I.

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“You are you even before you grow into understanding you are not anyone, worthless, not worth you. Even as your own weight insists you are here, fighting off the weight of nonexistence. And still this life parts your lids, you see you seeing your extending hand as a falling wave— I they he she we you turn only to discover the encounter to be alien to this place. Wait. The patience is in the living. Time opens out to you. The opening, between you and you, occupied, zoned for an encounter, given the histories of you and you— And always, who is this you? The start of you, each day, a presence already— Hey you—”
― Claudia Rankine, Citizen: An American Lyric

I’m bad at publishing blog posts in a timely manner, so I started writing this at the beginning of November:

Last weekend, I participated as a staff facilitator in the university’s social justice retreat. It was a beautiful experience. I had the opportunity to work with college students (grads and undergrads) who were passionate and invested in making the world a more inclusive, welcoming place for everyone; regardless of age, race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, citizenship, national origin, language, socioeconomic status, or belief system. I got to hear their life stories and share some of mine. It was intense and mentally exhausting, but also so meaningful.

During that weekend, I re-learned the power of stories and of seeing, really seeing people for the individuals they are. I was humbled by the openness with which these young people came. And they challenged me to try to do better, again. To be recommitted to living out my beliefs. And to strive to stand boldly for what I believe in: human dignity and the right to be seen.

One of the students in my small-group made a comment on Saturday about the reality that America could elect a leader with fascist views. Up to that point, we’d been laughing and being fairly lighthearted in our chatter. When she said that, we all sobered up and the reflections in our minds would be read in our eyes: What would this mean to America? What would this mean for me?

To get to the retreat, we drove through ardent Trump supporter territory. There were signs every other foot. Some big, some small, some hidden by overgrown fields ill-suited to staying in their places. I even saw Trump/Pence signs on the lawn of a church. The irony is that their mission statement (because I looked in up) included a focus on ministry to at-risk populations. I wondered to myself how they defined “at-risk.” 

And then there was the huge Trump sign in a field, with the “T” missing and a notice that it had been vandalized by the intolerant. What defines tolerance and intolerance?

It’s now post-election and Trump has been named president-elect. There have been many newspaper articles, blogs posts, social media rants, and frantic tweets about the ramifications about the election. I’m not going to add to that right now.

What I do want to say is that while attending the social justice retreat I was challenged in ways that I did not expect to be challenged.From that experience, these are the things I learned:

  • “Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.” ― Isaac Asimov
    • Never assume that you know someone’s life story, the things they wrestle over, or their perspective, just because of how they look or what you perceive to be true from prior experience.
  • “We’re all stories in the end.” – Steven Moffat
    • As the retreat coordinator said, it’s not facts that change lives, it’s stories. The more we take time to engage with others on a genuine level, the better off we all are. It doesn’t mean we’ll all agree on everything (spoiler: we won’t). But it is hard to ignore someone’s humanity while listening. Build relationships and take time to be present. It’s about dialogue, not debate. Debate has it’s time and place.
  • “No one knows for certain how much impact they have on the lives of other people. Oftentimes, we have no clue. Yet we push just the same.” ― Jay Asher
    • During the retreat, we had little paper bags in which we could leave (positive) comments for other people to recognize the brave, supportive, or noteworthy things they’d done during the weekend. At the end of the retreat, everyone had a chance to retrieve their bags and see what notes others had left for them. Sometimes I forget that other people besides me can see me living.
  • “A life is not important except in the impact is has on other lives.” ― Jackie Robinson
    • Also, on the last day, we did this activity. Maybe it sounds cheesy; maybe it was. But it was also humbling and warm-fuzzy feeling to realize that the things I did, just going throughout my day, meant something to someone else. And vice versa.

I have a quote wall in my apartment with sticky notes of phrases and ideas I want to remember (also perhaps cheesy). Each of these quotes went on my wall and hopefully it will serve as a constant reminder to me to, in the words of Luuvie Ajayi, “Do better!”

