Do librarians struggle with work-life balance?

Work-life balance is a hot topic in all fields of work at the moment it seems, including librarianship. Many people I chat to outside of the profession are bewildered about this – don’t librarians just deal with enquiries and switch off when they’re not at the library? Well maybe some do, but none I know.

Most librarians I know do indeed spend some time doing customer facing duties such as answering enquiries, recommending resources, and teaching information literacy skills sessions. But in order to do any of these activities competently, there’s a lot of behind the scenes work that needs to go on. If we just take one of those examples of teaching information literacy, it’s not just a case of turning up and teaching. It’s a case of developing their own knowledge, refining their teaching skills (many librarians hold teaching qualifications and many academic librarians are Fellows of the Higher Education Academy), planning and scheduling sessions, preparing teaching materials, leading the session, and supporting learners after the session. Librarians also need to know their users and their needs, which often involves a lot of communication, research, and relationship management. These aren’t things that can be done easily or completed and then forgotten about; they’re constantly evolving. Much of the work of librarians is done digitally, including a lot of emails, so many don’t need to be physically located in the library to work (meaning they can take work home).

Then you take someone like me, who is a librarian, but not working in a traditional librarian role. I am part of an academic library, but much of my work is externally-funded project work. All of my work (both internal and external) is project-based, so it varies massively every day. Sometimes I’m working on fairly short projects of a few months, sometimes on longer term projects over multiple years. I’m always juggling at least 3 projects, usually many more. I teach research skills, both for my own organisation and on behalf of other organisations. I’m also an active supporter of continuing professional development (both for myself and enabling others) so am often involved in other voluntary responsibilities to support the profession. Although my work is all in the library and information sector, and supports librarians, it’s probably more similar to that of a researcher or project manager in other fields rather than that of a librarian.

So do librarians have the same struggles with work-life balance? Absolutely! I certainly do, and many of my professional contacts do too. It’s often a topic of conversation in groups I’m part of.

My top tips for better work-life balance

I thought I’d share a few tips and resources for those interested in improving their work-life balance.

  1. Learn to respect (and protect) your time – I used to volunteer for many extra things (in all aspects of my life) and was often expected to pick things up at short notice. I then used to worry about having lots of things to juggle and keeping them all on track. Fortunately, aside from my masters dissertation taking longer than initially planned, I coped OK, but I rarely got any rest time. I have slowly come to realise that down time is incredibly important for my physical and mental wellbeing, and the person in control of that time is me. As soon as I started respecting and valuing my time more, I found that others did too.
  2. Learn to say no when appropriate or necessary – as an extension to the previous point, I had to learn to say no to things when I simply didn’t have the time, or when it wasn’t appropriate for me to do something (or was more appropriate for someone else to). I found this incredibly difficult at first, but now find it much easier. I wrote one of my CILIP columns on this topic; the PDF is available: The Art of Saying No.
  3. Consider what works for you and your role in terms of working arrangements – I’m very fortunate to be working in a role that suits me well in terms of working arrangements. I work fairly independently and am trusted to organise my work to meet any deadlines. I have been working from home occasionally on an informal basis for a few years, and recently had a formal home working application approved. This gives me greater flexibility which is useful for my unusual role (with irregular days and some long distance travel), and also means I can balance things outside of work easier than when I commuted into an office a fair distance from home. I appreciate this is an unusual setup and wouldn’t work for every role or person, but I’d recommend spending time thinking about whether you could adapt the way you work in terms of hours or location (either formally or informally) to both help support the type of work you do and encourage a better work-life balance.
  4. Focus on one thing at a time – this is one I still struggle with to be honest (working from home doesn’t help here!). I find my mind constantly flitting between so many different tasks which isn’t productive. From a work-life balance perspective, I struggle to switch off from work in evenings, weekends, and whilst on leave. This means I’m not really making the most of the down time to help raise the ‘life’ side of the scale because I’m still thinking about the work things. To help combat this I find it helpful to use to-do lists to quickly capture any of these thoughts and get back to what I was doing; turn my email off my mobile devices when I’m on annual leave; and try not to sit in front of a computer during evenings/weekends. I also don’t tend to check my phone whilst I’m with family and friends to focus on enjoying my time with them. You may well have much better tips and techniques for this one – let me know if so 🙂
  5. Don’t compare yourself to others – I’m aware of the irony in including this one in a list of things I’m sharing with others as obviously these are things that have worked for me but they may well not work for you. The most important point I’d like to pass on though is this one. We’re all different people, with different demands on our time and different levels of acceptable stress. By all means discuss these matters with other people (I’ve learnt a lot that way hence wanting to write this post in case it helps others), but most importantly of all, listen to your own mind and body and do what feels right for you.

