Tag Archives: work

Librarianing Abroad: Two Weeks in South Africa

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I recently returned from South Africa, where I went as a faculty assistant for a short-term study abroad class. Ironically, right after I returned, I saw an article about librarian-led study abroad trips on In The Library With The Lead Pipe. So that’s my next adventure in the works 😉

The sociology course studied the legacy of Apartheid, looking at inequality and resistance from an international perspective. Lasting about two weeks, we split our time between Cape Town and Johannesburg. Our experiences ranged from touring Robben Island where anti-Apartheid political activists were imprisoned to attending lectures at the University of Johannesburg to penguin watching on the Western Cape to visiting Langa township in Cape Town (which I fell in love with and am currently plotting my moving plans) to observing the stark disparities in housing conditions and availability in urban Johannesburg and much, much more. It was a bit of a whirlwind trip and every bit as much of a learning experience for me as I’m sure it was for the students.

Perspective

I visited South Africa last summer, as a tourist, with friends. As such, my exposure was mainly to Cape Town proper and all the beautiful things. I was certainly aware of the troubled history of race relations in South Africa and suspected that there were ongoing challenges, especially given the country’s relatively new democracy and current leadership. Last summer, the driver who took us from the airport to our lodging happened to be black. He told us about how black and brown people largely still live in segregated communities, before dropping us off in what he termed as “rich, white” neighborhood. And it was. Very white, to the extent that we were pretty much the only brown faces aside from wait staff at restaurants. Because that’s what having American dollars does.

So when I returned to Cape Town this summer as part of a study abroad trip, it was to a familiar city, in more ways than one. In some respects, South Africa reminds me of home. There’s de facto segregation. There are white people in denial, complaining about affirmative action. There is white supremacy. There are misguided liberals who want to do and say the right thing, but still don’t ever really interact with the communities they’re speaking on behalf of. There are black and brown people passionately advocating for change, because their lives depend on it. There are apathetic folk. There’s abject poverty that follows the path of redlining in urban and suburban regions. And there was the ever-present clerk or “security guard” to follow me around the store and make sure I’m not stealing anything since, you know, my skin is brown. Therefore, I am a suspect.

But I guess it should remind me of home, since our histories are so intertwined. In fact, the U.S. was one of the countries South Africa studied before implementing Apartheid. Under Apartheid, American leading politicians largely turned a blind eye, while our CIA played a role in training the South African equivalent (as we learned at one museum) and imprisoning those who were against the system. It’s amazing to me how simply desiring to be treated as human can so easily become a crime. And how many people have died, in South Africa, the U.S., and other nations, to try to realize this dream.

Parallels

Race has played a huge role in the development of South African society. Starting with segregated communities following colonization by the Dutch and the British, the emphasis on white and non-white snowballed before culminating in what we know as Apartheid. I found it interesting that there was this alternative history being shared in conversation with South Africans involved in the cultural heritage and tourist industries about how pre-Apartheid everyone lived harmoniously and got along. Me being the skeptic that I am (and having some prior knowledge of South African history), I did some digging around and verified that, yes, segregation was a thing well before Apartheid was formally enacted in 1948. After all, Matahma Ghandi was involved in anti-segregation work in the 1920s…which made me wonder why this story was being told and did the tellers actually believe it? How does creating alternative histories impact the integrity of cultural heritage work? Might cultural heritage and information institutions not be neutral after all? *gasp*

Under Apartheid, race became white (self-explanatory) and black (everyone who wasn’t white. This included black Africans, coloreds, Indians/Asians, and those of Muslim faith). Persons of color residing in communities that were reclaimed or desired for white people were forcibly removed and resettled in segregated townships and homelands under the 1913 Native Land Act. Mind you, white people were the minority in South Africa, but they had political power. Control was maintained in part by limiting access to quality education. Education for non-whites was dismal by comparison, particularly for black Africans. Higher education was primarily conducted in Afrikaans, which very few black Africans were fluent in.

