A call to action for your mental health, whatever it might be

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#LISmentalhealth week is in February. In the past, I’ve been around but not really present to it. I am no stranger to mental health challenges, both my own and other’s, but I haven’t felt ready to talk about my challenges, and other’s stories aren’t mine to tell.

But then this year happened. It had some really great parts, but it was one of the hardest years of my life, and it came on the heels of another very challenging year. So, basically, it’s been a few years, and it’s been rough. Among the many other things that have contributed to this recent hard patch, my physical health has taken a serious beating. The high points of that battle include a seriously restrictive therapeutic diet, a recurrence of Epstein-Barr (my second in 5 years), and an emergency appendectomy that led to a few previously undiscovered drug allergies. My mental health reached a low point right around the time of #lismentalhealth week this year. I serendipitously found Jen Gotch’s emotional rating system and identified strongly with the numbers at the lower end, which prompted me to seek help. I overcame what felt like nearly insurmountable challenges (my sick mind and my sick body) to find a therapist, and I spoke with my doc about medication options. I started taking 5HTP, an OTC seratonin precursor. I started therapy. I serendipitously listened to an episode of On Being called The Soul in Depression and from there read parts of Andrew Solomon’s The Noonday Demon. As my therapist notes, my way of understanding the world is through my intellect. I started to feel better.

And then this spring Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain killed themselves. The public rhetoric surrounding suicide goes something like this: “If you’re sad just reach out for help. People want to help you. *hotline phone numbers*.” It enrages me. Surely, the heart of the rhetoric is true as far as it goes, but it completely misses the point. First of all, deeply depressed people aren’t sad, not really. My own, relatively mild, experience with depression is reflected in Andrew Solomon’s definition of depression:

It’s an experience, I think, overall, of finding the most ordinary parts of life incredibly difficult: finding it difficult to eat, finding it difficult to get out of bed, finding it difficult and painful to go outside; being afraid all of the time and being overwhelmed all the time. And frequently, it’s quite a sad experience to be afraid and overwhelmed all the time; nonetheless, those are the essential qualities of it. It isn’t, I think, primarily an experience of sadness.

And secondly, what would you have people do who can’t afford longterm help, or whose health insurance has run out and therefore can’t continue treatment? The pleas to find help transfer the responsibility of finding help to the depressed, in the exact moment when picking up the phone feels most impossible. The rhetoric isn’t wrong, it’s just unhelpful, and it displays a systematic misunderstanding of mental health.

There’s plenty of political lobbying we could and should do surrounding mental health, and just health in general. My feelings about the US healthcare system are complicated. Frankly, many of them are extremely angry. Until recently, I hadn’t sorted through those feelings to feel like I had something I wanted to say about #lismentalhealth, but in light of my year(s), and with Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain as my catalyst, I have something to say about it today. It’s this:

  • Treat your mental health like you treat your physical health. Get it checked regularly.
  • Find a therapist you trust and establish a relationship while you’re feeling fine(ish).
  • Make a promise to yourself to go to for a regular checkup with your therapist, whether this is every 6 months or more frequently.
  • Keep your promise.
  • Tell others about your mental health maintenance.
  • When/if you move, treat setting up your therapist the same way you treat the necessity of finding a general practitioner and dentist. It is equally important.

I’m not naive enough to think this is a perfect solution, but it is something. This is mental wellness maintenance, a support of continuing health for the healthy. It’s not sexy, and it doesn’t come with a triumphant story. It’s decidedly work-a-day, but it would be transformative for our culture if even 50% of the population did this. Why not you?

For those with health insurance, many workplaces offer an Employee Assistance Program, which covers a certain number of sessions with a mental health worker per year. Both at my previous place of employment (with really marginal health insurance) and at my current place of employment (with really excellent health insurance), I was covered for 6 sessions per year. Use them, and the maintenance of your mental health will cost you no more out of pocket than your yearly physical and bi-yearly dental cleaning. Because this I know: When you most need a therapist it will be most impossible to overcome your mental state to find one. Find one now, and you’ll have someone to call when you really need it. Treat your mental health like you treat your physical health. Get it checked regularly and don’t hide the maintenance from others.

Thank you

thank you

We say thank you to people out of courtesy and genuine gratitude, but how often do we put our gratitude in writing? Sure, you probably send a card when grandma sends a little something for you or the kiddo. But do you do it in your professional life?

One thing I’m working on adding to my professional practice is saying thank you more often. Crafting a precise, heartfelt message takes practice, but it is a practice I’m happy to work on. I’ve been trying to give personal, heartfelt thanks in person but I’m realizing as I’ve been on the receiving end of a few thank you notes this year that having it in writing can mean so much more. Written words can be brought out on a rainy day and enjoyed over and over again. From a purely opportunistic perspective, written words of thanks can be included in tenure dossiers.

