Veronica Arellano Douglas, Instruction Coordinator at the University of Houston Libraries, is the 2020 recipient of the Miriam Dudley Instruction Librarian Award. 2019/2020 Dudley Award Committee member Carrie Forbes conducted an interview with Veronica after she received her award.
Considering your many accomplishments over the years, what are you the most proud of?
I’ve been thinking about this a lot and just recently my partner was gently scolding me for not being prouder of my accomplishments, which I’m sure is probably familiar to a lot of women. I’m the proudest of the work I’ve done on relational cultural theory with Joanna Gadsby, Alana Kumbier, Anastasia Chiu, and Lalitha Nataraj. We’ve created a robust community of practice which has been really supportive for me and many other librarians. When it first started, I was on sabbatical, my husband was waiting for a transplant, and I was working from home feeling isolated and stressed in a new city. Alana reached out after reading a blog post that I’d written about relational cultural theory. We decided to start a learning group and we brought in a few other folks from many different institutions who had expressed interest. We were all over the country, but coming together virtually to discuss readings via Google Hangouts. All of our fruitful discussions led to several additional blog posts and a conference presentation for CLAPS (Critical Librarianship & Pedagogy Symposium) and then one for ACRL.
It was really cool because we were this community of practice about relational cultural theory that was started by women working at the Stone Counseling and Research Center at Wellesley College and they developed this theory as a collective. To be studying this group-initiated theory as a group was so meta! It really helps me think about the relational aspects of library work, and of teaching in particular. You’re building relationships with your students when you’re in the classroom. You’re building relationships with faculty who you’re teaching with. But you’re also building a community and relationships with other teaching librarians and that’s really important. Our community of practice recently started up again with the COVID-19 crisis, and it’s a reminder to sustain these relationships and just feel some kind of meaningful connection with others right now.
What impact do you think your leadership has had on the profession?
One thing that’s been happening a lot more recently is that I’m been doing quite a bit of informal writing on blogs and many library science faculty and librarians are sharing it with their students or people who they mentor or oversee, like student interns. This is super meaningful and it means a lot more to me than most other scholarly achievements. People are connecting to my work and to think that there is or will be this new wave of librarians who are finding value in my work is so humbling. I view leadership as a form of facilitation and I’m also really grateful to be joining the ACRL Immersion program as a facilitator. I’m really looking forward to shaping the Immersion program in the coming years and connecting to teaching librarians.
Could you describe a pivotal point in your career?
There are two pivotal moments that come to mind. One was getting the job at St. Mary’s College of Maryland. It’s a public honors college and has a strong teaching focus. Being in that environment, as a reference and instruction librarian, where teaching really mattered and professors really cared about their teaching helped me to shift my identity from a librarian to an educator. That identity switch was an important part of my growth in the profession and really helped me develop a sense of myself as a collaborator with and a colleague to faculty. Second, attending the very first Critical Librarianship and Pedagogy Symposium in 2016 was absolutely transformative. It was my first experience being really immersed in critical information literacy and critical librarianship and I learned so much from the librarians who presented and shared their knowledge.
Who has inspired you over your career?
Honestly, I have been inspired by all of my colleagues at one point or another, but Celia Rabinowitz, the library director at St. Mary’s College of Maryland when I first started there, was and continues to be an inspirational mentor. We would sit around and talk about pedagogy, teaching concepts, ideas of what libraries could be, all of it. Her passion for librarianship and teaching was wonderful. She also said something that has always stuck with me: “You should always walk into the classroom assuming that students are interested and engaged and want to learn. Assume the best of your students.” I have always found that to be great advice.
What habits would you advise librarians who are new to teaching to incorporate into their practice?
I would encourage new instruction librarians (really anybody who cares about their teaching) to talk about their teaching with other librarians and faculty. I do think sometimes there’s this weird idea that we’re just supposed to develop teaching strategies, activities, and philosophies all on our own. That’s just not how this profession works. Lots of people have been teaching way longer than me and even someone who’s brand new might have a totally fresh perspective on an area. Talking to others helps me be a better teacher.
I would also encourage new librarians to also spend some time reflecting on your classes. As a new librarian, I used to take things really personally when a class didn’t go well. It’s so easy to blame yourself, but that doesn’t help anyone. Now, after a class (sometimes during a class) I think about what worked, what didn’t work, and reasons why that might be the case. Instead of just moving on to the next class, I spend some time doing free writing and reflection on the experience, which then helps me plan for future classes. The whole process, I think, makes me a better teacher.
What excites you about the future of library pedagogy?
The current situation that we find ourselves in with COVID-19 is very scary and stressful, but it’s also a time when librarians and faculty are thinking really creatively about teaching. There have been so many librarians who have stepped up in a big way on their campus to help with digital pedagogy. We are librarians, and teachers, and instructional designers and we have this unique skill set that can really assist our faculty colleagues. My hope is that, when this is over, whenever that might be, faculty and higher education professionals remember librarians’ extensive skill sets and expertise and we continue to value it in ourselves.
Teaching librarians should value their expertise and their role in the educational process. I’m excited by the way language around instruction librarianship has changed and reflects a sense of intrinsic value and pride in the work that we do. We see ourselves as educational partners. I guess that’s what I hope for the future of library pedagogy and teaching librarianship, that we continue to move in a direction where librarians are co-teachers and educational partners doing faculty development and curricular work on a much broader scale. I want us to see our inherent value as opposed to using only external measures of value in the work we do.