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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Re-Visioning Experience: A Librarian's Aside on Gendered Violence

Changing lanes and speaking as a woman-librarian, and not just a librarian:

I feel I can take care of myself. Years of working in customer service have honed my skills of talking folks down from anger and frustration. I'm not a small woman, and I consider myself more aggressive than most. I've taken numerous RAD classes for self-defense, and succeeded in defending myself again one attacker, then two. I went to the 54th largest high school in America in an area still riddled with gang violence, drugs and crime, and managed to stay clean. I worked the second and third shift for a number of years, walking home in the dark, dodging requests for a light, and for other less savory things. I pack a mean right hook and I've got a nasty mouth learned from growing up in NY with a former sailor for a dad. I'm heavy and solid, you probably can't carry me away unless you've got some serious towing power. It takes a lot to rattle me.

But I have been rattled.

Years ago, I reported an employee for dishonesty and arranged for a meeting with my boss, the employee, myself and Human Resources. Upon learning that I had reported him and was following up on the issue, the man's response was to stomp into my office, close the door, loom over and across the desk I was sitting at, jut his index finger down at me and tell me "You're gonna pay for this," spittle flying, his face red with anger. My adrenaline spiked, and I managed to say, "Please leave. We will discuss the issue at the scheduled meeting." He spat, "Bitch," spun on one foot and left.

This was in my office, beside a very large and heavily-trafficked public service desk, in an academic library, in a major city. Bright lights. Lots of people. White-collar job with air-conditioning and holidays, high heels clicking on tiles and students filling water bottles at the fountain just past my office.

It was not a place I thought I would ever feel fear.

My heart was still beating hard. He was gone, but I was still shaking, my mind was still flying through permutations of what-would-I-do, he was between me and the door, and the closest defensive weapons I had access to were a handful of books, my computer monitor, pens. Eventually the panic faded, and what took its place was anger.

I told my boss about what happened, how angry I was. She asked me if I had contacted Human Resources. I hadn't; I knew we would be seeing HR about the dismissal and felt there was no need for an additional meeting or report. I can take care of myself, and nothing really happened, I think I said. My boss asked me what I would have done if the man had acted the same way with my staff, two young women, petite, and I realized I would have feared for their safety and immediately phoned security or HR. What would I have done if this man had done the same thing to my sister in her workplace? Of course I would report it and pursue the biggest punishment possible. I would have been terrified for her until he was off the premises.

But then I see the Elliot Rodgers killing spree, and I wonder how many women turned the other cheek at his aggression. How many figured that his behavior didn't merit intervention since he didn't actually hit them. How many did not have a wise friend like my boss who could highlight that whether or not I was okay, that such behavior was not okay, and that someone in a position of power needed to know about, and act upon, it.

There is more to violence against women than being punched in the face, or raped. There is the male assumption that women owe them anything. There is the assumption that part of the rites of manhood includes what-you-can-get-from-a-woman. There is the fact that women must always be on edge and prepared for violence, prepared to cross the street, prepared to diffuse a man's anger with a smile and pleading tone, prepared to defend their reasons for declining physical contact, prepared to defend her choice of clothing, prepared to defend her right to say Don't touch me. We live in a society where it is assumed that a man can tell you not to lay a finger on his fresh-waxed sports car, but where a man laying hands on a woman--against her will--is grounds for arguments about "gray areas."

I was cornered against the seasick-green brick wall by the science labs once by a boy in high school who wanted to kiss me, his hands on the wall at either side of my head. I have walked, intoxicated, five miles home in the dark because my then-college-friend would only drive me home if I had sex with him. I have been whooped at on the street by construction workers while walking to class when I was in graduate school in Atlanta, and I have been called a cunt on the sidewalk for not adding some change to a homeless man's palm. Lawmakers have compared me to cows and pigs. I have had to beg a male coworker to walk me back to my hotel at a professional conference after an after-hours get-together, and still we argue over whether our conferences need a statement of appropriate conduct. I have been cornered in my office, with my desk and an aggressor between myself and the door.

And still, until I thought about it, I never considered myself a victim of gendered violence. I have never sported man-made bruises or broken bones. No man's fist had made contact with any part of my person. And now with the #YesAllWomen hashtag on Twitter, I find that I've actually turned a blind eye to my own experience, owning it as normal, part and parcel of life. Reading the paragraph before this one, replacing myself with my sister, mother, aunt, best friend, is terrifying. I would be furious on their behalf if any of then told me just one of those experiences. But maybe that's why they don't stand out for me - they are not just one experience, they are many, and they span my childhood to my present mid-30s.

Several of my best friends have given birth to little girls in the past year. While I smile, knowing these little girls have the models of their fierce and wonderful mothers, I also wince a little bit every time new parents break out the pink booties. This world is not safe for you, yet, little ones. Be wary, be fierce, and learn from your mothers.




