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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!

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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.

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Reading Roma Harris on International Women’s Day

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I’ve been consumed by and consuming one book this past week, and it seems fitting to write about it on International Women’s Day. Roma Harris’ Librarianship: The Erosion of a Woman’s Profession is, at its core, a defense of women. Harris deconstructs the “problems” within librarianship and argues that they are fundamentally rooted in the field’s feminization within a sexist society that undervalues and dismisses women and women’s work. This book was published in 1992, but it is still. so. damn. relevant. Every other page is flagged, copious notes have been taken, and I may have even underlined one or two things (in pencil, lightly).

I encourage you to read it, to get a sense of the supremely important role gender (and gender performance) has played in the construction of our profession over the past hundred and fifty years. But I want to focus on one chapter in particular: The aptly named “Self-doubt and Self-blame.” Harris writes:

In an ambitious content analysis of the library literature, Bennett observed what he referred to as a “mea culpa” convention in the field, that is, the “criticism of librarians, libraries, and librarianship by librarians themselves” …librarians often blame each other for what are, in fact, externally imposed barriers to progress…Some turn their anger inward, pointing accusing fingers at one another for being too feminine, too masculine, or not enough of either. Others see that the barriers to progress are externally imposed and choose to fight back or leave these professions entirely.

As I read this chapter, all I could think was, Yes. Yes to all of this. I am often a self-doubter and a self-blamer, and, when things get really dark, a self-denigrator. I question my parenting choices, my career decisions, and my day-to-day existence as a woman. I wonder if I couldn’t be living better, which, as I write it, feels a bit preposterous. You live the life you live. But in this world, even as a woman who inhabits a fair amount of privilege, it’s still easier to see myself as being to blame when things go wrong or when things get difficult. Yes, personal responsibility is important, but it’s equally important, if not more so, for the individual to be able to critique the larger system of which they are a part. But I never can seem to get beyond blaming myself.

I often take all of this self-doubt and blame and transfer it from my personal life to my own work. Just yesterday I felt as though I wasn’t doing enough, wasn’t being effective enough, wasn’t making enough of my difference in my library and at my college. I know, intellectually, that I am being hard on myself and doing what my mother and countless other women often do–blaming ourselves because we’re easiest to blame. But emotionally, my ego takes over and I become the person to blame for all of the things that could be done better.

I think drawing that comparison to how we treat our own profession is spot on. I find myself doing it, too, at times. I think there is nothing wrong with being critical of our profession. It’s needed to call out issues of inequity and spark creativity. But I do think there is a problem with disparaging our work in our lowest moments as being unimportant, out-of-touch, or irrelevant. Our constant preoccupation with what’s next in libraries makes it easy for us to dismiss and not build on the important work we do right now. Instead of, as Harris states, “taking the battle outside,” we fight it amongst ourselves.

We librarians need to be more like this…
We librarians don’t have anything new to contribute…
We librarians need to stop doing this…
We librarians should be more like these people in these fields…

Take for example, my reaction at a recent conference session. Wonderful librarians were presenting on faculty development and faculty-librarian collaboration and talked about using the question “How can we [librarians] help you [faculty]?” I immediately did an inward eyeroll and thought: That’s the problem with us librarians. We keep setting ourselves up to be doormats. The problem isn’t necessarily with the critique, because unequal power relationships between teaching faculty and librarians (whatever our status) are a real thing, but with the direction of the anger. Why wasn’t my reaction: *eyeroll* That’s the problem with neoliberal educational structures. They’re all about efficiency and hierarchy,  and when they combine with sexism, you get this uneven power relationship between librarians and faculty that force those kinds of questions/statements. 

It’s easier to blame ourselves, to encourage the librarian to be more professional, more knowledgeable, more accommodating, more MORE. It’s hard to demand change from deeply entrenched power structures. The fact that Harris’ writing still echoes my day-to-day work life 25 years after it was written is proof enough that our efforts at transforming “librarianship” into something more/better/bigger/faster/smarter are not going to save us. We don’t need the saving. The structures we exist in are what need to change.

