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!

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Thoughts from the Deep End

While I have been doing water aerobics per doctor's orders for the rheumatoid arthritis/spondylitis issue, I've been wanting to pick up swimming as a sport. Moving in the water is much easier than the impact on my joints of working out in open air. The pool is also a place where (despite having to be in a swimsuit) I'm far more comfortable than the weightlifting or aerobic/floor exercise areas, where I feel like a ridiculous impostor and completely out of my depth. I grew up on Long Island, and spent most of my childhood underwater in the Atlantic or in our huge pool at home. Water I can do. Water I know. I may be chunkier than some others in a Speedo, but all I need for this sport is to show up. I don't need to be buff to even begin thinking about participating. I also like that it's an individual thing; I can compete with myself but not feel like a loser for not being as good as, say, Meaghen Harris, my sister and accomplished triathlete. (See her blog for real athlete stuff.)

I've also been thinking a lot lately about where I am professionally and personally, and where I want to be. Somehow, this got all mangled up in my brain while swimming, and I'm going to tell you some of the thoughts that formed enough to write down.

Watch where you are going.

No, really. Sometimes it's that simple. In swimming this morning, it meant that I quickly learned I need goggles, since I kept hitting the wall or getting tangled in the lane dividers. (I bought them after my swim on my way into work.) Whether you are in a new city and learning the streets and the driving habits, walking around a new campus and navigating through and around throngs of bodies, or at work trying not to step on other peoples' toes, be mindful. I'm currently in a city and on a campus I'm familiar with, but do I know where I'm headed? What do I need to be able to see clearly and map my path? Living blindly only results in bumps, bruises, and a longer-than-necessary trip.

Are you properly equipped? I tell you what, the best investment I made was a Speedo. I had Spock Eyebrow about ordering it, figuring they weren't really made for Ladies of Significant Heft like myself. I was wrong. (LSHs, just order your size in Long, you'll be fine, though the straps may dig a wee bit into your backchunk.) I could swim and stretch and such without wondering whether my odds and ends were falling out or flailing about. I'm going to order another one, because holding the boobs while trying to jump as high as you can in water aerobics really just results in laughter from the old ladies in the class. It's nice to be able to concentrate on my form without also worrying about corralling body parts. Which left me thinking, am I properly equipped for work? There is a long, long list of things I want to learn - basic programming so I can fool with APIs and program a site in something better than html, learning more deeply about OA and scholarly publishing, copyright, and new media. Deeper knowledge of ILLiad and its setup and data. More about data manipulation. I need to sit down and prioritize things into Things I Need to Know for Current Job, Things I Want to Know for Development into Future Positions, and Things to Learn for Fun so I can be more organized about my learning.

Understand and respect your environment. I respect the water, something ingrained from being slapped down and suffocated by the ocean more times than I can count, from watching hurricanes roll in over the Atlantic while camping on the beach, and from knowing from the loss of friends how easy it is to drown. I carry this with me into the pool. I respect water, I understand its power, but I don't fear it. To not fear my environment, I need to understand it. This can be difficult when things are in constant flux, especially when the flux is happening both at work and at home. I'm recently married and living with my husband after nearly a decade living solo, I'm getting accustomed to a slightly different structure to my workweek so I can get the arthritis and spondy flares under control, and at work we're building a new library, starting a new semester, hiring new staff, changing some responsibilities and looking at a reorg. I've been overwhelmed with all the to-dos, and I can see now that I need to pause in the frantic keep-up mode and take some time to reflect and understand what's going on. I need what I call an "Aum" moment. Or three. I've been taking time to rest my physical self, but I haven't been taking as much time for critical reflection as I need.

There's a learning curve. In swimming, the trainer said she was surprised when we were done; I had asked for swimming lessons and she thought we were starting from scratch when all I really need is to work on my form and holding my breath longer. Concentrating on keeping my legs straight while kicking, keeping my hands paddled and close tight to my body/head to pull me through the water, and remembering to breathe quickly every few strokes is a lot to keep in mind while you are also sucking wind and trying not to suck in water. I find that I'm able to do two out of three things at a time well, and usually what I forget to do is breathe, until suddenly I realize I'm drowning, drop my feet to the pool floor and pop up to gasp like a whooping whale. Once I can breathe, I can feel my face give a really chagrined look. How do you forget to breathe? I mean, I know Bella does it all the time in Twilight, but Bella is an idiot. Then again, I suppose it's sort of like learning to drive, trying to be conscious of speed, direction, other traffic, and everything else was completely overwhelming until I had done it so often that it became automatic. There's a little bit of a learning curve - until my body will do much of it unconsciously, I have to remember to do everything, like breathing.

