I am flooded with memories lately. Two years ago on May 3, I was dressing up for a job interview. I bought a bright pink blazer to match the spring season. I was so nervous. I must have done something right because they hired me. This was to be a whole new beginning for us. A new future in a big city with lots of places to go, people to meet and things to do. I can still feel the excitement. I wonder if I had known then about the lockdown, that we were heading straight for a life in a big city where numbers were high, where even taking walks in our neighborhood put us on edge, a life in a big city with no real place to go, would I have still wanted to move?
Twelve years ago on May 3 my son and I were experiencing our first Spring in Upstate New York. We had just had the coldest, heaviest, snowiest winter I had ever experienced in my life. It was a complete shock to my system, this feeling of confinement, this feeling of being stuck in the middle of nowhere, the fear of driving in lake effect snowfall. Soon that feeling would manifest into a depression and some of the darkest days of my life. But not on this day. On this day, May 3, 2009 my son could finally dance around our yard in a onesie, picking flowers, climbing our apple trees. I can remember the day so well, I can see his little face, the delight of realizing all this space was for him. There would be many more years of him playing in that yard, hide-and-go-seek chase with his neighbors, building huts, sword fighting with Urukai or some other fantasy.
I’ve been trying to write this post for two months. Remember when blogging was raw and unstructured? Without all the best practices or weekly content prompts, when we LiveJournaled for catharsis before we had an intended audience or shared posts across platforms, complete with hashtags for maximum impact. I don’t really share on social media as much as I used to, I think, maybe because the world just feels too noisy, I can’t get my thoughts straight. I’m not using Twitter at all any longer, most of the people I followed I’d never met in person and whenever I did engage I often found myself feeling angry, depressed, confused, or generally more isolated. I’ve cleaned out my Facebook and Instagram, downloaded the archive file, and deleted almost all of the pictures except for the most recent. I can’t explain why exactly, I just know I suddenly started to feel protective of our memories, almost coveting them, selfishly as if sharing them even with our closest friends somehow diluted them. My guess is that most of these emotions are a response to the bewilderment and anxiety resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. Or maybe they’ve been lurking beneath the surface for a while and the pandemic just gave me more time to act on them.
COVID-19 came down on us hard and fast. Liam and I were on Spring break in San Antonio when stirrings officially started here in Texas. A co-worker, who’s husband works for the city of Houston, texted me the second day we were there. She started the text with “don’t panic but” and then proceeded to tell me to keep an eye on things because word was that they were about to start shutting the city down and implementing travel restrictions. Later that day, Liam and I were walking down the Riverwalk and noticed a news broadcast taking place outside a restaurant. While walking by I could hear phrases like “have canceled their event” and “taking precautions”. I wasn’t exactly ready to ruin our Spring Break yet so I tried to continue with our plans without alarming my kid. Which included a visit to Six Flags. Yup. We did that. Not smart, mommy. I was clearly in denial.
A few days before I left for San Antonio, we had a meeting at work about coming up with a contingency plan, just in case. Remember, UHD is located in downtown Houston, everyone else in that meeting managed to survive and pull the library through the traumatic events of Hurricane Harvey. It wasn’t so much that no one was taking this virus thing seriously, they were, it’s just that it didn’t seem like that immediate of a situation. Not like a hurricane. Most of the conversation centered around how everyone else was behaving and by the way, where the hell did all the toilet paper go. Truth is, at the time, my headspace was overwhelmed with daily life. I had work, downtown traffic to fight, a dog to walk, dinner to decide on, a kid to take care.
Anyway, so far we’ve come through just fine. Liam adjusted to school from home relatively well. He missed his friends but he’s also often found school environment to be a bit anxiety-inducing so having the ability to Zoom a class from the comfort of his home, drinking tea while snuggling with our cat Starbuck was a good fit for him. For me, working from home has been surprisingly more productive than I thought it would be. Yes, there are distractions but as long as I keep a project list and daily goals, it works just about the same as it does when I’m in the office. We’ve also, somehow, in the middle of all this, managed to find a house. Liam and I have really liked living in Kingwood and the home we’ve found is actually just a few miles from where we’re renting now. Originally, the idea was for my parents to find a home nearby, but once the pandemic hit, we decided it would probably be a heck of a lot more practical if we just buy one big house that we can all live in. Our closing date is July 17. I’ll share photos when the day gets closer.
