LIS Education Symposium [pt. 2]

LIS ed
with co-panelists Annie Pho (seated) and Micah Vandegrift (virtual)

Part two of my reflections on #LISed15 focuses on my presentation. To read my overall thoughts, go to part one.

I’ll cut to the chase: here are my slides if you’d like to quickly page through them.

I also wanted to annotate them a bit, though, given that they are so driven by visuals that might not be terribly easy to interpret. I should note that our panel was recorded, so obviously that will be the version of record as far as what I actually said. But given the chance to make that delivery more elegant here and now I will gladly take advantage! I’m also going intersperse tweets from the event throughout, my very own haphazardly cobbled together storify. FYI, tweets stolen from the actual legit #LISed15 storify.

Our abstract was penned by Micah; you can read it here. In a nutshell, the three of us planned to explore our experiences beyond library school. We did not know necessarily what we were each going to share. We went in order of HLS seniority: Micah, then Annie, then me.

Here’s what I chose to say.

part I: my story

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I decided to become a librarian in a rather unglamorous way. I was ancy because I hadn’t yet decided on a career focus. I wanted to be an English major, but what could I do with it? To find an answer, I turned to Google and typed “careers for English majors.” Librarian and archivist popped up and I suddenly recognized that there were people who powered my university library. I found a direction.

I went to my undergrad library and showed up orphanlike at special collections, begging to be taken in. I was extraordinarily lucky to meet a wise and kind librarian there who took me under her wing. She was the first in a succession of amazing women who opened doors for me in this field. One of the doors she opened led me to a recent IU grad and brand new librarian hire at my undergrad institution who in turn gave me lots of pertinent information about how to think about library school.

In many ways I was driven by fear. Fear sharpened my intensity. It had many layers, starting with the general concern, of course, that I was going into a field with too many graduates and too few jobs, ramping up to the specific, the things about me that incited that curious cold fear. I had never been paid to work in a library before, not one dime; I was woman interested in tech and I didn’t have a CS background; I was super young, set to graduate with my BA at age 20.

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In the midst of the madness and soul-searching and self-doubt started a blog. I called it Not So Stern Librarian (this is also when I created my twitter handle, which obviously remains). I felt fun and wanted to have fun and I wasn’t entirely sure whether this profession would support that. I didn’t know how I would fit in and my self-identification at the time totally reflects that.

fun

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I started my library program at Indiana University. I jumped in but I didn’t necessarily always see that same drive in my peers. It gave me pause. I had a hard time finding community beyond a few select people. I focused on my jobs instead.

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In December 2011, something exciting happened. I read the call for writers up on Hack Library School, applied… and was accepted! My first post was a critique of my program. It was intimidating to write, in many ways. I had been writing rabble-rousing things on my own little blog but this was the first time I had a true platform. This was when I became known as someone publicly leveraging a critique against my program.

I recently reread it and I still think it’s fair. It’s certainly less intense than other things I have written about my program (that I also wholeheartedly stand by).

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Over the course of my HLS experience, I found that a lot of my posts ended up being sort of higher level, big picture type reflections. It’s what I gravitated towards. Go figure. I was very much focused on hacks for doing and making and pushing.

part II: community

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I want to unpack the idea of community. The title of our talk says community is easy but I don’t think it is – and I told Micah I might have to fight him on that a little bit.

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We’ve got formalized professional associations in librarianship. These can be meaningful but they can also become wrapped up in all the red tape. You can get so thoroughly lost.

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And then we’ve got the grassroots groups. People who come together because they’re passionate about something and want to share it.

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What I want to address is the behind the scenes work. There’s a lot of invisible work in building something useful or beautiful or interesting from something ordinary.

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This symposium is a prime example of the invisible work I’m talking about. #LISed15 is an amazing thing that happened because of a passionate group of individuals came together.

I exposed my aggravation on Twitter because I didn’t see folks from the IU or UW library programs attending, even with the extremely keen marketing and accommodations offered by the planning committee. Free! Virtual attendance was an option! The organizers even offered to put people up in their apartments!

There’s so much we already have to do as employees and partners and whatever other roles we fill. We are all tied up in a web of responsibilities as it is. When someone reaches out beyond that to do something extra, it needs nurturing.

