From the writing teacher’s desk . . . Part 1.

*Part one in what should become an ongoing series discussing how my experiences as a writing instructor shape not just my teaching of information literacy, but also how I approach every aspect of my job.*

In my previous life, I taught composition to first-year college students. For three years I lived the unglamorous life of the adjunct instructor, teaching at times across three different colleges and universities. While it was stressful and maddening and at times disheartening, I am grateful now for the experiences I had, the lessons I learned, and the insight it has given me into the intersections of teaching writing and research. And it was the librarians who visited my classes in their one-shot sessions who inspired my transition from teaching faculty to librarian. In the liaison work I do now with teaching faculty and non-academic campus units, I try to always keep in mind what it was like on the other side of these partnerships, and what I wish I knew then.

First, it is not uncommon for teaching faculty or campus units (I am thinking in particular of Residence Life and other large campus constituencies that are not directly integrated into curriculum) to be completely unaware of what the library and librarians can offer. Despite our best efforts at marketing or promoting services, many of the groups we want to reach have so many other demands on their attention, that the library becomes something taken for granted. And I don’t think this is untrue of teaching faculty as well, especially those new to the job. When I first began teaching writing, my colleagues, full- and part-time alike, recommended having a librarian come to my class or taking my class to the library when it came time for research papers. In a few cases, the program required at least one library/librarian visit a semester. But few, if any, could fully articulate why this was important, or what I should expect to come from these sessions. All I knew was that librarians would come to my class and teach my students how to find articles in the databases. I would request sessions, and the librarians would come, and what they did was, for me and my students, completely removed from the context of the class. I did not know enough about information literacy myself to start a conversation about how to better embed the valuable concepts, ideas, and processes into my own curriculum.

It wasn’t until I was in graduate school for my MLS that I began to unravel the interwoven nature of the writing and research processes and see how imperative it was for students to learn these two literacies side-by-side. After all, it is impossible to write without having something to say. And in order to have something to say, students have to do research. The biggest problem I see at the intersection of these two literacies is that students see research as a single step in the writing process that goes something like this: 1. Choose a topic. 2. Write a thesis statement. 3. Write an outline (maybe–far too few students use outlines). 4. Write a draft. 5. Find sources to support each paragraph. 6. Add quotes, paraphrases, summaries (when they know how to distinguish between the three and when to use each one). 7. Write a bibliography. 8. Revise (maybe–again, far too few students actually revise beyond correcting grammar and punctuation).

I did this myself as a student. I would spend hours, days, weeks, procrastinating on papers because I did not know what to write about, and thought I couldn’t do my research until I had at least a partial draft written. It never occurred to me, and I was never taught, that doing research could be part of the process of discovering what to write about. When I started doing higher level research for graduate school, this began to change, but my old habits persisted. When I started teaching, this mindset shifted more, but I had no idea how to guide my students along this path. And I had no idea that I should—or even that I could—ask librarians for help. I was desperately ignorant and believed that the only thing they would do was come to my class and show them how to point and click in a database. For three years, I grossly underserved my students, and under-recognized the valuable resource librarians were to the process of teaching and learning to write.

Now, I cannot claim that all writing faculty are as ignorant of this as I was. But I can say that in my TA days and in the pool of adjuncts I knew, I was not the only one. Adjuncts and part-time faculty tend to be, by nature of their part-time-ness, less supported by the universities and colleges they serve. I was never asked or required to participate in new faculty orientation. I was never given details of campus resources that might help me or my students. I was given a course number and name, a class time, sometimes a syllabus I had to teach from (with no context), sometimes only the catalog blurb from which to design a course, and a room assignment. Maybe an office in which to meet my students and hold office hours, but in one case I had to provide my own office furniture. And that includes lighting–one didn’t have any overhead lighting and was in a basement. Without dollar store lamps, I would have been conferencing in the dark. I shudder to admit this, but one school where I taught online courses, and I couldn’t have even told my students how to find the physical library in my first semester. I was never on campus to learn. So of course I couldn’t point them to the resources they may need. (Note: They were not distance students–most of them could easily access the main campus library.)

Is it any wonder these teachers are unaware of what the library and what librarians can offer them? I was hardly aware of anything that went on outside of my class times and office hours. I share these details because I think it is important for librarians to not assume that everyone has heard us, that everyone knows what we offer, and that without concerted effort, word will get around to faculty. I currently work with a revolving roster of TAs, and have to remind myself that I am not nagging, repeating, or annoying [everyone, at least]. For each full-time instructor I reach with my presentations, emails, and reminders who has heard it a million times, I am reaching 3-4 TAs or new faculty who haven’t. That’s worth it to me.

Reflections on one year of librarianship

It has been just over a year since I began my first professional library job, and it has been a wonderful year for me professional and personally. I have stretched and molded and am still settling in to my own professional identity, but it feels so good to be in a place where I feel like I can do those things, and be supported by my coworkers to explore, engage, and learn. As I think back over the last year, there are a few things that stand out as experiences that will help me continue to shape myself and my career.

The first experience that stands out is attending and presenting at conferences. I attended 3 conferences, all different sizes and purposes. The first was ALA Annual in Las Vegas (VEGAS!). It was only my second year attending ALA, and my first trip to Vegas. It was great for all the right reasons: big presentations, small networking opportunities, and social gatherings. It was wonderful to attend the conference as a librarian and have this secret feeling that I was part of “the club.” I could introduce myself and my job, talk with others who are just as nerdy and excited as I am about teaching and libraries. I also got to meet Lois Lowry and have her sign my book. It. Was. Awesome. The one drawback to something like ALA is that the sheer size makes it easy to feel like you never have a real, deep connection with what’s going on.

