Written on November 7, 2017
Teaching as a component of life and well-being entered my life at the age of 23, when I lived in Philadelphia and entered the AmeriCorps Education nonprofit City Year: Greater Philadelphia. It was as a corps member, serving Olney High School West and its immediate and distant, city-wide communities that I entered the world of Education for ten months. The public high school experience was inspiring for me. As a young person with a privileged background and relatively stable upbringing in the rural and white Southern Maine, I had not been exposed to the spectrum of learning experiences within contemporary American education to the degree that Philadelphia showed me. My time in Philadelphia as an in-class support aide, after school programs coordinator, and general mentor taught me much about being present and being available to students in need of wide ranges of support. I successfully found myself embedded in five different Olney High School West classes (English, Art, and Math), served as an editor for the City Year student literary magazine, and also co-hosted with another corps member Art Aware, a city-wide initiative to bring student artwork into an Old City gallery.
Following my brief but substantial tenure at City Year, I made my way from Philadelphia to Seattle, striving for new heights and artistic purpose. Through professional adventures in retail (the late bookstore Borders) and the tech industry (where I rose to quick success as a Marketer at two different Digital Solutions corporations), I made the decision that helping people find information was something I wanted to do. But I also realized that it was in Education, not the private sector, that I most wanted to do it. I swiftly entered the MLIS program at University of Washington’s iSchool, and began exploring what librarianship (and library work in general) could do for communities of all shapes and sizes. In my third year of the online program, during 2013, I quit my corporate job and relocated to Cambodia for an internship with Open Development Cambodia, which turned into a professional job. It was there that I learned more about the potential as a synchronous and asynchronous educator via the resources of a digital library (which I was responsible for developing over the course of one year). I also entered the world of an open culture through the open data and open access repositories provided to Cambodian researchers through this project. Speaking at conferences and workshops with my coworkers, I became a leader in this form of education, and was truly inspired to explore my potential as an educator. Before returning to the United States after a one-year period, I also volunteered to run poetry and other writing workshops for adults and youth. Becoming an educator was a fluid transition that felt as natural as my tendencies toward lifelong learning, and though I had previously sworn I never wanted to be a teacher, it was obvious that teaching was becoming a major goal of mine.
Additionally, in 2013-2014, as an independent project aligned with my graduate studies, I supported the Ministry of Education by developing an LGBTQ-themed course on information literacy for librarians in Cambodia, through partnership with one of the major universities in Phnom Penh. The entire course, its materials and other curricular components, were primarily-designed by myself, with language and concept editing by the head librarian of that university. The course was run and was successful, with critical feedback provided by both participants as well as reflections from myself and my collaborator. This additional exploration of teaching, which was far from required of me during my otherwise adventurous and overwhelming lifestyle in Cambodia, aroused in me the ideas of “going the extra mile” many educators throughout the world are known for. It also demonstrated to me important concepts of success and failure as they relate to time and temporality when it comes to teaching. I asked many questions of that project, including “How effective can an educator be under extreme constraints of time?” It continued to be a fundamental question I approached (and one I continue to approach) as an educator.
Returning back to the United States in 2014 was a tough decision inspired by my interest in gaining “American librarianship” experience, aligned with my receiving the MLIS degree from UW. Despite my love for the culture of and a life in Cambodia, a professional calling for contemporary systems and tools, and a stronger intellectual (and academic) community took hold. When I returned, I found myself once again in an educator position at North Seattle College, one of the Seattle Colleges. It was there that I served for one year as the Student Media Center (SMC) Coordinator, from 2014-2015. My role, though not one of proper librarianship, was essentially providing Technology Librarian services and functions. From workshops and trainings on digital tools and technologies, to reference support for all manner of hard and soft tech, I was the go-to at this college. I regularly collaborated with librarians and other faculty in passive and event-based programming, marketing campaigns, and web content to support the needs of the diverse and overwhelmingly-busy student body. My interest in education as one revolving around literacies and competencies, skills that support but extend beyond academia, began to grow significantly. It was here too that the sense of community, by way of the active and present students, proved itself an embedded structure.
In January, 2015, I had the good fortune of acquiring a part-time faculty librarian position at Lake Washington Institute of Technology (LWTech) while I was also serving as the Student Media Center Coordinator. I wholeheartedly believe this was a complementary connection, one of ideal overlap and transition. The community at North was enjoyable but my true goal at the point where I took the faculty position was to become a full time librarian. I was hired by LWTech to support an emerging Bachelors program, specifically the Bachelors of Transportation and Logistics Management (since renamed). Under the support and mentorship of the Tenured Library Coordinator and the Tenured Faculty Librarian, as well as a team of two fantastic Tech Services employees and the Computer Lab Tech, I moved from barely scratching the surface of librarianship to being thrust into it with significance. Those team members made all the difference in my growth as the learning curve of academic librarianship, specifically in the Community and Technical College context, is significant. Alas, through baby steps, occasional projects, and strong support encouraging me to be independent and creative, I found an emersion not only into the profession but also into the skills necessary to succeed as a librarian in a college. These included all of the stereotypical and atypical skills one might expect, including reference, instruction (inside the classroom and otherwise, digital and in-person), collection development, operations, tech services, events programming, communications, information management, and marketing (including web content and social media). The world of the educator, my world as an educator, greatly expanded during this time period, and became far more formalized than I ever could have imagined. My goals were simultaneously being attained and evolved at the same time, reasserting the glory and potential of the profession and of Education generally speaking.
