The Agony of Not Doing More

About a week ago, I was glancing over some of the blogs I use as casual PD, and a line from Teen Librarian Toolbox grabbed my attention. Here’s a link to the post, and here’s the excerpt that got me: “If we are hired for twenty hours of work but give our employers forty, there will never be an impetus to change the job from a 20 to a 40 hour position.”

If you’re a routine reader, you already know that I’m a branch librarian, heading up all programs for two small branches, in a rural system. I have two para-professional teammates who essentially hold down the forts by handling the bulk of operational duties while I focus on community-building. My libraries are deeply rooted in the small towns they serve due, in great part, to my wonderful teammates who have been serving most our patrons for several years and call them friends. They do a fantastic job of keeping the branches alive and flourishing, but it’s my role to decide how we grow. In order to figure that out, I’m meeting with school administration and media specialists, hosting events in the library, in the park, or meeting people in the community through public forums. I’m one person in charge of providing services for an area with around 30,000 people.

As a result of just answering what I see as need, I accrue comp time weekly. I’m often burnt out because I have programs every day and only around 5 hours of dedicated office time each week to plan or train or just make important calls. Since the rest of my week is spent at a public desk and I’m a pretty introverted person, I’m usually pretty tired when I come home and sometimes feel anxious just thinking about work the next day. And all of this is balanced by truly loving my work and loving the people I serve. I’m deeply rewarded by having this great of a role in the community, but it is a struggle. The impact on my personal life is not acceptable to me. Still, I’ve been keeping at it because I’m riddled by guilt over the feeling that this devotion is what my communities deserve from their library. It’s easy to think, “I should just say no,” but it’s so hard to say when you’re facing cutting back on programming or not providing outreach.

And that’s why that line of wisdom really hit home for me. I feel selfish when I consider slowing down for my own sanity…but what about the next person who fills my position? It may be traditional for the person in my position to handle this much responsibility, but as a supervisor myself, I know that I would never want anyone else to struggle the way that I do with this workload. I do not want to be responsible for these expectations being passed down to a future employee. So if I can’t do it for myself, I’m doing it for the vision of this future person. I’m slowing down and saying no because my leadership needs to know that this can’t continue. A few months ago, I brought up my desire to have a part-time helper assigned to my branches, and if I intend to prove that one is needed, I need to stop pulling the weight that no one should be expected to pull and present an accurate portrayal of what we are capable of doing.

This is going to be really difficult for me. I know that I have some hard decisions to make and I’ll have to approach every decision from now on by thinking about my work-life balance and how the added or subtracted work reflects on the responsibilities of my position. I’ll have to live with the knowledge that I closed some doors that could have been opened, and that will be the worst. But, I’ll be kinder to myself and more fair to the person who will follow in my footsteps and I think in that way, I’m making the bravest choice I can.

4 thoughts on “The Agony of Not Doing More

  1. Good for you! The image of the sacrificing librarian (tied tightly to the sacrificing woman trope) is a difficult one to step out from behind. We do love our work and communities. But when it affects our health and well-being, it is time to lay down limits and do exactly what you plan – make the case for needed assistance. Whenever I have taken steps to scale back to make the workload for staff/myself realistic, I let my Admin know that I am not playing punish to the library or community but simply re-balancing the scales. Often getting additional staff or hours takes a while…sometimes years. But in the end, the goal of better service IS met. Hang in there!

  2. I agree with Marge and am also fighting the same fight you are. I totally burnt myself out Summer of ’13 and had to “kill my darlings” so to speak. I let go of a couple of programs that I loved, but I feel so much better now that I’m focusing on just a few programs…plus all the public desk time I have…which is another story entirely.

  3. I scaled way back this fall – and am lucky that my director supported me doing that. I’m regrouping before I plan programs next winter/spring, finishing Neighborhoods, running a survey, and our library is getting RFID. (of course, then I expanded my outreach so….)

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