Friday, February 21, 2014

Librarian At Your Service

The Friday of a long week, where I was ill and out of the office on Monday, taught some advanced research classes, and had more than my usual in research appointments. Aside from Monday, it was a bang-up week. A graduate level Education class has a rowdy and fun instruction session Tuesday night, and actively interested students populated the upper-level undergraduate History instruction session on Wednesday afternoon, despite the classroom being near-85 degrees. Yesterday's research appointment showed up on time, and left feeling empowered to find what she needed. Today's research appointment for a student studying linguistics went beyond well, fleshing out research strategies for two different research papers. Five minutes ago, the Political Science department just called to ask if I would spend some time with each of their candidates to talk about library services and resources. (I did this for them in their last search, and apparently got good reviews. Hooray for successful selling of the library!)

I'm happily looking ahead to next week, with another instruction session for Education grad students, some statistics crunching, article edits, and POLS candidates in the mix. But today tastes like success! And illicit Poptarts from the vending machine. But mostly success.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Go Forth and Do What You Love (A New Project Aside)


I've been working lately to redistribute my time to better fit my goals. This includes accounting for time for swimming and physical therapy (good for my joints), time for cooking (I feel much better having started a new restrictive diet), time for funning with my husband and hounds (good for my mental health and love life), time for good sleep, time for keeping up with the library instruction and pedagogical perspectives world now that I'm teaching again, and time for hobbies, which were the first things I dropped when time became scarce. This commitment to balance has had an interesting (but probably not surprising) effect: I engage in fewer activities, but I believe I do them to a better quality. (Transitioning to fewer but higher-quality activities is something my colleagues and friends have advocated for a few years now, I'm just a stubborn ass who refused to think I couldn't do-and-have everything I wanted. So, hat tip to those who are wiser, and a double-tip to everyone for having patience with me while I worked it out in my own head.)

One of my former hobbies - crafting, and specifically crochet - has become a staple of health, both physical and mental. Physically, crocheting keeps my fingers from freezing up, which happens a lot in the colder months; mentally, I feel like I am doing something productive in otherwise wasted-time spaces (traffic, waiting rooms, tv-time, lunch). I have decided to grow my skills by learning how to knit and quilt as well, and gamble and see if it can survive as a small business. I do the crafting anyway, might as well give it a nice outlet, right?

And thus, Colleen's Craftworks, Inc. is born. Not only will I have a small online storefront, I'm going to use funds from sales to begin teaching free crafting classes for the community, with materials provided by the wee business. I am very excited about this, since it will allow me to combine my love for lasting handicraft (another hat-tip to the blankets made by my mother and grandmother) with my love for teaching people useful skills.

How does this cross over into librarianship? Surprised the heck out of me, since I might have said "Nothing," before this, but there are a few ways. I now better understand the burden placed on our business and entrepreneurship students and patrons to understand all of the necessary steps for choosing a type of business, making a number of decisions, and getting the paperwork together for it. I am building libraries for the business, a reference library of books and online videos focusing on crocheting, quilting, and knitting techniques and patterns, a materials library of yarn and quilting fabric, and a tools/notions library (sewing machine, rotary cutter, crochet hooks, knitting needles, etc.), which is a fascinating change from the traditional collection development I am familiar with. I've bought a domain and hosting, and I will be working on my first-ever Wordpress installation. I'm going to dust off my hands and dip into webwork to develop the site and create an area for craft blogging (in the hopes of having guest bloggers, as well as sharing my own tips, techniques, and projects), setting up an online storefront (I'll probably cheat an use Etsy to start with), a section for craft tutorials, and a rotating gallery section where crafters I know and love can display and/or sell some of their work. There will be an instruction side, as I'm hoping to encourage the creativity of others through free workshops targeted to different age groups via the public library and community centers. So, a lot of new skill-building for me that is relevant to my work *and* my play, and some using of old-skills in new ways.

I am not planning to blog about the business stuff here in my librarianship space unless something relevant to librarianship pops up. (Something else I've discovered is that separating my work/life spaces from each other makes me much happier.) If you would like to follow the progress of my crafty and business side, you can:

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

A Conscious Effort to Live Joyously


I am blessed beyond belief. I have a husband who is a veritable unicorn, family that love me, friends who support me, a good job, a good education. So why am I always bitching?

I've been listening more this year. To birds, water, the wind outside the car on the interstate. To my husband's voice, my friends enjoying their new children, the assorted gurgles, snorts, yelps and barks that make up basset hound communiques. To myself.

I found myself complaining a lot. Some of it was general life-stuff that passes quickly - traffic, costs, a run in my tights, a dog-stomped toe, rotten salad in the fridge. Some of it stems from larger sources: work, finances, futurestuffs. Being chronically ill means a near-daily inventory of aches, pains, and difficulties so that I can properly report developments and improvements to the docs. There was a lot of complaining. I am also the sort of person for whom the immediate rage/rant response comes naturally, with thoughtful parsing of situations coming only after the initial flare. I'm passionate about a lot of things, and I tend to run hot. This doesn't mean I can't be thoughtful, just that it tends not to be my first response.

