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.

A library instruction experience that I actually enjoyed!

I had a very pleasant and satisfying library instruction experience today, and I want to talk about what made it so. I think that the pleasure of this session served as a useful inoculation against repetitive burnout-inducing teaching.

Context: I was asked to visit a group of incoming first year students attending a week-long writing intensive workshop designed to give them a head start on the conventions and expectations of college writing before the semester starts. The workshop took place in the writing center, which has an instructor workstation with a giant touch screen display and student workstations. I was given 60 minutes. The writing center director is leading the workshop all week, and she talked to them about the CRAAP test before I got there. I have a strong, collaborative relationship with the writing center director going back several years. We share similar goals and try to make the most of where our instructional interests intersect and overlap.

What I Did: I prepared an activity that asked students to consider three different information sources on the same topic and answer questions about the audience, creator(s), and purpose of each source, and why those things matter to them specifically. I chose a Wikipedia article, a scholarly article, and a .gov website on the topic (distracted driving) and linked to them in a LibGuide for them to access easily. The students worked in three groups, each assessing one of the three sources and answering the questions, then we talked about all three as a whole class. I’ve done more complicated versions of this activity (more sources and more questions), and this was a more streamlined, simplified version. I spent the majority of the time guiding the activity and subsequent discussion of the sources and how our conversation connected to the conventions and concerns of college writing in general. I spent only a little bit of time showing them how to navigate the library home page, keyword brainstorming, and search phrase construction. I gave the writing center director a handout about this to distribute later.

What I Worried About: I did have some concerns about the students having been introduced to the CRAAP test before I got there. It’s not that that the CRAAP test isn’t useful; I just didn’t know how she had sold it to them, and if it had been presented as a set of flexible guidelines or as a rigid code to which they had to adhere. I didn’t think it was the former, because I know the writing center director pretty well, but I still worried about it. I personally referred to it as a set of flexible guidelines and also talked about how authority is constructed and contextual. (Look at me being all Frameworky and everything!) Also, I felt worried about whether they would actually talk and participate during the group work time and whether I was going to be uncomfortable and nervous while I waited for them to complete the task. For me, this discomfort/nervousness, or the anticipation thereof, is a trigger to shift into autopilot lecture-and-demonstrate mode as a security blanket.

What Worked: The group work was successful! The students made astute and complex observations about the sources and asked smart questions. I think I chose good, accessible sources—the scholarly article, in particular, was not especially full of jargon. The body language and facial expressions of the students indicated that they were mentally present, paying attention, and engaged.

How I Felt: I felt energized and excited to be there and work with them. I felt like this wasn’t just one of a billion interchangeable generic library instruction sessions. I liked that I spent minimal time on pointing-and-clicking and more time in conversation about bigger picture issues. I think this energy, and the novelty of trying something new, helped me counteract my usual triggers.

What I Will Do Next: Try to build opportunities for interactive conversations about more conceptual stuff at the beginning of instruction sessions. My tendency is to do more explanatory/overview stuff first, and then move to discussion, but maybe launching the discussion right from the start improves the energy and sequencing of the session’s activities. I didn’t build in any formal assessment mechanisms into the session, and if I repeat this activity in some form in the future, I’ll need to think about incorporating some sort of quick classroom assessment technique.

Now hiring smiling faces (and who cares about your insides)

This morning I drove past a Burger King that was announcing via outside signage: “Now hiring smiling faces!” My usual response to seeing signs like this is to conjure up a mildly disturbing mental image of disembodied grinning visages rolling (how else would a disembodied face travel?) into Burger King and filling out job applications with…I don’t know what. With a pen in their mouths? How does a disembodied smiling face do anything, really?

But this morning, my customary weird mental picture faded as some more troubling thoughts emerged. What does it mean to advertise that you’re hiring “smiling faces”? I think it mostly means that you don’t really give a shit about what’s on the inside of a person as long as they are presenting a picture of friendliness and happiness on the outside. I’ve been on the receiving end of some unpleasant customer service interactions in which the worker had something less than a smiling face, and it certainly doesn’t make that encounter very fun, but at the same time, I am uncomfortable with this idea of emotional labor, that employers can demand that you feel a certain way—or at least display a certain feeling—as a part of doing your job. The space between the display of feeling and the actual feeling is often cavernous and disorienting and feels pretty terrible.

