Anxiety, Depression, and Librarianship

This comic by Sarah Andersen is the perfect representation of what the last month or so has been like for me. I’ve had my first okay night of sleep in a while, and my chest has started to loosen up a bit, but my anxiety and depression are still lurking in the background.

I objectively love my job. I am grateful to be in the position that I am in and grateful that I get to work with the people that I do, and I love the work that I do! But some days, its all just too hard. With the weather changing and my already existing anxiety and depression, I am continually struggling to just wake up and get out of bed most days.

Anxiety, depression, and a new job are the perfect storm for a bad time. There are so many new things to learn, people to meet, and things to do. My anxiety and depression also feed into my impostor syndrome, and they all work together to make me feel incompetent. When I am having a bad mental health period, my job feels like a burden. I am not excited to learn new things or meet new people or continue learning skills. Instead, I feel burdened by these responsibilities. And the more I feel burdened, the more I feel dread. The more dread I feel, the harder it is too wake up to go to work. Lately, its this self-fulfilling cycle that has been harder and harder to escape.

It feels like right now, I am just getting by. Only doing the things that are absolutely necessary for my job as a resident librarian. And that sucks because I want to do amazing things and be a great librarian. But instead, I feel incompetent that I am so easily overwhelmed. I feel incompetent when I spend too long on an assignment or when I feel like a reference meeting I had with students wasn’t very helpful. And despite peoples validation of my work, I still feel incompetent. Like I am not doing enough. Like I am not thinking hard enough. Not trying hard enough.

And in my worst times, my anxiety and depression make me question what I am even doing as a librarian:

How can you expect to be in a tenure track position when you can’t even handle a residency?

How do you expect to be a librarian when you suck at communicating?

How do you expect to be amazing at outreach when you are so bad at talking to people?

Anxiety and depression trick you into perceiving things in the worst way possible. They can really skew your assessment of your job and make you question whether or not you are supposed to be doing this job. Is this my anxiety and depression sending me these bad signals or is librarianship just not for me? And you can imagine the crisis that follows.

Anyway. I write this to mostly vent. But I also hope that someone else out there might read this and feel validated, or at the very least, seen. The more we talk about mental health and mental illness and the workplace, the better.

Living with mental illness is hard but one of the best things I can do for myself are to have some self-compassion and celebrate the little things (like sharing this blog post).

Recently Read: “Intersectionality at the Reference Desk: Lived Experiences of Women of Color Librarians” by Rose L. Chou and Annie Pho

My work as a Diversity Resident Librarian has begun to pick up which is really exciting. Part of the increase in workload is the fact that I have committed to some research areas.

The first area that I want to explore involves updating a study done by Jesus Alonso-Regalado. His work “Librarian for Latin American and Caribbean Studies in U.S. Academic and Research Libraries: A Content Analysis of Position Announcements, 1970-2007” provides an image of what your “typical” Latin American Librarian looked like up until 2007 and what kinds of shifts in the job duties, hiring requirements, and other important criteria have happened in the profession. It is now 2019 and I am curious to see if any more formative shifts have taken place since this study was done, especially since the profession has started to welcome some younger librarians and the field of Area Studies continues to shift around.

My second research area is a bit more broad. I want to continue to look at equity, diversity and inclusion as it pertains to librarianship. I want to further explore the role diversity residencies play in solving the professions lack of diversity, and I want to continue to explore my experiences so far as a Puerto Rican Woman in this profession. For idea generation, I have begun to seek out literature that speaks to the lack of diversity in librarianship and came across “Intersectionality at the Reference Desk: Lived Experiences of Women of Color Librarians” by Rose L. Chou and Annie Pho and I was shocked by the experiences these Women of Color (WOC) shared with the authors.

Before I go into my thoughts and feelings, I first wanted to comment on the choice to use a feminist interviewing methodology. As I continue to delve into topics of race, ethnicity, gender, ability, etc. really understanding the nuance of different experiences and situations is important to the discussion of these topics. I also appreciated the thoughtfulness in relying heavily on direct quotes from the women interviewed to stress the importance and validity of these women’s experiences. No need to always cite a scholarly publication to validate someones lived experience, right?

