This is Circulating Ideas, I’m Steve Thomas. While I was busy working on some other projects, some colleagues and friends agreed to guest host some episodes for me. So this episode will be guest hosted by Kate Sheehan. Kate put together a panel of Meredith Farkas, Jenica Rogers, and KG Schneider just to discuss work/life balance.
Okay, so this is Circulating Ideas, our podcast today will be about work/life balance and we have a panel of Meredith Farkas, who blogs at Information Wants To Be Free, and is the Head of Instructional Services at Portland State University Library in Oregon. And you’re also an adjunct faculty member at San Jose State, which I always forget to say. I have your bio up, if you can’t tell. And Jenica Rogers who is the Director of Libraries at the State University of New York in Potstam, which you are the Chief Administrator of Common Crane Libraries, I like that a lot.
[JR] Yes, I have two, I’m that selfish. [laughs]
I’m imagining now a library full of tiny breadcrumbs and very large birds.
[JR] We’re doomed. Oh my god.
At least it works well together. And Karen Schneider, the University Librarian of Holy Names University, also known as Cupcake U in Oakland, California. Okay. And.
[JR] Wow Karen, what a way to introduce yourself.
Yeah. And I’m Kate Sheehan. Live at home, work at home, be with the baby at home. Librarian for Biblionation which is a consortium of public libraries, public school libraries in Connecticut. And in the background is my nine month old son, who does not enjoy podcasting. [baby noises] He does enjoy Karen’s picture, that’s what he’s looking at, so you’re getting to hear very positive review here. Okay.
[KS] He feels the way I feel today.
Yeah, it’s good, Monday is a great time for everyone to want to talk I’m sure.
[MF] Oh god, I just got back from ACRL, so I am, I’m pretty fried.
Yeah, this is, scheduling this was not easy, trying to figure out a time when everybody was around. With time zone differences and conferences and things like that, and I guess that’s sort of one of the things that’s worth talking about. I think there’s a big conversation happening about, I hate the phrase “work/life balance.” I say it and every time I say it I kind of cringe because there’s this implication to me in the phrase that everything is just on this little seesaw, teetering back and forth and you have to get, you have to get the weight exactly right, each side of the seesaw, otherwise you’re not doing it right, you’re not balanced.
[JR] Yep. The idea that it’s even possible is kind of a fallacy, I agree with that.
Yep. Plus it also implies a real distinction between work things and life things that I don’t think exists for a lot of people. And I think we see, I see that a lot at conferences, when we go to conferences like there’s sort of the fun part of conferences and the social part of conferences because it’s part of your life.
[MF] Right, and some of my very best friends, and the most important people in my world are librarians and so then I see them at conferences, which is work, except that’s my life.
[MF] And, and I can’t draw a clean line between those things. Nor do I want to.
Well that was one thing I thought when I tried to think about diversity in the panel in terms of, in terms of getting people to talk about how they handle these things. And the one thing, one of the many things I realized was not diverse at all about our little group, besides the fact that I think I’m, you’re all academic librarians and, and well and right now we are a single gender group, but one of the things that I think none of us that I’m aware of have sort of the compartmentalized, like I don’t think any of us have separate Twitter feeds or anything like that. And I know for some folks that’s the answer, there’s sort of the place where I talk about libraries and library stuff and then there’s the place where I talk about other things. And I get that that works for some people, and I get that that maybe helps them create a work/life balance in their minds, or maybe in their schedules, but I don’t, it doesn’t work for me at all.
[JR] No, me either.
[MF] I can’t imagine making that work, honestly.
[KGS] Yeah, it wouldn’t work for me either, I just. It’s easier for me to turn off 100% and unplug, than it is, than it would be for me to try to parse myself into those different containers.
[JR] Yeah, I’d like to believe that my friends from high school could just kind of ignore the constant Facebook posts about ACRL during the past few days, but I think, I think we’re pretty good at ignoring the things that aren’t relevant and seeing the things that are at this point.
