Emotional Mindfulness

Emotional mindfulness. It’s not something that comes up in the context of work too often, unless we’re talking about work-life balance. That sort of balance is not what I’m writing about here.

Here’s the catalyst to get me thinking about emotions, actions, mindfulness, and the need to be mindful of my workplace emotional self.

It was supposed to be a pretty routine meeting with a colleague about preparing material for campus presentation on international students and academic integrity. In our search for some specifics we we found out the campus-only conference was cancelled. But it took us 2 phone calls of us reaching out to campus office to learn about it.

Then the discussion moved to a different topic – a project that had been transferred from the initial sole responsibility of the subject librarian to the department I work in (which is basically the teaching and learning department at the library). Somewhere in this discussion there came to be some huge misunderstandings of words and phrases that were not intended by the speaker but the listener certainly felt they heard it.

These feelings fed into the misunderstanding because we were each unable to communicate clearly and objectively without taking on a stance of defensiveness. It took real work to power through and figure things out together. And by the end, through my own emotional investment and an overwhelming sense of empathy (and sympathy), I had to leave through a haze of hurt feelings, a few tears, and lump in my throat. Not exactly normal – especially since I feel I do rather well to maintain a pretty level approach to most everything while at work.

These feelings, though, hung around for a couple of days, intermittently, while at work. There’s so much about mindfulness, reflective practice, and daily life at work that is focused on the cognitive and intellectual aspects of ourselves. Being mindful of my emotions took a much greater amount of work on my part. Letting go of an idea – while sometimes difficult – proved to be much easier than letting go of emotions.

My process for all of this has been: to stop dwelling on the conversation and the words and phrases that triggered my emotional response (which is to say that I’m trying not to be judgmental of both myself and the other person); to let the meeting exist in its own place in time; to accept that it is up to me to control my (re)actions – to feel slighted by a conversation with someone else is fine, to hold on to those feelings and base my actions on those feelings and perceptions is on me.

So much of our working lives (at least in the academic / instruction librarian section) focus on both our own and our students intellectual and cognitive engagement that our emotional selves can be lost or pushed out of the way.


Extra note: I would like to give a hat tip to the blogs Rule Number One and Librarian Burnout. They both provide perspectives about engagement, cognition, emotions, and the ‘self’ in ways that get me thinking about my own environment.



Is it the sunshine?

Disclaimer: a post in which I ponder my self and career

It’s summertime – things slow way down on college campuses. At least, they seem to, even when we have all the projects and planning to do for the next school year. [Also, as I write this, it’s only felt like summer for a few days here in central Illinois.]

A recent post by Jessica Olin at Letters to a Young Librarian addressed Preventing Librarian Burnout. My reading eyes tend to see information about Meditation pretty often, so it’s something that is always there, somewhere in the background. Actually meditating, or even taking some time, well… we all fall of the wagon, right?

So I left my office. I left the library building. I sat on a bench – with this as my view


and thought…about things…about work.

(By the way, there are many types of Meditation and Mindfulness that point to ’emptying’ one’s mind. I took a slightly different turn by trying to focus on one thing instead of several things.)

And here’s what I found after 10 minutes or so of contemplation:

I am not very excited about my current work.

Maybe it’s the projects that seem to be slight variations on the same thing – no real creative effort.

Maybe it’s part 2 of ‘spring fever’ – it was beautiful outside and I didn’t really want to be behind a computer screen.

Maybe it’s because the best part of my day is coming home to a little person that absolutely lights up every.single.time. And since it’s just past the season of convocations and the cliche that’s bandied about quite often of finding your passion and doing that: My passion right now is this little man


And there’s another little one coming soon (in July – this time a girl).

Sharing life with a toddler in which you can see the actual learning taking place on a daily basis is amazing. Preparing for and anticipating the arrival of another baby is pretty exciting, too.
Thinking about projects to support learning in young adults (first year college students), who I haven’t met, is not quite as amazing.

This is a slightly strange and uncomfortable place to be in – this transition from a brand new librarian to not brand new, from being focused on the job so intently to working under uncertainty within programmatic changes (my position is changing and no one is quite sure what it will look like on a day-to-day basis).

Getting back to the blog referenced at the top (Preventing Librarian Burnout) – I’m not the only one with this experience. This is what we do, right? We work work work. We do the thing. Then the next thing.

I guess, if I could end with questions for possible feedback, especially from those who have been doing this a while:

Do you lose the excitement? How often?
How do you personally rekindle the excitement?

