Thursday, December 6, 2018

Just for Fun: Learning How To Be Me

This post is somewhat of an experiment, and very different from what I normally publish for this monthly series of posts that are less library-y and more blog-y. You see, I've been buddy-reading How to Be You by Jeffrey Marsh with a friend. We read one chapter a week and then discuss. Sometimes we share the answers we gave to the questions Marsh asks. Sometimes we talk about the memories that arose as we read. Sometimes we talk about how hard but important it is going to be to embrace the ideas the author discusses. This week I'm jumping the gun, though, because one of the exercises in Chapter 5, "Let Go of Punishment and Control", really hit me hard, and I want to share.

On page 96, Marsh invites their reader (Marsh is famously non-binary, which is yet another reason for me to like them) to: "Ask someone who loves you what they like most about you." Wow. This is an exercise in vulnerability if ever I saw one, and I - like so many other people - am horrified at the idea of being that vulnerable.

But I did it. I asked the person who is Dante to my Randall what he likes best about me. His answer? My sense of humor. I couldn't help but smile, because that's a thing that I value about myself as well.

Before I asked him, though, I'd been thinking - and here's some more vulnerability for you - that I'm also someone who loves me. I not always kind to myself, but I do think I'm pretty rad on the whole. I'm going to be 46 soon, so it's about time that I started liking this person with whom I have a life long relationship, right? So, in keeping with the ideas from Marsh's book and as an exercise in self esteem and vulnerability, here are some things I like about me:

  • I'm clever. Yes, I'm smart, and I'd like to think that I've earned a certain amount of wisdom, but I'm also clever. I can see how seemingly disparate things fit together, sometimes in ways nobody imagined before. It's a thing I used to think everyone could do, but it's not. I'm not unique in this attribute, but it does seem to be rare, so I value my cleverness.
  • I'm a good friend. I am, for a few people in my life, the one person who is allowed to call them on their bullshit. I think that's because I do it lovingly and always phrase it that way. "I love you no matter what, and support you in your decisions whatever they may be, but..." is a thing I've said to friends - and meant every word. I also do the opposite. I've lost count of the times I've exhorted my friends to be kinder to themselves. "Hey, that's my friend you're talking about there. I think you should cut them some slack."
  • I have a culinary imagination. This is another thing I thought everyone could do until I learned otherwise. I can think about a recipe and rearrange it in my mind with other flavors that people might not think would work together, but that are fantastic. I have made risotto everywhere from pure as heck vegan to meat meaty meat. I can tell you which cheese will taste better in a specific circumstance (even though I'm now lactose intolerant). This talent also made it easy for me to sell wine back when I was a waitress.
  • I'm always looking for ways to improve myself. I will admit that I don't always enjoy the "why am I not best at this already?" part of learning something new, but I've come to embrace that stage as just a part of the process. I can easily tell you all the things that I'm currently trying to improve, but that's not the point of this post. However, I can say that the things I'm trying to improve are about skills and not the core of who I am.
  • Kindness is my highest aspiration. I'm not nice. Nice doesn't get the work done. Nice is... well... nice...? But nice always seems to want to tell people what they want to hear even when it's not the truth. Kindness, on the other hand, wants the best for people, even if that means a failing grade or a less than stellar evaluation. Kindness is also compassionate, and compassion is something we are sorely lacking in our culture.

So how about you? What's something you like about you? Feel free to tweet it or put it in a comment here, but you don't have to. Please, though, take a moment at least to ask someone you love and trust to tell you what they like about you. I know when I told the friend with whom I'm reading this book the thing I value most about them, it really resonated and I've seen that friend really embrace that quality in themselves.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Vocational Exhaustion

There's this thing that happens to a lot of people when they hit the mid-career. You look around and think, "is that all there is?" It's not about doubting your own skills, although I've had my share of that. There's the struggles for budget control and the struggles for respect from colleagues and the struggles for the next big idea, and then - once you get beyond all those struggles - things can start to feel old hat. Very "been there, done that, lost the t-shirt already." You ask yourself what's to be done, and yourself answers like this:

It's pretty much the polar opposite of vocational awe (and if you haven't read that excellent article yet, I suggest you stop reading this blog post and instead head over to In The Library With a Lead Pipe right now. It's okay. I'll wait.). You can see librarians/librarians for all their warts and peccadillos, for all the systemic racism and gendered nonsense. It's not burnout, per se, but it it is definitely a point at which you've run out of the optimism that propelled you into the profession and you're wondering what you'll do with the rest of your life.

