The Most Public Librarian Post Ever

Confession time: I’m a Harry Potter nerd. I’m also a former public librarian, so this post is very, very public librarian-ish!

Over Thanksgiving break, I decided to try to make my own Harry Potter book ornaments. They turned out quite well, actually, and a few of my friends from my book club asked me to post instructions and how I did it, so here it is!

I still need to make the rest of the series and will upload screen shots of each step as I make my next one. For now, I recorded text directions for my little creation.

My first step was going onto the interwebs and finding book covers to print. These have part of the title removed. I’m assuming to try to cover their rears from copyright infringement, but it really still is copyright infringement. Just sayin’. I found this particular set of cover art on Pinterest (HERE), dumped the image into my publishing software and shrunk it down just a bit. Here’s a PDF (book covers page) .  After this, I used that as a guide to create pages. Here’s that PDF (book ornament pages). I made the pages slightly smaller than the book cover so it would be like a real book in that sense.

You will need:

  • color printer
  • printer paper
  • cardstock (I used medium brown)
  • craft glue good for paper use – something that bonds quickly. I used this: 
  • twine
  • ruler
  • pen/paper
  • scissors
  • wine, whiskey, tea, or another choice beverage for reinforcement when you get frustrated…because you will.
  • possibly some snacks, if you’re the snack-while-crafting type



  1. Print both the covers and pages (you’ll need a LOT of pages).
  2. Cut around covers, leaving a margin around each one.
  3. Glue covers onto cardstock, making sure you completely coat the backside of the paper.
  4. Cut out pages and fold them in half, matching the short sides.
  5. This is where things get interesting: each book will be a little bit different thickness, but they will all be the same width and length. The cover art in this file provides more art than what would show on a book. This is the part of a book jacket that would tuck inside the book and have summaries and author info. In this case, it’s best to cut it flush where you would want your cover to be.
    1. For each of the covers, you’ll need to measure the front and back cover to about 29 mm and leave the width of spine you desire for each book. Use your “margin” to mark with a pen.
    2. I used the same spine width for the first three books in the series and roughly doubled the spine width for the subsequent books. In these illustrations, you can actually see shading for some of the spine widths.
  6. Cut out each book cover like so:
    1. Cut each book cover from the others, leaving a margin.
    2. Mark your back edge, spine width, and front edge using a pen and ruler. Remember the back and front should be about 29 mm wide.
    3. Trim the back and front edges first.
    4. Lay the book cover on a flat surface (I used a table, because, well, that seemed obvious).
    5. Line up your ruler on one side of the spine marks and bend the cover up to create a crease. 
    6. Pick up the cover and using the crease as a guide, fold and sharpen to create one edge of the book spine. 
    7. Repeat 4-6 for the other edge of the book spine.
  7. Measure out a desired length of twine, loop, and glue into one of the folded pages. I simply put the two ends of the twine together and glued them along the entire height of the page for good security. 
  8. Glue pages together, allowing time for glue to set. For volume, I only glued the outsides of the pages together, leaving the inside of each page unglued so it opens. For the first HP book, I used about 20 folded pages. 
  9. Glue twine pages into the book cover, covering the inside of the spine and the inside of the each cover with glue. Then, glue the rest of your pages on top of the twine page, covering the spine and inside front cover with glue. 
  10. Place the entire book under something heavy for all the glue to set (a real book, perhaps?).

If you have questions about any particular step in this process, please feel free to leave a comment!

Theory is People, Too!

In everything you do, look at it through the lens of humanity.

I’m an introvert with a serious people problem. I will ask a real, breathing person a simple question long before it even crosses my mind to ask a search engine. I mean, really, for a librarian, I’m incredibly people-centric. When I first thought about publishing a research paper, I went to a colleague who had published and asked questions before I tried to look it up on the internet.

But I’m going to let you in on a secret – researching and publishing is largely void of contact with people. After I found a journal (open access – WOOHOO!) that was interested in my draft, I began getting it ready for peer-review. Admittedly, I was petrified of what these peer reviewers would say. I had this weird vision of these scary, unearthly, godlike people ready to rip apart my logic and tell me I was wrong – about everything. (If you haven’t already figured it out, I have an overactive imagination). What was so great was when the journal did give me a publishing editor, he was another academic librarian with a humanities background – something I could immediately relate to. Then, it got even better – my assigned peer reviewer was a public librarian who worked with children and families (I was a public teen librarian for two years). After googling them both, I saw smiling faces of people who I felt a certain kinship to.

Putting faces to these names and knowing that these were real people calmed me down more than I’d ever imagined. Nameless peer-review gods are scary – people who have lives and pets and families are not nearly as scary. This particular journal even gave me the option to choose my second peer-reviewer, which I took advantage of and asked someone who I’d already worked with.

This is great, but let’s put this into perspective: this process took a year. A YEAR! I’ll also add that the entire paper was about theories behind teaching standards – something most people find quite dry. Most of that year was me, armed with a pen and highlighters and ripping my own paper apart over and over again. I had a colleague read one of my drafts and his mark ups were incredibly helpful, but ultimately, this process was me and the computer. I would get stuck in rabbit holes and my eyes would cross after hours of fighting with words and ideas. There were so many times I would want to throw something and I’d have to stop and remind myself to go find a person to talk to about it. It was these human moments that enabled survival through the process and enabled a successful publication.

This month, I gave my very first professional presentation on this paper. I was very nervous to stand in front of people and explain what I found, especially because it was so theoretical. It can be quite challenging to take a seemingly mundane topic and make it real and meaningful. After laying a foundation of the theory and examples, I launched into real-world examples of how these theories manifests themselves. This is when my audience “got it”. They understood what I was saying the whole time, but it wasn’t until that connection was made that lights behind eyes began to flicker on. I even got a few jaw drops.

While the Active Audiences workshop that I co-prepped with Rachel Stott and co-presented with Samantha Mat was WAY more fun, I’m glad that I talked about my research. I could see it’s importance but I had to make the human connection for these professionals for them to see why it mattered, which was tough.

