folder of library handouts and an introductory letter

“Hailing frequencies still open, sir.”

“The Corbomite Maneuver”, Star Trek (1966)

Before the pandemic, I was passionate about outreach to university staff at MPOW. Our weekly all-campus email used to include a photo of the attendees at the bi-weekly HR orientations (which of course used to only be held in person). The photo’s caption included the names of the newly onboarded employees. Using our online directory, I would pull the departmental and mailing information of the new folks and prepare a library welcome packet for each (seen above). It included: a custom letter outlining the various library services that might appeal to staff members, a copy of our latest annual report, a list of upcoming events, and various swag* items.

I would diligently send these packets through intercampus mail, being sure to track when and to whom I sent these off. Within 1-2 weeks, I would follow up via email to see if they had received the package (oftentimes, folks would contact me directly to express their appreciation) and offer to set up a tour of the library. But I didn’t stop there. I also set a reminder to follow up with each new employee one year later to see how things were going and if they had any new questions about using the library.

I was incredibly proud of this workflow and the connections it created, not just between myself and staff from other units, but also between those units and the library. COVID upended that entire project. HR stopped posting the photos to our internal all-campus newsletter (because who wants to see yet another Zoom screen shot). And even though new staff orientation have returned to in-person, the information about new employees is no longer published to the campus community. 

Of course, I don’t put all my staff outreach eggs in that basket. My team and I host “VIP Staff Library Tours” twice a year, first during the Thanksgiving week and again during our campus staff appreciation week in the summer. We regularly invite staff to our events, and collaborate on various events with other units, such as our finals stress relief events, annual storytelling program, and one-offs like the Human Library and Long Night Against Procrastination. University staff continue to be an important connection point between the library and students.

Yet I miss the one-on-one outreach to new employees. I am still passionate about outreach to university staff, but I’ve yet to regain the momentum we lost post-2020.

*My student employees tell me that “swag” is no longer a cool word.

What I’m reading

The Platform Wars by Joshua Citarella

“Once these ideological views are coded in, users will not be able to exit to their preferred political values because they remain materially reliant on other lock-in features of the stack: like cash and health care data that are non-transferable.”

My students are using AI to cheat. Here’s why it’s a teachable moment by Siva Vaidhyanathan

“It’s a library without librarians, consisting of content disembodied and decontextualized, severed from the meaningful work of authors, submitted to gullible readers. These systems are, in Alvarado’s words, ‘good at form; bad at content’.”

Those aren’t “Tweets”, Those Are Your Thoughts by CJ the X

“People who habitually use Twitter will often make comments about Twitter as if it’s synonymous with lived experience.“Everyone is saying *this* about *that*.” Everyone? Like who? Someone you know? This line of questioning consistently produces the admission that ‘Everyone’ meant ‘The thread I scrolled through while on the toilet.'”

News from the garden

I’m worried about my peaches this year. To start, the tree didn’t produce as many fruiting stems as usual, and of those it did, they didn’t produce as many buds. Then as you can see from the image above, I got leaf curl (despite my diligent application of dormant spray in winter). I’ll still get a small crop, but I may not be canning as much as I did last year.

Links to the past

  • 2 years ago: Garden seeds and room. I am well into midlife, and I’m still not sure that I’ve found “a task life-long given from within”, but I am lucky to have most of these others in my life.
  • 7 years ago: The opportunity to breathe. There are a few stories that irrevocably changed my outlook on work and rest. This one I still think about frequently.
  • 10 years ago: On Lincolnshire Posy. There is no lie.

Overheard online

Tristopher: What exactly is the academic dream?

Elsevier: Spending your entire youth creating knowledge, then paying a billion dollar corporation to take it from you in exchange for career capital that you can then use to buy meaningless promotions from other exploited individuals.

Tristopher: That’s the dream?

Elsevier: I didn’t say it was a good dream.

The chandelier at LAPL, with lights and zodiac surrounding a globe.

“Show me a hero and I will write you a tragedy.”

The Crack-Up “Note-Books” (1945) by F. Scott Fitzgerald

At work, when there is problem that I feel I have the capacity to solve, I enjoy finding a solution. For me, “fixing things” is a natural impulse. I like being helpful. Acquiescing to that motivation, in part, got me to where I am today. But lately I’ve been stepping back, hearing myself say: “That’s not your job.” This voice often continues, transforming itself into a mantra: “A single person’s drive is not a sustainable solution to systemic problems. Don’t be the hero.” 

