On Sabbaticals and Term-Limits

by Beau Steenken

Today marks a beginning and an end for me. On the one hand, today is the first day of my first ever research sabbatical. (U.K. considers librarians to be 12-month faculty, so I’m splitting my sabbatical and taking it over the course of the next two summers.) On the other hand, today’s post will be the last I make for the RIPS Law Librarian Blog, as RIPS-SIS provides for a 3 term limit for bloggers, and I have reached the end of my third year blogging. It occurs to me that the goals behind the two policies (namely, the provision of sabbaticals for librarians and the limit on blogging tenure) are remarkably similar. Both policies aim to increase the spread of information, and both policies also seek to aid the professional development of participants. As such, I thought that I would say a few words about each.

First, I’d like to talk a little bit about the value of sabbaticals for reference librarians. I know that not all institutions provide the possibility of sabbaticals for librarians, as it is a practice mostly tied to tenure-track positions. Even for those of us librarians who do enjoy tenure, though, a sabbatical might seem like another step entirely. After all, our primary professional goal is to provide a functioning library, and that becomes more difficult if librarians periodically start disappearing for six months at a time (or in my case twice in short succession for three months at a time). Yet, I do think there is great value in taking a sabbatical if you have the opportunity. A sabbatical lets one take on a major research project that would ordinarily be precluded by the day-to-day activities of running a library. While it’s possible to publish while performing full-librarian duties, it is difficult to manage anything beyond a certain scope, and even then, not without substantial supplemental writing during non-work hours. A research sabbatical alleviates this pressure.

Implicit in my view of sabbaticals as valuable for librarians, I suppose, is the premise that it is a good thing for librarians to engage in scholarly works of a large scope. I think that there are two primary reasons why engaging in such works is beneficial to us as professionals. First, by undertaking and completing the type of scholarship our regular users (i.e. law faculty members) produce, a librarian will be better able to relate to the experiences of those users. There’s really no substitute for experience, and I feel like going through an entire research project from beginning to end will help me to assist faculty research projects with a better understanding of the process in the future. (Granted, I’m on my first day here, but this is what I am anticipating, at any rate.)

Second, I think librarians should push themselves to grow professionally. Much of our job tends to be routine, cyclical, or seasonal, and I fear that it is easy to become comfortable and complacent (especially if you have tenure). A sabbatical shakes things up somewhat and does put pressure on one to produce something of note. (I will have to pay back six months salary if my sabbatical ends without a publication.) While many things contribute to professional growth, I think pushing one’s self outside of one’s traditional comfort zone is essential to true growth. Thus, I do think sabbaticals can be a boon to our profession.

Of course, this is predicated on having wonderful colleagues who are willing to pick up the slack caused by an extended absence. Thanks, Jim, Tina, Franklin, Patty, Michel, Amelia, and Nicole!

While research sabbaticals lead to the spreading of ideas and professional development, so too does the term limit policy here at the RIPS Law Librarian Blog. I have enjoyed using this platform for my various musings over the last three years, but it is essential to encourage new voices. The term limits guarantee a constant renewal of the blog and the refreshing injection of new ideas. Furthermore, they represent opportunities for perhaps some newer librarians to push themselves beyond their current comfort zones and to grow professionally. If you’re considering joining the blog, I encourage you to send your application materials to Jamie, as it has been a wonderful experience!

Good-bye, dear readers; it’s been fun!

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This entry was posted in Career, Issues in Law Librarianship, Issues in Librarianship (generally), RIPS blog, Writing (generally). Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to On Sabbaticals and Term-Limits

  1. Beth Van Fossen says:

    I have enjoyed your posts, Beau, thanks for an interesting three years. Best of luck with your research and your sabbatical!

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