If your school is like mine, this fall has been consumed by conversations about Artificial Intelligence.
The good: How can we help students engage with it as a free tutoring tool?
The bad: How can we keep students from accepting what it says blindly?
The ugly: How will this impact the job market? Is AI coming for our jobs?
Well, AI didn’t come for my librarian position, but I’m betting I’m the only AISLer in this situation. While I thought I was transitioning to the new role of Director of Curriculum and Research last year, that ended up on pause for a year to synch up with the more traditional hiring “season.” So we had an open librarian position this past winter. Without any irony, on New Year’s Day, my husband turned to me on a hike in Washington’s incomparable Deception Pass State Park, and asked, “what would you think if I applied for the role?” He and I have worked at the same school for the past 12 years, him in various teaching roles and me in the library. Most years, he’s even been stationed in the library one period a day as a library monitor. He’s already more patient and thorough as a cataloger than I am. We previously worked together at a restaurant. We overheard all each other’s conversations from our bungalow during COVID. No one would be entering the role with a better sense of what to expect in the day-to-day and with a clearer understanding of my vision.
Where had this come from? – Tasha’s December AISL post with professional development webinar recommendations…which led me to Jevin West and his work on data literacy…which led me to tell Seth we should watch together, knowing we often talk about how people come to accept or revise hypotheses in the sciences….which led us to West’s book and course on Calling Bull…which led Seth to think about our new data science course and the elasticity of information literacy…
Basically, Frost had it right.
Was this the librarian I had been picturing? This couldn’t have been farther from my radar. Is it a fantastic opportunity for him and our school? Absolutely, yes. He’s in a position to help the library integrate with courses in more grades and departments. Were I jealous person, I wouldn’t be boasting that he’s been invited to more math classrooms in two weeks than I was in fifteen years.
And this isn’t exactly out of nowhere. We met in the same Humanities undergraduate program, and he previously worked in the publishing field before ending up teaching English, Engineering, and Science. And now he’ll start at the University of Washington’s I School this fall, where West teaches and his parents are alums.
I’ve frequently thought about Courtney, Laura, and Sara’s magnificent presentation, The “What If” Scenario,” on library succession planning. What would any of us do in the fortuitous circumstance where we win the lottery and suddenly depart? I, however, knew this transition was coming, so I had time to neaten the shelves and organize my files. I stepped off campus last June assuming I would be returning to a new office in a different part of the library. But due to construction delays, that space won’t be ready until September 12th. I’m still sitting on the right side of the circulation desk in the chair I’ve sat in since starting at the school, looking out at the exact same view. He’s moved into the identical space on the left side of the circ desk. For now, one couch separates our work spaces.
I can hear every time a teacher comes in to donate a book for the collection. After doing it myself four times, I can now watch him work with students on the research project about the mythology that inspired the creatures in The Hobbit. I can note the database passwords have been updated on the library’s LMS without a whit of work from me. I can silently gloat from my chair as the printer ignores students.
So place yourself with me. You’ve readied the library for its next steps. But you didn’t win the lottery and are still working. Now picture your partner or any trusted friend you love. They are in your role—literally sitting next to you more than eight hours a day. They are excited for even the mundane parts of the job. They’re asking questions and putting in the effort to maintain the quality of the program. This is someone you want to thrive and someone with whom you work well!
But it’s also hard to take pride and vulnerability out of the equation. While it might not be visible to others, I see my own weaknesses throughout the library. He has my old calendar and the filing cabinet with my folders of every class I’ve worked with over the years. He can see my hand-written notes on all lessons, many punctuated by “next time change…” I hadn’t been able to figure out BrainPop’s SSO, and he did in a week. Upon learning of my new role, one priority I had for the “new librarian” was a substantial fiction weed. I’m sure I’m not alone, but I’ve definitely made some purchasing miscalculations over the years, and there are titles that are dated, unpopular, or simply not what I expected from the reviews. I don’t want that to feel like a catalog of my mistakes when he starts this project. We used to alternate yearly between inventorying the print collection and database analytics each spring, but we haven’t done a complete digital inventory since May of 2019.
One of the most surprisingly disorienting tasks thus far occurred last Friday. I placed a large book order on behalf of both libraries for books I hadn’t chosen and didn’t know. Having been solely responsible for book collection previously, I’ve never had a book in my cart that I didn’t place there. Before ordering, I’d scroll the cart and have a familiarity with every single title. With every single cover. Sometime today, those boxes are scheduled to arrive. I don’t get the thrill of opening them, nor of designing a display around them.
If all had gone according to plan, I’d be writing a different post this month because I wouldn’t still be at the circulation desk with a front row seat to my old job. The furniture is ready for my new Hollywood Regency-esque vibe when I do get to move in a few weeks. This is the definition of a liminal time, and one that both makes me wistful for my past and appreciative of where the library is headed next. To data literacy and logic puzzles and how to graphically represent (or misrepresent) the number of pushups from a thirty day challenge and beyond. And of course there are still the book recommendations for English classes and the history research projects to come.
And I know from our conversations that he isn’t sitting around judging all I didn’t get done, but I have been intrigued by some of what’s surprised him. I’ve asked him to keep track of his impressions this month — and he’ll be writing a complementary post in two weeks about the difference between being adjacent to the librarian and being the librarian. Stay tuned.