This line of thinking feels particularly cruel to me. [It is not]. My core resists it. [That’s the problem]. Working in the service of others was one of the key factors in my decision to pursue librarianship. [Not a lie]. Yet these past three years have unceasingly kept my abilities up against the ropes, and the need to care for myself so that I can care for others is currently the predominating force in my struggle for balance.

So it was refreshing to stumble across this reminder from Fobazi Ettarh (via @CharlotteRock):

The problem with vocational awe is the efficacy of one’s work is directly tied to their amount of passion (or lack thereof), rather than fulfillment of core job duties. If the language around being a good librarian is directly tied to struggle, sacrifice, and obedience, then the more one struggles for their work, the “holier” that work (and institution) becomes. Thus, it will become less likely that people will feel empowered, or even able, to fight for a healthier workspace. A healthy workplace is one where working around the clock is not seen as a requirement, and where one is sufficiently compensated for the work done, not a workplace where “the worker [is] taken for granted as a cog in the machinery.”

Vocational Awe and Librarianship” by Fobazi Ettarh

In reading this paragraph I don’t see MPOW. I don’t feel like I need to work round the clock. I feel that fulfillment of my core job duties is valued. I feel sufficiently compensated and I do not [usually] feel like a cog in the machine. For the most part, MPOW values the quality of one’s work and the dignity of individuals over passion, and for that I am incredibly grateful. That said, the narrative of the passion-driven individual is always present, just beneath the surface. In my own soul, too, I fear. That is why I find it useful to resist being the hero.

What I’m reading 

News from the garden

Green blueberries on leafy stems

The blueberries are beginning to swell and ripen. Like most of my crops this season, the fruit yield and growth has been small due to an unusual lack of sunny days and the colder weather.

Links to the past

Overheard online

Book coving showing human figures in hamster wheels.

In The End of Burnout: Why Work Drains Us and How to Build Better Lives, Jonathan Malesic argues that burnout is a cultural phenomenon, not an individual one. Relying heavily on Christina Maslach’s definition of burnout, as well as her psychological instrument for measuring it, Malesic explores the history of burnout as a diagnosis, the cultural impulses that create and foster burnout, and ways we as a society can move away from it.

The first half of the book is dedicated to defining and delineating burnout as a concept and an experience. Briefly, burnout is caused by the gap between our ideals about work and the actual experience of work. For many people, work has been offered as a path toward self-actualization; but combined with deteriorating working conditions, the persistence of the Protestant work ethic, the idea of work as “a calling,” and the pull to always be mentally on-the-clock, work becomes a perfect recipe for burnout. It completely subsumes the self. “Work occupies not only our time by our psyches, too. We have no way to understand ourselves, and now way to express our humanity, except through our jobs. Even before we burn out, we lose much of our identity and our ability to live a good life.” (p. 132)

Malesic shows burnout to be a spectrum. He differentiates between those experiencing burnout without being “burned out” (i.e., they are still doing their job) and being fully burned out and incapable of work. The second half of the book explores remedies and introduces people who have found ways to escape the burnout cycle (spoiler: work less and stop rooting your self worth in your job). 

It’s been a while since I read a non-fiction book with so much enthusiasm. And while I’m sure much of its appeal was due to my own feelings of burnout, I would recommend this book to anyone interested in refining their understanding of the “burnout epidemic.”

raised gardening beds

Every week, I set aside 1-2 hours for a weekly review. I look back over all the work tasks I’ve completed, see what’s coming up, and plan out the following week. This practice has helped me to maintain balance in my to-do list, reduce anxiety around the annual review process, and ensure that I don’t let important-yet-not-urgent projects fall by the wayside.

I first came across the practice in David Allen’s Getting Things Done. The weekly review is an essential part of my work-week. Without it, I’m given over to things that are current in the moment, “urgent,” or simply top of mind: none of which are accurate indicators for deciding how to prioritize my time. During the review, I look over (and record) the past week’s accomplishments, upcoming tasks, and the time I have available in the coming two weeks. And then like a puzzle, I see what work I can fit into the open slots in my calendar.