In the Summer of 2015, not having the responsibility to cover the library (as I was part time), I found myself supporting libraries in Cambodia once again, this time as an Information Management Specialist for the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). Though primarily based at the main office in Phnom Penh, this three-month-long summer project also included numerous visits to field offices, primarily in a protected forest near the Vietnam border. My duties included hiring and teaching two different interns (who found wide success with the organization after the internship ended), organizing the library, and providing “capacity-building” experiences for Cambodian villagers and indigenous groups associated with many of the WCS projects. These experiences of teaching and learning were mutual, as I felt like the majority of the time I was completely fatigued as a learner in this exciting and extreme environments. The constraints of energy led me to consider my own efficacy as an instructor, as I saw numerous points of failure glow like beacons on a weekly basis. And yet there were still many successes, and I had invitations extended to me to continue helping in Cambodia, and also provide comparable educational services to Laos and Myanmar (the offer still stands). Those interns were of special importance to me, as they turned out to become two very close friends, and it reflected an emotional warmth which I do think is often missing in American educational circumstances.
In Spring of 2016, both the Library Coordinator and the Faculty Librarian moved into new positions at other schools in the region, effectively making me the only librarian at LWTech. Though the period of my independent leadership lasted only from late Spring Quarter to Summer Quarter, I felt like I was thrown to the wolves. The stress was enormous and the pressure was emotionally fatiguing. Fortunately, the leadership above the library, specifically the Dean responsible for overseeing the library, was incredibly supportive, as well as the remaining team members (the techs). The library did not collapse, nor did I as an educator. I was still able to teach classes (a more diverse selection, as well, since it was up to me to maintain the expected output of teaching from the library) and otherwise fulfill my educator duties in a full time capacity.
In the Summer of 2016, LWTech hired a second librarian to co-coordinate the library with me and redevelop our vision on what the library could do to serve the college and its educators (employees) and students. Liaison roles were created, new tools for instruction and assessment were created, and the library began to function once again with a certain degree of confidence and stability. During this second major chapter of my time as a faculty librarian at LWTech, my own experience began to speak for itself, and demonstrated my capabilities of achieving incredible things within the scope and capacity of the library. It also must be said that during this period, the library was required to undergo a large systems change, which required the majority of the team to become certified in new software and otherwise stray away from the direct educator path. But we made it through, all the while successfully evolving the library and its services to the college. Core focuses during this time included: Open Educational Resources (OER), Information Literacy, the Four Connections, and Reading Apprenticeship. Pedagogies began to get explored as a result of a new tenure process, which began in the Fall of 2016.
During the summer of 2017, I was also able to support my old friends in Cambodia with an emerging MLIS program in Phnom Penh. Through remote contributions, I assisted with textbook selection and course descriptions for the first librarian grad program in Cambodia. As of this writing, the program is ongoing.
The other faculty librarian, serving as co-coordinator, announced her departure in early Fall 2017, once again causing me to become the lone librarian at LWTech and realize the significant weight of being an educator all the same. This time, however, my role evolved from faculty librarian (like a deer in the headlights) to Library Coordinator, demonstrating a certain degree of maturity and growth within the profession and my school). My duties for management, administration, and operations were otherwise regarded with seriousness and thoroughness. The liaison areas merged and as a result I was required to support many new professors and their courses, of which I was very unfamiliar. My range of instruction expanded with my range of duties, but also my desire to maintain flexibility as an educator and as a leader on campus continued to glisten. As a result of the lack of human resources, the extended educator emerged. The flexibility and universality of the educator (librarian and otherwise) highlighted many of the intersections between the librarian profession and the role of the community contributor at LWTech.
At the time of this writing, I continue to look toward future iterations of educator roles, my continued interest in and value of the American Education System. Through programming, instruction, and library management, I become a true leader of the library and continued community figure at LWTech. My tenure process continues into year two and I explore through statements like this my own history with and relationship to Education, and reflect on my experience, skills, knowledge, and capacity as an educator, allowing me to more directly observe where I have been so that I may more decisively understand where I can go. I also consider the future of my own formal education, and how that might better inform my growth and evolution both within and beyond the profession. I am grateful for all I have seen, learned from, and contributed to in the scope of my life as an educator, and I look forward to seeing much more going forward.