Yeah, I mean it sort of makes me think of the Clay Shirkey, you know it’s not information overload, it’s filter failure, like we’ve, I wonder now too if we’ve almost got sort of this like mental built-in filters, because there are people that I am, say, Facebook friends with, who I genuinely am interested in their personal lives as well, and then there are people I don’t know as well and I tend to skim over their personal life posts a little bit more, to the point that I don’t even realize I’m doing it.
[JR] Well in some of the most interesting conversations I’ve had about my work with both my mother and with my fiance’s mother are because I posted things to my professional blog that then went to Facebook and so all these other people who aren’t librarians can see it if they choose to and it really matters to me that those people in my life know what I do and know why I care about it and know why I spend so much time on it. And so I don’t, I don’t want to put my professional life into some sort of silo away from my personal life because it’s all me.
That’s interesting because I, I mean that’s sort of an, also an advocacy take on the personal-as-political.
[JR] Yeah [laughs] I, I don’t know, I made, I’ve made a lot of choices in my life about living it out loud and living it in public and I do it because this is who I am and I don’t want to be somebody different, and I don’t want to force myself to be somebody different just to make other people more comfortable. So, this is it. You get all pieces of it.
[KGS] I’ve always felt that there was a potential employer who didn’t like what I was doing that we were doing each other both a favor, that they would be able to say “I don’t want that person” and I would be able to say I’m glad I’m not working there, because it’s just, I don’t have to tiptoe around.
[MF] Exactly. Better for people to know up front who you are and what you believe and what you stand for than get into a wrong fit kind of situation.
[JR] And even more just operationally than that, I can’t imagine trying to have a personal and a professional online feed simply because I’d have to remember to switch back and forth and I, I don’t, I don’t live like that. I don’t live in a segmented way, you know, I’m either doing something, it’s like Karen said, I’m either doing something that’s not online and I’ve unplugged entirely, or I’m online and I might be doing work things, or I might be doing personal things, or I might be doing both.
Yeah, so that’s, I mean I’m similarly wired, but just personally I don’t, I know I would, I would mess up and I also, I would click the wrong button or whatever and I wonder too if that then creates, if you, if you have those sort of separate things, if that sort of creates… I always felt like it was sort of dangerous because then it, I was putting some, I would be putting something that I didn’t want certain people to know on the internet, which right there’s sort of like risky and…
[KGS] Well that’s, that’s it in a nutshell. There’s just no way that’s going to work, you know, it’s just, in the end you’re fooling yourself, so there, it will come, it will come to pass, the information.
Yeah, at some point it’s all gonna come out there. I wonder if, too, though that that’s almost like a work style issue too, if, if having that sort of, Jenica, what you said about if I’m online and sometimes I’m doing work things and sometimes I’m not doing work things. I mean it seems really clear from knowing all of you online and in real life that, that being physically at work doesn’t necessarily mean all you’re doing is work stuff and being physically at home doesn’t necessarily mean all you’re doing is home stuff, that that, that there’s that compartmentalization doesn’t exist.
[JR] Yeah, no, I, I am volunteer staff for one of my social groups and so I was literally as you were setting up this call, I was setting up a Google form survey for, cause we need to figure out cabins for our next event and so I, multi-tasking, and between all of my different roles, because the end of my lunch hour blurred into making this call, and then it just, I couldn’t possibly figure out how to live my work life entirely separate from my personal life. I don’t think there’s enough hours in the day.
[MF] No, no and, and you know I really appreciate that I can sometimes leave work early to do something for my son, but I can also sit on the couch and cuddle with my son and then do work email and other work-related things, so it’s, it’s nice that we have the flexibility to flex our schedule, at least at my institution and, but at the same time they kind of get that, get that back by the fact that I’m willing to do a lot of things from home.
[JR] Much, so Meredith that makes, that rings true for me. That if I need to make a medical appointment in my little, tiny town, I live in a little, tiny town, I can get over to my doctor’s office and back again presuming that there’s not waiting in the office in an hour and so I can do that in the middle of the day and I really appreciate that flexibility, but when I sort of steal from my work day like that, I tend to then bring it home.
