Monthly Archives: August 2018

Reading Lately

bookstack

This summer I’ve read three books for professional development. I consider it professional development (and even included a list of professional books read on my promotion portfolio for my previous position) because they directly inform the work I do and the thoughts I think about the work I do, as you’ll see below. Here are the three books I’ve read this summer, in reverse chronological order:

Not Just Where to Click: Teaching Students How to Think about Information Literacy, edited by Troy A. Swanson and Heather Jagman. I’ve been working on this one, off and on, for more than a year, and finally buckled down to finish it. The book is a mix of theory-based essays, philosophical meanderings, and practical how-tos. I found particular resonance with the chapter “Librarianspeak: Metaphors that Reflect (and Shape) the Ethos and Practice of Academic Librarianship” by MaryBeth Meszaros and Alison M. Lewis. This chapter informed my recent essay in C&RL News, “Words Matter.”

Small Teaching: Everyday Lessons from the Science of Learning by James M. Lang. I picked this one up on recommendation for a non-library blog I follow. The premise of the book is that small changes create big results. The content is based in the science of learning but has a strongly practical bent. Many ideas are most easily implemented in a full-semester course, but others are adaptable to a library context. I used a few suggestions in a professional development workshop I presented to our Teaching Librarians Community recently titled First 10/Last 10. On this blog, you may hear more reflection from me on Chapter 3: Interleaving. This book has the benefit of being written in Plain English (not High Academese) and therefore is a fast, easy read.

Make Just One Change: Teach Students to Ask Their Own Questions by Dan Rothstein and Luz Santana. This book breaks down an approach to teaching students how to ask questions, called the Question Formulation Technique. The examples in the book are in the K-12 arena, though the authors have successfully used this technique for adult learners too. Basically, its a way to base a classroom in inquiry. It’s an extremely practical book, and one that could be transformative for many teachers and professors. I’m not sure yet how I would apply this information to a library context; however, I think I may use this technique in the library instruction class I’m teaching this spring for the Library School.

I keep a reading habit going by taking small chunks daily and scheduling it into my day. I definitely make reading goals for down times of the year like January and summer. I keep smaller goals for other times of the year. When work is just too hectic, I back off and feed off the “fat” of slower times. Typically, my goal is to read one chapter (or article, if that’s your jam) per day, approximately 4 per week. Sticking to this schedule, my reading takes an average of 20 minutes a day (~80 minutes per week), and allows me to finish a book in about a month – a pretty good clip achieved in small moments. Personally, I do better with small daily goals, rather than reading for 80 minutes straight.

I also read quite a bit in my personal life in small chunks. This year I started keeping track using my private Instagram account. I don’t know if it’s because of keeping track, listening to the What Should I Read Next podcast, or simple luck, but I’m having an extremely enjoyable reading year. I’ve also been listening to audiobooks, which has been one of the joys of my year. I’m quite picky about narrators, so I only listen on direct recommendation for audio versions particularly. You’ll see those noted below. Here are the top few of my year (so far):

What are you reading? Any recommendations for me?

REFRAMING: The Generic Instruction Request

reframing-POST

Welcome to an occasional series I’m calling REFRAMING. The idea behind the series is to take some common pain points for librarians and turn them around. You might as well call it “The Flip.” What I’m looking to do is take scenarios that are usually considered challenges and flip them into opportunities. This is an outgrowth of the work I currently do in supporting teaching librarians. It is, of course, just my own perspective, but I think there’s a lot of room in the world (especially today’s world?) for reframing. I’m an action oriented individual, and rather than wallowing in difficulty, I strive to look for the chance to do something about it, even if that something is just changing the way I’m thinking. Let’s consider the generic instruction request.

Here’s an accurate description, courtesy of a colleague: “We really need you to come do an instruction session. There’s no research assignment, but they are engaged in working on types of research for various other professors. Oh! And I won’t be there…” We’ve all been here, or some variation of here. These types of requests seem to be the bane of a librarian’s existence judging from conference and coffee break conversation. They feel disrespectful of our time and expertise. Convenient for the professor (the word “babysitter” comes to mind) but ultimately unhelpful for students. We mourn how much better a session could be with deliberate placement in the course, with some collaboration with the faculty member, with a damn assignment. Many librarians feel they can’t say no to this kind of request and resentment builds. In the instance of my colleague, above, she said that she already knew she was going to say yes, but that she struggled with how it felt. What to do? Put together a class while feeling disrespected or resentful?

First, let me say that “not at this time” is a valid response to this kind of request. Your time and expertise are valuable and possibly not best used by fulfilling this request in the spirit in which it was requested; however, there are reasons why you might say yes. I find that there is often a period of time at the beginning of a new job where you say yes to things that you don’t ultimately plan to say yes to in the long term, such as this kind of request. For one thing, these sessions can be really useful for learning about students and making connections with faculty that you later try to shift in a different direction. Ultimately, what we have here is an opportunity disguised as a challenge.

Here’s what I said to my colleague: “This kind of thing can be either a sad occurrence or a huge opportunity for you to do exactly whatever it is that you want to do and feel is most important without feeling like you have to meet faculty expectations. What do you think would be fun/necessary? Have you been itching to try something out? Talk about a concept? Fill in a blank? This is your opportunity. This is a place that the particular Frames you feel are important but underrepresented could find life. You’ve been given a whole class period to do exactly what you want. What do you want to do?

What might happen if we got excited about this kind of request instead of feeling obligated to it?

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

mental-health-physical-health

#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.