Residency

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!

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!