An Outreach Role Hitting Close to Home: Disability Resource Programs and the PASS Program

Two of my energetic colleagues, Janet and Kaela, have been doing serious inroads with outreach to various student services offices on our campus. They titled the effort the PASS program, or Library Partnerships to Achieve Student Success. They set up a website here, and have built relationships with a number of offices on campus that directly serve student populations who may have special needs that the Library can help with.

Now that they have done the hard work of building relationships with university staff in those areas, and developed some outreach materials, programming, and reference hours, they asked for folks interested n helping them continue the program. I was very excited to volunteer to be our liaison to the Disability Resource Programs office, and I’m looking forward to helping in this area for a few reasons, not the least of which is that I identify with the student population.

If you’re a Facebook follower of mine, you may know that I’m suffering from one of the worst rheumatic flares I’ve had since my RA diagnosis in 2011. In the past week, I’ve spent 4 days of 7 in the emergency room with out of control pain and inflammation; I’ve been out of work this week and negotiating some serious medications and long appointments with various medical specialists. I was diagnosed while at the beginning of my doctoral prorgram, and it took me a long time to realize I needed the services of my campus disability services office. In my current state, I am reminded how easy it is to become overwhelmed with the basics of survival.

CSU Channel Islands serves a number of nontraditional demographics. To be a student and dealing with with a disability on top of academics, work, social life, and family responsibilities can feel like drowning. I know what that feels like. I’m also proof that you can make it to the other side, and I know that when I was struggling to keep it all together, I would have loved to have someone who looked like me. (Personally, I found some satisfaction of folks I could identify with on the PhDisabled website, but it would have been so much more fulfilling to talk to someone in person.) To be able to serve as an ambassador for our library’s services to students is always something I take great pride in. The opportunity to provide tailored outreach and programming to help students make the most of what the library has to offer…yep, that makes me happy.

I was actually out in town, and met a young lady who was in  a position to learn about my chronic health issues. One of her coworkers told her I worked at CI, and she mentioned she was having trouble as a newly matriculating student with paperwork, registering, and worrying about her disability issues. I managed to connect her with the right offices, and give her my info so she could always contact me. I told her my motto was that I may not always be the right person, but I can probably get students TO the right person for the job, they just need to find someone they ar comfortable asking for help. She ended up happy, I felt like I had been a good ambassador, everybody wins.

I am excited to be a resource for these students, and look forward to watching Janet and Kaela grow the PASS program. I think it will be an enormous help to our students, new and returning.

Journal of Academic Librarianship: Article Forthcoming, a Note on Reviewers, More Work

Yesterday I received an email from the Journal of Academic Librarianship requesting some minor revisions on a paper I submitted a bare few weeks ago (a portion of my dissertation work, rewritten as a scholarly journal article). It took me all of perhaps 40 minutes to respond to the reviewers’ suggestions and make recommended edits, and I resubmitted the manuscript around 3:45pm PST before preparing to teach an information literacy session at 4:30.

This morning I received the following email (excerpted) from the editor:

I am pleased to inform you that your paper “The Relationship Between Academic Library Department Experience and Perceptions of Leadership Skill Development Relevant to the Academic Library Directorship” has been accepted for publication in The Journal of Academic Librarianship.”

Huzzah! This may be the record for fastest ‘revise and resubmit’ ever. I was thrilled–I was afraid the article might be too long, might be too statistical in nature, might simply not be of interest. A lot of folks whose work I admire have appeared in this journal, and I’m proud be among those researchers. In particular, I’m excited because more eyes will see the research this way than via the actual (TL;DR) dissertation, and I’m interested to see whether it will spark some conversation about our ideas about leadership development in the profession. 

The anonymous reviewers who commented on the article were extremely helpful, and since I can’t thank them in person, I’ll do so here. It was more difficult than I expected to excerpt an article from the larger dissertation and still make it flow well for the reader. I pulled two closely related research questions from the original five in the dissertation–the ones dealing specifically with data about leadership skill development and academic library work. A shorter version of the introduction and literature review, the statistical analysis, and then the discussion…and it was still far too long. It took a few weeks to craft a version I was happy with, and even then, it was long. The reviewers helped significantly by recommending I put explanations of statistical tests into footnotes to make things easier for the reader–a really good way to make sure readers who are interested in statistical analysis or replication have the information they need, but also allowing the less statistically-inclined to go straight to the important information about significance. 

Honestly, having lived with the manuscript for this long, it was very helpful to have multiple sets of eyes on it. Other recommendations included adding some information here and there to refine an idea, to better articulate consequences, to explore next steps and how to to improve the research design for future iterations. Much of the usual manuscript cleanup and reviewer comments were handled by the dissertation committee members, but I was still surprised that indeed, the more eyes the better. Thank you, reviewerfolk, for the close reading, patience, and recommendations for refinement!

