Bring Your SELF To Work Day

Image via Librarian Wardrobe

Balance is something I highly value and recognize that it’s important for a lot of things in life. It’s  especially necessary to have a balance between work life and the rest of life to avoid burnout and feeling overwhelmed. Constantly doing work at home or vice versa is a recipe for disaster. This does not necessarily mean setting rigid boundaries though.

Boundaries are always artificial and can often cause more stress in worrying about crossing them. We are not completely different people at work and at home. We may act differently and have different tasks and priorities, but we’re still the same person. We still have the same values and interests, and by completely sectioning work from home both areas of our life lose something.

Two weeks ago we had ACRL’s excellent Immersion Program here on campus. I was in the teacher track  a couple of years ago, and one of the things they discuss is the idea of becoming an authentic teacher. They assign readings from Parker Palmer who talks not about the how-to but about the reflective side of teaching and the “inner landscape of a teacher’s life.” Authenticity in the classroom is not about simply putting on a show or a façade, but about bringing your own identity and experiences into every situation. This is something that takes work though. This means that in the classroom I might talk about my affinity for dinosaurs, or mention that I recently at half a dozen hotdogs at a Vermont Lake Monster’s game, or get really excited about learning, research, and curiosity.

This authenticity can also carry over into the other areas of work. I was reminded of a presentation that Char Booth gave at LOEX this spring. An important point that stuck with me was the idea of personality cultivation for librarians. She gave some fun examples of librarians wearing banana suits as a promotion, creating cardboard cutouts, and some clever UPload Yours buttons they created at Claremont for their scholarly repository.

As librarians we can often be concerned about being seen as professionals, but we also need to be concerned about being seen as people. Cultivating a personality and bringing your strengths and interests to your work can make your job that much more fulfilling as well as help build relationships around campus. There are a lot of examples of librarians who bring their personalities, sense of humor, and authentic selves to the work they do. Whether they’re creating wickedly funny and informative learning objects, creating a story sailboat, or simply adding a bit more style to their workplace, librarians who let their own interests infiltrate their work life seem to have a lot of fun.

The same is true for conference presentations. People who have their own style and tell stories from their life tend to be much more engaging than those simply giving information. And this is also the essence of library social media accounts. No one wants dry, institutional, informational status updates or tweets. Our users, whether online or off do not connect with the library, they connect with people.

Finding a balance between work and home is important and will be different for everyone. But I don’t think boxes work. Bring the things that excite you to work. Bring the things that fulfill you home. Do good work both places. We’re all whole people and when we can bring ourselves wholly into our work and home lives, both places will be more enriching and enriched.



Lazy Students and Change Resistant Colleagues

student taking a quick nap

image via rofltosh on Flickr

It’s easy to dismiss a co-worker as someone who resists change, or dismiss a student who doesn’t want to put in time and effort on research as lazy. It’s much harder to stop and really try to understand with their position, their motivations, and empathize with them. It’s much harder, but it’s also much more valuable.

Aaron Schmidt and Amanda Etches-Johnson did an awesome presentation this fall at the Future of the Academic Library Symposium sponsored by Library Journal and Temple University. One of the main points they made was that the reason we have user gaps and a disconnect between patrons and librarians is because of a lack of empathy. We design resources and services that make sense to us, but do not fully take into account our users. This is at the core of user experience design. To be able to best serve our users, we need to really understand them.

This involves talking to them, having conversations with them, and asking for their feedback. In these conversations it’s easy to jump to conclusions and say things in your mind like, “that would never work,” or “they just don’t understand how things work here.” This is exactly why there are gaps in service in the first place. Really understanding someone’s position means not judging it or jumping to conclusions. It means seeing it for what it is. Often problems are much different that what we prematurely judge them to be. Perhaps a student appears lazy because they have no interest in the topic they chose and therefore no motivation. This is a very different problem than laziness.

We also need to bring this level of understanding and empathy into our relationships with colleagues. Whether it’s another librarian who you see as change resistant or a professor who is very particular, instead of writing them off as being set in their ways or being difficult, we should try to really put ourselves in their shoes and understand their position. Perhaps this professor or colleague doesn’t actually get listened to that often. Their ideas, responses, and concerns might be enlightening.

We have our own lenses through which we see the world, and these are very different from other people’s lenses. The next time you find your self getting frustrated at a colleague or a student, try to sincerely understand where their coming from and see things through their lens. That shared understanding will make you less likely to be frustrated and will bring you closer to solving the problem that you’re working on.


Awesome Library Day In The Life

I decided last minute to do Library Day in the Life this time around. It all started this morning when I was at the gym. As I was working out I was listening to Steve Thomas’s most recent Circulating Ideas podcast featuring Bobbi Newman. I’ve really been enjoying these podcasts and liked listening to Bobbi talk about this grassroots project. It inspired me to share my day, especially since it was particularly awesome.

After working out and showering I got into the office, answered some emails, and did some much needed organizing of my desk and reading area (as you can see from the papers strewn about on my floor).

mess on the floor

I then spent the morning at the reference desk. I chatted with our director about spring/summer planning and staff retreats that are always really productive. I also got a video uploaded to our YouTube channel about annotated bibliographies (related to an assignment that our students will be working on soon).

I also was able to help a couple people on some really interesting questions. One was a student who wanted help brainstorming ideas for a capstone project on ethics in marketing. I was thinking about issues like privacy and filter bubbles, but we hit on to the idea of stereotyping and gender in marketing. I was thinking of a misogynistic commercial for Dr Pepper 10 that especially annoyed me and all the questions that marketing of that nature raised. I also was able to help someone who was looking for historical and primary material related to Samuel de Champlain and records of his journeys. I referred him to the bibliography of the newish book Champlain’s Dream and ultimately found digitized copies of Champlain’s work and works related to him from the Champlain Society (pretty awesome).

The best part of the day though was when I left the desk and headed over to our Emergent Media Center on campus and joined a group of faculty, staff, grad students, and undergrads who came together for a Design for America brainstorming meeting. “Design for America teaches human centered design to young adults and collaborating community partners through extra-curricular, university based, student led design studios.” These studios bring together folks from all disciplines to create real solutions to real problems in their communities. Champlain students want to bring a DFA studio to our college and this was a big step in that process.

Design for America brainstorming

The brainstorming session involved thinking about a specific scenario, taking time on our own to come up with solutions and then brainstorm as a four person team to solve a problem. We got to write, draw, use blocks, and mold clay to creatively come up with solutions to our problem. It was an awesome start to the process and I’m going to continue working on the team. We have a month to agree on a problem, design a solution, briefly test our design, and create a video about it. As the librarian in the group I’ve agreed to start working on the research aspect of the problem.

Projects like this are undoubtedly one of the most valuable things I can do in my job. They allow me to connect and build relationships with other faculty members, staff, and grad & undergrad students and bring my expertise to things that we are all working on.

The day ended by running back to the office late, picking up my CSA, and catching the bus home. Luckily it’s almost the weekend…