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A Critlib Conversation with Faculty

In August I was asked to uphold my end of a St. Mary’s Teaching & Learning Grant bargain. The money I received helped me attend the Critical Librarianship and Pedagogy Symposium in February 2016, and in return I would be expected to lead a Teaching & Learning Lunch about critical information literacy for faculty. The lunch took place in early November, but as I’ve mentioned, last fall–particularly late fall–was a mess of tenure & promotion angst. So I’m just getting around to posting now.

I’m doing so because I think discussions like these are worth having. They show our non-librarian colleagues that we think about and teach more than just how to use interlibrary loan and find articles. They encourage faculty to think more deeply about the ways in which critical information literacy has a place in their courses. They have the potential to help instructors shape lessons, assignments, and classes that encourage students to explore the socioeconomic, political, and cultural context of information creation, dissemination, and consumption. This teaching and learning lunch was, in my opinion, a successful one. It got my colleagues outside of the library thinking and talking about information literacy as more than just “information access.” It demonstrated that we–the librarian “we”–are thinking deeply about education and our curriculum, and it reiterated the place that critical information literacy has in a liberal arts college.

I may be repeating a version of this workshop/discussion for a larger faculty audience this spring, but in the meantime, I thought I’d share my outline and handouts. Note: I didn’t get to everything in the outline, but I am leaving it as is in case you have more time. If you adapt or use this outline and handouts in anyway, please let me know! I’d love to hear about the critical information literacy discussions you’re having with faculty at your institutions.

Teaching & Learning Lunch Documents:

I also shared the following examples of critical information literacy assignments and activities:

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Emerging From Deep Introspection

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Photo by Matthew Henry via Unsplash

Much of November and December was spent working on one thing: my portfolio for tenure & promotion to associate librarian. I knew it was going to be time-consuming, often tedious work, but what I didn’t anticipate was the emotional toll it would take on me. Colleagues and friends all talked about the stress relief they felt upon submitting their portfolio–It’s out of my hands, now!–but few shared much beyond that. I assumed my path would be similar to theirs:

  1. Procrastinate
  2. Stress
  3. REALLY stresssssssss
  4. Scream about formatting issues
  5. Submit
  6. Have a beer (or three)

Instead, my process was more like this:

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There were a lot of tears. I felt resentful. I felt proud. I felt like a huge phony. I wanted to scream. I wanted to burn it all. I wanted everyone to see my work. I felt important and insignificant in the span of the same day.

I know it seems ludicrous to be so worked up over something that in the long run doesn’t make a huge difference to anyone other than me and the family that depends on my gainful employment. This should be on par with a yearly performance review, but somehow it feels like so much more than that. A group of senior librarians, senior faculty, and administrators are going to look at a portfolio that is meant to distill the last 6 years of my life into a series of professional accomplishments. Yes, there is context thanks to the personal statement included, but I sometimes want to scream: There is more to me and my life than what is in this portfolio! During these six years I’ve grieved, been a new mother, gone through surgery, worked with my partner through his numerous health challenges, been a friend, a wife, a daughter, and a parent. I’ve been a person, not just a librarian, but there’s no room for that in the tenure portfolio. Maybe that’s why so much of the emotion makes its way into the process; there is no room for it in the final product.

I’m writing this post in part to make sense of my intense emotions over the past few months, but also to let you know that if you’re riding the tenure portfolio prep emotional rollercoaster, you are not alone. I think any activity that demands that you share a significant part of yourself–mind you, out of context from the rest of your life–to be judged by others is a recipe for tears, laughter, pride, and anger (among other emotions). It’s an act of emotional labor that separates the you of your work from the whole you, and it is hard. So I guess my only words of advice would be a rip off of Dan Savage‘s good sense advice: If you’re working on your tenure file, go ahead and feel your feelings. Feel the f*ck out of your feelings, and then just do it. I’m proud of you.

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Returning from the ACRL Delaware Valley Chapter Fall Forum

I was invited to speak at the ACRL Delaware Valley Chapter Fall Forum at beautiful Swarthmore College last Friday, November 11 (thank you, Sarah Elichko!). The days leading up to the event were, to say the least, emotional. On Tuesday, Nov. 8 my family and I stayed home from work and school to celebrate the birth, death, and brief, in-utero life of my son Connor. We planted tulip, daffodil, and crocus bulbs; made a chocolate pie; took a family trip to show that we were with Her; and generally just spent time together.