Next steps? 

  • Well, firstly I want to take on the other three research questions from the dissertation. Those deal with position in academic libraries, not department; the findings are interesting (to me, at least). I will probably shop it to College & Research Libraries or to the Journal of Library Administration, since it focuses on academic library management and leadership at different levels of the organization. 
  • Secondly, I’m in the process of extending the research to different types of academic institutions to see if my research conclusions hold for non-Master’s granting colleges. I’ve gotten IRB approval for one more iteration of the study at baccalaureate institutions, and and am about to apply for approval to collect information on associate’s-granting institutions.
  • Thirdly, I’m working on developing an extension of this research into academic administrators outside of the library. I’ve pitched this idea as a student-faculty collaboration research course (UNIV 498), and I should be hearing about whether or not that was approved here in the next few weeks. I got my start in research under my undergraduate advisor (Dr. Nayef Samhat, now President of Wofford College), and I’d love to get students actively involved in research and analysis. 

The research side of life. I’m digging it. As an instruction librarian, I discuss with students the peer review process, and the iterative process of research as inquiry. It is important to me to be a scholar-practitioner, to be doing what it is that I teach. It makes my teaching more authentic, because I’m not just telling students how to do something from on high. I’m not just telling students what troubles they will encounter. I’m one of them, a fellow researcher, a fellow student, a fellow enquirer. I’ve just been doing it longer, and have a bit more experience, a few more battle scars (or carpal tunnel, as it were). More on that philosophy of practicing scholarship later…

Dr. Colleen Harris-Keith, At Your Service

I have been a nerd since I was a toddler. For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to get a doctorate. 

At 7:00am PDT this morning, I defended my dissertation research, “An exploratory study of the relationship between academic library work experience and perceptions of leadership skill development relevant to the academic library directorship.” After my 30 minute presentation, Q&A session with the audience, and discussion with the committee members, I left the Zoom instance (I defended from a distance). When I was reinvited after the committee’s consultation, the inimitable Dr. Ted Miller (my chair, or He Who Is Responsible for Wrangling Colleen and Committee) let me know that the committee’s decision was unanimous:

They are recommendaing that the Graduate School of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga award me the degree of Doctor of Education in Learning and Leadership.

From here on out, it’s paperwork. My committee members are dealing with signature pages, and will check with the Graduate School to see if I can walk (attend graduation) in May, or if I’ll have to wait and attend the ceremony in December. 

I am giddy. Fabulous Husband Jed actually came to my office to sit through the presentation, so I was able to celebrate with him immediately upon signing out of the meeting, immediately followed by a call to my uber-proud mom. My library chair presented me with a congratulatory bottle of pink champagne (how did she know I love that stuff?!). Friends and family have been congratulating and hugging via Facebook and Twitter. I can’t decide whether to drop from exhaustion, or run laps around the house. 

I surprised myself with my emotional reaction to the committee’s official approval. I’ve lived with the idea of Actually Finishing for the past few months, knowing that it was A Thing That Would Happen. But. I laughed. I danced. I cried. I kissed and hugged my husband. I posted to Facebook, and grinned every time someone liked or posted a comment. I kissed and hugged my coworkers. I sweated. I had shivers. I looked at myself in the bathroom mirror and said to myself, “I am a doctor.” It feels surreal.

Now, I know that having a doctorate doesn’t mean a person is any smarter than anyone else. I’ve worked in higher education for too long to be under that illusion anymore. Really, it’s a badge of perseverance more than anything else, I think, and passion for a subject area. But I am so proud. 

Layering on these feelings is that fact that I’m a first-generation college student. My cousin, working on his own doctorate, posted to my Facebook wall noting that I’m the first doctor in the family. (Graduate work isn’t a rarity, though – my sister has her teaching MA, my brother has his Master’s in accounting, one of my cousins is a Physician’s Assistant, and another is working on his Ph.D.) I hadn’t considered that–I’ll be the first doctor on either side of my family tree. I have complicated feelings about this, and expect to blog about it in the near future.

For now, I’m just going to bask in the completed product of five full academic years, with a tough chronic illness diagnosis, a marriage, and a cross-country move happening in the middle of it. And I’m going to hug my husband and bassets.

CFP: Chapters on Academic Library Directors and Leadership

A call for chapters! I’m turning my dissertation into the preface for a book intended to help our directors overcome what data indicate are severe shortfalls in leadership development prior to the directorship. I’m excited that ALA Editions has contracted for the work. See below, and contact me with questions or for more details!

