Office Hours: Finding Balance?

A cliche but one that rings true as I write: summer is flying by. We arrived in northern Michigan in late May and it felt as though I had unlimited weeks leading up to the beginning of my new position at SLIS at San Jose State University. Now I’m in California for a week to start the semester with orientation and my first faculty retreat. This summer I’ve made time for work on research, updating my participatory service and emerging technologies course, and have taken a bit of a breather – ending each night by a campfire. I’ve spent some time finding balance between all of these things.

I mention the concept of balance in many of my presentations and class lectures. It helps reinforce the idea that understanding emerging trends and experimenting with technology is important but it’s just one of many considerations when it comes to balancing life as a librarian, LIS student, professor, information professional or library staffer. But it’s also much broader than that one aspect and impacts how we do our jobs.

Balance can mean a few things. I urge librarians to find the balance between online pursuits and physical world pursuits. Both are important and necessary. I’m revisiting a charged statement from the first “Office Hours” column – “If the online world is not for you, then neither may be a career in librarianship” ( – and it still rings true. For one thing, no librarian is beyond benefitting from the online LIS professional commons – that meeting place that stretches across blogs, Twitter, Facebook and now Google+. I’ve been exploring this idea with Kyle Jones, my former graduate assistant and now a doctoral student at UW Madison. In the commons, you’ll find support, advice and sharing of ideas. I’m recognizing now how beneficial my own participation has been in the last few years and how it’s illuminated my teaching.

What I am not suggesting, however, is to focus all of your attention just on the Web, social networks and the next big thing. Being out in the world is equally important. The online and the physical should complement each other in a cyclical fashion. It troubles me to think some still see advocacy for online participation as an either or proposition: you can *only* be online “in the cloud” or on Facebook or you can *only* be performing your librarian duties in the building. Again, a balance between the two makes for a well-informed, capable library professional. These concepts should be part of every LIS student’s learning.

What of library school students deep in their coursework or just starting their LIS program? Many probably have full time jobs in the field or outside our world. How can they find balance while juggling one, two or more classes, work and family/friends. I advise them to schedule their papers, blogging, projects just as they schedule everything else. Leaving time for personal pursuits is a must – it informs one’s professional practice. Who we are as people directly influences who we are as librarians. The student who brings a passion for fan fiction, zines, indie music, Civil War history, vegetarian cooking, yoga, and any other interest may indeed find those pursuits figuring into their practice.

I am reminded of a student years ago who had registered for 5 classes at once moving like a ghost through the hallways of our school from morning class to afternoon study and then on to evening class. Was she actually having time for reflection on her chosen field or was it a matter of “just getting through?” Sometimes time is a factor, but I often advise students to balance coursework with life as best they can. I would be remiss if I didn’t also remind myself that some of the best advice I ever got about finishing my dissertation was this: “Just get it done!”

 Balance with our services is also a consideration. We can’t just focus on one group of constituents – especially if that group is easy to please and not very challenging. Other groups – teens, seniors, faculty, university staff, etc. – need us as well. We also can’t focus on one type of delivery – online, in person, out in the world should all be considered. The best balance in this case is one that expertly keeps emerging shiny technology in equilibrium with a well-executed plan for reaching everyone.

Another type of balance is the one between the library world and the outside world. In our tandem presentations, Jenny Levine urged our audiences to “look up from their desks” and see what’s happening outside libraries. Trends in business, studies of technology use amongst various populations, the ins and outs of pop culture all offer insights to what we do in our work.

Finally, a most important type of balance is the one between our professional lives and everything else. I lived and breathed library blogging, library conferences and library everything for a few years. I logged a lot of miles and spent a lot of nights in hotels. I loved every trip I took and every talk I gave. O’Hare International Airport became a second home. I was very glad to swing the scales back into alignment – finding balance between my teaching, research and service to the profession and time for personal pursuits and recreation. For many it might be family, friends, exercise, a hobby, or spiritual endeavors. I believe all of these things help us be better professionals. Taking time too unplug, or clear your head, or do something silly is just as important as monitoring Twitter chats or Facebook groups day in and day out. The social media library world will continue to turn with or without you.

Summer is indeed flying by! Next week, school will be back in session for our students. Have you relaxed? Have you recharged?  I hope so.


Some other posts you may enjoy:

Thoughts on the Fall Semester:

How to Find the Right Fit:

 Special Thanks to Francine Fialkoff at Library Journal for editing this piece as a special online only edition of “Office Hours” for August 2011.