We also watched the election results.

I went to bed on the verge of tears, hating that what should have been a day of remembrance and celebration turned into an evening of fear, anxiety, and disgust. I woke up on Wednesday like so many others–angry, disbelieving, horrified. I exchanged hugs with students and colleagues on campus, and listened to people sharing their broken hearts. Then it was time to drive to Pennsylvania.

I wasn’t sure how I’d feel speaking in front of and being around a crowd, but thankfully, I was among friends. The topic of the forum–Critlib: Theory and Action–should have been a signal that these were exactly the type of people I needed to be around at that moment. It was inspiring to hear from Jeremy McGinniss, Romel Espinel, and Adam Mizelle about the work they’re doing in their own libraries. Also, the closing activity led by DeVon Jackson at Villanova University just tied everything together beautiful. It was a day of sharing, but also a day of planning the resistance for the four years to come.

I thought I’d share my slides which include the text of the talk with you, in case you’re interested in reading it (you can open the speaker notes by clicking on the gear below, or just clicking on the linked text above). I think now more than ever we’re going to need critical voices in librarianship and in our country. I might still be sad, disheartened and angry, but I’m also ready for the fight ahead.

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A Brief Economics Lesson

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Money! by Tracy O on Flickr

Last week I had a breakthrough. It was during a class I’ve taught at least 2-3 times each semester for the past 5 years–Intro to Politics–and was such a welcome surprise. Faculty who teach this course typically ask students to write a short literature review on a topic of their choosing (related to politics, of course). I usually come in after the review has been assigned, armed with different information source types. I ask students to divide into small groups and determine which sources are “academic” and why, but then take it a step further and ask them to determine if (and how) a source is “helpful.” It’s a bit more nuanced and is my attempt at subverting the strong emphasis faculty place on “scholarly, academic sources” as the only sources worth using. We have a large class discussion about what makes an information source academic, but more importantly we discuss how different types of information sources can be beneficial to their research.

The class I taught last Tuesday followed this model, however the professor had students find their own information sources rather than having me provide them. The result was a much deeper discussion that hit on the economic underpinnings of information production. Students were quite savvy about advertisements in online newspapers, magazines, and blogs, but were completely unaware of the cost of academic information and barriers to accessing it. It ended up turning into a wonderful social justice discussion about academic publishing. Some myths I helped to dispel included:

  • Academic journal subscriptions cost $50-150 per year for libraries (I WISH).
  • Peer reviewers get paid to review article submissions (Ha!).
  • Open Access journals are poor quality scholarship (nope nope nope).
  • Academic sources are produced by non-commercial publishers (LOLOLOLOL).

That last comment was made by a wide-eyed student who stated that everything she thought about academic sources was wrong! It was such a fun, and powerful discussion, and it got me thinking: How can I purposefully integrate this serendipitous discussion (or ones like it) into my future classes?

I ended up partially revising a class I was teaching the next day: Research Methods and Writing in Psychology. I usually run this class as a workshop, introducing students to different databases and stressing the use of appropriate search language and following citation trails. I talk about the importance of keywords when searching databases, but I never talk about WHY we use them beyond the standard, it’s how databases work! After a call out to Twitter, and watching this supremely inspiring video by Maggie Murphy, I decided to really focus on the why of keyword searching. It was a great discussion to have with a group of juniors and sophomores, some of whom were die-hard Googlers and others who exclusively used database like PsycINFO. We talked about money and search algorithms, what database vendors spend their cash on, what Google is searching when you type in a phrase or whole question, and just what a keyword search does and why. I wanted students to understand the underlying structures of these information resources so that they could then explore them as more effective researchers. The students seemed to really internalize the difference in search approaches, and as I wandered around the classroom during their searching it was clear that they were using different approaches to databases than they were using to Google Scholar.

I don’t know if these are discussions I can incorporate into every class, but I am certainly going to try. Have you had an inspiring critlib teaching moment recently? I’d love to hear about it.