I keep both an email folder and a physical folder to save things like this in my office. You can tuck them away until you really need them, and then, lo! A whole stack of thanks for a needy heart! I’ve also started stocking my desk with inexpensive thank you notes, ready and waiting. You can usually find stuff like this in the dollar spot at Target or Michael’s. And, of course, an email works too, but without the fun of new stationary.

And for the parents among you: One of my favorite mom-hacks is to purchase blank card stock and have my toddler draw all over it. Sometimes I add a little something extra to signify the season (heart stickers for Valentine’s for example) and then send it out with a note inside. This works for thank yous or any other holiday real or imagined that you could dream up. It’s as simple or complicated as you make it, and it’s a big hit with grandparents or other doting adults.

I challenge you. Send a thank you to someone deserving today. It takes 5 minutes but the benefits last much longer.

YES, BOTH, AND

Both-And

I’m always interested to go to LOEX. One of the most valuable benefits I find from this conference is often the push to better understanding my own thoughts and feelings about a given topic. Usually, there’s a presentation I can’t stop thinking about, even (especially?) when I don’t agree with what’s being said.

This year, the session I can’t stop thinking about was Eamon Tewell’s The Problem with Grit: Dismantling Deficit Models in Information Literacy Instruction. Tewell had a well-argued point that the pervasive theories of grit and growth mindset (as espoused by Angela Duckworth and Carol Dweck, respectively) place the responsibility for learning at the individual level without regard for the “systemic forces (that) control individual behavior.” Mindset, he says, doesn’t provide resources. Without resources, all the positive thinking in the world won’t get you far if it “require(s) students to adapt to a broken system.” This is, unsurprisingly, a call for the application of critical pedagogy.

In his rhetoric, Tewell suggests that passion and perseverance are less than social structures. The individual can’t swim upstream against the power and pressure of the group. While I wholeheartedly agree that social structures, institutions, and systems are often broken and often do not serve the individual, I do not agree that individual agency makes no difference in the “success and achievement” equation.

I do not see the concepts of grit and growth mindset as being at odds with the asset-based pedagogy Tewell advocated for towards the end of his presentation. These concepts as examples of deficit mindset, he says, are focused on “fixing” what is “wrong” with the individual, rather than fixing what is wrong with institutions. I would argue that victimizing the individual by telling them that they are powerless to overcome broken systems is the original deficit mindset. And yet, this approach does not directly fix a broken system, so I maybe I’m teaching deficit models by default? Somewhat unsurprising, I suppose, given that I taught Mindset by Carol Dweck in First Year Seminar.

While I do not agree with disregarding concepts of grit and growth mindset comprehensively, I can wholeheartedly get on board with the concepts of asset-based pedagogy. I have worked for many years to advocate for dismantling deficit models of information literacy education in my institutions. Part of this work involves repeatedly reminding myself and others that students are not ignorant, empty vessels waiting to be filled with our expert knowledge, but instead people who know things that they can contribute to the classroom. When we begin an instruction session with what students can do rather than what they can’t do, we are not only getting at information literacy but also at metaliteracy, all while empowering them to use the knowledge they already have as groundwork for new information. This focus on can instead of can’t is the core of asset-based pedagogy.

One of the things I’m working on in my personal life is the “AND” principle – holding more than one thought or feeling together at the same time. For example, our transition to a new living situation this year has been really hard AND it has been an amazing opportunity. I’m sad that my son is no longer a baby AND I’m excited for what comes next for him.

And so, I’m wondering if we can apply the “AND” principle to these discussions surrounding the role of individuals and institutions. Can we say that an individual’s belief in the his/her power to grow, learn, and change is a critical component in the ability to grow, learn, and change AND that having a great mindset isn’t always (usually?) enough to overcome broken systems and social structures? Can we say that perseverance is the main predictor of long-term achievement AND that perseverance alone won’t help a human grow wings any time in the near future?

Here’s what I know from my own experience. All the positive thinking in the world won’t make much difference without access to good medical care; however, access to good medical care won’t make a difference without the perseverance to commit to treatment. In music school we used to say, “Work beats talent when talent doesn’t work,” and yet, all the work I put in didn’t magically launch me past all of the brokenness of modern classical music. But neither would fixing what’s broken with the system have made a difference if I hadn’t put in the work.

So I guess what I’m saying is YES, BOTH, AND. Growth mindset AND asset-based pedagogy. Improving the individual AND improving the institution. Can we have BOTH?