Edited volume title (tentative): So You Want to be an Academic Library Director: Leadership Lessons and Critical Reflections

Publisher: ALA Editions

Editor: Colleen S. Harris-Keith

A number of studies have highlighted that we know what the leadership skills and qualities are that make a good library director. However, there’s not much research that says where academic librarians in particular develop those skills along their career paths, giving the impression that all paths are considered equal. Recently collected data from mid-sized college and university library directors (a much larger leadership pool than just ARLs) reveals disturbing information: not only are not all career paths equal in terms of preparation in particular skills, most academic library directors don’t get to exercise those skills until they become directors (Harris-Keith, 2015). This implies that while academic library directors should be developing campus relationships and informing scholarly communities about important information issues, they are often distracted by the overwhelming work required to get up-to-speed on those necessary leadership skills.

After a thorough introduction addressing the literature and data related to this issue, this volume collects lessons related to very specific leadership skills from the experience of practicing academic library directors.

Proposals are requested for critical, reflective essays addressing the development of one of the skills in relation to a specific project or challenge as academic library director:

Allocating Resources

Budget Management

Building Community Partnerships

Building Teamwork

Business Ethics

Community Relations

Communicating Expectations

Compliance Issues

Computer Technology

Conflict Resolution

Cultural Diversity


Enforcing Policies & Procedures

Faculty & Staff Development

Fundraising/Donor Relations

Legal Issues

Managing Change

Problem Solving

Program Evaluation

School Safety Issues

Strategic Planning

Student-Focused Learning

Vision Articulation

Submission information

Please send titles and abstracts for a concise 2,500-3,000 word essay on leadership lessons as well as a 75-90 word author bio in the body of an email to colleen.harris-keith [at] csuci.edu

Proposal deadline: April 17, 2015

Acceptance notifications: May 1, 2015

First drafts due: November 30, 2015

Final drafts due: March 31, 2016

No previously published or simultaneously submitted material, please.

Editor bio: Colleen S. Harris-Keith serves as Information Literacy Coordinator and Assistant Librarian at the Broome Library on the CSU Channel Islands faculty. Previously, she also served as Head of Access Services at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, and as Assistant Head of Access & Delivery Services at North Carolina State University. Colleen received her MLS from the University of Kentucky, an MFA in Writing from Spalding University, and will graduate with her EdD in Learning & Leadership from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Her work has appeared as book chapters in Library Management Tips that Work (ALA Editions, 2011), The Frugal Librarian (ALA Editions, 2011), Writing and Publishing: The Librarian’s Handbook (ALA Editions, 2010), and Teaching Generation M: A Handbook for Librarians and Educators (Neal-Schuman, 2009), and as articles in Library Review, Journal of Access Services, The Bottom Line: Managing Library Finances, and Library Journal.

[Cited study: Harris-Keith, C. S. (2015). An exploratory study of the relationship between academic library work experience and perceptions of leadership skill development relevant to the academic library directorship. (Dissertation), University of Tennessee Chattanooga, Chattanooga, TN.]

An Aside on Self-Advocacy (or, Colleen Plays Amateur Medical Librarian)

This post is my story, and my charge to you to be your own advocate, particularly when it comes to your medical care. Why am I posting this to my librarianship blog? I debated it. But it impacts my worklife as a librarian, it impacts my colleagues, and it is relevant to my passion for people to educate themselves, to become critical consumers of information.

The Mayo Clinic does a decent job of explaining the disease, and I’m going to lift most of their description and use it here. Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disease. The arthritis you have in your knee from running, or shoulder from pitching, is more likely osteoarthritis, and it comes from wear and tear of the actual joint. Rheumatoid, on the other hand, affects the lining of the joints, and causes painful swelling, bone erosion, and joint deformity.

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease – effectively caused by your body mistaking itself for an invader, and attacking your own fine tissues with your own immune system. You can think of autoimmune disorders as the guard dog that bites the master, instead of guarding the house. Except instead of a single bite, it’s a constant gnawing. That’s close. And RA doesn’t limit itself to the linings of your joints–the inflammation can also affect other organs of the body. In my case, a bad flare and jump in inflammation generally lands me in the hospital with a severely inflamed colon. Good times.

I’ve written about my experience with a chronic inflammatory illness before (here and here). With the move to California, I’ve had to recruit a whole new team of doctors. Those of you who follow me on social media have likely noticed I’m coming off a bad bunch of weeks of feeling awful, being in incredible pain, and far too many 6pm bedtimes to be normal for my age.

The new California rheumatologist asked me to forego taking all of my medications so she could get my baseline measurements. I was skeptical and a bit afraid; it had taken my Tennessee team of doctors nearly three years to come up with a combination that had me functional, and to go from three years of medication to cold turkey nothing seemed like a recipe for a terrible few weeks. I was afraid, but I didn’t say anything. Getting baseline measurements sounded like a common-sense thing to do, and surely, she went to medical school and knew better than I did the pros and cons of stopping four years of treatment regimen. I stopped the prednisone as ordered, and went off the weekly Enbrel injections.