Now onto my thoughts:

The experiences these women shared were frightening. As a non-white woman, it is horrifying to think that these kinds of situations could be in my future. Its disheartening to think that I might have to work 2x harder than my white peers to be taken seriously , but that being overly ambitious could be detrimental to my career. The pressure and reality of being the token Black WOC or Latina (or other identity) in the institution must be paralyzing. For me, this would be incredibly paralyzing because I am not the “stereotypical latina”. If people in my institution are wanting me to be representative of this massively diverse group of humans (their first mistake), they are going to be disappointed to find out that I don’t know all that much about most latinx subjects (who really can though, there is so much to know) and I am probably closer to them culturally than their idea of what latinx means! This wasn’t something mentioned in the piece, but for me, this would make me feel invalid. Like I am not really latina because I don’t fit the image these people expect from me.

There are also cultural differences which might be viewed as incompetence. One woman mentioned how she feels judged by her colleagues whenever she helped Latina students. She noted the cultural importance of talking and chatting before getting to the meat of a topic, something my Mexican-American has stressed the importance of as well. These kinds of cultural practices are important because they build trust with patrons and can make them feel more comfortable when they see a familiar cultural practice! So why is her competence being questioned for “taking too long”? That is ridiculous. In my personal institution, I don’t think this kind of cultural practice is a problem as things seem to be a bit less structured. But I do find the extra time need to be true.

With that said, this is something I find that my experience is reversed. I find myself feeling incompetent because I can’t do that whole social practice of small talk before getting to the main stuff with latinx students and faculty. Culturally, I have been exposed to this practice through my family, but it just never stuck. Maybe its my anxiety? Who knows. But in my position, I work with many latinx faculty and grad students and find this exchange uncomfortable. I struggle to do it. It is especially noticeable when my supervisor is comfortable with this cultural practice and I witness these interactions first-hand. I will say that watching my supervisor has helped a lot. There isn’t a formula to these types of interactions, but every time I can watch her do it, I feel comfortable knowing that I have an idea of what to do when it is my turn to engage.  On the hard days, it is easy to look at my supervisor and feel incompetent. But I try to remember that this is not a sign of incompetence. It is a skill that I am learning and I am not expected to master it on my first try! I thought this was an interesting divergence of experience.

Lastly, I just wanted to mention the fact the self-care was something mentioned as coping mechanisms to negative experiences. I thought this was such an important contribution to the literature. As someone with anxiety and depression, it is important to discuss mental health in the workplace. While the authors focused on self-care and the ways negative experiences can have a negative impact on the mental health of these women, I want to add how mental health can play a role in exacerbating some of the issues we face. It is a fine line between the microaggressions and negative experiences causing anxiety and depression, and how pre-existing anxiety and depression can make it even more difficult to face these negative experiences.

Ultimately, this article allowed me to do some self-reflection in regards to my place in the library as a non-white, cisgender woman who suffers from anxiety and depression. I read the experiences shared and wondered the likelihood that I would experience similar situations to those listed here. I also wondered how the nuances of my identity would change the likelihood of these experiences happening to me (i.e. very light skin, no accent, straight, culturally pretty “american, etc.”) The only thing I do know for sure is that every single WOC and POC in librarianship will have a different experience, or different feelings about similar experiences, and these are all valid.

This Week 10/14/2019–10/19/2019

Here is what was on the agenda for this week:

  • International Student Workshop II
  • Introduction to LibAnswer and Libinsights
  • Exhibit Logistics Check-in Meeting with Supervisor
  • Meeting and Tour in the Libraries Technical Services Building
  • ALAO Conference
  • Pop-Up Exhibit for Día de los Muertos

I will only be discussing in detail the pop-up exhibit. If you are interested in hearing more about the Academic Library Association of Ohio 2019 conference, check out my overview here.