[JR] And when I agreed to do this, and I then turned to Justin and I said so what would you say about my work/life balance? Our partners have interesting things to say about these things if we ask them. And his response was that he wishes that I would turn it off and that if that meant that I had to stay in my office longer, that would be fine with him, as long as I was ready to engage when I got home. And he has a very good point. It’s a very fair point. I’m not sure that I’m very good at doing.
[MF] I think there’s a danger of that, of thinking, of feeling like just because you’re in, you’re with your family, like as, as if that equals engagement and there are times when like I’ll be sitting next to my husband, working on an article, or whatever and realize wow, we’ve barely interacted, like I really need to shut this off and focus on what is actually in front of me.
Yes. That’s an, that’s an interesting, cause I have, I’m really, as somebody who’s recently rearranged my whole life, I’m really struggling with that a lot because if I’m at home physically a lot now, so I, I find that, am I really, I sometimes feel like I’m basically being really half-assed about everything. I’m not really doing the best I can be doing with my work stuff, I’m not really doing the best I can be doing for my home stuff and everything’s kind of, it gives me this really strong sense of like entropy and upset.
[JR] Yeah, but see that’s where I start to argue, because who defined what the best is? What’s best? If you’re doing what you can to do all the things you need to do, then that’s the best, right there. And what’s this expectation that there’s something better? Where does that come from?
Huh, that’s interesting.
[JR] Cause like what are you supposed to do, not, are you going to put your son down in another room and cry right now so you can focus entirely on us? No.
No that would be more distracting actually. [laughs]
[MF] I would say that a big part of being a mother is feeling like you’re doing everything half-assed all the time. So I wouldn’t feel like that’s a big deal, but I would also as a counterpoint say if you feel like it’s really off, then it’s a problem, but comparing yourself to anyone else and their balance or how they’re doing it is just not worth, worth it. It’s what, what, how does it feel to you, knowing that it’s probably going to feel half-assed no matter what you do.
Yeah, it’s, I mean it’s interesting cause I think any time you go through any major life change, you move, a new job, a new whatever, a baby, whatever, any kind of major life upheaval, I, I think has that effect where you’re, you have to find your new normal.
[JR] I have an employee right now who is up for an annual review and in one of our conversations, the realization that I had was that it, everything, particularly in academic library jobs, when you go take your new job, everything changes, because you have to move to go do it. And so, and odds are then you’re leaving your friends and if you have a partner, maybe you’re bringing a part of your life with you, but for a lot of people everything changes and so it’s not just about figuring out a new job, it’s about figuring out a new everything. And that’s incredibly overwhelming.
Yeah, I mean that’s a thing my, my parents just moved from Connecticut to Florida and they’re retired, they don’t have new jobs. But that’s actually been really stressful for them, like new doctors has been, just this enormously time-consuming component of their lives right now and also new life in terms of they don’t go to work any more.
[JR] So I think, I guess my observation in that moment was that it doesn’t matter who you are, or what part of your, what stage of your life you’re in, or what shape your life takes, we’ve all got issues trying to balance all the pieces of ourselves the way we wish that we could.
Well and that to me is one of the big, I mean the other big fallacy of the whole work/life balance idea at all, is that it, it absolutely is culturally very focused on women and on mothers in particular and this morning as we were talking about, as I was thinking about what we were gearing up for this, I got an email from Parents magazine because they find you, I don’t, I don’t know if the hospital just sends out your information.
[MF] You mean Mothers magazine, that’s what my husband always said, he’s like “This is not for men.”
It’s, it’s very, it’s very lots of things. It’s very heteronormative, it’s very geared towards mothers, it’s very, yeah. It’s and that was just there, they, they sent a little daily email and their stuff is always like “18 crafts you can do on a rainy day” and blah and, and this one was about work/life balance and it. So of course I clicked on the link and it’s one of these little slide shows and it’s, it’s explicitly for moms and it’s, and it’s all stuff that was very, it’s sort of ranged from the very minor to the very like, to sort of this more existential like “Don’t beat yourself up!” But I thought that’s just good advice for anybody, that’s not specific to, to moms and then it was the whole thing about, there was this one slide that was all about “Lay all your clothes out and pack lunches the night before.” Again, not terrible advice for anybody really, but it doesn’t, like it doesn’t hurt to pack your lunch the night before.