For me, the weekly review is a space for reflection. Moreover, it’s a productivity “hack” for reducing my anxiety about the annual review process. Like some academic libraries, our annual review process requires librarians to write a narrative detailing the past year’s progress in three areas: performance, professional development and research, and service. It can be an arduous and soul-devouring exercise. The weekly review, however, helps alleviate the pain somewhat. Having created a weekly record of my accomplishments, when it comes time to work on the annual review (and I begin work four months in advance) I have all the raw material already gathered.

It’s a simple practice that has a huge impact on my work-life balance. By ending the week with reflection and task-organization, I can go into the weekend, having left work behind me, care-free.

[image: The raised beds in my garden are cleared and ready for planting]

Each year, I say that I am not the type of person who makes New Year’s resolutions, but if I’m being honest, I do enjoy self-reflection and rethinking daily life. I can admit I’m a #goals junkie. That said, I like to think I’m more forgiving of myself at this point in life, even if I still struggle with the urge to take on too much.

For a number of years, I have been striving to do less, but to do those few things better. I’ve reduced my annual work goals, I’ve focused my quality leisure time to a handful of essential activities, and I’ve built some elaborate structures around my time. For the most part, it’s worked. We can talk about some of the downsides another time. For today, I want to focus on what practices I’m bringing into 2023.


I’ve accumulated a number of notebooks: moleskins, daily planners, quarterly planners, gratitude journals, habit-tracking journals, etc. I even have a custom journal just for gardening. All of them are sitting in a drawer having never been used; although, I’ve managed to stop myself from buying new ones. My goal this year is to fill all those notebooks.

Semi-planned weekends

My idea of a perfect weekend is one in which nothing is planned. Maybe I’ll go for a walk. Maybe I’ll play video games. Maybe I’ll just do maintenance around the house and yard. I use the long, unstructured time to recharge, but I also recognize the joy that comes in having something to look forward to each week, whether it’s an activity or a project. So my goal this year is to do some moderate planning for my weekends: maybe select one AM and one PM activity/project each day and put it on my calendar.

At work: skills

One downside of being in middle management is the constant pull toward “settling.” I could easily fill my day with meaningful tasks, including supporting the needs of my team and pushing along various projects. I could stay in this state for years, but I’m not content with that. I want to continue to develop new skills and improve nascent ones. This year, I’m focusing on advanced Excel techniques and (if time permits) intermediate Adobe Creative Suite work.

Having a theme

Inspired by CPG Grey, last year I selected a theme to help drive and direct my personal goals, leisure activities, and home projects. In 2022, my theme was “local.” While I didn’t finish everything I set out to accomplish, I am nonetheless amazed at how much I was able to do. This year, I plan to continue that method and select what I give my attention to according to a general theme. For 2023, my theme is “connections.”

Does this enlarge or diminish me

I love this question, which I first encountered in 4000 Weeks: Time Management for Mortals, of asking “Does this enlarge me or diminish me?” Often, I feel the urge to do something but default to doom scrolling or YouTube. But if I ask myself whether an activity enlarges me or diminishes me, I can perhaps select better choices. The same question might be useful in determining how I react to stressful situations at work.

Memory project

I’ve had this idea knocking around in my head for some time now. Like anyone, there are some memories that I recall often and others that arrive unexpectedly, perhaps for the first time in decades. Perhaps it’s a mid-life crisis thing, but I’ve been feeling the need to write all this down. So this year, I’m going to set up a digital space to organize and record as many memories as I have the time and ability to recall.

I think many will agree that the easiest solution is not always the best solution. Sometimes, a little resistance, a little friction, can be helpful. It can even be more human.

Take scheduling meetings. Occasionally, people will put meetings on my calendar. I’ll come into the office or back from lunch and there it is: a meeting invite tentatively waiting for me to accept its existence. Now, I know the sender had the best intentions. They would like to have some of my time and attention, so they looked at my Outlook calendar and selected a time they thought would be most convenient for the both of us. As I’ve noted before, the problem with this style of scheduling is that it assumes that just because someone is “free” that they are also “available.”

Unless explicitly instructed to, putting a meeting on someone’s calendar treats them as if they were a machine. Available or unavailable. Ones and zeros. What our calendars don’t take into account is all the unspoken baggage of the workday. How must preparation is needed for a meeting? How much debrief will this meeting require? What other things are happening that day that might be emotionally weighing on the you? How much mental bandwidth do you think you’ll have at the time of the meeting?

All of those things are lost in translation when simply “looking for an open spot” on someone’s calendar. Modern work culture has tricked us into thinking that shared calendars, with all their convenience, are a net good. They certainly have many benefits, but the ability to commandeer another person’s time is not one of them. By adding just a little friction to the meeting reservation process, in which the recipient has more agency (i.e. opt-in) in the selection process, we can treat our colleagues more like humans than machines.

Book cover showing earth styled like and apple with a tree growing from its top.

I wanted the first book I read in 2023 to be a work of fiction. I wanted to become immersed and nothing pulls me in faster than post-apocalyptic stories. Appleseed: A Novel by Matt Bell is a story that takes place across three timelines: one in the pre-industrial North American frontier, one in the near future following ecological collapse, and one in the far future after a continental-sized glacier has taken over North America. The characters that inhabit each of these stories are connected, not only by name, but seemingly also in spirit. Interwoven thematically (and sometimes literally) with their stories are the myths of Ancient Greece. 

I found myself having to constantly slow down my reading. I wanted to speed through to see how it all ends: the plot driving above the speed limit. There are moments of wisdom throughout worth slowing down to catch. Each of the characters contemplating their place in nature, mirroring humanity’s greater relationship with the environment. It is a profoundly sad book: there is loss, betrayal, and deep love. We watch as the sins of the fathers and mothers, from one Fall to the next, move humanity and its ecosystem toward its inevitable end, each still seeking for some way to regain paradise. 

peaches on the branch

Pruning the peach tree in my yard is always a traumatic experience. Unlike the oranges, avocados, and apples in my garden, peaches require substantial work. I have to remove as much as 60-70% of the tree each year. You see, peach trees will only grow fruit on second year growth: older branches will not produce new fruit. Or to put it another way: more branches does not result in more peaches. If anything, it will negatively harm your crop by stealing energy from fruit production, weighing down the tree, and overcrowding the new branches. To help bring it to its fullest potential, you have to be brutal in your pruning practice.

This labor of love came to mind as I was working on an external relations piece for the library the past week. I was ruthless with my editing shears. It doesn’t make the experience any less difficult– to see all those darling branches on the cutting room floor–but the final result is a much tighter narrative that will allow it to bear the ripest fruit.

priced peach tree
The author’s peach tree, pruned and ready to bear fruit.

I am so happy with my reading practice this past year. I read books from my own collection and recently-published ones. I read both print and e-books, as well as a few audiobooks. There is fiction in there, a graphic novel, poetry, science, and popular culture: by far the most diverse reading list I’ve made it through in years.

  1. I, Robot / Isaac Asimov
  2. I Hope We Choose Love: A Trans Girl’s Notes from the End of the World / Kai Cheng Thom
  3. Self-Compassion / Kristin Neff
  4. White Fragility / Robin DiAngelo
  5. 1619 Project / Nikole Hannah-Jones
  6. Wide Sargasso Sea / Jean Rhys
  7. Braiding Sweetgrass / Robin Wall Kimerer
  8. Fall / Neal Stephenson
  9. Subtle Acts of Exclusion / Tiffany Jana and Michael Baran
  10. Maus / Art Spiegleman
  11. Giles Goat Boy / John Barth
  12. How to Raise an Antiracist / Ibram X. Kendi
  13. Out of Office / Charlie Warzel & Anne Helen Petersen
  14. You Feel It Just Below the Ribs / Jeffrey Cranor & Janina Matthewson
  15. Four Thousand Weeks / Oliver Burkeman
  16. On Poetry and Poets / T.S. Eliot (at least the “On Poetry” parts)
  17. Dracula / Bram Stoker
  18. 168 Hours / Laura Vanderkam
  19. Vineland / Thomas Pynchon
  20. What If 2 / Randall Munroe
  21. Four Thousand Weeks / Oliver Burkeman
  22. The Golden Compass / Philip Pullman
  23. Five Dialogues / Plato (mostly)
  24. Steppenwolf / Herman Hesse

For 2023, I plan to keep up my practice of making time for reading each day, rotating through books already owned, new popular fiction and non-fiction, and poetry. Here’s to another year on this rock with good books!