Mental Health

Transitioning to “Acting Latin American Studies Librarian”

Since May 6th, 2020, I have been the Acting Latin American Studies Librarian while our current Latin American studies Librarian (who is also my supervisor) is out on maternity leave. I will be in this role until she comes back around October. I knew the day would come where this transition would happen, but it didn’t quite hit me until she was gone. In this blog post, I will share some information about how we prepped for this transition and my initial reflections on this transition so far.

Preparation

In terms of prepping me for this transition, my supervisor was very proactive. Probably more proactive than most. We had multiple meetings where she laid out the following:

  • the kinds of questions I will receive and how to respond
  • any of her reoccurring obligations (service voting/collection development/budget approvals)
  • timeline for specific actions
  • important contacts if I needed help

Because we are currently working from home, she also wanted to make sure that I had enough self-led projects for the next couple of months. We also discussed the institutional knowledge of her position, sharing how she communicates as a liaison, and the service expectations that our constituents might expect. To really solidify the transition, she also wanted to ensure that I stayed connected with colleagues and mentors, and has charged me with “flipping” my meetings with my temporary supervisor and mentors. I also want to make it very clear that this kind of preparation was always part of our working relationship. I wanted to see what it was like to be a Latin American Studies Librarian and my supervisor has always been transparent with her workflow. Now I get to really apply everything I have observed and been taught.

Reflections

A shift in mentality

I’m only about a week into being the Acting Latin American Studies Librarian, and one of the first things I noticed was this shift in my mentality about my place in the organization and my willingness to contribute. As a resident, it’s easy to pay half-attention to certain meetings or to disregard portions of what’s being told to you because you are usually an exception to the rules for permanent staff/faculty. As May 6th came and went, I realized that I was was now inspired to pay closer attention to policies and taking more detailed notes in meetings especially since COVID-19 has caused everything to be very fluid.

Weirdly enough, I feel like the transition to Acting Latin American Studies Librarian came at a really great time. I was falling into a bit of a slump in terms of working from home and just my overall mental health. It was hard to find meaning in my work when it felt like everything was pointless. Now I feel like I have a stronger sense of purpose when it comes to my work and I am extremely motivated to continue to grow.

New responsibilities and connections

Almost immediately after the May 6th, it started to feel there were a lot more “little things” to take care of. Prior to this time, administrative tasks were exclusively done by my supervisor and requests from faculty would be filtered through my supervisor if she needed some help or wanted me to get a certain experience. Now, it’s just me doing the administrative stuff and fielding questions and requests. And this isn’t bad by any means, just something new to adjust to. One of the highlights of this adjustment is that it has forced me to become comfortable with asking other colleagues questions. For example, I had an e-book licensing question. Usually, I would ask my supervisor, then she would work her magic and come back to me with an answer. Now I realize that her “magic” was just her asking people who are most likely to know the answers to her questions. This transition has been eye opening in terms of surfacing the invisible labor of my supervisor and allowing me to practice my problem-solving skills.

As a result of being the direct contact and having to reach out to colleagues more, I have been in contact with people I normally would not be in contact with (at least, not directly). Again, this has led me to feel like I am taken seriously and that I am part of this institution.

Putting theory into practice

So far, it has been easy to remember the guidance that my supervisor has demonstrated in our time together. For example, whenever I am faced with a liaison email of some sort, I am always thinking about the following tips that my supervisor has told me (if applicable):

  • start with an appropriate greeting first then respond to whatever they said.
  • If initiating the email, the first line after greeting should succinctly state why it is you are reaching out to them
  • state my commitment to helping them to the best of my abilities
  • make it as easy as possible for them to access whatever it is that they are requesting (meaning links directly in the email)
  • never share speculative information as fact. Its better to admit that you are unsure rather than trying to glue together an answer
  • If you can’t get them what they need, always try to provide some other options or point them in the direction of someone who can
  • It takes 2 seconds to respond with a “thanks for sharing” or some other indication that you received an email that doesn’t specifically ask for a response

Tips and guidance on email etiquette might seem very niche, but working from home has increased my amount of email correspondences. Being able to communicate well in this virtual environment is of the utmost importance if I want to do my job well. Having this guidance has also helped my anxiety around these activities. Additionally, it is nice to send well wishes during this time as we are all in very different situations. It is important to be kind and compassionate during this time.

