Grieving an Identity

Image of a stenciled girl in black letting go of a red heart balloonPhoto by Karim Manjra on Unsplash

After three years at the University of California Merced, I returned to Merced College in August, though to the main campus in Merced instead of Los Baños. It has not been an easy transition. My work / life balance is much better (I get winter, spring, and summer break again), but the problem is that I don’t what to do with myself. When folks ask me what I’m up to, I, frankly, don’t have much to say because, for so long, work has been my identity. In trying to make peace between the life I thought I wanted and this new trajectory, I haven’t been the easiest person to be around. Managing my anxiety and depression has been difficult. I am grieving.

I had imagined a life where I would be working on research and writing articles and book chapters, maybe even co-editing a book or two.  Even though research wasn’t necessarily required at UC, I knew I would be part of a network of librarians engaged in this kind of work. When I was a solo community college librarian, I got involved in ACRL committee work, and it exposed me to folks doing great things in the profession. I felt less isolated. Slow but sure, my confidence grew. I continued this work at UC Merced. I finally got the courage to submit lightning talk proposals, and I actually presented at a few conferences, even though I didn’t feel like what I was sharing was groundbreaking. I even wrote a couple of short trade pieces.

In early 2018, as I was preparing for a two year review (for 18-months of work), I felt, strangely, unaccomplished. I was doing things but not THE THINGS. I was constantly busying myself and worrying about my review. Honestly, coming across Abby Flanigan’s blog post, “Vocational Awe and Professional Identity,” which was about Fobazi Ettarh’s article, “Vocational Awe and Librarianship: The Lies We Tell Ourselves,” made me realize that I had turned my job into a lifestyle. I had pushed myself, and I got the standard merit increase, which is the norm at UC, but when I learned that a colleague who wrote a book also got a standard review, I knew I couldn’t continue this pace. Ultimately, I had to ask myself whether this professional activity was actually that important.

But I am sad. I was able to grow as a teacher at UC Merced, and I learned a lot from my colleagues and from various professional development opportunities. I enjoyed our instructional brown bag sessions and various projects. I’m a better librarian because of my time there.

I know this change doesn’t mean that I can’t do some of those things I had previously imagined, but I also know that I want a life that isn’t consumed by the next best thing in academic librarianship. Though I will probably always be a bit of a workaholic, I want to lead a healthier life.

I’m currently on winter break, so I’ll be taking time to figure some things out.

UC Librarian Review Process

On June 1st, I celebrated my two-year anniversary at UC Merced. Almost a week later, I also received the final packet for my first review.

While librarians in the California State University and California Community College systems are faculty, librarians in the University of California system are not faculty but are academic personnel. Our review process and criteria for advancement do highlight the academic nature of our positions. You can read more about UC librarians’ performance criteria and the review and appraisal process in the Academic Personnel Manual (APM), sections 360-10 and 210-4e.

We are evaluated in a peer review process every two years for those who are in the assistant and associate range or every three years for those who are full librarians. I was hired as an associate librarian with potential for career status. Because I started on June 1, 2016, it meant that I could have a review at 1.5 or 2.5 years as the process is based on calendar years (January-December). I was really worried about my output with the shortened time frame, but I was able to add a note that my review reflected 18 months of work. My supervisor also encouraged me to go through with the earlier review, so that’s, ultimately, why I decided to go ahead. But I was really nervous when I received my review notice at the end of November.

I was asked to provide the contact information of three people who could write letters of evaluation based on some aspect of my work in the last 18 months. For the letters, I asked the chair of a committee I served on from the Librarians Association of the University of California (LAUC); a colleague from an Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) committee I serve on; and a writing faculty member at UC Merced whose classes I have taught for a few times. While I didn’t see these letters until the very end of the review process, it helped to know I picked folks I trust.

In early February, I also submitted my current curriculum vitae, current and former job descriptions (an adjustment was made from Instruction Librarian to Instruction and Outreach Librarian in March 2017), goal statements, organizational chart, and my self-review. The self-review:

…consist[s] of a concise, vita-style enumeration of accomplishments keyed to the criteria […] specified by APM 360-10, followed by a narrative discussion of three of the most significant items within APM 360-10 b. (1) and three of the most significant items within APM 360-10 b. (2), (3), and (4).

I listed key accomplishments related to my professional competence and service within the library (A), professional growth and continuing professional education (B), university and library-related public service (C), and research/creative works (D). In the narrative, I also had to discuss three major items related to A, which signals my main job duties. I also had to discuss three other major items related to any combination of B, C, or D.

I was really pleased and a bit taken aback by my supervisor’s response to the documentation I turned in. It wasn’t so much her recommendation that I receive a merit increase and career status but what she wrote about my work. I and so many others in the library and on campus deeply respect her, and a colleague and I half-joke that we feel like we constantly fail her. She wrote five single-sided pages and included this:

It is already evident, from her liaison and outreach work, that Lindsay has made the library, its people, services, and resources more visible to some of our campus constituents. She has successfully started some collaborations and set the groundwork for future partnerships. Overall, I have been impressed with Lindsay’s initiative in reaching out to a variety of campus individuals and believe her endeavors directly support the library’s strategic focus (2017-2020) to engage the community.

