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What Matters

Last month I put together my promotion file for the second time in 3 years (the first being my tenure file at St. Mary’s and the second my continuing appointment file here at the University of Houston). The documentation felt thinner the second time around, with much more emphasis on the personal statement, cv, and scholarship.

“Should I include lesson plans or examples of my teaching?” I asked a colleague, given that this is the core of my work and these were artifacts I submitted in my first tenure file. “Unless you’ve created a class that revolutionized information literacy instruction or that everyone is using across the country, then no, don’t include it.”

I am sympathetic to a committee of colleagues who have to read multiple files, hundreds of pages, and thousands of words. I know that unless someone is also a teaching librarian they may not be able to make heads or tails of my lesson plans, activity instructions, worksheets, and instructional websites. I get it; I really do. But I also spend so much of my time planning to teach, thinking about teaching, reflecting on my teaching, revising my instructional materials, and teaching based on all of that work. It is a line in a cv, a paragraph in my personal statement, but it’s the core of who I am as a professional, and it’s important to me.

When I creep towards burnout, veer towards depression valley, or just start contemplating my career future, it’s easy to feel like what I do doesn’t matter. How much of a different can I make in a 90 minute class or a 45 minute consultation? Does information literacy matter? Does library instruction mean anything? They’re the teaching librarianship expressions of existential dread. They also fail to answer one important question: What matters?

That hour you spend with a graduate student returning to school after 15 years might seem like a drop in the ocean of the 40,000 students at your institution, but that time meant something to them. It meant something to you, too. You might teach one class that helps you connect with a group of students working on a collaborative research question, or causes one student to rethink what kind of information they want to include in their essay. That time you spent chatting with a student after a class might be the best conversation both of you have that day. All of these things matter.

We might not be able to document what matters in promotion files, annual evaluations, and assessment reports (although I think we absolutely should), but these things still matter. Your work matters. Your connection to students and colleagues matter. You matter.

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