Here and Now: Buddhism, Mindfulness, and Burnout–A Guest Post from Jessica Olin

Mishka The Buddhist
source

Today’s guest post is from Jessica OlinJessica Olin is a Buddhist. She is also the Director of the Robert H. Parker Library at Wesley College in Dover, DE. Her professional interests include building communities at liberal arts college libraries, bringing the lessons of intersectional feminism to bear in professional settings, and helping others bridge the gap between library science graduate programs and professional practice. She blogs regularly at Letters to a Young Librarian and tweets (somewhat obsessively) at @olinj.


 

Last year, I wrote a post on my blog about the routines I’ve built to avoid burning out professionally. Shortly afterward, Maria approached me about writing a guest post. In her invitation, she said something that struck me as particularly apt:

“I would to love publish something by you on my burnout blog that is a closer look at the role meditation and Buddhism plays in your life as it relates to burnout prevention and/or recovery. My hunch is that there is a spiritual dimension to burnout that people don’t really talk about that much, so I’m eager to shine some light on that.”

A lot of things got in the way of me following up on my promise to write that post, such as a crushingly busy Fall semester, but I think the biggest hurdle for me was my uncertainty about how to approach the topic. I tried multiple times, from a lot of different angles, before I finally realized there is a slight disconnect between how Maria phrased her request and my actual religious practice.

You see, for me, Buddhism isn’t spirituality. At least not my personal definition of that word, which in my mind gets at mysticism and deities and following dictates handed down from long long ago. That isn’t how I practice Buddhism. For me, Buddhism is practical. It’s almost like a coastal map that helps me avoid shoals and reefs. If you’re really interested in a history lesson about the evolution of this religion, I can recommend some books and/or websites. But the important thing to know here is that Buddhism is much more about the here and now than about any kind of hereafter.

In the interests of sharing the practical aspects, here are three ideas/practices that I think can help you avoid or even recover from burnout:

  1. Non-attachment. Try to avoid getting attached to ideas or people or things or places. Attachment makes us afraid to lose those ideas or people or things or places, and that’s the root of suffering and anxiety – that fear. I’m still kind of crap at non-attachment, but not getting too upset about not being good about this yet is itself an example of non-attachment. No matter how hard we try, pretty much all of us are still going to get attached to people, places, things, ideas, but we need to keep working towards non-attachment without getting wrapped up in (attached to) the results.
  2. Mindfulness. This is the idea of being in the moment instead of somewhere in the past or somewhere in the future. Try doing only one thing at a time, and really concentrating on that one thing. Another way to practice being present is to take a couple of minutes each day and concentrate solely on your breathing. I’ve got an Android app that I use to help me, but you really just need to count your breath.
  3. Daily meditation. Don’t think of meditation as quieting your mind. It’s letting the thoughts rise and fall without attaching significance (non-attachment again) to any of them. If I’m sitting with others, I can meditate for a lot longer, but in my daily practice I sit for 10-15 minutes. Even five minutes a day can help you. (This LifeHacker post has a good rundown of the science.) Also, even if you don’t sit in a lotus position on your fancy meditation pillow, just being still for 5-10 minutes can be beneficial. I read once that our minds are like ponds, and the events of our lives are like wind or pebbles or even boulders that disturb the surface. Meditation allows you to stop the input for those few minutes, and the surface clears a bit. No other explanation of the benefits of meditation has ever felt truer to me.

I know that Buddhism isn’t the right fit for everyone, but the benefits of meditation are proven. Give it a try, even if you just sit still for a couple of minutes per day. And if what I’ve said about Buddhism intrigues you, let me know? I’ve got about a bazillion books I can recommend.

Rejection Burnout–A Guest Post by Kaitlin Springmier

Today’s guest post from Kaitlin Springmier offers helpful and practical tips for dealing with the burnout that can result from rejection in the workplace. These suggestions really resonate with me! Kaitlin Springmier is the first Resident Librarian at the University of Chicago. She’s still trying to understand the twitter-verse @kaitlinspring.


 

As the information environment is rapidly evolving, librarians have opportunities to dramatically alter what they teach, how they define themselves, and how they embrace change. However, it seems new members in the profession struggle with getting some of their more experienced colleagues to agree to new and innovative ideas. I say this because, as a member of the New Members’ Round Table listserv, this week’s discussion topic was, “How to respond to common ways of shutting down ideas.”

Currently, I work for an institution that steeped in a history of traditional intellectual pursuit. The library is branded as a place for serious intellectual inquiry. Students are prompted to wander through the massive stacks to encourage ‘serendipitous discovery.’ When the main library hit capacity, the institution decided to spend $81 million in order to keep collections on campus.

This perception means that sometimes my proposals for new ‘fun’ outreach events can be shut down with a ‘we’ve tried that before and it didn’t work,’ or ‘that’s not welcome on this campus.’ And hearing ‘no’ can be hard. It can make you feel like your ideas are not welcome, and after so many ‘no’s, you can feel discouraged and give up.

However, my past experiences in the workforce have prepared me to work with the nos that I hear. I now have a toolbox to work within the outright rejection which can sometimes eventually turn into a ‘yes.’ I’d like to share my experiences, in hopes to help my fellow new librarians be the best change agent that they can be.

