LibParlor Contributor Reflection

Flip the Switch: A Librarian’s Sabbatical Experience, A LibParlor Series, Part II

LibParlor Contributor, Jess Crossfield McIntosh, describes how she changed her sabbatical plans as we entered a pandemic.

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.

One of the central teachings of Buddhism is that attachment is the root of suffering. The world has largely experienced this as the Coronavirus has ravaged our reality and expectations and we see our society. My sabbatical was supposed to begin on March 16, the day my university, along with most in the country, became 100% virtual and days after my kids’ school and daycare closed. Our trip abroad was to happen four weeks later, and it quickly became evident that also wasn’t going to happen as Denmark shut down public institutions (including the library I was to visit) and incoming international travel.  

I am not alone in this. Thousands of academics are in similar situations; being forced to stop research, delaying completion of PhDs, interrupting travel—the list goes on. I have had to completely reshape my project while squirreling away in a basement office, schooling my kindergartener, and engaging my 3-year-old, with the mad-dash realization that this all must come together in the end. The added pressure of trying to work during a pandemic with no childcare pushed us to hire a sitter, which has helped immensely. But the lasting effects, especially on women, are clear. 

Thanks to my director, the support of the sabbatical leave committee, dean, and provost, an alternative plan came to fruition. This new plan, initiated by me, was first taken to my director. We then confirmed and got support from the dean and sabbatical leaves chair. After some financial support questions, adjustments of schedules, and approval, we were able to take it to the provost. I was in a particularly unique situation because my sabbatical was taking plan mid-spring to mid-summer. Many other faculty began their release at the beginning of spring term so they weren’t as heavily impacted, though certainly plans had to adjust for many.

 I am currently doing 10 weeks of my 15-week leave this summer and will (hopefully) take an additional 5 weeks to complete my travel in January 2021. The odds of this are slim, I know, but it is the current approach to move forward with completing my sabbatical project as much as I can.  I’ve shifted my work by focusing on the components I could complete from home, which centered on program development and implementation of a Social Justice-centered action plan. In brief, my sabbatical plan was to explore services and spaces in public libraries through and how they can influence the practices of a university library through the lens of critical librarianship. I am putting together training materials, documents, marketing materials, and detailed outlines to support the library as a Social Justice partner on campus. This, of course, is now more important than ever as we support the Black Lives Matter movement and continue to think of ways to grow anti-racist efforts on campus. If Coronavirus restrictions continue (and it is looking more and more like the case), and I am not able to travel then I will go back to the drawing board with my director and other involved parties. Perhaps focusing on services in the time of a pandemic or restricting travel to domestic libraries only. Even in all of this, I realize I am lucky. The university has delayed all sabbaticals for the next academic year, so I feel fortunate that I was able to go through the process and still make positive changes for our library. 

“When put into this dilemma, I had to be realistic about what I could achieve and what I wanted to prioritize. The first step was looking back at my project proposal, reading the objectives, and determining what could be done.”

So what if this happens to you? In the first in this series, I mentioned the importance of flexibility. Truer words have never been spoken. When put into this dilemma, I had to be realistic about what I could achieve and what I wanted to prioritize. The first step was looking back at my project proposal, reading the objectives, and determining what could be done. Once I realized the deliverables I could accomplish, I put those forward as part of the revision of the sabbatical. For others who find themselves in similar situations, I empathize. I know many academics are rethinking next year because their sabbatical has been delayed. Try to stay positive and realistic. It is possible for us to produce important work but also realize we are living in a pandemic and need to keep our health and well-being in mind. 

Ten weeks can feel like 5 minutes in real-time. I am just about 7 weeks in and the difficulty in moving forward and working through the grief of expectation can feel suffocating. But the solidarity among library workers is inspiring, and I hope to bring back a plan to my library that will help our students, our community, and our future. Coronavirus is here and we are all finding the best way we can live with it. And that means reimagining our expectations and fighting for a better tomorrow.  

Featured image by Keagan Henman 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

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