 

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#NDLC2016: Reflections on the Opening Keynote

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I’m at the National Diversity in Libraries Conference 2016 this week, which is hosted at UCLA. This morning, the opening keynote speaker, Lakota Harden, left her notes on the podium and decided to speak from the heart. She shared a bit of her experiences growing up on a reservation, being the descendant of individuals who have endured horrible things as a result of federally sanctioned genocide. She spoke about attending boarding school and losing her language, because they were not permitted to use the words they’d been born into. She spoke about sitting at her great-grandmothers’ knees and regaining a little bit what she’d been torn away from, what her ancestors had been torn away from. She spoke of remembering and honoring the pain, of acknowledging the truth. And she spoke to the tearing away that many have descended from in the name of colonization. She also spoke of the existing wounds that her people, the Lakotas, bear and the deep wounds of American Indians across the nation. The poverty and broken families. The alcoholism and drug use. The homelessness and imprisonment. The atrocities that continue. And the people who come to reservations in search of the dead, expecting the living to perform a nativeness that is contrived. People who will open hands, wanting, needing to get rather than to give and just be present. She spoke of the borrowing…stealing of cultural values and practices by majority cultures that don’t take the time to know the humanity behind them. As she spoke, it resonated with me. Not just because I appreciated her sharing and was moved by her honesty, but because, as she said, we all have backgrounds filled with woundings that we’ve had to live through, cope with, and survive. And for many of us, we’re still trying to find our survival.

As a librarian of color, and more specifically, as an African American woman in the United States, I’ve had to come to terms with the heaviness that is my cultural heritage. Like Lakota, I have found the beauty amidst the sorrow, but it comes from acknowledging that past. Often, like her, I hear people say things like, “Well, slavery was hundreds of years ago, don’t you think it’s time you guys moved on?” or “Why don’t you guys [black people] stop protesting and just get a job? or “Why don’t parents in urban communities care about their children?” No one is really interested in talking about the past, because it’s messy and it’s painful. But the things we witness today are deeply rooted in a continual cycle of loss and trauma. To break that cycle, we have to talk about it. And we have to acknowledge that it is, and will continue to be, the legacy that some communities have to deal with.

Trauma brings about injury and unless those injuries are directly addressed, it’s impossible to move on. When talking about issues of poverty and lack of education in urban communities of color, it makes me sad that the conclusion too often drawn is that parents don’t care about their kids. Sure, there are always the exceptions, but I think deep-down, the vast majority of parents care about their kids. But how does one cope with challenge after challenge without relief? For individuals in impoverished communities (and poverty doesn’t always look like slum towns), I believe there is a great deal of depression and mental health issues that have gone unnoticed and unaddressed for generations. Wounds that go unaddressed continue to fester and these generational symptoms of brokenness continue to plague my community as well as hers.

Lakota spoke of being inspired by the strength of her ancestors and invoked the strength of the ancestors of any people group who has ever suffered loss and trauma, whether the separation was chosen or not. When I first came into librarianship, it was through genealogy. I discovered the archives while investigating my own family history. Through uncovering details about my grandparents and great-grandparents, and gg-grandparents, I learned more about the nuances of American history and the role that individuals and communities play in shaping futures.

In America, racism has played a huge role in the shaping of futures, both for people of color and those who are not. For the black community, racism didn’t just mean slavery. It continued well beyond that. It meant laws and a legal system that was designed and upheld to keep blacks in a subhuman status. It meant not having access to certain types of employment. It meant not having funding for quality education resources. It meant not being able to travel through certain towns after dark or being able to use the same restroom or water fountain. It meant having to step off the sidewalk if a white person walked towards you, or having to avert your eyes for fear of being regarded as disrespectful. With the consequences being great. It meant being called out of your name and being reminded at every instance that you are less than. It meant being made to walk to school, while the white kids rode the bus and having your change slapped on the counter while someone else got to have theirs in their hand. It meant being told that the closer you were to white, the better you were. It meant being denied love and marriage to the person you cared about, just because of the way your skin looked. It meant being you could be a crime. It meant being you could be worthy of death. And the law would look the other way, because sometimes the person under that hood or behind that gun, was the law. It meant you didn’t know who you could trust and so you had to build your own communities and economic infrastructure. But then it meant losing all of that, sometimes over and over again, at the whim of a people who didn’t want you to succeed.

