The last fifteen months have been rough on all of us. Starting grad school during a pandemic was not easy, and a mix of personal problems and school-related issues made this past spring semester really difficult. For a while I began to question whether I was really cut out for library school, or for this profession in general. I’ve been a lifelong user and lover of libraries, but life had sucked the joy out of them for me. Instead they became the place I drudged to for work, or the place I thought about and talked about constantly while trying to keep up with my classwork. I don’t think it is necessary to feel like your job is your vocation, it is important to me that I enjoy my work, and find meaning in it. By the end of the semester I knew I needed something to bring back my joy and excitement in my work and career.
Here’s a few thoughts on how to rekindle the joy in libraries.
Take time to take a break
Something worth acknowledging is the prevalence and seriousness of burnout. Burnout has been written about on HLS before. Most remedies for burnout address it on the individual level, while the broader workplace issues that cause it often go unaddressed. That said, stepping away from the thing that is causing you stress is a healthy thing to do. When classes ended I was finally able to spend a few weeks using my days off from work as actual days off, and not a whole day to cram in extra studying time. Taking time to do fun things that aren’t at all related to school or work, or to just rest, is good for your health and happiness long-term.
One way to take a break is to make time to read for fun. A lot of librarians got into this profession because we love to read, but finding the time to read something that isn’t related to class while in grad school is a challenge. If you wish you could read more but are having trouble finding the time, here are some tips for making time to read for fun.
Another important part of taking a break is learning to say no. I have a big problem not saying yes to everything. Volunteer opportunities, hangouts with friends, helping my neighbor move his couch. Learning how to guard my time and energy as precious is a work in progress. I really want to be able to do everything! Unfortunately I’m limited by the hours in the day and my own finite energy levels, so I have had to learn to say no sometimes when someone asks me to join their d&d game, or add extra projects onto my already existing work responsibilities.
Find things that inspire you
One of my favorite ways to find joy again in libraries is to read books and listen to podcasts about them. I’ve enjoyed both nonfiction books, like The Library Book and Palaces for the People, but I’ve found joy in reading about fictional libraries as well, such as The Midnight Library, and the Hell’s Library series. I’ve also started listening to Lost in the Stacks, a podcast made by librarians from Georgia Tech Library, featuring a mix of music, interviews, and library talk, loosely based around a theme.
Connect with your peers
Student organizations are great for professional development, but also for making connections with others in your program. My school also has student “tea times” once a week, where we can get together and chat in an unstructured environment. We can encourage each other, talk about classes and professors we love or don’t, share pet photos. After a year of working alone in my apartment and primarily speaking to my classmates through a screen or a discussion board post, it is good to have human connection with others in this field.
Remind yourself why libraries matter
I was introduced to the New York Public Library’s Library Stories project through a class I took this spring. They are a series of short interviews(usually 1-2 minutes each) by New Yorkers about how the public library affects them. I do believe libraries do important work for their community, and it’s really important for me to be reminded of that sometimes.
Have you had burnout affect how you think and feel about libraries? Do you have any other ways of reminding yourself of why you’re here? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!
Robin is the Community Manager of Hack Library School, and a student at University of Wisconsin Madison. They are on Twitter at @robinmgee