Creating Boundaries in Work, School, and Life

I’ve been fortunate enough to stay employed (at a library) during the pandemic, but even a quick glance through the posts at #protectlibraryworkers will reveal libraries who furloughed their staff and never brought them back or claim to celebrate National Library Workers Day without actually providing any support for those library workers in the form of adequate pay or job security.

The pandemic and its accompanying shift to working, learning, and socializing online has given me the opportunity to reflect on a couple of things, and I don’t want to waste that opportunity just because the world is starting to go back to ‘normal’ (for whatever value ‘normal’ is worth). I’ve learned some things about myself and about how I like to work – some big, some small – and, with any luck, some of them will resonate with other current and future library workers.

  1. Libraries are not my whole identity. Between working full-time in a library and going to school to earn a degree in library science, sometimes it feels like library work is all I think about. It’s healthy to have other, non-library related, things to focus on. For me, that used to be orchestra – although right now we’re on pause, so I’ve tried to supplement with other hobbies. Working from home has enabled me to tackle some home repair and gardening projects I’d always meant to do, and I’ve picked a cross-stitch project back up that I had thought classes would force me to abandon. Not today, grad school!
  2. I really appreciate a morning cup of tea. This sounds like a small realization, and while I’m working from home it is, but once I go back to in-person work, it’s going to take some shifting of my schedule and arrival times to make this happen. Most days, I’m the one in charge of opening the library, so I need to be in the building at least fifteen minutes early to turn on all the computer stations and get ready for opening. I may start stretching that to twenty or twenty-five minutes, so that I can also make myself a cup of tea and not feel so rushed.
  3. Stop giving reasons for my time off. This is going to be a tough one for me. My natural inclination is always to need to ‘prove’ that I really need the time off – sick, vacation, or personal – by giving detailed reasons for my request. It’s a misplaced attempt to show my boss (or my professor, if I’m asking for an extension) that I really do take my work seriously, and I’m not just slacking off for the heck of it. But, I need to remember that it’s my time off, I’ve earned it, and, as long as I’m following HR guidelines, I can take it for whatever reason I need or want to. My other goal in shortening my requests to ‘may I take vacation time on this day,’ without any further elaboration, is to also set an example for the student workers I supervise. When they come to me with a time off request, I hope they don’t feel pressured to disclose anything to me that they don’t want to, and I should extend that same courtesy to myself.
  4. Reevaluate my interview questions. I haven’t started interviewing for librarian positions yet; but when I do, I want to remember that interviews are a two-way street, and while they’re deciding if they want to work with me, I’m also deciding if I want to work with them. It’s important to me to work at an institution that did right by their employees during the pandemic – can I craft that into an interview question? I have discovered that I work well from home, and can manage my own time. Maybe I would like to inquire about the possibility of hybrid or flexible time in my next job? It’s a little hard to nail down in an interview setting, but, related to #3 above, it’s important to me to work for a library that has a large and cross-trained staff, so that I can take vacations and time off without feeling guilty that I’m leaving co-workers in the lurch without me. These would be good things to know before accepting a new position.

These are all priorities that I didn’t necessarily know I had pre-pandemic, but now that I’ve lived through this experience, I think I know myself and my working habits a little bit better, and hopefully can better advocate for myself and others. If you’ve changed the way you want to work and your expectations for employers going forward – or if you have any more suggestions for good interview questions – please share in the comments!

Photo by Joaquín García on Unsplash

Lauren is a second-year student in the MLIS program at San José State University and works in circulation and ILL at a community college library in Los Angeles. She has previously worked in public libraries, as a copyeditor, in the publications department of the LA Zoo, and as an usher at the Hollywood Bowl.

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