So what’s the point?

All research and publishing has a human impact and a human aspect. Yes, we research because it’s interesting, but it’s also about being part of the conversation. Even though emails with publishers and those we see as more experienced than us can be incredibly intimidating, remembering that we are all humans – with thoughts, fears, emotions, victories, failures, and everything in between – helps create a positive view of comments, critiques, and questions. Standing up in front of audiences and telling them about theory can seem like watching paint dry, but then turning around and demonstrating the human side for them is where it becomes meaningful.

While it’s been said before, it’s worth repeating – talk to people. Explain your view. Ask for help. Open up a little. LISTEN. You’ll be amazed at what you’ll learn along the way.

Chasm Jumping, NDIC2017, the Boy Scouts, and Other Completely Disjointed Thoughts

I was sitting in a friend’s office earlier this week talking about my current employment situation and how I really need to take whatever job comes my way. Money is tight, we have a kid and dogs and a mortgage. Life is expensive. I could see the thinly veiled sadness in his eyes as I talked about how I might have to leave our profession, at least for now. I said, “Well, I have to do what I have to do, and ya know, I jumped the chasm once, I can do it again. Twice, actually, going from admin to librarianship, then public and school to academic.” He broke out into a huge grin and said, “That should totally be on your resume – Jenni Burke, Chasm Jumper!”

This entire calendar year, particularly this summer, has been a fascinating journey of self-discovery. Shauna Niequist, in her book Present Over Perfect, calls this type of discovery a “sea change”. She refers to the change in Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” when a man is thrown into the sea and transforms from what he was into something new, something wholly different. It’s one of those times in your life where something shifts so profoundly within you that you’ll never go back to that old self. While the whole world of academic librarianship has connected me with myself in really cool ways, discovering that there is meaning to what I always thought were “weird” parts of me has been really exciting. I was always quite good at English Comp and Rhetoric, pretty astute with literature, and found communication, particularly the psychology aspects of it, to be interesting. I graduated with a Bachelor’s in English and have a minor in Speech Communication, but I’ve always had this lurking numbers side. I even have a certification to teach up to Algebra 1 and Geometry in the state of Missouri, much to the shock and amazement of my fellow English educators (and by this, I mean, they’d kinda lean away like I was mildly horrifying).

But my true love affair with data began the last week of May of this year. I had finished my contract at Auraria and was having a bit of separation anxiety, so I began searching the internet for presentations from my recent colleagues. I landed on one from the aforementioned nickname-giving friend who, at the time, I knew more as a person than a professional. I’d never seen him present, and honestly, I didn’t really know anything about his background. The majority of the year, I would randomly wander into his office to talk about kids and pets and drones and picking locks. My first exposure to this man was when he walked in on a conversation about age and I was surprised to learn he was younger than me (sorry, dude, it’s the hair). My second, and still probably one of the most amusing, was him staring blankly at a microwave in the staff room and muttering something about always being wrong on how long he needs to microwave his lunch for. This led to me suggesting a time and him declaring me a genius when the timer went off and his food was actually hot. Based on these brief interactions, you can’t blame me for not having a clue he’s a department head with a ridiculous amount of knowledge and passion for his work. Had I known that, I probably would’ve been too intimidated to pop into his office, out of the blue, and say something to the effect of “Hi! We’ve never actually talked. What’s up?” in the first place. Anyway, in this presentation, he talked about the issue of consent in the commercialization and commodification of personal data on the web, particularly from dating websites and that-big-social-network-that-shall-not-be-named. He also discussed the ethics surrounding the uses of this data in academic research.

I was hooked. I’ve always found data and statistics interesting but it was the first time I had ever heard anyone talk about those things through the lens of human impact and ethics. This type of thing screams through the Framework for Information Literacy and something I’ve given a tremendous amount of thought to, but this was truly my first exposure to someone explicitly articulating examples of the issues behind the “Information Has Value” frame. Little did I know there’s entire groups of people in this profession, and those who work alongside us, that think about these things and work daily to connect students and faculty with this type of thought.

From here, I started reading journal articles and books about data, reading up on data management cycles, and having conversations with this colleague about data services. But it wasn’t until I went to the National Data Integrity Conference this week that I truly connected with this sector of my industry in the truest and deepest way. Unfortunately, I was only able to attend the morning sessions of each day, but I still walked away with more packed into my little brain than I could have imagined.

There were amazing talks: Dr. Matt Hickey discussed the sea of data and our ethical responsibility to it, opening with my FAVORITE poem and prompting this tweet:

Dr. Safiya Noble gave a jaw-dropping presentation that I won’t discuss since her book is coming out soon and you should just read it when it does, because she’s awesome and so is her research. Here’s a link to it:

I’m COMPLETELY fangirling over this like crazy.

On Friday, Dr. Kathy Partin talked about what does and does not lead to research misconduct and the importance of mentorship in data ethics education.  Dr. Brad Woods discussed the unique challenges of data ethics when gathering data in the social sciences, particularly when commercial growth and politics creates and perpetuates power hierarchies within communities (this one actually evoked tears). Dr. Patrick Lee Plaisance discussed how we must understand our own role in moving from consumers only to citizens within this digital age, especially when it comes to news. Finally, Michael De Yoanna, a news director and an NPR affiliate, talked about how every data point represents a person and a story.

While these were great talks that got me thinking, the one that had the most impact on me in a very personal way was the very first one. The conference opened with a presentation from Dr. Colleen Strawhacker from the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder. She talked about Indigenous Knowledge and how some uses of this knowledge could be detrimental to those who created it, but one of her largest points was while these data sets may not be highly cited nor do they have “impressive” qualitative metrics, they are deeply valuable to the people who make the observations. This data could be, and should be, used in a way that gives the voice back to the people from which it came. She asked how we can change the conversation and shift value from how many downloads these data sets get to the narratives that it could bring about. My literature background started creating fireworks in my brain.

