Dynamic Balance: Working Hard. Playing Hard. Having it all.

It’s 9:40 on Wednesday night. I have been up and moving since 6:30am. It’s the fifth day in a row that I have been this busy, and I love my life. For me, occasionally moving at this break-neck pace and maintaining it for a week is exhilarating. When I think about my law librarian friends, I know that for them, this would not be their idea of fun. But for me, this is satisfying. It will be like this for another four days, and then I will have a real day off and back to work on Tuesday.  What I’ve been doing with my time isn’t all work. I am an academic law librarian, teaching an advanced legal research course for the first time this semester, and I’ve been an amateur performance artist most of my life. Balancing my work duties with my life has been an interesting challenge.


My supervisor has kindly permitted me to revamp the curriculum to my exacting standards. I have developed student learning objectives for each week based on the AALL law student legal research standards, but as the weeks go by, I am starting to realize that if I can get them to understand that they need a research plan, how to construct a Boolean search, and how to use secondary sources to lead them to primary sources, that will be plenty.

I spend a good portion of my time preparing for each weeks ALR class, and grading the students’ coursework. I am at the reference desk for 2 hours each day, and for the other six, I am on call for research and reference help. Alumni walk in and need help accessing Westpac, and International taxation LLM students call me needing help accessing databases and setting up CALI accounts. I have learned how to work my fancy phone so I can transfer calls and put people on hold. There is never a dull moment, and that is how I like it.

When I need to have a few moments of uninterrupted work, I can take the ALR books up to the balcony, drink soda and prepare for class for an hour, then it’s back to my office and back into the fray. I have other ways to break up the day, and otherwise get centered. I have three two-hour lunches built into my week. I come in early, I take an hour-long circus arts class during my lunch hour and when I get back, I stay late. This way I am here and available to meet with students and professors for a wide range of times during the day in any given week. And I still get to enjoy my lunch hours and have a very active physical life.

I am the “face of the library.” I think of myself sometimes as the rain-maker; I go out and drum up business by contacting law professors and inviting them to meet with me about their research. I try to get students  to come to us for individual or group research training sessions and tours. The moot court teams now know that I am helpful, and the members are coming in to learn Bluebooking techniques.

Keeping My Cool

When I get more business than I can handle, I ask for help early on. When I get the results, I do additional research, or reorganize the format to my hard-core type-A academic standards. I am not naturally a practical “get ‘er done” kind of gal, but the time constraints force me to occasionally make concessions and admit that good enough is good enough for some particular assignment. Sometimes, I hand things in to Professors before I really want to give it away, and let them evaluate if what I’ve given them is sufficient. Sometimes they say, “this is terrific,” and sometimes they make me reformat it 9 more times before they are happy with my work product, and I make a note to conduct a more detailed reference interview next time.

I have had to give up control by asking for help, to incorporate last minute projects into my already busy workload, and to handle my own stress and keep my cool in the face of the countless interruptions that come with being the “face of the library.” I have also had to try to figure out how to protect myself from time-consuming demands from faculty and students, for services that are outside the scope of my job description.

Managing my Time

There are time trade offs. I won’t sacrifice sleep, or time in the hot tub at my apartment complex, but housecleaning and cooking go out the door. My Mother would say that my studio apartment looks like “Hurricane Catherine” has hit it. I’ve been eating $7 sandwiches, and my car is in dire need of an oil change. As to the niceties like make-up and jewelry, I never wear either, although some all natural lip balm has been known to land on my lips occasionally.

There is a rhythm to my life, it works for me. I am a librarian by day and an amateur fire and aerial artist by night. When I have a show coming up, I burn the candle at both ends for a couple of weeks. It’s tiring, but also inspiring, and the happier I am with my life as a whole, the easier it is for me to handle workplace stress.  I have always been like this, that’s how I operate. It might be different for others. When the show is over, I slow down my physical activity, until my body recuperates.  The relaxing alone time is that much more precious to me for having had so little of it in previous weeks. The self-reflection that I do during these lull times, helps me to continue approaching my job and my career with fresh eyes, fresh perspective and excitement.

How do you manage your time and your stress? How do you stay excited about law librarianship?

About Catherine "Deane" Deane

Catherine Deane is the full-time Reference Librarian at the Thomas Jefferson School of Law Library. She performs in depth research for the faculty in support of their scholarship, and assists students with their legal research. She will be teaching the Advanced Legal Research course beginning in Fall 2011. She is also responsible for developing topical legal research guides for the TJSL community. She has created eight research guides since arriving at TJSL in November 2010, and has updated several more. She is also a regular contributor to ThomChat, the Thomas Jefferson School of Law Library Blog. Catherine Deane spent two years working closely with Vincent Moyer, Foreign, Comparative and International Law Librarian at the University of California, Hastings School of Law, where she created and curated ten research guides on varying topics in U.S., foreign, and international law. With Mr. Moyer, she published two book reviews and a foreign law research guide on the Laws of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago (her home country). Prior to working at UC Hastings, she spent a year and a half doing contract work at an international law firm in downtown Los Angeles and she spent a year teaching academic writing at the University of California, San Diego. She has a J.D. with a Certificate in comparative and international law, which she acquired while studying abroad in Ireland, England and Belgium. She also has an M.L.I.S., an M.A. in Sociocultural Anthropology, and a B.A. from Princeton University in Cultural Anthropology with a Certificate in Latin American Studies. Her research interests include Native American Legal Issues, Domestic Violence, and Legal Information Literacy.
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5 Responses to Dynamic Balance: Working Hard. Playing Hard. Having it all.

  1. Deane, I LOVE the photo of you at the beginning of this post. I’d like to address three of the numerous topics eluded to above. Time management, stress, and playing hard.

    Time management. For me, it is important not to overwork in any one week (whenever possible) because I want to avoid burnout at all costs. More importantly, as a library director, I try to limit my “at work” time to between the hours of 8:30 am and 5:30 pm. I do this because I feel strongly about modeling good behavior for my librarians and staff. I know how unhealthy and stress-creating overwork can be, so I want to create an environment where employees feel free to leave a 5 pm (when not scheduled on a desk) and not stay late all of the time. (As we all know, extra hours will always be necessary some of the time, but not all of the time!)

    Stress. I find that having a workout routine and sticking to it REALLY helps with stress. I’m sort of a hyper guy anyway (Understatement!), so I am prone to stressing out over small things. Getting to the gym 3 times a week gives me an outlet for stress and anxiety, keeps my body in semi-good working order, and exhausts me enough to help me sleep better. It’s the all natural sleep aid.

    Playing hard. I think we have to give ourselves an outlet to get our minds completely out of the library occasionally. I find that many librarians love happy hour as much as I do, so I try to convene outings that involve cocktails fairly often. NOCALL is a great and regular convenor of cocktail events, so I find I’m in the right place for this activity.

    Incorporating these three measures into my life helps me to stay excited about librarianship.

    Ron Wheeler

    • I like your idea of having happy hour. While I petsonally don’t drink and I would prefer something along the lines of sunset at the beach with SANDALL, I love the idea of having more opportunities to build friendships with local law librarians.

  2. Lee Ryan says:

    “I am starting to realize that if I can get them to understand that they need a research plan, how to construct a Boolean search, and how to use secondary sources to lead them to primary sources, that will be plenty.”

    Well-stated! I wish we could tackle more in advanced research classes, but given the constraints of time and the almost-“researchless” nature of the law school curriculum, if we can meet these three goals, we are doing a fair amount of good.

  3. Carol says:

    Great post which sounds like a couple of librarians I work with!

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