Thursday, October 29, 2015

Interview: Derrick Jefferson


Derrick Jefferson

Current job?

Communication Librarian in Research, Teaching, and Learning. American University, Washington, DC

How long have you been in the field?

Started library school and service hours at various libraries as part of my program in 2010, completed MLIS in 2012.
How Do You Work?

What is your office/workspace like?

I have a corner cube where I can spread out a bit, phone, pens, books, headphones, etc., all at an arm’s reach. The bulk of my instruction colleagues, as well as the supervisors of our Research, Teaching, and Learning unit, are nearby. I often will pass through the admin office to say hello and check in with technical services. I may do this a couple times a day as a reminder to get up and away from my desk, and to encourage and maintain dialogue with other departments and units for which I have the utmost respect; there’s no way that I can do the job I do without the efforts of others who work so well and seamlessly with myself and others in research and instruction. At my actual workspace? Headphones, tunes, water bottle, post-its.

How do you organize your days?
There’s a lot of email wrangling. I’m sure that’s prevalent for many folks, not just those of us in libraries. I check in regularly with my faculty to make sure books, resources, course reserves, and so on, are up to snuff or if there are new titles/products that should be on my radar.

What do you spend most of your time doing?
I spend a lot of time planning and working on my instructional load for the School of Communication students and performing other liaison duties for that school. Between that and prepping for classes, and individual appointments with my students, that’s the bulk of my day! I’ve been surprised in the time I’ve been here at AU that many of my appointments are working with graduate students. Some are working as GA’s for faculty and their respective research and others are just returning students who’ve been out of school for ten or twenty years so research and libraries are different from what they remember. Getting them back on track and familiar with the resources we have is important.

What is a typical day like for you?
I’ve been here at AU for a little over two years, and now that I’m settled in, I focus primarily on instruction with students, supporting my faculty, and tending to the research needs of both within the School of Communication. With that, my typical day is rather atypical. But there is email, meetings with various teams and colleagues, collection development, and staying on top of new trends and things happening in the field. I also keep one foot rooted in diversity and inclusion issues on campus and in the profession as well.

What are you reading right now?
Everything! I used to be a very dedicated reader because it helped me with my writing, but after returning to school and reading mostly textbooks and academic articles, I had to abandon it. I’m really excited about writing again and reading good work gets me there in terms of inspiration. I just read the most fantastic short story called “Charity” from a short story collection by Charles Baxter called, There’s Something I Want You to Do. There’s this amazing shift in the narrative halfway through the story that I just loved. Masterful. I’ve also really enjoyed Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See, and I’m nearly done with Morrison’s God Help the Child. She is just so powerful and skillful with how she uses language and voice. I miss the verve of her earlier work, but I feel like I see a lot of it in this new novel. Lots on my to-read shelf: Purity, Americanah, Drown, Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned, A Brief History of Seven Killings, A Little Life, and in non-fiction Between the World and Me, Ghettoside, and Negroland.

What's the best professional advice you've ever received?
Someone told me once, essentially: What makes you a good librarian was already in place before you ever thought about becoming a librarian. All the tools were already there. In hindsight, I think that’s true. I try to be kind but firm, honest but real, exercise compassion and consideration because we all know what it’s like to lose, to suffer, to be on the outside looking in. It sounds cliché, but I chalk it up to my parents who worked so hard so that I could have the life I’ve had. I mean, “I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain,” to quote James Taylor, but I love what I do; I honestly do. 

What have you found yourself doing at work that you never expected?
Buying games. Board games, video games, old consoles and cartridges from eBay, Ticket to Ride, Game of Thrones games, Twister. It’s cool and I love being able to support our new gaming master’s program. I’ve had to learn a lot rather quickly with how our program approaches gaming which isn’t say, designing games to be a game designer, but looking at how something like Pandemic can be seen as an analog and teaching tool to say the recent Ebola outbreak from last year. It’s pretty great.

Inside the Library Studio

What is your favorite word?

What is your least favorite word?

