Here’s a little peek into the mess of insecurity that is my shy-introvert-who-sometimes-talks-a-lot brain. This is what happens to my feelings after I talk in public — in a meeting, in a formal talk, facilitating a dialogue or a workshop, giving an interview, even asking a complicated question — pretty much every single time.
First, there’s euphoria. This is a release of tension, fueled by relief that (at least most of) the bad things I imagined could happen, didn’t.
That’s followed by optimism. I’m focused on next time, building on what worked. In this stage I am starting to think about what went less well, and I’m still in a forward-thinking place.
Then, regret creeps in. My mind touches on, or returns to, something I wish I’d done a little differently. This is sometimes a super concrete thing based on tangible feedback I got in the moment. It’s sometimes a realization that something I said could be taken in a way that was different than I meant it. It is sometimes a vague feeling that maybe I talked too much, or too little, or interrupted someone, or let a tangent go on too long.
That inevitably sends me into a trough of despair. I start second-guessing everything about it. Things that initially went well are particular targets. I doubt any positive feedback I received.
Then, I get a grip and start developing some perspective. It usually helps a lot to remind myself that I am not the center of anyone’s experience, even in a workshop I designed, and that I should stop making it all about me. I also start thinking critically about the choices I made that I am worried about. Some, I realize, made sense. Some, I realize, need work.
And that brings me back to an optimistic place where I can start planning for the next step.
I co-facilitated a dialogue last week and I learned SO MUCH doing it. And one of the things I learned was this – that this is what I experience and do. As I was headed into that pit of despair, I had a thought out of nowhere, “it’s okay, give it a few days and you’ll have worked through this. This stage doesn’t last.” That really helped. So I thought I would put this out in the world, in case my tangled mass of insecurities might be helpful to you all out there too.
Every year, Shaun and I have a vague goal to see 52 movies, in the theater, before year’s end. Every year, we start that process on New Year’s Day. We honestly never get there, but this year we realized as we hit December, that we had a chance. I think we were at about 45 movies on December 1.
We decided then that we wouldn’t see any movies JUST to get to 52. Like, they had to be a movie that we would at the very least go see if we were super in the mood for a movie and it was the only thing playing. Because let’s face it, there are a lot of movies that don’t clear that bar.
In the end, we were stymied by Corvallis. We are super lucky to have a three-screen indie theater in our tiny town. Between that and the big corporate chains, a lot of movies come here. But a lot of them don’t come here right away. There are a number of movies from this release year that we haven’t had a chance to see yet, and we ended up at 49. We could have made it an even 50 had we seen our NYD movie on NYE*, but we decided instead to begin as we mean to go on.
Why movies? There are a lot of reasons, big and small, but one of the most interesting to me is — because we work in academia. This is a job that never really goes away. There are always things to read, talk about, grade, work out, letters to write, applications to complete and there’s no real workday to keep those things contained. This is especially true for Shaun, but it’s pretty true for me too. Add to that the fact that I am entirely incapable of sitting and watching anything at home without at least something to keep my hands busy, and movies in the theater become an opportunity to focus, together, on one thing, for two hours. Even when the movie isn’t great that alone is worth the price of admission.
(We don’t get snacks. That would probably bankrupt us.)
So, here’s the 2018 list:
Phantom Thread Call Me By Your Name
A Fantastic Woman
The Party The Young Karl Marx
The Death of Stalin
Leaning into the Wind
Avengers: Infinity War
Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story
Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
Ant Man and the Wasp Hearts Beat Loud Leave No Trace
Sorry to Bother You
Mission Impossible: Fallout
Crazy Rich Asians Blindspotting
A Simple Favor
A Star is Born
The Old Man and the Gun
Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Maria, by Callas
Spider-Man: Into the Spider Verse
Mary, Queen of Scots
We haven’t done our annual sit in the pub and create top five lists project yet, though we have started the initial thinking. Films in bold are my current top contenders, but I reserve the right to shift things after further reflection. And top five in our world doesn’t mean “best” – it’s a pretty idiosyncratic and individual set of criteria. In any event, one of these titles is still pretty squishy.
Overall, this was a really good year for movies. There are usually more than enough contenders for a bottom five list and while that would be possible this year — it’s a relative thing after all — there is a good chance that some movies that are just fine would be on it.
I don’t do an honorable mention list but I do want to point out a couple more films:
Most Intense YouTube Marathon happened after seeing Maria, by Callas.