So first- a little history. Before I decided on library school, I worked for a chain of used bookstores. I started as a part-time bookseller and within a year had climbed my way up to a position of assistant manager. My promotion came with a change in location, which meant new coworkers, new responsibilities, and a new boss. Most notably, though, the location change also meant a new culture.

In my 2 years as an assistant manager, I proposed a lot of ideas, and was shut down a lot. I went from working in a place I loved with friends who cared for me to dreading walking into the store everyday. I was not accepted, appreciated, or respected. When I put in my two week notice, I had turned into a person that was jaded, discouraged and unsure of my ideas. In hindsight, my presence impacted the store immensely. Employees interactions with customers improved, sales went up, and the store started buying used product smarter. It’s only in reflecting on what worked and what didn’t that I can give recommendations on how to approach and innovate in a culture resistant to change. Here’s 5 tips I’ve learned that can greatly reduce the rejection of new ideas or the burnout you feel after hearing ‘no.’

  1. Find your wolfpack

The hardest thing to do is to change a culture all by yourself.

When starting in a new place, find people (or groups of people) who have the similar ideas who can support you and your endeavors. When I started in my new position, this meant asking people out for coffee, dropping in on committee meetings, or just sitting next to strangers at staff meetings. Once you’ve found a great support system, see if they’ll help you propose new ideas. If your superiors see that there is a group of people interested in supporting a new idea, they are more apt to say yes. And if they still say no, at least you’ll have a group to commiserate with.

  1. Ask why

Don’t let someone tell you no without an explanation.

Learn what it is about your idea that’s getting the no, and tweak it. Personally, my proposals tend to be rejected because they’re too lofty. When I hear why my superiors have said no, I can come back with a more manageable, cheaper, or smaller idea that is more likely to get a yes. Asking why also begins a conversation with your superior. You’ll be able to learn more about your library’s culture, and what types of proposals are more welcome.

  1. Work within the system

Propose in a way that that seems to benefit them more than you.

If you’ve ever gone to a workshop on writing cover letters, you’ll know that one of the most recommended techniques is to speak directly to the expressed needs in the job ad. This is the same for proposing ideas. When crafting your proposal, ask questions like:

  • “How does this align with the library’s strategic directions?”
  • “What benefit would my supervisor find in this?”

Find your answers, and explicitly speak to them in your proposal. In doing so, you are acknowledging that your ideas are inspired by the directives that your superiors have labored over.

  1. Make it an extracurricular

Keep that work-life balance

Sometimes, no matter how great your idea is, your library won’t have the time, resources, or support you need to make it happen. When this is the case, see what you can do to make it happen in your own life. Maria previously wrote about the importance of maintaining a consciousness of who you are outside of work. Being a librarian is a job. Make sure you keep it that way.

  1. Find a new job

When your job is toxic, it’s time to get out.

By the end of my time at the bookstore, I knew that my only relief would be to leave the job, and move on. And while I miss my bookstore job everyday (so much so that I’ve begun to volunteer at my local bookstore), I know that I’m now in a work environment that fosters creativity, innovation, and happiness. Make sure you find the same.

I hope this is helpful in mediating the burnout you might be feeling. But I’m sure that you, dear reader, have discovered other ways to overcome the “no”s in your professional life. Please share!

Elle’s Story–An Anonymous Guest Post

I am pleased to present another guest post this week at librarianburnout.com. This story comes from Elle, who completed her MLIS in 2012.


 

When I reflect upon the way I felt during my first year as an instruction librarian, I realize that during that year, I felt a lot of the same feelings that function as signals that a relationship is not healthy. I started out enthusiastic, happy, and passionate, and ended up emotionally drained, confused, and alone. As is often the case when a relationship ends, it’s taken me some time to be able to begin untangling the various aspects of the situation in order to make sense of what went wrong.

At some point during the past several years, I started thinking of my work as a kind of relationship. Work, like a relationship or partnership, requires a mutual commitment, along with a significant investment of effort and energy from both sides. As is the case in a partnership (intimate or otherwise), in order for a relationship between an employee and an organization to be successful, both parties must feel that they benefit or are enriched in some way in order for the arrangement to be worthwhile. Healthy relationships and partnerships involve giving and receiving; we may give freely and happily, but in order to sustain our ability to give, we must receive something in return. Likewise, for people who genuinely care about the work that they do and the quality their work, work involves a great deal of emotional energy, and if that energy does not elicit results that allow that energy to be recharged and strengthened, our ability to care about our work slowly, inevitably burns out.

My first job as a professional librarian was a part-time position in a learning commons at a local not-for-profit career college. My official title was Academic Resource Coordinator, which meant that I had some role in all of the services that the learning commons offered, which included writing center services, tutoring services, and library services, among other things. Library instruction was just one thing on a long list of learning support services that the learning commons was responsible for providing to the campus.  I was aware that the learning commons model presents a set of challenges for academic libraries, but having heard the message of “embrace change” that seemed to be the rallying cry of academic librarians throughout my time as a student in library school, I was prepared to do just that. Thus, I entered my new role with a mindset similar to what I think lays the foundation of a successful relationship: I was unreservedly committed, optimistic, aware of the challenges and opportunities the situation presented, and I genuinely wanted it to be successful.