By my second visit four weeks later, I had spent three weeks in excruciating pain. I was to see my primary care doc right before my rheumatologist. She (primary care) noted that my bloodwork showed high inflammatory markers and that my blood pressure was through the roof. She prescribed meloxicam (and anti-inflammatory) and gabapentin (a drug helpful for fibromyalgia pain), and said my rheumatologist might change those based on her assessment of me. Five minutes later, in a different room in the same practice, the rheumatologist looked at my bloodwork and said it was fine, that I just needed to lose weight. I told her that the pain was so bad that I could barely sleep, and that when I did sleep, the pain seeped through–I dreamed of having my hands cut off, or falling down long flights of stairs. She told me there was no joint degradation in my x-rays. She told me that I needed a psychiatrist. She told me I probably had fibromyalgia, and that there was nothing she could do for me. Then she walked out. I was floored. I was devastated. I was slightly hysterical.

Worst of all, I was silent.

I cried on my husband. I went home feeling crushed, and angry. I knew there were medicines that are known to help with fibro. I’ve been heavy all my life, but I also used to be somewhat fit, and able to do active things. I had researched fibromyalgia and knew it didn’t quite fit with my symptoms. My stomach churned, I spent a few days feeling lost and abandoned by medical professionals and doomed to a very circumscribed life of waking in pain, working in pain, and crawling to bed in pain. Finally, after telling the story to friends and family, really listening to it and internalizing how I’d been treated, I got angry. This at last gave me the energy I needed to do something about things.

I managed to get in to see my primary care doctor the next week. I told her that I found the other doctor’s treatment unacceptable and asked for a new referral to a doctor who had decent patient reviews. She listened. She was kind, and agreed it must have been an awful experience, and wrote the new referral immediately.

The two weeks it took for the HMO to process that referral was a nightmare. When I called the new rheumatologist’s office, I could not make an appointment because they hadn’t received my records from the primary care doctor’s office. A simple thing. A small thing.

The last thing.

Cue mental breakdown. This was where I broke. I wanted to just curl up in a corner and die, if it was going to be such a huge inconvenience for doctors to treat me. My husband, my biggest advocate, got in the car, went to the office and had them fax the documents while he watched. he brought home the fax delivery confirmation page. Then he made the appointment I needed. He is also the one who packed me into the car and took me to said appointment.

[I was completely spent. After so much time in pain, and having that be all I could see into the future broke something in me. I know how very lucky I am to have him as a partner through all of this, and I send regular prayers up for folks who have to deal with this sort of thing on their own. It’s an enormous burden and responsibility, this thing of ‘being well,’ that everyone else seems to be able to do without all this work.]

The new-new rheumatologist saw me, and ordered new bloodwork and cervical spine xrays. Because prednisone had helped my inflammation in the past, he moved me back to 10 mg a day for one week, then to 7.5 for the week after that. Since I had been fasting, my bloodwork was done that day (Halloween), while I was in full crisis. He asked me to tell him about the progression of the disorder all the way from the beginning. He listened.

I started the prednisone Saturday. Monday, my head was clear, the pain was bearable, and I functioned for a very full day at work for this first time in what felt like forever.

I saw the new-new rheumdoc again two weeks later. He was floored at how high my inflammation markers were. My sed rate was in the low 50s (0-29 is normal range), my CRP was over 8, and my white blood cell count was extremely high. The doctor said he couldn’t believe I had made it into the office, I must have been in so much pain. He said the malar rash was also a marker. He said I clearly had some sort of inflammatory autoimmune disease, most likely RA, from my symptoms.

I kid you not, I high-fived my husband at the test numbers.

“HA!” I yelled, in the tiny room. “I AM SICK!” And then, with a smile, “So you’re saying I’m not just sick, but super-sick, right?”

[Cheering for being sick may not be something everyone can relate to. However, after multiple doctor visits, multiple courses of some very nasty prescription medications with side effects only slightly less horrible than the symptoms, and being told at every turn that nothing is wrong, having a doctor point to evidence of illness is vindicating. It feels a little bit like victory.]

It didn’t matter that *I* knew I was sick. I needed a doctor to believe me, to believe I didn’t feel good, to believe there was something terribly wrong with my insides. I needed the damn tests to believe me, to give me something on paper to prove I was not crazy, or faking. To acknowledge the pain I was in and help me to do something about it. He diagnosed my disorder as seronegative Rheumatoid Arthitis or seronegative spondyloarthropathy, which is sort of “general joint disease.”

