Shelving service during sabbatical?

Sabbatical definitely means temporarily setting aside the day to day responsibilities of my job in the library, and lots of time to focus on my research. But what about that other leg of what’s often called the three-legged stool of academic jobs: service?

Following the standard breakdown of academic service responsibilities, which also aligns with the annual review form that my college uses for faculty, my service divides into four categories: service to the library (department), to the college, to the university, and to the profession. As a library director much, though not all, of my service to the library and college is built into the duties of my position, and while I’m out those service responsibilities have been taken over by my colleague who’s serving as interim chief. For example, I’m a member of our College Council (similar to a Faculty Senate) — since all department chairs are on College Council our interim chief has continued to represent the Library in that role. For my other college service commitments I’ve stepped aside for this semester, as is typical for faculty on sabbatical, and will plan to rejoin my colleagues on those committees once I’m back in the fall.

I kept on with a bit more of my university and professional service during sabbatical, for a range of reasons, though I did also say no to a few things (honest!). I’m affiliated faculty in the Interactive Technology & Pedagogy certificate program at the CUNY Graduate Center, which means that I teach the occasional course, advise independent study students, and work with my fellow advisory board members on program planning. While I did say no to teaching during the Spring so I could focus on my research, I’m advising one student and have gone to a few planning meetings as I’ll likely be teaching next Spring. I’ve also continued to work with my colleagues on the steering committee for the CUNY Games Network on planning for next year. I’m on the editorial board of Urban Library Journal, published by the Library Association of CUNY, and we’ve done some planning for next year, too.

In writing all of this down I see that it sounds like a lot, but truthfully I don’t feel that this service has cut into my sabbatical research time overmuch. In some ways these commitments have been easier for me to accommodate during sabbatical — often they require meetings at other CUNY campuses, and it’s been easier for me to travel around the city with my time as flexible as it is on leave. Also, because the university is spread throughout NYC many of these meetings are at the CUNY Graduate Center in Manhattan, to provide a central location from folks coming from colleges in all five boroughs. The Grad Center is only a short walk from the study room I use at the NYPL, and it’s been easy to tack on some time in the study room before or after meetings.

I’ve kept up with some professional service responsibilities during sabbatical as well, though I haven’t taken on anything new. For several years I’ve been the coordinator for the ACRLog blog as well as a member of the regular blogteam, and I’ve kept on with that during my leave. I really enjoy working with everyone on our blogteam and coordinating is typically not a heavy time commitment. While I sometimes struggle to come up with topics for my regular posts, I appreciate the prompt to keep writing, and having a deadline to blog (mostly) monthly. I’ve also said yes to a few reviewing tasks, including peer reviews for two articles and two promotion/tenure reviews. Reviewing is a fraught activity: there’s much to be said about academics who use peer reviews as opportunities to push their own agenda, tear down colleagues, or just don’t treat reviewing with the serious respect it deserves. I do try to take the time to do a thorough review. It’s important work, work that I’ve both benefitted from and for which I’ve been so grateful (especially since I’ve also had bad experiences with reviewers).

I do miss some of my service commitments: I’m fortunate that my service work right now aligns well with my interests as a librarian and scholar, and I get to work with great colleagues, too. And while it’s been nice to have the break, I hope it’ll be easy for me to jump back into this work when my sabbatical ends.

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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 

Striving for some work and some play

As is probably obvious I’m an enormous nerd, and it will not surprise you to learn that I’ve spent much of my sabbatical working on my various research projects. Which I love! But like many librarians and academics I also find it all too easy to drift into overwork, which sometimes shades into burnout. And for that reason one of my big goals for sabbatical has also been to aim for more balance between the time spent working and time spent on other, non-academic activities: fun stuff, needful stuff, and other stuff.

Sabbatical rule #1 for me is no research work on the weekends, in attempt to reverse a trend that’s been creeping up on me over the past few years as my weekdays have gotten busier and my kid’s gotten older. I’ve stuck pretty well to this one while out on leave, though to be honest this was an easy goal to hit. I’m usually able to stay out of library work — mostly email — and research most weekends during the summer; it’s during the busier academic year that I feel the temptation to grab some time on the weekends for research. There’s always more than enough to do on the average weekend between family commitments, chores and errands, and time for fun, too, so I’m hoping to carry this rule with me once I’m back in the library.

