Out of Office (For the Semester)

This semester I’m on sabbatical from the library. At my university librarians are faculty and eligible for research leaves, and I’m grateful to have been granted one for the spring and early summer. I’m using the time to work on a few writing projects with collaborators and I’ve also started a new research project. I’ll be interviewing students at my urban, public, commuter university on their practices around their course reading, hoping to learn about the ways they get access to their course materials and fit reading into their schedules. So far it’s been fascinating to speak with students about their reading, and I’m looking forward to analyzing the interview data as well.

While I knew that the routine of sabbatical would be different than my usual library director routine, I’ve been a bit surprised at how different it is. My usual schedule in the library is heavy on meetings; on sabbatical most of my meetings are with…myself. (Full disclosure: also sometimes with my cats.) I haven’t had this much autonomy over my own time since graduate school and it’s taken a bit of getting used to. The first couple of weeks were odd — I hadn’t realized how much I relied on the predictability of my usual schedule to frame my days. Now that I’m in the interview stage of my project I have a bit less flexibility, and I’m getting more settled into my new routines.

It’s been interesting to work on library (and higher ed)-related research and writing full-time while not physically working in the library (or at the college). Most of my research interests focus on practice, and the distinction between my own library practice and research is not usually as separate as it as been this semester. I’m still not quite sure how I feel about that. I appreciate the uninterrupted time for reading and writing and thinking, but it feels somewhat strange not to be in the library at all.

Once my student interviews finish I’ll be buckling down for transcription, analysis, and writing, and continuing work on my other projects too. My plan is to schedule worksessions in libraries around the city, public libraries as well as those at the colleges in my university. In addition to the self-imposition of a new routine to structure my days, I’m also looking forward to the opportunities to visit lots of different libraries and to experience them the way patrons do.

I’m curious to hear from other librarians who’ve taken sabbatical leaves. How’d it go? What did you find surprising (or frustrating)? Drop me a line in the comments.

Author: Maura Smale

Maura Smale is Chief Librarian at The Graduate Center, City University of New York.

2 thoughts on “Out of Office (For the Semester)”

  1. Thank you for sharing, Maura. I’m taking a sabbatical year in August, and I’ll admit that what once sounded exciting is starting to sound very scary to me. I’m mostly worried about a lack of schedule and what that will mean for my work. I have projects to work on and continue, so perhaps that will shape my day-to-day activities. Do you have any general advice you can share?

  2. That’s terrific news, congrats Veronica! When I started my sabbatical I made a big list of projects to work on, the components of each project, and a rough timeline, which helped me wrap my head around what I wanted to accomplish overall. I revisit that list about once a week to cross things off (I love crossing things off!) or to rebalance it if needed. In terms of workspaces I feel like I’ve finally hit on a plan that works for me, which involves a combination of working at home and working in various libraries around the city. My spouse works from home and we don’t have a separate home office, so when he and my teenager are both home it gets a little crowded — those are the times that I tend to head to a library. I’ve also found that working in a library 2-3 times/week has helped structure my days now that my student interviews are finished.

    Lots of wise folks have reminded me that taking some time to recharge and rebalance on sabbatical is also a good idea — I admit that comes a bit less easily for me but I’ve been working on that, too. I still feel so lucky to have this time, hope your sabbatical planning is going well!

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