Day 3 of the Return

Oh. My. Goodness.

How did the time go by so fast?

I am certain that EVERYONE asks this question at the end of sabbatical. Six months ago I felt like time was endless and I couldn’t see my way past the first few days. I fell into a routine and sought to balance work with play. I cherished time with my family and tried to preserve quiet moments for myself. But as I embarked on my final few weeks, I did everything in my power to ignore all things work. I think I was fairly successful, especially since my email is looming as I write this.

Today is my third day back at work. I feel relaxed and softer. I am centered and focused. And I cannot get my mind off this pair of tweets from my colleague Joan Petit*:



Does forgetting your computer login count? JK! I thought this was so insightful and am wondering how I will feel after I’ve been back in the library for a couple of weeks.

Right now my first priority is trying to catch up on email. I am sure that everyone has their own preferred plan for handling the deluge of email that continues to pile up while on sabbatical. Since I was serving as incoming chair of the ACRL Instruction Section, I tried to keep up with messages that needed my immediate attention but I have to admit that the last two months I have ignored more than usual. I kept telling myself, “Surely that can wait a few more weeks?” Yesterday and today I’ve spent time categorizing email more than answering anything. If I owe you an email (or two!) I am hoping to be caught up by the end of next week. I wonder if a future guest writer for this blog will have advice I could’ve used today!

The other goal I had this week was to catch up with colleagues. This was an interesting aspect of sabbatical that I was warned about early on – deciding how much you want to engage with colleagues while formally away from work. Some choose to schedule brief meetings or informal lunches to try and keep caught up on major events. I suppose this is because we all realize that the day-to-day activities of our libraries can change quite a bit over the course of several months. Another colleague told me that for her to fully immerse into her sabbatical, she choose to forgo those get-togethers and stay off-campus entirely. I choose this route and I was glad I did. It’s too easy for me to let the little things consume too much time in my head. Coming back to my office after months and months made it feel new and familiar at the same time. (I’m daydreaming about some decorating changes to emphasize this for myself.) Running into colleagues in the hallway has been fun, too. I had lunch with one of my favorite colleagues today and it was good to catch up on our personal lives and work. As an aside, I can see this look on a few colleagues faces that makes me wonder if they are thinking, “I will give her a few more days but I need to remember to ask her about X very soon.” 

What I wasn’t prepared for were the number of colleagues that would leave for new positions while I was gone. While I was alerted to their decisions via email, I didn’t get to say goodbye in person and there is some emotional pain in that reality. One colleague had been a mentor to me since I was in library school, over a decade of my professional life. There are pockets of emptiness in my heart for those folks.

But there are also many new faces! I taught a welcome session for new librarians, visiting residents, and new graduate students form the iSchool yesterday and that was heartwarming. Lots of welcoming smiles in the audience and I remembered again how much I enjoy sharing myself with new colleagues. And teaching!

My to-do list is growing … and one of my top priorities is to work with Maura to invite guest writers to examine other aspects of their sabbaticals. There are many topics to explore and out hope is that this blog will serve as a planning and reflection device for those who are dreaming of and planning and recovering from librarian sabbaticals. You will soon see us reaching out over a few listservs and we hope if you are reading this that you will consider reaching out. I know there are many sabbatical librarians out there but we couldn’t find much in the way of discussion when we started this journey last winter. 

My last sabbatical lobster in Rockport, MA. 

Next up: Recovering from sabbatical 

*Joan is Associate Professor and the Communications and Outreach Librarian at Portland State University Library in Portland, Oregon. Her sabbatical sounds so much cooler than mine was – she was a Fulbright Scholar at Jimma University in Ethiopia. She will be a guest writer for this blog soon.

Vacationing while on sabbatical 

To some it may sound a little crazy to schedule a vacation during sabbatical, after all isn’t a sabbatical like one long vacation?
At least that’s what an unnamed family member thinks I’m doing. 

Actually, I have been working like crazy and my mind is in constant motion about all kinds of librarian-ing that was so much harder to do while I had daily responsibilities. For example, what are my new research goals now that I have passed the tenure benchmark? What does it mean to be an instruction librarian in a post-Framework profession? How do I want to re-envision my contributions to librarianship? How can I contribute anew to my library and support my colleagues? How am I going to keep the fresh sabbatical feeling??

