Season 2, Episode 5 - Kristen Chinery

Host Annmarie Caño speaks with academic leaders at Wayne State University to learn how they have developed their careers while empowering themselves and others.

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Episode notes

Kristen Chinery is a reference archivist at the Walter P. Reuther Library of Labor and Urban Affairs at Wayne State University. In this episode of EmpowerED to Lead, she'll share the rewards and resilience of doing "detective work" at the largest labor archive in North America. She'll also explain why mentorship is key — and also how there's a special place for hair bands, color-coded paperclips, and even gossip — in the workplace.

.Kristen Chinery smiling and sitting in front of a microphone wearing headphones

About Kristen Chinery

Kristen Chinery is a reference archivist at the Walter P. Reuther Library of Labor and Urban Affairs, which is part of the Wayne State University Library System. Her research and scholarship activity includes women's labor history and the working conditions of archivists. Chinery has a nationally distinguished record of presentations, publications and service appointments. 

Additional resources

Learn more about the Walter P. Reuther Library.

Email Kristin Chinery at kristen.chinery@wayne.edu.

Follow EmpowerED to Lead on Twitter @WSUFacSuccess.

Transcript

Annmarie Caño:
Welcome to EmpowerED to Lead, a Wayne State University podcast for academic leaders who are committed to empowering their community to succeed. I'm your host, Annmarie Caño, associate provost for faculty development and faculty success at Wayne State.

In this podcast, we'll explore the personal journeys of academic leaders, both current and emerging, to learn more about how they've developed their careers. We'll speak with faculty and staff about their work and how they have empowered themselves and others along the way. By doing this, we hope to empower listeners like you as you continue on your leadership path.

Today, we're speaking with Kristen Chinery. Kristen is an archivist for at the Walter P. Reuther Library Archives of labor and urban affairs where she manages manuscript reference services. She received a master's in history, master's of library and information science, an archival administration certificate from Wayne State University, and a bachelor's in history from Adrian College. Kristen chairs Wayne State's AAUP-AFT council and sits on a number of university committees. Professionally, she has a nationally distinguished record of presentations, publications, and service appointments. Kristen's research and scholarship activity includes women's labor history and the working conditions of archivists.

Welcome to the podcast, Kristen.

Kristen Chinery:
Thank you. Hello.

Annmarie Caño:
Hi. Let's start by having you tell us what you love about your job.

Kristen Chinery:
As you mentioned, I am an archivist at the Reuther Library. I am actually the Reference Archivist, that's my title. My job is to assist students, faculty, other researchers with questions they have about our collections. What's in them, what isn't in them, what we might have that could further their research. A lot of what I do is detective work, pulling different pieces together to solve a puzzle. It's a lot of fun. I love the detective aspect of my job. A lot of times I will spend weeks in the stacks going through boxes and folders, trying to find something that I know we have, I just don't know where, so I have to find it. It can be very cumbersome, but very rewarding when you do find the needle. It's glorious.

Annmarie Caño:
Yeah. It's like you won the lottery.

Kristen Chinery:
It's like Christmas morning sometimes.

Annmarie Caño:
What kinds of materials are in the archives?

Kristen Chinery:
We are the largest labor archive in North America. Some people say the world. We don't go that far, we have some humility there. In addition to labor collections, we hold a wealth of records about urban Detroit, specifically Detroit politics and social movements, civil rights, women in the workplace. We also hold the records of Wayne State University. Lots of different collecting themes.

We have papers, pamphlets, newsletters, newspapers, photographs, moving images, audio files. Just about every format of a record in its life cycle that you could imagine, we have.

Annmarie Caño:
You have a lot of students and Wayne State faculty coming to use the archives. Which departments do you work with more?

Kristen Chinery:
For something like instruction on using primary sources, which we have a lot of classes that come in, I would say it's humanities-focused, history-focused. There's some off classes. Every once in awhile, a health class will come in or an econ class will come in, or something that doesn't seem like it would necessarily have a need for primary source research. But what we're discovering is it really helps students to identify factual content from things that are not factual. By looking at primary sources, interrogating those records in a forensic way, they're able to make better judgments about all of the information that comes to them.

That's a very rewarding process to watch unfold.

Annmarie Caño:
And it seems like there are opportunities for departments that might not typically engage with you to engage more with you-

Kristen Chinery:
Oh, absolutely.