I got tired of listening to myself. I didn't really want to be me anymore. Which made me wonder how on earth my friends and family must feel.

And so I decided to start living joyously in a very conscious way. The things I complain about that I can do something to alleviate, I will. The things I complain about that I have no control over, I am working to let slide over me with less hateful reaction and little mention.

I've surprised myself at how quickly this changes the tenor of life.


Health


This Attack of the Polar Vortex makes things difficult health-wise, since my rheumatic disease does not respond well to changes in pressure, temperature, or humidity. But the past month has been transformative.

I had some luck with going gluten-lite, and before Christmas my doctor recommended the Virgin Diet: No corn, eggs, dairy, gluten, soy, peanuts, or sweeteners. While I can't say I'm 100% virgin (hahaha), I'd probably come in at about 95%. And I can definitely tell the results. My historically histrionic digestive tract has become positively mellow (minus the recent bout of antibiotic-induced illness). I thought the research and arguments about sensitivities to those seven ingredients made sense when reading Dr. Virgin's book, but the physical results have made me a believer. Post-script: you would not BELIEVE how many foods have unnecessary additions of corn, soy, gluten, and sweetener in them. My husband and I now deal only with real food, with only the occasional M&M or gelato slip.

I've finally realized the power of planning, something my mother has advocated since I was wee. I've found that preparing lunches for the week on Sunday, making sure we're stocked with good food (or prepping dinners via crockpot on Sunday), keeping frozen fruit and coconut milk around for breakfast smoothies, and having a supportive spouse help immensely. Having that breakfast smoothie keeps me sated until lunchtime. Eating a real lunch (usually consisting of 1/2c brown rice, 1/2c black beans, 1/2c chopped chicken breast, 1/4 chopped avocado) keeps me sated until dinnertime. Forcing myself to take 30 minutes dedicated solely to lunch makes me feel better and keeps me feeling good through the end of the workday. Knowing we have the ingredients around for dinner keeps us from scrambling, and keeps me from making poor (*cough, curly fries, burgers, pizza, cough*) decisions. Yes, I realize that this is a "duh" realization, that this is a simple thing to do, but it requires the effort of Past Planner Me to make the life of Future Me healthy and easy. It's a discipline, and one I haven't had before now.

Swimming has been an incredible way to get my exercise in. I have been disappointed at regular workouts, and how the RA/AS limits me. I feel unfulfilled, even working with a trainer, because everything has to be low/no-impact on my joints. (Let me be honest. Working out was a way for me to burn of my various rages. I *LIKED* flipping that huge tractor tire. I *liked* huffingly and puffingly conquering the elliptical. A bare sheen of sweat from low impact exercise made me feel like time in the gym was a waste of time, because I didn't feel wasted.

Along came swimming. I discovered that Speedo makes suits for us long-torsoed (read: big bellied/butted) women. I found that my gym has a heated lap pool and a hot tub. I discovered that that switch from doggy-paddling to swimming was minor, and the rewards from hauling back and forth the pool were major. It's a whole-body workout that doesn't make me overheat, since I'm already in the pool. I'm too busy trying to both move forward and breathe-not-drown to pay attention to whether anyone is looking at me. I feel light in the water. I can feel all of my muscles working - shoulders, legs, arms, back, sides - and it makes me happy. Super bonus: while it lends itself to a good all-over muscle ache and great sleep, it doesnt just not hurt my joints, it makes them feel lubed up. I can tell my range of motion has improved, and weather-induced inflammation isn't as bad when I've been swimming. And so, I'm doing both doc-ordered water aerobics and my own lap swimming. And when I finish my laps, I am *proud* of myself. Bummed that I haul out of the pool fully tired at fifteen or so minutes, I calculated it and that's how long it takes me to swim just over 300 yards. Three football fields. I can make my body swim that far, and I'm not in any good shape yet. I am excited to see how that will improve, and I am proud because it is more than the zero I could have done, and more than I would have guessed I could do.


Free Time?

I have been very conscious of downtime lately, both because I need it and because I hate feeling lazy. Thus, dilemma. My schedule has more downtime in it than many folks', largely because overextension (a habit of mine) has deleterious effects on my health. I don't want my free time to be wasted time. I have the good luck of having found an incredible partner - I want to squeeze every last drop from our time together. I want to be present and engaged. I wanted to find something non-stressful that I could do in the evenings while sitting with my husband, talking, catching up on our preferred shows, and snorgling the basset hounds. This past autumn I dusted off some old craft skills to start crocheting again, and rediscovered my love of creating things.

This is something I can do to engage my creative side while still paying full attention to my little family. I carry it along in the car. I occasionally stitch at lunch. I've found myself creating up a storm, which now needs some outlet. I can crochet square things, and am now stretching out into using new stitches. Knitting is on the list to learn. And I've become obsessed with quilting - designs, fabrics, how-to books. I now have a sewing machine and a fabric library. It's odd how similar quilting and crocheting are to poetry. It brings me joy to bring something to life, especially things like blankets. I adore blankets. I usually have at least one wrapped around me at any given time at home. It makes me smile to think that something I made while thinking happy thoughts will warm someone's home, body, and heart. I have fond memories of being wrapped up in my mother's handmade blankets, and I take the opportunity to snuggle them whenever I make it home. There's something missing from a manufactured piece, fancy as it may be.

