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

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

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

My service is not selfless.

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

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

How does service play out in practice?

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

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

A feminist version of service

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

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

More to come

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Heartbreak

My bullet journal tells me I haven’t posted in a while. I wanted to write about teaching today, about a particular topic that I’ve been thinking about interesting ways to teach. Honestly, my heart is not in it. My heart feels broken.

McAllen, Texas is the biggest site of the horrific child and infant detention centers, which will soon be expanded to keep families together…in jail. It’s where thousands of kids lie on concrete floors unsure of when they’ll ever see their families again. It’s also the town adjacent to the one I grew up in (Pharr, TX). My family is there. I shop there. I eat there. I hang out there. My heart is there, and my heart hurts.

Readers of this blog know that my first son Connor was unexpectedly stillborn, and I bring that up not to elicit sympathy for myself, but to say that having experienced that pain of not being able to hold and keep safe the child you were meant to protect is shattering. Those mothers and fathers are having their hearts ripped out and their children are being terrorized by this administration. It’s cruel, inhumane, horrific, and I don’t know what else. There isn’t a word harsh enough to describe the world right now. In the faces of those children I see my sons, my nephew, myself and my sister, my cousins and my friends, all of whom have the privilege of being born brown on this side of the border. I 100% identify with those parents just trying to find a better life for their children, who they love more than anything in this world.

So, like many of you, I do what I can to help support children and families and encourage others to do the same. Donate to RAICES, KIND, and NETA. Help REFORMA help children. Buy books for my amazing colleague, Lisa Cruces’ book drive. Vote. Protest. Call all those assholes in office. Basically stay human in the face of inhumanity and fight against it.

 

Image of paint swirls
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Acculturation, Integration, Assimilation

I’m at the end of week three in my new job and have been thinking a lot about the process of on-boarding new employees. UH Libraries has a very comprehensive on-boarding and orientation program. With 50+ librarians that’s not surprising. I’ve had one-on-one meetings with everyone in my department, other supervisors within the library, and am looking forward to meeting people outside the library in the next few weeks (summer just makes for fewer folks on campus). There is a big stress on understanding the library’s organizational culture and strong encouragement to ask questions and offer feedback on the orientation / on-boarding process, which I appreciate.

I’ve had some interesting, open conversations with my colleagues about what it means to a) come back to work after being on sabbatical for 8 months, and b) come back to an entirely new place of work. There’s a fair amount of culture shock happening, which is to be expected when moving from a small liberal arts college to an R1 university. Thankfully I feel like I can talk about this at work.

I can also talk about what it means to be a new employee at a library without simultaneously being a new librarian. This is the first job I’ve started as an established librarian. My first subject librarian position at the UH Libraries was my first job out of library school, and I was green, green, greenie-green. When I started working at St. Mary’s I was relatively early career (about 2.5 years in). But now, as I settle into this new Instruction Coordinator role, I realize I’ve been doing this for more than a hot minute. I have a much stronger sense of who I am as a person and as a librarian. I have my own values, beliefs, hopes, and goals. I have established ideas about librarianship, teaching, and scholarship. I bring my own culture. I don’t want to be so rigid that I espouse my own values and culture as the right values and culture. I always want to be open to learning and to new experiences. I also want to recognize that I have something to bring to the table and that my own identity matters.

I’ve been the latina who anglicized my name in college because I was tired of hearing my professors and fellow students stumble over it. In my early twenties I struggled to reconcile my own latinidad with the whiter world around me and just ended up feeling alone and confused. I wish I could go back and tell 20-year-old me to stop code switching and take pride in myself and my culture (and for the love of God stop tweezing your eyebrows so much). These are lessons I’ve tried to keep with me over the years (including the brow-shaping). I bring them with me as I start this new job, and think about ways I can integrate myself into this new library. I don’t want to assimilate, and I don’t feel pressure to do so. I want to continue to question, reflect, act, and practice librarianship in an intentional way that aligns with my own values. I want to learn new ways to be in this profession from my colleagues. It’s a very different approach to starting a new job for me, but it’s one I’m committed to pursuing in the months to come.

 

 

Photo of flatlay objects including camera, shoes, maps, pipe, magnifying glass by ian dooley on Unsplash
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A New Adventure Begins

Southern Maryland has been my home for almost 10 years. Although working at St. Mary’s College of Maryland’s library wasn’t my first library job, it has been the job that turned me into the librarian I am today. My friends are in Maryland, parts of my heart are in the rivers and the bay, and pieces of me will come up every year with the daffodils that have naturalized in the front yard of my little blue house.

But as the title of this post indicates, new adventures are always around the corner.

I’ve shared my husband’s health struggles and triumphs on this blog and on Twitter, and one thing that became overwhelmingly obvious to us this fall was that we, as a family, needed to stay in Houston. What began as a temporary sabbatical move turned into a transformative year for all of us, my partner in particular, and is now the start of a new phase for all of us.

In one month I will begin a new job as the Instruction Coordinator at the University of Houston Libraries. It’s the place that gave me my start in academic libraries, and it’s the library that I’ll once again get to call my place of work. I am excited to join a wonderful team of teaching and liaison librarians and am so looking forward to the new challenge of being a librarian supervisor (!!!). I can’t wait to start working at this vibrant university.

Yes, this means an abrupt end to my sabbatical year, but 9 months isn’t too shabby. I will miss St. Mary’s and Maryland deeply. I’m a ball of excitement, nerves, sadness, and joy. Transitions are scary, but they bring the possibility of growth and renewal. Here’s hoping this next academic year will bring them both.

I’ll be at LOEX May 3-5 (conveniently located in Houston). If you’re attending, I’d love to see you, meet you, and learn more about you. In the meantime, I’ll be wrapping up projects, continuing my writing and research, and waiting for my new adventure to begin.

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New ACRLog Post: Supported Vulnerability & Help-Seeking

I have a new post up on ACRLog today that’s sort of the writing of my heart right now. I’m beginning to realize that a lot of my professional malaise is rooted in a lack of connection, and I’m taking such joy from learning about relational cultural theory with a fantastic group of librarians. If you have some spare time this afternoon, check it out:

Supported Vulnerability and Help-Seeking.

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The Intermediary We Don’t Need?

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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?