Being a Diversity Resident Librarian: A Seven Month Update

It has been six months seven months since I started my position as a Diversity Resident Librarian and there is much to reflect on. Rather than listing out my whole dossier for the past six months, I thought it might be more helpful to answer some reflection questions on my experiences so far:

Do you like your position? Was it what you expected?

I love my position so far and I feel incredibly lucky to be a Mary P. Key Diversity Resident Librarian. I have a wonderful supervisor and my overall experience has been fulfilling. Was this experience what I expected? Yes and No. My residency’s job description was left intentionally vague to allow us residents to explore what we wanted to do during our time here. This made it difficult to have any expectations, and at the beginning of my residency, I was unsure of what I was supposed to be doing. As time progressed (and with the help of my ambitious supervisor), my days began to fill up quickly.

What have been some highlights so far? What have been some challenges so far?

One highlight so far has been meeting and working with my supervisor. I say this a lot but I feel very lucky to be in her care. She is hardworking, successful, intelligent, and everything else good you could say about a person. I have learned so much just by being near her. She is an excellent model of a good boss and a good person. Another highlight of my residency so far has been the ability to get involved in some really awesome service, research, and librarianship opportunities. From doing a pop-up exhibit to helping show around a visiting artist from Chile, I have felt so lucky to get to meet people doing amazing work and to do things that are exciting and informative.

One challenge so far has been project management in the long term (i’m looking at you, research agenda). I struggle to be self-motivated when it comes to non-urgent long term projects and it has been easy to put things off. I want to publish something by the time I am out of my residency and to do that, I need to start doing something. Another challenge has been my insecurity with the department I help liaise to. Frankly, I am intimidated by the faculty and I often feel inferior to them because I (1) can’t speak Spanish and (2) am many years their junior. My inability to be fluent in what should be one of my first languages is something that I struggle with every day and makes me feel like I cant do my job as a Latin American Studies Librarian.

What courses or experiences in Library School would have better prepared you for your professional career?

One of the biggest gaps in my knowledge has been anything pertaining to information literacy and instruction. I went through grad school thinking that I would never have to do instruction, and if I did, it would be whatever I through together and deemed fit. Now, being in an institution that has a dedicated Teaching and Learning Department, I realized that not only would I be expected to do instruction, but there is actual pedagogy behind this instruction. During grad school,  I don’t remember having courses offered to me that dealt with instruction, but this also could have been that I did not pay attention to them for the reasons mentioned at the beginning of this answer.

In what area have you seen the most growth? In what area has growth been a bit slow?

I have seen a lot of growth in my ability to let myself make mistakes and note get stuck in my perfectionism. For example, when I first started out, I would read a draft of an email 100 times before I sent it to ensure there were no errors. Now I only read them over  around ten times. All jokes aside, I attribute this growth to my supervisor making it abundantly clear that it is okay to make mistakes, especially as a resident. I also think it has helped to see someone who I think very highly of admit that she struggles with certain things too. Just because she needs some help editing her writing doesn’t make her any less competent at her job or any less of a good person, so why would my struggles do that to me?

An area of growth that has been slow has been any interpersonal aspects of my job. For example, I really struggle with feeling confident doing instruction or reference intakes. I am the kind of person who is quiet until she feels confident enough that everyone in the room isn’t going to destroy her. I have tried to push myself outside of my comfort zone over the last 6 months, agreeing to do instruction sessions, talking to students, etc. and it gets about 0.001% easier every time I do it. I  have learned that I work well in small groups and one-on-one vs. in large classrooms. With this information, I can try to control these situations to make me feel a little bit more comfortable moving forward.

Is there anything that has surprised you about your experience as a resident? 

One of the biggest surprises has been the sheer amount of bureaucracy and politics in academic libraries. I am sure many of the people reading this are probably saying duh but it took being in this position to really understand all the passing comments made by faculty over the years. I could never fully understand it until I lived it and here we are, writing dossiers, participating in search committees, trying to leverage resources for student workers, exhibits, programs, etc.

Another big surprise has been the importance of networking and networks in general and as someone who struggles connecting with people, this is my worst nightmare. I have to work extra hard to ensure that I am cultivating fruitful relationships as I continue my career. Luckily, my supervisor has done an excellent job of assuring me that my people skills really aren’t bad and that a lot of the time I just need to let my good work speak for itself.