What profession other than your own would you love to attempt?
Part of me still thinks I’m somewhat of a pastry chef. I enjoy cooking and am very ambitious once I’m ready to make things happen in my apron. I thought about culinary school but I don’t know if I want my enjoyment of food things to extend beyond my current hobby status. I went to film school before I became a librarian and in many ways having that kind of insight into something can alter your perception and enjoyment of it. With that, I always thought I’d be a great pharmacist. I enjoy working with and helping people and I think working with people in that capacity...kind of like a doctor, but not a doctor would be pretty awesome.

What profession would you never want to attempt?
Prison guard.

Everything Else

What superpower do you wish you had?
The ability to take away someone’s pain.

What are you most proud of in your career?
Interestingly, it’s not one big thing or event, though there have been some great moments and achievements. I honestly am proud of the opportunity to engage with someone in the midst of a research dilemma and to witness when they “get it”. Something clicks and you can see it in their eyes. People come to you in crisis, right? At the last minute and feeling like they’re painted into a corner, which is awful. But even then, seeing someone back down from the ledge a bit when they realize that they’ve figured out how to make the assignment or capstone or dissertation happen; how to find the citations and articles and books that will ensure the literature review is going to work, or their term paper. I think people have a pretty set definition on what a librarian is, and I’m probably not that at all. We can do a lot of things and helping people? I’m pretty proud of that. 

If you're willing to share, tell about a mistake you made on the job.
This isn’t really a mistake, but almost four years out from my library degree, there’s still so much I don’t know much about. Scholarly communication, governance issues, open access, grants, impact factors; some of it is just the nature of higher education, but there is a lot of crossover with academic libraries. In some ways I feel woefully ignorant of how that aspect of the job works and I owe it to myself as well as my faculty, to stay current on these things as it certainly informs the work we do. [Editor's Note: I'm almost 13 years out from my degree program, and there's still so much *I* don't know. I think most of us feel that way, at least if we're being honest.]

When you aren't at work, what are you likely doing?
I love music. So I’m almost always cruising around either in real life or online for used records. I grew up on hip-hop, just as it was springing forth as a cultural art form. But I can’t keep up with a lot of the new stuff, so I listen to 80’s and 90’s golden age stuff. Also, a lot of soul, funk, and groove tunes. Lately, I’ve been in a big jazz frame of mind getting lost in Miles and Coltrane and Monk. And Nina. Always Nina Simone. I do love the physical act of playing a record and playing it through.

Who else would you like to see answer these questions?
Shawn Calhoun, Eamon Tewell, Gina Murrell. Three people I only really kind of know through social media circles, but admire and would love to know more about.

Derrick Jefferson is on Twitter as @geekandahalf.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

A Little Bit About the Importance of Peers


Only a short post this week, but it's a bit of a do-over. Yes, I'm going to revisit a topic. But it's been on my mind again, so I want to write about mentoring. Specifically I want to talk about peer mentoring. I've found my groove at work this semester, and I never would have been able to do that without a broad group of people who supported me in one way or another. Lately, I've been relying a lot on fellow library administrators. Before that, I had a good network of instruction librarians. 

Yes, we need the support of those who've gone before. The last library director I worked for prior to becoming one myself helped me take this step, and still helps me sometimes. But as important as that assistance was, in some ways the people who tell you to be gentle with yourself are even more important. And that's what peers do for you. When you make a mistake, peer mentors are the ones who remind you that you really were trying your hardest. When you have a triumph, peer mentors are the ones who stop you from denigrating your accomplishments. We need peer mentors because they keep us honest.

What about you? What have your peer mentors done for you? 

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Letter to a Young Alt-Ac Librarian: Yes, We’re Out There!, by Laura Braunstein


Note: While I had been working on a guest post to send Jessica for some time, I was inspired to respond to a recent post from Abigail Phillips, who wrote, “Librarians with PhDs have so much to offer the practitioner world of librarianship. We just have to figure out how to promote our degree as an advantage not a disadvantage. It sounds weird to say that having a doctorate opens a lot of doors, because it closes almost as many. I wonder if there are other LIS PhDers like me out there.”

For many young librarians — young at heart, if not young in years — librarianship is a career change. Pursuing a library career may come after years committed to academia — perhaps the young librarian has completed a master’s or PhD, and has heard about or experienced too much misery on the dismal job market to invest a single additional second looking for a tenure-track faculty position. That’s what happened to me shortly after the beginning of this century.