With my husband's full support, I've started a wee little business, less to make huge profit than in the interest of sharing little tangible bits of happy. I have the materials inventory, and am working on building up some saleable items. I'll be fiddling with my first Wordpress install here in the next few weekends, getting the site and Etsy shop up and running. A side-project, but one that brings me great happiness. I'll let you know when it's up and ready.


The Connection Between Self-Care and Joy

All of this self-care in terms of diet, activity, and time planning strikes me as incredibly selfish. It's a lot of time spent on myself. But:

  • I can be fully present in the moment, and enjoy time with my husband and dogs. They light up my life, and when I am out of commission, even if I am in the same room with them, I miss them.
  • I can call friends to talk about their lives without feeling guilty about being a downer.
  • I can be energetic at work, tackle new ideas and improve old ones.

  • I am rediscovering old loves - writing, crafting, reading, teaching. I feel more like my old self, the happy, active self.

Joy is work, a matter of changing old habits and patterns and re-wiring my brain into new patterns. But the results, while good for me, are also good for others.

  • It's good for my husband when I am healthy, and we can spend our time together without illness and pain tying me to the couch.
  • It's good for my friends when I feel good, because I can be a better and more involved friend, more active in contact and more pleasant to talk to.

  • It's good for my coworkers when I am healthy, and can attend to work without impinging on them for coverage.
  • It's good for my students, when I can fully concentrate on them and help them find small pieces of happiness in accomplishing their work.
  • It's good for all the people who care about me, who dislike seeing me in pain, to see me return to the happy person they knew.

And so I am done with feeling selfish for doing the things that need doing to keep me healthy and sane. I need to prioritize my energy-spending, so that instead of doing fifteen things poorly, I can do five very well. Those activities with the biggest impacts on my health - diet, exercise, and planning - take a considerable amount of time and energy. I am making a conscious effort to celebrate this instead of resenting it (my past thought-pattern), since spending the energy on these things actually begets more energy. I have the unwavering support of my husband, my constant cheerleader, and of the friends I trust.

This is not to say I don't complain anymore. I do. On occasion a stressor comes up, and I flare. But I am taking a step back, deciding what to spend my energy on. That very act has me making better decisions than I used to. With time, I hope this becomes second-nature. I can already see how being happier bleeds into my work in the classroom, with students, faculty, and library colleagues.


I wish you joy, and the courage to do what you must to pursue it.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Anatomy of a Mid-Career Library Job Hunt


As noted in my previous post, I will join the library folks at CSU Channel Islands as an instruction & reference librarian in July. Since I've been asked about the job search by various folks through DMs, PMs, and IMs, I thought I'd throw some information out into the internet for those who are interested. Feel free to ask questions in the comments, and I'll answer as I can. (I wasn't quite brave enough to Open Access Job Hunt while it was in-process.)


Let me preface all of this information with two things: (1) I was incredibly, incredibly lucky and I know it. This may not be what the job hunt looks like for everyone, I am relating my own experience. YMMV, and widely. (2) See (1).

What & Where

Between 7/15/13 and 9/24/13, during evenings and weekends, I submitted 46 job applications. All but four of those were for academic reference and/or instruction positions (those four were for 9-month teaching faculty positions in Education and LIS departments, known long-shots since I'm still ABD). All of the library positions I applied to noted significant instruction responsibilities, which (as noted in a previous post) is my professional interest; because of my advanced degrees and research experience and interests, I applied to a number of social science and humanities librarian positions in addition to general R&I slots.

Because my husband and I are pretty flexible in terms of where we are willing to live, those 46 applications spanned 23 states. There are a bare handful of states we refuse to live in, but we have friends and family scattered widely across the country and only the two dogs to worry about disrupting, so that helps. It also helps that Jed is currently working as a contractor, doing his doctorate from a distance, and can work/study from anywhere. I'm convinced that geographic flexibility was really the major factor in having so much luck on the job hunt - while Kentucky would be an easy first choice for us in terms of where we want to live, job postings for a mid-career instruction librarian there were few and far between.


Cover Letter Habits

I'm a little weird about my cover letters; mine tend to run longer than average. After a brief intro paragraph, I let the search committee know how I meet the required and preferred qualifications. I bullet-point and bold the text from the ad, and then try to briefly describe how I meet each bullet. This is a habit I've developed after serving on search committees where we worked from a rubric. If you meet a requirement, you get a range of points, if not, no points. I don't want the committee to have to guess whether I meet a stated requirement. Again, having served on many committees, things become a blur quickly. The folks who make it easy on committee members, through the two extremes of throwing themselves out of the pool or making an excellent case for their candidacy, are usually much appreciated.

I used my introductory paragraph to briefly note why I wanted to move from access services back into reference and instruction work - a move I knew might raise some folks' eyebrows. Might as well answer their un-asked questions outright, and let them know that I still heavily dabbled on the instruction side. I use the prose in answering the requirements to let some personality shine through.* My cover letters ranged from 2 to 3 pages; no one seems to have had an issue with the length of them, though I know some folks cringe at letters going over 2 pages. The letter should get the job done, in my opinion, and I have enough experience at this point that a one-page letter is rarely appropriate. I try valiantly to keep it to 2 and to let my CV deal with the details. I'm happy to share cover letters (both successful and not), so feel free to comment or email to ask.


Outcomes

Out of 46 applications, I was eventually rejected outright for 7 positions, with automated letters. These were mostly sent by email, though I did receive two by post.


I was offered 12 phone interviews and 5 Skype interviews** (these spanned 14 states). Two libraries skipped the phone interview stage entirely and offered me on-campus interviews out of the gate, which I thought was both bizarre and incredibly flattering, knowing how resource-intensive it is to bring in candidates. I was dumped (in a most friendly manner) by one place after the phone interview. Due to the timing of my offer, I ended up cancelling on 9 phone interviews.


I was offered 10 on-campus interviews***, and attended four. One I had to cancel due to an unexpected hospital stay. (Talk about worst interview experience ever - calling a search chair at 7am to report that I would not be on a plane since I was in the hospital and in unpretty condition now tops my list. Major hat-tip to those libraryfolk for being kind and understanding.) Five I canceled because of the in-hand offer that wouldn't hold long enough for me to make the scheduled visits.****

I received two incredibly attractive offers. One I turned down due to a downturn in my own health that would have complicated a fast move. I was lucky enough to receive another offer with a later start date at CSU Channel Islands.

An Aside: Actually Enjoying It

Aside from the stress of ERMEGERDINTARVIEW, I have to say that this job hunt was an incredible experience for a number of reasons.

First, the support I received from my colleagues and references who knew I was hunting was invaluable. I also have a secret cabal of fellow library ladies that I consider my mentors, and they were incredibly supportive.

Knowing that you made the top-three or-five list for a position is an incredible compliment. These places were all places I would have been happy to work, with good people and energetic students and faculty. Instead of spending time stressing out (because I was stressed over personal factors elsewhere in life), I decided to take an "I'm cool, you're cool, wouldn't it be cool if we were cool together?" approach. I had the luxury of being employed while looking for a position, which was part of it. The other part was that I've started at enough new library jobs at this point in my career that I want a semi-comfortable transition into new and exciting work, and a not-uptight workplace.

I had fun with the process (if not the airport travel), and asked questions I might have been too timid to ask as a n00brarian, such as "What are the library's weakest services and relationships as they relate to this position?" and "What is your honest assessment of the Library's relationship with its Provost/Academic Affairs Office/etc.?" Because I have more time under my belt, I have better answers for questions about both my successes and failures. (I've noticed the failure stories don't get really good until you're given some major responsibilities. Heh. Don't be afraid to fail big and learn from it - if nothing else, a search committee will remember that you were interesting.)


Another Aside: The Un-Secret Disability

I have what is considered an "acquired disability" with my rheumatoid arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis. The last time I interviewed, going on four years ago, I was not afflicted. This go-round, things were a bit different. My current library dean asked if I was planning to remove my previous blog post discussing my difficulties getting my health under control. I did not delete or hide the post. I felt that search committees should know what they were getting. I work damned hard. I am incredibly dedicated to my work and my faculty and students. I am interested and engaged. But occasionally I need some help. The committee may not be able to legally ask about it, but the information was out there for them to see, if they came across my blog. (This was against the express instructions of my mother, who wanted me to have the best chance possible at finding a new gig.) For all my in-person interviews, I used a cane, necessitated both by good sense (no sense in breaking a hip during a campus tour) and because traveling and being corralled through airports tends to be extra-hard on my joints, even on good days.

If I Could Award Prizes...

Prize for coolest interview set-up was easily won by a university that took its interdisciplinary and diversity mission seriously. Candidates for positions across the university are all brought in as a batch over two weekends, and the candidates interact with each other as well as with their home departments and faculty and staff from across the university. A little weird, but fun, and not at all cutthroat as one might expect. Another library candidate and I even struck up a friendly email exchange.

Prize for best attendance at a candidate presentation goes to a midwest university. Standing room only to hear a presentation about social science data? Incredible feeling as a candidate to see them care so much about who they hired.

Prizes to almost all the places I interviewed with for having faculty from outside the library represented on the search committees and throughout the interview days, for being warm and welcoming, and being forthcoming about both opportunities and challenges facing the library.


