Affective Labor is Real: A Librarian’s Guide to Navigating #NeverAgain

Guest Post by Elaine Levia

Emma Gonzalez with mosaic of slogans (art by Serena May Illescas) uploaded by Flickr user Vince Reinhart, shared under a CC-BY 2.0 license.

Here we are.

It is hard for me to write that only the most recent events at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida have inspired this post. We’ve been inundated with stories of  gun violence in and out of schools far longer than we care to admit.  I was in elementary school when the Columbine massacre took place. Even in relative safety, I grew up learning to regard gun violence in schools not as incidents isolated by time and space, but as looming threats that would eventually happen to me or someone I knew.

Now, as a school librarian, I feel favorably positioned to approach the work of compiling resources for general and practical support in the current unfolding of violent events. We sit in a favorable seat because of our roles, adjacent to students as teachers are, but also as de facto counselors, confidants, advisors, and affective laborers of all stripes. Affective labor is the critical feminist term for work in the service or care of others, either emotionally or physically. It came about as a response to the invisibility of immaterial labor, and has even been explored in the context of academic libraries. You might be wondering, as I have wondered recently, how to broach the interconnected pieces of school shootings with students in a clear-cut way. How might we balance responsible reactions to unthinkable trauma within our training level and expertise? How might we support students in a time of anger, sadness, political fervor, and need?

I am reassured by the old refrain, shared often as comfort with me by my own mother, who also happens to be a librarian. We don’t need to have all the answers. We just need to be the connection. Today I want to share some thoughts and resources that have helped me figure out my personal role in the sea change, and I will ask for your help with one small action: consider this the crystallization, the reification of all the emotional, seemingly invisible duties of a school librarian. We’re already tasked with doing more with less, but I hope that the following few tips and resources provide a wide variety of inclusive practices for the toolkit. Moreover, I hope that a dedicated space for support and discussion within our community proves fruitful and restorative. The care of minds and bodies of others, particularly our students, is a borderless, ever-expanding pursuit. We can only do it so well when we’re able to lean on our community for support.

Additionally, I’m interested in your resources. I’ve started a public document, which you may notice at the time of posting is still in its nascent phase. Please feel free to contribute books, podcasts, training resources, tech tools, or timely articles.

Read on for some ideas about the connections we can make between the prevalence of gun violence, mental health, activism, and diversity & inclusion work.

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Citation Theory – A recap

Thanks for all for your help last week as I prepared a block class on citation theory for our three AP Language classes. It was surprisingly the most fun that I have had with a class all year because it wasn’t just a crunch of time to answer panicked questions about individual sources. I think that I learned as much from the students as they learned from me. We opened with 5 minutes of writing reflection on the following questions.

1. With what documentation styles are you familiar?

2. What are the important parts of any citation?

3. Why are there different standardized citation styles?

4. What challenges have you faced with documentation?

We split our libraries at grade seven, so I’ve been working with some of these Juniors for the past 4 1/2 years. Each year there is a research project that contains some sort of citation component. Loosely speaking, here are the four biggest research assignments they should have completed:

7th grade History – Native American history and culture presentation – Modified MLA

8th grade History/English – Boston, Early America, and the Industrial Revolution presentation and paper – MLA

9th grade History – Western Civilizations research paper with thesis – Chicago

10th grade History – World History research paper with thesis – Chicago

And now we come to 11th grade…

Students’ answers to these open-ended questions made me realize that the one-shot sessions that we’ve done in previous years have taught them how to follow directions well. This is a good first step but it isn’t enough in a college preparatory school. I love Debbie Abilock’s description of our role in “adding friction” to the process. In discussion, students focused almost exclusively on the anti-plagiarism component of citations. Both the teacher and I stressed that this was the reason we needed to discuss the least, especially in an AP class. He used the analogy of a science experiment, where the purpose of the lab report is to allow others to recreate your experiment to see if they reach the same conclusions. I come from a slightly different angle, most enjoying seeing how students use the ideas of others. Where are they summarizing, where are they synthesizing, and most interestingly, where are they using source data to draw different conclusions? You could see the students’ engagement increase we treated them like rising scholars whose ideas are worth considering, rather than children on the verge of stealing someone else’s work. For the first time, I felt like students “bought into” the idea of citations. Since the AP curriculum only mandates that you teach students skill with a citation style but doesn’t specify which one, we all had a frank discussion about the strengths and weaknesses of MLA and Chicago. Students thought carefully about which was more appropriate for their paper, a synthesis on citizenship using the ideas of Plato, Thomas Jefferson, Martin Luther King, and an additional primary source and secondary piece of criticism. Making this decision individually certainly added friction to the research process. The teacher and I spoke honestly about our frustrations with all style guides in the digital age. Students accessed Plato’s “Crito” on a pdf hosted by MIT’s Internet Classics Archives site, where they had to consider the translator and had no stable page numbers. “The Declaration of Independence” is located on the National Archives site. It neither follows the standards for a government document nor for a website. We all hypothesized ways that style guides might continue to evolve as more documents are either born digital or accessed digitally. I think it’s important that students aren’t just completing citations by rote, but thinking about the reasoning behind them, and this kind of critical discussion opens the possibility for that.

