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Teaching and Learning

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In my classroom...

Spring Term 7th Week Burnout Blues

Carleton doesn’t have semesters or even quarters, we have terms. Each term is 10 weeks long, and there’s Fall, Winter, and Spring term. The week numbers of each term matter so much that at the end of every spring term I look ahead to the next year and enter “Week 1, week 2, week 3…” as events on the Monday of each week for the next year’s terms. Week numbers matter more than months or dates or days of the week. Classes start on the Monday of Week 1 and end on the Wednesday of Week 9. Then there are two Reading Days, and then finals run on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday.

Right now we’re at the beginning of 7th week of Spring Term, and it feels like we’ll never survive through to graduation next month. On top of that, it’s been a crazy intense year+ that’s left me burned out and used up. Apparently powering through Chronic Fatigue Syndrome while juggling a ton of extra work, a few massive transitions, plus all the normal intensity of this job only works for so long. The fallout is starting to show up in medical bills and mental anguish.

So how do I turn it around? I like my coworkers and don’t want to let them down. And I’m pretty sure that when I step out of my own head I actually still believe that the work matters. And then there’s the mortgage, which probably won’t pay itself. I want to get back to liking my job. I want to get back to liking me in my job.

What does a reference & instruction librarian do all day?

I remember wondering what a reference librarian did all day back when I was interviewing for reference librarian jobs. I’d been an on-call/fill-in librarian at a public library, and I’d been a part time librarian at a small university, but I still couldn’t quite imagine what these jobs would be like in their full-time versions. Would I get bored waiting for people to ask me things? Or would I be swamped with reference questions and never get to do anything else? I was actually kind of worried…

Every so often I get interviewed by library school students, and usually one of the questions amounts to “What do you actually DO all day?” Since I just wrote this down for one such student yesterday, I thought I’d post my response here as well. It’s a pretty brief and general response, but if you’re curious, here’s a sketch of what I do all day.

Typically, my work divides up into 4 categories. First and foremost, there’s the liaison work, which involves meeting with faculty and students about their research needs, teaching classes, creating research guides, helping to staff the reference desk, and doing my best to keep up with both the pedagogical and the research trends in my departments. As one of a team of liaisons, another component of this work is to help steer people to their liaison when issues around library support and information literacy (practice or pedagogy) come up in random conversation. We’re always advocating each other’s work in this way.

Then there’s the work I do as part of the library as an organization. This involves participating in committees, task forces, and collaborations having to do with the running of the library or our work with St Olaf (we’re in a highly collaborative consortium together). For me, this work often revolves around areas like digital humanities support infrastructure, public service coordination between the various public services in the library, and coordination around the publicly available technology in the library. Other librarians have their own areas of expertise, but we all have work of this nature which is more internal to the library.

Then there is the work that I do as a member of our campus community in general. For me this involves working on the campus’ copyright committee, helping to coordinate the various support entities on campus that support digital humanities, collaborating closely with the Writing Center and the campus’ Academic Technologists, and (currently) serving on an implementation team for the college’s transition from locally hosted email and file storage to gmail and dropbox. Other librarians here have their own versions of this list, but we all get drafted into roles like these where our knowledge of information literacy and our relationships with the faculty, staff, and students on campus are called upon in service of a non-library project or function.

And finally, squeezed in as there’s time, there are professional activities that stretch beyond our campus and consortium. For me, this includes participating in an active online librarian society called the Library Society of the World, participating in local library networks, helping to edit an OA library journal called the Journal of Creative Library Practice, blogging here and there, and the occasional presentation or publication.

So there’s a sketch of my work. I like that at a small college I get to do more than one thing, and I like that the main theme of my work is working with people to help them solve problems and get around barriers. Most of my work, most of the time, is about enabling discovery and trying to find the best solutions to messy problems. And most of the time I get to do this work with engaged, inquisitive, smart people. Not a bad way to spend a career, I say.