In addition to housing and education, discrimination was seen in criminal justice and employment practices. The racial hierarchy put those of European ancestry at the top. Coloreds (those descending from mixed race individuals) and Indian/Asians (often lumped together) were second tier, while black Africans were regarded as the bottom rung of the social ladder. In the criminal justice system, this hierarchy was enforced, with black prisoners being given worse treatment and facilities than colored and Indian inmates. Black South Africans essentially had their citizenship stripped under Apartheid and were required to carry passbooks at all times. White employers had to sign the books each week in order for them to be allowed in the city, where whites resided. Without  the passbook in hand (or without the signature), blacks could be arrested and beaten. One woman said they got in the habit of saying goodbye to their families each time they left the house, because no one knew if they would return home that evening. Prison was just as much of a likelihood. Sometimes, white employers would force black employees to forego wages in exchange for a signature. Resistance efforts included literate black South Africans forging signatures for themselves or others.

In the workplace, people of color were often relegated to labor positions, such as working the sewer or electric lines. Even in those positions, the racial hierarchy was enforced and they were reminded of their “place.” For example, at one museum, we learned that female, black prison wardresses were required to wear a separate uniform, could not advance in rank, and were required to remain on their feet for an entire shift (which would last twelve hours). White wardresses were afforded chairs to use during their shifts. I’m telling you, the detail put into this system would be impressive if it weren’t so depressing.

The legacy of Apartheid is obvious even today. Quality education for children of color in K-12 remains a struggle; student activism against colonialist higher education structures is present. Housing remains an issue, with Johannesburg and Cape Town being overcrowded and under-resourced. Stereotypes prevail that cast black South Africans as lazy and untrustworthy and colored South Africans as thieves. There aren’t enough jobs to go around; unemployment rates are highest among black young adults aged 18-35. Xenophobia towards immigrants creates tension, as Africans immigrating from other countries are seen as better workers (see stereotypes) and hired over native South Africans. It seems you can’t create an unequal system and expect it to go away in twenty years, when it took hundreds of years to create. The problems continue to exacerbate rather than subside. Sound familiar, America?

In Johannesburg, the city center is predominantly black and brown, because of white flight post-Apartheid. The suburbs encircling the city are white communities. One of the most striking things I encountered in Johannesburg was the way that middle and upper class white people (basically all white people, because Apartheid) lock themselves away. They reside in nice homes in white-only neighborhoods, but remain behind walls with barbed wire on top. They hire security guards to patrol the streets around their homes…I couldn’t help wondering what they are afraid of.

Librarianing

In terms of what I did as a librarian and assistant faculty person pre-trip, I engaged in research to compile a packet on the HIV/AIDS crisis for students who might be interested in exploring this as a final project. This packet was made available via Blackboard, along with a few other topics the leading faculty put together on criminal justice and housing reform.

While in South Africa, I accompanied my colleague, the onsite coordinator(s) and the students on excursions to various lectures, cultural heritage sites, and tourist locations. And I talked, a lot, with my colleague about parallels to the U.S. and other nations that attempted or succeeded in building social systems around race. We brainstormed about what to revisit during debriefing sessions with the students and provided “actually…consider….what about…are you sure?” statements to push them to think more critically about their initial reactions. The students were responsible for writing journals a few times a week, so occasionally we bounced ideas around to restructure journal assignments.

Oh, and I said, “Actually I’m a faculty member” about a hundred times when people mistook me for a student. Interesting bit of trivia: in South Africa, “faculty” are what they call colleges within a university. So instead of being liaison to the College of Education here, I might be liaison to the Faculty of Education there. Another trivia fact: I would be in gross violation of the borrowing privileges at the University of Johannesburg Library, because they have stricter limits. Can you imagine being allowed only six items at a time as an undergrad??

Upon returning to the States, I served as the primary contact for questions about the final assignment (my colleague remained abroad) and to provide any research assistance with developing topics. I also accompanied the students home from South Africa. And they all made it in one piece, although it was a little iffy there for a minute, with last-minute security checks. I learned that when you’re traveling internationally, probably don’t tell students to be at the gate ten to fifteen minutes before boarding, because A) They might show up five minutes before and B) There might be a surprise extra screening that will result in actually getting everyone on board ten minutes before the door closes and this will kinda stress you out.