The day that we have been prepping for since early September finally arrived! We had our Día de los Muertos adjacent Pop-Up Exhibit in the Cartoon Library and Museum. The scope of the exhibit was pretty broad and consisted of items from our special collections, some of our newest acquisitions from SÕL-CON: The Brown and Black Comix Expo, and other comics and graphic novels currently in the collection. My job was to find items that fit under Immigration, Migration, and Mobility. The image below is a table featuring the many graphic novels I found in our collections related to the topic, including:

  • The Arrival by Shaun Tan
  • The Four Immigrants Manga: a Japanese Experience in San Francisco, 2904-1924 by Henry (Yoshitaka) Kiyama
  • Migra Mouse: Political Cartoons on Immigration by Lalo Alcaraz
  • Étrange by Jérôme Ruillier
  • Diary of a Reluctant Dreamer: Undocumented Vignettes from a Pre-American Life by Alberto Ledesma 
  • The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir by Thi Bui

The Immigration, Migration and Mobility theme also led me to pull many political cartoons and original art by Bill Schorr, Eric J. Garcia, Kate Salley Palmer, and many other who had very poignant commentaries on immigration in the United States. My supervisor was in charge of pulling and transporting the special collections items which included original Jose Guadalupe Posada broadsides. Overall, the exhibit was a great success. We had over 130 people come in and take a look around. I was especially excited to see people interested in the graphic novels I pulled as well as the material acquired from SÕL-CON. I was worried that people would not want to touch any of the material we left out for them, so I would often go around and handle the material, signalling that it is okay to touch this stuff. Whats the point of even having this material if no one can see it or touch it?

I was not tasked with any of the logistics of the exhibit this time, but next year, I might be heading the charge! Aside from stopping by the exhibit to see if they could use extra help, my partner and I were given the freedom to explore the other events happening for the larger Día de los Muertos celebration. We drank hot chocolate, ate tamales and pan de muerto, checked out the altar where people left items for their loved ones, and explored the gallery exhibits in the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum.

The planning and execution of this exhibit was helpful in a lot of ways. It taught me how to find material in our circulating and special collections, who most important people are when you need logistical support, and what the execution of a pop-up exhibit looks like from start to finish.  I have plenty of experience in programming and exhibit planning, my past experience has been on a much smaller scale. I was also able to watch how my supervisor interacted with patrons. As someone who is very shy, I was blown away with how willing my supervisor was to just start talking to people about what they were looking at. This event was also an opportunity to network with some of the faculty in the department, demonstrating to them what we have in our collections and ways in which they might incorporate these materials into their classes.

Now that this event is over we can focus on our other collaborative efforts. Stay tuned for what we do next!

ALAO 2019 Conference Experience

My first conference to kick-off this series of blog posts was the Academic Library Association of Ohio conference hosted in Columbus, Ohio. The conference’s broad theme was “Libraries Speak Up! Advocate. Collaborate. Educate.” I was really excited to attend this conference for a number of reasons:

  1. It was local.
  2. It would be my second conference ever.
  3. I love learning about how libraries can be agents for change in society.
  4. I would get to network with other Ohio Librarians.

But lets get into the criteria that I have laid out for conference posts:

Organization: Overall, I think this conference was organized really well. There were a couple of hiccups throughout the day, but none of which were detrimental to my experience. For example, registration was a fairly smooth process, but the registration table was in a place where if the line got long enough, it was out the door and in the cold. Another issue I ran into was the lack of clarity when it came to the conference session locations. As we all exited the ballroom for the first sessions, I must have looked extremely confused because a kind woman asked me if I needed help finding where I needed to go. She ended up walking me to my first session. Admittedly, this is partially user error. Looking back on the conference website, I found the document that had the sessions and their corresponding rooms, but I swear that I couldn’t locate the digital document during the conference to save my life. Later on, I found a physical document telling me where each session was held and it was smooth sailing from there. Parking/drop-off options were clear, and the sessions I attended were considerate of time.

Impact: I attended the key note and 3 out of the 4 session time slots, opting to take a break during the session 3 time slot. I found our keynote to be really great. They were very frank and honest while also being inspiring and hopeful. Some of the initiatives that they undertook on their campus were really cool and I hope that the other librarians found their speech to be as important as I did.