My ANA marker, a popular marker for quickly diagnosing diseases like RA and lupus, is still negative, though that can change at any point, according to studies I’ve read and the doctor, and is why the diagnosis states “seronegative” right now. Relying on only the ANA, you might see me in terrible pain, swelled up like a sausage, and say to my face, “There’s nothing wrong with you.” But that would make you a terrible doctor, and, in my opinion, a terrible person.

This is a long way around of reminding you (and myself, should I need it later) that only you live in your skin. You know when something is wrong. Your doctor should be treating you as-a-person, not just you-the-test-results (though tests can be helpful). Do research. Contact a librarian if you have to, we love to help and have access to some nifty medical research resources like MedLine and CINAHL. It is difficult to be your own advocate, but you must. It may be difficult to maintain social relationships when you hurt, but cultivate allies who are willing to help you advocate. Join a support group; join a Facebook page or Friendfeed room. Find a place where you can be fully open and honest with yourself and others about your illness, and the myriad annoyances, altered goals and new-normals that come along with it. Reach out and find someone to talk to. You may feel horribly isolated and alone, but we are out here, the other folks feeling isolated and alone while navigating this hard road.

The much shorter TL;DR version of this post is: don’t let an uncaring doctor, overworked medical office staff, your test results, or anything else prevent you from getting the care and treatment you need. You deserve to live a full life, and to enjoy that living. Be your own advocate, and find a partner willing to advocate for/with you.

A Library Day in the Life: November 14, 2014

5:30am – Awoken from sleep study by technician. GRUMPY. Hair full of goop from electrodes.

6:00am – Picked up by husband, returned home.

6:30-7:10am – Showered, dressed, became some semblance of human.

7:15am-7:45am – Opened the library building with a walk around the floors, unlocking things.

7:45-7:55am – Conducted email triage.

7:57am – Emailed our Facilities liaison to ask for deodorizers in the urinals, on behalf of some grumpy menfolk.

8:00am-10:50am – Reference desk shift.

1 major research consult on the WonderBra vs the MiracleBra, the rest was all printing. Also completed IRB application #1, sent to research collaborator in COMM for review. Also typed and emailed minutes and action items from yesterday’s Faculty Affairs committee meeting to committee members. Most productive reference desk shift ever.

10:50am – 11:35am – Peer review of teaching (sat in on a COMM/LIB 211 class)

11:40am-11:50am – I took my lunch salad out. With extreme prejudice. It did not taste like a burrito.

11:40am – Set up a meeting with our Director for Teaching & Learning Innovation for next week to put truth to quash some rumors.

11:52am – Wished I had a burrito.

11:55am – Emailed research collaborator for research project #2.

11:57 – Wished again for a burrito.

12:02 – Emailed IRB chair to confirm details about needed about Letter of Agreement.

12:20 – Finished draft of IRB application #2.

12:22pm – Emailed our own illustrious Matt Cook to talk about data repository possibilities.

1:17pm – Emailed the Provost some information to inform her letter of recommendation for my Immersion Program Track application.

1:32pm – Emailed all of the new tenure-track faculty (we’re The 17) with a date and time for the first EndNote Web tutorial I’m offering, with promises of a Doodle poll to get good spring dates for those who cannot attend this one.

1:43pm – Emailed research consult on art therapy, children and violent episodes, and children’s art for 9/11 for an ENG 478 student I saw in an info lit session last week

2:06pm – Emailed research consult on French Revolution images for an ENG 478 student I saw in an info lit session last week.

2:20pm – Marveled at my manic productivity, praised the power of prednisone, and decided to go ahead and record all of it for posterity as a day in the life post.

I’ll be leaving at 3:00pm today, which is early compared to my 4/4:30pm departure most Fridays (my opening day – my weekday leaving time is usually 430/5pm). From now until I leave, I’ll chip away at planning the ART 102 class I’m teaching next Tuesday night.

This was more of a paperwork/email/desk day than I usually have, and I missed getting outdoors for a breath of fresh air, but in terms of the to-do list, I’m pretty happy with it. After I leave I will be indulging in a giant vat of Mexican food with my husband, and some really terrible television that we have DVRed.

Things I did *not* get to today: write more on my article draft for Performance Measurement and Metrics, complete a research grant application, complete a full book proposal requested by my editor, complete my Immersion application essays. They’ll have to wait until next week, since this weekend is dedicated to slogging through the last of Chapter 4 of the dissertation. (My Christmas gift to myself and my husband will be getting this monkey off my back. Do not come near me this weekend if you are burrito-less. I may bite.)

And this is a day in the life of the Information Literacy Coordinator at CSU Channel Islands. What does yours look like?

The No-Matter-What Rule: Chronic Illness Version

A recent Chronicle article titled “The No-Matter-What Rule of Academic Motherhood” caught my attention recently, not least because a good many of my similarly-aged colleagues around the country have recently become mothers in the past two years. Childless, I cannot imagine the extra work of raising a whole human being while also working the academic track.