When I was on sabbatical last year, the ideas I originally wanted to explore ended up meandering into—guess what?—burnout. I started reading everything I could find about burnout, especially as it related to instruction librarians, and the earliest article (Becker, 1993) I could find on the topic is also the one that offended me the most. Becker basically says the solution to burnout is maybe we should be less enthusiastic and aspirational about our work. No, really, here’s what she says: “Unfortunately, emotions and attitudes (such as this ‘enthusiasm’) are very susceptible to the causes of burnout listed above. The individual strategy of lowering unrealistic goals is seldom mentioned” (p. 355). Becker also notes:

At the professional level, to relieve the heavy burden of guilt and feelings of failure caused by the setting of overly idealistic goals, philosophies of bibliographic instruction should be reexamined and restated in light of typical real-life situations, without sacrificing vision or discouraging exploration. Bibliographic instruction librarians presenting pragmatic sessions on practical library research skills should not be reviled or maligned in the library literature (p. 355).

This remarkably pessimistic view is kind of depressing to me, and it seems like it would be more conducive to burnout than being disappointed that my high expectations weren’t met, or if my enthusiasm were disillusioned. Becker’s view also seems to acknowledge that there is a difference between how we feel and how we’re expected to publicly enact our feelings, and that this difference is just something we should accept as normal, something we should live with and try to regulate and maybe even stifle. Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but this strikes me as an unusually damaging and dehumanizing prescription for the problem of burnout.

This idea of emotional labor is something I’ve talked about here before. Hochschild (1983) studied flight attendants, who certainly are required to engage in emotional labor to a significant degree, and she notes that one of them reported to her that being required to display positive feelings all the time made it hard for her to recognize and understand her real actual feelings. This is, as the kids say these days, relevant to my interests.

Here’s where these two things are getting entangled for me: The confusing space between how I actually feel and how I’m supposed to visibly feel is, to me, a factor in burnout. If I’m expected to behave as though I’m always on, always ready to be at service, always poised to answer your question or teach you how do to a thing, but I don’t feel appreciated or acknowledged or valued as a person who has expertise and who can do all of those things, then I feel like my feelings don’t really matter either, which is ultimately dehumanizing. Furthermore, Becker’s argument that librarians should somehow be less enthusiastic and idealistic about teaching as a way of combating burnout also feels really invalidating and dehumanizing to me as well, which is the opposite of what I think she claims it will do.

Encountering Becker’s article while I was beginning to unravel this whole burnout thing last year was kind of disheartening. My reading of it almost made me feel like burnout was my own fault. It was my own fault for having idealistic and enthusiastic visions of the exciting potential of library instruction and what it can do for the students I teach. It was my own fault for idealistically and enthusiastically linking my politics to my teaching practice in an effort disrupt the damaging power relations that govern higher education, and, ultimately, the world at large. I obviously needed to lower my expectations and focus on “real-life situations,” right?

But what is more “real-life” than to acknowledge, make visible, and provide resources to explore racism (Pagowsky & Wallace, 2015) or the Iraq war or the Occupy movement (Ryan & Sloniowski, 2013). How is it not “real-life” to teach students about the imperfect structures and methods libraries use to organize information and make it accessible and knowable (Drabinski, 2013)? Or what exactly is not “real-life” than to encourage critical examination of Wikipedia as a way of talking about how privilege and power dictate who gets to say what and about whom (Jacobs, 2010)? These are actual real things in the world, and to ignore these actual real things and just stick to “pragmatic research skills” is a missed opportunity and does our students a disservice and makes me feel like I’m supposed to be some feeling-less teaching robot.

If this makes me idealistic, then fine, I’m idealistic. And to ask or imply that I should do otherwise as a way of combating burnout? This is what I would call—wait for it—“unrealistic.” An approach to teaching and reference that sheds light on how information is produced and disseminated and tries to empower students to transform the power structures that obscure and erase the marginalized—this is one way I am able to shorten the distance between “now hiring smiling faces” and my real actual feelings. And I really don’t know any other way of doing this work and not wanting to crawl in a hole and disappear.


P. S. Citation matters.

Becker, K. (1993). The characteristics of bibliographic instruction in relation to the causes and symptoms of burnout. RQ, 32(3), 346-358.

Drabinski, E. (2013). Queering the catalog: Queer theory and the politics of correction. Library Quarterly, 83(2), 94-111.