There's been a huge learning curve for me with the RA/spondy. For the first year, I largely tried to ignore it and keep doing things the way I'd always done them, ignoring friends, family and coworkers who said it wasn't working. Now, after doing much more research into chronic illness and mine in particular, I know this is normal, but getting to where I realized change was needed and making the change was a tough learning curve (not just on me, but on everyone in my life that I impacted). Now I'm taking action. It may be too late to repair some relationships and fix some things that I didn't do well while on that steep end of the learning curve. On the other hand, now that I've got some perspective and I can *see* what I need to learn, and how it can help myself and others, I'm in a much better position to do well in terms of health and professional performance.

Trust your instincts. In the pool so far, this one has been easy. At this point as a beginner, when my body says I need to breathe, I NEED TO BREATHE. Not doing so will result in sputtering, choking, and feelings of slight panic and drowny-ness. I need to work on holding my breath and lung capacity, and I'm not yet to the point where I can do a trip across the pool (okay, or four strokes) without poking my head up to suck some air. BUT, I can improve by a stroke every day.

I tell people (and it's true) that I once had a job I hated so much, that I prayed every morning that I might be hit by a bus and sent to the hospital, just so I didn't have to go there. It made me mentally and physically ill. I promised myself I would never let myself stay in such an environment, or allow myself to feel that way (about anything, not just work) without making drastic changes to improve the situation, ever again. I was right - I felt better when I left that job and started working in a library and getting my MLS. My instincts were right when they told me that my husband was The One. There's lots of change - marriage, managing an illness, work changes, thinking about where and who I want to be in the next few years. What are my instincts saying now?

In any case, I'm happy with how swimming went today; I'm pleasantly tired but nothing is freezing up on me, and I feel like I had a good workout. It's nice personal thinking time. Maybe it'll get me blogging more...

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Welcome Fall 2013!

Fall semester is here! We started off with a bang, and the Library was packed on Monday and Tuesday. Things have slowed down enough to allow us to breathe between to-dos (or pee; Monday and Tuesday that wasn't a guarantee at all), so I thought I'd pop in with an update.

We've hired the entirety of our Work Study student allocation; I believe the final tally is 28 new student members of the Library team (and that's only the Work Study folks!). The Library is in the throes of training them up and putting them to work on our service desks, in our stacks, on our scanners, and everywhere else we have work to do.

In Access Services, we've been running down two positions for a few months, I'm thrilled to report that we've hired an Evening Circulation Specialist, Mr. Elliott, and that our interviews for the Day Circ Supervisor position will be completed this week. *does the happy dance to appease the gods of staffing* In the past two months we've also acquired a new Outreach and Assessment Librarian and a new Digital Archivist, so our library is hopping with new energy.

In the next week or two we'll be frantically training our students. I also need to do a major ILL data dump and analysis (even after the regular stats that I've dropped behind on these past two weeks, I want to see what our state courier is looking like in terms of turnaround time compared to snail mail, but there's no easy way to grab that data). I also need to move offices to closer to the ILL unit (time to disband the many Piles of Stuff I've accumulated in the current space!). Then it's prepping for the arrival of the new circ supervisor and cataloging all the documentation that needs to be updated. In the meantime, other big projects like the new building and making decisions and recommendations about things like room reservation systems and service models are all ongoing.

You've got to love libraries - never a dull moment!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Limping Librarian: A Post on Chronic Illness in the Workplace

While I'm sure this isn't a topic Andy meant when he wrote his recent blog post about wanting to see more librarian writing on issues of import, reading his blog did kick me in the pants a bit, because I've been sitting on a handful of drafts that I couldn't bring myself to hit "Publish" on. I hesitate for various reasons - some of the posts are too close to home, and it's hard to tell what's appropriate to discuss and what's not. For some, I need some time to let things settle so I don't publish something in the heat of the moment. Other times, folks like Iris Jastram have simply done the topic justice and there's no need for me to serve my readers leftovers.

Sometimes I hesitate because I wonder if it's something that's more personal than librarianship-oriented, or because I know it throws a wrench into any future job hunts. This is one of those, and it goes into being a professional with a chronic illness.

I've spent the better part of the time since Fall 2011 trying to deal with a chronic illness/disability. An unpretty combination of rheumatoid arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis means that my joints are generally painful, sensitive, and stiff. Approaching weather fronts, rain, exposure to cold, and impact (walking, running, jumping) result in severe pain and inflammation, my spine is attempting to fuse, and bending awkwardly without thinking or sleeping in an odd position results in dislocated ribs or a dislocated hip more often than not. My teeth crack easily, and tension from the joint pain leads to muscle tension and spasms in my back and neck. The medications that allow me to walk and function again are immunosuppressants, so I am more susceptible to sickness, and I don't recover as fast. Medication and physical therapies are palliative - meaning they can help alleviate symptoms, but there's no cure.

Part of the difficulty with being chronically ill has been that the symptoms are intermittent - while the disease is always there, I have both good days and bad days. On my good days, I walk without a cane and am downright sprightly; I can lift my arms above my head, showering and washing my hair does not completely exhaust me, and I can stay awake and engaged with my husband and our furkids past 7:30pm. Sometimes I even put on makeup. Bad days range from walking with a limp, using a cane, and being in bed by 7, to days where the joint pain in my knees, hip, SI joint, hands, shoulder and neck is so severe that I have to give in, take a painkiller, and try to sleep off the worst of it until I can function. The stress those bad days put on my body makes my blood pressure shoot up to a concerning degree, and aggravates a lifelong case of IBS. I am thankful for my recently chopped-short hair, not only because I find it funky, but because it requires far less arm-above-the-head time. I rid myself of my beloved high heel collection, and do not wear anything higher than a 1 1/1" heel (and that high only if it's a wedge). Simple things like short hair and low shoes make an enormous difference in my life.

How does this impact me as a professional? Changing gears has been difficult. I've slowed down in terms of work, travel, and research--some say too much, some say not enough, depending on who you talk to. Finding that balance has been difficult and awful, a series of trial-and-error, balancing input from colleagues and friends with my own stubborn insistence that I should not have to live like a cripple. I can't work from home as much as I used to--instead of being on the computer all night once I get home, monitoring email, working with documents and data and writing up research, I spend time with my husband who cooks dinner, massages my neck, and provides me the love, warmth and comfort I need as I only occasionally eyeball my email on my phone. I need at least 8 hours of sleep per night, but I feel my best at 10. My symptoms are worst in the mornings, and so depending on the season my schedule changes to arrange for the fact that I know I'll be late. Usually a hoarder of my vacation and sick time, I've become one of those folks whose leave time balance approaches zero and occasionally dips into the dreaded "Leave Without Pay" status.

I tell my staff to stay home when they feel unwell, but doing the same for myself is problematic, since "unwell" is every day, and more a matter of degree. I filed FMLA paperwork, but that doesn't in any way decrease the amount of work involved in my position, and so even when I am home sick and in pain, I stress myself to an unhealthy degree about the work I am not accomplishing, since I am responsible for it getting done regardless of what paperwork, doctors, and even my dean says. I come to work on days I shouldn't, and try to get as much done as I can before admitting defeat and heading home to the couch, or bed, or floor. As a department head, I'm responsible for managing staff; managing public service staff is not something you can do well from a distance. I've avoided going to the Disability Resources Office because I work hard to not consider myself disabled. ("I'm not disabled, I'm just sick" is a sort of personal mantra.) Really, though, I don't want to hear from them that there's nothing they can do to help me--I'd rather just not ask. I feel guilty around my colleagues for having been late on some projects. I feel guilty for slowing down--being on the tenure track adds the stress of a dossier that looks healthy up until the last two years. Already-difficult things at work like reorganizing a staff unit, managing the occasional disciplinary issue, and staff scheduling become even more difficult. I feel guilty that I look like a train wreck on one day, and appear fine the next -- I fear colleagues must think I'm crazy, lying, a hypochondriac, or all three. There's my working-class background showing: I know I'm not bleeding, and I don't always *look* sick, so I must be fine, right?

Things have improved. I still hurt, but I haven't been in the hospital for several months due to a combination of great doctors who listen, living in the future with its wonderful medications (hooray for chemists!), and simply doing less. My husband Jed is a miracle of a man whose patience, grace, and generosity humble me daily. I've been working closely with my dean and colleagues to ensure progress on a number of projects and to make sure things are properly prioritized so that if I do have to take time away the impact is lessened. Compared to last year, I think, things are staying on the rails better, and that gives me hope that I can be a productive member of my library team. I've learned that being at work in so much pain that I can't function really isn't any better than being at home and non-functioning due to medication; some days it really is better for me to stay home.

There are bright spots. Still, I feel professionally neutered. I wonder if I would have been hired into any of my library positions had this illness hit me earlier. Do my colleagues believe I'm still good at my job? Should I beg for a demotion so I don't hinder the progress of my agile, active library? Should I job hunt for something with fewer responsibilities? Would anyone hire me?

