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LibParlor Contributor Reflection Series

A First Time for Everything: A Librarian’s Sabbatical Experience, A LibParlor Series, Part I

LibParlor Contributor, Jess Crossfield McIntosh, begins her series with discussing how she (and you) can prepare for a sabbatical.

Jess Crossfield McIntosh (she/her/hers) is the Public Services Librarian, Associate Professor at Otterbein University. Jess manages outreach, marketing, and public services for the library, and provides academic support to students and faculty. Her research interests include the library’s role in the community and equity in public services. In her spare time she enjoys live music (often including a banjo), traveling, British television, and her family. You can find Jess in many places online, including Twitter and LinkedIn.


Part 1: Getting Ready

Any successful project begins with a plan. Over the years, I’ve sharpened my planning skills as a library professional thanks to my other job as a mom. My menagerie includes two young daughters, a teenage stepson, a geriatric cat, and a 15-year old pug. Planning is in the cards.  

As I prepare for my first sabbatical leave, I find myself needing to hone those planning skills even further. Not to say that planning is easy. I am currently in the throes of fall semester while trying to prepare step-by-step for March. But there is very little that competes with preparing for a sabbatical for the first time. I am now five months away and revisiting my proposal (since it was approved a year ago), prioritizing, and moving forward. As an academic who came to librarianship as a second career, the growing pains have been noticeable, reasonable, but also fun. To be honest, my sabbatical has arrived at the right time as I’ve woven my way through two maternity leaves in three years and am in a place where research can be given higher priority. I was also recently promoted to associate professor, which encouraged me to revisit my research statement and connect it to my sabbatical with fresh eyes. The timing couldn’t be better and fellow Virgos can commiserate on the importance of serendipity. So here I go, sharing my experiences of preparing, completing, and reflecting on an inaugural sabbatical. In brief, my project will explore services and spaces in public libraries and how they can influence the practices of a university library as they adapt to changing demographics. These lessons will be examined through the lens of critical librarianship, the idea of librarians as advocates for social justice, equity, and inclusion. This is the first part of a 3-part series that will tackle a first-timer’s experience and I hope to offer some insight to Getting Ready. 

Finding a project and writing/submitting a proposal

Start early and be flexible. Librarians at our university are non-tenure track but can apply for a sabbatical every 15 semesters. The definition of sabbatical; “a period of paid leave granted to a university teacher or other worker for study or travel, traditionally one year for every seven years worked,” is something offered to many academic librarians but not all (hot take: it is something that more librarians should advocate for). The set rotation helps with planning since we know when our application is due and who is eligible any given year. Our sabbatical proposals are due 1.5 years prior to taking leave, so a lot can happen in that time. If you know that a sabbatical leave is at any point in your future, start a running document where you track ideas, possible contacts/partners, and types of research you want to consider. 

” If you know that a sabbatical leave is at any point in your future, start a running document where you track ideas, possible contacts/partners, and types of research you want to consider.”

Also, review the proposal form for your institution to fully understand the expectations and what types of projects you can do since every college or university is different. My university has options for project proposals in three areas; program development, professional development, and research, in addition to the expectation of presenting your findings in the semester after the leave. Talk to other librarians or faculty who’ve had successful sabbatical leaves and pick their brains about what worked and what didn’t. At the point of my eligibility, three other librarians had taken sabbatical leave so I scheduled individual meetings with them to talk about their process for determining a project, how they achieved funding, and other tips they could offer. I also reached out to faculty in other departments to gauge how the proposal would be received. Academic Affairs creates a list of sabbatical projects every semester and it was helpful to review previous abstracts that had been submitted. It was a great source of inspiration for settling on what I wanted to explore. I knew I wanted to visit certain international public libraries known for community building, service expectations, and space. I also knew I wanted to focus all my research through a critical lens and incorporate collaboration with specific campus organizations to improve the library’s offerings. I shared these concepts with my director and colleagues to settle on a proposal that worked for me and that would benefit our library. Once you’ve decided on the type of project you are going to do; you can begin the process of writing the proposal and create a list of next steps. 

Getting funding

Another aspect of sabbatical planning is consideration of how much funding you may need and where to find it. The sabbatical proposal requires a budget with request for monetary support. This was an expensive project considering the international travel. I was able to receive about half of what I needed through the sabbatical fund. I sought additional grants through the university and external organizations but ended up funding all of the travel expenses through internal opportunities; a humanities project grant and a faculty scholarship development grant. I did have an alternate project plan if I wasn’t able to secure funding for all of the travel by the end of the year. You may not need much funding depending on your project or research objectives, but it is something to keep in mind when designing your proposal. 

Project planning for the long-term

Congratulations! Your proposal is approved. Detailed project planning is next on the list and important to tackle in steps, so it doesn’t sneak up on you. So far, that has entailed creating a project management spreadsheet through Microsoft 365 Planner. This spreadsheet defines deliverables, details travel related plans, shows finalized funding, and communication between colleagues and outreach partners. My hope is that substantial planning in the semester before my leave will lessen the logistical load during my 15-week sabbatical. However, another component of being absent in the daily functioning of the library is creating a leave-plan to support your fellow colleagues in your absence. Because librarians have administrative work and duties in addition to scholarship, addressing those responsibilities is important before leave takes place. Finally, scheduling time for this work in your calendar will prioritize it and not let it fall off that endless to-do list.  

Talk about it with people

The first thing people ask you when they learn about your upcoming sabbatical is, “Oh? What will you be doing?” Prepare and practice your elevator speech so you have a quick response and get people interested in your work. Plus, it can help you refine what you want out of the process and cement your deliverables. This is also the time you touch base with potential collaborators, campus organizations, or offices so you can name them in the proposal, if necessary, and not surprise them later. Make sure your partners have a clear idea of your intentions and intended goals. I will be going abroad for about 5 weeks and visiting libraries in Scandinavia, so I am touching base with them, reaffirming my research plans, expectations, and giving travel updates.

“Prepare and practice your elevator speech so you have a quick response and get people interested in your work. Plus, it can help you refine what you want out of the process and cement your deliverables.”

I offer these tips as a person who’s just gone through the process and is coming out the other side. My next post will be from the depths of my leave as I check in mid-project from Denmark and reflect on where I sit (with clogs on).


Featured image by Annie Spratt on Unsplash


Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

The expressions of the writer do not reflect anyone’s views but their own

1 comment on “A First Time for Everything: A Librarian’s Sabbatical Experience, A LibParlor Series, Part I

  1. Pingback: Flip the Switch: A Librarian’s Sabbatical Experience, A LibParlor Series, Part II – The Librarian Parlor

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