Do you have any tips for a better work-life balance? Please share in the comments if so.

Recommended resources:

Goodbye nine to five; hello work-life balance – Guardian

The restorative power of taking a few days out – Sali Hughes

You Really Couldn’t Have Had It All – Attempting Elegance

Work/life balance, stress reduction, learning, and having fun – INALJ

Links to resources on work-life balance –

Following some discussions at the CILIP in Wales Conference on leadership, there seem to be a number of people interested in reading books/articles on leadership as part of a reading group. I put together a list of any of the works mentioned from the conference and shared it as a Google Document which others have added to (and added their details if they are interested in joining in).

A few people have asked about the Library Leadership Reading Group so here are some FAQs on how I see it working.

Can I join in?

Of course, this is just a group of people interested in reading works on leadership and discussing them with others. If you’d like to be part of that, add your name to the Google Document. I’m setting this up to help encourage me to read some of the interesting books I can’t seem to find time to read, but nothing is set in stone so if you have an idea for making it better please feel free to do so.

What will it involve?

Reading the book/article over a period of time and discussing it on Twitter (or elsewhere if anyone thinks there is a better way to manage it). We’ll be using the hashtag #llrg as that’s nice and short and doesn’t seem to currently be in use for anything else. I’ve set up a public archive of tweets (edited to add v2 and v3 archives), or of course you can set up a saved search to keep track via Twitter or Twitter apps.

It’s really up to you how much you want to join in. I’m a relatively slow reader and I know we’re all busy people so I’m going to start off by allowing around two months for each book and one month if it’s an article. Of course, if the current one doesn’t interest you that’s fine, you can just join in the next one or suggest an alternative.

Can I add a title to the list to read?

Certainly – the Google Document is editable so please feel free to add to the list of resources to read.

What should I read first?

At the time of writing this blog post here are 16 resources on the list so to choose which to begin with I used a random number generator which selected number 12:

This means the first book to read will be Leadership and the New Science: Discovering Order in a Chaotic World by Margaret Wheatley. This was initially published in 1992 and has been updated since (I’m going to read the updated version). If you’d like to join in, please do so. I’m going to set a deadline of the end of July for discussing this, and it’s really up to you how you do that. You might want to write a book review, or jot down some thoughts about the book on your blog, or you might want to discuss via Twitter as you read, or when you’ve finished. I think it would be worthwhile setting a specific time to discuss it to as that seems to work well for other Twitter chats, so I’m going to say 7.30pm (UK time) on July 31st using #llrg tag.

Hope you can join us 🙂

Leadership is one of the areas I’m focusing on for my CILIP Chartership and as a result I’ve been involved in a number of different activities based on this topic. I thought it would be useful to consolidate them and share some of the key lessons I’ve learnt. These have derived from my involvement in the following activities:

Apologies in advance for what may be a very confused post, I’ve had lots of thoughts running through my head that I wanted to write down!


I'm not one of these (though I did use this in my presentation at my first library job interview!)

Well, you’re reading Joeyanne Libraryanne so I’m guessing that after reading the title of the blog post you’re thinking, “erm…. Yes, you’re a librarian! Aren’t you?”. Well I’m not so sure anymore. I’ve been mulling over a few things recently, partly due to the struggle to define what I do whenever I meet anyone, and partly because of some excellent blog posts to do with the CILIP Future Skills project which have really made me think (if you haven’t yet read Tina‘s post, A plea to CILIP, please do so – it’s excellent).