Annmarie Caño:
When you just listed the different kinds of topics that you cover. If there was a psychology of women course or something like that, that some of those primary sources would be really interesting to look at how women presented themselves or how they advocated for themselves or for others in the history of the women's movement or labor or what have you.

Kristen Chinery:
Yes. Yes.

Annmarie Caño:
That's exciting to think about all those possibilities.

Kristen Chinery:
And we try to let people know that it's a unique circumstance here at Wayne. Not every university has an internationally recognized archive on their campus. We're right here, come in and use us. We're open to the public, anybody can come in. And right now, I would say probably it's 60/40 about the people that physically come in to use our collections. There's still a lot of faculty from other universities, other countries that travel to the Reuther to do research. But the requests that we get remotely, they're almost exclusively from people external to Wayne and in most cases, external to Michigan.

Annmarie Caño:
That's really interesting. We have a gem hiding in plain sight.

Kristen Chinery:
Yes.

Annmarie Caño:
On Cass Avenue that people walk by and don't even know is there.

Kristen Chinery:
Exactly.

Annmarie Caño:
Okay.

Kristen Chinery:
Exactly.

Annmarie Caño:
For our listeners then, just so that they can know, they can just walk right into that building and come see you.

Kristen Chinery:
They sure can.

Annmarie Caño:
Okay.

Another one of your roles is on a PAFT council. Could you tell me more about what you enjoy about that role?

Kristen Chinery:
That has a been a very diverse and ever-expanding role for me. When I first started, I was the council rep for the Reuther, and that was how I came to know about the council. And then, I was involved really for a very short time before I became the chair of a council. And at that point, we were maybe 15 people at a meeting. We started a Listserv, we started an advocacy campaign. We started reaching out to departments where we knew there were issues and they needed representation.

And now we have 54 reps across campus, and our meetings are really well attended. We're actually to the point now that we think we've outgrown the conference room that we've been using. We're going to have to find a different space.

Annmarie Caño:
How did you grow that from the smaller number to 54 or whatever the number is now? How did that happen?

Kristen Chinery:
Building relationships.

Annmarie Caño:
Okay.

Kristen Chinery:
It's about communication and building relationships. You have to talk to people one on one, you have to listen to them. Not just listen to pick out things that you could do, but also to figure out what maybe they could do. Because some of these issues that people present are things that could readily be ... I don't want to say fixed because that's not the right word, but they could be successfully mediated in house. A simple conversation with a director or their chair or a colleague that could help them talk to their chair.

Those are perfectly acceptable outcomes for these types of things. It does not always have to be got to file a grievance.

Annmarie Caño:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). What you're talking about is empowering other people to take control of the situation in a positive way to be able to advocate for themselves that we don't always have to wait for someone else to advocate on our behalf.

Kristen Chinery:
Right.

Annmarie Caño:
But sometimes, we don't know how to do that. Either it's a process issue or we don't have enough information to be able to do that, and that's something that the union can do is provide those tools for how to approach the situation.

Kristen Chinery:
Right, and I think that now, a lot of the calls that I receive, they're from people that I've never met that just heard somehow from someone that I was a good person to talk to and I could give them some information about what part of the contract might be relevant to their particular issue.

That's an interesting development for me in this time as chair is that when I first came to Wayne, I volunteered for lots of things. Every committee, every special project, I was the first person to say, "Yes, yes, how can I be useful?" And it slowly transitioned from me being the person that was always raising my hand to people approaching me to say, "We want you to do this," or, "We want you to talk about this."

Having that shift in perspective, and I try to do that with others now. When I see people stepping up or advocating for change, or colleagues or a particular issue, I try to draw them in further so that they can also become a resource for others.

Annmarie Caño:
Right. Because you can't do everything, right?

Kristen Chinery:
I like to think that I can. Sometimes, I act like I can.

Annmarie Caño:
You could do everything if there were more hours in the day. Recognizing that piece too, there's only so much you can do and only so many people you can talk to in a day. And then you have also the archivist role that you have. There's many pieces that need to be juggled, and that the more people who are involved doing similar kinds of things - listening to other people, empowering others, providing the information that they need - the more that everyone has a role and that these things can get done. It doesn't just stack up behind you and then you start to feel overwhelmed by all the people who want you, but you can't give them the time.

