I have a friend who just graduated from the MLIS program at the University of Washington, and she and I had a conversation recently about how, whether when you’re in school full-time or working and in school, it can feel like all you do is eat, breathe, and sleep libraries. We work eight hours a day in a library (and maybe read a library book on our lunch break), and then go home and read some articles about libraries and work on a paper about, you guessed it, libraries. When we go on vacation, we look up if there are any cool local libraries we want to visit. For birthdays we get library swag. And I don’t think any of this is necessarily a bad thing – we picked this career, after all – but it can be A Lot.
We’re sometimes encouraged to specialize, or pick a specific area of librarianship to focus on – academic or children’s or medical or what have you. But that may even make the problem worse, because now you don’t even have the benefit of mentally switching between different areas while you study. Even when it’s a topic you like and are interested in (and I hope it is), that’s still an invitation to burnout.
So what’s a grad student to do? No, really, you tell me, because I do not have a 100% good answer to this. What I do have, though, are a couple of things that I’ve been meaning to try.
A (non-monetized) hobby. You know that thing people say when you’ve done something they enjoy? You bake a loaf of bread for the breakroom or show someone a bracelet you made and they say “Wow! You could sell that!” And it’s meant as a compliment – that you’re so good at this thing, other people would want to pay you – but as these articles point out, that sort of negates the whole point of a hobby. No one could ever fault a grad student for wanting to bring in a little extra cash, but once you start doing something to make a profit off of it, you lose the benefits of doing something just because you like doing it.
It doesn’t even necessarily have to be a classic ‘hobby,’ in the sense of taking a class or crafting or playing an instrument. When I was an undergrad, I got really into cooking for myself, I think largely because it used such a different part of my brain than the one I was using in class. Rather than writing essays or designing book covers (I was an English major with a publishing minor), I got some time to think about fractions and liquid measurements and what would store best as leftovers. I wouldn’t have thought about it in those terms at the time, but looking back on it now, I think that’s what I was doing – my brain was calling out to think about something, anything, other than homework, and that’s what it landed on.
With all that said! Here’s an article with some fun ideas for picking up a hobby as an adult if you don’t already have one. (Or, you know, feel free to borrow one of mine. I have a couple I have been seriously neglecting.)
Recognizing when you’ve done enough. Haha, this is really rich coming from me, someone who has spent an entire lifetime pretty sure she’d die if she ever got a B. But, as we point out multiple times here at HLS, particularly here, employers generally don’t care about your GPA once you have your degree, and they definitely won’t care about your grade in individual classes, and especially not on individual projects. So maybe there is a point where it’s safe to say, ‘I’ve done all I’m going to do on this paper/project/slidedeck/portfolio, and it’s going to be okay.’ And then, of course, the trick is actually stopping working on it, and going and doing something else. (Again, I’m not good at this. But I hear it’s helpful.)
Schedule Your School Day Like a Work Day. This tip brought to you by the internal screaming I let out at our last work professional development day, where a manager of a different area (not mine, thank goodness) thanked her staff on-camera for meeting as a committee outside of work hours. No! I thought immediately. Do not do this! And do not expect it of others! Work time is work time and personal time is personal time, and the two do not mix! But again, this is easier said than done, right? Especially for grad students. What isn’t work? Paid or volunteer library work you do (or even paid or volunteer work you do in a different field) all might become relevant later for a class project or blog post. Or, vice versa, a class project might expand and become something you implement at a current or future job. Those clear delineations between ‘I’m at work when I’m at work’ and ‘I’m at home when I’m at home’ start to look real blurry when you work, study, and live at home, too (hi, pandemic year 3!)
Wherever possible, though – and I touched on this a little bit in bullet point #1, and also I just really love calendars – it may be healthy to block out ‘school time’ on your calendar, and not let ‘school time’ bleed into other parts of your day. If (at least in the U.S.) we generally consider ‘full-time’ to be 40 hours per week, are full-time students actually spending 40 hours per week on schoolwork? More? Less? Not that those times need to be consecutive, or organized into five-day work weeks, but some structuring of time like this may be a helpful way to frame it.
What I really keep coming back to is the idea that work (or school) won’t love you back. Paige said it better in her post, so I’ll quote her here: “Just because you love your library’s community or find pleasure in your work does not mean you’re undeserving of adequate income, benefits, time off, a healthy workplace environment, and basic autonomy over how your work gets done.” May we all take that energy of advocating for ourselves as full people into the new year.
Lauren Bauer is a student in San José State University’s MLIS program, the associate editor of Hack Library School, a library technician at a Los Angeles community college, and a very enthusiastic amateur trombone player. She tweets about books, Star Wars, and Star Wars books @darthbookworm3.