As I go into underclassmen research season this winter, I’m going to think carefully about how I present citations. For starters, we will talk openly about online citations generators and the differences between web-based ones like easybib and eturabian compared with automatic generators in our online subscription databases. This is a classic example of a time when technology should  assist thought, not supplant it. It is not important for students to memorize style rules, nor should they blindly follow the instructions of an online citation generator. I don’t mind if they use one to help them get the right format, but they need to read it over afterwards to see if it makes sense. (Real example: If you see this and only this, you should backtrack! “L.” Etter from a Birmingham Jail. Web. October 27, 2014.) The ultimate goal is that students won’t be stressed out by citations but will know where to go for assistance. This leaves the bulk of their brain power for reading, search, analysis and writing.

When I’m preparing for a class, I tend to take notes as I read and consider how to present a subject. If you want to know the gist of everything I read and see notes for further learning on citations and style guides, open the following document on Google Drive. There’s some surprising trivia in there!
https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BzHAd969884zQ040OUJ5ejdRazg/view?usp=sharing

I hope you’re given the opportunity to “just talk” about citations at some point in the future. These three classes impacted the way that I’ll be teaching citations in the future and gave the kids a chance to think about them as more than a completion task for an individual assignment. As a bonus for the library, about a third of the students came to see me individually to talk about their specific needs for their papers. One-on-one time with students is generally the most effective time with them, and this is a higher-than-average rate of return for the invitation. Please share below if you have had a lesson on citations that worked particularly well. If you’d like to continue the conversation, I’d love to hear from you!

Top 10 Reasons to be happy to go Back to School

shooting star

10.      You can finally drop last year’s experimental “Let’s See If It Works” project (“Lesson learned!”).

9.       You can start up a new experimental “Let’s See If It Works” project (“This will work GREAT!”).

8.       You get to hear about everyone’s summers and catch up with old friends (see item 1 below before attending that first Back To School BBQ)

7.       You get to see how much last year’s sophomores have changed now they’re this year’s juniors (often triggering thoughts of time travel and /or suspended animation because there is NO WAY these changes happened in just 3 short months!)

6.       You get to implement that one fix that came to you out of the blue while stargazing in the Sierras. Finally, the solution to that one thing that has been pestering you for years. It’s really so simple!

5.       You get to meet this year’s new students. They all look so young and eager.

4.       You get to meet this year’s new faculty, and have the wonderful chance to make a great first impression.  Here is your chance to implement that new project you’ve been wanting to try!

3.       June is ONLY 9 short months away!

2.       After collecting up all your notes from the summer, now is your chance to make those practical changes to library office, general layout, front desk, workflow, and start out with a fresh new landscape.

1.        You finally get to talk BOOKS to your hearts’ content, finding out what students have been reading, what faculty are recommending, how they like what you’re reading, making those matchups with the right book and the right person. Social media, GoodReads, anonymous reviews—there is no substitution for face-to-face real time interactions about the wonders of books.

Top 10 Challenges of Going Back to School

1.       Remembering Everyone’s Names: I mean… EVERYONE’S names. Including those in your immediate department. Solution: review last year’s Yearbook—the photos are especially helpful. Spend extra time on faculty names and faces. There is no exemption for those oldest and dearest friends on staff. ALL names are suspect after a truly relaxing summer.

 

Okay, I couldn’t come up with 10 real challenges of going back to school. We are lucky to be in a profession where we get to participate in that annual renewal process known as Back to School, and actually be part of the excitement of getting to start fresh, with a clean slate and new opportunities—each and every year! Somehow the smell of new school clothes and the thought of that exciting shoebox with brand new Hush Puppies are popping into my head. And for me, the smell of those lovely pink Amaryllis known as Naked Ladies is a sure sign of the melancholy end of summer inextricably tied up together with the thrill of First Day of School.

What does ‘Back to School’ look, sound, smell like to you?

amaryllis