Kristen Chinery:
Right. It takes a really good organization, very strong communication. You have to have a really strong network to help you prioritize the things that are on fire right now versus the things that will be on fire later. And just working through one issue at a time. If you try to look at the whole picture, it's overwhelming. You just tackle things in little bits and bites until you get through the whole thing.

Annmarie Caño:
How do you do that when you have, let's say there's 20 different issues that people have brought to you. How do you decide on the priority? Which ones rise up?

Kristen Chinery:
If it's union-related, I have color-coded paper clips in my contract that over time, I have developed a system for myself or I know based on previous issues, complaints and grievances, things that have been addressed or need to be addressed. And I have things color-coded in a priority, DEFCON format.

Annmarie Caño:
What's the highest priority, urgent emergency paper clip color that you have?

Kristen Chinery:
It's red.

Annmarie Caño:
Okay. That makes sense.

Kristen Chinery:
Yeah. Red is the big-

Annmarie Caño:
Okay.

Kristen Chinery:
That's the bad one.

Annmarie Caño:
If you come to me with something with a red paper clip, I know it's really serious.

Kristen Chinery:
Yeah. I just had this conversation because we were talking about things that we do that are signals to other people that we're stressed or just overwhelmed with things that we're not verbally communicating it, but it's things that we do that indicate to others that there is a storm coming. My friend said if you are jamming out to 80s hair music and reading Supreme Court dissenting opinions, I know to just not call you for a couple of days. Things are bad.

Annmarie Caño:
This is the interesting. First, I want to go back. I feel like I need to validate the color-coded paper clip strategy.

Kristen Chinery:
Thank you.

Annmarie Caño:
I think finding a way for you to organize your work, whatever it is, if it's color-coded paper clips or some online tool, people use a lot of different systems. But to not have a system at all makes it really difficult. When you show up for work, everything is in front of you, all demanding attention. It's just very hard. But if you have some sort of system that makes sense for you, then you know which things you need to pay attention to now, which things can wait.

That's why I want to validate that because I think it's a strategy, and people need strategies.

Kristen Chinery:
I also keep things in a couple of different calendar systems because I do not want my personal life calendar and my work calendar in the same space. I need to separate those two things. I don't want to physically see them in the same block of time on my computer screen. I have to actually go to different systems to look at them.

Annmarie Caño:
I do the same thing.

Kristen Chinery:
Yeah, it's what you have to do sometimes.

Annmarie Caño:
I do that, but I know other people who said they could not manage more than one calendar. They have one calendar color-coded with personal and professional things. Again, it's as long as you're intentional about it and what it is that works for you, then that's great.

Now, this other piece though about the storm that's coming. Are those intentional coping strategies? The hair music and Supreme Court decisions?

Kristen Chinery:
Oh, yeah.

Annmarie Caño:
That's something that you do to decompress or to distract?

Kristen Chinery:
Sometimes, it isn't always to decompress. Sometimes it's to fire me up.

Annmarie Caño:
Okay.

Kristen Chinery:
It depends what the issue is. Music has always been a steadying force for me and I have a very visceral reaction to music. I'm always listening to something and either I'm trying to make myself feel better or I'm trying to calm myself down, or trying to get pumped up for something.

But then I'm reading things because language is so, so powerful. There's so much power in words, and I need to draw from that to compose whatever aura it is that I need for the task ahead.

Annmarie Caño:
Almost like a strengthening. Like you said, it can have many different purposes.

Kristen Chinery:
Right.

Annmarie Caño:
Yeah. I like that your colleagues know how to read you. Is that something that you've had to teach them or did they just pick that up on their own?

Kristen Chinery:
I think over time, the more people work with me, the more they can just read things. I think most people when they start working with me are terrified for a while. I've had several of my coworkers tell me that they were really intimidated and afraid for the first couple of years. I don't know why that is. I'm super nice. But yeah, I don't know.

One of my coworkers actually told me that it's because people are afraid to disappoint me.

Annmarie Caño:
Ah, okay.

Kristen Chinery:
Apparently, I'm a mom all the time.

Annmarie Caño:
Well, that's interesting. Sometimes people are afraid, they don't want to get someone angry because they are afraid of being punished, but it sounds like it's more they want to live up to your high expectations.

Kristen Chinery:
I would say that's probably fair.

Annmarie Caño:
Yeah.

What advice would you give to people who are new on the job and they have a colleague or a supervisor, and they're trying to get a sense of how to interact with this person, when to stay away, when to approach, what questions they can ask them. What would you advise to people in that situation?