Leaning into the Wind is the leading contender for Imagery that Invaded my Dreams and Stuck With Me After I Woke Up.
And Instant Family wins for Movie Starring Mark Wahlberg that Most Directly Represents My Life.
Instant Family is a movie about adoption, specifically foster-to-adopt adoption, and it is one that I’m happy to recommend. I wrote in this space a while ago about how these stories are largely absent, and that we need more of them. I had some trepidation before seeing this, but went on the recommendation of others who have also shared this experiences, and they were right. It’s not the whole truth or only story about adoption, and we still need more stories; if we get them, I hope they are done with the context and grounding and honesty of this one.
I’m not a resolutions person. I never really have been. In fact, I have a contrarian streak that actually makes me less likely to start a new, good habit on January 1. Like, I would want nothing more than to join a book group or take up a new sport and the possibility that it would look like a New Year’s resolution would probably be enough to put me off. I think that’s a character flaw.
I told Meredith at the time that one of the biggest barriers I have to writing in this space — this space right here — is the lack of reading. And what her post made realize was that I wasn’t talking so much about reading time and space, but the lack of a network of other digital writing to read. Back when this was the only real platform for sharing that now happens in a much more fragmented way, it was a rare week where I found nothing to think about in my networks.
(Or maybe it’s just because Google murdered Reader. I blame that for a lot of things).
But back then, when the writing was longer form, and my scanning happened once or twice a day on Google Reader (or del.icio.us) I made more choices about which rabbit holes I was going to go down. And I had more information to make those choices. My To Read pile was still out of control, and I was never caught up. Let’s not pretend it was different than it was. Still.
If there’s one thing Twitter is good for it’s pushing All the Things written by and recommended by All the Brilliant People right by my eyes and I have been feeling a kind of desperate desire to read all of those things for the last two years at least — a desperation that is really keeping me from sticking with anything long enough to do the reading I need to do.
So I think I need to slow down. To make some choices. To take a breath or two. When I say blogging like it’s 2005, that’s kind of what I mean. Be intentional about here, don’t write here, but mostly write here without trying to keep up with the conversations an the thoughts and the torrent of ideas that is going on elsewhere. I think sharing some of those choices here will let me feel more connected to them – and less like I should push them aside for the next thing and the next thing and the next. Here’s what I am going to try and focus on for the next few weeks:
These are directly related to stuff I am doing and working on.
The Art of Effective Facilitation – edited by Lisa Landreman. Ideally, I will start and finish this one this week, because it’s going to provide some grounding for a training I’m heading in to. Realistically …. we’ll see.
Intersectionality by Patricia Hill Collins and Sirma Bilge. I have been stalled out 2/3 of the way through this for a while, and since the pieces I have already read are already making their way into stuff I am writing, I think I need to buckle down. Ideally, I will have this one done by the end of the month.
Transformative Civic Engagement through Community Organizingby Maria Avila. This was recommended at a workshop/retreat I went to in November, by another one of the participants and I got my hands on it right away and loved it immediately. But I am still only ten pages in. Honestly, it’s really fast and really short – I could probably finish this in an afternoon. But I’m going to give myself an end of the month deadline for this as well.
I’ve also been thinking a lot about how much better I do with regular writing time. I’ve never been a “write for an hour every morning at five” type of person, and I have never successfully kept up a journal. Honestly, I’m pretty lousy in general at writing on a schedule. But I do better when I write regularly. My daughter has a sticker on her laptop that says “Write until the world makes sense” and for real, that’s what I’m missing when I don’t write — the chance to make sense of things.
I’ve tried a bunch of different ways to build that in to my regular work, and honestly, I’m not too happy with any of them. I don’t have a well-defined set of reasons why. But some of this has to do with public/private thinking.
Some of that sense making I need to do will honestly never be for public consumption, because that’s not the kind of work I need to do. Some of the sense making I need to do will only make more sense if I talk about it with others. I’m realizing that no matter what the platform, I don’t really want to the stuff in the first category in the cloud — in fact, most of that work isn’t even stuff I do well digitally.
But the stuff in the second category – I get some learning and thinking and sense making value when I write for an audience that I don’t get when I write for myself, or when I tweet, or when I bring up the same idea in four different meetings because it’s on my brain and needs to get out.
So that’s what I’m thinking. And that is what I am thinking of trying. I’m not resolving to do it, though, so let’s not call it a resolution.