Sadly, it turned out that making a commitment to the job and genuinely wanting to be successful in the job was not enough. At first, I felt like something was just…missing. I didn’t feel great about my instruction sessions, for a number of reasons. Instruction sessions were routinely scheduled just a few hours ahead of time, which meant that I got very little time to prepare, and practically no opportunity to communicate with instructors regarding their expectations for the session. Even more problematic was the fact that the instructors’ expectations for library instruction sessions were beyond reasonable for the 30 minutes that was the standard amount of time that a session was scheduled for. In addition to talking about locating and evaluating sources, I was expected to discuss not just citing sources, but the actual formatting of in-text citations and references, along with things like paraphrasing, avoiding plagiarism, and so on.

I slowly began to realize that I was pouring my emotional and intellectual energy into a service—library instruction—that appeared to be little more than an afterthought to the college. I didn’t feel confident that I could really provide a very high quality instruction session for which I had little notice, little time to prepare, and so on. Early on, I saw these issues as process-related things that could be and should be remedied at the department level. But as time went on, I began to get the sense that there was a culture of indifference towards library instruction that went beyond the ways that the learning commons managed its workflow. Instructors expected a lot from the sessions (e.g., searching strategies, citing sources, avoiding plagiarism, APA formatting) but didn’t see any need to contact the learning commons within a reasonable amount of time to schedule a session ahead of time, and these attitudes had apparently been unchallenged by the administration. The head of the learning commons, who had previously served as dean of general education at this same college, seemed generally unconcerned about scheduling sessions on extremely short notice, as though it hadn’t really occurred to her that inadequate time to prepare might compromise the quality of library instruction sessions.

And then, there was the worst part of all: A significant number of the students were woefully underprepared to use computers independently, so teaching anything about locating, evaluating, and synthesizing sources was, for the most part, out of the question. Once, toward the beginning of one of my sessions, a student asked a question about accessing library resources off-campus, which is a reasonable technical question for a library instruction session. After answering this, without giving much thought to what kinds of responses I might get, I asked the class if anyone else had any similar questions. One student raised her hand, and asked if I could show them how to email an assignment to the instructor, which turned into an overview of saving and uploading documents. On a different occasion, I spent an entire session answering questions about Microsoft Word and discussing workarounds that students could use if they did not have access to Microsoft Word off-campus.

Basic computer literacy and technological readiness for college-level coursework are issues that I think should probably get more attention from the field of academic librarianship broadly; at the very least, these issues are deserving of a separate blog post. Suffice it to say that for me, as an instruction librarian, it was disorienting and disheartening that the college seemed either unaware or unconcerned about this. It seemed like the college was okay with treating library instruction as a kind of catch-all service that would, in theory, fill in the gaps in students’ computer skills, information skills, critical thinking skills, and communication skills (e.g., what does it mean to paraphrase another person’s words?). Paradoxically, even though library instruction seemed to be viewed as a one-stop shop service, it was treated inconsiderately and with little respect, as evidenced by the fact that instructors wanted sessions on extremely short notice, with the expectation that sessions would be not much more than 30 minutes long. (I was once told, off the record, that the 30 minute thing had been put in place by the administration, which wanted to hold instructors accountable for making appropriate use of their classroom time with their students.)

It didn’t take long before I became aware that I was expending a significant amount of energy attempting to mask the negative emotions that I was feeling about my work. I developed canned responses to use when people asked me how things were going, and if was I liking my job. I regularly took time before the start of my work day to “get in to character” so as to be able to present in an appropriate manner. I developed a cognitive protocol that I intentionally activated when I found myself in situations where, either during reference duty or during an instruction session, I felt unpleasant emotions welling up. It was exhausting. But I pressed on, until I couldn’t. For me, the tipping point came when I began to feel like my commitment to the quality of my work and the energy and passion that I had for it just simply did not matter: The fact that I cared about the quality and effectiveness of library instruction sessions was, at best, at odds with the college’s view of library instruction, and at worst, probably worked against me. I mean, if I hadn’t cared about the quality of my sessions, it probably would not have bothered me that I got little notice and virtually no time to prepare. If I didn’t view information literacy as essential to a valuable undergraduate education, it likely would not have mattered to me that I didn’t really get to teach it. The fact that I cared was my downfall.

Clearly, there were a number of different things going on in this situation, all of which worked together to create a situation that I ultimately felt that I could not stay in and care adequately for my emotional well-being. For me, I think these issues created a situation in which I did not feel needed: If what is needed for library instruction services is simply someone who will show up, answer computer-usage questions, and give very cursory overviews of basic information strategies, then all they really needed was someone with basic computer skills. They didn’t really need someone with an MLIS and an understanding of information literacy, and they certainly didn’t need me, an individual with a unique approach to teaching and a genuine passion for quality education. In this situation, it became clear to me that what was needed was someone who was willing to give a great deal and take on lots of responsibilities, but who would understand and accept that they shouldn’t ask for much of anything in return.[1] One day, it suddenly hit me: If this were a relationship, I would be a complete fool to continue to invest my energy and my time into such a relationship.