AND also, maybe, sometimes, your house doesn’t need renovating.

So thanks, Eamon Tewell, for pushing me to push back. It was worth the trip to Houston.

P. S. For more thoughts on this presentation, you can read Veronica’s take on academia’s emphasis on text, another great mind-bender from this presentation.

Words Matter

words matter

When I started working in libraries, I realized pretty quickly that I did not resonate with the words the libraries choose to describe the people who use libraries. Customer, client, patron, user, none of them seemed to me to be an accurate representation of the relationship between libraries and people. When I started working at Paul Smith’s College, I started using the word “community,” which had the resonance I was seeking and which helped direct so much of the thinking behind the work I did there. So I guess you could say that I’ve been writing an essay in my head on the topic for the last 6 years.

A few months ago, I decided to put that essay down on paper, and this month it was published in C&RL News. I’m extremely proud of the essay, but I feel as though I’ve just scratched the surface of the issue. There was more I wanted to say but which didn’t fit the format. I want to continue this conversation about the words we use in libraries and the ways that they do or do not serve us and the underlying currents they mask. I’d love to know what you think and notice at your own institutions.

Primary Sources and Information Literacy

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My colleagues recently published an article in Library Journal about the Primary Sources Immersion Program which was hosted by IUB Libraries shortly after I arrived on campus. This program is fantastic – and continuing! I can’t take much credit for the Immersion Program itself since I had been on campus for about two weeks when it began, but I can take credit for the rubric mentioned in the article.

The rubric was designed as a way to assess primary source literacy in a particular course participating in the PSIP. I based the rubric on the SAA/RBMS Guidelines for Primary Source Literacy. While the rubric does not explicitly address the skills present in the Framework, I believe that this rubric can be mapped to the Framework and can be used to assess information literacy at the same time at the same time as primary source literacy.

I don’t have results from using the rubric just yet, but I’m working on a few other projects that may use a similar approach. I’m curious. Have you done anything like this?

A Searching Story

Stick with me, here:

Recently, I went looking for a book. I was looking for it to use for a book chapter proposal, but I treated this as an opportunity to closely observe how this kind of thing might work from the point of view of someone using the library. Being still fairly new in my current job, I still have this kind of authentic perspective, for a little while longer anyway.

The book is Indiana University Libraries, 1829-1942, and it isn’t a book. Properly, it’s a dissertation by a woman named Mildred Hawksworth Lowell who was completing her degree in the Graduate Library School of University of Chicago. One assumes that there was no library school at IU at the time of her dissertation – 1957 – but I haven’t been able to confirm this yet.

I started with our federated search and, in performing a little voodoo (title search, limit: dissertations), I returned a list of 11 items for the exact thing I was looking for. Five of those were books in the physical collections somewhere in the IU system. The other six were Google Books and HathiTrust (inaccessible, copyright reasons), some bare records that seem to indicate that maybe ALA had published it in 1961 (but also maybe not, because the description states: published or submitted for publication), and a few other records whose reason for existence is opaque, even to me.

Those five records represented 10 copies. From a searcher perspective, I’m not sure why so many records are needed. From a librarian perspective, I guess it has something to do with the various subjects tagged differently for each. Of those 10 books, three are at the medical library located in Indianapolis, two are missing, one is checked out, one is in the special collections, one is in the music library “frontlog,” and one was located at “Well Libray – Reference Coll. – Reference Desk.” Thinking the last one was my easiest access point, I asked my colleague where I might find that particular collection.

Ladies and gentlemen, his response was, “I’ve never seen that designation before.”

Momentarily stymied, I tried again at the actual reference desk.

“Huh. Never seen that before.”

Twenty minutes later we had checked and double-checked the likely places, went through all the cupboards at the reference desk, and called two separate people in technical services about the designation. No one was able to explain the designation, or, it should be said, find the book.

Next I went after the book in the music library’s “frontlog.” I knew about the frontlog from a tour I’d had this summer. You know how a backlog is stuff that’s backed up and hasn’t been processed yet? In this case frontlog is a collection that’s been processed just enough to be findable but does not live on the shelves. The books have a numerical designation but are not classified. It’s accessible only by search and requires a special request to access. I called up my colleague in the music library, she went into the basement to see if it did exist, found it, gave it to the circulation desk, and I walked over at the end of the day and picked it up.

All this for one, single book.

My point here is that search is HARD. Even when you know what you’re looking for. (Especially if you know what you’re looking for? After all, I needed the exact item and could not be satisfied with anything else.) I had everything going for me – specialized knowledge and extraordinary persistence – and still it took me hours of active search time to locate this book. And I haven’t even read it yet.