We tell stories. Stories demonstrate and exude the very essence of humanity. Literary archetypes, like the “hero”, the “mother”, and the “arch enemy”, exist for a reason – they display our view of human category. Our brains want to create familiarity and in so doing, we categorize individuals and groups in an effort to know them. Unfortunately, this distorts reality as we all have different backgrounds, amounts of exposure, and levels of motivation to learn of “others”. The data created by these indigenous cultures means something very different to them than it does to us. But if they were to be able to take that information and use it to create the narrative of their own experiences and, destroying the framework of categorization we, as outsiders, have built, then they would hold the potential to forever change the world’s view on highly politicized issues like climate change and endangered species. If we could see what they see, our ideas of what matters within these issues would drastically change.

This made me think a lot about an entirely separate thing that has been holding on to some of my mental space lately. I grew up around the Boy Scouts. I have an older brother and a father who was a Den Leader and a Scout Master. I was also a tomboy, so I had a tendency to hang out a lot around the guys. I was inducted into the BSA honor society at the age of 21, the youngest a female could be inducted, and while it was a great honor, I always found the tradition of using Native American regalia and ceremonies weird and uncomfortable. When the honor society was created, permission to use these things were granted by a local tribe and it grew from there. While the current traditions are believed to be based off of the Lenni-Lenape (that is, the Delaware), and the tribal counsel still supports this, I have to wonder if they would still approve if they felt like there was another way for them to preserve their tradition. There has been a few side discussions lately about whether or not the organization should remove Native American tradition, which I strongly support. So why aren’t we asking THEM? Do they even feel that they have their own voice? They’re a small tribe, all things considered, and if they were given a way to share their stories in their own way, would they continue to allow the BSA, which is a very large national organization, to use their traditions? The types of projects that Dr. Strawhacker presented focuses hugely on giving power back to groups that have long been ignored and quieted. Growing up around the honor society within BSA, I saw the anger the frustration of the Native boys who had to watch as white, non-Natives wore regalia and danced dances that were deeply meaningful to them. While they didn’t see the ceremonies, the dances, or even the use of regalia as inappropriate, they were upset to see these things being utilized by others who were outside their culture.

Why is it that people who are not Native and not part of this tribe the ones who get to decide how these traditions are used? So many say of the BSA’s use that, “There’s no harm” and “It’s honoring them” and “I learned so much about their culture this way”, but how is this true?! If THEY aren’t telling the story, how do YOU know that what you’re “honoring” or “learning” is true, accurate, or significant? What does this even have to do with the mission of this organization, anyway? Why do we feel justified in taking “data” from another culture and creating our own version of their narrative?

Part of this “sea change” that I’ve been going through this year is allowing passing thoughts and ideas that I’ve always had to become fully formed, to let these them settle in, and to hold them up against my pretend reality that was created by ignorance. Social justice has always been on my mind, even when I was young, but I could easily push it away and think that I’m doing alright because it’s not like I’m actively hating anyone. But the bigger reality is that misuse of data, unharnessed commercial growth, and the placement of value on qualitative metrics alone pulls us further and further away from the essence of who we are. Data isn’t neutral, technology isn’t neutral, data analytics aren’t neutral. We have a responsibility to utilize all of it ethically and with deep regard for those it may disadvantage. We have a responsibility to recognize that companies and individuals create, manipulate, and steal information while they lull us into believing that they have our best interest at heart. They’d never lie to us, right?

Humanities and science aren’t mutually exclusive. Data is created by humans and it can be used for good or for bad. As bell hooks said in Teaching to Transgress, we need to be self-actualized. We need to stop leaving parts and pieces of ourselves at the door when we come to work. We need to bring our whole selves to what we do.  I’m not two disjointed halves. Maybe I’m just jumping another chasm, but I feel that my “data” side and my “people” side cannot be divorced.

I don’t think they were ever meant to be.

Finding Joy in the Process

It is no secret to anyone who knows me that I’m not particularly built for “Stay at Home Motherhood”. I love my little nugget and he is a ton of fun, but I need adult interaction and intelligent conversation like fish need water. It’s an absolute necessity. On top of this, everyone in my industry knows that it can take a while to find positions in the academic world, especially when you’re fairly tied to geography. So, I’ve been substituting at a community college library and the public district where I worked full time before Auraria. I’m enjoying it greatly, but I struggle with the lack of schedule. A lot. In fact, the schedule has sent me into depression more than anything else so far!

So what do you do to cope when things don’t look like how you wish they would? Well, you find joy in the process. You have to find little things to fill your days with happy thoughts to balance out the challenges. What I have found that brings me joy came as a bit of surprise – writing. I even have trouble keeping up with this blog but I’ve found that writing gives me something to wrestle with.

Most of this summer I’ve been working toward my first peer-reviewed research article. I’d settle into the local library or coffee shop and work my way through comments, ideas, and snippets of lines that float through my brain. After all that work, it was finally published and I’m really proud of what I did. Here it is!

While working through this paper, some really awesome librarians came up with this really amazing idea of creating a professional blog called LibParlor that is dedicated to helping librarians either new to tenure track positions and need to publish or those simply interested in getting started in the research process. I submitted a few proposals and they were accepted, which I was excited about. Not everyone had the help I had. So, today, my first post was published! 

I also wrote a reflective blog on my research process and that will came out sometime soon as well on LibParlor. And earlier this week, I found out that a character analysis that I wrote (for fun!) is going to be published soon in a magazine dedicated to the works of JK Rowling.

I wouldn’t have ever thought that I would find writing so invigorating, especially since I was honestly a “B” writer in college. There was a particular professor who is solely responsible for pushing me to an “A” level. Dr. Wyman was a retired professor who worked for Lincoln University in Jefferson City, MO, where I got my teacher certifications. She taught a variety of classes but was especially passionate about British poetry. She would call me out in class if I hadn’t thought things through enough. Once, we were going around the table answering her questions (this was a typical teaching strategy she used) and she got to me, asked me a questions, and I stumbled a bit through it because I was tired and didn’t really want to think. She barked, “Not good enough! You can do better! We’ll come back to you!” While this might seem a bit extreme for a professor to say something like that to a student, we had that relationship. She knew it would work. And it did.

