A Book I’ve Been Reading: The Gifts of Imperfection, by Brenè Brown

I’ve become a bit addicted to using the Overdrive app on my new smartphone to check out eBooks from my local public library.  This book was one of my recent downloads which I devoured in short order.

I was introduced to Brown’s work through the Sunshine State Library Leadership Institute (SSLLI) which I participated in back in 2014-15. Her books had been on my to-read list for an embarrassing amount of time, but, like many bibliophiles, my book bag is bigger than my time to read.

Earlier this summer, I bought Daring Greatly by Brown while waiting for the next session to start at ALA Orlando.  I loved it so much that I immediately placed holds on The Gifts of Imperfection, which I finally got to read.

The book focuses on the ways that perfectionism hinders us from actual joy and connection, and further develops the concept of “wholehearted people” that have been her research focus for years. It is designed as an interactive book challenging you to examine the foundational concepts Brown talks about in the context of her own life.

One of the greatest strengths of the book is the conversational style and honest perspective that Brown offers on her own attempts, failures, and successes to integrate what her research has uncovered into her own life. Brown’s voice is like a wonderful friend sharing her own struggles while inviting you to be vulnerable as well.

One of the principles that I’ve been struggling with in the past few weeks since I finished the book is being intentional with one’s time. This is not exactly new advice, but Brown grounds it thoroughly in the mental trap of perfectionism, and points out how  this can manifest not only as a urge to never say “no”, but also how overcommitting leads to one approaching even the work one is passionate about with less attention and presence.

To say that I have been struggling with this recently would be an understatement. I, in a moment of weakness and a desire to be helpful, agreed to teach not one but TWO classes on top of my usual work as a college librarian.  As the first week of classes hit, I realized just how over committed I was. As I wrote to one of my dear friends, “August hit like a sack of concrete: the first powdery impact solidifying in a rush of obligations, deadlines, and tasks that had to be done.”

I’m slowly finding my balance as the rush of library instruction dies down to something a bit more sustainable, but I did decline to teach two classes next semester. I will admit that this required some moral support from my partner with a solid dose of “You said that you were never going to teach a Flex A class again!” I’m still counting turning down the one class as an overall win.

As I start to look at next semester, I’m avoiding volunteering for new committees or initiatives for a while. My goal is to see how the lighter schedule plays out, and to see if it gives me more time for the other things I love doing.  I finally have a working sewing machine and a project, but my current schedule does not allow much time to work on it.  I’m also working on finding more time for downtime: one of the things I enjoy about my summer break is that I will often have days when nothing has to be accomplished. This is an amazing and slightly scary feeling for the borderline workaholic part of me; I’m attempting to increase my comfort with NOT getting things done by main force.

I’m not sure if Brown’s book is changing my life, or if I’m finding it a helpful framework for making changes that I need and want to make, but in either case, I can recommend The Gifts of Imperfection as both a tool for change, and a great read.

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National Novel Writing Month, and Come Write In

So during my adventures at ALA 2015, where it turns out that it is possible to walk uphill both ways (as long as you are in San Fransisco), I spent some serious time in the Exhibits Hall. For those of you who don’t know, the Exhibits Hall is a giant marketplace of vendors, organizations raising awareness, and groups that want to sell or give things to librarians.

11539568_10155787870255707_2020305400150654836_nFor example, Subaru was donating books to  a good cause (no, I don’t remember what it was: ALA is nuts, and this was day 3 or 4), if you took a picture with their bright purple car. But I make a point to spending time in this madness so that I learn more about what various vendors and organizations are offering.

One of the cool groups there was NANOWRIMO, which sponsors National Novel Writing Month. They have a program to encourage libraries to host “Write-Ins” during November, and our library will be participating.  On the message boards for the Come Write-In groups, people have been sharing cool ideas for tracking word counts, and I’ve made some to share.

blue tracking green tracking orange tracking red tracking

Four Color Book Style Word Count Tracking PDF

I’m happy to share the  Publisher Files, if you want to brand this for your own library, or alter the word counts.  Drop a line in the comments, and I’ll send them to you!

I’m thinking of lots of other things to help promote and track progress for our NANO participants this year: stay tuned!

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A Partial Update

After a MUCH longer than planned break, I’m here to report that I’m still alive.

Someone stumbled onto my blog, and apparently liked it enough to start following me. This had a rather lovely (but embarrassing) effect of reminding me I had a blog, which had not been updated in over a year. Oof.

When I started Clairexlibris, I was in the midst of a long job hunt, and title was a joke and a battle cry all at once. Even if I didn’t get a job as a librarian, I would still consider myself a librarian.  After all, you can take me out of the library, but you will have to pry the library and the knowledge I  hold from my cold dead fingers.

Only a few weeks after my first post, I accepted my current and much beloved job (as a librarian!), and the joys of moving (twice), learning a new job and college, and commuting ate my time.

In part due to the small and rural community I work in, I’m trying to make thinking about WHY I do what I do part of my own professional development.  My community of fellow librarians is mostly long-distance, and finding the time to talk about where we are, and what we are thinking about is often hard to come by. My intention is that this blog will be a part of that process, and I hope you will follow along.