I left the learning commons voluntarily after one year. I felt depleted and disillusioned; I felt like I just did not have very much left to give, and I had begun to question my goals of becoming a full-time academic librarian. So, for now, I’m unattached; I’m working on a number of academic-library related groups and projects, none of which involve a full-fledged relationship with any one institution.

That having been said, I have not abandoned hope of somehow finding my way back to a meaningful role in an academic library setting, although the thought of being responsible for a significant amount of in-person library instruction really does not appeal to me. My hope is that I can find a way to contribute to increased institutional awareness of the importance of information literacy and the value that academic libraries can add to the quality of education that students receive. I think that working as an instruction librarian—that is, delivering one-shot instruction sessions—is an important first step in joining the field-wide effort to enhance instruction librarians’ roles on college and university campuses. It could even be argued that conditions like those I experienced in my first library instruction position—being responsible for providing instruction sessions with little or no notice, not having an office to work in, or an opportunity to do any instruction-related work away from the reference desk—are to be expected and endured because these experiences are prerequisites to gaining better, more “academic” positions in the future.  I am concerned, though, that the costs associated with positions like these outweigh the potential benefits that *might* accompany different roles that an instruction librarian *might* have the opportunity to pursue later on in his or her career. Unfortunately, as anyone who has been in the market for an academic library job knows, we mostly do not get to choose to go only to institutions where we can be reasonably confident that we will be valued. Many of us, especially those of us who are relatively new to the field, have to take whatever experience we can get and try to create a path towards securing our ideal roles and positions. But if, for whatever reason, we end up at institutions willing to treat master’s degree-level people as little more than matchsticks, to be burned through and discarded, then the process of getting the required experience can be extremely costly. As a relative newcomer to the field, I was not at all prepared for the harsh realities of the one library instruction position that I was able to secure as a recent graduate. I suspect that I am not alone in this. I think it would be appropriate for us, as a field of educators, to ask ourselves whether we are adequately preparing students in our field for the broad range of library instruction positions and responsibilities that they might encounter.

[1] This feeling was especially jarring given the job-search process and subsequent interview process that I experienced on my path towards securing this job, which is a topic that is deserving of far more discussion. For now, I will simply say that while there are many factors that impact the job market at any given time, and individual institutions do not control the job market, institutions can control the interview process that they subject applicants to. If what is needed for a library instruction position is someone who will show up, answer computer-usage questions, and give very cursory overviews of basic information strategies, then the interview process should reflect that. It is absurd for an institution to subject a candidate to an academic-esque interview process for a position that will not allow that employee to do anything academic whatsoever.

“In What Other Field Do You Have to Explain What You Do to Your Idiot Friends?”: Emotional Burnout in Defending LIS–Guest Post by Dylan Burns and Sarah Crissinger

I am excited to publish a co-written guest post today from a current LIS student and recent LIS graduate, Dylan Burns and Sarah Crissinger.

Dylan Burns is currently in his second year as a Library Science student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He works currently in the Rare Book & Manuscript Library and the Scholarly Commons, straddling both the new and the old in libraries. He shares his opinions on rare books, music and nostalgia at HackLibrarySchool.com as well as on Twitter @ForgetTheMaine.

Sarah Crissinger is an Information Literacy Librarian in North Carolina. She graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in May 2015. She regularly blogs for ACRLog and enjoys writing about pedagogy, openness, and the importance of LIS student voices. She shares her thoughts on libraries–interspersed with frequent pictures of small dogs– at @SarahCrissinger

In September 2015, we had a discussion on Twitter about how difficult it is to explain librarianship to our relatives and friends. We have titled this post the original tweet that started that conversation, as the discussion that day morphed into this piece. We hope our stories will resonate with other students and librarians who find burnout in not only explaining what they do but also in justifying why they do it.

“I felt really really tired of constantly trying to explain what we do, why we do it, and why it matters” ~Maria Accardi, “The Souls of Our Students, the Souls of Ourselves: Resisting Burnout through Radical Self-Care,” p. 15

Sarah

I was a sophomore in college when I started working at my university’s library. I was an English major, already dreaming of a PhD in literature. The same fall I started staffing the reference desk, I somehow landed the opportunity to teach a semester-long class on adjusting to college life. There I was—a “peer instructor”—leading a class of twenty-five freshmen through study habits and career decisions. I found teaching unbelievably rewarding but also incredibly humbling. While I really connected with many of the students, I always felt like there were at least a few that I could not reach. At the same time, I was energized by my hectic reference shifts where I always learned something new without fail. I also noticed that the librarians I worked with held more in-depth consultations with students, which seemed to be the more one-on-one instruction that I so intensely craved in the course I was teaching.

After months of working through these feelings with my librarian-mentor, I decided to pursue librarianship. I must have sent her at least ten book-length e-mails about the MLS, the job market, and the work she did. I look back and I am still deeply grateful for her unwavering guidance and support.

