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Burn Out. It’s Real.

anastasia-polischuk-155084.jpg

Photo by Anastasia Polischuk via Unsplash.com

I’ve had every intention of blogging recently, particularly about ACRL (seeing as how I only ever managed to write up Part 1 of my reflections), but I just haven’t had it in me. I’ve been feeling, alternately:

  • tired
  • angry
  • disconnected
  • upset
  • sad
  • angry-sad
  • annoyed
  • overwhelmed
  • unsure
  • sad-angry
  • unsure of myself
  • uncertain about my future in libraries

If it weren’t for the last bullet point of emotion, and if the proceeding feelings weren’t all intimately tied to my work-life, I’d worry that perhaps the underlying depression & anxiety I live with and usually manage well on the daily was flaring up again. But I feel like I know myself well enough and am able to reflect enough on my feelings (thank you, therapy!) to recognize these emotions for what they are:

Burnout.

In Burnout Among Bibliographic Instruction Librarians (1996, hence the title, also: paywall), Mary Ann Affleck uses the Maslach & Jackson definition of burnout in people work, which is characterized as a

“syndrome of emotional exhaustion…loss of empathy…and a tendency to evaluate oneself negatively.”

It’s quite common among librarians and other human services workers. If you haven’t read Maria T. Accardi’s Librarian Burnout blog, you’ll find a number of stories there on the ways in which librarians suffer from, cope with, and work to stave off burnout. As with all of Maria’s writing, the blog is thoughtful and validating and gives a name to the feelings I’ve been experiencing these past few months.

The disconnect is hardest for me. I’ve always prided myself on caring deeply about my work–my colleagues, students, faculty, staff, and library overall–but lately I’ve been finding it so difficult to CARE. This difficulty is incongruous with who I feel I am as a person and a librarian. I want to care. I want to empathize and develop new ideas and plan for the future of my library and connect with people. I just don’t feel like I have it in me at this point.

This burnout is coming from six years of feeling like I’m not doing enough, like I should be doing more in my library work, service, and scholarship. It’s coming from a few years of instruction coordination and the role ambiguity that accompanies that job. It’s coming from the everyday microaggressions academia throws at librarians, women, and people of color. It’s coming from not seeing the sort of “payoff” of my work that you see when you work on tangible projects rather than “people projects,” for lack of a better word. It’s coming from feeling like teaching and teaching information literacy in particular is not valued in libraries because it isn’t new or sexy. It isn’t user experience or digital this or scholarship that or data data data (note: Please see my apology to this sentence. I didn’t want to delete it in an effort to be transparent and admit my mistake). It’s the workhorse that shares the library with campus but then doesn’t get any snacks afterwards (side note: horses snack, right?). This burnout is real, and, I think, warranted.

I have a few more months before my year-long sabbatical begins, and I’ll be honest, every day is starting to feel a bit like that cardio class you know is important to do but just can’t quite bring yourself to enjoy. I hope that this sabbatical year will be a time to center myself, reinvigorate my research and professional practice, and revive my love of libraries, and my library in particular.

How have you dealt with burnout? What advice might you have for me, or people in a similar situation? I’m all ears.

2 Comments

  1. Miranda Bennett

    Thanks for such a thoughtful and honest post (nothing unusual for you there, of course!). Instruction work in libraries is, I think, a particularly common source of burnout, for the reasons you’ve laid out, but having the same set of responsibilities year after year, especially responsibilities that are vaguely defined and mostly about interpersonal relationships, can be incredibly draining in any type of work.

    The only advice I can offer–besides just putting your head down and doing the cardio that gets you to your sabbatical–comes from my experience as a grad student and our shared love of needlecraft. I taught myself crochet while working on my PhD mostly because I desperately needed a sense of accomplishment, tangible evidence that I had done *something* with my time. It has continued to serve that purpose in my emotional life ever since and remains a reliable source of satisfaction (and distraction) when my job is giving me none. I know what a talented knitter you are, so maybe a bit of yarn therapy could help you feel a little better.

  2. Pingback: An Apology | Veronica Arellano Douglas

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