I don’t know what it is about Veronica’s posts*, but they always include a thought, or a line, or even a snippet of something that either unlocks a new thought, or clarifies something I’ve been thinking and couldn’t articulate.
In this one today, it was this line —
“Our emails to our colleagues always start with, “This week is CRAZY busy,” or “I have so much to do,” or “I have meeting after meeting; class after class.” I recognize that some of these statements might be genuine venting. People are tired and they sometimes need to share their woes.“
Now, I’m sure some of you are thinking — um, yeah, what’s surprising about that? And I get that. I am kind of saying it too. See, this is about me. This line hit me right where I needed to be hit in the moment. I’ve read and thought a lot about these issues and questions, and about related issues and questions as these conversations have emerged and re-emerged over the years (in many fields and professions). I have a lot of thoughts, is what I am saying.
In this moment, something about this line and the way it was expressed made me step back and think about all of those thoughts and conversations together. Thoughts about the cultural issues that valorize overwork, and the ways that the messages we send, implicitly and explicitly, shape those cultures. Thoughts about performative or competitive busyness, and the ways that we reinforce that without (and with) intent to do so. Thoughts about structural and resource issues, about doing more with less. Thoughts about rigor and gatekeeping and mission and values, and about hegemonicassumptions and vocational awe (though that last not as usefully before Fobazi named it as after).
In all of the years that I’ve been thinking about these interlocking questions, I have focused on the parts, not the whole. I’ve been struggling with the parts a lot (where “a lot” means both frequently and intensely) this past year as a relatively new administrator and especially as someone doing that work in a constantly under-resourced and over-performing place. I mean, it’s a true fact that these questions are many of the reasons that I decided to continue in administration after my stint as a (rotating) department head was done — not because I had answers, but because I thought the questions needed answering and I wanted to be in a position to act on answers, that at least in some small ways pushed beyond the individual solutions we often end up with.
In the reality of management, though, all of these intersecting issues and questions create a tangled mess. I pull one thread, and the tangle unravels for a few yards and then reemerges and intensifies in another spot. And when I read Veronica’s post, it unsnarled some of those thoughts and that’s what I really want to talk about here. This is going to be interesting (to me at least). I’m talking about looking at a big issue more broadly, but about looking more broadly at my narrow experience. These issues matter for lots of reasons, they’re big and they’re snarly and they extend beyond libraries and beyond academia. They intersect with other big issues. And I’m going to be ignoring most of that for something that is specific, and grounded, and situated and about me and my relationship to these questions in this moment.
Finally, The Point
I realized recently, though I didn’t have the words, that one of the things I’ve been struggling with is seeing and feeling the difference between these different forms and drivers of busy. I’m experiencing these things in a space where trying to survive busy coexists with enthusiastic busy and switches off with overwhelmed and unhealthy busy and those all sit next to performative busy, and social busy and competitive busy. See – and this is important — the point is not that there is some busy that is real and some that is not.
All of these types of busy are real. They are. And all of them matter to the organization and all of them matter to me. But some of these issues are cultural and some are structural and there’s also a healthy intersect between cultural and structural, and as a manager I can have power and ability and positioning to change things but only if I understand what it is that I am changing. Because changing structures isn’t the same as changing culture and its unlikely that anything is wholly one or the other.
The types of busy that we might think of as performative or competitive, that are driven by a desire to meet expectations or align with norms — tacit, overt, assumed, experienced — get tangled together with the resource issues, the unexamined inequalities, the problematic reward structures. I’ve written here before about how helpful I find this idea: culture is what people do. When busy is what we do, when it’s the de facto answer to “how are you?” then it can be really hard to untangle those pieces that make the solutions way more complicated than “so do something else.”
I wouldn’t have thought this to be true, and maybe its down to being a beginner manager, but the issue is this — when the culture pushes us to busy and overwork, we can’t effect real change unless we deal with the underlying structures that shape the culture. But when the culture is like that, it makes it super hard to see those structures to change them — to see what they’re doing, what they do, to tease out and draw those connections in a useful way. It does. It really, really does. And here’s the other thing. I’m part of the problem, and I’m more of the problem as a manager and part of it because I am a manager.
I understand feeling the need to match the busy I see around me — to keep up with the accomplishment and productivity and — really — with the busy. Weirdly — or maybe not so weirdly — this feeling has only gotten stronger as I’ve moved into positions with more privilege and more power within the organization. Surrounded by people who do so much and succeed so hard and shine so bright, well, if I have a named professorship, or become department head or AUL, shouldn’t I be the busiest one of all? And I feel that and it comes out in the answers I give when people ask how I am. I emphasize the busy, the deadlines, the meetings and all of the tangible output of the work I do.
