This was my view last week:
I was not thinking of my scheduled post for the RIPS blog, I fear. Nor was I thinking of faculty training, student queries, patron requests, or LMS oddities.
Well, I wasn’t thinking of them much. I would be lying if I said I didn’t think of them at all. Do you completely “turn off” when you leave work for the evening? How about during meals? Over weekends? During vacation? Or do you monitor and respond to email, even looking things up online and constructing detailed explanations and instructions for folks who appear to need it?
I may have a problem, one largely of my own making. Nobody asked me to integrate my work email with my smartphone. Nobody required me to respond right away to emails I get, especially after hours. I’m not even really sure when I started doing these things. But I did start, and now people – including me! – are used to it. Yes, even at dinner.
This is not a phenomenon unique to law librarians. See, e.g., Clive Thompson, Are You Checking Work Email in Bed? At the Dinner Table? On Vacation?, Mother Jones (May/June 2014). I wonder if we are particularly susceptible to this because we are in service positions. As lawyers and as librarians, we want to help our clients and patrons, and our currency is information, which is often accessible even when we ourselves are not.
I think my compulsion is multi-faceted. It’s partially a smug feeling of: “Nobody can do this but me!” Or is that really a semi-terrified territorial feeling: “I can’t let them know that anybody else is capable of dealing with this!”? Either way, this rationale is ridiculous. I’m not a nuclear physicist, and I bet even they have back-up when they’re out. It’s also partly a feeling of: “If I don’t handle some of this now, I’ll come back to work with thousands of tiny things that need to be dealt with, several of which may threaten to fall through the cracks.” If I can dictate an answer to an email while in the car (with someone else driving, of course!) and quickly deal with the person’s problem now, why wouldn’t I? Of course, my feelings may also just be a reflection of my control-freak nature.
I don’t necessarily think this is all bad. For one thing, I didn’t have any surprises when I walk into the office on Monday (I hate surprises.) Plus, I didn’t waste Monday catching up on everything from last week. I do, however, have fears that at times I am failing to “live in the moment,” especially if I’m checking my phone at dinner time or during a sunset on the beach. So I’m trying to get better at turning off and tuning out. I’m refusing to post to social media accounts after work hours. I’m really trying to consider whether a reference question is truly one for me and me alone or if it can be passed along to my colleagues. I’m determining which requests are emergencies and which requests can wait until work hours. And I’m definitely going to stop taking my phone with me to the dinner table. I think, in the end, that this will actually make me a better and more helpful librarian.