But right now I am on vacation. I left behind all of my sabbatical work and have been trying to keep from thinking about work because I am scheduled to be back in the library in six weeks. [My sabbatical technically ends mid-July but I added a month of vacation.] I called the cat sitter, finished a crazy deep clean of all the closets and drawers, and planned a new crochet project since I finished my sabbatical blanket (yay!). Then my family and I packed up and hit the road. Since I grew up near the sea, I cannot seem to go many months without a re-charge of salty air and lobster and chowder (as more commonly known by is Mainers as lob-sta and chow-da) and sand in my toes. We are visiting family, taking in a few baseball games (have I told you I slipped to 8th place on my fantasy baseball team?), enjoying a few art museums, lazying on several beaches, and catching up on those deep family conversations that come easy from extended time in the car together. I have talked my daughter into a few cribbage games and she’s taught me a new game on my phone. My husband will be heading home early to finish an art project as my daughter and I will spend a few days exploring the northern coast before she starts her senior year. 

But I have done a bit of work, too. This isn’t unusual for me. When an idea strikes, and so many have the past few days, I like to work them through my process as soon as possible. That usually means typing on my phone while the room is quiet and dark after everyone else has fallen asleep. This post for one, a few emails and a conference paper review for two, and three an article idea I have been ruminating on for months. I am so excited about this article! It is the first piece of writing that isn’t part of my traditional research agenda. It is based on an idea that I presented at a conference awhile back. I have always seen writing as something enjoyable but when it comes to getting tenure the academic writing process is mostly about how many words I can get done over the weekend. The words come harder when you have to force them. And writing for tenure is sometimes forced, mostly because there isn’t time to slow down. Some days I really wished that a tenure clock could be determined by my own cycle but then why would we ever finish, eh? Tick tock. 

When I wrote for tenure, I fell into a rhythm – one project idea in the works, one project in the planning or data collection stage, one project in the writing stage, one project in the submission phase, and one article waiting to come to publication. This was safe advice I was given early on in my career and I tried to stay on that course because I learned that it was the easiest way for me to stay engaged. 

On sabbatical, the writing process evolved a bit because there was less time pressure. And for the most part, I wasn’t adhering to deadlines so if I wanted to work on that piece instead of this piece, I could. Or I could put it down and watch Netflix instead. But this paper is different and my whole writing process has been upended. In a good way. Maybe an excellent way. I don’t know how others approach writing so maybe it’s worth sharing with you?

This may sound elementary but I always start writing at the beginning of a project. Because I don’t know when an idea will strike, I keep a note file on my phone where I can jot phrases or copy citations or mark articles to read. Sometimes I ask myself questions because isn’t that the best part of research? Once I have gathered data and processed it, I start to write my article/book chapter/conference proceeding/etc. Maybe this seems obvious to you but it didn’t to me when I started. I am a logical, start-at-the-beginning type of person, When I sit down to write, I start with the introduction. Not exact sentences but phrases and ideas I want to make sure to include. Then I write the methodology in its entirety and I don’t think about anything else until I know that it’s inclusive of my entire process. Then I write the results and start framing the discussion section. Next I pull together a literature review from my notes and my previous reading and do the final reading necessary to fill in the blanks. Again, I don’t move forward until this part is done. The final part for me is done in usually one to two writing sessions where I write the entirety of the discussion and conclusion together. And finally I go back to the introduction for refinement and brainstorm a title (I am the worst at titles and am always bugging my colleagues for better ideas). I have fussed with this strategy but I have found this works for me and when I am collaborating (which I do frequently), I do my best to adapt and accommodate my partner’s preferences but it isn’t always easy since I know what works for me. As for timing, my writing process usually takes only two to three weeks and this is by design because when I am writing all I can do is think about writing. Everything in my life is put on hold – my husband feeds me, my daughter does laundry, and I sleep very little. My final step is to ask a trusted colleague(s) to read and comment. I find this is the most valuable part of the process for me and I have been known to completely re-construct an article after reviewing comments. I want constructive criticism on my writing, I am not hurt when someone suggests to go in a different direction or delete a paragraph or change a title. Constructive criticism has made me a much better writer and I am so glad I have a few trusted people in my life that will go there with me. 

