2021 Dudley Award Winner Interview: Nicole Pagowsky

Nicole Pagowsky, Associate Research & Learning Librarian and Instruction Coordinator at the University of Arizona, is the 2021 recipient of the Miriam Dudley Instruction Librarian Award.

photo of Nicole Pagowsky, a white woman with long hair. She is holding a tabby cat.

Considering your many accomplishments over the years, what are you the most proud of?

I’d say more generally rather than just in one project I’m the most proud of taking risks to create more opportunities for others to take risks themselves. I’ve tried to do this through book editing, conference organizing, articles I have authored solo or co-authored, and from developing plans and documentation for critical instruction programs that a number of other libraries have implemented.

Your scholarship and related projects have made an impact in the field related to library instruction programs and critical pedagogy; where do you see your work as having been most influential and what are you the most excited about moving forward?

I would say I’m most proud of opening up more possibilities for conversation and action surrounding critical instruction programs and inclusive pedagogy. Growing these efforts throughout numerous projects continues to build on itself. I certainly didn’t start this work as it existed before I even entered the field, but just expanded from others’ already existing efforts. Moving forward, what I’m most excited about is focusing in more on the specifics of critical library instruction programs and where EDI aspirations might conflict with reality. I’ll use this space to share my recent guest editorial for C&RL (May 2021 issue) on one-shots that is accompanied by a CFP for a special issue on the topic: The Contested One-Shot: Deconstructing Power Structures to Imagine New Futures. I’m also always so enthusiastic to teach my LIS class for the UArizona iSchool, LIS 581: Information Literacy Pedagogy, and for having helped create the first-ever Instruction and Teaching for Librarians and Information Professionals Graduate Certificate.

As LIS adjunct faculty teaching a pedagogy course, what advice do you have for LIS students interested in instruction (or for new teaching librarians)?

I would say being able to think more holistically about instruction is better for teaching practice and also sustainability. Understanding how higher education functions, the library’s role in curricula, and the role of a teaching librarian within the instruction program will help situate LIS students or new teaching librarians. To create the Instruction and Teaching graduate certificate, research was examined looking at the gap between education/skills and library instruction position expectations. Students either don’t have ready access to instruction courses and/or have little options to engage in teaching practice. Sometimes it’s assumed this coursework isn’t necessary and that teaching is easy because when we all have our own experiences in school we think we know all it entails (similar to the invisibility of library work); but there is a lot of theory, planning, design, and juggling going on behind-the-scenes that require education and practice to be successful. Some wind up having to learn on the job where it can be exponentially stressful to get your bearings and feel like you’re catching up. If possible and if it’s offered, I recommend taking instruction coursework while in an LIS program, and securing opportunities to put it into practice.

Could you describe a pivotal point in your career?

A job in my past (I won’t say which) was an incredibly toxic and abusive work environment. It took a lot of support and advice from my ACRL-IS mentor at the time, Katherine O’Clair, who I’m still greatly appreciative of for helping me figure out how to get out and what to do next. I still owe so much to her for her guidance during that awful time. During that stress and confusion, I was motivated to look beyond my immediate situation and engage more in scholarship and service. I wound up being accepted to the Emerging Leaders Program and found ‘my people’ for future collaborations and started from there. So, although taking that job felt like a mistake (and let’s be honest, it was a mistake), made me miserable, and gave me the worst, everlasting case of imposter syndrome, it was pivotal in putting me on a trajectory that led to better things with the support of an excellent mentor.

Who has inspired you over your career?

There are so many. I first became interested in librarianship from reading an early aughts Punk Planet article about librarianship’s natural fit with activism. In that article written by Alana Kumbier, Jessamyn West was featured, among others. From there I found Radical Reference (and Jenna Freedman) and volunteering with all those brilliant people was influential. Annie Pho has been a great friend and collaborator for 10+ years now and I always admire her ability to be outspoken and take on trailblazing projects. We have been each other’s soundboards and advice-givers. Good friends inspire and keep you grounded over the years. Other mentors, peers, and peer-mentors I’ve valued for their support and advice are Erica DeFrain, Jaime Hammond, Candice Benjes-Small, Meredith Farkas, and Kathryn Deiss; and at my library, Yvonne Mery, Niamh Wallace, Leslie Sult, and Elizabeth Kline. And to list a handful of those who have had an impact on me from their work within critical approaches to teaching and librarianship are Karen Nicholson, David James Hudson, Maura Seale, Veronica Arellano Douglas, Sofia Leung, and Nicole Cooke in LIS education. I will stop here to keep this a reasonable length even though there are so many more I’d love to highlight who I admire and appreciate.

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