After thinking about it some more, I thought perhaps I could add a little something. There is also a No-Matter-What rule of Academic Chronic Illness, though it is less written about, and perhaps less known as a challenge.

I got sick in 2010, but wasn’t diagnosed until a complete physical collapse in summer of 2011. Swollen and painful joints, extreme fatigue, complete collapse after working too many hours, or doing anything physical, and constant bouts of colitis finally landed me at a rheumatologist who diagnosed me with Ankylosing Spondylitis and/or Rheumatoid Arthritis.

I worked in a boom-and-bust mode. I was embarrassed that I was out so often, so when I was back at work, I burned the candle at both ends. Which of course led to another flare, another hospital stay.My colleagues tried to rein me in, but I was angry. I was intent on continuing my previous activity rate, and my body was just going to have to get with the program.My version of the No-Matter-What rule of Academic Chronic Illness was that when you were back on your feet, no matter how wobbly, you put the pedal to the metal. No matter what.

Sadly, and as you might expect, bodies do not work that way. The boom-and-bust was a disaster for me. It was very hard on my colleagues.

It took me a few years to figure out–and then accept–what I needed to be and stay well. I need natural, non-processed foods, low-impact exercise, and lots of rest. Lots and lots. I can predict that a flare will happen after a day of extreme activity, or when I’m under stress. Other flares show up with no rhyme or reason. Most recently, a slight flu-ish feeling turned into a full-on bout of uncontrollable colitis, and boom – hospital stay. I wasn’t badly stressed. I was excited about my new position, meeting new faculty, and teaching information literacy sessions. My diet has changed for the better, living in the land of produce. It was one of those run-of-the-mill “shit happens” (haha) type of things.

I was horrified. And terrified.

My colleagues made it crystal clear that my “catching up” by working 80 hours a week for the next few weeks was neither expected of me nor desirable to them. I was honest, I told them I felt guilty for being out during the busiest weeks of our semester. Colleagues had picked up teaching classes and covering desk time. I wanted them to know I could be a productive member of the team (and to be honest, did not want them to fire me after only arriving in July!), and I was terrified that I might have to go home early on the week I returned if I had a rough day. They were understanding, but firm: I was to do what I needed to make myself well. If I was too hurt or ill to work, I was to go home and rest. I was afraid to ask for it, but they gave me the permission I needed to take care of myself.

Not everyone has that flexibility, or colleagues that are so supportive. Last week was my first full week back. I’m still moving slightly more slowly than normal, but I’ve jumped right back into teaching classes, working the reference desk, and building relationships with faculty. Being social is part of my work, really–serendipitous meetings and social gatherings allow me to work my relationship-building mojo, and informal settings are a great foundation for friendships and “let’s-do-coffees” that turn into great opportunities to help students. I choose which events to attend carefully, since I know I cannot do them all. I try to make it clear that it is not for lack of enthusiasm!

I’ve discovered that the No-Matter-What rule for Chronic Illness is different from the mom-version, which is, according to that Chronicle piece, work no matter what. Instead, for me, it is “take care of myself no matter what.” If I don’t, nothing else–including the work, or quality time with my husband–gets done.

It is a tough balance. I am terminally enthusiastic, and it is hard work for me to limit my engagements. I am much better about it than I used to be. I respect my colleagues and my loved ones, and to give them the best of myself, which is what they need from me, takes very careful work and decision-making on my part.

I am approaching the 3rd anniversary of my original diagnosis, and truly, it has taken me this long to figure things out. From what I have read and heard from friends, this is not uncommon–but I didn’t know that until I started to read about living with chronic illness, and until I came out pretty publicly on my blog. Who knew there were so many of us?

And now I am dealing with something else the chronically ill are too familiar with, which is shifting diagnoses. Many autoimmune diseases mimic each other, but the best treatments can vary widely. My current rheumatologist fears I may have been misdiagnosed, and that it is not RA or AS, but fibromyalgia. I communicate some healthstuffs with my colleagues so that they know what to expect, which is my choice–many folks choose not to discuss it at work. Because I know that coming off of all my medications to get a baseline measure of how bad things are will result in my being a little wonky, and that starting new medications can be just as difficult, I try to let the folks I work with know enough so that they know what they can expect from me, and not to be surprised if I put in a request to not teach back-to-back on certain days. It’s also a sort of heads-up to myself that my No-Matter-What coping skills will be tested, and may need to be altered.

When I started this position, I was chatting with Debi, my head of public services, and she admitted to a similar obsession for our work in information literacy–then she reminded me to get out and go home. “It’ll kill you if you let it,” she smiled. And it would, as I could happily work on instruction-related projects until my eyes fell out of my head. Going home, for me, becomes as important as going to work. It allows me to recharge, spend quality time with my husband, and rest this old creaky bod so that it will work for me the following day. I used to work quite a bit at night from home; now, it really is downtime, and I can enjoy it knowing that it serves me as a health measure.