It was motivating, not shaming, because it sent a clear message – “I believe in you. You’re smarter than that.”

And that’s what has shot through my mind many times this summer. Dr. Wyman’s voice barking “Not good enough!” I believed her then and I still do. Somehow, writing papers for her class changed how I approached writing. I’m not even sure I could explain what clicked in my brain but she forced me to explain myself. It was liberating and wonderful.

Besides writing, I’m enjoying catching up on a few tv shows and rewatching my favorite movies. I’ve gotten to jump into a lot more books than I would if I was working full time and I’m loving hanging out with a crazy toddler and having regular game nights with friends. I’ve gotten to take a few trips and see a few some places and faces – old and new. “Unemployment” has its challenges but it’s so important (and fun!) to find those little joys!


Why, yes, lack of access IS a problem

For the last few months, amidst interview rounds and subbing in both public and academic libraries, I’ve been working on a research paper that’s set to be published in September. While I’ve always been a supporter of open access, two things have happened in the last few months that has lit a bonfire for my support:

  1. Working on this research paper has been quite challenging without steady, full-time access to quality research.  While this hasn’t been impossible, it has pushed me to do things that are inconvenient on the simple end and to make flat professionally questionable decisions on the more complex end. I can’t say that I’ve broken any rules, but I’ve definitely toed the line and, unfortunately, been forced to ask others to do the same. Luckily, I know some wonderful librarians who believe in accessibility and professional courtesy and have helped me access pay-walled information, anyway. Thank you to you all and I’m in your debt.
  2. The second occurrence that has caused me to quite feisty in this area is more important because it directly impacts students. I was preparing for a teaching demonstration at a local community college and used their resources to prepare. This, of course, just makes sense because if I’m doing a demo on teaching their resources, I’m going to prepare activities that use their resources! What I was met with was a system that was clunky and frustrating. I’m a trained, experienced Librarian and had difficulty searching for and retrieving information that should’ve been simple to find. I had better luck on google scholar. This has a few implications:
  • This puts me back in a position to have teach click-and-point skills to students. This is much less important to me than focusing on authority, how information is created, how those who create it have agendas, and how to deal with manipulative info on a daily basis.
  • This puts community college students at a stark disadvantage bc of the affordability of intuitive packaging. Four year students are already at an advantage in many ways over comm college students and this just makes it worse! How can anyone properly prepare a 2-yr college student for a 4-yr library when you have to dedicate so much time to teaching them how to use an outdated, clunky system that you have to wage war against just to get simple information? The packaging this college has is well-known and often purchased. I wonder if they have any clue how difficult it is to use.

This is just another example of how the publishing industry makes it more and more difficult for students who aren’t pouring money into the system to access information. They’re not second class citizens. Those who argue that open access is killing scholarship should try to use these systems. We can’t even grow scholarship properly if our students don’t have access to quality resources.

You want me to support the current publishing industry when my students use google scholar because it’s user-friendly and intuitive? You want me to encourage them to use a database system that adds more obstacles to their learning? For the sake of what?

What message are you sending students when all of the “quality, reliable, and valid” information sits behind a paywall? It’s time to stop supporting this hierarchical, authoritarian system and concentrate on what matters – the information, the data, the actual scholarship. What the research actually means and its importance to our society and our world.

Support your researchers and their efforts, evaluate factors that actually matter (not the title of the journal they published in), and for goodness sake, make it more accessible. If it’s not open, at least make it accessible in a system that doesn’t cost every penny an institution has. We can do better than this.

Librarian-ing without a Library

I’m currently an on-call Librarian for both a public system and an academic library. Beyond the feeling that you have no permanent space and that you’re living out of a work bag, I’m still preparing for a research publication in September and two conference presentations in October. So, now the biggest challenge is this – I’m working like a patron and I get to experience life as one. I’ve used libraries most of my life, but the vast majority of my adult life, I’ve used it as an employee. I’ve found countless books, ebooks, and audiobooks through the libraries in which I work as well as the systems around my home (I’m pretty darn sure I have a public library card to 5 different systems!), but this is different.  I’ve never used the public library for research purposes. I’m mostly set on research for my paper, but come time to prep for one of the presentations, I’m going to need a lot more info and I’m a little nervous about that.

I’ve already run into the challenge of needing an article that I couldn’t find it in the public system (this was mostly due to me not knowing the right search terms bc I couldn’t remember the title!). Long story short, I emailed a past colleague and, true to form, as soon as I did, I found the article… :facepalm:

Now, I must admit that my local library’s study rooms are very nice, but there’s a 2 hour limit. Trust me when I say that that’s not enough time when you’re working on a research paper for the first time in 2.5 months. It took me nearly an hour just to get going! Let’s not even talk about hauling around a laptop, a few books, quite a few articles, and of course, provisions (Coke and Cheezits are excellent writing food). I was really starting to wish I could just write at home, but that’s never a good idea. Between a screaming toddler, dishes that need to be done, the absence of a desk, and two dogs that are so codependent, you step on them at every turn (they’re 65 and 85 lbs, so that’s no small feat), there is absolutely no way that I can be productive there.

Beyond trying to work on this paper at the library, I’ve been trying to, ya know, actually use it. I’ve spent the better half of my career trying to get people to attend programs and events, so I figured I should actually put my money where my mouth is and go myself. My family attended the first of Anythink’s 2017 Backyard Concert Series. It was quite fun! You can’t really argue with BBQ, beer, and live music at a free venue. The band wasn’t bad, the food was good, and my kid had a blast wandering around and getting in people’s way. As far as finding books go, Anythink doesn’t use a traditional classification system and it can be a real pain. I don’t typically use them bc I’m using whatever library I’m actively working at! With subbing, I can’t really do that bc I never really know when I’ll be at a location. So, alas, I have to check things out like the public and I don’t like it, haha.

