Amanda M. Leftwich (@thelibmaven) is the Online Learning Librarian & Diversity Fellow at Montgomery County Community College. Leftwich has a Bachelor of Art degree in Art History from Arcadia University and a Master of Science in Library Science from Clarion University of Pennsylvania. Her research interests include intersectional librarian identity, diverse collection development, and mindful practices/strategies in librarianship. She is the creator of @mindfulinlis – a Twitter account dedicated to mindfulness in librarianship.
My mentor asked, “Are you keeping a personal record of your work experience, goals, and hardships?” I hadn’t previously thought about journaling, let alone reflecting on my work. At the time, I did not want to think about my workplace – I just wanted to find a way to survive it. In all her wisdom, my mentor replied, “Writing is survival…by writing everything that’s happened to you – you’ll know what you’ll want to be as a leader in this field. And more importantly, what not to be.” The next challenge was to not only be honest with myself, but also notice the issues and tensions I faced in the workplace – and how to tackle them in a mindful and meaningful way.
After a few years of keeping a reflective journal, I noticed patterns in my workplace behavior that surprised and enlightened me. Journaling gave me a space to be free and honest with myself in a helpful way. Once I wrote about it, I gained perspective. I did not linger on the negative and began to see the positive in those events. During that time, I often wrote about my feelings of isolation in the workplace. I included incidents that occurred, my feelings about them, and my role in them. It led me to begin successful collaborations outside of my department that ended the isolation I originally felt.
Reflective journaling highlighted the importance of mindful practice in the workplace/sharing that information, challenged me to try new projects, and helped me think about what I wanted from my career in librarianship. Here are a few things to keep in mind prior to embarking on a reflective writing journey.
Reflective journaling helps one see the connections of their work through a critical and analytical lens. It can assist you in generating ideas, inspiration, and self-awareness at work. For example, do you notice any patterns in your work? How do those patterns intersect? How do they differ? By writing these questions down you begin to reflect on your work in thought-provoking ways.
It is also a practice in mindfulness. Just as reflective journaling helps us identify connections in your work, mindfulness helps us identify our reactions in a positive way. In my own journaling, I noticed a frequent pattern/theme was boredom. I dreaded my workdays because I wasn’t challenged. As I became aware of this pattern, it led me to think about what duties interested me outside of my position.
“Reflective journaling can also be an effective tool for developing your research agendas.”
. Reflective journaling can also be an effective tool for developing your research agendas. Michelle Reale’s book, Becoming a Reflective Librarian and Teacher (2017) highlights the importance of reflective journaling as a “good practice as a professional seeking to understand one’s stance and one’s professional and pedagogical practice.” It is only through constant reflection that a library professional can truly understand their work and stances on issues. After reviewing my writing, I noticed the repetition of three words: diversity, inclusion, and peace. I wanted to understand more about those three words in librarianship and my role in them. This led me to begin my research on diversity, equity, inclusion, and mindfulness.
Try this: In your own practice, write down three words related to library and/or archival research that interest you. Write down as many details about your stances or views as possible. Once completed, ask yourself questions about your stances. For example, “Who needs to know more about this stance?”, “Why should this stance be shared?”, “Where should this information be shared?” By focusing on your stances, you begin to form frameworks for your own research.
Daily Personal Record of Your Work History
Think of reflective journaling as your own personal record of your work history. Keeping a journal from your own perspective can highlight things you have never noticed about your own needs, wants, and ideas for your career. It can also assist with keeping a record of workplace abuses, negligence, low morale, and microaggressions. Please note that this depends on your institutions’ Human Resources (HR) policies. Read through them thoroughly!
Some things to keep in mind (the good):
- Track your work! Write about the projects and initiatives you’ve accomplished! What are the highlights of your position? How did you accomplish them? What was your workplace like prior to creating these initiatives?
- Research It! You’ve written about your stances and successfully launched projects, now research them. Use your accomplishments as research starters for an article or assessment. Cultivate those ideas in order to present that information to a larger audience.
- Failure! It didn’t work out, learn from it! Describe in detail how the project or initiative failed. How can you learn from it? What are the next steps? Remember to forgive yourself and move forward.
Some things to keep in mind (the bad):
- Describe it! When writing about an instance of incivility be as descriptive as possible! When did the instance occur, where, what time/day, and how was it handled afterwards?
- Report it! Did you report the incident? If so, to whom? Which day did you report the issue?
- Record it! Do you have records of these incidents either in email or in written reports? Are they easily accessible if your credentials are cancelled by your institution (i.e. have you emailed these records to your personal email account/s)? Although keeping written and e-copies of these incidents may seem like overkill – it is important to do so! If it comes to your word versus others, having your own account can only strengthen your case.
Reale (2017) discusses reflective practice as an actionable step to enact change (p.46-47). As your practice becomes more fluid, the more you’ll ask why, and begin to start action to answer the question. You’ll stop to think of solutions instead of a routine response. For example, one might ask themselves why students are disengaged in the instruction classroom (i.e. boredom, point & check method of teaching, professor, etc.)? What solutions can you generate for these problems?
How to Reflect/Getting Started
There is no one fits all to journaling, but here’s a start for those looking to begin!
- Buy a notebook (it does not need to be fancy). Remember to keep the notebook in a safe place that is easily accessible. You will want to keep it nearby for any ideas, contemplative thoughts, or observations that regularly occur in your workday.
- Write regularly! Remember, the point of a reflective journal is to observe and well, reflect! If you don’t write regularly, this won’t occur. Try to write at least once a week then two times a week and eventually every day.
- Describe everything! Remember to make it as concise and clear as possible! Start by asking yourself descriptive questions like the following:
- What was your interpretation of the day or event?
- What was the outcome?
- Was it successful?
- How did you feel during this day?
- What have you learned?
- Observe, Observe, Observe! You are a participant in your writing. Re-read what you have written and contemplate solutions to any problems or issues you have seen. Notice any workplace issues and triumphs you face frequently. For any new ideas, create a scaffold for getting them accomplished. As you implement these ideas, note all outcomes whether successful or unsuccessful throughout the process.
- Review! Once you have started journaling for a few months, look back at your earlier entries. Have you broken any patterns? Have you learned from any unsuccessful projects? Have you implemented any new ideas in your workplace? Regular review will assist you in seeing not only how you have grown, but also where you can continue to improve.
There is no perfect way to keep a reflective journal! The process will challenge you. You will leave your journal at home. You find patterns in “work-self” that you do not like and will not want to acknowledge – but you have to keep writing. Learn from your negative and positive patterns, ideas, and interpretations. Be kind to yourself in this journey and be willing to grow in unexpected ways.
Finally, I leave you with some resources and questions to keep the conversation moving. Check them out and think about ways to begin your own process.
- Melanie Greenberg’s The Stress-Proof Brain: Master Your Emotional Response to Stress Using Mindfulness and Neuroplasticity.
- Kaetrena Davis Kendrick’s The Low Morale Experience of Academic Librarians: A Phenomenological Study.
- Michelle Reale’s Becoming a Reflective Librarian and Teacher: Strategies for Mindful Academic Practice
Share Comments and Keep the Conversation Going…
- Do you think keeping a reflective journal is important?
- If you keep a reflective journal, what tips do you have for someone just starting?
- What have you learned about yourself from reflecting regularly?
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