The main argument in Tina’s post is that to be a profession, we need to have skills that set us apart from other professions and define us as librarians. I totally agree. But what are our librarian skills? Well, I guess managing information is one, but isn’t that something most people do in their jobs? Then there’s understanding the needs of our users and delivering appropriate services for them – but again doesn’t that describe many jobs? So what is it that defines us as librarians?

The more I think about it, the more I doubt my identity as a librarian. All my work is involved in some way with library and information services, but does that make me a librarian? I have my qualification, but a qualification doesn’t define someone (I don’t think anyway). It definitely benefits my job that I am a qualified librarian and have worked as a subject librarian in an academic library so I can understand the needs of many of the people we work with, but you could do my job without the qualification or library experience (it’s not a requirement in my job description). Really, my job is a researcher who specialises in supporting library and information services. That’s not a librarian. So I have a slight identity crisis.

I’m heavily involved in professional organisations to support other LIS professionals (and para-professionals), as evident with my committee roles for CILIP and ALA. This year I’m an ALA Emerging Leader and I’m working on my CILIP chartership but is this the right path for me? To highlight the difference between my role and that of a librarian, here are my chosen areas for development which I’m focusing on for CILIP chartership:

  • Research skills
  • Formal communication skills
  • Face-to-face networking
  • Presentation skills
  • Event organisation
  • Project management
  • Leadership

All of these are a key part of my job role, and all are skills I develop through my committee involvement too, but when you look at them as a skill set do they say librarian to you? I don’t think so. I think that describes any academic researcher. And even the marking criteria for chartership, again they aren’t really specific to librarians:

• An ability to reflect critically on personal performance and to evaluate service performance
• Active commitment to continuing professional development
• An ability to analyse personal and professional development and progression with reference to experiential and developmental activities
• Breadth of professional knowledge and understanding of the wider professional context

Then we cross the murky waters of an information professional and what defines that. Maybe I’m not currently a librarian but I am an information professional? I’d like to think so, but again that could describe any researcher really – we all collect information, analyse information, and repackage it for our user/client’s needs. I differ from Tina in my views on this topic – I think the commonalities between librarians and information professionals mean that they should be part of one profession, whereas I know Tina feels they should be separate (and I do question whether my views are totally objective!). I think it’s interesting that in the UK we have the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals, but in the US it’s still the American Library Association. Where do information professionals fit in the US? Do they still come under ALA?

I’m still figuring out my identity, as well as working out what I want in the future. I love being part of this profession and don’t want to leave it (not for the foreseeable future anyway!), but the things I really enjoy about my job aren’t necessarily specific to this profession. I could do a lot of what I enjoy doing in a different field. I could be a psychology researcher for example, and I could still be working on developing all the areas I’m focusing on for chartership, just with a different subject context. In one sense this is probably a good thing (i.e. the skills I’m developing are transferable), but it does lead me to question where I fit. I can still see a lot of potential for things I can bring to both CILIP and ALA so I don’t plan on leaving either organisation, and I very much hope I can still gain my chartership, but I do think I need to accept that I’m a researcher specialising in library and information services, rather than a librarian.

What do you think? Does it matter?

ETA: As I’ve been drafting this post, Simon has posted on a very similar topic – worth a read.

ETA2: Previous posts of my own on similar topics – What makes a librarian a librarian? and What do I do?

I found last year’s resolutions useful in helping keep me on the right track last year, and am pleased to say I kept most of them – here’s a review:

  • Complete my MSc dissertation – finished in July
  • Attend more conferences – I attended lots of great conferences and events in 2011
  • Implement the Getting Things Done system at home and work – I seem to have this sorted for electronic information, though need to work on physical organisation of paperwork and notes
  • Participate in Library Day in the Life – I took part in both rounds of Library Day in the Life in 2011
  • Continue to blog – I posted 44 times on this blog in 2011, and also blogged for Evidence Base and for projects I’m involved in

As it was a useful exercise for helping me focus last year, so I’ve decided to set myself more resolutions/goals for this year. In common with Erin, these are general aims so cover all areas of my life.