Hochschild, A. R. (1983). The managed heart: Commercialization of human feeling. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Jacobs, H. L. M. (2010). Posing the Wikipedia “problem”: Information literacy and the praxis of problem-posing in library instruction. In M. T. Accardi, E. Drabinski, & A. Kumbier (Eds.), Critical library instruction: Theories and methods (pp. 179-197). Duluth: Library Juice Press.

Pagowsky, N., & Wallace, N. (2015). Black lives matter! Shedding library neutrality rhetoric for social justice. College and Research Libraries News, 76(4), 196.

Ryan, P. & Sloniowski, L. (2013). The public academic library: Friction in the Teflon funnel. In L. Gregory & S. Higgins (Eds.), Information literacy and social justice: Radical Professional Praxis (pp. 275-296). Sacramento: Library Juice Press.

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.

Learning outcomes and choosing less harm

Like many people who were #capal15leftbehind, I followed with great interest what people were tweeting at the Canadian Association of Professional Academic Librarians (CAPAL) conference recently. During Henry Giroux’s talk, I kept seeing tweets about outcomes assessment, and the tone of the tweets seemed negative. It’s hard to get the full context of anything in 140 characters, so I honestly didn’t get what was going on or what Giroux was saying. I tweeted: “And what’s so bad about outcomes anyway? Why is it bad to state what we hope students will learn? #capal15 #capal15leftbehind

People tweeted all kinds of things in response. My friend and collaborator and fellow lesbian-feelings-sharer Emily said: “I think it’s joining outcomes to accountability and power that makes outcomes regimes dangerous.” I totally get this. It makes sense. I think learning outcomes can be used as a weapon: “Here’s what we think you should be learning, and god help you if you don’t get it at exactly the right timetable we’ve prescribed and DEAR GOD if you don’t graduate in precisely four years you’re really fucked.” In the context of individual classroom sessions, or in a program, or for general education purposes, learning outcomes can be wielded to homogenize, to police conformity to hegemonic understandings of what it means to be “educated,” and in this current climate—especially at public institutions like where I work—“educated” is basically a euphemism for “employable” or “future workforce fodder.”

I’ve argued in a bunch of different places that the marginal status of academic librarians, while exhausting and frustrating, can actually be an advantage in cases like this. I know it’s not true for everyone, but in my situation, my institution has defined information literacy as a general education student learning outcome. Students fulfill this outcome by taking a First Year Seminar, which has an embedded library session component. So this makes them instantly “information literate” (whatever that means), right? Well, no, of course not. But the bottom line is that my program has its own internal outcomes, outcomes we are currently revising in light of the Framework. (As I wrote a few weeks ago, I see the Framework as an invitation to rethink what I do and how I do it, and not a mandate to change, and certainly not incontrovertible ex cathedra wisdom engraved on stone tablets handed down from on high.) And since these outcomes are internal, as long as they mostly match up to the very broad, vague institutional definition, I can pretty much do what I want, within reason. This means that I can be creative and critical with learning outcomes and pretty much no one really cares or tells me I can’t. If I want to incorporate ideas about information power and privilege alongside teaching students how to think through an information problem or research need, I can and will do that. While developing activities that invite learners to evaluate information sources, I can also ask questions that invite students to think about who and what are made visible and invisible in information/research environments, and why they think that is.

Ultimately, I think it is irresponsible to not have specific learning goals for a library instruction session. You need to have outcomes and then guide the session accordingly. But if you aren’t required to use pasteurized cheese food product learning outcomes, for heaven’s sake don’t do it. If you can find a way to flatten the teaching/learning hierarchy in a way that puts learners in the driving seat, do it. If you can figure out a way of consciousness-raising about cultures of power and how they influence who gets to say what and about whom—and who gets paid to have the loudest voices—then do it.

If you’re wondering what this post has to do with this burnout blog, it’s this: I get really incandescently mad about unearned power and privilege and how they are deployed to marginalize people. Finding ways of combating and resisting that power and privilege through the library instruction classroom and reference desk makes me feel alive and purposeful. Feeling alive and purposeful gives me reason to hope and therefore resist burnout. The paradox is that critical approaches like the ones I describe are more taxing and draining than traditional modes of teaching, and this can contribute to burnout. But I really honestly cannot live with myself as a person and a professional if my politics do not inform my work.

So I guess I’d rather do what I know and believe to be right, which is ultimately more soul-feeding, rather than reinforce and support the dominant culture through my teaching practice, a culture that actively wants to erase people like me, which is obviously soul-killing. There are no perfect choices, only ones that do less harm. I’m choosing less harm.