So how is this time different? I have been constructing this article in my head and on paper for over a month already. I have sentences and phrases in one document without any structure yet. I have been working in fits and starts and it’s always in the back of my mind. The idea for the article isn’t anything I have written on before and it has no actual research to report. It is just me and my experience and my ideas. I talked it through backwards and forwards with my husband (or as he would say, around and through the problem) and he rarely engages with me this deeply in my work. I cannot tell you how it is going to turn out just yet and I have not decided where I want to send it for review. I am hoping to finish it before I go back to work but that’s the only deadline I have for myself. I will keep you posted. 

Back to my vacation: we move to the next destination tomorrow and I am looking forward to the change in scenery again. Being on vacation has been different from sabbatical time, mostly because I have left home but also because I have allowed myself to disconnect not only from thinking about librarianship but also the (depressing!) news about the Illinois budget

Thanks for joining Maura and I on our sabbatical journeys. We hope if you have ideas you’d like to see us address in a future post that you’ll leave a comment. 

Next :: Ending a sabbatical 

Illinois sabbatical application process

Note :: Since next week is a holiday, I’m posting twice this week. 

I would like to share the details of the Illinois sabbatical application process. I fully recognize that your institution may do this much differently. Feel free to share your experience in the comments or on Twitter #librariansabbatical. Also, if you’re interested in the details of my research agenda, be sure to read “Unturning all the stones.

The University of Illinois Statutes, at Article IX, Section 7, provide that a member of the faculty who has the tenure system title/rank of professor, associate professor, or assistant professor “. . . may be granted a sabbatical leave of absence with pay for the purpose of study, research, or other pursuit, the object of which is to increase the faculty member’s usefulness to the University.” (Section 7.a.)1 [From Communication #19]

Librarians at Illinois have to follow campus policy for sabbatical leaves in the same way that we follow campus policy for the tenure process. Learn more at Illinois Communication #19: Sabbatical Leaves of Absence.

You can read the University of Illinois’ “Guidelines for Sabbatical Leaves of Absence” and access the current sabbatical application form.

I shared my part of the sabbatical application in a previous post. There is more to my application – the review portion written by my colleagues and a recommendation from my dean. For privacy concerns, I’m not allowed to share the expanded application. In fact, I haven’t even seen it! Similar to our tenure process, some parts of the application aren’t shared with the candidate (for example, I don’t know who wrote nor did I see the external tenure recommendation letters).

There are several requirements of the sabbatical narrative: describe the potential significance of the proposed research; disclose and justify the sabbatical location; identify the potential usefulness to university duties; explain how leave will contribute to the library and better serve the State of Illinois or the nation. I didn’t need to include a CV or list of publications or a research statement.

A few details about sabbaticals: We aren’t allowed to work toward a graduate degree while on leave (although several of my colleagues are working towards a PhD during their full time work schedule). Sabbaticals do not need grant funding to be approved.It is also my responsibility to identify funds if I need any to complete my research ahead of time or I wouldn’t be reimbursed. Also, I must stay at the university for one year after I return from leave, otherwise I will be required to pay back the entire salary I was paid during my sabbatical. I am also not allowed to take on other employment.

While we have approximately 90 librarians at Illinois, each librarian applying for sabbatical is responsible for identifying colleagues to cover their daily job responsibilities while they are gone. I know of some libraries that are able to hire temporary librarians to cover sabbatical or other types of leave but that is not the case at Illinois. Since going on sabbatical is part of our culture, most colleagues will do their best to make time to cover for their colleagues so that the favor can be returned at some point. I didn’t have any trouble finding coverage but I did spread out my daily responsibilities among several people, some with larger jobs than others.

Once I drafted my application, it was forwarded to our Central Public Services division.* My tenured colleagues in the division were responsible for reviewing my narrative and providing advice on how to improve my research plan. Much of the advice was salient and easy to fix. One piece of the advice I received focused on how many interviews I should do as part of my proposed research project. In my mind I was thinking about extremely in-depth faculty mentor interactions covering expectations of their undergraduate researchers and uncovering student (un)preparedness for all things related to information literacy skills. It was suggested that I add a few more interviews to my research. At first I felt like that would be too many to accomplish during my six month time, but after some thought, I realized that I wasn’t expected to finish the entire project while on sabbatical but I am expected to do solid research. So I took their advice and increased my number of interviewees.

