Burnout, perspectives from a newbie

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I’m well into the third month of my residency, which means my first rotation in technical services is almost over. (Already??) Yup, it’s almost the holidays. Yesterday, there was a critlib meetup in Baltimore City, which was focused on burnout in the profession and how to avoid it. I didn’t get to attend it, because I was working on a proposal project at home. But I decided to share some of the things I’ve learned about time management and burnout in the short time I’ve been in the profession.

1. Live and learn

As a new academic librarian, I feel like a great deal of my time has been spent asking questions, either of myself or of other people. In considering answers, I’ve found the New Librarian tag on ACRLog to be full of reflections from other people who did this before me and went on to be productive members of the academic library community. In particular, suggestions to schedule projects into my calendar, spend at least fifteen minutes a day on each project, and to take breathers were helpful.

2. A paper is (worth) a million words (and tenure?)

As a faculty librarian, writing, presenting, and publishing are expectations. Given my side interests in African American studies, women’s/gender studies, education/literacy, and genealogy, I always have research ideas swimming around in my brain. In grad school, I confess I was sometimes one of those “write a paper in less than 48hrs” people, usually the 48 hours before it’s due, but I do realize that doesn’t work in real life when you want to share or publish said paper.

Writing a little bit each day, well before the deadline, allows me the time to flesh out my ideas and ask for feedback on drafts. My residency coordinator suggested that I block off a bit of time each day or each week to focus on research, particularly while I have the time. I’ve found that to be helpful. And I like seeing it on my shiny, color-coded calendar.

Calls for papers flood my inbox on an almost daily basis, so the opportunities are out there. As I mentioned below, though, I can’t do everything, so being judicious about which projects to focus my time on allows me to focus my energies with intent. And to be honest, it’s a relief to tell myself “no” sometimes.

3. Walk in their shoes

I’m fortunate to have both a mentor and residency coordinator who have made themselves available to answer my questions, offer encouragement, and explain some of the whys. As Goodsett and Walsh found, mentors are good people to have around, particularly when they’re interested in seeing you succeed. They can help to break down seemingly daunting expectations into manageable opportunities, as well as provide relevant perspectives given their own experiences. Both my mentor and my residency coordinator are around five years into the profession, so they understand what it’s like to be new to the field and new to academia. Which is nice.

4. Write it down

Even outside of work, I journal a lot. Writing and reflecting helps me to process my thoughts and understand connections. As part of my residency, I keep a reflections log, which lets me look back and see what I’ve accomplished over time and where my time is being spent. It also allows me to set goals for myself. It’s always fun to meet goals. As I move into my Research and Instruction rotation next semester, I expect that those reflections will become even more invaluable in maximizing instruction and outreach efforts.

I also blog (surprise!), which is not only great for thinking through and sharing ideas with a broader community, but it’s also fun.

I like lists. Whether it’s Trello, ColorNote on my phone, or an old-fashioned sticky note, seeing a written representation of what I need to accomplish is very rewarding. And I get the satisfaction of crossing out things, or in the case of Trello, dragging my to-do items to the “completed” list. I also get the satisfaction of not forgetting things until someone asks for a deliverable and I look at them in horror, because I just remembered. That’s not a true story.

5. Take five…or ten

Personally, my job is not my life. While I enjoy what I do, I do have a life outside of work and it’s important to me to maintain work-life balance. I like having weekends where I spend minimal brain energy on work. I don’t know if this will always be realistic, especially as I advance in my career, but I would like to think so. Spending my free time on the things and people I enjoy allows me to return to work refreshed and ready to be fully engaged, whereas spending the weekend worrying about work takes the fun out of having free time and doesn’t allow me the mental space to be happy and well-rested. I know, because I had a spillover job in the past.

On a related note, sleep is important. So is exercise. The former doesn’t work so well with work, the latter can. To combat those mid-day blues, take a ten or fifteen minute walk to refocus and regroup. Doing it outside is even better.

6. If at first you don’t succeed…no one cares

Okay, that’s not entirely true. However, I’m a bit of a perfectionist and maybe an overachiever, so my instinct is to want to do it all, right now. That’s not a realistic or kind-to-myself approach. Setting realistic goals and taking time to enjoy the opportunities that come my way is a better idea. Considering the big picture of my career goals, as well as the intents of my current residency helps me to shape how my experiences now may have bearing on the future. And if I can’t do it all, I can find some things that I do well. Quality over quantity, right?

7. Listen to music

Studies have shown that listening to music at work isn’t a bad thing. On the contrary, it can helpful. Granted, depending on your job duties and where in the library you work, this may not be a good idea. For example, staffing the reference desk or teaching classes…

But, you will find me cataloging with my earbuds in.

Cheers!

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2 responses »

  1. Hi! I was so delighted to see this post on ACRLog. I’m applying to MLIS programs on opposite ends of the country and am a bit stressed by the process and wondering if I’ll be ready as an academic librarian. I’ve seen so many profiles of new librarians with huge responsibilities that it’s easy to forget the requisite transitional period for all newbies. In some public systems, librarians’ training is compared to “trial by fire,” so it’s refreshing to read that responsibilities of a new academic librarian can build up gradually and with guidance.

    Are you from Baltimore area, too? I’m an assistant to a university library here until March. Anyway, thanks for writing and best of luck in your residency. ~ Staci

    • Hi Staci! Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I think every new job is a little “hit the ground running” in orientation. Some academic institutions (and probably some public institutions) have more formal mentoring built into the new employee experience, which can help to ease the overwhelming-ness of it all. Your experience in the library before getting an MLIS will actually help you, because you’ll have real-world experience to which to apply your knowledge. It makes it a little easier afterwards. I’m happy to answer any questions about the MLIS process, librarianship, or whatever. Cheers!
      Alyse

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