Some bite-sized thoughts and reflections on the items I’ve been reading, listening to, or watching this month.
Also: Did you read, watch, listen to, play something this month that you particularly enjoyed? Feel free to share in the comments! I’m always looking for recommendations.
Note: The following post contains spoilers for Horizon Forbidden West (Playstation game), Heartstopper (Netflix series), Love, Victor (sort of), Shoresy (Hulu series), Letterkenny Live, and The Heart Guy (Australian TV series).
Lately, I’ve noticed in myself a strange habit: more and more, I’ve started referring to myself as a professor or scholar rather than a librarian.
Here are some contexts where I’ve noticed myself doing this:
To writers who attend the online writing group I host every Thursday morning, with whom I sometimes talk about my scholarly work
To the authors I approach as possible interview subjects for my research on the role of research in creative writing
To my friends in the online MCU Rewatch group I host every other week on Meetup
To non-library faculty when I’m talking about my teaching and research (rather than, say, the time I spend on the reference desk
Thinking about it now, it’s clear to me that there are two reasons I do this.
The more benign reason is that it’s convenient shorthand. It’s like if someone tells you “I’m in finance” or “I’m in IT.” Probably their job title is a lot more specific and the work they do a lot more complicated than these generalities, but by using them, they’re conveying what they do without having to get into the types of details that a non-expert wouldn’t understand anyway. Calling myself a professor is just easier than trying to explain that, as an academic librarian, I’m a faculty member at a university who does many of the same things as a professor (plus reference hours and other responsibilities) but who just happens to do them in the library.
Last week, I wrote a post on the five(ish) writing books that have resonated with me most as a creative writer in the course of my investigation into creative research. As I said in that post, most writing books are basically the same in terms of the advice they have to give. The differences are more in the author’s style and their approach to sharing that advice.
If you’re someone who only picks up a book about writing now and then, this is good news because it means you can never really go wrong with your choice. But if you’re someone like me who’s going to read more than 50 of these things as part of your research study, reading the same thing over and over again gets a little old after a while.
Below are some of the pieces of advice I encountered over and over…and over and over again. These mostly pertain to fiction writing but there are a few that also came up in books on other genres as well.
In the course of my scholarly investigation into the role of research in creative writing, I’ve spent a lot of time reading books about writing. Like, a lot. About 30 such books made it into my final study, which will be published in portal later this year. I’ve since read 7 more to include in a follow-up that I’m hoping to publish somewhere in the writing studies field. And there are about 10 or so that I’ve read that weren’t included in either study because they didn’t meet the criteria. So, in all, I’ve read 45-50 books about writing. Most of them were specifically about fiction writing, but a few were more genre agnostic while some of the more recent ones are about poetry and nonfiction.
I’ve learned a lot about creative research from these books (at least, the ones that talk about it). But what I’ve really learned is that when it comes to books about writing, most of them are kind of basically the same. If you’re someone who’s going to read 50 of them like me, that’s bad news because you’re hearing a lot of the same advice over and over again. But if you’re only going to read one or two, that’s good news because it means you can’t really go wrong in your choices. The information you learn from one book will probably be basically the same as any other book, so it’s better to pick based on the author’s approach. For example, are you looking for a how-to or more of a literary analysis? Do you want a wide survey of all of the craft elements or a deep dive into one?
Below are the five writing books I read that happened to resonate the most with me as a creative writer. (In no particular order.)
In the last few months, recruitment and retention have become a hot topic on my campus, as I imagine they have been elsewhere as well. This isn’t the first time I’ve run into this. At my former institution, retention was a big enough deal that annual salary increases were tied to achieving certain numbers: if the university didn’t retain a certain percentage of students, no one got raises that year. If they did, we’d get raises but the retention goal would be higher and more difficult to reach the next year.(1)
At that institution, retention was equated with customer service. The better customer service we gave, the more likely students would be to stay, or so it was thought. We were required to read Be Our Guest and to take regular trainings on the topics covered in the book. The only thing I have personally retained from those trainings is that you’re not supposed to say “no problem” when a customer asks you to do something because it implies that what they’re asking you to do might be a perceived as a problem and if you need to point (for example when giving campus tours, which we were encouraged to do), you should always point with two fingers instead of one and never with your left hand.(2) I have no idea if any of this actually contributed to recruitment or retention but the university sure did spend a lot of money on make sure it was taught to us.