The spring of my last year rolled around and I made the decision to attend the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s LIS program. My news was accompanied by some news from my mentor; she was leaving librarianship. She had a second Master’s degree in another subject area that she wanted to pursue. I still remember asking her—this incredibly talented librarian whom I wanted so dearly to emulate—why. Why would she leave librarianship? I realize now that I was shielded from many of the behind-the-scenes events happening in my library and on my campus (as many of our undergraduate student assistants are). She looked at me squarely and said, “Sarah, it is unbelievably exhausting to have to continually explain what you do and why it has value.”

It has been three years and I think I finally know what she means.

Dylan

Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday at noon I sit in a classroom with 15 undergrads in Latin class.  For the first couple of days into the first few weeks I would get a similar question from the other students who are almost a decade younger than me, “you are in grad school…that is SO WEIRD.” It is weird. I did not come to library school thinking I would be a rare book librarian in training but it is more and more my calling and the thing that brings me to campus everyday.

Even in my classes, my interests and my skills are outside of the norm. I am brushing up on Latin, reading Western Theology books, listening to classical history podcasts while working exclusively with older patrons, PhD students and higher level scholars. The skills I was taught in my library graduate trainings courses hardly apply to the kinds of work I have been doing. Nowhere in “how to do reference interviews” are questions about the Koberger Bible troubleshot. As much as I feel like my focus is on the outside, conversations like this tell me that my concerns are closer to the norm rather than the outlier.

My friends and family have a really difficult time understanding the complexities of what contemporary librarianship is. Jokes like “Dylan is taking Shushing 101 in library school” got a little old.

A few months ago, I reflected on how difficult explaining my work to them was through a Hack Library School (HLS) post. After it was published, I got backlash from my family and friends. To them, pointing out how they “did not understand” what I do was calling them out. What I was really doing was showing how frustrating being a librarian, or a librarian in training, could be at times.

In talking with Sarah, and other librarians, I found that my frustrations were not narrowed only to my little subset of librarianship but to the field as a whole. Many do not know what a librarian does, even though they seem to need one on a daily basis.

Sarah

Since then, I have explained to multiple family members and friends what librarianship is and why it matters. One of these conversations even devolved into me ranting about librarian stereotypes and the important work that Librarian Wardrobe and Nicole Pagowsky and Miriam Rigby have done to interrogate and disprove harmful assumptions about who librarians are and what they look like. I always find myself feeling markedly helpless in these conversations.

The feeling starts as pure frustration. Frustration that I cannot articulate exactly what I do, even after studying LIS for two years. Frustration that my position does not fit in a box as neatly as other professions or that it is not automatically recognized as a valuable calling, as a doctor or lawyer might be. This frustration builds to oversimplification. I want so badly to provide an explanation that resonates with them, and that reaffirms my value, that I often oversimplify the complexities of what I do and why it matters to me. This explanation usually does a disservice to information literacy, open access, copyright, and all of the other important aspects of my job. I am left feeling unimportant and incapable and the person I am talking to walks away knowing nothing useful about librarianship.

This phenomenon is, of course, powerfully connected to burnout. In some ways, I can stomach explaining to my grandmother that I do not actually read books to children but it becomes unbearable to have similar conversations on my own campus. While I do not necessarily have to go back to drawing board, there are still moments that I feel need an explanation of information literacy and why it is important. There is also a significant faculty-staff divide at my institution. After three months, it has become increasingly clear to me that there are some faculty members that do not understand my role as an instructor and do not trust my competency as an expert in information literacy and as a colleague in instructional design and pedagogy. They– my colleagues–need a convincing explanation just as much as one of my family members do.

I have found refuge in my team and professional community.

Dylan

What is it about library school that leads to this kind of uncertainty?

There has certainly been a move toward making librarianship professional. For the most part, the MLS (or MSLIS whatever) is a requirement for our professional field. Currently, the University of Illinois is planning to remove the word “library” from our school name. (You can read current U of I students Brenna Murphy and Hailley Fargo talk about the change). In some ways, the school-formerly-known-as GSLIS believes that focusing on “information” is a way to bring relevance to our field on an already technology and science heavy campus.

I wonder if I would have wanted to attend an “information school.” Given this change, seemingly present all across the country, it really makes me wonder: why does librarianship feel the need to justify its own existence? In other words, why is it that librarianship is not viewed on the same level as other professional fields? Is it the money, it could be the power, or it the influence (or lack thereof)?

What if it is the difficulty with which our jobs are explained?

Sarah and I do wildly different jobs, and while I believe there are commonalities between the day-to-day tasks we perform, rare books and informational literacy are different fields in a larger profession. My classmates might be interested in different things or read different books but we are all librarians and all are united in having difficulty explaining what we do, whether that is children’s librarianship, archives, data management, IR work, information literacy, public librarianship, etc. etc.

The problem with our field, especially as new professionals and students, is that the public has preconceived notions of librarianship. The important, imperative work that both  Sarah and I do, while part of the larger field of librarianship, does not line up with how librarianship is presented through media and culture. In fact, a majority of LIS jobs probably do not line up with the spinster shusher common on television and film.

The other day my friend told me that he was sure my job involved “unsticking the pages in the fine arts section of the library.”