And this wasn’t 1865. It wasn’t 1967. For some, this type of legal ostracizing ended as late as the 1980s or 1990s. For many, it continues today under different labels and ways of being.

It causes scars.

Trauma is life changing and when your people experience trauma after trauma for generations, it has an impact.

As people, as a profession, the core of what the communities we serve are asking for is to be recognized as human. To find a place where they are not made to be othered in a way that shadows the trauma they’ve already felt for so much of their existence and the existence of all the blood that runs through their DNA.

Acknowledging truth isn’t about shaming or blaming, but it is about giving voice to those who have been silenced for so long. For any people group who has known trauma and injustice, there will be parallel stories. When we talk about making the LIS profession a space that is welcoming and inclusive, we need to start by acknowledging and then sitting in that. Sometimes in silence, if we need to. It also means owning our collective pasts and the roles our pasts have played in affecting the pasts of others.

It’s a lot. I know it’s a lot, but since our profession exists for the building and edification of people and the preservation and sharing of information, we don’t really have the luxury of picking and choosing which groups get included, whether explicitly or implicitly.

 

Where I’m at.

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It’s officially been one month since I assumed my new role. Classes start again in about three weeks. And it’s my birthday month. Yay birthday!

Before birthday (and the start of classes), though, comes a lot of prep work. I’m in the process of emailing faculty from the liaison departments I inherited. Our library is also in the process of switching over to Libguides from an in-house system, so I’m creating course guides for my assigned TSEMs and creating shell course guides for classes I’ve confirmed instruction for, but haven’t nailed down the specifics yet.

I have to admit, I still feel weird emailing professors and saying, “Hi! I’m your new liaison librarian.” But the more I get “Oh, that’s awesome. Can you come teach a session?” the more it sinks in. Part of my role involves supporting student retention and success, so I’ve been reaching out to faculty members teaching classes that either haven’t had a library component before or haven’t had a library component in a long time. Which is cool, because I’m basically building from the ground up.

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It seems there were a lot of problems

We’re also in the process of weeding the general collection. I’m working with the American History section (E in LCSH), which includes gems like the ones on the left. Also, can I add “a distinct negro strain” to my list of phrases? “Flavor of blackness” is also on the list. I found most of them in the archives 🙂 I’ll have to find them and share them at some point. Good stuff.

Also, I decided to take advantage of a few MOOCs*, because I like learning and I wanted to brush up on my education background knowledge, for a few reasons. A.) I work with the teacher education program on campus and it’s been a little while since I’ve actually studied education, besides leisure reading of articles and blogs. B.) I came across the University of Chicago Urban Education Institute a few weeks ago and was fascinated by the concept of a program that encompasses applied research, a school, and a teacher training academy. C.) I found an online course taught by
the director of the UC Urban Education Institute. and D.) I’m planning to apply for a Ph.D. program that will in part be focused on education and literacy. So I’m taking two MOOCs. One is Critical Issues in Urban Education  (offered by The University of Chicago, as mentioned) and the other one is Literacy Teaching and Learning: Aims, Approaches and Pedagogies (offered by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, with a focus on multiliteracies. Yes please.) 

So that’s what I’m up to. Oh, and I’m presenting at a conference next week, so I’m mentally preparing for that. Also, I can’t wait!

 

 

 

*MOOC = Massive Open Online Course. Interestingly, I’ve seen a few articles recently that describe MOOCs either designed in part (or whole) by students or that feature student contributions. I wonder what possibilities exist in that with information literacy and developing instruction modules for distance learners or larger classes where possibilities for F2F instruction are limited. Hmmm….