So there is my update and reflection on being the Acting Latin American Studies Librarian! I am curious to see what I have to say next month as I continue to adjust to this transition.

Library Instruction: My Trial by Fire

I originally started this post on March 1 

February and March are proving to be some of the most challenging of my residency thus far mostly because of all the instruction I am/will be doing:

  • 1 Workshop for K-12 Teachers (February 8)
  • 1 Zotero Workshop for Graduate Students (February 14th)
  • 1 (x4) High School Session about Academic Libraries and Research (March 2nd)
  • 1 Library Instruction for Undergraduates (March 18th)

As someone who has done pretty much no formal library instruction, all of these sessions spanning about a month and a half have me feeling really exhausted. I also happen to be writing this post right after completing that second instruction at one of the local high schools so it all feels even more exhausting. To make matters even worse, I have a lot of anxiety and stress surrounding this particular part of my job because I really don’t feel all that qualified to be teaching anyone about anything and I have a lot of self doubt and self-criticism going through my mind at any given time. Knowing that I tend to struggle in this area of my job, I have decided to force myself to do a bunch of instruction in a sort of “trial by fire”. This was strategic on my part because its one of the ways that I manage my anxiety. If I were left up to my own devices, I would never volunteer to teach a class about anything because I just don’t feel confidentcomfortable in front of a large group. I tend to work better in smaller groups or one on one. With all that said, instruction is becoming an increasingly important part of librarians’ job descriptions, so I need to stay competitive. Hence why I have opted for this trial by fire of just throwing myself into a bunch of instruction.

After talking to my therapist, I don’t think that this trial by fire is sustainable long term. When you do exposure therapy, you’re supposed to be exposed to a thing on a very frequent basis. I have weeks between all these different commitments which gives me time to wear off the high of successfully completing an instruction session. This lets that anxiety insidiously creep back in and then the trial seems like it was for nothing!

There is a balance between “it will get easier the more times you do it” and “lets do it 5 times in 2 months and then expect to be good to go in 6 months when other presentations pop up. I need to find a way to cope with this uncomfortable part of my job that doesn’t subject me to putting myself under so much stress.

April 16 update

The world has really changed since I started this post and I will discuss this more in a later post. Let me update you on the status of all my instruction sessions:

  • 1 Workshop for K-12 Teachers  (completed successfully)
  • 1 Zotero Workshop for Graduate Students (I was out sick so missed it)
  • 1 (x4) High School Session about Academic Libraries and Research (I survived!)
  • 1 Library Instruction for Undergraduates (Cancelled due to COVID-19)

The order in which these sessions were scheduled tell you the level of involvement in the session. So for the k-12 teachers, there were 4 of us, and I did a lot of behind the scenes involvement and research (including this awesome LibGuide) and only spent 2 minutes in front of the group at the actual presentation. The last presentation was going to be my first solo instruction planned and executed by me which was cancelled due to our campus closing because of COVID-19. Like I mentioned in the earlier part of this post, this was done on purpose to simulate a sort of trial by fire. Being on the other side of these sessions, I can say that I still agree with my past self that trial by fire is not most effective way to get comfortable with instruction and although I only did 2/4 of my planned instruction sessions, I have learned to not take myself so seriously and try to let go this perfectionism. I have also come to terms with the fact that I just don’t like doing instruction and that is okay. It doesn’t make me any less of a librarian, and it doesn’t make me deficient in any other way either. It is liberating to let go of the expectations that as a librarian, I must love doing instruction and that I have to be perfect at it. I vow to continue to learn and grow in this area but I won’t let the expectations I have for myself paralyze me. During this era of working from home, I am currently meeting with my instruction mentor monthly, and am enrolled in a self paced information literacy courses for faculty. I will probably end up doing the Zotero workshop again in the fall, which is something I’m looking forward to since I missed it the first time around. After having taught high school students all day, I feel like I can take on anything!

