For the lucky librarian about to go on sabbatical, especially @donnarosemary

If you are a librarian about to go on sabbatical, I probably don’t need to tell you how lucky you are. I’m pretty sure you already know how luxurious it is to have extended paid time off to think and write and read as much as you want. But even if you are fully aware of how fortunate you are to have this opportunity and are eagerly awaiting the day your leave begins, you still might have some anxiety about what’s to come. Having experienced, enjoyed, and returned from a semester sabbatical leave, I have some words to share that may be wisdom or may be useless. Do with this what you will, keeping in mind that your mileage may vary, etc.

  1. Do what you need to do to tie up loose ends before you leave, but try not to stress too much about it. Do the minimum required to be a good and respectful departmental citizen and move on. Don’t kill yourself over it. You don’t have to leave your office, your desk, your inbox, or your anything in a perfect, pristine state. The library and the university will go on without you.

This image is a screen shot of a tweet to @donnarosemary that reads: "You do not need to be the valedictorian of pre-sabb-loose-end-tying-up" followed by a spiderweb and thunderbolt emojis.
This image is a screen shot of a tweet to @donnarosemary that reads: “You do not need to be the valedictorian of pre-sabb-loose-end-tying-up” followed by a spiderweb and thunderbolt emojis.
2. Do not listen to the grumblings of resentful colleagues who want you to know how inconvenienced they are going to be by your absence. If your institution is anything like mine, your sabbatical would not have been approved if there wasn’t a way to do without you for awhile. The solution may not perfect, and yes, people will be inconvenienced, but that is for your boss/dean/director/etc. to figure out, not you. Your job is to take the leave and do the work you proposed to do to the best of your ability, so do not feel guilty.

3. When you start your leave, you may feel unmoored by the sudden lack of structure in your day. You will likely need a routine of some kind to help you make the most of your time and not feel like you’re just frittering the time away. I urge you to experiment with developing a structure and schedule that works for you so you don’t feel completely untethered. However, make your schedule flexible, because life happens, and and there’s no point in beating yourself up if you don’t read X number of pages or write X words per day. For example, I abandoned my schedule and read all 800-plus pages of Anna Karenina in great big gulps over three days, because I could, and because I wanted to, and it was awesome. Sure, I didn’t get anything else done, but I got back to work when I was done, and it was fine.

4. Read and write stuff unrelated to your project. You’ll need breaks from the intellectual labor of your sabbatical project, so try doing some exercises with a creative writing workbook. It may help stir things up and ideas will click into place when you’re concentrating on other matters. Also, read for pleasure, if you can. See Anna Karenina above.

5. You do have an obligation to do or begin to do whatever you proposed in your sabbatical application, but you also have an obligation to tend to more than just your mind. Your physical/emotional/mental/spiritual health need attention as well. You have probably applied for sabbatical after the long, arduous, emotionally-fraught tenure process. You need a rest, so take one. Sleep in for as long as you need to when you start your leave and get it out of your system, because let’s be real: you can’t sleep your sabbatical away. Go to a daytime movie on a Tuesday. Explore the wonders of daytime television. (I recommend General Hospital. It doesn’t matter if you didn’t watch it growing up like I did. You’ll catch up.) Take naps. Start meditating. Learn how to bake bread. If you are able and interested, incorporate physical activity into your routine. Go for regular walks, or get a yoga CD or DVD. Just whatever you enjoy and brings you energy and pleasure and satisfaction.

6. Don’t feel like you need a special, dedicated space to do your work. When I was on my sabbatical, I did not have a study or an office or private space. I mostly read and wrote at my kitchen table while listening to the local classical music station. It worked just fine. (Also, because apparently no one else listens to my local classical music station during the day, I kept being the lucky caller who won tickets to things. I went to the opera and the ballet!)

7. After you’ve had some quiet time to yourself and the chatter in your mind has quieted down, you might find yourself feeling lonely. This is normal. I was surprised by how isolated and lonely I felt. Reach out to people and connect with your friends. If you know other people who are available during the day, have weekday lunch dates with them. This will refresh you and help you get focused back on your work.