For sure, I do have those times when I am up against it. Sometimes it’s self-imposed and the result of too much yes. Sometimes it’s drop everything all hands on deck because the university says we have a fortnight to do three months’ worth of work. But a lot of the time, I’m not the busiest one in the room. I usually have a solid to-do list, but I also schedule time to read, to write, and to think. I don’t usually miss lunch. I go home and I have hours where I can knit, cook, eat, do laundry, and watch the Olympics. And I see almost fifty movies a year. In the theater. With my phone turned off.
So I became a manager in to have the power to effect change, but having that power has pushed me to behave in ways that entrench the culture that needs to be changed while it also obscures those structures that need to be changed to change the culture.
That’s a fun conundrum.
And it makes me wonder, when I talk to people about not trying to do more with less, or when the university talks about work-life balance, while at the same time we all answer every “how’s it going?” with “I have so much to do,” are we just giving people something else to feel inadequate about, or creating some other set of expectations that they have to perform to? I’ve noticed, as these issues have been raised by more and more people in more and more contexts (both in my library and out) that people are starting to put qualifiers on their statements of busy: “I know we’re all overworked,” “I don’t have more to do than _______, she’s REALLY busy,” or “I have four deadlines tomorrow, but it’s self-imposed, so that’s okay.”
(That last one is me. I said that.)
Of course, I am not saying we shouldn’t have those conversations, or that there’s no way to have those conversations without just swinging that pendulum wildly from one side to the other. I guess I am just musing on the challenges of moving these types of cultural conversations (conversations I value) in the workplace to where they need to be if the result is going to be meaningful, to dig into the structures, and to create the kind of change that requires trust.
Which brings me back to those feelings. I can start with myself, right? I can start when I’m not under the gun, under the wire, and needing to vent. I can start talking about the things that Veronica talks about when people ask me how things are going. I can be honest about not being the busiest person in the room. I can talk about reading and writing, even when I feel guilty that I have time for those things. I can talk about meeting deadlines and projects I enjoy and saying no and saying yes. And then, when the busy times inevitably come, I can talk about being busy in a way that maybe doesn’t send the implicit message that everyone else had better be busy too.
*So, obviously, I can’t wait to hear more about Veronica’s book deal.
Last summer I was observing a session of ACRL’s Immersion program. My purpose there was to observe the teaching as a future teacher, but as usual in the face of smart people with interesting things to say – my brain went to town on the content.
That idea of secret outcomes just grabbed my imagination and I had to share. It captured Dani’s imagination too and #stealthgoals was born.
To be honest, we think it’s partly because “stealth” is more fun to say than “secret.” And “goals” is definitely broader (and maybe therefore more interesting) than “outcomes.” Both of us came from the teaching and learning world, but we have also both recently taken on administrative and management responsibilities and let’s face it, #stealthgoals are just as interesting in that context. And things re much more likely to be “goals” than “outcomes” outside of teaching.
But a conversation earlier today, we also discussed whether one of the reasons that the concept resonated so immediately is tied to our experiences in that teaching role. In library instruction — and really in teaching and learning more broadly in higher ed — we are routinely pushed to think about our goals, our outcomes, our assessment from the students’ perspective, and to communicate that perspective directly to learners. And as librarians we have to spend a lot of time thinking about what that means for informal learning, for tutorials or point of need services, for learning spaces, and all of the other parts of our teaching lives that go beyond the traditional for-credit course.
And a whole lot of that is fine! When thoughtfully constructed and intentionally used, things like learning outcomes and rubrics are really great teaching tools, and really great communication tools. Some of our favorite conversations with colleagues and students alike have been sparked by the desire to really come to a shared understanding of why what we are doing matters.
But a little bit of it isn’t fine. Obviously, when it turns into a hoop-jumping exercise — when posting the outcomes becomes the goal, instead of a means to the goal — that can get disheartening. Maybe less obviously, though, we wonder if maybe sometimes we use that focus on the learner to avoid having the real conversations we need to have about our own agendas, priorities and values? Does it allow us to ignore questions and issues of power and our place in our organizations? And this is a question that’s come up in many contexts, throughout the library — it goes way beyond the classroom and the teaching and learning context. If we limit our vision to the things that we think our users (or learners or clients or investors or stakeholders) value — what do we miss? What falls outside of that frame?