What I do and what my friends and colleagues do is much more important and essential to the University and the world as a whole than people comprehend.

That is where burnout begins for me. I am not troubled by job prospects, and I am not troubled by the future of libraries. I am, though, beginning to be burned out by constantly justifying why I chose libraries, what interests me in the field, and why I do more than “unstick pages.”

Sarah & Dylan

How do we move forward? How do we tell others that our jobs, our careers, our callings are much more than “unsticking pages”?

We will not pretend to have any easy fixes for changing the perception of librarians overnight. We know that we must recognize the larger historical context of librarian stereotypes. We must also continue to support initiatives, particularly public-facing efforts, that reject librarian stereotypes. Mentoring and retaining diverse librarians is also an important step in contesting these harmful manifestations of the librarian stereotype.

We know for sure that our professional communities and networks become even more important and salient in these moments. We started talking about this topic on Twitter which, for us, has been a welcoming place for conversations with everyone, from newbies in the field to the librarian rock stars we look up to. When these concerns are expressed in a community, there becomes a space for encouragement and growth. For us, those interactions have been some of the most energizing and encouraging dialogues that we have experienced in the library world. They reaffirm that we are not alone.

Crawling to the Starting Line–A Guest Post from Kyle Shockey

Today’s guest post is from a recent library school graduate I’ve had the great pleasure of meeting through library twitter.  Kyle Shockey is a librarian-for-hire currently hiding in Lake County, Indiana. He graduated from Indiana University Bloomington in 2015 and can be found yelling at clouds at http://kshockey.github.io & @kshockey04. Cats, hockey fans, pop music writers, anti-capitalists, info sec leftists, and radical/feminist pedagogs encouraged to apply.


 

By most accounts, I was a very successful library school student. In 2015 alone I’ve had the opportunity to give 3 presentations to national and international conferences, won an award that resulted in the publication of one aforementioned paper, met some of my best friends and professional colleagues and mentors, and finished my MLS degree. Today I am unemployed, living on my parents’ couch, and ready to give up on a career I know I want and will succeed in just because I can’t seem to get someone to let me do it. What may seem like such a wild downturn in my lot actually speaks to a condition that librarians are reluctant to take on or revisit once they have embarked on careers: library school is abusive. Library school fosters a culture of massive burnout before students even make it to the job market. Each successive high point I mentioned above was obfuscated by professors who were not willing to negotiate attendance grades around conference travel, marred by the busy work of “homework every day ‘seminars,’” met at the airport with the impending anxiety attack associated with the thought of getting back to class the next day. There was never time to bask in achievement because there was just more school. Always school, only school. Plus the two jobs on top of that, the volunteer experience, and the free labor of scholarship outside of the classroom. Maybe some sleep on a good day.

But that was okay because I was going to move away and get a job, right? [1]

Burnout is simultaneously a very personal journey and a real systemic problem. Living with the embodiment of one’s own emotional labor is hard enough before connecting the dots and empathizing with others who share your professional turmoil. That said, we need both in concert to speak truth to power. Though this blog has its roots in library instruction—a special kind of burden—burnout lives among the entire library profession. Ask any librarian who is engaged with the field and they will not give you unconditional support when you let on that you want to be a librarian too. We’re cornered. The funding cuts are no surprise. The median salary looks worse and worse against inflation every year (that’s not to mention your entry salary, which could be hourly and lower than $30,000 without benefits for an MLS [2]-requiring position). Raises don’t cover cost of living. Unions are rare. Salaried positions are being phased out or replaced with significantly cut hourly & part time positions. Resource-strapped public libraries rely on volunteer work to stay open. Inordinate amounts of MLS-havers leave the profession after unsuccessful job searches. Working professionals find more responsibility for less and less on the dollar. Popular media, some academia, and government officials all claim we’re obsolete. Oh yeah, student loan debt. No, that other degree. You went to library school without full funding?

This is 21st century American librarianship. The few, the proud, the neoliberal unicorns. We have a big problem. [3] As long as the job market for incoming librarians is as bad as it is, just about every place can afford to hire a unicorn in lieu of other unicorns, not to mention the really great applicants who might have gotten a phone interview. [4] The first job search post-MLS is just brutal. Any time I get down, my friends are sure to share cold comfort horror stories of their first search. Yet for as much as we focus on the conditions of the working librarian and the constellation of employment practices and social factors that constitute the job climate of librarianship, we rarely focus on what it takes to get to the job search in the first place—that pesky degree.

I’ve outlined only a small part of the anguish that was library school. As I talk to more and more peers who are currently students or recent graduates, this pre-employment burnout feeling resonates strongly in many. It’s not going away; it’s getting worse. Library schools tend not to advocate for their young—GAs are being cut; student employment compensation rates are near criminally low; financial aid is reserved for an extremely select few. [5] Many students have confided to me just how poor LIS faculties are at being master’s level advisors. [6]

So what can you, working professional, do about this?