The first session I attended was “Speaking Up with Special Collections: Connecting Campus History with Current Challenges” and I left this session inspired to advocate for student groups to donate their stuff to University Archives, especially student groups that are doing important social justice work on campus. I also thought it was awesome that one of the presenters was an undergraduate student.

The second session I attended was “Doing Democracy with Libraries as Leaders: Collaboration and Development of Integrated Plans for Civic Engagement on College Campuses”. I’m not sure I left this session inspired per se, but I did find it interesting to learn about how other libraries approach potentially politically charged topics in a non-partisan way. I was also happy to hear the ways in which this librarian discussed engagement with communities that may not be able to participate in our democratic system (like undocumented students, permanent residents, and their families).

The third session I attended was “Great Minds Think Alike: Expanding Outreach through Community Partnerships”. This presentation was awesome! I thought the slides looked amazing (I am a sucker for good visuals!), and the content was relevant and helpful. I also appreciated that this librarian used interactive elements in her presentation. I have an interest in how Academic Libraries can work with community partners and public libraries to do some great stuff, and this presentation really hit the nail on the head when it came to demonstrating examples of these partnerships. I was super inspired to think about ways in which my library could collaborate with public libraries (something that my supervisor and I are now working on!)

I also made some great connections with previous residents, other librarians from Ohio State, and librarians interested in residency programs.

Accessibility: From what I saw, the conference center and conference organization were very amenable to accommodations for differently-abled persons as well as being conscious of non-binary identities. Everything was on one floor making it more easily accessible to those in wheel chairs and walkers. I will say that I found some seating arrangements to be pretty tight and not sure how someone with a wheel chair would fare during certain sessions. The conference center did have gender-neutral bathrooms, but they were a bit of a walk away compared to the other bathrooms. There was also an opportunity to note what your preferred pronouns were. I can’t speak well to how parent friendly the conference was. There was no day care that I know of and did not pay attention to whether or not their were lactation rooms.

Visible Diversity: The visible diversity was about what you would expect from a library conference in Ohio. It was not great. If I had to give an estimate, I would say that about 1 in 9 persons there were visible diverse. Again, I would take this with a grain of salt for all the reasons listed in the introduction post.

Food: We were provided breakfast (which I did not have), lunch with desserts, and snacks. The food was buffet style where you would go down a line and grab what you wanted which I thought had its pros and cons. My second session finished earlier than some of the others and allowed us to be toward the beginning of what then became a very long line. I think I would have preferred lunch to be served to us to avoid that issue but it wasn’t all that bad. There were vegan and vegetarian options and I think it accommodated many different food preferences well. I actually really enjoyed the lunch options and the plates that they provided were huge! This helped you fit everything you wanted onto the plate without having to wait in the long line for a second time. Snacks, drinks and coffee were self-serve and available at anytime which I thought was really great.

Overall experience: I had a great and productive time at the ALAO 2019 conference. I was able to network with many different librarians and hear about some really awesome projects and ideas. The overall environment was inviting and supportive and I look forward to attending the conference again!

Introduction to Conference Blog Posts

As an Early Career Professional, Diversity Resident, and Academic Librarian, conferences are, and will continue to be a big part of my professional development and service duties. I am grateful to be given the opportunity to attend conferences and network with my library and non-library colleagues. With that said, I want to be transparent in what these experiences are like for anyone who might want to know more about specific conferences or what to expect from a conference experience. To the more seasoned professionals (and very proactive grad students), this may seem a bit unnecessary to go into detail about conferences, but I want to reach those who (like me) have not been to a conference before and are unsure about what to expect. I also hope that even “seasoned professionals” might find my experiences helpful and take them back to the conference committees they might be working on. My disclaimer on these posts is that I do not intend for them to unnecessarily harsh or judgmental. I just want to give a holistic picture of my experiences. It is also important to remember that my many identities and previous experiences act as lenses through which I see the world so my second disclaimer is that my experience could be different from someone else who attended the same conference.

