Critical reading and a new kind of library for me

I’ve mentioned the work of Project Information Literacy several times here, and last fall I had the pleasure of working with a friend and colleague to apply some of what we learned from their Provocation Series in her English Composition class. We engaged the students in critical reading about QAnon and the Satanic Panics of the past. It was a blast, and I wrote a guest post about it which you can find at the ACRL Community and Junior Colleges Section blog: “Critical Reading Partnership Inspired by Project Information Literacy.” Check out other “Practical PIL” examples on their website.

Those of you who have been with me here at Nocturnal Librarian for some time know I’ve worked in public and academic (private and community college) libraries over the time I’ve written this blog. When I was just twenty-one and a senior in college and then a new graduate, I also worked in records and archives management at a college alumni association. Each of these jobs was different but the common thread has been connecting people with information. I love doing that. I’m the person in the Zoom gathering who is always popping links into the chat when folks mention a book or a movie or a website or an article.

Last spring I began to notice how much of my work was not primarily about connecting people with information. And also that my greatest moments of satisfaction weren’t due to my job, but to other things I am involved in, some related to work (like open education stuff, or connecting with science librarians), some not (like volunteering, relationships, or prayer).

In November, after many months of reflection, I took a job in my community’s hospital. On paper it seems like an illogical step — I was a library director, had taken steps to “move up” and take on more responsibility with each new job, had successfully managed people, projects, budgets, and resources, made a good salary. Why take an hourly job in the hospital radiology department? Well for one thing, the core of the work is still connecting people with information. My area is “image services” also known as the image library (it was once literally a film library). I look up and send people’s radiology images (x rays, CT or PET scans, ultrasounds, etc.) where they need to go so they can get the care they need. I work with health care providers and with patients and I’m using a lot of my reference skills. I felt drawn to healthcare (in part because of my participation in the Covid Alliance Senior Support Team of NH), and I’m enjoying learning about a whole new-to-me field.

More importantly, at least to me, is that I am able to be more available for my family, for the movements I engage with to work for a more just, equitable, sustainable world, and even for myself. I work four days. That means I have a whole extra day each week to be present for the people I love, the things I believe in, the “work” I really care about. Which, it turns out, isn’t always the work I do for money. Also, I had reached a point where my sense of who I am and what I stand for had become wrapped up in my professional identity in ways that didn’t make sense. I attended a webinar led by Br. David Vryhof of SSJE early in the fall where he talked about “disordered attachments” and why they make us unhappy:

“. . . an unhealthy attachment is when we cling to some idea or some person or some thing and we come to believe that our lives will not be happy or meaningful without this thing. And so we must have it. And that’s a sign of a disordered attachment.”

He’s a monk in an Episcopalian order, but that idea may sound familiar to you Buddhists out there.

It rang true for me.

The work of Fobazi Ettarh and Kaetrena Davis Kendrick also influenced my decision. I heard both of them speak at ACRL 2019 and followed their work since. I understood work life balance and the need to be a supportive manager, but I had also bought into the idea that I needed to put others before myself to be a good boss and librarian. It turns out capitalism primes us for that, but that’s a story for another time (I’m reading up on this topic, so stay tuned for a blog post over at bookconscious). Ettarh and Kendrick helped me see that it’s not selfish to think of your own well being, and that you can’t be much help to others if you aren’t taking care of yourself. And that “vocational awe” intensifies the sense of having to “serve” as a librarian rather than seeing it simply as a job, and as just one piece of who we are as people. Because work isn’t who we are, even if we like our work, or find it rewarding. Nothing wrong with that, unless we stop critiquing it, or develop a disordered attachment to it. For me undoing that meant changing jobs. Maybe for someone else it is simply a matter of shifting priorities or being more intentional about time spent in different aspects of life.

Anyway, that’s what I’ve been up to. I hope you’ll stay with me for new perspectives from a different kind of library.

Conferences, end of semester, and summer projects oh my

I’ve noticed in my few years in academia that the year steamrolls until by this time, with just a few short weeks left until spring finals are over, staff, faculty, and students alike are running even in their sleep to keep up. Have you woken up at night to scrawl a note or set a reminder on your phone lately? Me too.

It doesn’t help in the library world that we seem to load all our conferences into a window from late spring to early summer. I’m sure this has to do with making sure people can attend before they are off for the summer if they are faculty or are on a 180 schedule. For those of us who work year round, it is probably a well-intended attempt to get us all fired up for that mythical time in the summer when we are “free” to do projects.

I’ve never really seen summer projects get completed, at least not the long lists we all make in the winter during planning meetings. I’ve got several large projects on the horizon myself, although I am trying to be reasonable and actually said no to something last week. I also have the inevitable end of the academic year  hiring committees,  plus co-chairing One Book One Manchester, our community wide read, with the city library director. I’m still distilling the notes from attending the Association of College and Research Libraries 2019 conference in Cleveland a little over a week ago, and I’m going to a few other learning opportunities or mini conferences in the next couple of months. I have some amazing opportunities coming up to do research, work on student success efforts, and participate in collaborative work on Open Educational Resources on my campus and in our community college system.

This is all super exciting — I’ve never had this many professional development, continuing education, and collaboration opportunities at once, nor so much institutional support for my growth as a librarian and educator. I’m fortunate. But I’m sitting here tonight wondering why the end of the academic year is this stacked up. Why don’t we have conferences in March? Why don’t we set more reasonable expectations for what can happen in the summer (when many people will also take vacations)? Why don’t we (ok, I) take on one project at a time?

For me it’s been a perfect storm, as I say, of support and opportunities that are too amazing not to try. But one thing I heard often at ACRL 2019 was that we have to caution against being overwhelmed by expectations, we have to help ourselves and those who work for us by setting boundaries such as actually taking lunch breaks, not working late or going in early every day, and managing to say no sometimes. I also heard an interesting talk by Fobazi Ettarh about not succumbing to “vocational awe” by making librarianship out to be the saving grace for everyone and everything on our campuses. Ettarh suggested being a “bad librarian” can be good, by which she meant, have a life outside of work, don’t sacrifice your social life or your well being to serve librarianship, and call out libraries and librarianship for the things we don’t get right, as well as celebrating what we do.

It was also my great pleasure to walk up and introduce myself like a total fan girl to Kaetrena Davis Kendrick, ACRL’s Academic/Research Librarian of the Year, to ask her how she does it. She works in a library with 2 librarians, like I do. I wanted to know her secret to doing more with less. Her advice? Take care of yourself, so you can take care of others. Take your lunch. Go home on time. So as we enter the last few weeks of the semester I will be working hard to work less hard — to come home to my family in the evenings close to when they are expecting me. To take a real break every day. To keep myself physically and mentally rested, hydrated, and happy.  I’m going to try to give myself permission to be more like my favorite Zen master, a grey tabby called Gwen:

IMG_1719

We’re going to go curl up with a book now.