  1. To work on CILIP Chartership (reflecting on achievements and updating wiki on at least a monthly basis)
  2. To improve physical organisation, particularly in home office – notes and paperwork etc.
  3. To achieve a more productive balance between different parts of my life ensuring I make time for professional, personal, and social activities
  4. To continue to blog about professional issues and ideas as well as reflection on activities
  5. To publish at least one paper (preferably peer-reviewed)

Bring it on!

At Online Information 2011, I presented in one of the European Librarians Theatre panel discussions. The discussions are hosted by EBSCO and SLA Europe and bring together librarians from different parts of Europe to discuss a topic and the experiences within their country. My session, ‘Everyone is talking but is anyone listening?’ focused on social media. It was chaired by Sara Batts (see tweet below), and my fellow panelists were Katrin Weller and Dennie Haye.


I think the panel discussion flowed well – there was largely agreement across the board on a number of different factors, suggesting that libraries across Europe are at a similar stage with social media (the panel had representatives from UK, Germany and The Netherlands). There were some really interesting examples from my fellow panelists – one example of Yammer being used for internal communication (in an international organisation with staff dispersed geographically), and one example of Facebook being used by a University before students arrived to help answers queries and help them begin to make friends.

The main messages I took from the session were that libraries and librarians should experiment with social media to see what works, and should aim to understand more about their users as no two libraries will use social media in the same way.

You can see the tweets from the session at the #elt2011 hashtag (thanks to @WoodsieGirl and @EBSCOUK for such comprehensive tweeting!) and there is a write up of the session on the SLA Europe website.
As mentioned before, I decided to get  information for my section of the discussion via a brief survey – many thanks to those who gave feedback. The main themes emerging from the results of this are shown below. Read the rest of this entry »

I’ve been asked to take part in a panel discussion as part of the European Librarians Theatre at Online Information next week titled ‘Everyone is talking but is anyone listening?‘. I’ve got some ideas from my own experience and conversations with others, but as I’ll be representing the views of the UK I wanted to open it out and ask you to help me.

If you work in a UK library, please complete the form below (or complete the online version) to let me know your views. The feedback is anonymous – though if you have something you are particularly proud of which you would like me to mention as an example of good practice – please feel free to include links in your response, leave me a comment on this post, or email me.

EDIT: Thanks for the responses, I have now removed the form as the panel discussion has passed.

Wow, what a day! I really enjoyed Library Camp UK 2011 yesterday, and wanted to jot down some quick thoughts from a personal perspective whilst it’s fresh in my mind.

Sarah points out the next session

One of my sessions - really enjoyed the conversation at this one

Read the rest of this entry »

LIS DREaM Launch Conference

Professor Charles Oppenheim with keynote speakers

I recently attended the LIS DREaM launch conference about developing research excellence and methods in library and information science. I wrote a blog post about my experience, but now I’ve had chance to reflect on the day I’m going to share my reflections using the basic method I learnt during 23 Things for Professional Development – what? so what? now what?

Read the rest of this entry »

I’m very fortunate to be in the position where I am able to get involved in a number of professional activities – committee work, presenting at conferences, publishing articles etc. I really enjoy these activities and like to be involved in the profession both for my own personal development and to help others; it can be very rewarding.

However, sometimes you have to say no to things. It might be something that you don’t feel capable of doing (or you know someone else could do a far better job); it might be that it’s something you’re not as passionate about as your other commitments (or maybe even something you don’t agree with or have ethical issues with); or it may simply be that you can’t fit everything in. Laura wrote an excellent post recently about prioritising activities and finding time for yourself – something I have recently come to realise is incredibly important. I’ve had to think recently about my priorities to help me manage my time effectively and ensure I have time to do the activities which are important to me, and I thought I’d reflect on this process.
Read the rest of this entry »