Notes


*Successful letters included such gems as, "While I wouldn’t boast that my Spanish is entirely fluent anymore, it is workable enough to get me around in Madrid and San Juan for a few weeks at a time, my Italian is passable enough for the folks in Rome to understand me, and both have helped me engage international students in Library programming on campus. (My French, on the other, hand, is terrible and generally draws sympathetic laughter from our Haitian students)", and "I have the passion for the subject, the experience working as a collaborator, liaison, and collection developer for subject faculty, and an unabashed love for the Oxford comma (which I’ve found is an excellent way to bond with English faculty)." I'm too far along in my career and in having had my real-self exposed to other libraryfolk to pretend that I don't come along with a bit of cheek. As a committee member, I always appreciated seeing a bit of personality coming through a cover letter. This can, of course, go horribly awry, but I don't want to work anywhere that the librarians would be offended and clutching their pearls if I referred to my "awesome library instruction voodoo."

**A note about phone interviews: I find them more, not less, grueling than in-person interviews, despite them being shorter in length. Having been on the search-committee-side of them, I know how easy is is for verbal tics, tone and energy level to influence committee member opinions, and how easily a thorough answer becomes perceived blathering. As the interviewee, I am always fully dressed in business casual, sitting at a desk or table in a room where I am the only occupant with a pen in my hand and a notepad with my own questions, items that I want to make sure to hit from my experience that match the position, and room for me to make notes about long questions coming from the committee. Skype interviews add the visual and technology aspects to interviewee stress. My advice to other interviewees: plan accordingly, ask friends to help you test your equipment and sound. And for the love of all that is holy, beg, plead or steal to get yourself a quiet solo space. I was on a (non-library) campus search committee where one candidate Skyped from his local Starbucks that he referred to as his office-away-from-office. It was loud, incredibly distracting, and created an immediate unflattering picture of the candidate's planning and common-sense skills.

***A few notes about on-campus interviews: Many (most, in my experience) academic libraries will bring in candidates the day before the interview, expecting the candidate to dine with the search committee that evening before the next day's all-out full-day interview. Some places will make all the travel arrangements, others will have the candidate make the arrangements and offer reimbursement. (Smaller places and community colleges may expect candidates to pay their way with no promise of reimbursement.) Make sure you are clear on the expectations - the person handling the arrangements will expect the question, and it is not at all rude to ask and clarify expectations to prevent expensive misunderstandings. Other things to consider when visiting: try to get it all into a carry-on; there's nothing sadder than a candidate whose luggage has been lost. (Truly, it happens. Ask Chadwick over at NCSU.) I recommend the Samsonite 18" - it fit easily beneath the seat in front of me even on the smallest propeller planes, was easy to maneuver even with a purse and cane, and it easily fit 2 sets of business clothes, a set of comfy travel clothes, 4 thick paperbacks, 1 set of shoes, and a 15" laptop with its cords. Make traveling as easy on yourself as possible. Bring comfortable shoes. I have never cared if a candidate wore ugly shoes (though I appreciate funky ones), but I have considered it poor planning if they were limping and/or barefooted with blisters at the end of the day. Finally, the daylong interview is intended to give both you and the institution as much information as possible within that daylong timeframe. You'll answer the same questions over and over - don't worry about it. People will joke about the interview being long and grueling - smile and keep your energy and humor up. The interview is as much a test of your stamina as it is a test of fit.

****About cancelling interviews: With attractive offers in-hand from places where I quickly felt a good fit, I debated attending some of those interviews just to see the other libraries in action (and because I had applied since I wanted to work there!). Decency got the better of me, and I called the search chairs as soon as I knew I wouldn't be able to wait on them to interview and make a decision. As the candidate, I stressed over whether the chairs would hate me for putting them out of a ton of effort (and in some cases, funds, when the plane tickets were already purchased). To a one, every single person I contacted to cancel (both phone and in-person interviews) was gracious. As the candidate, it gave me a panicky feeling -- I didn't want to come across as ungrateful, I had applied because I truly was interested in working with those folks, and I didn't want to burn any bridges. Now, as a search committee member and chair, I have had people cancel on interviews due to receiving other offers, and it is simply part of the process. Sometimes the timing isn't on the search committee's side. I never took it as a personal affront. I don't know why I was concerned that might be the case when the shoe was on the other foot, but I was relieved when they wished me well and thanked me for letting them know. Shout-out to libraryfolk, the polite professionals!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Head West, Young Woman: I'm Joining Cal State Channel Islands in 2014!


Remember that post where I mentioned that I wanted to move back to instruction work? Well, it looks like I will have that opportunity.


As of July 1, 2014, I'll be an instruction and reference librarian on the tenure track with the team at the CSU Channel Islands Broome Library.


Let there be confetti and chair-dancing!


More exciting news: due to the ongoing UTC Library re-org, I will be joining the Instruction and Reference department here, and will be able to contribute in that capacity at UTC until the move in late June. I've desperately missed the classroom and reference work, so I'm thrilled to move into a more hands-on-instruction role.