And, as you can see, this is where our subsequent conversations about #stealthgoals have gone way beyond the description in the tweets linked above.
So we are thinking this might be an excellent topic for a panel of librarians, doing different work, and bringing different frames to discuss. Maybe in public? At some place like ACRL? If this sounds like a conversation you might want to have, let one of us know.
This week is kind of like the week before Christmas for me. But a Christmas where I am super excited and at the same time super nervous because I really like the presents I made for everyone and I hope they like them too.
(That might be a little too much truth about how I feel around gift-giving holidays. And about how much of myself, and of others, is present in these pages.)
So for those of you who like to shake the box or peek inside the bags — here’s a teaser.
That’s the introduction to the book that I’ve been working on (with lots of other amazing people) for almost three years now. It’s my attempt to capture what I think about the method and about our need for it (and methods like it) in LIS.
The book itself will be available sometime near the end of next week. It’s kind of a thing for something that’s been three years in the making to become real. I’m kind of having a believe it when I see it reaction. But there are some hints that it is going to be real — see, isn’t it pretty?
Lots of you know this has been a long time coming — we first talked about it in public, I think, at Online Northwest in the 2014 Snowpocalypse. I thought it might be fun to pull together all of the posts about it here:
This work has also been a part of a lot of the professional development workshops I’ve taught, and Hannah and I have taught, in the last five years. In fact, we’ll be teaching on this topic (and others) the day after tomorrow at Colorado Mountain College, and we’re very excited.
I don’t know if the world needs me to say this, but I think I do. Because this has been bothering me all day. Yesterday, I saw this on Facebook.
Do you see it? Do you see the problem?
I’m not going to link to the article itself, because my problem is not with the article or its author. In my quick read it felt like an authentic and honest story, and I think it being in the world will probably mean a lot to many, and this person telling her story is not what I’ve been thinking about all day. But this is a topic that cuts deep for many people and others might have real and meaningful problems with the article. On another day, I likely will too. But on this day, I want to keep the focus somewhere else.
No, my problem is with HuffPo and the framing. This is not the true reality behind adopting a child. It may be true, it may capture and share and communicate truths shared by many, but it is not the true reality. It is one of many true realities — one of many stories.
It’s not my reality. It’s not my story.
But that’s fine. That’s not the point. What is the point? The point is that we don’t need the true reality. We need lots of realities. Lots of stories. More stories.
You’re adopting? What country is she from?*
Full disclosure – this makes me mad on a personal level. I think my anger goes beyond that, but this caught my eye and stuck in my brain because it’s personal to me. I am an adoptive parent, and when I met my daughter she was 11 years old and in foster care. Since that day, I’ve become increasingly aware that a lot of people have personal experiences with this kind of adoption — and hardly any of them ever tell those stories in public.
A big part of that (I think) is that these stories are not just ours. My story also belongs to my daughter, to the people in her other families, and to all of the people who connected with her and loved her and invested themselves in her future. And while all of those people have a right to their stories, when it comes to my daughter and hers, it’s different. The stakes are high. Children in foster care quickly learn that their stories are only partly their own, that they don’t get to decide when those stories are told and when they’re not. They don’t get to protect their stories, to define them or choose which pieces to share the same way that they would if they were not in the system. In many cases, their stories are tied to getting protections and resources and safety, making the choices even less their own.
So making sure our daughter knows that her experiences are not mine to share is paramount. If this weren’t something we’ve talked about again and again, and if I needed to share any part of her story that is not already part of her public identity to say this — I wouldn’t be saying it now. Even if she told me I could. And I think many people in my situation feel the same way.**
Which is necessary and important, but means that these adoption stories are rarely told. And they’re rarely told while other stories — about infant adoption, private adoption, open adoption, family adoption and international adoption — are.
It’s not like there is no narrative about my experience out there. We all know the stereotypes about older child or foster care adoption. When we shared that we were planning to take this path, the same fears came up over and over and over and over. Some were grounded in some kind of experience (my cousin’s first husband had an adopted daughter and I think it was really hard). Others were worse, and grounded in nothing specific. It got to the point where we didn’t share very widely because it was just too difficult to respond to negative and intrusive assumptions from acquaintances or friends of friends.