The last surprise was the expectations put upon librarians who are faculty members. Again, the dossier process, tenure conversations, service and research. All of these things were new to me. Obviously I am not eligible for tenure, but I am learning how to navigate this system to be prepared for a tenure-track position after my residency.

What does the word diversity mean to you in terms of being a diversity resident? 

This is a tough question and I plan to continue exploring this as I move through my residency. I am a member of a couple minority groups: I identify as a woman and I am non-white (Puerto Rican). My demographic makes up a tiny portion of academia, and an even tinier portion of librarianship. I guess the idea of a diversity residency is to provide people like me a place to continue to grow in the profession while adding some non-majority groups to the field of librarianship. That’s great, right? Yeah, I guess, but there are only so many diversity residencies, and expecting to diversify the field of librarianship through residencies doesn’t quite scale the way we need it to. Plus, not everyone has a good residency experience, and this could lead to them exiting the field all together, leaving the demographics of the field un-changed. Now coming back to me, having the word diversity in my title is… a lot of pressure. I don’t feel particularly tokenized by it, but I do feel like I am carrying the weight of that 4.7% Hispanic/Latinx ALA statistic on my back with everything I do. I feel like I am not doing enough for “diversity”. I have especially struggled with the feeling of not being “diverse” enough to be in this position. All of this is to say that I have a complicated relationship with the word diversity in my title.

Is academic librarianship still your calling? 

Absolutely! I came into my residency pretty confident that I wanted to work in an academic library. I love the atmosphere that academic libraries and campuses have. I also love the idea of working with students and researchers while also being able to complete my own research agenda. The real questions is what route in academic librarianship do I want to take? I am a Latin American Studies Librarian by training. Unfortunately,  those jobs are few and far in-between meaning I need to diversify my portfolio a bit. If I had to do something outside of Area Studies, I could see myself enjoying working with collections —Collection Strategist, Assessment Librarian— or on the access side of things. I could also see myself liking communications and marketing or taking on some sort of leadership role!

This Week 12/16/2019–12/20/2019

I apologize for the delay in this series of posts. Work (and life) have gotten very hectic and sometimes recounting it saps what very little energy I do have. I realize I don’t really enjoy recounting everything I have done and will work on figuring out an intermediary approach to these posts in the future. Here is what I did this week:

  • visited a regional campus
  • administrative tasks
  • attended my last Spanish class
  • found a revolutionary way to handle tasks in my planner
  • libraries holiday party
  • met with libraries marketing department about an area studies website
  • started collection development work in GOBI
  • figured out how to successfully scan items

Here are my general reflections:

  • I’m not sure if I prefer a larger campus to a smaller one. Do I want to be a generalist or a specialist?
  • I’m sad that my Spanish class is over, but happy that my Monday nights are mine again. Also, how do I plan on continuing my language learning?
  • Using a rolling task list in my Moleksine Weekly Notebook has been a game changer. I have always struggled with what to do with tasks that did not have defined due dates and this list on the right side of my planner gives me the flexibility to list those items without having to go back and erase them or run out of space. On the left sheet of paper, I have my weekly schedule. This is where I will put meetings or activities that are defined by time. On the right side, I have my task list. I brain dump everything I need to do at some point in the near future and then mark them off with an x when I’ve done them. If I wanted to soft schedule a task for a particular day, I would put an open circle under the day I plan to do it. If I succeed in completing it on that day, I just fill in the circle, draw the line to the bullet point next to the task, then put an x through the bullet. In my picture, I have “continue DACA LibGuide” soft scheduled for Friday. To denote that a task is cancelled, I cross it out. On my task list, “figure out class I want to take” is cancelled. At the end of the week, I see what tasks have not been done, and then I decide if they go on next weeks list or if they should be cancelled. I love this system!

  • The holiday party was really fun but made me realize that I’m really not great at socializing. Also, someone won a 100 dollar gift card!
  • GOBI work is pretty fun but the stress of making the “right” decision makes it difficult. I want to buy things that are going to be used, but I also cant say what will be used in the future, you know?
  • I had to defer my admission to take classes until Fall 2020 because all the classes I was interested in taking were either closed, not being offered, or at the worst times.
  •  The website for Area Studies is a project that may be beyond just me. I might have to kick it back up the chain of command. I’m just trying to figure out how to do that in a professional way.



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).