Once my division colleagues approved my narrative, they ranked all of the applications in the division (I cannot remember exactly how many there were at the time – three? four?). Ranking is important because the library cannot always afford to send everyone who applies for sabbatical during the same time period. The dean is responsible for choosing among all of the applications that are put forward by the divisions and the campus unit is not permitted to send more than 10% of the faculty on sabbatical at any one time. It should also be considered that sabbaticals may overlap but not everyone leaves and returns on the same day. I’m not aware of anyone being turned down by the library but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened for one reason or another.

After the division process is complete, my sabbatical application and the Central Public Services paperwork went to the dean. The dean has the final say of whether or not my application should “leave the library” and be forwarded to the Board of Trustees. All of our sabbatical leaves must by approved by the Board of Trustees upon recommendation of the President of the University. I’m not aware of any sabbatical applications being turned down by the dean or BoT but maybe that has happened? I wasn’t comfortable planning for my sabbatical until I read the minutes from the BoT meeting.

I earned one month of full paid leave for each year I worked as a tenure track librarian. My time as a visiting professor (2006—2009) did not count. After working for six years, I was eligible for either one year at half pay or one half year at full pay. I don’t know anyone who can live off half their salary and I’m no exception! If I wanted to, I could have worked for three more years in order to take 9 months of leave and many of our librarians do choose to do that.

[Note: there are a few examples of librarians being awarded a research leave, not a formal sabbatical process, while they are at the assistant rank. This is usually an informal process and granted to a librarian that has been working towards tenure and is in their final push towards tenure and has a large project to finish in a short amount of time. However, it doesn’t happen very often and my understanding is that there must be extenuating circumstances because it is possible to formally request two year-long rollbacks for personal reasons that extend the timeline towards tenure.]

Since I submitted my sabbatical application while my tenure case was under consideration, my paperwork was held at the campus level until that process was finalized instead of discussed at the usual March Board of Trustees meeting. I was informed of my approved leave by the Assistant University Librarian (AUL) for Research who is in charge of managing the overall library sabbatical application process. I also received a formal letter from the campus detailing my leave responsibilities as a tenured professor.

At the completion of my sabbatical, I am required to write a brief (2 pages) report to the dean detailing a description of my sabbatical activities, state where my sabbatical occurred, and the overall significance to me personally as well as to members of my field. As far as I know, this paperwork never leaves the library and the campus administration nor the BoT ever see it.

What does your sabbatical application process look like? Volunteer to write a guest post or write a comment below.

If I missed your question, be sure to ask in the comment section.

*- Central Public Services is one of eight divisions in our library. Our tenure and sabbatical processes are filtered through a review process of our tenured colleagues in those divisions.

Next time :: Taking a real vacation while on leave (no post next week!)

Looking for sabbatical advice

Every time I mention to a family member or friend I’m on sabbatical, I inevitably hear some version of, “It must be so great to have all that free time!” or “Where are you going?” or “You academics have it so easy, taking time off from work with pay!”

My first reaction is embarrassment. I realize that most people don’t get an opportunity to leave their work space for the primary purpose of rejuvenating. My second reaction is insecurity. Is my plan “good enough” to justify the time away? How will my results compare to my colleagues? My third reaction is anger. I earned my time away and it’s a benefit built into the structure of my position at the university – I shouldn’t have to make excuses for that. But in talking with folks outside academia, I find myself doing it anyway. My final reaction is exhaustion. I have so many hopes and plans for my sabbatical time, will I ever be able to get it all done? Especially the fun plans like finishing a “sabbatical” crocheted blanket or cooking dinner more often for my family like I used to before I was hired on the tenure track or reading for pleasure or calling a cousin I don’t get to talk to often enough.

Since my sabbatical was only scheduled for six months and my daughter is about to enter her senior year in high school, I wasn’t able to do anything fancy like apply for a visiting scholar position overseas or escape to a faraway place to do my writing but that doesn’t mean I didn’t want to make space for some adventure. I’m looking forward to telling you about that in a later post.