Any conference blog post will discuss my experience at a specific conference using the following criteria:

Organization: Did the conference run smoothly? Were speakers where they were supposed to be? Did speakers keep to time? Did everything seem to flow correctly? Were the conference center and the sessions easy to navigate? Conference organization can make or break your experience, especially if you are presenting.

Impact: How inspired did I feel after listening to presenters and talking to colleagues? Was the content of the conference helpful to me and my career interest, goals, and aspirations? Conferences are supposed to be for professional development, and if I leave without any new skills, ideas, or inspiration, then that’s a problem.

Visible Diversity: How many visibly non-white persons were in attendance? (Am I the only one that does this?) Librarianship is a predominantly white field and while this is not the best metric, it tells me GENERALLY enough about how diverse the conference is. I acknowledge that looking for “visible” designations of diversity is problematic in itself, but its all I can really use in those moments when I am doing a quick scan of a room. I also want to point out the irony of the situation by acknowledging the fact that I am what some would call “white-passing” (depending on my hairstyle) and would probably not pass the “visibly ethnic/racially diverse” scan. Since this number is not used for anything beyond my own personal records, I think it is okay.

Accessibility: How helpful is the conference in addressing the issues of differently-abled persons? Is there a push for using correct pronouns for individuals? Are the conferences parent-friendly? Are there gender-inclusive bathrooms? This information is important for anyone reading this blog who may be curious if a specif association or conference will be accommodating to their needs.

Food: What were the food options? Were there different foods for those with dietary restrictions? Was the food good? This was mostly just a fun little metric to reflect on. Everyone loves food and it’s really convenient to have it provided right at the conference.

Overall Experience: This is pretty self explanatory and will aggregate all my thoughts and feelings from the previous sections into an overall opinion.

Once I go through each of the criteria, I may or may not elaborate on the highlights and low-lights of my experience. This is mostly for my personal records, but others may find this information useful as well.

This Week 10/07/2019–10/11/2019

Here is what this week had in store for me:

  • affordable learning committee meeting
  • impromptu reference session with a grad student
  • exhibit informational meeting
  • cohort exhibit planning
  • meeting with supervisor
  • tour of book depository and University Archives
    • first time taking the campus bus
  • coffee with Vice Provost of libraries
  • digital flagship course
  • junior faculty writing group

Part of my position as a Resident Librarian (especially this early into my position) is information gathering. You will notice that I spend a lot of time weaving in and out of different meetings because I am currently assessing whats going on here at the libraries. The Affordable Learning Committee, Meeting with Exhibitions coordinator, Tours, and coffee with the Vice Provost are reflections of this information gathering.  This week it felt a little overwhelming to have so many information heavy sessions. As my first full-time job, it has been hard to navigate so much information and I think part of this difficulty is that I pressure myself into thinking I have to get the hang of it all now and know everything about this place. This has been something I have been struggling with since I started my position and I am trying to practice some self-compassion to try and get out of my own head.

In-terms of specific meetings, our visit to University Archives and the Book Depository were some of the most memorable meetings from the week. In order to get to this facility, my colleague and I had to take the bus for the first time as this facility is on the other side of campus. On the right, you can see an image I took from the book depository. That hallway is 250 long, and the shelves are 30 feet high. There are at least 8 of these stacks in the Book Depository, and there are plans to add more in the future. I was so completely fascinated by the logistics of this facility. They store items based on size, not subject, and the way the various sized storage boxes are designed lead to optimum space-usage. It was absolutely incredible.

In less-than-incredible experiences, a colleague had a student that needed help with finding specific resources for research and I completely blundered through trying to help him find what he needed. After explaining the situation to my supervisor, she explained that it might not have been able to find what he needed in the first place (at least not easily) and that I did not have to feel like I needed to deliver sources right then and there in that meeting. This was especially helpful in reframing reference questions for me. As someone who has never done reference, I have always felt like I had to know where everything is off the top of my head. But now I know that it is okay to take a couple of days to think on a request, and the importance of asking the patron questions! In my social anxiety, I completely forgot to ask vital questions like name, professor, time-line etc. It was one of those situations where in the moment I felt very unqualified and silly, but after I could laugh and say “better luck next time!”