Flash back nearly fifteen years: I finished my doctorate in Victorian literature and, after years as a student, I was burned out. I had taken an interesting job with a scholarly non-profit, but I wanted to be back on a university campus. One day I stumbled upon a column in the Chronicle of Higher Education by Todd Gilman, then as now the English librarian at Yale. In a series of posts, Todd extolled the benefits and challenges of librarianship for PhDs who were looking for a career change. This was a revelation — I wanted to work in higher education, but not as a professor. I wanted to teach, but not to grade. I wanted to work with information, knowledge, and research — but also with people. Within hours of reading Todd’s column, I signed up for an open house at a library science program that was tailored to the schedules of working professionals. In a year and a half, I finished my master’s degree (I was privileged, in a sense, to have had a decent credit rating and to qualify for loans that I’m still paying off.). After a reasonably challenging but not disheartening job search, I began working as a librarian in a position where I support and engage with teaching, learning, and research. 

What has changed since then for recent PhDs who are interested in librarianship? What is now known as the alt-ac (for “alternative academic”) movement has reared its desperately needed head. While PhDs in the sciences have always had non-academic opportunities, faculty are now more willing to advise doctoral students in the humanities and social sciences regarding alternative careers, and to direct students to campus resources for “versatile PhDs.” These days, many LIS programs are now wholly or partly online, opening access to far more potential students.

So, if you’re a recently minted PhD, ABD, or MA, and you’ve decided to pivot over to librarianship, what should you do?

Informational interviewing. Ask the librarians you know (and I hope you know them if you’re in a PhD program) about their career paths. Find out how many different kinds of librarianship there are — something I didn’t know when I started. Your doctoral program activities may suggest a career path. Did you teach first-year writing? You may find many of your interests shared by information literacy programs. Did you do descriptive bibliography? You may want to be a cataloguer. Did you edit an open-access journal of graduate student scholarship? Look into being a scholarly communications librarian. Did you develop a digital humanities project? Many libraries are hiring not only DH librarians, but programmers and data visualizers. 

Research. You’re good at that. Find out what LIS programs are available in your area. Can you get credit for your PhD coursework? Are you eligible for scholarships from ALA or other professional organizations? Look into opportunities at your current university. Can you job-shadow, intern, or volunteer on a library project? Can you take a temporary or support staff position to learn more about how libraries work as organizations?

Read. You’re very good at that. Read articles in the Journal of Academic Librarianship, Portal: Libraries and the Academy, and C&RL News. If you’re here at Letters to a Young Librarian, you’ve already found a great source of advice, but there are many more blogs out there. A few of my favorites are Hack Library School, In the Library with the Lead Pipe, Library BabelFish, ACRLog, and Beerbrarian

Join and Socially Mediate. What was your specialty in graduate school? There is probably a branch of librarianship focusing on that subject, with its own professional community, including the ACRL Literatures in English Section, SALALM, and (the other) MLA. Many of these groups have their own Facebook pages and Twitter feeds, and provide formal and informal mentoring programs. Your state library association or ACRL chapter could provide networking and grant opportunities. Twitter is a great place to start library-career conversations; every Tuesday evening at 8pm EST is #libchat, and the #altac community is well represented.

Good luck in your career transition. We need you at the library.

Laura Braunstein is the Digital Humanities and English Librarian at Dartmouth College in Hanover, NH. Find her on Twitter at @laurabrarian.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Ode to My Guest Authors

Something weird happened to me recently, and I wanted to talk to you about it. But first, let me show you what I mean:
That tweet from the author of the last guest post... it startled me. I guess it never occured to me that I have an option of not supporting and assisting someone who is willing to write for my blog. Yes, I've had some success, and this blog has become somewhat of a platform for me, but I wouldn't have made it past that first year if not for the guest bloggers. LtaYL is well over the half million views mark (about 200k of those in the last year alone), but those stats are more a testament to the people who give me their time and words than they are to me. Each and every one of those guest authors have done me a favor, so why wouldn't I support them?

