Interview with Emily Drabinski

Emily Drabinski is Coordinator of Library Instruction at LIU Brooklyn. She is co-editor of Critical Library Instruction: Theories & Methods (Library Juice Press, 2010), and sits on the editorial board of Radical Teacher. Emily also edits Gender and Sexuality in Information Studies, a book series from Litwin Books/Library Juice Press. She is the instructor for a two-week course with Library Juice Academy next month which she designed, called, “Working Faster, Working Smarter: Productivity Strategies for Librarians.” Emily agreed to be interviewed so that we can give potential participants (and readers) a better sense of where she is coming from, what the class will cover, and how they can benefit from it.

Emily, thanks for agreeing to be interviewed. I thought I’d start by asking you to tell us how you got to the point of teaching this class, what it is based on and how it relates to what you are doing in your job as a librarian. Actually, you can start at the beginning! I know you are from Idaho and living in NYC – I think that is an interesting biography.

I first got interested in thinking about productivity strategies when I found myself with too much to do. I had just started working at LIU Brooklyn, a mid-sized private university with a very rigorous tenure process that required a second subject masters degree that I did not already have. I found myself suddenly enrolled in school, working full-time in a brand new job, and finishing projects that I probably would not have started if I’d known I’d be back in the classroom. (Critical Library Instruction was just winding up, and I was starting on the Gender and Sexuality in Information Studies book series.) And I am a person who has always valued a personal life, too–friends, relationships, time with my cat, the pursuit of random new hobbies on a fairly regular basis, a taste for lots and lots of bad television. I needed strategies for managing all of these balls in the air. I read David Allen’s Getting Things Done, and that helped–I go through a lot of manila folders in my office! But the key was inbox zero: turning my email into a to do list. It’s no exaggeration to say that inbox zero changed my life and gave me a sense of control over my work that translates into a calmness of mind. For me, that’s what productivity is all about–calmness of mind. This class is about sharing some simple techniques that can help people gain that calmness, as well as talking about what really keeps us from getting things done. Very rarely is it about the actual to do list being too long. When I’m falling behind or forgetting to do things, it usually has to do with something about a project that doesn’t fit with my values or what I think is important. Figuring out a way to keep what really matters in focus–and this is often not something that has to do with work!–while taking care of the usually-small and pesky things that get us off track, that seems like the trick.

I come up for tenure in another two years, which really means that I need to have everything I want to include in my portfolio submitted by the end of the summer. The publishing clock is a long one, and I have no fantasies that I have a lot of time left. Taking time to think about how I do the work I do has always been time well spent, and has meant the difference between drowning in anxiety and delay for the last five years and developing a balanced approach to my work that has yielded a significant body of scholarship, service, and librarianship without my needing to forego all pleasures. I think there are some simple productivity strategies that can make that happen for all of us.

Thanks, that sounds great. That that gives us a very clear idea of what inspired the course. Could you describe what will happen during the two-week course and what people can expect to learn if they take it?

More than anything, I think the two week course will be a structured way for people to take stock of what they want to accomplish, what might be let go, and what’s standing in the way of getting things done. We’ll also learn about some concrete strategies for productivity, things like inbox zero and two minute tasking, but I’m also hoping that the class will give people a chance to clarify what really matters and learn to focus attention on those things. I led a workshop about productivity for librarians at Barnard College recently and at the very end a librarian raised her hand and asked, But what if I have a child? What can I accomplish then? And it’s a real question. So one of the things people can also expect to discover is a set of things that they can’t do, not because they’re lazy or unproductive, but because other things matter more.

Thanks, that sounds good. Since you are working a lot with Library Juice Press and have a lot of strong interests outside the topic area of this class, I’d like to ask you to talk about what other ideas for classes that you might have, what you might like to teach once you have time to do more with us. Ideas?

I’ve been really interested lately in how we can leverage critiques of library organization structures into classroom practice. Since we put together Critical Library Instruction I’ve had a pretty strong critique of things like information literacy standards, and I’ve been thinking and presenting about gender and sexuality and library classification for several years. But I’ve sort of fallen in love with my object: I love how the ACRL information literacy competency standards organize both what I choose to teach and what I don’t, how classification structures organize materials in libraries and simultaneously organize their own critiques. What would I do without the lever of LCSH to help me develop a critique of normative systems, both LCSH itself but also others? I’d love to teach a class that worked through how to use our theoretical critiques of the field to transform our daily work lives. So, how can a critique of subject headings related to gender and sexuality yield concrete classroom strategies that help students find materials about gender and sexuality while also learning something about how gender and sexuality are regulated more generally? Is that something we could do in a 75 minute session with a group of freshmen comp students? Maybe! I’m excited about some of the books coming out on the Gender and Sexuality in Information Studies series for exactly this reason–they all connect theory to practice in really interesting ways and will lay out some fruitful ground for librarians. Patrick Keilty and Becca Dean have assembled a collection that seems pretty much ideal for this purpose: it bring significant theoretical work in gender and sexuality studies into direct conversation with how librarians have been talking about these same issues. It’s a bridge text, and I’d love to teach something out of it.

I think you’re right. I think looking at folksonomies in relation to the problem you’re describing could be useful, for showing how people organize information in alternative structures. Personally, and I am not sure if this is the right place for a conversation like this, but I like to think of it in terms of the analogy of a culture where there is a mother tongue that people speak in the household in a given place, and a different official language that they learn for interacting with the state or with other institutions that transcend their locality – like a local German dialect and High German for example. People have to learn to use the High German vocabulary and be able to translate between it and their dialect. One remains close and one remains a bit alien and official. I struggle to see how this is not something that follows from necessity where there is social organization, and see the problem more as a problem of the global encroaching on the local through mass media homogenization. So with regard to gender and sexuality differences, it seems to me that the important thing is for their to be support for “local” ways of speaking and thinking alongside the official, trans-local way of speaking. But in general though I agree with you that this is an interesting area for bridging the gap between theory and practice. I would be interested in seeing a proposal for a class.

I totally agree that it “follows from necessity where there is social organization.” Really interesting to think about how to grapple with that in the classroom. I think that’s what I like about working as a librarian–we are where the rubber of that problem meets the road.

Thanks for doing the interview. Always good speaking with you.

Thanks for the chance to talk through the class–it’s been very productive!

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