Pop Goes the Library

Using Pop Culture to Make Libraries Better.

by Sophie Brookover, Liz Burns, Melissa Rabey, Susan Quinn, John Klima, Carlie Webber, Karen Corday, and Eli Neiburger. We're librarians. We're pop culture mavens. We're Pop Culture Librarians.

2007-08-02

The Benefits of Taking a Break

During the past two years, my professional life has had its share of ups and downs. As part of this, I actually spent ten months not working in a library at all. I got my MLS right out of undergrad and after spending a year looking for my first position, I spent five years working in various library systems. And I enjoyed what I was doing . . . mostly. But I realized that I had lost a lot of my enthusiasm for libraryland. I felt so cynical and burned-out. It was like I could only see the limitations and the disadvantages of whatever project I was working on, could only see the laziness and disrespect of patrons. I didn't want to do something that I used to love.

So I took a break. I tried my hand at writing a teen novel; I spent a lot of time with my family; I took a part-time job at a crafts store. But I slowly grew to realize that I missed working in a library. Now that I've been in a new position for nearly two months, I've realized that my break was truly a good decision on my part. It's given me a new sense of energy and excitement for the library profession. Plus, it's taught me to better handle stress and politics, something that there's plenty of in any job!

If you're feeling like I felt, and wondering if perhaps you should take some time away from libraryland, allow me to offer you the benefit of my wisdom without the burden of my advice.

  • Have a plan. This is one thing that I wished I had done: have some kind of plan for what I was going to do. I drifted from one thing to another, without any clear-cut end in sight, which caused me a lot of anxiety. It ended up all working out, but I could have saved myself some stress.
  • Beware of burning your bridges. I stayed active in ALA, even continuing my committee memberships. I also kept in contact with my librarian friends and became a very good patron of my local library so I could remain aware of what trends were going on in literature and teen services. I even attended ALA Midwinter in Seattle in order to do some networking and apply for jobs. Staying involved indicated that I was still invested in the library profession, something I believe helped me a lot when I was applying for jobs. And it helped me get caught up a lot easier once I started my new position.
  • Keep your friends close. It would be easy to completely cut yourself off while you lick your wounds. But don't ignore your support systems: your family, your friends, your colleagues. When you're going through an experience like this, you'll want to have people to whom you can talk, vent, complain, and discuss issues. Plus, you never know when one of those people might learn about something that will help you, either professionally or personally.
  • Do something. Don't just sit around twiddling your thumbs. Take a class, learn a new skill, volunteer. Make the break be meaningful, so that you can stretch other parts of yourself. Amongst the things I did on my break, I learned how to sew and got interested in creative writing.

    You might not have the option to just up and quit your job. I was lucky in that I was able to get financial support from my family to allow me to do this. I realize that 'taking a break' is easier to say than do. But if you're struggling professionally, I really recommend taking the time for a sabbatical. You might discover that it's time to try something else, or you might get fired up about being a librarian and want to come back. It was a scary time for me, but I'm so thankful that I did it in retrospect. So why not think about it?

    Here are some links to articles that discuss burnout and stress and how to deal with them:
    Job Burnout: Know the Signs and Symptoms

    Running on Empty: Dealing with Burnout in the Library Setting

    Surviving Jobs You Loathe

    Nicole's Burnout Blues

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