[MF] Yeah and I could imagine if the library director, especially for, for you two, Karen and Jenica, that it would be really, you know it’s one thing to say oh I’m taking work/life balance as a front line library person, but like you’ve, I would imagine that there’s some stress in feeling like I have to set an example, blah blah blah to my employees.
[KGS] Well I had this, well that works, that cuts both ways, which is, I really felt that I, 2011 I took a major assessment and check because I was so in doubts and embracing so many different things all at once that I had a very enthusiastic, dedicated, smart, wonderful team that was exhausting themselves to death and that I, I thought I was setting a bad example in that direction and that I needed to throttle back and be more programmatic about what we took on. But I also feel that, I do feel obligated and in fact that I want to respond to things that are significant and library-related and I can’t say “Oh no, I’m, I have to finish assembling my tiramisu before we let staff know the internet’s down,” it’s necessary, I seek that out and I want that, so it’s, it’s in the mix as well.
[JR] I give myself forgiveness some days by saying that I’m setting realistic expectations for people. That the things that are truly time sensitive, programmatic, crises, have major value for people, or our institution, I get those done and I get them done on time and I get them done well.
[JR] Some of the other stuff, I will get to it.
[JR] And that’s what I expect of the people who work with me, is that the things that truly matter will be prioritized as such and the things that we’ll get to later, we will get to later. So, on the days when I feel like they deserve more or better from me in some way and I can’t figure out how to give it, I just try to think to myself that I’m doing the best I can and that’s good enough.
[MF] And I think that that’s, I think that’s a good example actually, like what you’re saying, Karen, as well. It sets a really good example for your employees not to be the person who’s always there until 8pm, because that, when I, when you see a library director who is like always working, always on, always in the office, it makes everybody else anxious, I think.
[MF] Like oh god I’m not doing enough, they’re always here, I should always be here too, like.
Right. Well it sets a cultural, it’s an organizational culture that says physical presence and always being here is super, super important and that’s the thing that if the physical presence part, I think, is the big deal, that’s one thing that’s interesting to me about my current position because, because we’re a consortium office, we don’t have a public to serve, we have libraries to serve. Anybody in my office can work from home at any point generally and we can all get our stuff done and that’s been tremendously valuable for things like major snow storms, like everybody just stays home and the phones get forwarded and everything’s cool, like we get our stuff done and we’re available to our libraries. The minor downside of that being the whole state’s closed and no one’s going to work, go to the office, your office is down the hall.
[JR] No snow vacation for you!
Yeah. I, we actually found sometimes that our, our libraries are a little weirded out by that and I wonder too if the culture of libraries places such value and onus on physical presence, that we undervalue the work-from-home component. Sorry, go ahead.
[KGS] Well, we kind of have, I mean and I’m somebody who’s worked from home for seven or eight years of the last two decades, and, and understand, and value it and believe that you can do legitimate work from home and blah blah blah, but, I mean full-time, but at the same time I think it’s valued because it actually is important when you manage a facility that’s public access that it be available. I mean, while we were on this Skype I was trying to not make deeper voices so that I could Twitter to let my students know that the internet was down again today, they need to know that because this is a public facility. It’s heavily valued because it actually is a reality that you need to be open.
I guess the thing that I, that I find sort of, and maybe this is more of a public library thing than a, than an academic library thing, I don’t know, is that if you work, work on, public, public face at work is obviously is enormously important, and, and arguably more important than, I mean I think it’s more important than anything else we do. I’m sure other people could argue other things, but I guess what I, what I always have run into working in libraries is that saying, I, it’s very hard in the culture of public libraries that I have been with to say I’m going to go, I’m gonna work at home tomorrow to work on this budget because I need the focus and I need, it’s the only way it’s going to get done, that that, that isn’t necessarily believed. Even if it is believed, it’s not believed, like on some level there’s that but you’re not here. And people do tons of stuff like ordering books from home and no one ever counts that.