Some brief notes about the experience at CI, which was vastly different than the other interviews (which followed standard academic scheduling):


CSU:CI had a very unique interview process. They bring every candidate for a faculty position to campus on one of two weekends, which means you get to mill about and talk to candidates from all across the disciplines -- including your own. (Intriguing, yes?) I arrived late Wednesday evening, a shuttle met me at LAX, and whisked me off to a hotel in Camarillo, where I was quickly checked in by friendly staff and handed my candidate packet of information. After reading through it, I went to bed. Thursday was interview day 1. Every candidate had an individual time slot of 20 minutes with President Rush, then 20 minutes with Provost Hutchinson, and my third stop was with the library director Steve Stratton. (I imagine those from other disciplines met their deans or department heads.) It ran like clockwork, and the CSU:CI staff chaperoned us efficiently from one place to the next around the hotel, giving the administrators time cues when necessary. Before, after, and in-between, I was able to meet and chat with the other candidates and the university staff. It was a wonderful experience. That first day there was an evening meet and greet where everyone mingled, which I missed, due to getting sick after lunch. My sister stopped by with ginger ale, water, and weird tablets that triathletes use in their water to remain awesome. I was pretty certain my innards had blown the interview for me. I left a message with the CI staff about being ill, and Debra Hoffman, the search chair, called to make sure I was okay and didn't need anything. Everyone was very nice, which made me extra miserable to be missing an important part of the interview.

The next day consisted of touring the library, doing the presentation (I knew these were my kind of people when they chuckled at "superfantabulous" being in the title), meeting the library staff, question session with the committee, and some more group interview sessions and general mingling with candidates, faculty, and staff. The day ended with a tour of campus, which is stunningly gorgeous. The Broome Library is particularly beautiful, and the mountains in the background against a blue sky in a land where apparently sunny and 75 is the norm...well, between the enthusiasm of the faculty and staff and the beauty of the area, CSU:CI couldn't ask for better marketing to prospective faculty.


Some fun facts culled from the "About CSU Channel Islands" page include:

  • Founded in 2002, it's the 23rd and newest of the CSU campuses.
  • CSU:CI is a three-time winner of The Chronicle of Higher Education’s “Great College to Work For” designation, and was recognized on the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll three years in a row.
  • In 2010, the U.S. Department of Education designated CI as a Hispanic Serving Institution for having an enrollment that is more than 25 percent Hispanic.

Things not in their fact sheet, but that convinced my husband and I that it is a great fit include:

  • An actively engaged library team that, when they were together and joking during sessions, felt like a workfamily. I think it's a good sign when the staff can comfortably rib the director.
  • The fact that the teaching faculty have very strong relationships with the library, and are looking to continue that trend as the University grows.
  • Adventure, and not just the cross-country move with the two bassets. The university is growing, the library is involved across campus and respected by faculty, and the students are go-getters. I'm looking forward to being a part of the university's growth.
  • My sister happens to live in the area, and kindly delivered ginger ale, water, laughter, and hugs when I got violently ill one of the evenings I was in Camarillo to interview. Hooray for Meaghen-proximity!
  • My husband and I are working hard at developing new lifestyle habits that involve deliberate joy, exercise, and better habits like eating fresh foods (we're doing the Whole30 thing, which is supposed to help with autoimmune issues). Southern California has beautiful weather which means we can be outside more, fabulous produce year-round, hiking/biking/walking trails, and the beach (which I contend, after growing up on Long Island, is good for the soul).
  • While many colleges and universities are preaching retention and student success, and working hard to revamp processes to improve those factors, CSU:CI has really made a huge effort to effectively be a small liberal arts college experience in a state school system, even as they grow. Instead of focusing on students as tuition dollars, they have created an atmosphere of partnership and student support that really call to me and the reasons I became an academic librarian. The students feel incredibly close to their professors, classes remain small which helps with individual attention, and creativity is encouraged in both students and faculty, evidenced by new course creations, interesting co-teaching partnerships, and students moving outside the classroom to help develop solutions for community issues. The place was a hotbed of ideas, and the newer faculty assured me that it's not just window-dressing done for the interview weekends. They mean it.
  • Related to that last, the University also treats faculty like people. I received calls from the library director Mr. Stratton, Provost Hutchinson, and President Rush as we worked out the details, and they seemed as genuinely excited to have me as I was to join them.
  • Sunny and 75 year-round may mean that the RA/AS is minimized, since I'm so weather-sensitive. Southern California might be my anti-Kryptonite!

For those interested in the mid-career job hunt process, I'll post more about that later. For now, much to do here as I transition out of Access Services and into Instruction & Reference.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Professional Direction and Critical Reflection: Where Do I Go From Here?


What excites you about librarianship?

Most of the readers of this blog are fellow librarians. Most of the librarians I know do the job for the love of it. In conversations I've had in hallways, at conferences, near firepits, by instant message and phone calls I've learned that we love libraries, the idea of libraries, the ideal of information access and transparency to help people make better decisions, to create a more informed citizenry. We love service, knowing that our work contributes to improved lives, improved decision-making, to degree completions and lifelong learning. We love curating information to make sure future users will be able to find and use it, we love advocating for resources that serve our communities. We love that each day is different, that our work tracks hand in hand with technology changes and the march into the future. We love our users, and their oddities, curiosities, we love being able to reduce their stress levels, educate them so they can be savvy information-consumers, and we love helping them find the answers they need.