 

New job!

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Roughly a year ago, I was interviewing for jobs and sleeping off my grad school fatigue, trying to figure out what to do with my post-MLIS life. In July 2015, I ended up accepting a two year residency at Towson University and moving to the Baltimore region.Within that role, I’ve had the opportunity to complete a rotation in Technical Services, Research and Instruction, and part of a rotation in Special Collections and Archives. I learned a great deal in each division and count the residency as a valuable part of my early career formation. However…

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Professional me

I won’t be completing the remainder of my residency, because I’m excited to announce that I have accepted a permanent status (same as tenure-track) position as a Research and Instruction Librarian!! As of July 1st, my position became official. I knew coming into the program that there was no guarantee of post-residency employment, but I’m really happy it worked out for me to stay.

Within my new role, I will responsible for liaising to the College of Education; supporting student outreach and support, with a focus on retention of at-risk populations; and assessment of instruction programming. And you know what they say, other duties as assigned.

So here’s to the next few years of greatness as I work on building my dossier 🙂

Race, gender, war, and integration

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“You have to see this.” I’ve uttered this many times over the last few weeks. It’s interesting the things you find in a university archives.

In my archives rotation, I’m working on creating a K-12 curriculum plan. The idea is to highlight collections that could have possible ties to the Maryland Common Core curriculum, with an eye towards critical thinking, investigative research, and problem-based learning. Additionally, materials that I’ve located may also (or alternatively) be used for materials surveys or “white gloves sessions” hosted by the archives staff, as a part of academic coursework. Themes that I’ve identified as possible foci are desegregation/integration in the state of Maryland; race and gender during WWII; technology, transportation, and industry; and construction and expansion.

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Elementary school in Hurlock, MD circa 1935 (image via Library of Congress)

Within the topics of integration and desegregation, I’m selecting materials that highlight attempts to integrate public education institutions and responses to the Brown vs. Board of Education decision in 1954. A 1954 Maryland Board of Education study on integration in response to the Supreme Court decision begins, “Maryland has always been considerate of its colored populations. As a matter of fact, the State was considerate of the Negro race when most of its representatives within the confines of the State were not citizens but slaves…” Sounds promising, right? The report detailed how the state of Maryland had a “long and honorable record” as a part of the Union and they were more than happy to comply with desegregation, as soon as it was required. Further, while the Supreme Court considered the psychological effects of segregation on black children, no one considered that the Supreme Court in determining that segregation was unconstitutional, “abrogated a right of the majority group” and that integration may “cause emotional disturbances in those white children who have lived in a segregated world with […] a clear conscience.” The committee wished that the Supreme Court would take this into account in deciding their final mandate. Gradual desegregation was the committee’s recommendation and hope. Equal rights are, of course, important… *sarcasm*

Some other interesting finds include minutes from the State of Maryland Board of Education meetings, including advice/opinions from the Attorney General of Maryland and the Board of Education members regarding the legal implications behind desegregation; minutes from the Maryland Board of Trustees of State Colleges and Universities; and correspondence and notes within presidential papers.

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Case listing in archived index (image via Maryland State Archives)

Additionally, though Towson began integrating in late 1955, there was at least one African American student who attempted to gain admission prior to 1954. In 1950, F. Vernon Roberts applied for admission on the grounds that Coppin State’s educational experience was not on the same level as Towson’s and he wanted to have access to advanced courses that Coppin didn’t offer. Roberts was refused admission. Because he suspected it was on the basis of race, he filed a lawsuit with the Maryland courts. The outcome isn’t known (the actual court records are at the Maryland State Archives), but presumably he was not successful, as he completed his degree at Coppin a few years later. Roberts went on to become a principal in the Baltimore City school system.

