosophy.
  • Write in the first-person, present tense.
  • Imagine that you are explaining how you teach to someone who is not a librarian (or maybe even an educator!).

*from Crafting Your Teaching Philosophy

I like Dani’s approach to this document because it’s something that can start small. This is so important for both new librarians and (overworked) experienced librarians. Your teaching philosophy statement doesn’t need to span pages, but it does need to reflect who you really are as a teacher. It can be short or long, as long as it feels like you.

My Teaching Philosophy Statement

So what did I end up writing? A short, flawed, but good enough teaching philosophy statement. You’re welcome to read it, just know that it will never be a final draft, I’ll always cringe reading parts of it and feel like it’s just not quite right. It’s messy the way that teaching is always a little bit messy, and that seems pretty true to myself right now.


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New Beginnings, Time to Write

Liam, first day of Kindergarten

First Day of School: Before the tears

My partner and I dropped my son off at school for the first time this morning. He’s been in a daycare/preschool since he was 1.5 years, so we thought today would go…not well, necessarily, but at least ok. He’s an introverted, anxious kid, who has confessed to being “nervous about going to school” more than once in the past few weeks. School has been pushed back by almost 2 weeks thanks to Hurricane Harvey, so he’s had a lot of time to stew in his anxiety. Of course he cried and said he wanted us to stay with him. His teacher calmly ushered us out of the classroom. We kept it together pretty well until we left the school grounds, then added our own tears into the mix. Despite drinking too much coffee I’m still thinking about him: Did he stop crying soon after we left? Is he ok? Will he be scared to use the school bathroom? Will he eat his lunch? Does he know how to open his juice box? Will the other kids be nice to him? Will he make a friend?

There’s a lot out of my control.

What is in my control is the time I spend while my kid is at school. I think of today as a new beginning for him and a fresh start for me. My family’s sabbatical transition has been marred by health crisis and hurricanes, but today is what I dub the “official start of my sabbatical.” It’s time to write. It’s time to read. It’s time to reevaluate that overambitious list of projects I scrawled out in my sabbatical proposal. I’ll hopefully be writing and posting on a more regular basis, and chatting with colleagues over Google Hangouts and coffee. I’m excited about the scholarship possibilities this next year will bring, and I hope that school drop offs get easier. I wish you all the best possible start to your new academic year.

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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.