The Empty and Fulfilling Winter Break

The first day back at work after a long winter break. It’s one of the nice perks about being in academic librarianship – (usually) being given several days off for vacation and “administrative closures.”

My wife joked that my desire for a time off and a “real” vacation consisting of not having to do much wouldn’t start until I came back to work. The intermixing and context for good luck / bad luck started with Jessica being sick on top of first trimester morning (or rather, all day) sickness. So she was able to turn off and stay in bed while I was able to be home and take care of the little man Charlie.

For the  most part, my break was a daily routine of waking up with Charlie, breakfast, playing, checking in Jessica, cleaning up, dishes, snacking/lunch, laundry, playing + reading, naptime, playing, reading, cleaning, making dinner, dishes, playing, bath time, reading / winding down, and off to bed with Charlie. It was very Charlie-centric.

It’s easy to answer the inevitable question of “Did you do anything over break?” with “not much.”
But I’m trying to have a more positive view of things. In that light, I can answer with “I got to spend more than 2 solid weeks hanging out with Charlie!”

Happy new year everyone and I hope you had a fulfilling winter break!


I hear and read a lot about innovation, creativity, organizational culture, assessment, and basically everything related to building a better library organization.

In all of this I also hear a lot about failure. That we should learn from it. That we shouldn’t be afraid to fail. That it is inevitable, especially if we are taking risks, trying new ideas or services.

But that’s it. We talk about failure as this “thing”, this concept, this idea. It’s usually so abstracted that I don’t ever really hear about actual failures. Sure, there’s always talk about “well, we tried this thing and it didn’t work (ie, it failed).” But I can’t remember the last time (or first time?) that I’ve been to a conference or a meeting and the actual failure was talked about. It’s mentioned, but it’s not discussed, as though the often-used quote or platitude is enough. We can’t get past a certain level when talking about a specific failure.


you know, don’t worry about defining or talking about failure or success, just do it (sorry nike) image from http://successfortress.com/honda-on-failure-the-key-to-success/

Why did it fail? What were some of the issues and/or causes? Was it completely a total failure or can we change just a few things?

I don’t want to be overly pessimistic or unappreciative. Libraries (and librarians) do talk about how to improve, difficulties of implementing new ideas or services, and that’s important and helpful.

In the end, though, discussing difficulties isn’t quite the same as discussing failure. Along with the platitudes about failure – it’s inevitable, we can learn from it – the positive and encouraging leaders tell us that we should feel like it’s okay to fail. If we don’t ever talk about it, we never really get comfortable with the idea of it, and if we can’t be comfortable talking about it, I doubt we’ll be comfortable enough to actually take those risks that might lead to failure (and then, possibly, success).


Finding a voice

Finding a voice.
Specifically, my voice.

It’s been quite some time since I’ve published anything in this format (or any format for that matter). I looked over the very few and very general posts that I’ve made so far. I had the intent of creating a more well-rounded online personality, something that was more than facebook or random mentions or contact information listed on an employer website.

I could blame it on starting a new job – just trying to get my bearings in a new position, in a new place, in a new state, …I could blame it now on having a new addition to the family – of course I want to spend as much time with a new baby as I can, it takes more time getting things “in order” around the house, I had to change clothes before heading to work because I received an impromptu shower while changing a diaper, …

But, honestly, looking back at how I’ve worked so far, I’m not sure I know my professional voice yet. Sure, I’m comfortable in face-to-face meetings with my colleagues. I believe I could hold my own in a conversation at a conference with you. It’s that whole voice thing as it relates to finding a place at the larger professional table of the library world.

So, for those of you who have found a voice, or at least are further along in creating your own, what advice can you offer to someone looking to become more vocal in the online world? What are some of your habits to make sure you aren’t shrugging off writing? What sorts of mental exercises do you use to move beyond reading others’ blogs to interacting?

And for anyone interested, here’s a picture of the guy who has been taking up so much time lately.


I hope this isn’t the electronic equivalent of shoving baby pictures in your face when you don’t ask about it.

It’s the same. But different.

There are obviously a lot of similarities in academic libraries – there is a common language and similar goals (however broad they may be) that academic libraries share, research, and discuss.

And that’s where I am now. There are conversations and attitudes that I’m very familiar with, but the smaller, more granular elements are mixing differently, creating a different alchemy of organizational culture.

How do we do more with less? How do we create a culture of collaboration? of innovation? How do we move forward with a shared vision when everyone is already so busy and tired from keeping all the plates spinning?