My second conference experience was a smaller gathering, the Oregon and Washington chapters of ACRL’s combined conference. For two days, I saw the same people, we ate meals together and played games together, and I felt, again, like I was finally part of a group. This was also the first presentation I did as a librarian (I have presented a paper I’d written before, at a small, regional literature conference). I honestly did not believe that my proposal would be accepted, but I submitted it anyway. I take almost any opportunity that comes my way to submit presentation and poster proposal. The worst they’re going to say is no, and I get the experience of putting together abstracts, titles, etc., that could compel someone to say, “I’d like to hear more about that!” So I did a presentation about using concept maps in library instruction (PDF of the slides available on my Portfolio page). It was a 2-minute “shock talk” but I heard good comments afterward, and it gave me a little boost of confidence to keep going.

The final conference I attended was a one-day local conference on information literacy. Smaller still than the last, all the attendees could fit in one room. I did not present at this one, but again, had great conversations with people from all different backgrounds, giving me a lot of food for thought to take home with me.

All three of these experiences were valuable for me for various reasons. I’m glad I was able to experience three very unique conference formats, big (HUGE), medium, and small. I’ve met some wonderful colleagues, been challenged as a professional, and learned what makes a compelling talk, poster, small group discussion topic, etc., to apply to my own proposals.

The second experience was writing my first paper for publication. And I can say it went really well, as it has been accepted for publication in the fall. I was invited by one of my colleagues to collaborate on writing a paper about an assessment project he had worked on during a sabbatical. I was happy to assist in any way. It feels amazing to know something I helped write is going to be published, and the experience of going through the research, writing, and now revising process is so, so great. I am working on some outlines for potential papers now, and I feel like I am better prepared to tackle this, having had a great guide through my first experience.

The final experience is more personal, and that is the decision to move somewhere completely new. I am the definition of an introvert. So new situations, people, and places riddle me with anxiety. While I have worked hard to overcome my natural tendencies to avoid crowds and new situations, I am still a work in progress. Part of my job now is to be a liaison and outreach to various campus groups. That’s hard when your natural reaction to meeting new people is to not. And small talk? Nope. Not even. But moving to a town where I literally only knew the one person who was coming with me (the hubs), and had met, once, a few of my future colleagues while visiting for my interview, has presented me with a challenge. I had to re-establish relationships I took for granted (like a hair stylist, a dentist, a doctor), and I had to learn how to forge friendships (this is my biggest struggle, TBH). I am still learning how to do those things. How? I pay attention to the questions other people ask me or others when they’re just meeting. I default to things I can (and like to) talk about: my job, the library, the local farmers’ market, the weather. I have improved over the last year, and am more comfortable sitting down and talking to a complete stranger, but I still have a tendency to carry a book with me everywhere, in case I need something to occupy my untalkative self.

There are more, smaller experiences that have been wonderful this past year: supportive colleagues, finally feeling like I have found my fit in librarianship, Captain America 2 and Mockingjay Part 1 coming out, having my husband and dog with me under one roof again, and on and on. It’s been a good year. Here’s to the second year being even better.

Librarian, Teacher, Writer

I thought I’d start the festivities by sharing a bit about myself, what I do, what I like. Some of the stuff you can’t get from a CV or cover letter.

To start, I am a librarian. An instruction librarian, to be more precise. Which means, as I explain to my mother, that I teach people how to do research. I currently work at a university, and I absolutely love it. I knew the day I started college (back in August 2003) that if I could, I would never leave. The first question my mother-in-law asked me when I finished my MLS was, “So what’s your next degree?” We all had a good laugh, but the MLS was my second graduate degree. And if I’m honest, I would love for it to not be my last. For now, though, I am happy to be working at a large university, teaching classes, and working at the reference desk.

But all of that you probably could have surmised from my CV or cover letter. So what else is there? I find it strange that the standard answer to the question, “Who are you?” is to state one’s profession. Is a librarian who I am? Or it is merely what I do? In some cases, for those fortunate enough to do what they love for a living, I can reasonably believe that one’s profession is both who you are what you do. For me, I would argue that the “librarian” label is only part of who am.

So who am I? I’m a walking mess of contradictions, likes and dislikes, and confusing feelings, like most people. I adore my dog above all things (which my husband, bless his heart, can confirm); I love winter and food and my family; I took up cross-stitching in college and still love it. I once won a Scrabble tournament. There’s a Harry Potter poster on my office wall, and my only regret is I don’t have a Hunger Games poster next to it. But I do have an Avengers poster, so my geek label is firmly intact.

Most days, I tell myself I’m a writer, even though I’ve accomplished very little sustained writing in my life. I have as many as five partial novels saved at any point in time, bad teenage poetry in sticker-decorated notebooks, and this is probably the 5th blog I have started in my life time. (I’ll just go ahead and not count my Xanga from HS, okay?)

But, really, who am I? Just a litany of preferences? A summary of all of my experiences? I am not sure I have, or will ever have, an adequate response to that question. But here is the gist of what you may want to know about me and this blog:

I am passionate about education. I believe, with every fiber of whoever I am, that education is vital to individuals and to society. I also believe that education comes in many forms–so know that I am not only talking about a 4-year, college degree. And of the various skills or ideas that people can take away from education, I believe that information literacy is at the top of that list. There are critical habits of thinking and acting that information literate individuals engage in which go far beyond teaching students how to find an article in a database or how to Google more effectively.

With this blog, I plan to write about issues that matter to me. Trends in librarianship, trends in higher education, books that I have read or articles I recommend. There will probably also be entries popping up about things going on in my life, personal and professional, but I will always try to relate things back to my main foci: education and librarianship. Still want to take this crazy ride with me? You have been warned.