If there were more stories, sharing more experiences and more truths, this would start to change. I do believe that. This — the importance of stories and reflections on experience — is also something I think about a lot (and have especially been thinking about a lot lately). These aren’t new or unique thoughts. And they’ve been brought to the forefront and expressed better than I ever could — #weneeddiversebooks and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, to name just a few.
We tend to on one level focus on the importance of narrative and simultaneously undercut it on another. On the first level, we accept that we use story to organize and make sense of the world. We get that we use story to communicate and to collaborate. We talk about the importance of stories in developing empathy and connections with the world. I mean, we even talk about the importance of story in instrumental ways — like in assessment and “sharing our value.”
But at the same time, on that other level, we don’t trust that our stories have value for what they are. We hold up generalizability as the gold standard of inquiry. News outlets entice clicks with exposés that deliver “the real story.” We focus our highest praise on fiction that captures universal truth. And that is what bothers me so much about seeing this on my Facebook all day.
Providing a platform for people to share their experiences honestly and reflectively is a good thing. But it’s not a good thing because it’s a way to get a scoop. Qualitative research isn’t valuable because it’s sampled and significant and generalizable, and HuffPo didn’t find the answer to this question so no one else has to ask it. We don’t need to find the universal experience, the real story, the true reality. What we need is more.
*My daughter is from the United States. Just like most adopted children in the U.S. are. Public agency and international adoptions account for about half of the adoptions in the U.S. every year. The other half includes lots of things — step-parent adoption, adoption by relatives, private agency adoption, etc. — and most of those also involve children from here. Only about 15% of children in the U.S. are adopted from other countries, and this number has been dropping. Still, this is almost everyone’s assumption when they hear we adopted. This is likely a result of many factors, including our age, education and income bracket, but I think it also illustrates how skewed the public conversation about adoption is.
**I’m not sure the author of the essay does, which is another reason I didn’t link to it. She has a blog where she talks about these issues too, and I don’t read that so I really don’t know what her attitude or policies are about privacy. That’s what I mean by on another day, I might be focused on something else. Plus, you’re all librarians so if you who want to find it you will.
Which probably means I shouldn’t publish it. But I made a mess of things on Twitter last night, talking to a friend about an issue with a context I didn’t understand in a way that was guaranteed to be misunderstood.
And I totally understand how I was misunderstood – it’s entirely my own fault. She mentioned some conversations she’d heard or read from new graduates talking about burnout and impostor syndrome and my mind went to different conversations I’ve had with new librarians over the years and made connections. But since I was talking about a different situation where new librarians rarely have direct experience, it seemed obvious that I was saying new librarians couldn’t have had real experience with impostor syndrome and burnout. Like, totally, glaringly obvious. Like I have no excuse obvious.
My only excuse for being so wrong is that I honestly can’t imagine believing that burnout and impostor syndrome aren’t experienced in graduate school, professional transitions or new workplaces. They have been a huge part (directly or indirectly) of every graduate program (and undergraduate) program, every job search, every career change I’ve ever been a part of.
My experience was different, however, in the conversations. When I was in grad school in the 90’s and library school in the oughts, these things weren’t talked about. At least not in spaces where people could hear.We didn’t have names for those experiences; we didn’t have a vocabulary to talk about them. And we really didn’t have a vocabulary that overlapped and connected with other conversations going on within the profession. Burnout or impostor syndrome weren’t being discussed by established professionals either.* And when the issues were discussed, it was in the context of a necessary rite of passage — “we did it, you should too.”
So the fact that it’s being discussed in such a way that new librarians have that vocabulary to talk about it could be a positive – it could mean it’s being tackled in a meaningful, important way by institutions – but that’s where my own experiences make me worried. About the implicit and explicit messages we send as a profession.
See, my brain went to lots of conversations I’ve had over the years about working with faculty and campus partners. When I was in library school the idea that librarians have to constantly deal with faculty indifference was a frequent narrative.It was a narrative that I ignored – having been faculty in a prior life I knew that I would not have been indifferent and I assumed that there were people like me still out there. But when I started hearing it from new librarians in job talks, in practice interviews and in capstone projects — I started to get really angry. Not because these librarians were expecting to have these challenges, but because the solutions they’d been given were so incredibly problematic.
They were all individual — the narrative was that faculty are inherently, always indifferent no matter where you go and no matter where you are, and it’s ALL ON YOU to solve the problem. Which of course you can’t do, because the problem isn’t an individual problem. Still, everything was always grounded in individual action, individual connections. They would talk about strategies like taking cookies over to their departments on the first day of every term, or delivering a welcome gift to all new faculty. They’d invite said new faculty out for coffee, join the campus gym to make connections.There’s nothing wrong with any of those strategies — but they don’t solve a problem that is structural. They basically accept that problem as inevitable, and advise the librarian to figure out a way to survive within that structure.