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In all honesty I chose this image because I want that sequined sweater. But it also does a good job of representing that sad sinking disappointment that can happen when we bring energy that is not met.

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So here’s where I tell you a story, one I wondered whether I should share at all. However, when Micah, Annie and I met to talk about how this would go we decided to be open and real about things.

HLS is a community run by library students, for library students. Graduates bow out shortly after they finish their programs but remain on the google groups if they wish. That was the case for me. Sometime last summer I started to think about the need for creating connections among the entire web of HLS “grads”. I was also ruminating on the lack of connection opportunities between students and professionals. All of these thoughts brought me back to Hack Library School.

So I reached out, said hey guys is anyone interested in this stuff or should I just go away? There was a good amount of discussion within the group, lots of enthusiasm, and I set everything up. Created a doodle poll, sent the initial email, reminder email for said poll, picked a date, came up with an agenda, sent it out a few weeks ahead of time, then a reminder email on the day of.

I pull it together and nobody shows up. Not one person out of the six or seven slated to be there.

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And this is I’m pretty sure what leads to burnout, at least in part. I was annoyed, sure, but I wasn’t aggravated. I understood in part; we’re all busy, things come up, etc. So I sent the above email. It was curt, yes, but I tried not to call out anyone. Apologies were shared. People swore they would come if, when it was rescheduled.

A few days later, I rescheduled the hangout. Rinse and repeat, doodle poll through the hangout, with one small exception. My pal Michael, another HLS alumnus, was the sole person to show up. We had a lovely talk but it was not about the matter at hand.

I really felt in that moment that if HLS didn’t care, nobody cared about this issue. I was unwilling to carry the issue alone. I had a whole job to focus on! I had a life filled with other non-library things, much less library student things! What the heck was I doing at 9pm doing this extra work that nobody else showed up for? Suddenly I felt revulsion that hit me like a ton of bricks. Give me a book and my cat and let me not think about libraries for a long time.

And I think that’s how the extras, that willingness to do the invisible work, disappears.

part III: leadership

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I kind of side eye the idea of leadership, or at least I have in the past. So often I heard the term bandied about for anyone working in a top-level administrative role. Not that administrators aren’t or can’t be leaders; I just think it’s sometimes a connection is made when it is perhaps unearned.

Lately I’ve been coming back to this idea of leadership, though, considering what it might mean to me as I am pushed and pulled in many directions already in my professional life. What might it mean to be a leader, particularly if we are in roles that aren’t that powerful? What responsibilities do students and young professionals have to each other?

Here are a few thoughts.

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First of all, I’ve realized that nobody, nobody has a road map. Not even the people who look the most profesh and put-together. Spending time in a fog of bewilderment is actually a good thing because it means you’re aware at all that you don’t know yet, so don’t let it fool you.

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The fact that there’s so much space (in theory) for ideas and new directions means that I am doing my job well if I am pushing. If I am asking pointed questions.

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In short, if I am giving my employer and colleagues something to react to.

It’s all too easy to just stop. To feel crushed by the insane number of choices sprawled out in front of us. To start actually avoiding making decisions in the constant chaos. I am tempted by this all the time. After all, we rarely if ever have all the information we need to feel completely confident in our decisions… but it is so crucial for us to choose.  Without action and the failure that sometimes accompanies it, we do not and will not keep up.

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New professionals have a responsibility to invite students to the conversation when they can. This year I was on the RDAP Planning Committee. I grew concerned when I realized RDAP didn’t have a student registration rate… and then I had this flash of recognition that hold up, I could do something about it. So I wrote an email and what do you know! It got changed. (Yeah, I know, it’s still super expensive. But the precedent!)

The strangest part for me was the mental shift that occurred. Subconsciously I felt like it was wrong to bring it up, to create more work, that it wasn’t my place. Thinking back on it, I naturally assumed that it was somebody else’s job to work through that. And I am in no way a shrinking violet, my friends.

So just imagine if we all extended this type of inclusive perspective to the projects, committees, and institutions we are affiliated with! And not just as it pertains to students – also thinking of the many different people who might not be presently at the table, so to speak, and why they are not at the table. How can we create a welcome space for all people of all genders, races, and backgrounds?

