Editorial: What we’ve been up to
Your editors at Lead Pipe wanted to share some of the things we’ve been working on and thinking about, Lead Pipe aside. Enjoy!
One of the projects I work on at my library is the Civic Lab, a pop-up participatory program initiative centered around facilitating deeper exploration of how our government works, social issues with policy implications, and topics in the news. The Civic Lab has been an active initiative for a year and a half, and as we’ve continued to iterate this concept we’ve been thinking about and developing strategies to address two key questions that have emerged.
First: How do we balance our desire to respond quickly to topics in the news with our desire to provide vetted, curated resources? For most of our pop-ups to date, we’ve planned topics well in advance of the program. That timeline has allowed us to create curated handouts for the topics we’ve discussed, filled with content like key definitions, questions for discussion, and resources for further exploration. If we want to be able to respond to a news topic immediately after it happens, however, we can’t take the time to curate a resource list, format it, put it through proofreading, etc. The result is that we’ve been experimenting with what we’re calling “rapid response” pop-ups, where we show up to talk about a current news item with some Civic Lab signage, a laptop to be able to dig into topics, and a handout of go-to news sources that is broadly applicable. This standard handout offers multiple avenues for answering questions about emerging news topics, with tips like “for local news stories, start with a local source” and listings of reputable go-to sources for business, science, and political news items. Having these handouts available at rapid response pop-ups has allowed us to give a solid resource to participants looking to use more effective strategies for staying informed on any topic, including recent rapid response discussions like immigration legislation and gun violence in schools.
Second: How do we facilitate participants adopting a more critical lens on the news media they consume? For us, this isn’t about sussing out so-called “fake news.” Rather, it’s about helping patrons understand the conventions and ethics of journalism so that they can confidently consume news coverage from any news source. After consulting with a journalism professor friend, we put together a pop-up on the topic “What is Journalism? (And What Isn’t?)” meant specifically to help patrons think about what is news coverage, what is analysis, and what is opinion content in their chosen news sources. We’re looking to have conversations about how to tell what’s objective coverage regardless of the source, and in the process de-emphasize the subjective analysis and opinion pieces that tend to infuriate rather than inform.
There’s a lot of stuff going on for me lately, including finalizing the manuscript that I am co-editing, Pushing the Margins: Women of Color and Intersectionality in LIS. It really takes a lot of work to edit a book and this process has taught me a lot about what goes into it. That being said, it also has taken up a lot of my time and cognitive energy. The other night, I was texting my friend about how I constantly feel like I’m behind on everything, but then I realize that perhaps I am really doing too much. My friend replied “We need to learn to do less and that it’s okay. We’re still awesome people and professionals” which maybe sounds simple, but for many women of color (WOC) librarians I know, this is a really difficult message to internalize and accept.
I’ve been thinking a lot about WOC librarians and labor, especially in reflecting on Fobazi Ettarh’s article about vocational awe and how it relates to mental health and burn out. Veronica Arrellano’s latest on Humblebrags, Guilt, and Professional Insecurities also resonated with me as I have been grappling with my own physical and mental health and making sure that I am taking time for myself outside of work. All of this seems timely, because this week is also LIS Mental Health Week (Feb 19-23, 2018) and there’s a host of things happening in conjunction with the week, including a Twitter chat on Feb 22 at 2 pm PST / 4 pm CST / 5 pm EST / 10 pm UTC with the hashtag #LISmentalhealth, as well as a zine that you can purchase with all proceeds going to Mental Health First Aid.
As a library director, I’m realizing the importance of grant writing to support projects that fall outside of my day-to-day operating budget. So, that’s what I’ve been spending a lot of time doing over the past few months. Ivy Tech Community College Columbus has offered faculty/staff the opportunity to apply for internal mini grants to support student retention and learning. Last semester I applied for a grant to fund my library’s Columbus Past, Present & Future Series, which was aimed at highlighting our community’s past and expectations for the future. I was a recipient of one of those grants, which put the needed wind in my sails to apply for another mini grant last month. I received that one as well and am now in the process of purchasing kindles that I’ll be loading bestseller titles on in the next few weeks. These will be available for checkout to my constituents, as well as the other institutional partners that reside on my campus – IUPUC and Purdue Polytechnic.
With the help of our grants office in Indy, I applied for a Sparks! grant through The Institution of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) towards the beginning of February. If we are selected for this grant, it will help fund an entrepreneurial space for students, faculty and staff, as well as the Columbus community. We’re hoping to incorporate new furniture layouts and conduct business workshops that would be offered by faculty at Ivy Tech, IUPUC, and Purdue Polytechnic.
Grant writing has always terrified me. I’ve always worried that I wouldn’t be able to articulate my library’s mission/vision in a way that would compel granting bodies to give. I’m learning to take risks, however, and it’s an exciting time to learn how the grants office at my institution can support and coach me through the process. If you are looking for a way to offer new services and resources outside of your annual budget, don’t let the fear of not being a good writer or a lack of grant knowledge stop you! Chances are you have a grants office available to you too and you may be months away from securing your first grant too!
In October of last year, after having been a cataloger for three and a half years, I started my first full time, faculty status, reference librarian position. It has been an exciting adventure so far to shift gears and put into practice ideas I had been collecting as an MLIS student. Some were simple, such as creating a book display and purchasing more books by people of color, but my main purpose, to support students and student organizations is a slow and steady process. It will take time and relationship building. Meanwhile, I am creating a contest for National Library Week and delving into the world of student outreach and library marketing.