You scratch the surface of that “faculty indifference” narrative and there are issues of power, issues of culture — things that can’t be solved on an individual level.And when we put all of the responsibility on the individual when we are in institutions have some control over how we define success, how we advocate collectively, that’s accepting that the problem is inevitable. These things are choices that we make, and those of us who have privilege have an extra responsibility to own those choices. Putting all of that on the shoulders of individuals really, really made me angry. And putting all of that on the shoulders of librarians brand new to the profession, really, really made me sad.
And when I started noticing it in that area, I started noticing it in others. Librarians taking on so much individual responsibility for situations that reflect institutional inequalities, structural factors and cultural practices. When I started working deeply on reflective practice and critical reflection — that was why. I heard so many stories from librarians taking individual responsibility for things that also needed to be fought at another level.
So when I heard Merinda say that new librarians were talking about burnout and impostor syndrome, my brain went back to those librarians who were set up from the start to climb Sisyphus’ mountain with faculty collaborations, not to the specific conversations she was addressing. I said then that I thought that impostor syndrome and burnout were different than the infolit example — and they are – especially in how they are experienced.
My experience or worldview doesn’t say that new librarians can’t have experience with impostor syndrome or burnout. It says that one of the messages they are likely getting (implicitly or directly) from those who have been in the profession is that those things are inevitable — an inherent part of graduate school, of working in the public sector, of being an academic — and that the responsibility for finding strategies to survive those conditions is on them.
I agree with Sarah, whose efforts to reach out to me while I was dealing with the emotions of this were so appreciated, there is a broader professional conversation countering that individualist narrative, and thatMaria Accardi’s blog and burnout project is a shining example of what that can be.
*I do wonder if shared vocabulary sometimes obfuscates too – when someone tells me today that their job hunt was a nightmare, I can be 100% honest and say mine was too. But that doesn’t mean our experiences were the same.
Hang on to your seats, folks – this is going to be a long one…
The learning community supporting the book I am co-editing (examining autoethnography as a research method in LIS) has been working for about two months now, and we’re heading into the second phase of our work. Phase One was a learning phase, where we read and discussed things, raised issues and questions, and thought about what was, for most of us, pretty new territory.
Phase Two will still include all of those things, but is also heading into more doing – more data gathering, remembering, sketching, noting, describing, sharing, and … many more things.
We had far more applicants for the learning community than would fit into the the book and when we made those tough choices we committed to sharing our process. Now, I don’t mean sharing our discussions — this is an individual and personal method to learn about and it’s important that our learning environment stay safe for all. But I do want to share the starting points.
The discussions were broken into three sections, with readings and other resources for each. The first, What is Autoethnography?, was a bit of a free for all. Everyone read a different selection of these readings. The second, Ethics and the third, Getting Started, were more focused — at least in our starting points. We spent two weeks on each. Here are the 3 sections, with the discussion questions/ readings we considered. I also compiled a list of all of the resources that people recommended to each other as the discussions progressed.
There are a number of responses to this article in the same journal – Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 35, no. 4 (2006).
Anderson has some critique for this article himself in this piece: Anderson, Leon & Glass-Coffin, Bonnie (2013). I Learn by Going: Autoethnographic Modes of Inquiry. Handbook of Autoethnography. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press.
Wall, Sarah. Autoethnography: Possibility and Controversy (YouTube)
Ellis C. & Bochner, A. “Autoethnography, Personal Narrative, Reflexivity: Researcher as Subject.”Handbook of Qualitative Research. 2nd edition. Eds. Norman K. Denzin & Yvonna S. Lincoln. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications, 2000: 733-768.
Carolyn Ellis & Arthur Bochner. Presented at the Fourth Israeli Interdisciplinary Conference of Qualitative Research (YouTube)
Discussion Topic: Writing the Reflexive Self
This is an example of AE using fiction. It’s in this “What is AE?” section because the author engaged in a published conversation about that topic with other scholars in his field (nursing).
Grant, A. “Writing the Reflexive Self: An Autoethnography of Alcoholism and the Impact of Psychotherapy Culture.” Journal of Psychiatric & Mental Health Nursing 17, no. 7 (September 2010): 577–82. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2850.2010.01566.x.