The number one thing you can do—the number one thing I aspire to do for the rest of my career—is advocate. Formally, informally, locally, nationally, personally. If you see the librarian struggling to get out of the starting gate, help. Reach out and ask how they need help. It’s not a new librarian guarantee but it goes a long way towards keeping those who are really engaged around in times of trouble. This doesn’t mean you need to join any national mentorship program (although that’s a great option) or create your own mentorship network (which is a better option). Offer yourself as a career librarian that your alma matter can send questions to. Integrate students into your social media professional development. [8] Let your office be a safe space for students of all kinds. Partner with a local library school, if possible. [9] Support student-led programs and conferences. Just support students. I can’t say that enough.

I’m ready to quit and I haven’t even started. Talk about burnout.

[1] There is an even more personal constellation of stories about why my journey through school transpired the way it did that I just can’t talk about here. It may have some bearing on the dreariness of this blog post. Ask me about it if you really want to know. I have been vocal about parts of it.

[2] Forgive me if yours is called something different. I have a Master of Library Science. And yes, I was offered this job. I wasn’t the only one offered that job at the same time.

[3] I am currently drafting a blog post about the library unicorn based on a critical reading of the University of Maryland’s Re-envisioning the MLS report. Stay tuned.

[4] I’m in month 9 of my job search (though I have not had a degree for all 8 of those months) and I’m out of leads. I’ve struck out after reaching the in-person interview stage 4 out of a possible 5 times. In each and every one of those interviews, including the one where I did not even make it to campus, feedback has been some variation on “exceptionally strong application, get some more experience, someone is really gonna love you” without any constructive feedback. Great that you can have such a luxury choice for your position, library, but some of us have to pay rent and eat and get out of our emotionally abusive living situations. I can’t keep being passed on like this with the great expense of committing to interviews that require travel.

*out of over 200 applications

[5] “Frankly, you’re not doing what brings the money in.” – Indiana University Department of Information and Library Science Chair, to me, April 2015. This was about why I didn’t get funding for a PhD that was all but promised to me. This isn’t to mention how bad the funding situation is for the Master’s level. See note 1.

[6] Must be hard to advise someone on a route to librarianship of any kind if you’ve never had that experience, I’d say.

[8] The constellation of people and practices surrounding the Twitter #critlib chats kept me from dropping out of library school early when I could not find my professional voice as a scholar or practitioner and felt the futility of what I was doing in the classroom. I wouldn’t have achieved any of the things I mentioned in the opening without that wonderful, welcoming, loving community of friends and colleagues.

[9] Easier said than done. Library schools have trouble engaging their own university libraries in partnerships, much less outsiders.

Keeping Our Own Time–Guest Post by Emily Drabinski

I’m excited to publish a another guest post, this time from my former co-worker and current dear friend Emily Drabinski. Emily Drabinski is Coordinator of Instruction in the heart of #BlackbirdNation: Long Island University, Brooklyn. She edits Gender & Sexuality in Information Studies, a book series from Library Juice Press/Litwin Books, and tweets about libraries, running, and The Bachelorette as @edrabinski.


 

After seven years of working diligently away on the three legs of my tenure stool—librarianship, service, scholarship—I was awarded that most obscene privilege this spring: tenure in the university. As someone who grew up inside a few different kinds of precarity, this is a stability I can hardly believe. People told me it would be a letdown, that life wouldn’t feel much different, that tenure just means more of the same but with less urgency. So far, it hasn’t been like that. In fact, it’s the thing that’s come closest to undoing the persistent burnout I’ve been struggling with for the past few years.

The burnout has been very real, manifesting most clearly in me becoming a person who is late. I am all about being on time. I read and write and think about time. I act on time, three hours early to the airport and one to the movies. I can’t remember the last time I missed my train. And yet, my last article was two months late at the time of first submission, took another extra two weeks to complete first round revisions. This blog post? Maria emailed me about it more than a month ago. I’d said soon. And here we are. I barely recognize this late person. It’s a sign that not all is right with me.

So tenure means time to recover, right? That’s what everyone keeps telling me. Coast for a year and write nothing! You deserve it! Inside of this is the assumption that reading and thinking and writing are the cause of burnout, not the increasing distance between the everyday tasks of the job and the professional joy—no! really! professional joy!—of meaning-making.

Because that’s what I think happened. It wasn’t the scholarship that set my clocks awry, but managing my work inside structures that demand more and more reporting and assessment, data collection and proving value, counting classes taught and questions answered not because there is inherent good in this work, but because the counts of students and classes, comparative rubric scores, questions at the desks, all add up to the only argument for survival that seems to have force in higher education today: what does the data tell us? There are of course good and useful things that come from structured reflection, but that can sometimes be hard to see in the fog of accountability.

Tenure doesn’t mean a break from the corporate university. I still have all those reports due. But the injunction to write nothing! coast awhile! has made me think about the roles reading and writing have played in my path to tenure, in my career as a librarian, and in my life as a person who encounters the world through words and ideas. It turns out it’s not the conversation that exhausts me as much as the documentation and reporting of it. Scholarship doesn’t produce the burnout, it’s a casualty of it. They tell you to never go into librarianship just because you love reading, but now I’m thinking it’s the only way to reset my clocks to my own time again. So I’m reading, and want to suggest it as an old school librarian anti-burnout strategy. Having located my burnout in the project of producing data and complying with standards, that’s what I’m reading about, Geoffrey Bowker and Lisa Gitelman, Lawrence Busch and Bruno Latour. I think I’ll have to read Sorting Things Out again. I’m also reading about polar exploration, and occasionally the newspaper. Maria’s blog, maybe yours too.