I've been writing this blog for a long-ish while now. When I started, I had one goal for Letters to a Young Librarian: "to break down the barriers between library schools & students and professional librarians." Somewhere along the way, that goal expanded to breaking down other barriers: between kinds of libraries, between administration and frontline librarians, between professional and paraprofessional, and those barriers we somehow build between and among ourselves.

It's that last goal that has become my most important focus. Collaboration and cooperation are crucial for libraries, no matter the communities we serve. The key, though, is not just talking but also listening. It really needs to be a conversation. Besides, I learn so much when people write for this blog. I get to listen to their experiences. I get to give them a venue so that others can listen.

So, you're welcome Jessica Schomberg, but also thank you.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

My (Library) Life with Invisible Disabilities, by Jessica Schomberg

My first job in libraries was as a page in a public library. Shortly after I started, a librarian tried to have me fired because I have diabetes. This isn’t speculation, this was the actual reason given. And while this occurred after the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed, it was well before the passage of the 2008 Amendments, which explicitly covers people like me, who can mitigate our condition with medication. Fortunately for me, the library director had been diagnosed with diabetes the week before, or my life story might have gone in a very different direction.

(Are you wondering, dear reader, whether I got diabetes because I’m an “innocent victim” or because I “deserved it”? You’re not the first. Keep reading.)

This blog post was prompted by several things. By Ta-Nehisi Coates’s  Between the World and Me, which presents an embodied view of discrimination. By a blog post by Netanel Ganin (@OpOpinions) in which he talks about disabilities as a social construct rather than a medical one, a post which has caused me to completely rethink who I am in this world. But it was mostly due to Jessica Olin’s use of anime eyes in her call for blog posts. Who can resist anime eyes?

How do you cure a social ill? How do you define people with disabilities? How do you make libraries accessible to people with disabilities? I have struggled for a long time about whether or not to identify as disabled. By calling myself disabled, am I being disrespectful to my sister, who has very visible disabilities and whose economic and career prospects are impossibly constrained? I have a job that I enjoy: I can accumulate savings: I can “pass.” And after all, it’s only when my body doesn’t work “normally” that I feel disabled… or is it?

About a decade after I was not fired from my first library job, after receiving my shiny MLIS, I was looking for full-time library jobs (like you do). And one of the people who worked at one of the places I interviewed told me not to disclose my medical history or I wouldn’t be hired. Not because I wasn’t qualified (I was), not because I didn’t have a good performance record (I did), but because I occasionally need to take time to keep my body working in its ideal condition and that makes people uncomfortable.

(No, dear reader, I’m not going to name that library. Just imagine it’s where you work, because that’s close enough to the truth.)

Now, fast forward another decade, and I am employed in a satisfying career and now also supervise, mentor, or otherwise provide leadership to a team that includes other people with disabilities. Knowing what I know about living with my own disabilities, living in a world where I am/we are repeatedly identified as sub-optimal, what does that mean for me-as-leader? It means:
  1. Recognizing that control is an illusion.
  2. Recognizing that different people with disabilities are first and foremost different people. Not all people with disabilities are magically going to get along. Not all disabilities are the same. I try to go into conversations by asking what people need to succeed, what impediments they’re dealing with, and by discussing work expectations of ourselves and others. If someone doesn’t trust me enough to share that, I try to work with people they do trust to make sure they have the resources and support they need even if it’s not coming from me. To re-state: making sure that the people on my team have what they need to do their jobs is more important than being either rule-bound or being recognized as their rescuer.
  3. Recognizing that many of us have swallowed the idea that productivity is more important than people. [Editor’s Note: Yes!] This sometimes means explicitly pointing out when work expectations are unreasonable, or harmful, or cause us to miss opportunities. If we’re not willing to examine how some of our practices exclude co-workers from full participation, how are we going to be mindful of our users? And vice versa.
  4. Recognizing that I’ve swallowed the same delusions that non-disabled people have. From another angle, recognizing that I’m part of my team. My energy level varies greatly depending on what’s going on with my body or how untenable I’ve let my schedule become. I have spent decades trying to “pass” or “overcome” my disabilities. I’m not sure that the profession  would have let me in if I hadn’t done those things, but now that I’m in a leadership position I feel an obligation to call out that expectation. That means letting my coworkers who have emotional leadership skills do that work without feeling the need to be Mr./Ms./Mx. Amazing Perfect Leader. It also means allowing myself to take the breaks I need without beating myself up. Because I’ve internalized those messages about normality and productivity, this is sometimes incredibly hard for me. It is thanks to many kind, generous, and sensible library folk on Twitter that I’ve been able to make progress on this.
  5. Resisting the urge to bop people on the nose when they say “everyone has a disability.” No. They don’t. I suck at math, but I haven’t been almost fired for sucking at math. I haven’t had to fight with insurance companies for the medicine that keeps me alive because I suck at math. I haven’t had to restrict my activities and monitor every aspect of my daily life because I suck at math. I have to do all that because my immune system killed my pancreas.