We all have to share this important work. It starts to have an impact.

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And luckily there are a lot of us, as we are constantly reminded by the dire job placement stats.

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I place a lot of importance on being open about things that have stung. I think we all need to share our rejections more openly; it’s healthier for us and for the profession as a whole. Releasing that vulnerability into the universe is freeing. It helps us empathize with and support one another.

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As I draw to a close, consider this butterfly.

Isn’t it lovely? Don’t get too attached because I’m about to tell you something you’re not going to like. I’m going to paraphrase the writer Ann Patchett and tell you to crush the butterfly. In her short story The Getaway Car,  Patchett likens her own mental perception of her writing to that of a beautiful butterfly. However, when she actually puts pen to paper she finds that she has created something so much less than anticipated. Achingly, depressingly inferior to the beautiful butterfly she imagined, in fact.

Her advice? Crush the butterfly. Go ahead and embrace that what you make might not seem as good as the idea of it did. I mean, how could it? Our brains play tricks on us. We are often our own worst critics.

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So crush that butterfly by doing things! And support your peers as they do things, too.

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And most importantly, prioritize kindness. We’ve got to take care of each other.

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I finished up my slides with my contact information, as I usually do. If you have questions, comments, or just want to chat, please do reach out and say hello.

10 comments

  1. As always, love how honest you are. I need to learn to dust myself off after failing, or at least feeling like I’ve failed, with community projects. I’m part of the student association group for my local cohort and it can be so disheartening to only see the same 4-5 people attend our tours and events. It really has kept me from trying to reach out to other groups. I’m hopeful that once I get my free time back (graduate in August!) I can start to volunteer my time to help organize some events, think I’ll start with Code4Lib SoCal. Are there any tech groups that you know is active and welcoming to new people? I’ve tried to introduce myself in a few and sometimes it feels like I am yelling down a hallway just hoping someone will reply.

    1. Hey Marlon! Thanks for the comment. Low attendance and engagement can be so crushing. I completely relate! I faced that situation as a student org leader and to my surprise, I’ve also come up against the same problem constantly in my current role. Don’t give up! Hopefully even if people aren’t coming, they’re still aware of your efforts. You’re probably exposing them to different places and possibilities as well.

      Regarding your question, I have an idea to share with you that I’m excited about! Expect an email from me this weekend :)

  2. I just wanted to say that you’re really great and I’m constantly inspired by your insightfulness and tenacity. I don’t know if I have anything more productive to say than that, but I see and appreciate you–and will forever feel guilty for not attending that google hangout that night. I just graduated my program, where I think I operated under the guise of “I couldn’t possibly do that, I’m so darn busy!” far too often, which resulted in the stifling of my own impassioned ideas as well as (sadly) contributing to the stifling of others. Reflecting on my lib school experience and reading this post have really prompted me to think about how I can be better. I want so much for and from this profession, and I see now that the change has got to happen through the community. Thanks, Brianna.

    1. Hi Liz! Thanks for your comment. First of all, don’t feel guilty! No guilt! Please don’t think I feel any lingering resentment. I actually didn’t even remember the specifics of who was slated to show up, anyway.

      One of the things that came up during the discussion was that just because you don’t show up for one thing doesn’t mean you didn’t show up for another. Being engaged with some things means that engagement with other worthy things suffers. I think it’s a huge constant learning curve of trying to figure out our own ideal level of involvement, and unfortunately that means dropping the ball sometimes. Confession: I feel dangerously overcommitted currently and I am constantly challenged with prioritizing my projects. I am basically on the brink of dropping the ball in so many ways all the time right now – but it’s teaching me a lot about where I provide the most value and how I want to work moving forward. You hear these murmurings of “it’s okay to say no” etc. but I think it can be hard from the outside to know what to say no to without getting in over your head sometimes. Anyway! Just further rambling from me about how we are all figuring stuff out moment by moment and a reassurance that I am in no way exempt from this idea of not showing up :)

      I’d love to chat sometime, either in person or virtually. Hugs!

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