I write this not for pity or sympathy, but because this experience of becoming a member of the chronically ill has left me with a host of questions relevant to the workplace. "Disability" is a specific term when it comes to work, and I am too-able to be considered "disabled." It is a weird kind of limbo to be in - too chronically ill to be normal, not ill enough to be properly labeled and placed in a box (or protected class). As a librarian and manager, it leaves me wondering: how many of us are out there? My friends and a few of my colleagues know my details, but it isn't something I've discussed in detail with anyone else. How many of my colleagues, friends, staff, fellow professionals are trying to learn their new normal, or are living with a chronic illness, and trying not to let it impact their work? Do they feel isolated, and how can we help them feel included and heard? Do they feel constantly in danger, afraid that the workplace will get fed up with their absences, or the extra hours they can no longer give the job? It still surprises me how much energy it takes to be in constant pain. How can we, as builders of the workplace, alleviate as much of that worry as we can in a professional setting? What does chronic illness in the workplace look like, and how can we help people - selfishly, people like me - who want to work at full capacity but, depending on the day, may not be able to? How do we make people less afraid to ask for what they need?

I hesitated for a long while to blog about this, and even now I cringe as I hit the "Publish" button. I fear it hurts my chances at future employment, should I job-hunt again. I fear people will look at me differently, as though I am less-than-capable, or broken. Then again, Sarah Houghton has been an inspiration to me, both in her openness about her condition and what it takes to manage it, and because she manages to take care of herself while also being a kick-ass professional. In my social network, I've met other librarians and professionals in other areas who battle chronic illness, so I know chronic illness and professional usefulness are not mutually exclusive. And still, for me, it is the fear of the unknown, a struggle against my own body, and wondering this: if we are serious about employing the whole person, and encouraging that person to be as happy and healthy as possible while they work for us, how do we reach out and serve the chronically ill among us? How do we make these members of our professional world feel comfortable, and useful, and put them at ease about themselves and their needs as it relates to work? Those of us who are ill educate ourselves about our diseases, but does the workplace need to be educated too?

Or am I a kingdom of one?

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

I Am a Librarian. I Am a Woman. And I Am Afraid.

I did it again. I forgot. I forgot I was less-than. Texas Republicans reminded me.

I don't consider myself disadvantaged. I'm white, which insulates me from all manner of discrimination and prejudice. My parents didn't divorce until I was in my early 20s, giving me and my siblings a stable home, where we were queried on the status of our homework nightly, fed three squares a day, and generally grew up healthy. We weren't rich (though many think that those of us who lived on Long Island must be Hamptons kids - not so) - Dad often had to travel out of state for work, leaving Mom to deal with three relatively well-behaved but still energetic kidlets. Though my parents never went to college, my siblings and I all hold graduate degrees and, considering the state of the economy, are doing well for ourselves. My brother is an accountant, my sister is a sponsored and internationally-competitive triathlete, I'm a faculty librarian. I have been lucky in many, many ways. My life does not feel disadvantaged in the least.

And then I watch the news, or I listen to my state legislature. Or the one in Texas, as I did last night.

My father was a union electrician. All of my uncles on both sides of the family, and both of my grandfathers were union electricians. Despite my father's many convictions that might have made him GOP material, we were a one-issue household: we voted Democrat, because we were union.

That always seemed short-sighted to me, knowing all of the other issues (fiscal, gun, social) that my father was conservative in. I was young, though, it was before I went to college and started working full time, and I didn't understand the fear of being faced with the obliteration of my livelihood.

I understand my father better now. Over the years, my own politics have developed into a generally-fiscally-conservative, very-socially-liberal flavor. In the two-party world of the U.S., I'm politically homeless. I would have liked to think that I would weigh the many issues on their merits between candidates, and vote that way, the way I wanted my father to think about politics, as complicated and multifaceted. But I don't. I look up, and I live in the future, and I have become a one-issue voter much the way my father was, for different reasons, and for the same reason.

The reason we share? Fear. I am afraid.

I vote the way I do because I am terrified by the people who actively undermine my right to make very personal decisions. I am terrified of laws being made by men who say women should have to carry dead fetuses to term, since cows and pigs do it. I am terrified that states are passing laws requiring medically unnecessary, invasive transvaginal ultrasounds. I am terrified of living in a world where the use of the word "uterus" in a government session results in chastisement of a lawmaker for inappropriate language. The list goes on.