I've known people who left librarianship at that point, and that was absolutely the right decision for them. I've also known people who stayed where they were and everyone else around them was made all the more miserable for their coworker's misery. When I've hit this wall (and it's happened to me multiple times - vocational exhaustion is not a one-and-done phenomenon), I had a serious talk with myself and found ways forward:
  • Is it librarianship or is it your employer? The last time I had this issue was about 5 years ago, and when I asked myself this question I realized it was definitely where I was working. I took my time and found the right new opportunity, and am so much happier now.
  • Are you putting too much of yourself into librarianship? If you've been reading my blog for even a second, you know how much I harp on the need for work/life balance and choosing librarianship over Librarianship. Spending more time with family or friends or with yourself doing something other than librarian stuff has been the right answer for me time and time again.
  • Are you focusing too much on what's left to do and ignoring your accomplishments? Wow, that to do list can be overwhelming, am I right? I've never in my 6 years of being a director been able to to argue for an increase in funding or staffing, and that kind of admission can make me feel like a failure and like change never happens. But then I look at the students who found their way to my classroom with whom I'm still in touch. I look at the collections I've built. I look at the people whose careers I helped launch.
  • When was the last time you took a real vacation? Not a weekend where I'm still checking my work email or a conference where I'm still consumed with librarianship. Time where I genuinely unplug and stare at things that aren't screens. I'm the worst at this, but I've got some time off coming up.
  • Are there really no more challenges left for you? I'm getting involved with a statewide effort to recruit the next generation of library leaders and foster the growth of people who've recently taken a step into administration, and I'm super excited about it. I'm also reaffirming my commitment to this blog and trying to get new voices to publish here. There are plenty of horizons left for me to conquer, and I bet there are horizons left for you as well.
How about you? For those of you who've faced this hurdle, how did you get over it? 

Credit goes to "Everything Is Awful and I'm Not Okay: questions to ask before giving up" for the form this post took; lots of credit goes to Jim DelRosso who helped me name the phenomenon; and thanks again to Fobazi Ettarh for giving us the term "vocational awe" in the first place - I never would have written this post if not for that article.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

When All the Small Things Add Up, by Alison Gehred

At this stage of my career, I wish I could go back and share all the lessons I’ve learned with younger me, especially what I’ve learned about imposter syndrome (which is something I struggle with) and how to deal with my depression. If I could go back, I’d talk about how I was good at what I did and that I needed to get out of my own head.

My first job was as a library page when I was 16 years old and I’ve pretty much continuously worked in libraries since.To my surprise, I got accepted to every graduate program I applied to. When I graduated from school, I felt completely lost. It seemed like everyone else had their life together. All of my graduate school friends were happily paired up romantically and had an idea of what their futures would be. I applied to work at colleges all over the country and felt utterly tetherless. I felt I wasn’t competitive enough to get a job. I would wake up in a cold sweat about how I was going to pay back my loans. I felt like I was a B person in a field where you needed to be an A + person to stand out.  All through graduate school I had thought it was some kind of fluke that I got in. Now I was in a competitive job market where I felt I wasn’t good enough to get my foot in the door. When I was in high school and I wanted to be an actress, I had this fear of being constantly told that my nose was too big and I couldn’t do it. This felt the same, only I wasn’t smart enough and I was begging for menial jobs. It was like the world shrugged and said, “you tried. Here’s what you get. You peaked here and the rest is disappointment.”

I fell into a depression so deep my parents paid for me to ship my clothes to their house and told me to give my furniture away rather than stay for an extra two weeks and wait for them to pick me up when my lease expired. The original plan was to get a small apartment in my college town, work at a non-professional job, and then slowly apply for a professional position. My depression was too great and I was barely functioning. When I moved back home  to Ohio, I found out that my license had been expired so long I had to take my driver’s test again. Nevertheless, during those six months I applied to about 80 jobs. I made a list and then would highlight it either red, yellow (for interview), and green if I ever got offered the position. I did a few phone interviews. I was told, “I was going to get hired soon but this wasn’t the right job for me.” I felt desolate. I called it being “funemployed.” I wish I could say I had this unshakeable sense of self, but I didn’t. I just narrowed my focus for applying for jobs. I realized that I wanted to stay in Ohio because my family was there and I had a network of friends nearby. I kept on adding to my spreadsheet and learned about new technology to add to my resume. I cooked all the time. I figured if my parents were letting me stay there, the least I could do was cook for them. Once I passed my driver’s test as a 26 year old, I went on road trips all over. I made sure to see the people I wanted to see. I read all of the “Game of Thrones” books. I got really close to both of my parents. I kind of re-centered myself.

Even though it was such a time of uncertainty, I can actually look back on it fondly. I learned that if you like an organization, it doesn’t hurt to get your foot in the door. You have no idea where your life will take you and the best thing you can do is not compromise what you truly want. Sometimes what you really need won’t look like your vision board. Librarianship is a really big tent. You can dive deep into a really specific collection. You can hang out and catalog to your detailed heart’s delight. If you have the stamina to make it through graduate school and work hard, you can be a successful librarian.