I was never one who wanted to be a stay-at-home mom and I think those who do should wear capes so I can salute them as I see them. Learning how to live life as a part-time SAH Mom and a part-time working professional is a whole other animal. I’ve recognized just how layered we can be as human beings and that I have to divorce certain parts of myself or I go crazy. It’s been really fun to be able to get up a little later and decide to go the park or the zoo or storytime or whatever with this rambunctious, tiny tornado, but having such an unscheduled life has really taken a toll on this INFJ. I like my days to have routine. I don’t need work itself to have routine, but I do miss knowing that certain days of the week, I get up and go to work, certain days are weekends, certain times are this or that, etc., etc. I’m having to adjust and live life day to day and it’s stressful.

For every part of life, there is a season. While being an on-call professional is tough on my personality, it is really enjoyable and I get to change hats often. At the college, I do it all. Literally. I’m the only one there when I work! At the public library, I’m what they call the Librarian on Duty, which means I get called on for research and in-depth reference questions, troubleshooting tech problems and teaching patrons computer software, helping crowd control when things get really busy, roving and helping patrons on the spot, and overseeing the opening or closing of the branch. These libraries look, feel, and act very different and it’s a great experience to work for both at the same time!

What I Learned as a Temp

My time at Auraria is coming to a close. I have really enjoyed my experience teaching information literacy lessons and working with the students and faculty at the Research Help Desk, online, and in consultations. I’m thankful for the chance to step into this world. Academic politics can be exhausting, libraries don’t always focus on what they should, and we don’t always do what’s best for the students…but there’s forward momentum. There are a lot of amazing professionals in this field that are working every day to put students first, provide quality instruction that extends beyond the classroom, and fight tirelessly for things that matter. I was lucky enough to land in a library where some of those people are. So, here’s a short list of thing I learned from being in a temp position:

  1. Find people who know what they’re doing and be a sponge. When I first started, I asked to observe the other instructors. I did this so that I could get a sense of what’s expected, what level everyone else was teaching at, and to how my instruction skills fit in. The other librarians were more “seasoned”, so I was eager to see how different instruction was in an academic setting. I observed one of my colleagues and was quite impressed (and slightly intimidated) by his instruction. He taught like a teacher, which is tough to do if you don’t have a background in Education. As I was watching this class, it occurred to me that he looked fairly young…I snooped and found out that he was my age. I promptly had an emotional crisis because I felt like I was getting started in this so late in my career and, holy crap, what am I doing here? I DO have a background in instruction and he was doing it better than me. (This lead me to No. 2…) But I decided to be a sponge and I learned a ridiculous amount of stuff by just listening, watching, and participating in projects with this colleague and others. When you find someone who knows what they’re doing, it can be intimidating, but LEARN from them.
  2. Lean on your skills and have confidence. I came into this job with 4 years of professional library experience, as well as teaching and corporate jobs. I didn’t always have the confidence that those experiences added anything to my ability to teach college students, but I was quite wrong. It all led to being quick on my feet and flexible, knowing how to walk into a classroom 10 minutes after class starts and teaching on the fly, making efficient choices, and treating students like they matter. Yes, it did take a long, rational pep talk from my husband and more than one, “Why the heck do you think you don’t know this?” moments with the colleague from No. 1, but there is nothing wrong with knowing your own strengths. Have humility to learn, grow, and change, but sometimes, honestly comparing your skills for the sake of understanding isn’t a bad thing. I do know what I’m doing here – and I’m good at it.
  3. Work your butt off. If you’re in a temp spot, new to a career, or just new to a job, work work work. Be available to help and ask for more. Of course, don’t let people take advantage of this, but get your hand in things. Do the grunt work expected of other professionals with a friggin’ smile. Why? Because grunt work produces results. You can’t complete an amazing assessment project without working through rubrics, reading student papers, checking citations, etc. It’s long hours and hard work. Muffins help. And it’s worth it. It’s worth taking opportunities when they arise, like being on a hiring committee for a graduate assistant, working with your Assessment & Pedagogy Librarian to put together slides for your department’s Open House, and coordinating a discussion with a local high school librarian for college readiness. If you feel like this is reaching further than your “station”, see No. 2.
  4. Find out where the informal discussions are happening – then be a fly on the wall – then actually say something. In the case of academic libraries, a lot of discussion happens on Twitter. This is a great informal space that professionals talk to each other, share opinions (often very strong ones), make acquaintances and, sometimes, enemies. These spaces are valuable. I’ve haunted a few critlib chats after they’ve happened (they happen in the evening a lot when my kid is yelling at me), conversations about conferences, and comments about current events. Then, after a while, I started adding to the conversation. People are starting to recognize my name now, which feels great. Get to know your industry from a different perspective.  These interactions used to be much more exclusive – they typically happened on golf courses or bars – but social media has opened this up to people who are simply willing to participate.  It can feel cliquish – deal with it and jump in.
  5. Do hard stuff. In my case, I started a research paper this year and submitted two conference proposals (what did I do to myself?!). I’m happy to report that I’ve been accepted for peer review (I submit my first formal draft in July) and both of those proposals were accepted. It’s hard. I feel like I jumped into the deep end and, believe it not, I’m not sinking. It also feels really, really good to have a paper accepted for peer review (when you’re not tenure, you’re a temp!). It also looks damn good on a CV. Choose to do the things are only some people do. If you fail, at least you tried. If you succeed, you’re not afraid to do it again. Added bonus – you continue to establish yourself.
  6. Reserve judgement until you make your own decision. This point is strongly related to both No. 1 and 2. I listen to the people I respect on issues inside and outside of work. I always like hearing other people’s takes on things, but it boils down to this – I have a brain in my head and a heart in my chest and I’m going to make my own decision about how I feel about something. I absolutely allow those people to influence my views, but I don’t follow people blindly. In fact, if someone tells me what to think or do and they haven’t earned that right, I typically rebel (internally, externally, maybe even passive aggressively). There’s a lot of changes going on in this area of librarianship and it is important that I have an opinion. It might be the same ones as they people I respect, it might not. And that’s fine.
  7. The job market is tough, so make wise application decisions. When I began looking at job postings and filling out applications, it was tempting to just apply to whatever job I was qualified for, but I had to stop myself. I do want to stay in academic libraries, but I had to really take stock of what I wanted to do and where I wanted to be. I did still apply to some jobs that weren’t exactly what I was aiming for, and, in the end, went through to the final round on a job that I had to make a hard decision on. Ultimately, I’ve done enough in my career to know what I want to focus on and what works for me. I want a job where my passion is. I need a job and I need an income, but there’s so few times in life where you reach a turning point and this is one for me. Knowing the norms of my industry has been important through this. Cover letters aren’t as straight forward in academia than they are in other types of work. CVs are usually requested over resumes. Choose wisely who you want as a reference. All of those choices have to be made and it pays to know who to ask for help (See No. 1!).