Additionally, two colleagues and I began working a 60 minute presentation, our first, about professional development and career advice for our state library association’s annual conference. It has caused a great deal of reflection about this profession, my place in it, and my identity. I am also working on a poster proposal about languages, libraries, and communities. This means I will be traveling to several conferences this year, the first of which was ALA Midwinter where Junot Díaz asked a question that I think we all need to pause and consider. He asked the audience if during these conferences there is ever a day of remembrance, to remember the history of libraries and “recommended that every year we recognize the history of segregation as it relates to libraries. Every year, we must remind ourselves from which we come. At the heart of decolonization is to remember.” Since then I have been thinking about how ALA as an organization can have a day of remembrance and do justice to its equity, diversity, and inclusion initiatives.
I recently attended the two-day symposium “Libraries in the Context of Capitalism” at the Metropolitan Library Council of New York, which was keynoted by Barbara Fister. Fister’s presentation set the tone for much of the following proceedings: a hopefulness that rested on a trenchant, unsentimental, and sober(ing) view of libraries’ place in North American history and society. Fister reminded us that North American libraries were , from their origins, institutions of social control. Although she did not explicitly say so, she implied that they continue to be, depending on the roles that librarians wish to play in either furthering the aims of settler colonialism, white supremacy, patriarchy, and economic exploitation or resisting these structural features of our society and culture. All of the panels, presentation, discussions, and activities that followed explored a wide variety of ways that we can do the latter. You can read Fister’s reflections on the symposium here.
Among the highlights of the conference for me was a presentation by Carrie Salazar entitled “Using the Library to Empower Diverse Community College Students.” Salazar described the various ways that she prioritizes and centers the needs of marginalized students in her library, as well as the strategies she uses to communicate with them and to earn their trust. She also described the ways that she tries to deemphasize her role as an authority figure whose presence intimidates or constrains students’ research behaviors; in particular, she noted how positioning the librarian as content ‘expert’ can have a negative impact, and she suggested a more supportive and productive (and radical) approach in which the librarian treats the students as the experts.
Another presentation that I hope will find broader circulation soon was Roxanne Shirazi’s “Rethinking Value in Academic Libraries.” This rich and suggestive talk began with a reminder from the Leap Manifesto: “public scarcity in times of unprecedented private wealth is a manufactured crisis.” Such manufactured crises are also created, or echoed, by library administrators, often ignoring both librarians and patrons in the process. The reason for this, Shirazi argued, is that library work is a form of domestic labor upon which capitalism depends and which it exploits and devalues. Academic capitalism has generated a literature on academic value, but Shirazi found that it tellingly never mentions libraries or librarians, underscoring the invisibility of library labor. The appropriate response to this situation, Shirazi suggested, is to carry on the struggle for professional autonomy.
Our Special Collections library just wrapped up hosting a research day for the Chicago Metro History Fair. The History Fair provides an opportunity for middle and high school students to participate in historical research, and a statewide competition. There are several libraries and archives around Chicago that host a research day for the students, and the Special Collections library at University of Illinois at Chicago is one of them. During research day, students are able to learn how to locate, evaluate and use secondary and archival resources for their projects.
Before I accepted my current position, I didn’t know that I would be working with middle and high school students for four to six months out of the year. As with post-secondary students, middle and high school students are at varying levels of skill when it comes to research planning and strategy. Some work independently, while others work in a group of three. Some are more serious than others, but they all have the opportunity to engage with historical documents and rare books.
Working with the students takes a lot of patience, but I am glad that many of the students are African American and other students of color because that is one of my goals as a professional; to introduce students of color to archival materials, and to complicate history with them.
I am also currently working on a few research ideas and proposals, and plan to attend a few professional conferences this year.
The biggest change we’ve made about instruction at my library lately has been “flipping” the lower-order components of our one-shot sessions. Our faculty took to the term “badges,” so we’ve run with that for the combo of videos, tutorials, and quizzes that students do prior to working with a librarian in classes. We started out with the three courses we visit most frequently and we’re building out from there. Flipping the lower-order parts of instruction has given us the time to do more engaging and reflective activities with students in class, making the visits more compelling and memorable for everyone involved.
At the 2017 ACRL Washington & Oregon Joint Conference back in mid-October I saw a number of great panels. Two that I still think of weekly are from fellow community colleges. Jennifer Snoek-Brown and Candice Watkin gave an inspiring presentation on all the ways that Tacoma Community College has been integrating OER into their library. Samantha Hines from Peninsula College gave a great talk about learning from failure around diversity in the library profession, which she’s apparently just published a version of with PNLA Quarterly.
Over the past year, I’ve been doing a lot of reading and absorbing of various talks, workshops, and presentations to help me envision a new teaching and learning program at my library with social justice as our end goal. Something that’s come up repeatedly is this notion of the stories we tell ourselves and how that influences how we behave, the worlds or systems we create or hold on to, and how we move through those worlds or systems. A workshop I attended in January of this year, Unleashing Alternative Futures: Constructing New Worlds through Imagination, Narrative, and Radical Hope, clarified much of this for me when the wonderful facilitators defined world building as a paradigm shift and a way of making space for new perspectives or world views.
Whose Global Village?, by Ramesh Srinivasan, discusses how Enlightenment and colonialist ideas have led to a series of myths that have heavily influenced the way we view and develop technology: “…the way we choose to historicize technology, most notably the Internet, shapes our beliefs and assumptions about what it can be. Creation myths shape visions of the future” (p. 30). This, in conjunction with Linda Tuhiwai Smith’s Decolonizing Methodologies, which fellow librarian, Vani Natajaran, recommended to me, are helping me deconstruct the foundations of our very Euro-centric systems of organizing and defining knowledge. How do we teach this to our students while also empowering them to envision new paths forward (the way the Alternative Futures workshop asks us)? How do I prepare my colleagues to teach this to our students? Have thoughts on this? Get in touch! I would love to talk to other folks as I continue to struggle with these questions and develop my thoughts around these heavy ideas.