For me, this year feels all about putting theory into practice. What I love about grad school (especially this semester) is all the theory I have floating around in my head. I'm constantly challenged and questioned and encouraged. I read every reading because I just never know when a reading will be "the one" aka when things click and my brain whirls around a bit faster.
And then there's practice. So often we make this divide between those who deal with theory and those who are in the field, practicing. Both experiences are important and when you have a balance of both, they inform each other. Making you a better person and for me, a better librarian.
As a library supervisor at two residence hall libraries, I'm getting the chance to use community engagement theory. I spent so much time talking about how to become a part of a community and now I have the chance to try. We're eight weeks into the semester and I feel like I'm not doing too bad. I can walk through both residence halls and recognize a lot of students. I'm getting to know my clerks on a more personal/professional basis and trying to push them to keep enhancing our libraries. Even as I sat in one of the lobbies tonight, talking to a friend, I was interrupted countless times by people I knew saying hello.
To me, that's a big deal (that lunch is continuing to pay off).
I trace this success/engagement to three things:
- Being physically present. Now some might say it's crazy that I have office hours, or that for at least eight hours every week, I'm sitting in the library. Do I answer a lot of reference questions? No, not really. But what I get instead is countless interactions with students who use the library, students who are trying to figure the library out, and the clerks I supervise. If I can be a reliable physical present every week, then people are more likely to approach me. I'm familiar. Also if they have a sense that I am available to help, then they are more likely to call on my help when they need it.
- Ask questions. My job is to ask more questions than any other sentence I construct. Questions help me get to know people, understand what they are looking for, get to the root of the issue/idea/problem, and more.
- Be the constant cheerleader. Encourage, encourage, encourage. I can't say that enough. I want the clerks I supervise to feel empowered to speak up, to suggest changes, to tell me about their observations, and to feel comfortable talking to me. I give praise where it's due and I have high expectations. But for every step I'm there to encourage and excited.
My other job, continuing to help out at the Urbana Neighborhood Connections Center (UNCC) is more about pushing my practice even farther. For UNCC, I am celebrating my one year mark of being there. I know the kids well and have found my way into the community. I'm in a place where I'm constantly pushing myself to think about how I can do more, and be better. So much groundwork has been laid and so now is my chance to see where we can go. I can't tell you how excited I am when those kids run through the doors of the center after school. They might be handful of energy at times, but their energy is inspiring.
These elementary students have taught me a lot, so here are some of my favorite takeaways.
- There's always another way to explain something. If you can't think of another way, think harder.
- We all need free time. And encouragement to finish our homework so we can have free time. Tears might be shed but don't back down.
- Hugs are necessary and crucial to living.
- The best way to get to know someone is to play with them. Sitting down at a computer and playing Roblox was one of the best moves I've ever made.
This year, perhaps more than others, I am feeling both challenged in the workplace and thriving from these challenges. Things are clicking and class is so much more interesting when I am able to take this dense theory and humanize it, by bringing in work examples and life experience. It makes me excited for what is ahead (aka a full time job being a librarian). It goes to show that all that theory isn't just theory, it can be a part of your lived framework influencing how you react in situations and how you go about doing your job. I'll be curious to see how far this engagement takes me and what I keep learning from these experiences.