Our governor chose to start lifting the pandemic restrictions in May. Overall, I don’t feel that this has been a smart move. We’re now amongst several states who have seen a drastic increase in COVID-19 cases and Houston currently has the highest. I’m apprehensive about the Fall. UHD was due to begin a phased opening last week but there was a change of plans last minute and they’ve decided to postpone opening for now so I’ll probably be working from home until August. I will admit, I am emotionally exhausted from these last few months, in a way that I have never been before. So I’m trying to be gentle with myself but vigilant. Optimistic but realistic.
There have been a lot of walks through the Greenbelt since all this started. As the weeks went by, more and more painted rocks like this would show up, creating some much needed positive energy and thoughts.
Eleven years ago I moved my little family (which at that point consisted of a husband, a toddler and two beagles) to Watertown, New York. We had been living in Oklahoma for a good seven years, ever since we’d gotten married. I had been working part-time at a public library and going to school to get my MLIS. I worked with some really wonderful people at that library. Thanks to them, I found my passion for the profession. It was 2004, 2005, right at that time when librarians ruled the blogosphere and Web 2.0/Library 2.0 was this whole big thing.
When I finally graduated in 2006, a few months after my son was born (ya, timed that one almost perfectly), I felt like I was coming into the profession at a really exciting time. I spent those first few years trying to find my footing as a new mom and a new librarian. After a few years of full-time experience under my belt, I decided it was time to make a move professionally. Although public libraries will always have a special place in my heart, my experience in graduate school had revealed a passion for teaching information literacy. So, I decided to make a career shift to academic libraries and ended up being offered an entry-level Public Services and Reference position at SUNY Jefferson Community College. I was so excited but so terrified at the same time.
I sometimes feel as though my path as a librarian reflects the different stages of life. Childhood, adolescence, young adult, middle-age…sometimes I feel like I’m between young adult and middle age, other days when I’m feeling more cynical, I’m definitely more middle-aged bordering on mid-life crisis. Having said that, it was in Watertown, during my time at SUNY JCC that I truly came of age as a librarian. That was where I learned some serious shit and I have so many people to thank for that. Not just my colleagues at the library or the campus community as a whole but the entire SUNY librarian community. I had some amazing mentors and was provided with so many opportunities that allowed me to really discover what I was actually good at. As a result, I now feel confident and inspired in my profession. There’s been personal growth too. I experienced some hard times those first few years and if it wasn’t for the support of my family, friends, and colleagues, I probably never would have gotten back on my feet again, never would have made it through my divorce and certainly never would have believed in myself again.
This past July I moved my little family again. This time, it was with my son, my dog and three cats. I packed all of them into my car and drove all the way to Houston, Texas, my parents following along in a U-Haul. In August, I started a new job as Information Literacy Instruction Coordinator at the University of Houston-Downtown. These past four months have been full of so much change and I must admit, I’m experiencing a rather overwhelming mental exhaustion from it all. We’re renting a home for now, so there’s this sense that we’re kinda only halfway moved. When you move as an adult, with kids and animals, there are all these little things that you don’t anticipate that end up adding little bite-sized portions of stress. Establishing new doctors, vets, banks, getting a new driver’s license, car registration, car insurance. I love living in a city where there is so much to choose from, so many things to do, but a bigger city means longer drives and more traffic. Which for me, just means spending more money on Audible but still, if I need to take my car in to get serviced, I can’t just drop it off during my lunch break. Instead, I have to take the morning or afternoon off because it takes me 30 to 40 minutes to get pretty much anywhere around here. Regardless, we’ve been settling in quite well and finding our rhythm.
My new job is a good fit too. I get to really focus on what I love to do and there’s some interesting challenges/oportunities I’m looking forward to taking on. I really like it here. But I do have these moments where I get a little teary and start to really miss my life in Upstate New York. I miss the familiar, I miss my friends. I think remembering my life there brings up so much nostalgia, especially where my son is concerned. I have so many fond memories of him growing up there, so maybe it’s less about missing a place and more about missing a time. It’s hard to tell. At any rate, we have a new adventure ahead of us now. I’m looking forward to seeing what it will bring.