Nigel Short and Alex Grant wrote a response, Written as a conversation. (Link goes to ResearchGate and includes full-text): “Burnard (2007): autoethnography or a realist account?.” Journal Of Psychiatric & Mental Health Nursing 16, no. 2 (March 2009): 196-198. DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2850.2008.01348.x
Finally, Burnard responds. (Link to PubMed, no full text): “A reply to Short and Grants’ paper: ‘Burnard (2007): autoethnography or a realist account?’.” Journal Of Psychiatric & Mental Health Nursing 16, no. 7 (September 2009): 670-671. DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2850.2009.01430.x.
Discussion Topic: Examples of the Form
Stanley, Phiona. “Writing the PhD Journey (s) An Autoethnography of Zine-Writing, Angst, Embodiment, and Backpacker Travels.” Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 2014, 0891241614528708. (paywalled)
Sparkes, A. C. “The Fatal Flaw: A Narrative of the Fragile Body-Self.”Qualitative Inquiry 2, no. 4 (1996): 463-94. DOI: 10.1177/107780049600200405 (paywalled)
Sobre-Denton, Miriam Shoshana. (2012). “Stories from the Cage: Autoethnographic Sensemaking of Workplace Bullying, Gender Discrimination, and White Privilege.” Journal of Contemporary Ethnography. DOI: 10.1177/0891241611429301 (paywalled).
Richardson Jr, John V. (2010). “History of American Library Science: Its Origins and Early Development.” Encyclopedia of Library and Information Sciences (3rd Ed.) DOI: 10.1081/E-ELIS3-120043738 (PDF)
John Durham Peters (2014). “What is Knowledge For?” Carroll C. Arnold Distinguished Lecture of the National Communication Association (PDF)
Kincheloe, Joe, Peter McLaren & Shirley R. Steinberg. (2011). “Critical Pedagogy, and Qualitative Research: Moving to the Bricolage.” in Sage Handbook of Qualitative Research. Norman K. Denzin & Yvonna S. Lincoln, Eds. (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage). 163-178.
Discussion Topic: Foundational Guidelines for Autoethnographers
We identified this as the starting place for this week – so everyone would have the same basic knowledge to draw upon.
In this unit, we also discussed some relevant scenarios to get at some of the ethical issues from different perspectives. Here they are:
Researcher A is doing a traditional ethnographic study. She is examining the experiences of librarians enrolled in the Immersion program as a participant-observer. Her study has gone through the IRB process, and each of her participants has signed an informed consent form. In the course of her data gathering, one of her participants shares a very specific story about a toxic work environment, where many of the details are about her (the participant’s) supervisor.
Researcher B is doing an autoethnographic study of her effort to build an instruction program at her library. Part of her story relates to her work environment, which she has come to believe negatively affected her experience. Her experience building the program was affected in many ways by her supervisor.
DISCUSS: What is each researcher’s responsibility to the supervisor being described as toxic? How are they the same? How are they different? Are there other factors that would shape or affect your answer
Researcher A wants to do an autoethnographic analysis of his experience as an abuse survivor. He cannot see any way to share his story/lived experience while keeping his abuser’s identity confidential, since identifying his relationship with his abuser would immediately identify them.
DISCUSS: What is his ethical obligation in this situation? Is he obligated to get informed consent? Are there additional factors that might affect your thoughts on this scenario?
Researcher A is doing an autoethnographic study of their lived experience on the job market — an experience that was largely negative. The job search experience coincided with a struggle with depression and anxiety. This researcher knows that engaging in autoethnography will require them to relive some of those experiences.If Researcher A did a traditional study and observed that the study was having a negative impact on a participant’s mental health, they would take steps to eliminate that harm. In this case, the researcher and participant are the same.
DISCUSS: What is Researcher A’s ethical obligation to themselves as a research subject?
Michels, D. H. (2010). The Place of the Person in LIS Research: An Exploration in Methodology and Representation/La place de la personne dans la recherche en bibliothéconomie et en sciences de l’information: exploration des méthodologies et des représentations. Canadian Journal of Information and Library Science, 34(2), 161-183.
Polkinghorne, S. (2014, March). Come Sail Away with Me: Harnessing Auto-ethnographic Observations to Inform a Multi-method Study of Librarians’ Reflections on Teaching. In Proceedings of the Annual Conference of CAIS/Actes du congrès annuel de l’ACSI.