[She and I both discovered that I’m not actually eligible for career status because my review came before I was employed for 24 months. Our Associate University Librarian (AUL) pulled me into a quick meeting to explain the error, but all it means is that I will receive career status during my review in 2020. (I still got the merit increase, though. Huzzah!)]

After signing off the initial recommendation, my supervisor submitted all of my documentation, including her narrative and my letters of evaluation, to the Committee on Appointment, Promotion, and Advancement (CAPA). The CAPA consists of my librarian colleagues at UC Merced, minus my supervisor, AUL, Deputy University Librarian (DUL), and University Librarian (UL). The CAPA then looks over all of the documentation and decides whether to agree or disagree with the recommendation, and the chair writes a letter to the UL with the committee’s decision. The UL then writes a letter with his recommendation to the Provost. The Provost then writes a letter back to me with the final decision. I received my letter in the final packet, which the UL went over with me.

This was also the first time I read the letters of evaluation, CAPA letter, and the UL’s letter. I have so much self-doubt, especially since I started my career in an isolated branch campus of a community college, but reading their feedback has made me feel really good and inspired me to continue to do good work for our students, campus, and profession.

I also learned something new about myself from the review: I’m quite relational. The CAPA letter specifically notes, “…[These activities] all speak to her collegiality, collaboration, and support for the success of others that characterize her professional endeavors.” I don’t think I had ever realized this, at least to this degree. Just like I do with thank you cards, I’ll be keeping this review packet near when I need a boost.

I also learned that I am pretty old-school when it comes to keeping track of my work. I have tried a variety of apps and online programs, and, ultimately, what works for me is to look at my color-coded Outlook calendar at the end of every month for classes and workshops I’ve given and webinars I have attended and note them down in Word / Google Docs. I also keep track of major projects in a planner, so I can see what I worked on every week, though I am not always good about filling it out. Last month, I realized that I could just simply start the document that I will be turning in for my review in 2020. I set it up with the headings I will eventually need, and it’s been going well so far, especially for the sections related to professional development and research/creative works. If you’re a UC librarian, here’s the basic template I am using, which can be downloaded and adjusted to fit your needs: bit.ly/uclib_review_template

If you are new to the UC librarian review process, don’t panic. Your colleagues who have been through the process will be happy to share tips. And when you get back your successful review, please celebrate and take joy in what your colleagues within and outside the library and your campus had to say about your work.

Stat Lit & Other Small Writing

Although I finished graduate school six years ago this week, and I have been working as a full-time professional librarian for four years, I’m still a new librarian. However, now that my role is more specific, I feel more confident about spending most of my professional time and energy in instruction and outreach. I actually a couple of small pieces of writing in these areas this year, and I also have another couple of pieces coming out this spring.

I didn’t intend to set and meet any writing goals in 2017, partly because I struggle with selecting topics (the irony is that I help students with this) and partly because I thought that if I even expressed it in my goals statement, I’d jinx myself. But, somehow, I found things to write about on a small scale. Just recently, a colleague from Immersion tweeted a post about writing from The Librarian Parlor. In “‘I Wish I had Known That!’ Advice from the Field, A Librarian Parlor Series,” guest contributor Alison Hicks‘ first bit of advice for reluctant writers is to start small, from book reviews to reporting on professional development activities. Her post was very encouraging, and, if you’re newer to writing like I am, I hope you’ll be inspired by her advice. Starting small has been very liberating for me because it’s low-pressure.

In June, Lynda Kellam (who is awesome and was not at all bothered that a newbie librarian cold emailed to ask for help!) and I published “Keeping Up With…Statistical Literacy.” Keeping Up With… is an ACRL series focused on “trends in academic librarianship and higher education.” Last December, I was doing some reading on statistical literacy while researching lesson plans related to statistics and government information. I hope to one day be able to collaborate with a faculty member to create a lesson on statistical literacy for a class or do some more work in this area. (Um, and the world’s statistical literacy guru actually reached out to us about our little piece. It was super exciting!)

This year, I’m serving as co-convener of ACRL’s Library Marketing and Outreach Interest Group. In December, my fellow co-conveners and I published a short bibliography of free and low-cost marketing resources, including our brand-new LibGuide, in College & Research Libraries News. Check out “Marketing for the Beginner: Resources from the ACRL Library marketing and Outreach Interest Group.” The guide is linked in the article. We hope folks will find it useful and continue to contribute to the guide.

College and Research Libraries News

When I was about to transition to my new position at UC Merced, I submitted a chapter proposal for the Library Outreach Cookbook, which is part of a series of bite-sized ideas for librarians. This spring, I learned that my proposal, “Pass Me Smore Books, Please! Promoting New Print Library Books at a Small Community College Library,” was accepted for publication. I submitted the final draft this summer, and the book should be out in February 2018.

I’m also working on reviewing Video Marketing for Libraries: A Practical Guide for Librarians for Public Services Quarterly. It’s due in February.

Video Marketing for Libraries: A Practical Guide for Librarians

I’d like to set some other writing goals for 2018, but I’m pretty pleased to have taken the plunge in 2017.