8. Avoid going to your campus if you can help it. Check out all of the books you think you’ll need ahead of time. (I brought home two suitcases full.) Set up an out-of-office message for your voicemail and email directing people elsewhere if they need something, and try not to check your voice or email if at all possible. I personally checked my email maybe every other week, mostly to delete stuff, just to keep things from getting out of control.

9. And since you’re avoiding campus, this is a good time to become an avid user of your local public library, if you aren’t already, and if your local public library is a good one.

I come from immigrant people. My great-grandfather was a carusu and had a second grade education. So believe me, I understand my good fortune to have had a sabbatical, and I’m sure you do as well. Your sabbatical will end before you know it, and then you have to figure out how to reintegrate yourself into your workplace and worklife. But that’s to worry about later. For now, just enjoy your time, and your space, and the quiet, and your books, and revel in the luxury of being paid to not go to work. :hearteyes:

 

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Emotional labor and library instruction

I’m having a complicated tangle of thoughts about library instruction burnout, and I’m hoping that a regular writing regimen, using this blog as a platform, will help me work through these thoughts. Right now, my thoughts involve the interconnectedness of things like the concept of emotional labor (work that requires an external display of positive emotions that may be in conflict with the worker’s real actual internal emotions, see Hochschild, 2003), the role of affect in the formation of teacher identity, the necessity of a self-care practice for those engaged in the emotional labor of teaching, and how peculiar it is to me that, as far as I am able to determine, hardly anyone really officially talks about this entanglement when talking about instruction librarianship.

For example: consider the ACRL Standards for Proficiencies for Instruction Librarians and Coordinators: A Practical Guide. I have consulted this document regularly since its 2007 publication to help guide my practice and professional development, as well as the professional development of the librarians who teach in the program I coordinate. As the document itself states, “This document is intended to help instruction librarians define and gain the skills needed to be excellent teachers in library instruction programs and to foster collaborations necessary to create and improve information literacy programs.” And it pretty much does just that. The Standards address things like administrative skills, curriculum knowledge, presentation skills, etc.

But it seems to me that an essential skill for being an instruction librarian or instruction coordinator is the ability to regulate the complicated emotions that are inevitably part of being a teacher. Julien and Genuis (2009) describe the results of a qualitative study of Canadian academic and public librarians involved in instructional work: “A full range of affective experiences were manifest in the diary and interview data” (p. 929). Study participants reported a wide range of emotions, ranging from pleasure and enthusiasm to more negative emotions, such as frustration and disappointment. As the authors note, “the teaching experience is not always a joyful one” (p. 930). Julien and Genuis conclude with the observation that “individuals and organizations will benefit from considering the influence of emotional labour on library staff with instructional duties” (p. 934).

So why aren’t skills related to negotiating the emotional labor of teaching just as essential as presentation skills or leadership skills? The absence of these skills in the Standards—indeed, the actual invisibility of the reality of affect in the Standards—seems to me to resonate with the anxiety Julien and Genuis’s study participants reported about the “visibility or invisibility of instructional outcomes” (p. 931). The participants struggled with the feeling that their teaching efforts didn’t matter, because the nature of the one-shot library instruction model means that you rarely have “tangible proof” that a student actually learned something. In short, instruction librarians battle the negative emotions of feeling invisible in many ways, and at the same time, the official professional document that purports to formalize the skills we need to be good instruction librarians further invisibilizes us by completely ignoring the central role of affect in instructional work.

However, I am ready to make visible the skills we need to negotiate the very real emotional labor of instruction librarianship. In the coming weeks, I want to explore my hunch that one way of coping with library instruction burnout is validating the reality of having complicated feelings about the work we do and identifying ways of negotiating these complicated feelings.

Reference:

Julien, H., & Genuis, S. K. (2009). Emotional labour in librarians’ instructional work. Journal of Documentation, 65(6), 926-937.