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So Long, Farewell: Reflections + Takeaways From My Diversity Fellowship at Cornell University

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Art by @grlpwrgang

My diversity fellowship at Cornell University has been such a transformative journey, with so many opportunities to learn, grow, and expand as an academic librarian. I spent the first six months of my fellowship working as an Assistant Archivist in Rare and Manuscript Collections (RMC). During this time, I worked with the Human Sexuality Collection (HSC), cataloging visual resources to improve access and description for researchers and community members, processing collections, and working alongside the curator, Brenda Marston, to grow the HSC’s Instagram presence. Serving on RMC’s Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging Task Force, I also co-authored a 40-page report on recommendations and best practices on our commitment to social justice (something I am passionate about and see as an integral common thread to all of our work).

I spent the rest of my fellowship working as an Instruction and Outreach Librarian at Albert R. Mann Library, Cornell’s library serving the College of Agriculture and LIfe Sciences students, staff, and faculty. Here, I rediscovered my passion for teaching (especially with zines!) and put my community organizing background and skills to use through creative outreach strategies and innovative programming. For example, I founded and facilitated a makers night for women, transgender, and femme makers – communities that have often been excluded from and left out by Makerspaces – at the mannUfactory (Mann Library’s Makerspace). This biweekly event introduced students to our Makerspace to build their skills (and confidence) as makers. I directly sought out the expertise and experiences of LGBTQ+ students on campus so we could plan projects they were enthusiastic and excited about, such as a gender-inclusive fashion night. I also built interdisciplinary, cross-campus, collaborations with staff, faculty, and graduate students to bring together a diverse array of skillsets, knowledges, and experiences.

Another project I undertook was co-founding the Equity and Empowerment Reading Group, a social justice reading group for librarians and library workers, with two of my amazing colleagues, Eliza Bettinger and Wendy Wilcox. Together, we created a set of collective guidelines to facilitate our discussions, picked an initial topic (recruiting diverse candidates for library jobs) and selected a few articles, booked a room, ordered food, and sent out an invitation to the library’s listserv. At the end of our first meeting and discussion, we solicited feedback from everyone about topics they’d like to read about and discuss in the future. Before COVID closed down our campus, we met at Olin Library, with anywhere from a dozen to twenty librarians and library workers trekking across campus to meet each month. Since then, we’ve begun meeting and facilitating the reading group via Zoom, which has been a successful experiment and transition. Together, we’ve been able to create a community within our library system that pulls people together around social justice across physical and disciplinary boundaries. I’ve had the opportunity to present on topics ranging from zines as an intervention in trauma recovery to queer worldmaking through art, as well as to teach webinars on trauma-informed librarianship and supporting survivors in libraries. And of course, to blog here at the ACRLog as a First-Year Academic LIbrarian blogger. During my year blogging here, I’ve explored topics such as trauma-informed librarianship, dealing with rejection, and radical vulnerability and empathy in libraries. As my year blogging at the ACRLog comes to a close, I want to reflect on – and share with you – the lessons I’m taking with me from my fellowship to wherever I may land next (I’m on the job market and excited about instruction, outreach, and student success positions in the Northeast).

Art by @hellokitty

Lesson #1: Ask for help

Asking for help is a sign of bravery, strength, and wisdom. I want to acknowledge that asking for help is really hard to do, especially as academics. However, I’ve found the benefits of reaching out for support far outweigh the challenges, both personally and professionally. Whether you’re having a hard time learning a new technology or struggling with your mental health, it’s important to reach out and ask for the support you need – and deserve.

For example, during the month of October, my post-traumatic stress disorder always worsens. Last year, I asked for help before the month started by reaching out to a person I felt safe and comfortable with, my supervisor, about getting accommodations for my disability. Not only was I able to get the help I needed to succeed professionally, my supervisor also looped in colleagues (with my consent) to set up a collective care document to help me through the month. Instead of just surviving that month at work, I was able to truly thrive as an academic librarian.

None of us can do this work all on our own, alone, or in isolation. I believe wholeheartedly in interdependence, which is one of the ten principles of disability justice. In an interview with writer and organizer Mia Mingus, she states that interdependency is “thinking about how […] we build relationships and how […] we build in such a way that really pushes back against the myth of independence and this myth that we can and should be able to do everything on our own. Or even this myth that that’s what everybody wants to do, that that’s what everybody desires, is to be independent.” Approaching our work and lives through the lens of interdependency acknowledges that we all bring unique experiences, wisdoms, and knowledges to the table, that we all have things to offer, and that we value everybody – because as people, we are inherently valuable. As I often remind my friends and colleagues (and myself!), you are not your productivity.

