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