My other non-research sabbatical goals are all additive: I’d hoped to spend more time on exercise, some home organizing/improvement, social/political advocacy, reading, and gameplaying.

Exercise is, frankly, not my favorite thing, though I grudgingly admit to feeling much better when I make the time for it. I live near a big park and botanic gardens and my spouse (who works from home) and I fell into a habit of taking walks there in the late afternoon whenever the weather’s allowed, which has been lovely. I’ve also joined a karate class on Saturday mornings. It’s a small school for women and transpeople that practices a mindful karate with a focus on technique and moving at our own pace, though it’s also a workout. And having the commitment to taking (and paying for) a class has made me more motivated to keep on keeping on, for sure. I have a bike and have long wanted to be more active in riding it around the city, but I haven’t gotten far on that goal yet. It’s summer and hot, which is a deterrent, though the much-publicized NYC subway system woes might be the nudge that I need, especially once I go back to work (my commute takes about the same time if the subway is running well or if I ride my bike).

I’ve been less successful in finding more time to play games. Some of this is location-bound: my favorite games are usually console games (we have a couple of Nintendo consoles and a PlayStation3), which means that I need to be at home in front of the TV to play. But I do have a few games that I enjoy on my phone and laptop, so that’s not entirely it. Gaming is an activity that I love that’s been easier than other activities to let fall by the wayside as my work and research have gotten busier. I’m absolutely sure that this is at least partly because games seem less “serious” than, say, reading, even when what I’m reading is popular fiction, and maybe I feel a little more sheepish about playing games the older I get. But I also think I’ve fallen into a trap of feeling overwhelmed by the enormity of the videogame landscape right now (not even to mention board games!), sort of a paradox of choice situation. I did finally play through a game that I’ve had forever, so hopefully that’s the beginning of the end of my game drought (especially since I just got a new game that I can’t wait to play).

I have been overwhelmingly successful in spending more time reading on my sabbatical, which has been delightful. I like to read a range of fiction (especially speculative fiction and YA) and nonfiction (especially on education, technology, and social justice), and while I do read at least a few pages most evenings during the academic year, I’m often too tired at the end of the day to read nonfiction that’s challenging or difficult. During sabbatical I’ve tried to take lunchtimes to read something work-related, either about my research interests or higher education more broadly. But I’ve also just been doing more reading at more times, even, reading an entire book in one day like I used to when I was a kid. More time for reading has meant that I’ve generally been able to have up to 3 books in process at the same time: one fiction, one general nonfiction, and one work-related. It’s been kind of glorious.

Figuring out how to keep my momentum for rebalancing work and non-work is something I’m definitely wondering about as I look at my sabbatical coming to a close a bit later this summer. I’m grateful that I’ll still have some time before the fall semester starts to settle back in.

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!)

Sitting, stretching, and shelf number five

Before my sabbatical began I didn’t really spend much time thinking about where I’d be doing my work, especially writing or other computer-enabled work. While I live in an apartment and my spouse works from home, our kid is in school so there’s relative space and quiet for most of the day (plus cats!). I also knew I’d be spending some of my sabbatical time at my research sites — three colleges in my university — doing things like hanging up recruitment flyers and interviewing students.

It’s kind of a basic concern, but figuring out where best to work was a super important part of the early weeks of my sabbatical. In my office in the library I have a desktop computer with an adjustable desk so I can sit or stand, plus an antifatigue mat for when I’m standing. Typically I sit more on the days when I’m running around to meetings or other commitments, and I alternate standing and sitting every hour or so when I’ve got longer stretches of time in the office. I’ve tweaked my computer setup to allow me to work pretty comfortably throughout the day, avoiding carpal tunnel and other assorted body aches (sigh, aging).

Getting together a comfortable setup at home took some time. My home computer is a lightweight laptop: portable but not exactly body-friendly. My apartment has windows on the north and the south, and the light varies throughout the day. What’s ended up working best for me is to use four big books to raise the height of my laptop, and plug in an external keyboard and mouse. I usually work at the dining room table in the mornings, when the light is best there, and move to my desk in the bedroom in the later afternoons, which also happens to be when the kid gets home from school. And on the plus side, being at home has actually made it easier to remind myself to get up from the computer and stretch every hour or so.