I’m sure I’m preaching to the choir, here. All I can wonder is what a student would do in this situation. Would they find what they needed? What would they do first? Last? Maybe it’s good for search to take effort? Challenge is the source of growth, after all. But maybe (probably) they’d just give up and move on to Google or another “easier” topic.

And why does search have to be so hard and complicated through the library? It’s hard and complicated because there’s no money attached to the outcome and, therefore, no incentive for techies to take it on. From a library perspective it would take an extraordinary amount of money to pay the going rate to do it right.

I talked to some colleagues about this process and the general consensus is that this was an edge case and not representative of most library searches. Probably true. And yet search is still not easy, even for those of us who are professional searchers.

Come work with me!

From the job posting: The Indiana University Bloomington Libraries seek a creative and enthusiastic individual to join the Department of Teaching & Learning as Learning Commons Librarian.  Working in a highly collegial library, the Learning Commons Librarian is responsible for collaborating with library and university partners to envision, develop, and sustain student-centered academic support in the Learning Commons, a dynamic 24/7 environment that fosters learning, research, writing, and use of technology in a collaborative atmosphere. The Learning Commons Librarian will build upon the department’s initiative of integrating information literacy into co-curricular environments by capitalizing upon partnerships with librarians, teaching faculty/instructors, and campus units to provide a rich learning experience for students in the Learning Commons, with an emphasis on addressing targeted needs of undergraduates.  The successful candidate has the unique opportunity to help shape the department’s direction by imagining and developing new ways of integrating information literacy into a flexible environment that supports active learning.  Candidates who have knowledge and experience with student engagement, pedagogical practices, and collaborative leadership will be given the highest consideration. This is a tenure-track position reporting to the Head of the Department of Teaching & Learning.  The Indiana University Libraries are committed to recruiting and retaining a diverse workforce.  We encourage all employees to incorporate fully their diverse backgrounds, skills, and life experiences into their work and towards the fulfillment of our mission. More information available here. 

I am not on the committee for this job; however, I will be working closely with this position as a member of the Teaching and Learning Department. I’m happy to answer questions!

Dorodango

Earlier this week, I went to an engrossing presentation by Christopher Nunn. Chris is a community educator in Indianapolis, and his heart belongs to arts education. I attended at the invitation of the head of our Education Library. I have to say, if you’re a teaching librarian, making friends with the Ed Librarian or the School of Education in general is a great strategy for creating your own community of practice and accessing professional development opportunities. 

The description of the workshop was very intriguing, although I have to say that the trajectory of the talk was different than I imagined based on the description. Chris primarily talked about the ideas that have inspired his teaching and learning journey, which were in themselves intriguing. A number of ideas have stuck with me, and I have a few readings to follow up on.

The first thing that strikes you about Chris is his presence in the classroom. Only one other time have I encounter a teacher who is as present in a classroom as Chris. He explained that one of his foundational ideas comes from Bill Pinar who said, “I be with my students.” I be with my students. He was certainly present to this workshop and as a result time seemed to suspend. I took the invitation to be as well, and felt more engaged in observation and excited about creating than I have in a long while.

He talked about how art is not in the completion of a piece, but in the process of making it. That in order to be present with our students as they are figuring things out, we must first explore and wrestle with materials. This is art. A number of participants brought prototypes of their work to show, and in this conversation Chris introduced his own prototypes – dorodango

A dorodango is a traditional Japanese craft of school children. They are balls of mud that have been shaped and polished until they resemble stone. The dorodango Chris brought were of variable size, somewhat lumpy, often cracked, and completely captivating in their tactile imperfections. He developed a process of making dorodango that is more consistent and reachable for the classroom. The process begins with a piece of clay which is rolled in the palms. The first thing he says he learned about dorodango is that they may be the original fidget spinners. Give a group of preschoolers balls of clay to roll and every single one will listen with full attention to whatever you have to say. I can certainly believe it, because when he pulled out a bag of clay and invited us to begin our own dorodango, the atmosphere of the room immediately changed to one of intense focus.

In Chris’s method, the dorodango is kept in a baggie and taken out a few times a day to roll between your palms. After a few days, it develops a crust, and after a week or so you can begin polishing it by rubbing it on your sweater. I immediately felt focused and at peace while rolling my dorodango between my palms – free to think and wonder but not overstimulated. It has been a great thing to grab this week when I’m feeling stuck. It is interesting that after I mentioned feeling “sloppy in the muddy process” of figuring out creative outlet for all the knowledge I’m accumulating recently, I find myself in an illuminating encounter with mud. Literally.