The discussion around integration continued within the Maryland States Colleges and Universities for the next fifteen to twenty years, with predominantly white Towson trying to figure out how to attract more students of color and predominantly black Morgan State trying to figure out how to attract more white students, so as to be in compliance with mandates from the Supreme Court and the Board of Education. In 1968, Morgan proposed that students at Towson be required to take 9-12 credits at either Morgan State or Coppin State prior to graduation. Towson proposed that they offer scholarships to attract more students of color.  It’s not yet known what the outcome of these suggestions were. I find it interesting that these are the same discussions that continue to be had in 2016. I guess it’s hard to undue a race-based system that still supports so much of the national economy and infrastructure.

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African American WAACs, Lts Harriet West and Irma Cayton going over recruiting schedules in 1942 (image via National Archives)

Within the areas of race and gender during World War II, I am currently looking through the World War II collection. During the war, Towson administrators sent newsletters to the college alumni, staff, and students who were serving in the armed forces. In response, the alumni would keep in touch, relaying some of their job duties and experiences during the war. The collections includes correspondence, news clippings, photos, and ledgers. Its interesting to read how the men versus the women talk about and navigate their time in the military and in military support roles.

Hester Brown, female Naval Yeoman, recounted, “I have relieved a man for sea duty and my feeling was a mixture of emotions when the time came for me to say goodby to him. I was a proud WAVE, and yet fearful that I might not be able to fully take that Bluejacket’s place here. As I grow more accustomed with my job, that fear is being overcome.”

“Three of us from Texas were the first WAACs on the field.” wrote Helene Davis, WAAC Link Trainer,  “Don’t think that wasn’t a thrill. The boys were so glad to see us for they expected us to take over the KP [kitchen patrol]. We soon straightened them out on that score. Most of us are taking over office jobs, but you’ll find WAACs doing most everything except flying the planes.”

Sibyl Davis, WAAC, wrote, “After feeling like the Army’s unwanted step child for over a month, I feel a little better now that I have a job that doesn’t make me feel like a scullery maid, even if it may be temporary.”

From Dorothy Farmer, WAAC Sergeant, “We are fortunate in having quarters in the temporary BOQ–Bachelor’s Officer’s Quarters–where most most of us have private rooms. It is very much like a school dormitory except we aren’t allowed to have curtains or fancy bedspreads and pillows. Everything is strictly GI, and woe to us if any dirt or dust is found anywhere on Saturday morning inspections. We all ought to make immaculate housewives when this is all over.”

“I am convinced that women are learning more from this war by being a part of it than they could have any other way.” Gwendolyn Felts, Pfc. and WAAC recruiter, wrote enthusiastically to Dr. Rebecca Tansil, “Perhaps this is the greatest assemblage of women for one ultimate goal, peace, ever known in the era of democracies…Say this is beginning to sound like an argument and somehow I don’t think you need any persuasion.”

For many women, the opportunities afforded during World War II, both in military service and in civilian positions, exposed them to a variety of jobs that had been typically reserved for men. Once the war ended in 1945 and men returned from active duty, most of these women were forced to revert to traditionally feminine roles. An emphasis on the woman in the role of homemaker and wife prevailed during the “golden age” of the 1950s, before being challenged during the push for civil and equal rights of the 1960s and 1970s.

Lack of opportunities and prevailing prejudice on a national scale limited employment options for African Americans for a very long time.  Even in service to the military, there was an obvious color line. Both the Marine Corps and the Navy began integrating their ranks during WWII, but the roles people of color were allowed to fill tended to differ greatly from that of their white comrades and serving in segregated units was a given. For a time, the only role the Navy allowed black soldiers to play was to serve as mess attendants, cooking and serving food. By the time Towson janitor, John Gwynn (featured on the archives’ blog here), joined the Navy in 1943, they had expanded their options somewhat. Though being a person of color, he was still limited to a service role

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John Gwynn in uniform, circa 1943 (image via TU Archives)

similar to the one he had at Towson. He wrote to one of the Towson staff members of his work at the Naval Officer’s Club as being, “very much the same as I did there at school.” Meanwhile, mention was made of his joining the Navy in the newsletter sent to Towson affiliated military personnel, but the manner in which it was communicated gives a clue of the racial climate of the time. There was an elementary school (Lida Lee Tall School) located on the grounds of Towson, which has a long history as a teacher preparation college. The students of the Lida Lee Tall School were said to have done their part to support the war effort by “giving” Gwynn to the Navy.