So if burnout is a response to an absence of meaning, meaning-making seems like the solution. I was asked recently to give three! top! tips! for new librarians (always this field with the top tips!), and that was my first one: find something inside the field that matters, and then do your best to set your watch by it. Mine could do with a little rewinding right now. How about yours?

Neutrality Burns–Guest Post by Nina Clements

Note from Maria: I am very excited to publish the first guest post on Academic Library Instruction Burnout. Today’s post comes to you from my friend Nina Clements, who is a reference and instruction librarian outside of Philadelphia, where she lives in a house of books and cats.


 

In addition to struggling with instruction burnout from the grinding machine that is the college semester, I also find myself burned out on particular ideas. For instance, the neutrality of our profession as manifested in the ACRL Standards and the RUSA guidelines. If I believe the personal is political, how can I promise to espouse apolitical neutrality in my working life? Does such a thing even exist? In Teaching to Transgress, bell hooks says that it doesn’t. Education is never politically neutral (Teaching to Transgress, 30).

As Lauren Wallis writes in her recent post on silence in libraries, “Whether it takes the form of a database demo or something else (CRAPP test, anyone?), skills-based, apolitical IL instruction silences librarians.” She goes on to explain what it is that we really do in instruction sessions:

“We lecture and demonstrate, we present research as sterile and detached from students’ real lives, we cover so much material that students absorb nothing. We might be talking a lot, but we are silenced because we are not able to truly teach, or to address the complexity of information literacy.”

This resonates with me; I almost never refer to myself as a teacher in library settings. I am an instructor and often provide very sterile instructions: access this course guide here, click there. I try to avoid this, incorporating as much active learning as I possibly can in my plans, but there’s a certain amount of pointing and clicking that seems inescapable. Wallis also notes that “Coming out of silence means we will make some people angry. After all, we’ve convinced everyone we’re just obedient, cheerful helpers.” I’m certainly guilty of this. I project an easy-going, “how-can-I-help-you” persona, even if there are very different thoughts and emotions buried under the surface.

I recently had an interesting discussion with a colleague about the need to meet students where they are, and how this means becoming complicit in the capitalist hegemony and commodification of education. One way I’ve struggled to resist is to avoid the language of capitalism when discussing my work. Instead of “reference transaction,” I refer to it as a conversation or interview. I tell students that we don’t rent books, we loan them, the way a friend might loan them a favorite book. A group of students approached the circulation desk where I spend most of my public service hours (another possible source of burnout, but that’s another post for another time) and mused, “Wouldn’t it be great if the library rented out computers you could use anywhere on campus, not just in the library?” I explained that we don’t rent computers, but we do lend them out, for a week at a time. Their reactions to this were mixed. They were thrilled and excited. Then they asked, “Why didn’t we know about this?” These students were business students, so they also expressed some disappointment that a potential business plan had fallen through for them. “We could have charged a lot of money for this,” they told me. I wish I had said something really pithy at that very teachable moment, but I just explained that libraries aren’t in the business of making money and that the campus library was a large benefit of going to school here. They looked at me like I was crazy. They couldn’t fathom an organization that was not in the business of making money, that was not in business in any recognizable way.

How do we change students’ consumerist ideas about education into something more personally and intellectually transformative? I don’t have an answer to this question, though this problem is not particular to librarians. bell hooks discusses this at length in Teaching to Transgress. She writes, “the classroom should be an exciting place, never boring.…and if boredom should prevail, then pedagogical strategies were needed that would intervene, alter, even disrupt the atmosphere” (3). I’m in total agreement, but how can we disrupt students’ notions of consumer-based education in a fifty-minute one-shot session? hooks continues to say that teaching is a performative act, and that is certainly true of library instruction, even if the performance often makes me feel like Vanna White. We are not a spectacle, as instructors/teachers/educators; we are catalysts (11).

Perhaps the fifty-minute one-shot is simply broken; perhaps we are expecting too much of ourselves in our desire to introduce students to library resources while disrupting their thoughts about such resources? To participate in the engaged pedagogy hooks describes, we need to “not merely…share education but…share in the intellectual and spiritual growth of our students” (11). But if this is impossible, what are we to do? These one-shots are our homemade bread and vegan butter.

The first step, I think, is to resist this view of education as individuals. Sometimes this means being unpopular or braving conflict even though the library profession as a whole is much more familiar with passive-aggressive strategies. But it is possible to engage in substantive disagreement/conflict while still remaining respectful of the positions/ideas of others. One way to unpack the burnout we feel is to dig a little deeper. Is it the sheer number of sessions that we’re asked to do without input from the teaching faculty, or is it the false construct of neutrality that undergirds these sessions? Is it the repression of the self? It seems that getting to the root of our exhaustion is the first step in understanding and combating it. The second step is reaching out to other librarians and creating space for a larger conversation.