My meeting with the Exhibits Coordinator was interesting. It was mostly a meeting to see their face and know they are an important resource to know and lean on when the time comes. I love exhibits and programming, so I had a lot of fun picking their brain about the logistics of their services to the libraries. I’d almost consider a position like that!

I also learned a lot about grants and other sources of funding at the coffee meeting with the Vice Provost. These coffees are set-up as informal gatherings where we can sign up to chat with him and let him know what we are up to, any issues we want to address, etc. I thought this was super cool and signed-up just to check it out. The topics for the meeting varied by what my other colleagues wanted to discuss, and the topic turned to grant and donations. I think this meeting highlighted a whole part of the libraries system that I never thought about before.

Overall, it was a pretty busy week, but I got to explore a variety of different areas that function within the library. I also had to come to terms with my own anxiety and perfectionism when it came to this position. It is detrimental to my mental health (and my position) to be so caught up in thinking that I have to know everything and beating myself up when I don’t. The beauty of a residency is that I have more room to make mistakes, take risks and continue to grow into the librarian I want to be!

This Week 09/30/2019–10/04/2019

I realized that it has been two months since I started my position as a Diversity Resident. This realization was especially jarring because the month of September seemed to come and go without a trace. Here is what this week had in store for me:

  • meeting with supervisor
  • meeting with supervisor and colleague about an exhibition
  • informal chat with supervisor
  • pleasant chat in Spanish with staff
  • instruction session shadow
  • visit from a grad student/friend
  • tour of Music + Dance Library
  • changing landscape of Digital Scholarship Series
  • writing group
  • meeting with cohort for exhibit planning

I also spent some time working on an HTML Lynda Course and reading about social media as a tool for instruction in higher education.

Some Reflections:

This week was very productive and it felt good going through the motions. I think it was one of the first weeks where I really felt part of the organization. Not to say that my organization is in ANY WAY exclusionary because they are not. It just felt like I am starting to get comfortable with the way things work and who to talk to when.

My meetings with my supervisor are always highly productive, whether they are formal or informal. I think that this is a sign of having a good supervisor. When I think about my supervisor, I am grateful to have someone who is both very intelligent and accomplished, but also very grounded and humble (maybe even too humble but we will talk about that in another post). When I leave a meeting with her, I leave feeling capable of attacking any problem head on which is especially important for someone like me who has almost crippling impostor syndrome. We talked a lot about projects we are working on, institutional culture, game-plans for the future, etc. etc. And I think that’s the trick to being a good supervisor/mentor: your influence isn’t/shouldn’t be direct. It’s not micromanaging or showing presentations on what this job is and how it should be done. It is embodied. Your supervisor is someone who helps you hold your confidence in the face of adversity. They have your back and remind you that you are smart, capable and worthy. I even notice this kind of leadership when my supervisor and I meet with other people.

This week I also had a forty five minute conversation in Spanish with the staff member who cleans our offices. As a Latin American Librarian, Spanish language proficiency is important to my job, and if I’m being honest with myself, to my identity. Right now I am barely conversational so every time I talk to her, I am putting myself out there and being vulnerable. I will put her in the acknowledgement of anything Spanish related I do because she is such an informal but important part of my experience here.

I also had a friend stop by my office which is always a pleasant surprise. A nice little break in the middle of my day.

And finally, we had a tour of the 18th Street Library Facilities generally, and the Music and Dance Library. The tours have been pretty hit or miss but I found the Music and Dance Library to be a super interesting tour because of the work that the librarian does in his free time. This Librarian is part of a project that brings Musical Iconography from all around the world into a database. This is a pet project of his and he has dedicated a lot of time and energy into seeing this project come to life. I have found that this is not a unique story in librarianship. I often have heard  similar stories from other librarians doing really cool things! I loved hearing about the inception of the project, which were in part due to this librarians affinity for teaching himself html in the early days of the internet.  I love the tours that display the passion the staff and Librarians have for their jobs!