(We’re at the end, dear reader. And going back to the first question, I’m not a victim unless you make me one. And no one deserves diabetes, or any other type of chronic illness.)

For more on this topic, see Susan Wendell’s The Rejected Body: Feminist Philosophical Reflections on Disability.

Jessica Schomberg is currently serving as Library Services Department Chair at Minnesota State University, Mankato, where her other hats include Media Cataloger and Assessment Coordinator. She tweets as @schomj.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Continuity or Revolution: Choose Your Own Adventure

A little while ago I saw this tweet:
I shared that with a friend who then introduced me to the idea of "Kuhnian Paradigm Shift." Thomas Kuhn was a philosopher who looked at scientific development. He proposed that, unlike what had been conceived previously (and what I mostly learned in k-12, decades after his most important work, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions was published), that scientific progress is not a steady thing. Rather than being an inevitable march forward, science goes through longer periods of tinkering and refinement, interspersed with major upheaval.

This strikes me as deeply relevant to libraries and librarians. Bringing this idea down to the day-to-day level, I don't think continuity is the worst thing in the world. We librarians are human (well, most of us are) who are supporting the needs of our community, who are also human, and humans tend not to like change. I'm including myself in this category. Unexpected change can bring both sleep and tummy troubles. And yet, I also consider myself an innovator. Practical innovation is a particular passion of mine. Seeing that tweet and subsequently learning about Kuhn has me thinking about change in libraries and higher education, and about how it happens both quickly and slowly. It also has me thinking about how we bring about how we and our communities react to them.

So what am I trying to say here? I guess it's that we need to be mindful of our own practices and preferences, but also recognize that not everyone feels the same. I've heard "because we've always done it that way" used in so many different ways. For some it's, "but I'm open to other ways of doing it." For others it's, "and I'm really afraid of changing because I'm a slow learner and I know how to do it this way." And yet others mean it to say, "and can we please change it yesterday?" Whether you're a stalwart champion of the status quo; or a tinkerer who makes things incrementally better; or are the Galileo of the library world who is going to cause upheaval on an inconceivable level... think about that question up there every once in a while. Think about our preference for continuity - not as a bad thing nor as a good one - before you choose the next step.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Just For Fun: Fire Bad, Tree Pretty

Here's the thing about being a fan of BtVS: it's a kind of equalizer. People who watched it when it was originally broadcast as well as people who are just finding it now have this lovely thing in common. It's not just the memories of Cordelia hating then loving then hating Xander, no. It's also about a common vocabulary. I once said, "Fire bad. Tree Pretty," to a friend, and he knew exactly what I meant (which was that I was too tired from doing hard but important work to have a coherent conversation). That's the best part of being a member of a fandom: the common vocabulary. I'm not going to try to convince you to watch this show. If you've clicked through to read this, I'm assuming you've already seen it. I'm assuming you love this show, too.

Now, let's talk about what makes it so fab:

Rupert Giles

He's a librarian. He's British. He's hilarious.

William the Bloody, a.k.a. Spike

Let's be 100% clear: when it comes to all of Buffy's many love/sex interests, I have always been and will always be Team Spike. He's more fun than any of the rest. He values her for her, plus let's not forget that fantastic leather coat.


Also, I adore Anya. From her fear of bunnies to her love of capitalism, she was a great part of the show.

Once More With Feeling

And then there's the music episode. Yes, I know all the words to all the songs by heart. Yes, even "They Got The Mustard Out."

So how about you? Did I include your favorite thing about the show? If I missed it, let me know in the comments.