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Continuing Education is not Optional

Over on the Librarians on the Job Market LinkedIn group, I posted a reply to a questions about whether or not a recent graduate should go to webinars and other continuing education classes.

“I’ve found that some kind of ongoing training is essential for a few reasons. 1) The last three interviews I have had all asked me about a recent learning experience (formal or informal), and how it has impacted my work as a librarian. 2) If you fall out of the habit of learning what is going on in the field, it is super easy to fall behind. Employers want you to be current, no matter when you graduated. 3) Learning new things makes you a better librarian. I certainly don’t jump on every new product (the libraries I have worked in never have that kind of money), but knowing what is available, and what advances have been made make it much easier to plan if you are ever asked what new idea or technology your library should be adopting. As [ another poster] mentioned, there are plenty of free training opportunities, especially if you work even part-time for a library. “

Since then, I’ve been thinking about why I think that continuing education is so important, and I’ve come to some conclusions:

Falling Behind is Easy to Do, and Hard to Fix

    Working with non-traditional students has taught me that most people stop learning once they leave school. It is easy to do: without a pressing need, most people don’t  feel like they have the time or energy to put into learning new skills, or reading the latest articles in their field, and some of them simply don’t have the resources to do so.  But each of these students has needed to get up to speed fast, and end up with a crash course in technology, research, or academic writing in addition to their normal class work and life commitments.

    Acquiring skills bit by bit is both less stressful and more effective: the best librarians I have known  make it a point to learn new systems, new technologies, and keep up with the literature of the field. Because they take the time to work continuing education into their working routines, they never need the crash course approach.

    The biological fact is that learning gets harder as we age, and retaining knowledge becomes more difficult. Most of us have probably had the experience of working with a professor or  family member whose knowledge of their specialty was ten, twenty, or thirty years out of date. I watched this first hand when my father dealt with a series of medical issues a number of years ago. At the time, he was a bit of a “tech bug.” He bought new technology, stayed current with new programs, and was pretty tech savvy. But for about three years, most of his time and energy when to dealing with his health. Those three years saw the rise of cloud computing, Facebook, new software, new hardware… when  my father came back to technology, his knowledge was obsolete. Where I had learned little by little how to use the new programs, how a flash drive worked, and the joys of online data storage, he didn’t have the first clue how any of it worked. Despite working for the last 4 years to understand where things are now, he still is uncomfortable with the latest technology, and probably always will be.

    The moral, such as it is: you cannot afford to fall behind.

New Experiences Create New Ideas

    The first time I attended a library conference, I came home with a ton of new ideas, techniques, and a deep love of Chicago deep dish pizza, which previously I had not really seen the point of. Doing new things jolts your brain out of its rut, and makes new connections between what you already know, and what you just learned.  This, I strongly suspect, is where the idea that travel is “broadening” comes from. While we can’t always run off to new and exotic places, once can certainly travel in the world of ideas. Read new books, watch new films, attend a class on something you have never done before.  All of this makes you a more knowledgeable, more interesting, and a more relatable human, and librarian.

Continuing to Learn Helps You, Your Work, and Your Career

In my original comment, I talked about how hiring committees are specifically interested in what you are learning, and how it impacts your professional work. I don’t think it is overstating to say that in this day and age, one must keep learning to be competitive in the job market. Luckily, there are tons of resources available once you start looking, and I’ve outlined a few library specific ones below.

Resources for Library Continuing Education on a Budget

Classes and Webinars

I live in Florida, and follow the Florida Libraries Training website. Also check with your local library cooperatives, and your state library association, if you have one. Many of these organizations will allow you to register for free, or, for those of you who work part-time, as a staff member if your library belongs to a cooperative. There are also national webinars, some of which are free. I’ve attended Web Junction Webinars from OCLC , and there are others. ALA has tons of webinars on their site, but most have a small fee attached.  

Other Ideas:

Archived conferences

Some library associations post videos or slides from their conferences online for free, which can be a good way to see what is being discussed at conferences without paying for hotels and admission.

Follow free online resources:

There are tons of blogs and publications out there: find some in your field, or that you enjoy the writing style.

I specifically like

  • Library Journal: Free online content, excellent for keeping up with trends.

  • Chronicle of Higher Education: Especially for academic librarians, this is a must. Not everything is free, but there is a lot of content available without a subscription.

  • In the Library With a Lead Pipe:  Peer-reviewed online journal, with really excellent articles.

  • The Swiss Army Librarian: Public librarian with a focus on meeting community needs.

  • The Distant Librarian: Academic librarian, with a focus on distance education.

  • The Feminist Librarian: Special librarian in a historical research library. Often does excellent book reviews

  • Unshelved: A library web-comic. This is more humor than anything else, but their forum, Unshelved Answers is amazing.

  • Tenured Radical: Not actually a library, or librarian blog, but a history professor. Excellent thoughts about the future of college education and careers in academia.

Apply for a grant or scholarship to attend a conference.

Everyone’s pockets are hurting, so lots of organizations offer scholarships or grants to attend conferences. Look around, and start early: most organizations end applications up to six months before the actual event.

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