My current institution has not gone quite so far in this direction yet but the increased focus on retention is definitely giving me flashbacks and making me a bit apprehensive about the future. It seems to me that the more emphasis institutions place on recruitment and retention, the more it comes at the expense of employees’ well-being because these efforts are always all stick and no carrot. If you can’t show that you’re contributing to recruitment and retention in a way that the administration considers satisfactory, your job and your entire program will be threatened.
The weird thing is that in principle, I fully support finding ways to increase recruitment and retention on campus and not just because I understand that more recruitment/retention means more money. I want students to be successful. More than that, I was a student here myself once upon a time. I had a great experience—so great that I came back to build a career here. I want our current students to feel the pride that I have for being a graduate of this institution. I love my campus.
And I think the current focus on students’ well-being is a good thing. Certainly there is a customer service aspect to these efforts but I like that, at least so far, we’re focusing on supporting students through what has been a very tumultuous couple of years. This is much more meaningful than teaching people to point with two fingers instead of one on a campus tour. (Or making faculty do campus tours in the first place. I will admit to being slightly elitist about this.)
But it’s hard to support students in this way when I don’t feel supported myself.
Lately there’s been some pressure at my institution to stop doing things “just to do them.” In other words, as the focus shifts toward an emphasis on things like student recruitment and retention, you have to make a case for how the things you do contribute to those goals. If they don’t, the implication is that you shouldn’t be spending time on them.
I have a bit of a problem with the assumption implied in the idea of doing things “just to do them.” But I also acknowledge that I’ve had an unusual amount of autonomy in my work up to this point and that that autonomy has allowed me to work on a lot of enjoyable side projects like this one.
I started this blog in March of 2018 and have published at least once or twice a week since then. In that time, my readership (which I measure by the very basic stats provided by WordPress) has gone up from approximately three views a week to closer to 100. Maybe. On a good week.
The thing is, no one writes blogs anymore, unless that blog is attached to a larger publication. It’s quaint. It’s antiquated. Chuck Wendig, whose blog helped inspire this one, recently compared blogging to “putting your podcast on vinyl.”
No one writes blogs anymore. No one reads blogs anymore. Who has the time? And it’s unlikely to blogging like this contributes in any direct way to larger goals like recruitment and retention.
Warning: The following post contains some discussion of (fictional) suicide and related mental health issues. Read with care. If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can offer immediate support or refer to these resources from the National Institute of Mental Health.
Things have been pretty stressful lately. There’s been a lot of upheaval at my institution and the road ahead looks pretty rocky, at least for those of us here in the library. I’ve drafted some posts about how some of this has been affecting me, especially given my new leadership role as the head of my department. But honestly that stuff gets pretty depressing. I still might share some of it but I wanted to focus instead this week on something I’m looking forward to: summer projects.
There’s nothing better than the “fresh start” feeling that comes with the end of the school year and the start of summer. The campus is starting to get quiet again. Soon, us twelve-month employees will have the place more or less to ourselves. Things with slow down, at least theoretically. Best of all, there’s vacation time within sight on the schedule.
Of course, some of this is a mirage. Everyone knows that summer is “slower” so that’s often when you suddenly get piled with committee projects and trainings and other odds and ends that you’re supposed to suddenly have time to do. Plus there are the projects that can only really happen during the summer, like updating tutorials and websites while the potential for disruption is relatively low, so sometimes it’s a mad dash to get all of that done too.
So it’s easy to start out with some goals in mind and easy to let those goals fall by the wayside. By stating some of my goals and projects here, in a public if not particularly high traffic area, I’m hoping that will give me some accountability.
Here are what I’m hoping my priorities for the summer might be: