August is the cruellest month. And September is a close second. At least in academic libraryland. But enough with butchering lines of poetry for my own purposes. That’s not why I came here today.
I came here because my personal blog is now becoming sporadic just like everything else. The past two weeks have been a study in infrequency with sporadic writing sessions, sporadic meetings, sporadic sleeping, sporadic meals. I can’t even seem to finish reading a blog post. I can’t complain really because the masochist in me loves the chaotic periods, but it is a bit overwhelming to go from a quiet lazy summer day in the library to a sudden onslaught of people, meetings, work, and stress.
And of course teaching. Next week I will be teaching nine classes, three introductory tours (piece o’ cake) and six upper-level political science classes. The “Lynda” students encounter on the tours is usually a different “Lynda” from the one political science students get. The tour version of me is some annoyingly enthusiastic doppelganger that I often don’t recognize. Actually, the real me would probably want to smack around the “tour version” of me. The political science students get the me that has had to do the exact same assignments and conduct the exact same research to get the exact same degree. They get the authentic me, I guess. They are the reason I stayed in academia after all.
In college I aspired to be a teacher, not of high school students, but at the college level. I blame bell hooks and her book Teaching to Transgress for inciting such madness. I went to a PhD program in political science because I wanted to teach. Three years later I realized that I had made a huge mistake. I had taught twice–I was a Teaching Assistant! after all–and I knew absolutely NOTHING about teaching. Zero. Later when I entered library school I was a rare LIS student who took a class in library instruction and information literacy where I learned about learning styles and educational theories. I practiced with my peers and spent time observing others. It was the most training I have ever received in instruction. I was also amazed how much time librarians spend talking and writing about teaching compared to the “teaching faculty.” Now entering into my third year in my position I spend a good deal of my time with instruction—large groups, small groups, one-on-one. My path was definitely circuitous but I finally got here.
Staying with the theme of randomness, this blog post has no overarching point except to say that I love teaching. And I was thrilled to see that the latest post on In the Library with the Lead Pipe was about teaching. Carrie Donovan’s Sense of self: Embracing your teacher identity is like a mini call to arms for all the academic librarians out there about to start the fall semester. She makes the case for authenticity in our teaching by “[p]utting away the “persona” of teacher and disclosing more of the personal.” While this is so hard to do in our one-shot sessions, I definitely take home her point.
When I first started teaching library instruction sessions, I would write out full sentences for every portion of the session (I didn’t read it, thank goodness). I would have the exact details of every search I would conduct, knew what search terms would be successful and pick out the exact citation for discussion. The students would see a polished example of research without failure. I was the embodiment of A BIG FAT LIE. Period.
Research is messy and iterative and at times frustrating. Sometimes you are successful and sometimes the databases conspire against you. But once you start seeing the patterns—in the names, in the ideas—it becomes euphoric. I remember the first time I conducted real research in college and hit that moment of connection. I was researching air pollution regulation in Central Europe and read everything I could find. I was sitting in my bedroom floor with all of this stuff spread out around me when I realized that I finally got it, that I was capable of creating something interesting (if not groundbreaking) from all of that research. I love to see my political science students enter that space with their work. And I love that I might be able to serve as a guide on their journey. It is rare, but it makes the stress and the cruelty of August (and September) so very worth it.