Yes, Librarians go on Sabbatical!

This is an article from the WLUFA Advocate January 2015 3.3.

Matt Thomas, MLIS eResources Librarian

It’s true. Laurier Librarians go on sabbatical. Sort of. We actually have what’s called the “Librarians’ Academic and Professional Leave” (see our 2011-2014 full-time collective agreement, article 17.3) which is somewhat different than the “Sabbatical Leave” for faculty (article 17.1-17.2) but the basic concept is the same. They’re both regular extended periods of time, away from the hustle and bustle of regular campus duties, allowing us opportunities to engage in projects that can en-rich and inform what we do as well as bring value to ourselves, Laurier, and our respective fields.

Academic librarians can engage in “typical” academic work on this Leave such as conducting and organizing re-search, manipulating and analyzing data, and preparing material for publication and/or presentation. Our research can be on a topic within librarianship itself, such as search behaviour or collection evaluation, but many librarians have research interests outside of our professional field as well. Not only is the research and publication process personally fulfilling and professionally rewarding, in our role of supporting the research of others, it’s valuable to have the experience of being on the other side of the desk.

But given the professional responsibilities of our roles, we often take the sabbatical opportunity to see to more practical concerns such as improving certain skills, observing practices in other institutions, or exploring entirely new areas. A common use of sabbatical time is to take courses, complete certificate programs, or even work on additional graduate degrees (besides our professionally-required Master of Library Science or equivalent). Regardless of how a librarian chooses to spend her/his time, the Leave is often seen as a way to connect and give back to librarianship (or another field) and re-charge from concentrating on just getting the job done. And it’s a way to reaffirm our academic status, at least for ourselves, something that’s not always appreciated outside (or even within) the Library.

Not all librarians go on sabbatical though. In some institutions, the culture is just not there and few, if any, ever request Leave. Elsewhere, librarians are as expected as faculty are to take research leaves. At Laurier Library, we’re comfortably in the middle: some go regularly, some occasionally, some are just dipping their big toe in the process, and some have never gone. A sometimes insurmountable barrier to any of us taking a sabbatical leave is the need for our responsibilities to be passed on to someone. This is especially the case for some administrative positions such as department heads (similar to, but more “permanent” than, department chairs) or unique positions where there simply isn’t anyone to act as back-up for the six months to a year that one would be unavailable. (Only rarely is there money in the budget to arrange for a new position to directly replace someone or even to just add to the complement so someone else can act as replacement.) Although not ideal, some feel the need to maintain a connection with the Library, doing certain tasks through their Leave that simply cannot be done by anyone else. Because the nature of librarianship tends to be very cooperative, we are always concerned about smooth sailing in our absence and not being a burden to our colleagues.

I’d like to thank my colleagues for the feedback they provided me for this article.

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