I’m still working on my dorodango. As you can see it is not shiny yet, but it is something – an imperfect object and a perfect representation of art, of creativity, of making. And so, I will continue to make my dorodango, just as I will continue to wrestle with the library materials, spaces, and processes in order to be with our students as they are learning.

Upcoming

It is, perhaps, last minute to mention that I will be presenting (along with my fabulous colleague, Amy Pajewski) at the New York Library Association conference on Friday, November 10th. We’ll be doing a redux of a workshop we first presented at LOEX way back in May 2016 that emphasizes strategic outreach. Description:

This workshop introduces participants to use personas in the outreach process and identify target markets to provide concrete solutions for users’ needs. Effective outreach is built on the principle that not everyone cares about everything. Simply distributing posters or blasting social media ignores one of the central tenets of marketing: Differentiation. This workshop will begin by introducing participants to the use of personas in the initial outreach process. Groups of participants will use guided inquiry to define the real-world struggles of target audiences and identify real solutions to those problems that can be adapted for any institution. Participants will create a framework for developing outreach initiatives and growing partnerships that can be taken back to their institution and enacted immediately.

I also owe a big thank you to everyone who generously voted for my conference proposal for The Collective. Our proposal was accepted! I’m particularly excited about this conference because it emphasizes active learning and skill-building in its presentations. My colleague, Leanne Nay, and I proposed a session titled “Common Ingredients, Unique Perspective: Library Instruction Meets Test Kitchen.” Here’s the short description:

Inspired by the Great British Baking Show, this session uses a similar format to encourage experimentation, adaptation, and flexibility to promote outside the box thinking. Through three fast-paced challenges, participants will use common ingredients and unique perspectives to quickly iterate various possibilities for the library classroom. Participants will work in small groups using crowd-sourced instructional scenarios to create at least three new instructional ideas to adapt and implement at their unique institution.

Hope to see you there!

 

Tips for new places

bean blossom bridge

I’ve been in my new job for about three months now. It’s a difficult (invigorating!) fact of academic life that a new job most often means a new place to live. The logistics of such a move are not insignificant and are more complicated now than the last time I did such a thing, as a single, twenty-something. One of the realities of moving to a new city is needing to find “your” places again – the gas station with the free air pump, the grocery store with your favorite products, the coffee shop with the best vibe, or whatever those places are for you. You also need to rebuild your network, finding the people in the know and hopefully identifying kindred spirits. Here are some strategies I’ve employed for trying to settle myself in our new city:

  1. Find an opportunity to play music. This is always the first thing I look for when moving to a new place. Thanks to the Jacobs School of Music, a playing opportunity emerged for me very quickly here. I’m currently a member of the Southern Indiana Wind Ensemble, wherein I had my first audition in many years. The repertoire is fun, the leadership is strong, and the people are nice. I couldn’t ask for more!
  2. Get food acquisition sorted. For me, this starts with the Farmer’s Market and food co-op. Indiana is in a very different frost zone than upstate New York, and delightfully so. We gorged ourselves on Indiana peaches for the first six weeks. I think the baby liked them best of all. Food co-ops are also a great place to scan fliers and find out what else is going on in town. We’ve set ourselves up with a fall/winter CSA and we’re excited to be eating farm fresh produce up through Christmas.
  3. The local library. Nuff said.
  4. Facebook groups. Any more, I use Facebook almost exclusively for the groups. I sought out a number of local groups of use to people with young children and I’m learning a lot about local amenities.
  5. Instagrammers and Instagram hashtags. You can glean a lot about a place by following people on Instagram, from great places to hike and get coffee to what’s ripe in the Community Orchard.
  6. Other librarians. I lean heavily on other librarians for guidance and recommendations. If at all possible, ask to be connected with local people whose concerns are similar to yours. I benefitted immensely from insight and recommendations from other librarians with young kids.

Invariably, moving to a new place and starting a new job means a certain period of time feeling a loose ends. For me, it often means a period of time saying “yes” to lots of things in the short term that I may not be saying “yes” to in the long term. I don’t consider this a bad thing. How will you know if it’s right for you if you don’t try? How will you know what path to take if you don’t move a few steps forward? This time it has also meant feeling bloated with consumption of new knowledge and sloppy in the muddy process of figuring out what a productive outlet of that knowledge is. That is, until I remember this handy blog, wherein I may create and reflect to my hearts content, however small and insignificant. And so I find myself here this rainy Friday afternoon, working to put an imperfect something out there in the hopes of returning to a practice that has reflected my professional life until now.

If you’re still hanging in here with me, I hope to see you back in this space again soon.