[JR] I think, I don’t think that is just public libraries. There are two unions where I work and one union has a contract that says that you can work wherever you wish to work because it’s the faculty union and the State Employees union says you must be provided an appropriate workspace by your employer and they may not, nor, and must not let you work anywhere else. So half my staff can work from home at will. And the other half never can. And. Imagine what that does.
[MF] That’s not awkward.
[JR] No, not at all. And so there’s other people who no matter how much they may have faith in colleagues and trust and respect, have never had the experience of working from home. And so can’t speak to it. And maybe don’t believe it, or don’t get it, not, and I don’t think there’s any malice there, it’s just simply not a part of their world and can’t integrate it.
[MF] Being tenure track there’s certainly more acceptance here than at my previous job of the fact that sometimes you just need to get stuff done at home, and especially in my position where I manage people. If I work in my office on, like an article or something, there, I know I’m going to be interrupted many, many times by my direct reports, so, it’s nice hearing that I know I’m not being judged for saying I have to take this time to get this done because it is a critical part of my job and I just can’t get it done here.
[JR] I will tell you that one of the most brilliant benefits of being a director of the library is when my door is closed, nobody knocks on it.
[KGS] That’s, it may be a function of size because that doesn’t work here. You know, even when it’s locked the faculty will be rattling the doors, like team members, they get the idea that we all need space to work on various projects and so forth, but the rest of the world, not so much, so. At the same time, we’ve had some very, very satisfying conversations on the academic affairs leadership team meetings about how we worked other places that expected you to work 14, 16 hours a day, 7 days a week, and had these marathon 4 hours meetings and I had one job where we were meeting on Saturdays and Sundays to discuss statewide catalog. I mean, I just.
Yeah I know and it, and they all have these stories, it’s like a Holy Name we’re small we’re all very mean, small departments, we work hard and I, and my boss is great at understanding that we all need to like protect both our time to get things done, if that means going home, and also our, mental health time. That we need to have some balance over just not going to be there and then it gets to be March and April and we’re all exhausted. We’ve exhausted every last shred of our ability to cope with the day in a life of a tiny resource-starved university.
Well and that’s, that’s huge, I mean one of the, I think everybody’s always, not everybody in the world, but most, most of us are willing to, to lean, to put our shoulders and I almost said lean in, but that, that has such a connotation now, to put our nose on the grindstone for a big project, some, something discrete and concrete, but endless 14 hour days after a while like you can’t think and you’re certainly not as good at your job. Although again I do feel like that’s the sort of thing that everybody sort of knows, but finding an institution that actually follows through on that knowledge can be really tricky cause even, even when we say like, we really don’t need people, we don’t want people to work a billion hours a week, we really value the people, I’m really sorry, he’s just.
[JR] It’s very cute.
It’s his new favorite noise, it’s a damp noise. [laughs]
[MF] That was, that was Reed at that age, I remember, nine months.
That, that following, finding an organization that will actually not lull the person who does work those 12 hour days constantly, that they’re not always the favorite too, that most places they say oh we want you to have work/life balance, but then that person who, who is all out of whack is sort of the star sometimes. Obviously, not always, but that, I, I think we don’t always put our money where our mouth is on that, on that idea.
[JR] Yes, and when I have had librarians, library faculty who have the responsibility for setting their own workload. They assess projects in collaboration the team and with me but they set their own workload and then we have someone who is an amazing overachiever and works themselves to near collapse. The response from their colleagues is almost universally you need to back off on things because you’re going to kill yourself. And also, hey, what a great job you’re doing.
You’re making us look bad, ha ha ha ha ha.
[JR] Right. But everybody’s really content to have somebody else do a lot of work, that makes us all look good. It’s a very hard to legitimately and honestly say hey, you know what, you have to stop. You know when you’re under-resourced in so many ways, somebody else has to pick that up if you want it to happen.