Struggling with Hobbies

I recently read an article on Medium called “The Power of Exactly One Serious Hobby” where Elliot Hauser defines a hobby as “a specific activity, other than your primary pursuit, that allows you to develop mastery.” They keyword in this definition is developing mastery of some kind.  Elliot continues by saying that “[r]eading books is not a hobby. Becoming an expert in the history of German Existentialist thought is a hobby.”

Before Elliots article, I would have said that my hobbies include watching YouTube, Netflix, or reading books. These are all legitimate activities (especially for self-care), but they are not hobbies. The issue with the activities that I just listed is that they are all passive. For an activity to be a hobby, I agree with Elliot in that there needs to be some kind of mastery involved and frankly, I’m not mastering anything by watching eight vlogs in a row. Now, this is not to discredit the information and learning that can happen by consuming media. I often find watching drawing videos, bullet journal videos, and other kinds of educational videos to be informative and inspiring. But if I watch the video and do nothing with what I learned then its just passive consumption.

So under Elliot’s definition, what would I say my hobbies are? Cue my existential quarter life crisis.

I don’t really have any hobbies.

I don’t really have activities outside of librarianship that are done for both enjoyment achievement of some sort of mastery. Why? Hobbies require extra time and effort and don’t really count for anything. Isn’t it easier to come home and watch Netflix instead of drawing a comic strip or knitting a sweater for myself? The answer is yes, but i’m starting to understand that my seeing hobbies as waste of time and effort are illuminating my problematic thought processes.

Hobbies require extra time and effort and don’t really count for anything.

Most days, I struggle to see the value having a hobby can bring to my life. Instead of seeing my hobby as an opportunity to express myself, boost my self-confidence, and improve my overall mental health, I see it as a chore and as wasted effort because its by me and for me. If my professors told me to draw them something every week, I know for a fact those drawings would get done. If my boss expected me to produce a knitted scarf for her, I know it would get done with no hesitation. But when its coming from myself, I don’t take it seriously. I think this stems from being “such a good student” and “such a good kid” growing up. I always prided myself on getting good grades and, more importantly, on not getting in trouble. The product is more important than the process. My self-worth was/is wrapped up in these extrinsic motivations: praise from my teachers, praise from my boss, the avoidance of confrontation, and this idea that I  cannot fail. I became very risk averse and developed extreme anxiety surrounding these kinds of activities.

 So what are the consequences of this mentality when it comes to having a hobby? I struggle to be self -motivated in the pursuit of my hobbies because they are supposed to be intrinsically motivated. Praise for myself does not carry as much weight as praise from someone else and just does not seem worth the effort. Another consequence is debilitating perfectionism and fear of failure. You can’t really fail a hobby in the traditional sense, but I often have this fear that what I am doing is not good enough. With no expectations from external influences, I don’t know how to measure what I have produced. To compensate, I end up comparing my work and efforts to others and become disheartened and dejected. One last struggle I have with hobbies is that they are just as much about the process as they are about the outcome. As someone who has always focused on outcomes (assignments, tasks, good behavior, no confrontations), I struggle to understand how to focus on the process as much as the outcome. It is hard for me to slow down enough and focus on what I am doing because I am so used to sprinting towards the finish line with tunnel vision.

Now, remember when I said that I didn’t have any hobbies? That wasn’t completely true. There are definitely some activities that I have been trying to turn into hobbies:

  • Drawing
  • Knitting
  • Cross -Stitching
  • Blogging
  • Writing

Right now I am still trying to figure out how to take these activities more seriously while adjusting my mindset surrounding their value and importance. If you are an adult that struggles with a lack of hobbies or a creative outlet, you aren’t alone.

Anxiety, Depression, and Librarianship

Click on the comic to give Sarah Andersen that page view!

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).