Nearly all of the librarians I know wear their love for their work like a badge of honor. It's impressive, and it makes me happy to be part of this profession full of passionate individuals committed to a greater good. Nowadays, it has me thinking "where does my passion lie? Why I am a librarian?"

I've been working sporadically on my EdD, which when complete will qualify me to apply for cushy 9-month teaching positions. (Well, cushy from the perspective of a 12-month, 40-hour a week tenure-track librarian, heh.) And while I am excited about my research and how it might improve librarianship and leadership studies, some critical reflection showed me that I do it for reasons other than a desire to be not-a-librarian. I do it because it help me better understand the research processes and needs of my faculty, it keeps me cognizant of the needs and stressors of my students, it satisfies my desire to engage in semi-structured learning (both in classes in independent research projects), and because it helps me better delineate the kind of research I want to do and gives me the skills to design robust studies that will improve my own (and hopefully others') understanding of various subjects.

For the past year (and much to the chagrin of my advisor), I've been tossing some sporadic weekend time at the dissertation, since my focus has been on work and my health. Now that I've successfully defended the proposal (the first three chapters and the survey instrument) I am about to head into IRB approval, piloting and distribution, data collection, crunching, and the final write-up, I can see the finish line. It has me thinking about what I want to do.

In discussions with my husband about his own career, I advise him to follow his passions. First figure out what you love, then go figure out how to make it a career.

I have had a lot of fun in Access Services. It's where I started in libraries, as a student worker and then staff member before moving into professional management positions. I think working in Access Services is one of the best ways to train librarians and staff into a heavily customer-oriented mindset as they move into their careers. I have had the good fortune of working with phenomenal staff and professionals who not only love their work, but take the care and feeding of their users truly to heart. Working in Access Services is to give great customer service, to try to make the experience of your users seamless and trouble-free, and is often to give a face to the Library at a heavily transactional desk that tends to be more heavily trafficked than other service points.

Which brings me back to the questions of where I want to be, and what I want to be doing. I miss teaching students and collaborating with faculty on the curriculum. I miss being involved in the research aspect of academic library work, getting my hands into the curriculum, being directly tapped into student success initiatives, feeling like my work directly contributes to students walking across the stage at graduation time. For awhile, I was able to meet this desire by teaching as an adjunct in my free time and in addition to my regular duties, but as I strive for a healthier lifestyle and try to make wiser choices about time commitments, tacking on extra work to an already full-time position is not realistic. My conclusion: I'd like to wrap up what I want to do into my primary assignment.

My work in academic library management has been a wonderful experience - I've learned a lot about how decisions get made and implemented in large and smaller libraries, I understand the challenges of resourcing library initiatives better, and I've seen projects crisscross departmental responsibilities, highlighting how very badly siloing can hurt us. I've had wonderful mentors and colleagues who have challenged, encouraged, and inspired me. One of the things I have been inspired to do is critically review my skill set, and see where it is I can do the most good both for the library and for our users. My conclusion is that I should be working somehow and somewhere in academic reference and instruction, helping students build their information literacy and critical thinking skills, building strong relationships with faculty, and using my position as both researcher and student to the advantage of my users. Going back to the idea of passion, instruction is where my passion lies. If I work until I die in the saddle, I want that saddle to be library instruction (though hopefully not the classroom in front of the students - I'm looking to support them, not scar them).

Given limited time in life, and limited energy when trying to have a happy work-life balance, I want to concentrate on something where my talents are a great match in making the biggest impact on users' lives. Our library managers do this through resource allocation, project management, staff development, coordinating with various other campus offices and advocating for resources.It is difficult and necessary work. It is work they do regardless of hour, of whether the library is open, whether they are supported by their staff or higher administration, and despite too-small budgets and ambitious library goals. Seeing it from the management side, knowing the incredibly difficult work my own supervisors, deans, and colleagues have handled with grace, I am grateful for the good managers I have had the fortune to grow up under. I am honest enough to know that I am not as good as they are at what they do, though I have enjoyed testing myself.

I have the good fortune of working on a campus I love with wonderful library colleagues. They've had me as a reference and instruction colleague, and then brought me back as an access services colleague. They've been on the front lines of watching me waver back and forth, trying to do it all and find a happy medium. But let's admit it. Those of you who know me know that I'm not a "happy medium" kind of woman. I'm a pick-a-thing-and-do-it-at-190%-like-an-obsessive-weirdo kind of person. Knowing myself well enough to know that, and knowing that I cannot both have my cake and eat someone else's too, I am picking a flavor.

Over the longer term, this means I'll redirect and try to find a place where I can move back into reference and instruction and help build an information literacy and instruction program. In the shorter term, our library is moving full speed ahead into a huge new building in less than a year, we have a ton of new staff, we're looking at a possible reorg, and we have a lot of service model planning, projects, user-services, and moving to work out, so the short term appears to be well-covered. The longer term will handle itself!