I love having a job where I can think creatively and I learn something everyday. (Yes, I did eventually get a job.) When I graduated and was scared that I had made a terrible mistake. I didn’t realize that some things are worth more than a ton of money. Get paid what you are worth, but make sure you are happy in your job. Has my depression snuck up on me? Of course. But now I know how to brace for it. I wish I had learned more about handling mental health when I was growing up because depression and anxiety is made to seem like a weakness. In reality, it’s a way of viewing the world and it has made me a more intuitive and empathetic person. These are good skills to have as a librarian. This is not to say my anxiety and depression is a cakewalk but I have to see them as part of myself and not something to be ashamed of. This was the time I really learned the meaning of Anais Nin saying, “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”

Blossoming and accepting that my life was changing was not an easy process but I did it and it made me a better person. I hope this helps someone who is struggling. I’m a big fan of being truthful and open. Please know that sometimes when things seem really bleak, you need to remember that you’ve got a drive in you and you are going to be in a career that is fabulous and important. Oh and the imposter thing? As someone who has now been on job search committees- if you are chosen it is not a mistake. You are worthy of earning what you worked for. If you got into graduate school, that was not a mistake. You worked for it and got in. This seems really simple but when you are depressed you are lying to yourself. We need more thoughtful and reflective people in this world. Welcome to a profession that celebrates that.

Alison Gehred is a reference librarian at the Grant Morrow III Library at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. She blogs at Radiance Reflected and Columbus Moms Blog. She is also on Instagram @radiancereflected where she shares pictures of her cats and various food she has made. She graduated from Bowling Green State University for undergrad and the University of Wisconsin-Madison for her MLS.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Librarians as Recruiters

I've written about this before, but it's obviously time to write about it again. Prospective students may not chose a school based on the library, but it does influence parents and guardians. Admissions will appreciate the help. It will make you look good to your bosses that you are reaching across the typical barriers. With fewer traditionally aged students to go around, we're all in the recruitment business. Besides, you really don't want to hear some of the things student and other tour guides make up when they aren't getting the information from you.

Here are the kinds of things parents and guardians care bout:
  • breadth and depth of the collection;
  • study spaces available;
  • assistance and support provided;
  • technology;
  • safety of the space;
  • whether or not it looks like their mental concept of a library.
And here are the kinds of things that are important to students:
  • online resources and support;
  • building hours;
  • comfort of the furniture;
  • assistance and support provided;
  • anything "fun" in the library;
  • whether or not it looks like their mental concept of a library.
So how do you translate that into a format that is digestible and usable by tour guides? You have to get to know the people and the department responsible for tours. In one case, I walked around the library and gave a tour to the person who oversaw the tour guides. In another situation, I was on the agenda of every beginning of semester meeting that was held to train new and remind returning tour guides of their duties. More recently, I offered to write the script that was being used for an online tour.

It's important to mix numbers and anecdotes, no matter the audience. It can be as simple as, "We have this many computers and that many books, and we host this contest every spring." Also important is to always encourage conversation and feedback. One of my favorite ways to get a tour guide, particularly student tour guides, thinking about it is to ask what kind of information they wished they'd gotten when they were considering that school.

The most important thing about the library having some say in the information presented on tours is that we are all part of the same team when it comes to recruiting new students. Not even the most well off institutions are going to survive without sufficiently big student bodies, so why not help out?

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Goal Setting

Last week I was trying to finish my part of my annual evaluation. My boss said a lot of nice things about me, and one true not-nice thing that I have to work on, and my part should be easy, right? Wrong.

Like most bosses, my provost wants me to set goals that will:
  • help the institution;
  • help my department; and
  • demonstrate growth and self-awareness.

I want those things as well, but I also want goals that will be manageable and, if I'm honest, be part of something I'm already doing anyway. It's like writing something on your to do list after you've finished it, just so you can cross it off. Then there's the fact that I'm still on an annual review cycle I'm faculty here, but faculty get annual reviews for the first 4 years before getting something called "continuing appointment" that is good for 4 years and includes biennial reviews. This means my goals need to be accomplish-able within one year.

So, since I was stumped, I turned to Twitter. And I got some great advice.

I got so many good suggestions that I knew I had to share. The truth is, setting goals is a careful balancing act. You need to figure out what will bring the greatest benefit with - honesty moment - the least extra effort on your part. Or, to put it another, nicer way, you've got your day to day work to do, so you need to set goals that respect you are not an endless font of energy. 

Anyway, here's what I put in the goals section of my evaluation:
  1. Become more involved with either SUNYLA or SUNY Library Council.
  2. Complete and start to execute our new assessment plan.
  3. Complete and start to execute our new outreach & marketing plan.
  4. Learn more about change management in academic settings.
  5. Work to further collaboration between the Alfred C. O’Connell Library and other departments and organizations both at GCC and in Genesee County.

I'm semi-obligated to participate in SUNY Library Council as a SUNY library administrator. We did a Functional Area Review (like a program review, but for administrative college units) last year and our findings included the need for an assessment plan and an outreach & marketing plan. I can always stand to learn more about change management. Finally, it's kind of - meaning "really really important to" - my job to find collaboration opportunities. In other words, these are all things I was going to do anyway, so I might as well get credit for them. Smart, right?

One last important thing to consider is how will your supervisor and/or your institution react to unfinished goals? I know that for me, as a supervisor, as long as we can figure out why you couldn't and/or didn't finish something, I'm fine. But not everyone is going to have that reaction. Think about that long and hard before you set ambitious goals.

So how about you? How do you set goals?