SabbaticalBlanket2The hardest part about being on sabbatical is making a schedule for myself. I’m used to being tightly scheduled and I’ve always been an “If you want something done ask a busy person” kind of librarian. I still don’t have any great advice about scheduling your time, maybe I will in retrospect (reminder to self: come back to this question a few months after I return). But now it’s more like when I was home with my daughter when she was little — long stretches of time with nothing to do.

Haha! Just kidding. Actually you know I have a ton to do.

The first part of my agenda was to finish off several smaller writing tasks so I could clear my head and my time for my sabbatical project.

– Complete final draft of the “Global Perspectives on Information Literacy” white paper and send to ACRL editors for the publication process. Prepare to present with chapter authors from all over the world at the ACRL 2017 conference in Baltimore.

– Write a blog post with Catherine Fraser Riehle on a recent research project examining scholarly communication perceptions and understanding among undergrads for the LSE Impact Blog.

– Finish my book chapter with Michelle Reed for my co-edited volume, Undergraduate Research and the Academic Librarian: Case Studies & Best Practices, (with Stephanie Davis-Kahl) and send the entire manuscript to ACRL for the final publication process. (Expected fall 2017)

– Collaborate with Emma Coonan on an article for Communications in Information Literacy. We were invited by an editor to write about how to generate enthusiasm for a research project and how that translates into writing a successful journal article.

Whew! I know, right? I had a ton on my plate and this is a lesson learned for me. I took on more than I could handle before leaving for sabbatical so I wasn’t able to start with an entirely clean schedule, which would have been more rewarding. But who doesn’t overestimate what they can handle in a specific amount of time? If you’ve figured it out, we would like to invite you to write a guest post for this blog.

One thing I did do during the planning process was search for advice from those who have taken sabbaticals. I couldn’t find much written by librarians so I turned to the higher ed literature — I wanted to learn from those who “sabbaticalized” before me so I wouldn’t waste time making common mistakes.

Here’s a few of the more salient pieces I found. If you know of others, please post in the comments below.

Five Steps to a Successful Sabbatical by By Chris Tachibana

Going on Sabbatical by Lee Tobin McClain

How to Enjoy a Sabbatical by Sybil L. Holloway

Coming to Terms with My Sabbatical by Michele Mendelssohn

The Dirty Little Secret of Sabbatical by Susannah B. Mintz

Follow us on Twitter: #librariansabbatical

Next :: The sabbatical application process


Tears, cribbage, baseball, and a butterfly

What did I do the first month of sabbatical?

I know what I *had* been planning in my mind for months: start a new yoga program, clean out the fridge and make some homemade meals, KonMarie my house, Project 333 my wardrobe, catch up on my movie list, plan a vacation with my daughter, and read at least a handful of fun books. (Goodness, I miss pleasure reading! I’m so tired of reading for work that I gravitate towards spending free time playing with our cats or challenging my family to a game of dominoes). 

But in reality, I spent the first week working. Since my sabbatical started on January 16th, I thought I would use the quiet campus time to catch up and prepare before and after the holidays. But nope – that didn’t happen for a million reasons. I had so much work to finish in order to prepare my colleagues to do my job while I was gone. I have quite a few day to day responsibilities including managing a really busy open workshop program, the Savvy Researcher. We teach over 60 different workshops each semester that reach over 2,500 students per year. We have librarians, graduate assistants from the iSchool, and campus partners that teach as part of this program so there are a lot of folks and details to manage. While I made the schedule before I left, I wanted to also make sure that the person covering for me would be able to handle any type of crisis that might arise, especially since I didn’t particularly want to be pulled in while I was trying to sabbaticalize. 

