Long distance sprint, LibParlor, and building up my habit of research: A spring recap

“Once February is over, things will slow down…”

“Once March is over, things will slow down…”

“Once April is over, things will slow down…”

“Once the semester is over, things will slow down…”

During the last few months, this has been my revised mantra. At one point, I believed that mantra to be true, however, the more I said it, the more laughable the phrase was to me. Nothing was slowing down. Recently, I stumbled across a half started Pages document I started in February. The phrase I had started with in the half-discovered thoughts was “long distance sprint.” The document is mostly half sentences and a link to Veronica Arellano Douglas’ post from February called “Humblebrags, Guilt, and Professional Insecurities” where the term vocational bleed was really resonating with me (spoiler: still resonating with me).

A long distance sprint is exactly what this semester has felt like. A series of projects, initiatives, aligned approaches, and meetings, building up, slowly at first, then ramping up week after week. At one point, as I searched for a date in 2017, I did a year flashback to my April 2017 calendar. I saw the open spaces, the handful of meetings each week. I navigated back to my 2018 calendar and wow, that space disappears. It makes me think of the ways in which our calendars, and how crammed they are, represent our time, the ways we use it, and how we think about our jobs. Our calendars are records of what we did, or what we hoped to do. And in the end, we need our calendars to remember what we actually did (as evidenced by the time my friend Taylor and I rehashed our stressful weeks, phones in hand, to see the meetings and events that created our stressful weeks). If anyone wants to see my long distance sprint, just look at my calendar.

In everything the spring semester has brought, the thing I’ve lost is a sense of habit. I’ve learned enough about myself since the days of staying up to 5 AM in undergrad to know I need certain things (sleep, obviously, and a regular sense of working out). The sleep I’ve maintained, but the working out occurs in no regular intervals, it has taken forever to get through a book for fun, I hadn’t crafted in a few months, and my writing has been pretty non-existent. In this long distance sprint I had gotten myself into, I was doing just enough to wake up, get stuff done (aka probably send a lot of emails), prepare for the things the following day, and make it home to fall asleep and do it all over again.

And in all of this, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about service as well as the emotional and invisible labor it takes to keep things running. Meetings, emails, agendas, action items, service requests, Zoom room links, and more. In the tenure process I wonder, “How will all my service, all the things I did to keep projects afloat, be represented?” Is there a way to showcase that work? Because those things add up -- no matter how streamlined you get, those things take time, and take time to do well.

This train of thoughts gets me into a spiral of wishing I had more time to write, for me, and for the profession. At some points throughout the semester, I would open up a Word document, my hands poised over the keyboard, but I couldn’t get any farther than that. The reason for this pause: research is still intimidating for me. I guess I should say, social science research is intimidating for me. I think this is because I come from a humanities background, where I remember my English seminars in undergrad were some of my favorite classes, and the ones I felt most challenged in. Writing seminar papers were some of my writing highlights. The ability to read a text, to interpret based on my own experiences, ideas, and influences, and then pair it with other scholarly criticism was my favorite part of research. For me, research was all about pulling things apart, reflecting on those parts, and piecing them together into something meaningful. The way I write is that process.

But social science research, the type of research lauded in LIS, intimidates me. It’s looking for a level of quantitative work, the numbers and stats and correlations that you put together to mean something. I get afraid of doing something wrong, of thinking I don’t have the skills to make it happen, and more often or not, afraid I don’t have the time to really sit down and get it done. LIS is looking for evidence-based practice and I worry that my own praxis, the way I pair theory and experience isn’t a way that will be recognized.

With this budding insecurity, I checked out Enhancing Library & Information Research Skills: A Guide for Academic Librarians by Lili Luo, Kristine R. Brancolini, and Marie R. Kennedy. I found the book through reading an interview with Luo, published on the ACRL Instruction Section website. The goal of the book is to model the process and training done at IRDL, a competitive week-long program designed to give you the support and confidence you need to do research in LIS. I started reading it on an unusual spring day in State College, and thought, “Yes this book is perfect because it takes me through the process, step by step.”

As I kept working my way through the book, I did appreciate that step-by-step approach (and even saw some of my colleagues cited as exemplars of doing research!). But, at some points in the book, I felt prepared for the content they presented. I was surprised at times that I felt so prepared, or at the very least, felt semi-knowledgeable. But then I realized, that’s the LibParlor influence kicking in.

I think back to that March and April calendar of 2017. The ways in which I was preparing to make a transition but had no idea what that would look like makes me chuckle. I see now that part of that transition was helping to create LibParlor. I would have never guessed that when I met Chelsea at ACRL 2017, that not only would our friendship grow, but we would create something that fires me up everyday. These days, I don’t spend many days without talking about LibParlor, my job, and or my life with Chelsea and Charissa. In our weekly Zoom meetings, our Slack messages at all times of the day, and our conversations in person (yay conferences), we have figured out a good amount. We’ve been lucky to learn a lot from our colleagues, ones we admire and look up to when it comes to LIS research. There’s no manual for building a blog like ours, so sometimes we feel like we’re free-falling, but honestly, it’s good to be free-falling with them because I know we’ll figure out how to land, somewhat gracefully. The work of LibParlor is paying off --  I saw that more clearly in reading Enhancing Library & Information Research Skills, where I could think back to posts we’ve published, covering some of those steps the book took me through. After getting through the book (and even mapping out a future research project), I realized that all of these resources, the writing and the people, will help me figure all of this research stuff out.

I can sense that the sprint is slowing down. I know because a few Fridays ago, I found that research flow I’ve been missing this spring. It was a Friday morning where I had time to sit in some survey responses, trying to find 25 people we wanted to interview for a project. Fifteen minutes into the digging, I felt myself settle. I no longer cared about any email coming in or the meeting I needed to attend -- I just wanted to read every survey response and figure it all out.

Reality hit, of course, and there was a meeting that could not be canceled. I packed up my things to move across campus, and didn’t finish my decisions until Sunday, once I was deep into an event I was hosting. I know those times, that research groove, can exist on a more regular basis. But it’s about building in that time and honoring that I need that time to be in that mindset.

With all of that in mind, it’s fitting that my favorite quote in Enhancing Library & Information Research Skills was, “In order for academic librarians to become lifelong researchers, they must develop a habit of research” (151). My goal this summer is to develop that habit -- to stop the sprint, as best as I can. My habit of research must be a combination of what Andrew Preater talked about -- engaging with scholarly work on a regular basis -- and finding that time to write, explore, and learn more about the type of LIS librarian-researcher I am. Of course, I know this work isn’t done in isolation, it’s done with my community of colleagues, in-person and online. It’s time for me to get back into some more regular habits and I’m pretty jazzed about it.