These are questions that need conversations. [And ultimately, decisions, but that’s a little further beyond the point I’m trying to make right now.] In my very limited experience at two academic libraries, it’s these conversations that don’t happen. At least not on a larger organizational scale. They happen all the time among informal groups. But how long can these informal groups meet and discuss issues in an environment in a way that elicits change within the larger organization?

The movement to a more modern educational system that places more emphasis on collaboration and group work for our students, many libraries find themselves in limited spaces that discourage serendipitous conversations and critical thinking.

Many academic libraries I am familiar with have done well to create individual work spaces/stations for both their students and their employees. There’s been a major push and move towards creating collaborative spaces for students. But what are we doing for our librarians and employees?

Back from…where am I?

A lot has happened since I last wrote (part of the reason there has been a gap).

First: I moved. I accepted an Instructional Services Librarian position at Illinois State University in Normal, IL (part of Bloomington-Normal – and yes, the “normal” jokes are already rolling in). My wife and I moved in early May, which was right around the second point.

Second: My wife graduated with a Master’s degree in Public Health. Helping to keep her sane was a part-time job. Of course, part of the insanity was trying to pack things up and get ready for a big move while she was trying to finish school.

Third: It’s difficult to figure out exactly what to write about when there is so much going on – a new city, a new job, new responsibilities, etc… there’s just so much new that it’s hard to pinpoint any one thing.

For now I’m still finding my feet in all this change but I’m looking forward to catching up and finding new things to write about.

I’ll keep you posted.

The landscape of CMSsssss

I’ve been thinking about CMS(es?) [CMS – Course Management Systems (or Content Management Systems or Learning Management Systems)]

UK Libraries has been working with Blackboard (Bb) Outcomes to manage the assessment component of our library instruction sessions. It’s been a bumpy road, to say the least. Just when we get everyone used to the idea of assessment and how to use google docs/surveys, we introduce Bb Outcomes. I don’t know if people have similar issues, but for us it felt like the difference between the intuitive ease of a touch-screen tablet and working with MS-DOS.

We keep hearing that this system is going to be so much easier and better, especially with assessment activities. So far, I remain pretty skeptical. The time spent on working out all the bugs (which have been numerous and not all are solved) has created a workflow in which library instructors focus a disproportionate amount of time on assessment. To be more clear, this is time not spent on how to be a better teacher, how to improve instruction, or collaborate with classroom instructors. The assessment begins and ends with student learning. Not to downplay the fact that student learning has become a major part of library instruction evaluation but the assessment is not just about student learning. It’s about how we adapt and improve our instruction based on that assessment.

And then I read about this news. And this.
Is it too hopeful to believe that assessment may become part of a service and not a product?

slowing down

After 15 seconds of watching this video I found myself wanting to to look elsewhere, read something, to just get on with it already. Even though the it I needed to get going with was just more information consumption. So I made it a challenge to slow down long enough to simply watch a video and listen to a song.

Sigur Ros – Ekki mukk

Organization(al) Culture

I’ve been having lots of conversations with colleagues about organizational culture. I’m in a pretty interesting position; I have all the qualities of a professional-level librarian but I rank low on the organizational chart (as far as status goes = library technician). These conversations have been with others on a similar level as well as all the way up to the associate and head deans.

One of the biggest concerns seems to be that we need ideas. Sorry. We need IDEAS!

Yet, when everyone already talks of having to do sooooo much, where do we find the time to think about ideas, much less talk about ideas. Another term I hear quite often is the “silo effect”. Asking and encouraging individuals to present their ideas works within this silo effect – if we don’t have the opportunity to talk about, combine, or transform one person’s idea, then it’s only going to go as far as that one person can take it. (Though I acknowledge that even asking for ideas and being available to talk and listen to everyone may be a vast improvement for some organizations.)

My initial thoughts revolved around suggesting that we set up periodic days (or half-days) in which different departments could come together and actually talk about ideas – you know, brainstorm.
Herein lies question number 1: How does one best provide an example of the brainstorming process without being in a position of leadership (at least, according to title)? I’ve been around long enough to see what happens when ideas are suggested – “that won’t work”, “we tried that years ago and it failed”, “we don’t have any policy for that”, “we’d have to change too much” and so on…

This difficulty with change or implementing new ideas leads to my next question:
Is it inherent within larger organizations to install a clear line of hierarchy? Do organizations just have it in their DNA to create highly specialized levels of structure as a way to produce efficiency? How do we shift focus to effectiveness? And flexibility?

I know there’s a lot to unpack in that last bit but I’d like to hear from others about your organizational structure and culture.