The entire first week I spent in my office, plugging away and refining instructions and FAQ for my colleagues. There are almost 10 people in total covering for me! I wanted to make their job as easy as possible. I drafted an outline for each responsibility that included anything I thought might arise, campus contact info, important dates, and draft language for specific emails that would need to be sent. Did I go overboard? Maybe. But I’m hopeful that everyone is doing alright and I haven’t heard from anyone that I didn’t expect to. Quick! Throw a shoe over your shoulder! (a Czech expression for good luck)

Once I got home after that first week, total and complete exhaustion set in. Do you remember how you felt on November 9? I do and I pushed down all those feelings and moved forward at a frantic pace because I had too much to do. But now that I was alone in my house with three cats and my email notifications turned off, the emotional pain set in. And I cried. Seriously, I cried for days. As soon as I would drop my daughter off at school the waterworks set in. I cried for our country, I cried for feeling like I didn’t enjoy the past eight years enough because I was preoccupied with tenure, I cried for the time I missed with my daughter while I was writing on the weekends, I cried for my husband who learned how to cook in the past decade or we would’ve starved, I cried for the cat I lost during my last days of graduate school but didn’t have time to mourn because I was too dang busy trying to get a job at Illinois, I cried for the tough days I experienced learning how to deal with library politics, I cried for the constant back pain I had been battling from a car accident in the late 90’s, and I cried because I hadn’t been doing normal family activities because there was never enough time in a day. I did get it all out, eventually. But man, it was a rough (and cathartic!) time for me. Looking back I can see how much I needed that time for myself just to think and breathe. Perhaps most importantly, I am also now committed to going back to work an evolved person. 

The next few weeks I spent sleeping and watching TV and hanging out with my family. My daughter grew up so fast! She’s entering her senior year in high school and has been super busy with cross country and friends and homework. I taught her how to play cribbage so I could get her to hang out with me for an uninterrupted period of time without her phone. For the past three years, my husband has been working on a mechanical butterfly for Art Prize (he is a sculptor for a local company that builds museum exhibitions) but I hadn’t really looked at it. We talked about his art and our family and our goals. It was a wonderful time for the three of us. butterfly

I went to Virginia Beach to visit my mom. She moved there last year after having lived in South Carolina for almost a decade. I’ve been missing my mom and we only get to see each other a handful of times each year. We went to the beach, shopping, and she’s the one that taught me how to play cribbage. 

Looking back on the past few months, one of the most fun decisions I made in the first month was agreeing to fill a spot on my friend John’s fantasy baseball league. As a die-hard Red Sox fan, I have been known to watch/listen to baseball most days during the season and I’ve been meaning to fill gaps in my knowledge of the game. I’ve been having the best time – from the draft to today where I’m vacillating between 4-7th place (out of 12). Not bad for the newbie in a league who’ve been playing together for many years. 

That first month went by way. too. fast.

All this to say, if you are planning to take a sabbatical, give yourself some space at the beginning. The main purpose of a sabbatical is to rejuvenate yourself – whatever that means for you. 

Next :: How I fill my days and a few side projects 

Unturning all the stones

I began to fantasize about sabbatical when I was preparing my tenure papers in 2015.  I had been working towards tenure for what felt like forever. I was hired in 2006 as a visiting librarian and in order to prove I could work at the level necessary, I treated my position as if I were a tenure track librarian. This meant that I began a research agenda, took regular research time, published several articles, book chapters, and conference proceedings, and searched for ways to contribute to national service. Getting tenure at Illinois means that we have to meet all the same standards as disciplinary faculty across campus and our tenure dossiers are reviewed by a campus committee. (If you’re interested in the details of our process, you can review more here.)

My visiting position was renewed several times until I hit the max at three years. At that point the library had to run a search because of the manner in which I was hired (I had applied for another position that I didn’t get so the library could hire me into a visiting position without an entire search process but that meant I would have to apply for my job just like any candidate when the time came). Once I was hired into a tenure track position (2009), and since we were off cycle (it was October), I was given the option to choose a 0Y appointment instead of a 1Y appointment (the tenure process is six years long and measured in Y’s as in 1Y, 2Y, 3Y – with 6Y being the year awarded tenure). Several of my colleagues advised against this because they felt I had already accomplished quite a bit towards tenure. However, I choose 0Y because my daughter was just entering elementary school and I felt the extra ten months to prepare my tenure dossier would be time well spent. (For the record, I don’t regret that decision.)

So, in essence but not technically, I had been working towards tenure for the past ten years.