Growth is hard. Grueling, even. I wouldn’t have traded this experience for any of the associated pain, though. I’ve learned more about myself, my abilities, and my place in the library world.

We’ll see where I go from here and it’s felt great knowing there are people rooting for me.

I’m uncomfortable…and that’s a good thing.

Lately, I’ve been uncomfortable.  And that’s a good thing. I’ve been uncomfortable because not only have I been placing myself in more new situations, but also mentally confronting a lot of things that I’ve simply pushed to the side most of my life. This makes me a better teacher and a better person. Some recent challenges:

  • The close-minded ideas I grew up around
    • I don’t mean my family’s values and I don’t mean all of the ideas I grew up around.  You see, political stereotypes are never all true and the idea of looking at someone else’s point of view is usually met with, “Well, they all just hate (fill in the blank) and they’re so selfish and lazy and (fill in the blank). They’re stupid and useless.” Well, different policies work for rural and urban areas, but I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about the idea that one group isn’t ok or one group is less valuable than another. This is typically the result of fear and unfamiliarity. People who do crappy things to other people, regardless of why or how, are crappy people. Period. I get that, but just because someone has a different skin color as you or a different religion than you doesn’t mean they’re not a human being. Oh, sure, you can tell me that you believe all people are valuable, but unless your actions say it, I don’t believe you. This certainly isn’t unique to the area that I grew up in and I dearly love a lot of things about that land-locked prairie state, but these ideas seem more deeply rooted in areas where everyone looks like you. So, I’ve consciously pushed myself out of those types of spaces a little more. I don’t have a lot of cash or time to travel, so this often consists of reading more about different people’s perspectives and experiences.
  • Facing my own privilege
    • I won’t feel guilty about the way I grew up; there’s no use in that, but I see the silo of ideology that privilege can lead to. I grew up comfortably in a quiet, rural, racially and religiously homogeneous area. I excelled in school and as result, had most of my college paid for through scholarships. Now, my parents purposefully raised us “poorer” than we really were so they could save more for their own future, which I’m thankful for. As kids, we learned how to get along with less, we didn’t wear name brand clothes like the other kids did, and the cars we were lucky to have at 16 were junkers. It made us more grateful for what we had as well as the time and effort that afforded those things. My parents worked hard to provide us opportunity and I will work hard to provide that opportunity to my child, but with privilege comes responsibility. My responsibility is to make sure that I do what I can to stand in the way of people who want to perpetuate stereotypes, perpetuate segregation in schools, perpetuate the idea that students are only there to show up and be filled with knowledge instead of actively participate and bring their own ideas and backgrounds to the table. Handing the student the microphone is important. I’m in a position to that, so I should, especially when it comes to students who are different than me.
  • Stepping back and looking at the way “things have always been”
    • When I look at the way classes have always been conducted in both K-12 and higher education, it makes me very frustrated. I sat through so many lectures and was taught that knowledge came from the top-down (not explicitly, but it was there). It wasn’t until I attended Education classes at a small, historically black college in Missouri that those ideas were challenged.  Again, this wasn’t outright, but it was there. I was called to think, to discuss, to talk about my ideas with faculty and my peers, to apply different theories to classroom situations – only to move out into a school system that didn’t encourage those things. I always wanted my students to be active, to be hands-on participants, to talk to each other, to ask questions, and to take new academic knowledge and apply it to their own situations. I’ve had to intentionally place these things into my classes instead of being told to leverage and utilize them. For some reason, I never realized what I was doing…I just did it. Now I actually see what has been happening and it makes me angry. Educators have talked for years about how important these things are, but the reality is that our classrooms are quite restricted. There is value in students knowing facts and procedure – great value – but why is this not paired with our responsibilities after we gain this knowledge? Why is there so very little discussion about what so much of this really means? Why do we have a system that considers art, literature, music, etc, as throw away subjects that are there just to be quasi-well-rounded. Why is there so very little recognition of the interplay that happens in our brains when we learn? It has to MEAN something beyond reinforcing the way things have always been. We sent a man into space using math; we produce life-saving medicine through science; we save countless lives with evacuations using weather warning systems; and we connect with each other through art. There is a human element to every subject and they’re all interrelated.
  • Exposing myself to feminist, critical, and progressive ways of thinking
    • Growing up in a very conservative area can really put you in a weird state when you agree with so much of the “opposite” ideology. I doubt that anyone will ever call me radical, but there is so much of myself reflected in critical pedagogy, feminist instructional techniques, and progressive ideas. Unlike when I was younger, I’ll now admit that I am a feminist (and, frankly, I was raised that way, we just didn’t call it that) because I believe in equal opportunity for men and women and I believe them to be equal, not just in “theory” but in reality. Yes, I still say thank you when a man opens the door for me and I sometimes take up a man’s offer of a seat on the bus because it’s just polite and my feet hurt, dang it. My husband recently had a conversation with a man who stated quite proudly that his wife doesn’t have to work. My husband just smiled and replied, “Yeah, my wife’s too valuable to stay at home.” There is absolutely nothing wrong with a man being happy that he makes enough for his wife to stay at home with their children, but there is a huge problem when it’s used as a measurement of masculinity. It’s through these subtleties and ideas that hierarchy and prejudice is reinforced. I was once told that I would never “get a man” because I didn’t dress feminine enough, I hiked and camped too much, and I was too sure of myself. Really? Whether or not I agree with any stance in these ways of thought doesn’t matter – pushing myself to listen and consider what is being said and why, does.  As it happens, I agree with a lot of feminist, critical, and progressive ideas, but it doesn’t mean I don’t also agree with financial responsibility, the power of small business, opportunity for economic growth, and hard work – but it all has to be balanced with seeing others as humans and that we’re all in this life together.