A mother’s No-Matter-What rule may be different, per the Chronicle, and gods bless any parent who can raise children and work full time anywhere, much less academia. Not all chronic illness sufferers will have the same No-Matter-What rule, though “saving spoons” (a euphemism for saving our sparse energy) is likely a major part of their decision-making, too. Do you have a No-Matter-What rule? Which of your priorities does it serve?

Welcome to Fall 2014! An Update from Sunny CA

It has been a busy summer. In late June, my husband and I packed all our things, drugged our anxious Basset hounds Otto and Igor, and headed west. We drove from Chattanooga, TN to Camarillo, CA for our next big adventure.

We decided to splurge on a bigger home than our tiny 1BR back in Chattanooga. We now live in a 3BR, 2.5BA townhome. We made the decision not just for size, but because the property is practically on campus at CSU Channel Islands and is only a half-mile walk to the library where I work. Additional bonuses include a two car garage, and being across the street from the dog walking and running trail. Coming home from errands, we drive through strawberry fields and a lemon/lime tree orchard.
It is beautiful here in Southern California. It seems bizarre to live in a place where we don’t allow the weather to dictate what we wear. In fact, we don’t ask about the weather at all. It is always sunny and beautiful with azure skies. Always. Constant sunshine, friendly neighbors, and the beach being less than ten miles away makes it easy to remain in a good mood.
I am the newest reference and instruction librarian here at CSU Channel Islands, and will become the Information Literacy Coordinator once I soak up all of Debi’s knowledge and training. I’m also part of The Seventeen, as the incoming tenure track class has been dubbed, and we are planning to get together on a regular basis to keep in touch.
My office is in the John Spoor Broome Library, with my colleagues. The library is an intriguing blend of old Spanish architecture (from when the campus was a mental institution) and modern design, with glass front and an infinity pool right before the entrance. Cool fact: the library basement used to be the hospital’s morgue. (I think we just one-upped the sinking library urban legend…and ours is real!) My colleagues are phenomenal. They believe strongly in baked goods, so I fit in perfectly. Everyone is enthusiastic about serving our students and faculty, so there is great energy, and everyone is possessed of a great sense of humor. Everyone is welcoming, and energetic, and the veteran faculty (though nobody is too veteran; our campus is only 13 years old) make it clear they want to welcome us new folk, work with us, and plan the future of the university with us. And the future of our University is in our students.

We are a Hispanic-serving institution, with just about 40% of our 5,000 students claiming a Hispanic background. Many of them are first generation college students, and their enthusiasm for starting the school year last week was incredible. I grew up in a school district that had a high Hispanic population, and seeing these students in college warms my heart and makes me feel at home.

I’m full up with new library instruction class preps for classes like Business of Art, University studies, a passel of Pyschology courses, an upper level Spanish course, and more. I’ve got meetings on the books with a number of faculty around campus, and I’m attending as many open meetings as possible to meet everyone. CSU Channel Islands actually has information literacy written into their academic outcomes, and campus faculty and staff have only great things to say about how the library helps them accomplish those outcomes. In addition to teaching information literacy sessions, I’ll be observing my colleagues to learn what works best in their different styles, picking their brains on content and contacts, joining some University committees, and doing campus walkabouts to meet faculty in their native habitats.

In short, it’s an exciting time for me to be starting at a new University. I’m full of questions and ideas, and after last week (our first week of classes), I’m even more convinced I made the right decision to come here. Expect more about library instruction and interdisciplinary projects in the next few months!

Re-Visioning Experience: A Librarian’s Aside on Gendered Violence

Changing lanes and speaking as a woman-librarian, and not just a librarian:

I feel I can take care of myself. Years of working in customer service have honed my skills of talking folks down from anger and frustration. I’m not a small woman, and I consider myself more aggressive than most. I’ve taken numerous RAD classes for self-defense, and succeeded in defending myself again one attacker, then two. I went to the 54th largest high school in America in an area still riddled with gang violence, drugs and crime, and managed to stay clean. I worked the second and third shift for a number of years, walking home in the dark, dodging requests for a light, and for other less savory things. I pack a mean right hook and I’ve got a nasty mouth learned from growing up in NY with a former sailor for a dad. I’m heavy and solid, you probably can’t carry me away unless you’ve got some serious towing power. It takes a lot to rattle me.

But I have been rattled.