Though African American men and women still faced Jim Crow laws and unjust practices in their homeland, they were willing to join in fighting for democracy abroad. It was with great disappointment that they returned after the war to find the same social conditions they had left. While white soldiers returned to fanfare and celebration, African Americans, especially in the South, were quickly reminded of their place and, in some instances, killed, for stepping out of it. Unwilling to settle back into this scripted existence of blackness, many departed the South in droves for better opportunities up North and out West, while other began to fight for change in their communities, spurring the Civil Rights  and Freedom movements.

I’m still sorting through materials and alternately laughing, shaking my head, and Googling things in fascination. I can’t wait to see what I stumble across next!

Introverting in the workplace

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This morning I was reading a blog post about introversion in social situations that really resonated with me. It reminded me that I’ve been meaning to write my own blog post about introversion, but from a different perspective, that of the workplace. I can really relate to this quote: “I do my best work when I am in an environment that allows me to have some time for reflection.”

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(Image via interactioninstitute.org)

Some say it’s become trendy to be an introvert, with more public attention being devoted to this personality type. I say, the more the merrier. It’s a good thing when people become more self-aware and it’s also educational for non-introverts to realize that not everyone goes through the world in the same manner. It takes all kinds.

I’ve heard people say that the 30s are magic years. By the time you get into your thirties, you tend to have a better idea of who you are, what works for you (and doesn’t), and what you want out of life. As I get closer to that age, I’ve definitely found that to be true. I’m more comfortable with myself, which includes being more in tune with how I function in the workplace and what I need to be successful. Here are some of the thoughts I’ve had swimming around in my head as of late:

  1. Speaking out – I’ve really appreciated the encouragement I’ve received about reflective practice in my current position. Keeping a work journal and this blog allows me to process in writing some of what I’m internally working through. But when it comes to sharing things publicly, I tend to be more inhibited about that. I’ve learned that sometimes it’s okay to share half-thoughts and leave it at, “This is an idea I had” or “This is what I have so far.” I also have come to realize that the ability to think through things and offer different perspectives is not only valuable, but a sought after skill.
  2. Flexibility –  I’m a perfectionist. And an over-analyzer. And I get fidgety at desks. I also don’t really like long periods of screen time, unless I’m researching or writing. When I first switched from teaching to librarianship, I did some time in the archives, working on digital projects. I quickly realized that it was not for me. While my attention to detail provided an opportunity to thrive, my need for kinetic stimulation had me dying so many inner deaths, I couldn’t concentrate for long periods of time. While teaching, I was used to never sitting around, always being up and down, on the floor with my kids, reading books in dramatic voices. The office environment seemed flat by comparison. I quickly learned that I needed to:  A: Balance not sitting at computers for long periods of time with getting things done; B. Provide variety in my project load and interaction with others; and C. Look for opportunities to be creative on the job.
  3. Heat maps – Not all introverts are alike. Some are very, very reserved. Others are kind of reserved. Some may seem lacking in reserve completely! I tend to think of my outgoing-ness like a heat map. When I have things to say and something to contribute, I speak up and my personality is more obvious for that moment. The spot on the map grows. When I’m done sharing my words or myself, I dial back and become what some might term as “small” again. I go back into my reserved box, where I get to think my thoughts, work on projects, and process things uninterrupted. And the cycle continues.
  4. Holding space – Speaking of, I feel I’m incredibly lucky to be surrounded by people who are not only okay with that, but are supportive of my work style and the skills I bring to the table. Working with a team of librarians who are vastly different in personality, but are willing to hold space for each other is awesome. I spent a lot of my undergrad years in environments where I was encouraged to take chances and step outside my box, which is fine. We all need some of that. But it can be intensely uncomfortable, painful even, to be constantly pushed to be something you’re not. I appreciate having a more balanced experience as a working adult. Otherwise, I’d probably spend all of my free time in a dark room. 🙂
  5. Introvert teacher – I think I’ve mentioned my undergraduate degree was in education; I worked in the school system briefly, before transitioning to academic librarianship. One of the things I noticed during my teaching time, both in elementary grades and last semester while teaching undergrads, is that while I love teaching, I can only do it when I have adequate down time. Last semester, I arranged my work schedule, so that I had an hour to go home and be by myself before I had to go teach class at my adjunct position, even if I just spent that time going over my class schedule or listening to music. With my elementary teaching job, I typically arrived early and either sat in the teacher’s lounge, or would take the long, scenic route to work to give myself a chance to center and mentally prep. The opportunity to recharge before and after class is a necessary thing, I think. Even if that takes the form of a weekend free of social obligations, before or after a hectic week.
  6. Being honest – Because I tend to think a lot and process responses over time, I’m one of those people who will return to a conversation long after it’s over. (i.e. “Okay, now I’m ready to discuss!”) There have been times where I’ve been asked for feedback in the moment and I’ve said something to the effect of, “I don’t have anything right now, but if you’ll give me a chance to think about it, I can get back to you later.” Or, “I don’t have any questions right now. But let me process this and then I can get back to you with questions later.” I find that works better than just: Person: Do you have any questions? Me: Nope.