Kristen Chinery:
I think good advice for anybody in any situation is to conduct yourself with integrity, communicate openly and directly. Whatever it is that you want to say, just say it. Just get it out, even if it's a little uncomfortable.

Don't be afraid to make mistakes. Everyone has a different process for how they do things and absorb information and different outputs, and not everybody's on the same space. It's okay to try something and fail. It's okay to try many times and fail. I have. It's just part of what you do as a professional. Being able to meet people where they are in their development I think is very important. For everybody, not just leaders.

Annmarie Caño:
Do not be afraid to make mistakes, I totally agree with you. What if the supervisor or the boss has not conveyed that it's okay to make mistakes? How should someone go about either expressing their anxiety about that or talking about that?

Kristen Chinery:
I think people who have been in your unit for a while, in your department for a while, they should be conveying those things. We should never be letting new employees just dangle out there by themselves with no mentorship or guidance or advice on, "Do this, don't do that. Watch out for this." That's absolutely something that should happen in an unofficial onboarding capacity, but it needs to happen because there's things that you don't want people to learn the hard way if you can avoid that for them.

Annmarie Caño:
Right. Or you don't want them, if they make a mistake, hiding the mistake and not telling you about something.

Kristen Chinery:
Right, because that never goes well for any of the people involved. It's always discovered, right? You always find out. Don't be that person.

Annmarie Caño:
In the spirit of sharing things that don't always go well and recognizing that successful leaders make mistakes, has there ever been a time that you'd like to share with listeners where something didn't go as planned or you ran into some difficulty and had to move through that challenge?

Kristen Chinery:
I feel like there's a lot of people rubbing their hands in anticipated glee right now. Find the answer to this. Oh, yeah.

I think for me, drastic change is not something that I would naturally react well to. It is something that I have to get used to. I hide it very well. Most people don't see that. It's something that I deal with by listening to music and reading Supreme Court decisions.

I'm the reference archivist now. I was not always the reference archivist at the Reuther, and that position change was an administrative decision. It was not something that I wanted to do, but it was something that I knew I could do, which is a very interesting space to be in.

Annmarie Caño:
I think a space that a number of listeners will identify with.

Kristen Chinery:
Yeah. Because the Reuther's reference archivist has traditionally been a position that had prestige attached to it, it was usually someone that had a senior level ranking in the building. There was a lot of gravity that came along with that decision. For me, I had to figure out the best way to process the fact that a decision was made that I didn't have a say over, but also how was I going to react to that in a way that was going to move our program forward.

I immediately felt like I had to prove something because of the prestigious nature of that position, which is indicative of absolutely everything that's wrong with how we value ourselves as women in the workplace. The process of trying to define what good enough felt like, and where my work fell into that and what I needed to do better, what I needed to cut myself some slack on, it was a tremendous learning experience for me. And I am by nature an overachiever. That will be my reaction to change is to push and just try to do more and do more because I don't know what else to do. I just do more. That's my answer.

Kristen Chinery:
But I also recognize that in others. Helping colleagues address a more healthy and productive way to deal with that provides more tools for me in my toolbox.

Annmarie Caño:
When you do recognize that that overachieving or having to prove yourself when you're already ... there's nothing to prove, you already have the skills, of course, you can grow into a new position. How do you help other people in that situation?

Kristen Chinery:
I try to explain the process that I worked through. Sometimes, I think an example is a good way for others to identify, but then they could also maybe see something that they could do differently. Or maybe one piece didn't exactly fit with what they were experiencing. Maybe they looked at it in a different way or had a different perspective that twisted things for them and allowed them to flip a switch.

Annmarie Caño:
Sharing your own journey as one way. "You could do it this way, but you might want to try some other things too. Whatever works for you."

Kristen Chinery:
Yeah, and I've definitely shared things with people about things that did not work for me to say, "Maybe not try this. Just a heads up."

Annmarie Caño:
Not only is that providing really good concrete advice, but it's also modeling this idea that people in these positions, in these prestigious positions or leadership positions, we make mistakes, too. That's just part of life and it's not really that big a deal. It is a big deal if you don't learn from it.

Kristen Chinery:
Right.

Annmarie Caño:
Yeah.

What do you think are some opportunities for academic staff who are represented by the union to exert their leadership or to grow in their leadership skills?