Years ago, I reported an employee for dishonesty and arranged for a meeting with my boss, the employee, myself and Human Resources. Upon learning that I had reported him and was following up on the issue, the man’s response was to stomp into my office, close the door, loom over and across the desk I was sitting at, jut his index finger down at me and tell me “You’re gonna pay for this,” spittle flying, his face red with anger. My adrenaline spiked, and I managed to say, “Please leave. We will discuss the issue at the scheduled meeting.” He spat, “Bitch,” spun on one foot and left.

This was in my office, beside a very large and heavily-trafficked public service desk, in an academic library, in a major city. Bright lights. Lots of people. White-collar job with air-conditioning and holidays, high heels clicking on tiles and students filling water bottles at the fountain just past my office.

It was not a place I thought I would ever feel fear.

My heart was still beating hard. He was gone, but I was still shaking, my mind was still flying through permutations of what-would-I-do, he was between me and the door, and the closest defensive weapons I had access to were a handful of books, my computer monitor, pens. Eventually the panic faded, and what took its place was anger.

I told my boss about what happened, how angry I was. She asked me if I had contacted Human Resources. I hadn’t; I knew we would be seeing HR about the dismissal and felt there was no need for an additional meeting or report. I can take care of myself, and nothing really happened, I think I said. My boss asked me what I would have done if the man had acted the same way with my staff, two young women, petite, and I realized I would have feared for their safety and immediately phoned security or HR. What would I have done if this man had done the same thing to my sister in her workplace? Of course I would report it and pursue the biggest punishment possible. I would have been terrified for her until he was off the premises.

But then I see the Elliot Rodgers killing spree, and I wonder how many women turned the other cheek at his aggression. How many figured that his behavior didn’t merit intervention since he didn’t actually hit them. How many did not have a wise friend like my boss who could highlight that whether or not I was okay, that such behavior was not okay, and that someone in a position of power needed to know about, and act upon, it.

There is more to violence against women than being punched in the face, or raped. There is the male assumption that women owe them anything. There is the assumption that part of the rites of manhood includes what-you-can-get-from-a-woman. There is the fact that women must always be on edge and prepared for violence, prepared to cross the street, prepared to diffuse a man’s anger with a smile and pleading tone, prepared to defend their reasons for declining physical contact, prepared to defend her choice of clothing, prepared to defend her right to say Don’t touch me. We live in a society where it is assumed that a man can tell you not to lay a finger on his fresh-waxed sports car, but where a man laying hands on a woman–against her will–is grounds for arguments about “gray areas.”

I was cornered against the seasick-green brick wall by the science labs once by a boy in high school who wanted to kiss me, his hands on the wall at either side of my head. I have walked, intoxicated, five miles home in the dark because my then-college-friend would only drive me home if I had sex with him. I have been whooped at on the street by construction workers while walking to class when I was in graduate school in Atlanta, and I have been called a cunt on the sidewalk for not adding some change to a homeless man’s palm. Lawmakers have compared me to cows and pigs. I have had to beg a male coworker to walk me back to my hotel at a professional conference after an after-hours get-together, and still we argue over whether our conferences need a statement of appropriate conduct. I have been cornered in my office, with my desk and an aggressor between myself and the door.

And still, until I thought about it, I never considered myself a victim of gendered violence. I have never sported man-made bruises or broken bones. No man’s fist had made contact with any part of my person. And now with the #YesAllWomen hashtag on Twitter, I find that I’ve actually turned a blind eye to my own experience, owning it as normal, part and parcel of life. Reading the paragraph before this one, replacing myself with my sister, mother, aunt, best friend, is terrifying. I would be furious on their behalf if any of then told me just one of those experiences. But maybe that’s why they don’t stand out for me – they are not just one experience, they are many, and they span my childhood to my present mid-30s.

Several of my best friends have given birth to little girls in the past year. While I smile, knowing these little girls have the models of their fierce and wonderful mothers, I also wince a little bit every time new parents break out the pink booties. This world is not safe for you, yet, little ones. Be wary, be fierce, and learn from your mothers.

Librarian At Your Service

The Friday of a long week, where I was ill and out of the office on Monday, taught some advanced research classes, and had more than my usual in research appointments. Aside from Monday, it was a bang-up week. A graduate level Education class has a rowdy and fun instruction session Tuesday night, and actively interested students populated the upper-level undergraduate History instruction session on Wednesday afternoon, despite the classroom being near-85 degrees. Yesterday’s research appointment showed up on time, and left feeling empowered to find what she needed. Today’s research appointment for a student studying linguistics went beyond well, fleshing out research strategies for two different research papers. Five minutes ago, the Political Science department just called to ask if I would spend some time with each of their candidates to talk about library services and resources. (I did this for them in their last search, and apparently got good reviews. Hooray for successful selling of the library!)

I’m happily looking ahead to next week, with another instruction session for Education grad students, some statistics crunching, article edits, and POLS candidates in the mix. But today tastes like success! And illicit Poptarts from the vending machine. But mostly success.