Annelise Dowd is a settler of Norwegian and Scottish descent and is currently the Access Services Librarian at the University of Northern British Columbia, located on the unceded traditional territory of the Lheidli T’enneh (Prince George). Annelise came to UNBC after completing their Master of Information Studies degree at McGill University in 2017. As an obsessed new dog parent working from home during the pandemic, Annelise spends almost every waking moment with their retriever-mix puppy Magnus.
What do you do in your job?
As Access Services Librarian at UNBC’s Geoffrey R. Weller Library I oversee functional areas traditionally under the access services umbrella: circulation services, interlibrary loan, and library facilities/space. Working in a small academic institution, I also have a broader scope of responsibilities, including overseeing web services, systems, and serving as the subject librarian to the English and Psychology departments. I work collaboratively with my colleagues in the library to assess our in-person and virtual services, as well as connecting with other campus units such as IT and our Student Affairs department to push forward major institutional projects involving the Library. In my various tasks I try to use an ethos of accessibility, user-experience, and anti-oppression as guiding frameworks for decision making. In my subject librarian role, I teach information literacy sessions, do collection development, and have had the opportunity to co-teach a course in the English department, ENGL 201 – Digital Humanities. My work involves a lot of juggling tasks and priorities, which frankly can be a challenge. My supportive colleagues and the incredibly competent and kind staff I supervise and collaborate with have been key to my work in this position.
What’s one exciting thing you’ve worked on recently?
It may not seem exciting to those not in Access Services, but we are working to overhaul our borrowing fine structure and remove overdue fines from our circulating collection and I am very excited about it. During the COVID-19 pandemic we have been manually waiving fines and using the most lenient policies possible to help our students and university community during this difficult time. While there are certain things that are frustratingly out of our control and have impacted students already facing hardship – i.e. not being able to purchase eBook versions of required texts – one area we did have authority over our borrowing fines. This change is by no means ground-breaking, but it is a tangible means to help our students and align our values with our policies.
What’s the most important thing one needs to know, or have, to be successful in your job?
What is absolutely essential in a supervisory position like this is demonstrating empathy, compassion, and understanding to staff. This means being supportive and truly listening to staff and using feedback to advocate for their needs. It also entails recognizing failure as a supervisor, because mistakes and missteps will happen that need to be rectified and accounted for. My answer to this question is heavily influenced by having recently attended the excellent first Conference of Academic Library Management (CALM). Discussions of low morale in library leaders in Kaetrena Davis Kendrick’s keynote and of management and labour in Emily Drabinski and Kelly McElroy’s keynote allowed me to reflect on how I approach the management aspect of my position. My position is a classic middle manager position in a small institution, I have three direct reports and about 20 indirect reports. Middle management can be difficult as you have some power, but ultimately you are not able to control all high-level decisions that can impact your workplace and your staff. Listening to the needs of staff and working to be their advocate for what can be changed is an approach that can help contend with feelings of futility as a middle manager and help mitigate low morale.
What’s something unique or unusual about your library/organization/campus community?
We are something of an anomaly, at least in BC! We are a research-intensive university with graduate-level programs and specialized research projects, but we are also a small, tight-knit academic community with fewer than 4000 students. One major positive aspect is that you get to know students and faculty and forge collaborative relationships in ways that may not be possible in a larger institution. I completed my BA at UBC and my MISt at McGill, so I was much more familiar with a large-scale environment of anonymity. Of course, the funny answer to this question is that our institutional safety training included information about the dangers of being kicked by a moose. (This may not be as relevant to the folks in the Lower Mainland).
What is one thing you wish we had asked you that you want more people to know about?
I know the pandemic won’t always be present in our lives and at this point many are tired of talking about it, but the pandemic has had an immense impact on libraries that can’t be ignored, especially in Access Services which includes dealing with physical items and in-person services. I’m always interested to learn about how other library workers are coping professionally and personally during this time and sharing resources. Professionally, making evidence-informed decisions in this context has been a continuous and difficult process. Aside from the core provincial information, OCLC’s REALM studies, and webinars, I’ve found Twitter to be an invaluable resource, as information can be shared and disseminated quickly within the community. Personally, I’ve been all about using all the coping strategies at my disposal, including getting outside with my dog, cycling, taking part in my virtual book club, and tapping into my support network. But I ultimately recognize that sometimes all we can do is acknowledge that we are all human and we don’t have unlimited resilience – sometimes things are just not great and we need to do all that we are capable of. And for me sometimes that includes watching Drag Race, getting takeout, and turning off my brain for a while.
Getting to Know… is a regular column by the British Columbia Academic Libraries Section (BCALS) that profiles academic library workers from around the province. If you would like to be featured, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org