Kristen Chinery:
I think one of the most important things all academic staff can do is recognize that our collective bargaining agreement applies to them. It's not just for faculty. Pay attention to the things in there that talk about your working conditions. There's a lot of variety on campus between the different classifications of academic staff and what people do, what they are not allowed to do. I think there are some big differences. I think the more that people talk to each other and compare notes and have those conversations, it makes some people feel better. Other people, it makes them angry because they realize that they've been told one thing and really, it should have been this other way the whole time.

I think the biggest thing is knowledge, and a lot of that knowledge comes from that green book because it is a negotiated document. It is a document that assists the members, but it also assists administrators. A lot of administrators need that contract to help them do their job. It's not just a union thing, it is really a university thing. It's in everybody's best interest to know what's on those pages.

Knowledge is the first thing. The second thing is there are a lot of opportunities for academic staff to serve on university committees where you see how decisions are made, and I think it's important to try to get on those committees. Not all of them require ESS, a lot of them do, but you have opportunities to serve on Academic Senate where you're part of Senate as a whole, but then you are on individual committees within Senate where you see how policy is determined and the things that go into it. How the sausage is made if you will. And sometimes, it's really nasty. You learn a lot.

I think seeing how those things happen up close really gives you perspective for going back to your own unit or department and interacting with your colleagues in a more productive way.

Annmarie Caño:
In an informed way, right? And also knowing if we want to see change in this policy or this practice, these are the different entities or this is where all of that happens. Understanding that there are, like you were saying, different ways things are done for different academic staff and that there's unit culture as well that affects how much time is spent on different activities and that sort of thing. There's some discretion-

Kristen Chinery:
But it allows for some compassion and empathy when you're dealing with colleagues that are from a different area of campus. I'm an archivist. I have to do things that other people don't do. I have to present at a national level and publish, and do research and scholarship the way that a faculty member would. But there's other academic staff classifications that don't have to do that. But they're also tied to their office all day long because they have meetings with student after student after student after student.

There's such a difference, and until you talk to people and really communicate about this stuff, you don't know what their work-life is like.

Annmarie Caño:
Yeah. And I would say one of the things that's been very interesting for me over the last year and a half is having people who hardly ever had a chance to talk to people in other units with other roles has been a lot of aha moments where people are saying, "Oh, that's why you're never available," or, "That's why this happens. I had no idea who did that work. I don't know who I assumed did that work, but now I see it's you."

Just a deeper appreciation for how everybody is contributing to the mission of the university in ways that they might not have known before. The committee work is knowledge and like you said, also compassion.

What does it mean to empower someone to lead?

Kristen Chinery:
Communication, as I have mentioned I think multiple times now, is very important. But it's not just the communication that you do, it's the communication that you see going on around you and how you share that, how you digest that and how you're able to push that out to people that you talk to, you that you interact with. Sharing what you've learned and the knowledge that you've accumulated so that other people may shine.

I think that being a good leader is really about what you are doing to help others get out there and sometimes you have to push them into that light. Some of the best-

Annmarie Caño:
Nudge them.

Kristen Chinery:
A little bit, yeah. Some of the best leaders that I know came to that work reluctantly. I'm cognizant of the fact that yes, sometimes people do need a nudge. I know I certainly did. To come here and talk to you, for example.

I think that you need to give them a boost. You need to let them stand on your shoulders so that they can reach farther, do better, be better. That's really what you want as an end goal. You want to be able to in whatever capacity, however, it means for you, you want to be able to do something. Maybe it's just one thing that helps another person go further than you did.

Annmarie Caño:
Empowering means to lift up others, nudge them forward, maybe even to things that they never expected themselves to do?

Kristen Chinery:
Yeah, and a lot of it's encouragement. People need to hear that they're doing something that others value. I think women especially need to hear that, especially early in their career. Those are words that have meaning and if they're coming from someone who was already in a position of leadership, it has a different weight to it.

Annmarie Caño:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Thanks so much for sharing your insights today, Kristen. Where can our listeners find you online?

Kristen Chinery:
My email address is kristen.chinery@wayne.edu. You can also find me on the Reuther's website, which is reuther.wayne.edu.

Annmarie Caño:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Well, thank you so much, Kristen.

Kristen Chinery:
You're welcome.

Annmarie Caño:
We're glad to have you listening to EmpowerED to Lead. To learn more about our podcast, follow us on Twitter, @WSUFACSuccess.