These lawmakers have wives, daughters, sisters and mothers. Some of these lawmakers are women. And yet women are dehumanized and infantilized by the laws they pass, or try to pass.

Many of the services shut down by these lawmakers are not just abortion - they include mammograms, pap smears, and other preventative health services that save womens lives. I cannot have children, and yet - and yet, I still want access to those services that may save my life. I find myself hard-pressed to come up with a good reason why I should accept the blinders of "abortion" set on every women's health topic by politicians.

And I find myself surprised to be one of the politically disadvantaged, based solely on what I have -- or don't have -- in my pants and parts.

And I find myself outraged at political circuses like the one last night, where the Texas legislature took every measure imaginable to stop a filibuster, take a vote past the apportioned time, and pass a bill to ensure women's personal health decisions are dangerously difficult to make, and health services dangerously difficult to procure.

And I find myself wondering what additional shenanegans might have been accomplished yesterday and last night had the Texas legislature not been live-streamed and watched, Tweeted, and generally socially shared by so many. (Minus, of course, the mainstream media.)

And I find myself wondering what the hell kind of a future we live in when civil rights for women, people of color, and gay people are still something we have to fight so very hard for. Isn't this supposed to be the future? Haven't we proven that we are all functional human beings, not less-than because of color, parts, or personal choices? Is anyone paying attention? Is anyone out there?

I am terrified that Margaret Atwood's novel The Handmaid's Tale" has somehow moved from interesting but farfetched tale I read in high school to horrifyingly prescient.

I am a woman, and I fear my government.

Thank you to Texas State Senators Wendy Davis and Leticia Van de Putte, for giving voice to women. Thank you to the many members of the interested public who showed up in the capitol. And thank you to the folks providing the livestream.

I am a librarian. I am a researcher. I am a teacher. I went into this profession because I believe deeply in the power of information, and the good information can do when it is widely distributed, discussed, and debated on its merits. I am grateful that the information on how law is made has been made so offensively public. I hope people will pay attention, and think of their sisters, mothers, daughters, wives, and selves.

I hope, but I am afraid.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Ask an Expert! Or, How Statistics, Facebook and Polychoric Correlation Matrices Made Me My Own Library User

Frustrated with some data and fed up with my own inability to locate an appropriate statistical technique, I finally posted to Facebook in the hopes that a friend would commiserate with me:

"Bending my brain around ILL stats and thinking about exploratory factor analysis with categorical variables, despite the issues with it. Desperately missing [my old group of Emory PoliSci nerdbuddies and profs who were excellent at stats] and brainstorming these sorts of things."

Five seconds later, the prof I had tagged in the post replied, "Three words: polychoric correlation matrix." And I had four distinct reactions in rapid succession. They were as follows:

First reaction: sarcasm. Well OF COURSE polychoric correlation matrix, duh. Who WOULDN'T know that? Certainly not I. Pshaw.

Second reaction: confirmatory exploration. A quick Google search of that conglomeration of words, a quick scan of the Wikipedia description, and yep, this is much closer to what I need for what I want to do than I've gotten scouring statistics textbooks and incomprehensible math journal articles for two weeks. Until my eyes felt like they were bleeding, and my brain was mushy. Until all I wanted to do was curl up and cry in a corner until someone brought me a puppy. (Interestingly, my husband just got me a puppy for my birthday.)

Third reaction: gratitude. Thank you, Jeebus (and Professor Chris Zorn) that I have a direction and didn't have to pray I'd trip over this technique on my own. I was already stretching my husband's patience and our booze budget due to this thing.

My fourth reaction, and the one that prompted the blog post: chagrin. We beg our students and researchers to come to us as librarians for good direction before they get mired in the research process. Why didn't I go to the experts in the first place, the way I beg my students and faculty to do? The way the lit review section on expertise in my own darn dissertation says folks should do?

I know my reasons, and they likely echo those of my researchers. First, I thought I should be able to find the answer myself. Why didn't I ask my local methodologist professor buddies? Well, they're all on my dissertation committee, and I haven't touched my dissertation in forever, so I'm doing some guilt-hermiting (in which I crawl into a dark space and don't contact folks until I have something productive and useful to show them). I didn't want to look stupid for not knowing something, even though that something is admittedly quite far outside my wheelhouse.

Sigh. A lesson learned for myself: if even I fall into these traps, I need to make sure I continue to let me researchers know that it is okay to ask questions, if only so they're not making their lives harder than they have to be. My new mantra: Don't let guilt or ignorance waste your time. Ping an expert. Do it from the beginning.