I’ve stayed quiet a lot in the past when I disagreed with someone. I might still now if it’s not worth the push-back, but as a parent and a librarian who teaches, I have a greater responsibility. What you won’t see out of me is a raised voiced or a pushy conversation – I vent that frustration later. I believe in being respectful, even when you disagree. My God says that everyone is valuable and I believe that, too.  Doesn’t mean I have to like the person, but I try to be respectful, even when I don’t think someone deserves it. This is why you won’t often see me push back on social media, which is already so dehumanized. It probably wouldn’t get me anywhere, anyway. Meaningful and civil dialogue can happen in daily relationships and interactions, though. Other people may not be open to change, but I can push myself to come at something with a critical mind, and when someone sees that you’re trying to see their point of view, they often give that back.

So read books about Jews, narratives on black oppression, and feminist texts: push yourself outside of your own experiences. Make yourself uncomfortable – not to lose yourself or your foundation but to broaden your horizons.


Authority and Information on Vacation

This past week, a couple of good friends of mine were married in Atlanta. My husband was in the wedding, and we decided to make it a vacation and went out 4 days early to spend some time in the city and get some much-needed sleep. While we were there, we visited the CNN Studios and my brain started lesson planning before I could stop it.

We arrived at the CNN Studios around 11:45 am on Wednesday, March 22nd. When you walk into CNN, you’re standing in the food court/shop lobby. It’s an expansive space and your eyes immediately travel upward to the 8-9 story ceiling. There are flags of different states and countries that flank the opening and a huge globe.

The escalator entering the globe is on the 7th floor. It is the longest freestanding escalator in the world. Photo: Jenni Burke

There is a large monitor on one end of the lobby and I immediately noticed the headline: “Attack outside UK Parliament Being Treated as Terror”. I paused and read some of the closed captioning and my heart dropped. Not good.

After recovering from the shock of the lobby and the headlines, we bought VIP Tour tickets for 1:30. This put us in a group that was capped at 12 (instead of 45) and gave us access to a few extra taping areas than a regular tour. While we waited, we ate lunch at the Chick-Fil-A (yes, ironic) and wandered through the Cartoon Network store, the CNN store, and the Braves shop, stopping to talk baseball with the older gentleman who worked there (particularly about how the Rockies management keeps raising prices not because the team is any good but bc they can make money off of the opponent’s fans). On a side note, if you’re a Cardinals fan like myself, go to a Rockies-Cardinals game – it’ll feel like you’re at a home game in St. Louis.

Around 1:15, we went through security and started up the longest freestanding escalator in the world – 7 stories tall and only attached at the top and bottom! We entered the 7th floor through a giant globe, took a quick photo, and went through a set of double doors into a small theatre with a large, three-paneled control screen that showed the different camera angles and teleprompters of all of the the domestic CNN stations and CNN International. The guide would then cut the different audio feeds from what the audience would hear to the Executive Producer’s audio line directing the Breaking News show on the main CNN station. This was infinitely fascinating as he was directing different things all at once like the camera angles, the digital pictures that were coming through live feeds in London, and when different teleprompter segments were to come in to which anchor. On other screens, Wolf Blitzer was filming the Situation Room segment (that would have been playing if it weren’t for the Breaking News) and Robyn Curnow, who was waiting for the main CNN feed to cut to her. Each show has its own Executive Producer who controls every aspect of the show or segment; nothing happens without their approval.

From here, we followed the guide to a small, staged newsroom where she explained the green screen, digital touchscreen, and teleprompting technologies. I asked a few questions like what was on the paper the anchors hold (the hard copy of the teleprompt text) and where the text comes from (the writers, but the anchor can add comments). After seeing the main filming stage for HLN, things got really interesting.  We walked to a two-paneled window with a view into a large room where the writers and copyeditors work. There are normally about 100 staff members present, but during disasters like the OK City Bombing and 9/11, they cram in about 300. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of screens dominate in this room – smartphones, tablets, tv’s, radios, computers, and large digital control panels. There are marker boards with events and names and locations everywhere.

Writers are assigned to different shows and given topics to research and write about. After the initial stories are written, they go to the copy-editors who fact-check, correct grammar errors, and make revisions. From here, they’re sent to the Executive Producers for approval and disseminated to the anchors on paper and the teleprompters before and during the shows. Under normal circumstances, shows/segments are researched, written, edited, and approved in roughly 3-4 hours. Under Breaking News situations, an entirely different team of writers take over and the turnaround time for information is reduced to 5 minutes or less. During this process, every screen, tv, and radio is constantly playing competitor’s news, sister station’s news (ALSO treated as competition!), local news, and…here it comes…social media. These are the places in which writer’s pull their stories. Yes, you read that correctly. They pull stories from social media.

Here’s where my Librarian brain took over before I could help it. There are a few hidden gems in the Framework that seem “obvious” but don’t always sink in, even for librarians: Learners…understand the increasingly social nature of the information ecosystem where authorities actively connect with one another and sources develop over time AND Learners…understand how the commodification of their personal information and online interactions affects the information they receive and the information they produce or disseminate online.

You see, this is important for students to understand – how they interact with the world online has an effect on what is reported! News used to have to travel by mouth and paper. Now, it can pass through thousands of hands before it even reaches the news stations and every station is competing with each other to be the first, the fastest, and the most eye-catching. They even compete with their own networks! What we post, what we like, what we share, what we tweet – it can all directly affect the information that we receive back. We are now ALL contributors to the conversation, whether we like it or not. It’s vital that we build lessons that make our students think about the process in which the information is created and delivered, and even more importantly, where does it originate?