[MF] Yeah, I find in my institution it’s, like, the tenure track librarians are shouldering so much of the burden, right, of committee work, of instruction load, of volunteering for various projects and it’s, it’s so unhealthy, but at the same time I’m sure none of us really want to be in the position of saying “Hey this is wrong, we want work/life balance!” because we also really want tenure and we want to stay here and, and I tend to be a workaholic as it is. I’m really driven and I’m one of those people like whatever it takes to get it done, I’m going to get it done. But, I’m constantly now reminding myself like it’s not going to be in 20 years, I’m not going to regret not getting that project done on time, I’m going to regret not, missing my son’s childhood, not spending time with my spouse, like those are the things, not having friends, or working out and being healthy and those are the things that I’m going to regret 20 years from now when I’m not healthy and I’m not married and my son hates me, or whatever, you know.
Wow [laughs], you just like went right off the edge there.
[MF] It’s catastrophizing, you know, it helps me to catastrophize, just to remind myself like this is actually what’s important and this other stuff is kind of important, but not in any way as important as my, my family and myself and my health and my, people I love.
[JR] The, it, I was just thinking to myself and isn’t it amazing that we still have to have this conversation. Having a culturally, why have we not gotten here yet. Why are we still here?
[KGS] The thought that keeps running through my head is all the commercials that I see where apparently only women are interested in cleaning agents, I just, I think I’m, I mean I, that just one part of it, but there’s that, I think we, we load ourselves up with so many expectations for how well we’re going to, to perform in all parts of life and then it’s, it’s easy to say throttle back, much harder act is to actually do it.
[JR] Right, well and I, okay so we are a group of women talking but at the same time I’m also the primary and essentially sole income earner in my household due to the great recession and the fact that America hates teachers. And, so, I also have the added pressure of “Better not screw this up cause it’s sort of all on me!” and that’s, that’s, I think for a long time was a very gendered position to be in, I just happen to be standing on the other side of it now. It doesn’t make it easier.
Well, it’s funny thinking about the cleaning products issues, one of the second shift and all that stuff, I mean one of the things that I definitely have run into, I’m physically at home and yet my house is falling apart around me, it feels like sometimes, because I can either do the dishes or make sure the baby doesn’t kill himself, so “Take that out of your mouth, kiddo!”, “Nope that’s, that’s poisonous!”, “No, do not climb on the chair you don’t know how yet!” That’s what I’m doing and one of the things I find, cause worse now everybody wants to come over and see said baby, I get kind of wound up, like oh god the house is insane and if you just hold the kid I’ll clean real fast and my husband definitely always, he, he doesn’t necessarily, he’s like, he’ll say I’m not judging you it’s fine and I’m like everybody’s judging me for the, but it’s definitely and yes this sort of end of the world, like no one will want to be my friend any more because there’s too many dishes in my sink which doesn’t, I know, make any sense, but there’s definitely that, that, that second shift stuff is definitely still super-duper gendered, so Jenica you get the great honor of being both responsible for the household income and also it’s your fault if there’s dust.
[JR] Right, right. Well I actually, I have a very good little story about dust which is that I had cataract surgery this spring and I can see now, like really clearly, I had no idea how bad it was. The problem with that is that I can see all the dirt. Oh god, why did you not clean it, you could see it and he looked at me and said “But it didn’t bother you!” But I couldn’t see it! But it, there’s, there’s less social pressure pushing on him about keeping the house clean.
That actually happened to a friend, to a friend of mine’s husband finally got glasses and suddenly he was vacuuming more and she was sort of like, oh, this is so great that like you’re, you’re taking on more, and he was like I had no idea!
[JR] But what I took away from it, aside from oh my god my eyes were so bad and I had no idea, was essentially that we’re both sort of living at our own level of comfort and that that is really okay and that it doesn’t, those standards are irrelevant, I get done what I can and matters to me with the time that I have. And the rest of it can bite me.
[MF] We all, we all have different yardsticks for, for what matters, how much it matters and that’s okay, you know, it’s okay to, you know, as long as you’re okay with the dishes being piled up in the sink I wouldn’t worry about anyone else’s expectations for it.
[JR] If they want them clean, they can wash themselves.
[MF] If you want to help with the baby, wash the dishes.