In our library, and probably like most with a tenure system in place, we try to protect the untenureds from too much administrative work so the focus can be on research (at least I hope your administrators are trying to do that!). Once you’re promoted, however, we all realize that there is work that will be assigned: standing in for others on sabbatical, agreeing to be interim-whatever in order to fill a gap in our faculty, serving on tenure and promotion committees, running search committees, and much more. I knew this. I also knew that most of my colleagues usually wait a few years after getting tenure to apply for sabbatical or would have requirements in their positions that kept them temporarily from applying for a sabbatical. I also understood that it was unusual in our culture for anyone to apply for a sabbatical at the same time as putting forward a tenure dossier. But I also knew my colleagues would support me and I was TIRED (can I tell you more about that at a later date?) A final note – it is common for teaching faculty on our campus to apply for a sabbatical immediately after being granted tenure so in that way, this was not unusual.

In another post, I will talk about the ins and outs of the sabbatical application process in more detail. For now, I want to share how my research agenda developed over time and how I designed my sabbatical project.

For the first three years while I was in visiting status, I explored several research ideas. I had varied interests and in my position as an instruction librarian, I had lots of options that would tie into my daily work. At Illinois, we are encouraged to consider tying our research to our librarianship but not all of us approach the tenure process in this manner. In fact, we do have a couple of librarians that do research related to their PhD work instead of librarianship related issues.

That being said, I dipped my toes into research related to teaching and outreach of ESL students and distance learners. I collaborated with a few of my colleagues as well as wrote several pieces with graduate assistants from the iSchool that I supervised. It was interesting enough to me but nothing cutting edge or terribly exciting. I did have one major stumbling block: similar to many of my colleagues, I had a terminal degree of Master of Science with no real research component required. I also didn’t do formal research as an undergrad. To say the whole process was intimidating was an understatement. I was required (and wanted!) to do REAL research and do it well and while I had some guidance from an assigned mentor team of two senior librarians, their job wasn’t to teach me how to do research.

So how did I turn that corner? I got lucky, honestly. (Or maybe life is serendipitous?) One of my colleagues, Sarah Shreeves (University of Miami) and I had been talking about a unique undergraduate research program on our campus, the Ethnography of the University Initiative. As the coordinator of our institutional repository and scholarly communication program, she had interest in seeing students submit their work into the IR and she came to me to talk about the instructional component of this outreach. I had been serving as the liaison to EUI for three years at this point and I was excited by the prospect of working with students as content creators. From there, as they say, one thing led to another.

And it snowballed quickly. Sarah and I collaborated with Stephanie Davis-Kahl (Illinois Wesleyan University) to investigate libraries’ commitment to supporting undergraduate research. We had an excellent response rate, near 40%, so we knew we were onto interest within our community on what eventually became referred to as the “Intersections.” As we mapped out our agenda, we began to talk about other stakeholders who might care about students and information literacy and scholarly communication including campus coordinators of undergraduate research programs, students, and faculty. We wrote two articles together and I wrote three additional for a total of five for me in this research area specifically. Stephanie and I co-edited an ACRL volume on the intersections of IL and SC and I looked for ways to contribute to the conversation through national service. I won’t go into all the details here since you can look at my CV, but suffice it to say, I took my colleagues’ advice seriously – I worked tirelessly to tie all of my daily work together.

{As a side note, if you’re reading this while on the tenure track – one of the best things things that happened to me was finding like-minded colleagues that were willing to mentor me through the research process several times. They helped me think through research questions, design surveys, analyze data, and improve my writing. I am forever indebted to Sarah and Stephanie who not only were excellent colleagues but are now my dear friends.}

By the time I had to sit down and write my librarianship, service, and research statements, I had quite a bit to draw from to construct a narrative that reflected our campus strategic plan to support undergraduate research, a commitment that was re-emphasized by campus leadership in the middle of my tenure process.

But there were still stones left unturned in my mind. My research led me to new questions . . . when doesn’t it?

To perform an ethnographic study of faculty mentors of undergraduate research programs examining their information literacy expectations for students, which impacts effective library instruction programs; and to design pilot instructional materials and complete scholarly journal articles and/or conference presentations. (From my sabbatical application, 9/24/2015)

Throughout my research, I explored several perspectives on information literacy and undergraduate research: librarians, students, and campus coordinators. I also worked with a past GA on instruction with primary resources and archival literacy. However, there was a giant missing piece – talking with faculty mentors about their information literacy perceptions and expectations for students participating in undergraduate research. With the implementation of the ACRL Framework (I served on the task force that developed the Framework), I also had an interest in talking with faculty about some of the concepts presented in the frames. 