In conclusion, one must “know yourself to improve yourself.” (Auguste Comte)

The library as a community safe space

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“It was kind of overwhelming, but in a good way, you know? It felt safe, which…to be honest, is not always how I feel around here.”

I happened to be walking across campus last semester and overheard two students of color talking in front of me. They were leaving a student affinity group event, which, ironically, was located next door to the faculty/staff affinity group event that I was attending. The student’s comment made me, A.) nod in recognition, B.) smile at the student, and C.) wonder how this type of comment fits into the wider discussion about diversity and inclusion…

Discussions about diversity and inclusion have been all over the place of late, particularly with some of the racially driven incidents we’ve faced on campus recently. Additionally, articles abound about diversity in the workplace, diversity in library user populations, and diversity in hiring and retention. But what do we mean when we say diverse populations?

A few minutes ago, I was listening to a webinar on intersectionalities in education and they opened by doing an exercise in which individuals were supposed to identify five words that they would use to describe themselves. Then they had to limit to three words. And finally one word. The point of the exercise is that no one word or identify wholly encapsulates the entirety of our personhood, but in many cases, people see only the outwardly descriptive parts (gender, race, etc.) and there are many other identities that have just as much meaning.

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Students studying in the Glen at TU (image courtesy of TU)

When we talk about diversity, we too often stop at the outwardly descriptive identities. That’s not to say that those identities aren’t important (tbh, if I had to pick one identity, it would probably be race), but they’re not the only ones.

This summer, I’m taking a stab at addressing some of that by planning a staff development series in partnership with colleagues both on and off campus. Within this series, we’ll be looking at different student populations who may be often overlooked (and some who aren’t) when we think of diversity. However obvious these identities are, they likely have some impact on the academic experiences of student populations.

So far, I’ve had a great response rate from potential partners and am planning to focus on the following populations over the course of this series:

  • students with mental health concerns
  • international students and English language learners
  • military and veteran students
  • students with learning disabilities
  • students who identify as LGBTQ
  • students of color

Additionally, I’m working with one of our student employees to plan an outreach initiative focused on connecting with student organizations on campus. We’re targeting groups that either have an academic focus  or serve to highlight or celebrate different cultural identities. So far, we’ve partnered with one student group this past semester to host a study night before finals.

The idea behind all of this is to encourage awareness of the library as place and as an integral part of the campus community. It also allows library staff to increase in awareness of often invisible student populations, so that we can better engage with them and meet their needs. Maybe in future semesters, we’ll be hearing students say that the library is overwhelming, but in a good way. You know?