Tag Archives: burnout

On the Mend: Falling Into and Out of Overwork

I’d meant to write this post earlier in the week. Actually I’d meant to write an entirely different post earlier in the week. But after weeks of avoiding the winter cold going around at the end of last semester, and weeks of colder than usual temperatures where I live, last week my time was up. I’m fortunate that I don’t tend to get sick all that often, and fortunate to have paid sick time, too. Which I needed last week for multiple days of bundling up in blankets with congestion, fever, coughing, and aches.

I’m mostly better this week though still playing catchup from having been out. So I want to write a bit about self care and overwork and libraries. We’ve written about the importance of self care on ACRLog in the past. Quetzalli’s post a couple of years ago highlighted both the need for self care and some of her own strategies. And Ian’s post from a bit earlier reminds us that just as we may be dealing with issues that are invisible from the outside, so too are other folks, and it’s important to practice self care and have a generous heart (a lovely term).

I am not always the best at self care. Historically, I’ve sometimes struggled to use my sick days (when I’ve had them) for anything but the very worst illness. Some of this is my own internal work mindset — I’ve worked in academia for a long time, and the siren song of just one more project/article to read/grant or conference to apply for can be tough for me to resist. I’ve tried to be much more intentional about self care in the past few years. Some of this is a natural side effect of getting older, but also because I do feel that self care is important for everyone, as much as I still sometimes struggle myself. I need to use my sick days when I’m sick, not only because it’s better for me to rest and recuperate (and keep my contagions to myself), but also because I want to be sure that my coworkers feel comfortable using their sick days, too. A sick boss is not the best boss, on multiple levels.

Last week Abby wrote about vocational awe and our professional identity as librarians, discussing Fobazi Ettarh’s terrific recent article in which she defines and explores vocational awe in libraries (a term she developed). Fobazi and Abby both point out that vocational awe can lead to overwork and burnout in libraries, and I agree. Vocational awe contributes to making it hard for me to use my sick days. I’m working on it. I’ve been thinking a bit about bibliographic emergencies — the library is not a hospital, and there are thankfully very few situations or issues that cannot wait while someone takes a sick day. Our work is important, but it’s also important to put our own masks on first before helping others.

Summer doldrums: Regenerating some mojo, or How sweet it really is

The end of the semester / start of summer can be a difficult time. A hectic and demanding (and fun, to be sure) semester can be draining, and my motivation sometimes wanes. I’m not the only one plagued by this lethargy. It’s a common complaint for (and bond between!) those of us in higher ed. In late April and early May, June shines brightly as a coveted reward for us academic folk suffering from a touch of burnout. The promise of its wide-open schedule is alluring and sustaining. Yet June never really delivers, does it? Summer’s to-do list isn’t any shorter than the semester’s. In some ways, it’s just as demanding. The many projects and priorities set aside for more dedicated attention come summer pile up rather quickly. And the overflow from the semester quickly floods into summer, too. The fact that I started this blog post in early June and that it’s already the beginning of July by the time I’m publishing it is perhaps the perfect illustration of the tension between fatigue fallout and the heft of summer project lists.

So what to do when the feeling of weariness weighs me down? Time off, no doubt, is a restorative. But perhaps also taking stock of good fortune can revitalize me. When I look back on the decisions that led me to librarianship and my place in it now, I recognize more than a few riches.

It was in college, knee-deep in research for my senior thesis, that I first saw librarianship as a potential fit. I recall a rather clear moment of self-recognition: I was sitting down to yet another PsycINFO search at a library computer, my list of search terms and my pile of collected articles before me. (If only Zotero had existed then!) In that moment, I identified energy and empowerment in the joining of exploration and discovery with (what I hoped was) skillful use of tools and sources. The enjoyment that I now see I derived from the process of my research project marked my future.

Up to that point, I had been largely on track to pursue a career in clinical psychology. But a library path quickly started to feel like a better fit. It satisfied my hope to work in a helping profession, although in a different way than as a psychologist. And librarianship felt like a chance for perpetual learning. I loved this idea and still do. As a librarian, I thought I could satiate my desire to dabble in a wide spectrum of topics while helping others pursue their inquiries. The chance to help people and the chance to learn are what got me here, more or less, although it feels banal to say so. But these choices and these values have held true for me and still motivate me. It feels like a truly lucky thing to be learning something every day, to understand something today that I didn’t or couldn’t understand yesterday or last month or last year.

When I set my sights on a future of librarian-as-lifelong-learner, it was the acquisition of information itself I anticipated. But what I think I’ve actually learned most about are people and process. Sure, I gleaned interesting and important information about the impact of China’s water policy on human rights during a recent research consultation with a student. But what resonated still stronger with me was trying to understand what that student needed to advance his thinking in that moment, learning how that student learns and how best to mentor him. In helping him conceptualize his research questions and information needs, we uncovered and mapped his and others’ thinking. Through connecting users with information, I’ve learned about what we need and want, about how we teach and learn. It’s thanks to such close work with users and such frequent collaboration with colleagues that I’ve learned about how we think, behave, and communicate.

Given my inclination toward psychology, perhaps it’s not unexpected that I often see and interpret the world through this lens of mind and behavior. And no doubt that time and experience have facilitated my perspective, too. But there’s something unique about the nexus of people, content, and process in library work that affords such a vantage point. It’s with this outlook that I feel fortunate. It’s from here that I can feel my momentum regenerating.

What views does librarianship afford you? What do you call upon when your motivation flags? Let me know what you think in the comments…