Reflections on Minnesota Library Association ARLD Day

I recently had the great pleasure of participating in the Minnesota Library Association (MLA) Academic and Research Library Division (ARLD) Day on April 28 and 29, 2016.

On April 28, I facilitated a half-day pre-conference workshop called “From Cynicism to Empowerment: How Librarians Who Teach Can Resist Burnout.” In this workshop, I guided participants through a series of activities that helped identify causes of burnout and possible remedies for specific situations. I also emphasized the necessity of self-care as a way of equipping oneself to deal with the particular factors contributing to burnout.

On the 29th, I delivered the keynote talk, “Critical Pedagogy and Academic Libraries: Empowering Learners to Change the World,” in which I outlined the various theoretical underpinnings of critical pedagogy, identified how it has come into conversation with academic libraries, and described implications for library instruction, the reference desk, and other key elements that govern how an academic library functions.

And then later in the day, I presented a breakout session, “Transforming Learners, Transforming Teachers: How Feminist Pedagogy for Library Instruction Can Energize Your Teaching and Your Students.” In this session, I provided a snapshot overview of what makes feminist pedagogy specifically feminist, and then guided participants in an activity that helped them identify how feminist pedagogy might help them rethink their library instruction practice.

I had a lot going on! Leading the workshop was an immensely satisfying and rewarding experience, and I enjoyed the opportunity to speak with other academic librarians about a topic that seems to resonate deeply with many of us. The keynote was also an enjoyable–if initially nerve-wracking!–chance to invite academic librarians to consider the possibilities of orienting library services, programs, and collections toward social justice. And the feminist pedagogy session was an exciting opportunity to focus specifically on a key area of critical pedagogy that I have found to be profoundly meaningful.

As I reflect on my experience at MLA ARLD Day, I can see how all of the material I presented overlaps, even though I didn’t realize this at first. There are, of course, clear and obvious connections between my critical pedagogy keynote and my feminist pedagogy breakout session. But I can see now that even my burnout workshop is connected to my other presentations, and here is how: the throughline that undergirds most of my work is my insistence on care, compassion, and the affirmation of the inherent dignity and worth of every human being. This is what motivates my pedagogy, my deep need to honor the human interaction with learners, to humanize what is so often a dehumanizing experience.

And this preoccupation with humanizing teaching and learning and the library also informs my approach to identifying causes of burnout and figuring out ways of dealing with it. I emphasize the importance of self-care–or, in other words, advocating for yourself and doing the stuff that feeds you–not as a panacea, but instead because I believe it is necessary to feed yourself before you can feed others. When you nourish yourself (by saying no, by learning to be assertive, by accepting the things we cannot change, by going for 30-minute daily walks, by…whatever), I think you are working toward empowerment to bring about change in the structural, societal, and cultural inequities that contribute to burnout to begin with. I believe that we become burned out in the workplace, in part, because our work culture sees you as a worker first and a human second, and maybe only sometimes. By caring for yourself, you reclaim your personhood, and then you can help bring about social change, just as critical and feminist pedagogy seeks to bring about social change through the teaching and learning experience.

I am grateful to MLA ARLD for providing me the chance to talk to other librarians about these topics. It felt energizing, humbling, and exciting to take these thoughts, thoughts that often exist mostly in my head, and usher them into the world via the caring, receptive, and engaging space created by this conference.

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