I do not think that the Framework is our oxygen mask.

One of the reasons I grapple with burnout is that the content of library instruction, and the one-shot model through which I deliver it, is essentially the same thing over and over again. Yes, I can experiment with different teaching methods and activities and so on, but ultimately it’s all pretty much the same thing. So I’ve been interested in exploring whether the new ACRL IL Framework has any implications for resisting library instruction burnout.

First, though, I need to work though my thoughts about the Framework to begin with, and I have to say that as the conversations about the Framework started emerging and circulating over the past year or so, I mostly side-eyed it all pretty suspiciously. I was too burned out and cynical to really care very much. I read each draft as it came out, but I did not submit any feedback or participate in any of the public discussions.

It was with this same spirit of baffled wariness that I regarded the final official version “filed” by ACRL at Midwinter this year. I’m currently taking a Library Juice Academy class led by Andrea Baer in an effort to work through what the fuck I’m supposed to do with this thing, if anything. As of now, I’m still a little suspicious and not entirely convinced that the entire document needed to be articulated through the rhetoric of threshold concepts. But, ultimately, despite my wariness, I’m choosing to view the Framework as an invitation to re-envision what I do and how I do it. My library instruction program has had essentially the same learning outcomes for like a million years, so yeah, let’s revisit them, and yeah, let’s let the Framework stimulate our thinking.

I do not regard the Framework as a mandate to change or do things in a particular or specific way. ACRL does not have the final say about the library instruction program I oversee.

The vision of information literacy articulated by the Framework is more complex and conceptual than the vision offered by the old Standards, I would argue, and I would also contend that it’s rather more interesting than the old view of information literacy. Authority is Constructed and Contextual, you say? Well, yes. Of course it is.

But I don’t think that the Framework is necessarily my ticket out of Repetitiveteachingville, and here’s why: none of this reconceptualized vision of information literacy matters if a writing instructor emails me and asks me to “demonstrate how to use databases” for his students, and if the assignment for the writing class calls for students to find five scholarly peer-reviewed articles and no websites are allowed as sources at all.

That is, I’m not sure if the teaching faculty I work with will really care about this dressed up vision of information literacy.  Admittedly, I’ve not yet really engaged with them yet about these new developments in our field and how they might (or might not) inform our teaching practices, but just based on my years of experience of doing this? No. I mean, maybe like five of the fifty faculty members I work with regularly will care. Everyone else? They just don’t want their students to use Wikipedia, and they want me to reinforce that.

And to me, this is merely a symptom of the larger problem I face and that I’ve been struggling with for the better part of a decade. Despite my consistent and intensive and strategic outreach efforts, despite my partnering with faculty members who are indeed library champions who do get what we do and why, despite all of my efforts to chip away at the culture that marginalizes the very real teaching and learning work we do in the library, I’ll get a writing teacher sending his class to the library, with no notice, with a fucking scavenger hunt assignment that requires students to work with print reference books only. Please excuse me while I *headdesk* forever.

I get really tired of fighting to be taken seriously, to be regarded as a valued contributor to and participant in the teaching and learning community, not someone who merely sits at a desk and answers the phone and points out the bathrooms and “demonstrates” how to use a database. By the way, you know who can “demonstrate” how to use a database? Pretty much anyone who can type words in a box and click “search.” Asking me to “demonstrate” something does not value and respect my expertise.

To return to my main point—and I know this has gotten a bit ranty—the new Framework encourages us to “Reach out to potential partners in your institution, such as departmental curriculum committees, centers for teaching and learning, or offices of undergraduate or graduate studies, to discuss how to implement the Framework in your institutional context.” But here’s the thing: I’ve been doing all of these recommended strategies already for a really long time, and every time I make some headway and convince someone of the importance of the instruction we do, there’s always someone who doesn’t get it, and that someone who doesn’t get it doesn’t necessarily undo all of our progress, but it still feels pretty terrible and demoralizing.

So what do I do? Keep chipping away, making small changes and headway where I can and fuck the haters? I’m guessing that’s probably where I’ll go with this, but damn if it isn’t exhausting and, yes, conducive to burnout.

Framework or no Framework, the marginalization of library instruction—and the concomitant burnout—will not change unless there is a radical shift in the culture of academic libraries and higher education in general. And I’m not fully convinced that the Framework is the tool that will help us bring about this urgently needed shift.