Art by @quotesbychristie

Lesson #2: Find your niche

When I started my diversity fellowship at Cornell, I had no idea what I wanted to do, outside of being an academic librarian. My past work experiences included managing an LGBTQ+ resource library, organizing library and information science conferences, and making my university’s special collections accessible as digital collections. It wasn’t until after I started teaching and doing outreach at Cornell that I realized that was what I wanted to do! I had always loved teaching but stopped pursuing an education degree due to my identity as a (gender)queer disabled femme after learning the realities of what queer, trans, and disabled K-12 teachers experience. Working as an Instruction and Outreach Librarian helped me rediscover my passion for teaching.

My background as an interdisciplinary artist and zinester led to me teaching classes from a variety of disciplines, ranging from communications courses to pre-med ones, using creative instructional tools and feminist pedagogies. I ended up receiving tons of instruction requests based on my reputation as the “zine librarian” at Cornell. This, in turn, led to receiving paid opportunities to educate professors about using zines as feminist pedagogical tools within their college classrooms.

Within my professional community, I began taking courses on and writing about trauma-informed librarianship. My work is informed both by my experiences as a survivor and by my education and professional research. Talking, writing, and even tweeting about trauma-informed librarianship led to paid speaking opportunities, such as webinars for professional library organizations. Having a niche can lead to a plethora of opportunities, including ones I hadn’t imagined for myself. Who thought I’d receive honorariums to talk about topics I love and am deeply passionate about? I certainly hadn’t!

Art by @amberibarreche

Lesson #3: Build community

As an early-career librarian, it’s been especially important to build communities of practice and support. Twitter has been an invaluable tool in connecting with other librarians for me. While I was earning my MLIS, I knew that lots of librarians were active on Twitter, so I began following folks doing research I was interested in, who had jobs that seemed like something I wanted to pursue, and/or who shared identities with me and could relate to some of the struggles of being in this profession as someone who is trans, queer, and/or disabled. I reached out to folks, tweeted regularly, and built relationships, even friendships, with other librarians who have continued to help me as my career shifts, transforms, and evolves. As my fellowship comes to an end, so many other librarians have sent me relevant job opportunities, offered to help me practice interviewing, and edit cover letters, my CV, and so on. It’s easy to feel isolated within academia. Having a community, even an online one, is incredibly important. 

Art by @nikkimiles_

Lesson #4: Explore the world outside of your bubble

Establishing your niche is important – but so is getting outside of your bubble! Academic librarianship can be so siloed; it can sometimes be difficult to break outside of our expertise or speciality area. I’ve found some of the best learning and professional development opportunities I’ve had, though, have happened when I stepped outside of my comfort zone to try something new.

If you have the funding available, make a case to explore a conference, class, or workshop outside of your area. I’ve found attending conferences like Creating Change, an organizing and skill-building conference for the LGBTQ+ community and our allies, and Allied Media Conference, a conference focused on relationship-building across issues, identities, organizing practices and creative mediums, to be incredibly useful for shaping my practice as an academic librarian. (Bonus: the Allied Media Conference typically has a Radical Libraries, Archives, and Museums track too!) If attending a conference outside of your field is out of the question, try exploring an offering at a conference you’re already attending that sparks joy or interest for you.

Unfortunately, many of us are having our professional development funding gutted or  lack this crucial resource altogether. If you’re in a similar boat, I suggest checking out blogs, articles, or Twitter chats on topics that may not seem to be directly “relevant” to your work but are something you care about. Jessica Dai, a Resident Librarian at West Virginia University, has graciously put together a directory of free webinars and trainings for academic librarian workers, organized by topic, that you can learn from as well!

My fellowship has taught me so much – and I hope that I’ve been able to teach my amazing colleagues at Cornell a few things too.

Thank you all for reading along with my adventures – and struggles – this incredible year at both the ACRLog and Cornell. I want to leave you with a quote from one of my favorite writers, Anaïs Nin:

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”

This content was originally published here.

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