Sometimes I get these ideas the day before I have to teach a class. They always seem like great ideas. Awesome ideas, and the fact that I’m trying to put it together last minute for a class that I’ve pretty much had canned for the last few years doesn’t seem to dawn on me until right before I teach the class and I’m like “This might not work after all. Why did I think this was going to work? I should just do what I’ve always done, they’re all going to look at me funny when I tell them to do this, I should of worn flats, I’m going to trip in these heel boots” and every other insecurity hits me like a ton of bricks.
This happened yesterday. I completely changed my approach to teaching database and keyword strategy. It was for an Intro to College class so all the students are new to college libraries and resources. It was an hour and half long class so I figured I had enough time to bumble through some of the awkwardness and find my footing. I did the same lesson again today for an ENG 101 that was only an hour long. In both cases, the class will be returning for a second session. My idea was to use this first session to focus on the mechanics of searching databases. I have always spent a few minutes at the beginning of the class explaining what a database is, how they work, how they can differ, and when there’s time I have them following along with doing a search in Google and then do another one in our discovery tool so they can see the difference. The idea is to always start with something they’re familiar with, then move on to something that’s new and unfamiliar. I decided to expand on that a bit this time by designing an anticipatory set that would allow students more hands-on time to explore several familiar tools like Google, Amazon and NPR.org and our databases, using a question sheet to reflect on the process as they go.
I first start by explaining the very basics of what a database is and instead of just talking about it, I’m actually reaching outside of my comfort zone and drawing stuff on the white board. Then they do the anticipatory set. They have to search all different tools using the keyword “santuary cities” and then answer the questions: How many results are there? What type of information/sources do you get in the results? Does it provide lots of filters or just a few?
Then we discuss how the results differ and which one’s they felt more comfortable searching in. The key points that come out of the discussion are:
1) Google has lots of different kinds of information in their results, website, videos, news, .coms, .orgs, etc.
2) Amazon does give you books but you can’t read the books without paying for them. So Amazon isn’t so much a database of information as it is a database of records for stuff that has inforemation that you have to purchase first. This is where I can highlight how our library databases do have books, but they are books they can access and read for free.
3) NPR.org is full of news. It differs from Google in that it’s primarily all news related material. This introduces the concept of a database that focuses on a specific discipline or source type.
4) Search Almost Everything (our discovery tool) is kind of like Google but the information provided in the results are more appropriate for college research. It also has records for stuff like Amazon but you can access the full text, unlike Amazon.
5) The religion and philosophy database is more like NPR.org because it focuses on a specific discipline. There are also less filters offered in comparison to Search Almost Everything.
The rest of the lesson focuses on keyword strategy and develop a research question. I’m still not sure yet if I’m going to keep this as a standard lesson. This anticipatory set does take about fifteen minutes total once you include the discussion time afterwards, so it definitely works best when you have more than one session with the class and longer class period.
One of the many aspects I love about working at a college belonging to a larger university system, is the wider community of librarians I get to work with that belong to that system. SUNY has 64 colleges and universitites, each one unique in it’s own way but there are also a lot of similarities and challenges that we have to face together. The SUNY Librarians Association provides a community where we can do that. I have participated and been a member of national library organizations, attended national conferences, but I don’t think any of those experiences can compete with the marvelous connections I’ve made through SUNYLA. I was secretary for the Executive Board for a few years which was quite honestly, a lot more fun than it should of been. It’s all about the people, I had such a blast. For the last few years I’ve been co-chair for the Working Group for Information Literacy (WGIL). We have many librarians who are passionate about information literacy working at SUNY insitutions. However, we are spread out all over the state so our meetings are usually held virtually. One of the biggest challenges in recent years has been the lack of “energy” and participation in the group. Like I said, we’re all passionate about information literacy but we’re also all really busy and finding time to contribute to working groups and committees is always hard. For a while, the other co-chair and I thought maybe we could get things moving with a blog. Contributors signed up and posted articles sharing ideas for library instruction, etc. But writing articles takes time, and it was hard to get volunteers to contribute (let’s face it…blogging is rather 2006) so last summer we all came up with another idea. Fifteen minute lightening talks. These are low-effort, jump on Zoom and listen to me talk about this cool idea I tried or challenge I’ve been having regarding information literacy. Our goal is to have one monthly and so far it’s going pretty well. If you’re interested in listening to some of the recordings you can find them on our blog: https://sunyla.org/informationliteracy/