While I do work at home many days, as I was starting my sabbatical I also realized that I’d occasionally need to find other locations for work, for example, when my kid has the day off from school. I’ve sometimes needed to go to one of the colleges at CUNY for a meeting, and on those days I’ve brought my laptop and settled in for some work in that library before or after. But most often when I’m not working at home I’ve been at the Allen Study Room in the New York Public Library on 42nd St. in Manhattan.

A colleague of mine at City Tech turned me on to this spot, and I am so glad she did. The NYPL has three study rooms that scholars can apply to use. Each room has cubicle desks (the Allen Room has 10), and each person assigned to that room gets a keycard for entrance and a shelf for materials. Books from the research collection can be paged and are delivered right to the room, and the materials can stay on your shelf for as long as your study room contract lasts. It feels super fancy using the keycard to open the carved wood Allen Room door, at the end of a long marble hallway. I am shelf #5.

Through most of the late winter and spring the study room wasn’t crowded with other researchers, though on a warm Thursday afternoon in June I got the last cube, with the somewhat crappy chair (padded, not adjustable, no wheels, as opposed to the fancier rolling ergonomic chairs). The space feels very private even though it isn’t, which I always remember when I stand up to stretch a bit. I’ve been using the room about once a week so far, but once my kid gets out of school at the end of June I expect to be there more often.

I can’t stay at the NYPL (or other non-home location) for more than a few hours, since using my laptop without an external keyboard and mouse and raised height doesn’t work for my body for very long stretches. But I’m grateful for to have access to this as a workspace, even with the 45-minute commute each way to get there. There’s lots of history for me at the NYPL generally. As a grad student in archaeology I used the print collections heavily to supplement my university’s holdings, and the final course in my MLIS was a map librarianship class taught on Saturdays in the incredible map division of the NYPL. All of this history plus the special workspace feeling help me focus in the study room, too.

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

 

The beginning of the beginning: fits and starts

Thinking back now on the first few weeks of my sabbatical I’m struck by what I don’t remember.

I remember flailing around a lot in that first month of sabbatical. As I mentioned in my first post, it’s been a big change for me to go from a very structured weekly schedule to having wide open spaces on my calendar to fill as I choose. It’s not that I’ve never had to deal with a lack of work structure before, but it’s been a long, long time since that’s been the case for more than a week or so. I am most definitely out of practice.

In a way the beginning of my sabbatical was just a bigger version of what often happens to me in the first few weeks of the summer, when the academic year has ended and projects and reports have wrapped up. Switching gears from very busy to less busy can be a challenge for me. I flail around a bit before settling on a list of what I want to accomplish over the summer and sketching out a rough plan for doing it in between vacation time and other commitments. I try to balance my wishlist of tasks with blocks of space and time to catch up on reading and thinking. And some summers (though probably it should be all summers) I end by taking stock and reflecting on what I did before heading into what I will do in the fall.

I keep a very brief research journal — really just a list of dates plus a couple of words about any research I worked on that day — and going back to consult it reminds me that I started my sabbatical by catching up on some writing that was coming due soon. I also made a Google doc called Sabbatical Plans (very literal!) with a list of all of the projects I’m working on during these six months, big and small, real and ideal. The blank page can be scary when starting a new writing project, and I felt that same fear when looking at 6 months of my (mostly) empty calendar. Starting to fill that calendar in with tentative, self-imposed deadlines helped.

It’s taken a while for me to settle into a routine, mostly because my sabbatical work is just less bound by routine than my director work is. Each day and week can vary, sometimes widely, in both what I’m doing and where I’m doing it. Some of my sabbatical work has been affected by external constraints, for example, interviewing students (which had to happen during the semester) or preparing for a talk on a specific date. Other work is less time-sensitive, like file management and CV maintenance. I update that Sabbatical Plans doc every week or so, tweaking and fiddling and adjusting and crossing off tasks as I finish them. Finding the structure in my unstructured time has in some ways been the biggest challenge of my sabbatical.