In the food court lobby of CNN, the tile forms a world map (with time zone lines). There is a brass plate for every CNN location. Photo by: ana_feliciano (flickr),hq

On the floor of the lobby, tiles form a map of the world. Embedded into this floor are about 45 brass plates that represent a CNN location. No one can be everywhere at once, even a network this large. They rely on each other and the population for news stories. Unless a reporter is standing on the sidewalk during an event, the news is coming second hand. So we all have to dig a little deeper than we used to find out more. Then, we have to decide how to use it.

Our voices are powerful and it’s a heavy responsibility.


The Journey to Here

I’ve been considering for a while what to write on this first post. It should be witty, thought-provoking, and special, right? Well, as I sit here dodging the projectile toys that my toddler is fast-balling around the kitchen, I realize it’s much more important to just be real. So, what’s been on my mind lately? My journey to here.

Through out my life, career has been something that has eluded me. I was born into a family in which half of us are notorious for taking the long way around life and typically not settling into a career until our 30’s (if ever).  I have proven to be no different. One of my grandfathers held a variety of jobs throughout his life: he was a school teacher, a car salesman, a landlord to a trailer park in an army town, and (my personal favorite) owner/operator of a worm farm. He was a jack of all trades, master of a few. Later in life, he’d just fall asleep in front of Nascar races watching the stock ticker to find out if he’d lost or gained anything that day. It’s fairly normal for us to end up teaching deaf kids in Kenya, nursing, welding, consulting for businesses, curating in national museums, or thinking about Mars. We’re all over the place.

When I was young, I thought I wanted to be a vet. Luckily (or unluckily, whichever way you want to look at it), I was in a Girl Scout troop who took us around to visit the professionals who held careers to which we aspired. The second I saw the operating table in our local vet’s office, I was out. Done. No way. See ya. So, what next? Teacher. I loved school and quite a few of my family members were teachers, so why not. It wasn’t something I truly desired to do, I don’t think, it just seemed to make sense. I held this idea from the time I was in 3rd grade all the way until my junior year in college when I had an epiphany while I was trying to simultaneously outmaneuver a lightning storm and a mountain lion in New Mexico (I managed this, obviously, although I’m pretty sure if the mountain lion had really wanted to eat me, there’s not much I could’ve done about it). “If I actually live through this, I need to find something I actually love.  I love showing others how to do things and seeing them succeed because of me, but does it have to be in a classroom?” So, when I got back to my university that fall, I dropped my teaching option (and, subsequently the Master’s program that paired with my BA), graduated with an English degree with a minor in Speech Communication and set out to find out what I could actually do with that. Admin work, if you were wondering.

After working for Mizzou off-and-on for about three years as an Administrative Assistant, I knew I had to do something different. I loved the people I worked with but I was bored a lot.  When I’m bored, bad things happen. I either fall asleep and get very lazy or I start causing trouble or I get under people’s feet (ask my colleagues). So, I drug myself back to college and completed classes for a teacher’s cert and went to the classroom. It was during this part of my career that I bumped into my true love and passion: librarianship. I was teaching 6th Grade Reading and took my students to the library once a week. I have no idea why this career hadn’t occurred to me before. I suspect because, as much time as I spent in libraries growing up, there wasn’t anything inspiring about it. I adored my elementary library but the librarian seemed kind of mean and I was scared of her. My middle/high school library was boring and drab. The librarian was amazingly kind and never hovered but the space itself was quite uninspired and cloistered and I never saw her outside of that room. Small town Oklahoma didn’t have much cash for places like libraries.

After moving back to Colorado, I started an online program for my MLS while working full time as a corporate Executive Assistant. The work was still a bit tedious but my boss was fantastic. He would randomly use me as a sounding board for ideas, let me do my homework in slow moments, and make fun of me when I was grumpy. He encouraged me to follow my passion and shoved me back out into the world when it was time.

Then, reality set it. There are different types of libraries (why did no one take the time to explain this to me when I was in my degree?!) and each has it’s own personality. There’s an impression that each type of library demands a special set of skills and if you’re good at one, then you won’t be good at another. Well, it’s true that each demands a special touch, but most librarians are trained at a strong enough baseline that they can jump in and perform decently. Problem is – I don’t want to be decent. I want to be excellent. I was good at School Librarianship (I was in a college prep school with high schoolers doing college level work) but I found it difficult to deal with the idea that the library would be a youth canteen, especially when the Elementary Librarian was having class and students were trying to study. After that year, I jumped at an opportunity to open a brand new public library and became a Teen Librarian in High Plains District. I enjoyed my time as a public librarian for a variety of reasons but programming was not my “thing”. I found that I was really good at the planning, coordinating, and even the active parts of putting on the programs, but it didn’t catch me in the gut. It didn’t excite me as much as doing computer classes for the adults or even being out on the desk helping patrons find answers (to the most RANDOM questions!).

When my kiddo came along, my longing to be teaching information literacy became a bit overwhelming. I kept dreaming of working in a university library, working with students and faculty who are researching and learning. I kept thinking, “If my son had a passion, what would I tell him to do?” I’d tell him to jump off the cliff and run after it! How could I ever encourage him to do that if I wasn’t willing to do the same? So, toward the end of my maternity leave, I called my boss, got on the sub list, and threw myself into applying to academic jobs. I got this gig as a temporary Instructional Librarian at Auraria and I have loved this job every day. The work is straightforward but ever-changing and my past experiences have allowed me to jump into the deep end quickly. The most challenging piece has been learning the idiosyncrasies of the world of high education. Luckily, I’ve had phenomenal examples to follow and now feel comfortable with the scholarship aspect. I have felt my love, passion, and excitement for this type of librarianship explode. All of the research, the social media, the CV-building, the presentation applications: it all makes sense in light of what we do: teach students. We aren’t “teachers” but we teach. We help students see what information means, what it does, how it affects us, how we affect it, and what our responsibilities are with it, both in the academic world and in life and society and culture. It’s librarianship in its purest form – words matter. We’re guides and mentors and path lighters and walk with students for a short time on their own paths to their own destinations.

I love that.