That was my two weeks in brief. There was a whole lot more to the experience, so I could probably write five more blog posts…

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 🙂

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?

 

 

#AdjunctLife

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I’m currently listening to Jessye Norman sing Habanera, because my friend reminded me that I do like opera. And I especially enjoy sopranos, her voice texture in particular, because of all the things I wish I could do with my voice. Oh, and I’m grading papers again.

*We now take a break from our regularly scheduled librarianship to talk about teaching as an adjunct.* It’s almost halfway through the semester. As a matter of fact, midterm grades are due this week, a fact that escaped my notice until fairly recently. So I figured now would be a good time to look back and think about all the things I’ve learned so far. Read the rest of this entry

“I knew the pathway like the back of my hand…”

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It turns out that the last semester is actually the hardest, for a number of reasons. But anyhow, I am going into my last semester of grad school, still working full-time, and serving as the president of my school’s SAA student chapter. So lots of fun all around! One of the classes I am taking, LSC 555 (Information Systems) requires periodic blog posts reflecting on required reading. Since I already use this blog for very periodic postings, they will be hosted here. Be informed. The other class I am taking is LSC 634 Humanities Information. It’s basically an overview of using and evaluating sources as a librarian for the arts and humanities. It seems interesting so far with a lot of practical information. Last but not least, I am taking….COMPS!! Because that means I am (almost) so done! So yes, I am excited.

We’ve started back into the semester at work. As such, I’ve been caught up in hiring and training student employees, teaching students (and sometimes faculty) how to use their library accounts and best take advantage of library resources, and trying a few new things on the job. One is that I started cross-training with Research Assistance (formerly known as Reference) over the summer. Now that the semester has started, I’m excited to see it when it’s busy. I’m also the liaison between Access Services and the Research, Teaching, and Learning divisions. It has allowed me to see what librarianship is like behind the scenes and what types of skills are priceless. It has also allowed me to build relationships with the librarians and find ways to get involved on their end. To that end, I’m currently working on a few LibGuides. One of which (seriously gleeful here) will feature resources for those studying African American Studies and the African Diaspora. In case you haven’t yet figured it out, AfAm Studies is a serious area of interest for me and I am tickled pink to be able to put my enthusiasm and skills to good use. I’ll be sure to post a link to the guide when it is done.

In other news, my blog post should be published at SIA pretty soon. Keep an eye out for that.

Ephemera on Life

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Just say no to cheese, say yes to sleep, and dress in layers/bring a sweater to work, so you don’t freeze when the indoor temperature is a mirror of outdoors. This is my advice on life to people everywhere.

I have taken a leave of absence from the world of education, in order to further my career and experience in the world of library science. It is, in fact, likely a permanent leave. Because I won’t be working with little people any time in the near future and will not have anyone with whom to read  aloud picture books, I am taking applications for adopted nieces and nephews. They will have to pass a background check prior to being considered for the position.

So about the new job. My new job entails providing circulation services at an academic library. Through this position, I hope to gain general library skills and supervisory experience. For example, I am currently assisting in the hiring process of student employees, to include interviewing, which I am rather excited about. Other job responsibilities involve opening and closing, assisting patrons with borrowing materials from the library and through consortium/interlibrary loan, facilitating access to library materials, and occasionally telling people where the nearest restroom is located. It’s been a good first few weeks and I have enjoyed interacting with the diverse student body. And of course, my coworkers. They’re pretty neat.

I’m coming up on my last few weeks in the school semester. Some days I feel like I’m dragging myself across the ground, saying, “Watterrr…” Only, it sounds more like, “Winter breeeaakkk…” with an imploring hand outstretched. I’m working on finishing final semester projects and getting caught up on my part-time job (research assistant), because yes, I’m currently working PT and FT. It’s only for a season.

Seeing as this is the season of thankfulness, I would like to take the opportunity to express thanks for my family and friends, a sane mind, the degree that I will one day have, and employment. I was reading a book containing research on the power of friendships and emotional connections. I can honestly concur with the idea that people are invaluable. I am rich, indeed.

With the holiday tomorrow, make sure you take a chance to breathe and enjoy your loved ones. I will do the same. Happy Thanksgiving to all!!