From my perspective, this all seemed like excellent timing. The fourth and final piece could be covered during a sabbatical and when I returned I could write a summary piece that pulls all of this research together. Maybe I’ll take my message on the conference circuit?

My initial research questions:

  • What expectations do faculty mentors have for students related to information literacy as they enter an undergraduate research program within their discipline?
  • What are faculty mentor perceptions of information literacy? How does this align/not align with librarians’ understanding?
  • How do faculty mentors perceive student preparedness throughout the research cycle including conducting literature reviews, information management skills, and the knowledge necessary to publish and share their work?
  • What successes do faculty mentors report in student use of library research tools and services?
  • Where are the areas for collaboration between faculty mentors and librarians within information literacy instruction and undergraduate research curriculum?

You can read my entire sabbatical application here.


Next time :: My first month on sabbatical – what did I do?

dlhNote :: As you’re reading my posts about the tenure process at Illinois, you may have questions that I didn’t address. It is true that Illinois is stringent in its tenure processes and if you’d like to learn more, you can review our documentation (which is quite thorough!). I’m also happy to answer questions through the comments below or your can email me at mhensle1[at]

Image: My daughter, now aged 17

Day One of 134

Someone told me just before I left that you want your sabbatical to be long enough that you get bored.

mkh_1I am on sabbatical. I have been for 134 days. 

It took me until passing the halfway mark to admit this idea wasn’t going away. Everyone told me I should just enjoy the time and not take on anything extra. But I’ve learned that if I can’t get an idea out of my head, I should just give in. And besides, I have all kinds of things to tell you.

When I started my career at Illinois as an instruction librarian in 2006, I never imagined I would get to this point. There was too much work to accomplish to get tenure. Librarianship. Service. Research. The days blended together and I lost sleep, didn’t eat particularly well, abandoned my exercise routine for precious time with my family. As I settled into the routine of academic life, the only thing I could think about was, “How am I possibly going to be able to finish everything this week AND do email?!?”

And the rumors are true – working at Illinois is stressful. My colleagues all work at a very high level in their areas. They are successful in securing high profile grant funds, are recognized by awards at astonishing rates, and set the highest bar for all areas of librarianship. I am frequently bombarded at conference with questions about our collective work. The expectations are extraordinarily high.

I wasn’t prepared for a research agenda and I didn’t know how to say, “no.” I didn’t know how to ask for help or even who to ask. I realized pretty quickly that my highly rated graduate education didn’t take me far enough in being prepared for my first position. And to make matters even more complicated, instead of reassuring me with practical application my graduate assistantship taught me just enough to be perpetually unsure of myself and overwhelmed for the days to come.

Anyone who knows me knows that I compensated by taking on too much. I overcommitted in my daily work, I volunteered for too much service, and my aspirations for my research far exceeded my capabilities. All the while trying to be a supportive wife and mother. And daughter. And friend.

No one was more surprised than me when my dean called to say I had been promoted to associate professor. I mean, I knew I had made it. But I was still surprised. Not because my colleagues supported my promotion dossier but because looking back over the past ten years, I couldn’t recount for you how I made it. But I do know that I took it one day at time and I plugged away. I asked a ton of questions. I leaned on a few of my amazing colleagues. And my family.

Here I am. More than halfway through a six month sabbatical (with a month of vacation tacked on for good measure!) and I have so much to say. Maybe it’s the result of too many days by myself, circling an empty house with too much on my mind. Someone told me just before I left that you want your sabbatical to be long enough that you get bored. I’m reasonably sure that’s not going to happen for me, especially since Maura and I have decided to start a sabbatical blog.

So, what now?

I don’t have all the answers. I never have. But I do like to reflect and I do enjoy sharing. And I have learned that I enjoy writing. I used to keep a journal in my teenage years and throughout my twenties. I’d like to explore that part of myself again.

Maura will be here in the next week or so and I will see you again in a few days.

Merinda Kaye Hensley

Merinda’s U of Illinois profile

Next time :: Outline of Merinda’s sabbatical project and how it came to be