No, I mean I think that that’s, but I do think that that’s definitely true and also it’s like everything else we’re talking about, we know intellectually here’s, here is, people should go home after a while, people should not be at work 12,000 hours a day, no one cares if your dishes are clean or not, and yet, and yet.
[JR] And yet.
Here we all are, at work for 14,000 hours and.
[JR] The dishes aren’t clean.
And we know that we are being terribly judged for this even though we’re probably not and we’re probably, most people are probably looking at their own dishes, or thinking about their own dishes, or whatever. So I, you guys are talking a little bit about faculty and tenure and things like that and that’s, that’s interesting to me because you said something about writing a, closing the door to write an article, my understanding of academic life is that there is sort of this expectation that you’ll have side projects and that’s built into your worklife to some extent, although I’m guessing that as is the case with most public librarian, there’s some flexibility there, but it’s not 100%, you’re not writing every article at work and certainly I had some qualms about trying to figure out when to do this podcast. Is this really a part of my job or not? I don’t know. So far no one’s asked me to give back this time to my job, so I’m guessing they’re okay with it? So that, I mean and that’s a really big part of librarian culture, things like conferences, things like articles, and that’s I think seems so much as part of the library success model. But we haven’t necessarily built that into our job model always.
[JR] No and I have tried to hold that line for the people who work with me, but, that scholarship and creative activity is part of their job expectation as faculty at this institution and that they need to build that into their work days, it’s not extra. But it’s hard because we believe it on the one level, but at the same time there’s all these operational tasks that need to get done and it’s hard to say, it’s really hard to say I’m gonna set aside that report that I need to do because I’m gonna work on some research for an article. It’s a difficult thing when you’re focused on “What is work?”
[MF] I know not too many libraries do this, but I, but I’ve seen it more in academia in general, that they actually define like what percentage of your work is librarianship, what percentage is service, what percentage is scholarship and then you can kind of, once you actually know, okay, 20% is scholarship, then I can take that time and devote it to scholarship, but I think when it’s all very amorphous, people always feel like public service work is their most important job and that will always come first and then the other stuff gets relegated to when you’re at home unfortunately.
[JR] Well then you can also add in the, the added layer of complication that if I get paid to speak, I need to be taking a vacation day to do it and so there, and that’s, that is, my boss and I, if we’ve had a conversation about it would probably come done on it as part of my job to be professionally active, but if I’m being paid, the state will not pay me. So, I, I cannot do both and so then any speaking obligation for which I am being paid automatically becomes not my job. It becomes my second job and so I have to parse out my obligations in that, in that sense, in that I have a job that is a full-time job, and then I have this other job that I also have to do.
[KGS] “Have to do?”
[JR] No, I’ve chosen to do, you’re right, you’re very right.
[KGS] And I say that because I’ve throttled way back and I’ve become much more selective and I did one international speaking tour last fall and realized that was the last time I was ever going to do that in an academic year cause I…
[JR] Oh, me too.
[KGS] I came back exhausted and then I got a little sick and I just felt like I lost more than that week. But I, I love presenting and the this and the that but I do so much less of it. I do just enough to kind of keep myself refreshed and invigorated and I’m much more likely to look at local talks, I just, I’m very satisfied with my job andI feel like my most important job is being here. And that’s one of those things I think all of us have experienced with the speaking, talking circuit and I think, I feel that that has at times in my life been approached, there was the, I think we’ve all experienced the I’m gonna say yes to everything.
[MF] Because they may never ask again.
And that’s how I know I’m important, if I’m not saying yes to all these things.
[MF] Oh yeah.
[KGS] Be out there being the shiny sparkly person, and that actually some of the, some of the most important stuff I do involves sitting at my desk shuffling through vacation requests and making sure everybody can get the time they need. It’s not getting out there and talking.
[JR] Well, when I was in my most recent round of scheduling for myself, I was talking with Jason Griffey about how and when you say yes to things when people want you to negotiate the terms of your speaking agreement. And his advice to me, which I will never, ever forget, was, you tell them that you have fourteen thousand things that you should be doing and their event is not at the top of your list, so they need to move it there.
[KGS] That’s a great response.
[JR] Cause he’s right, I do have 14,000 things I should be doing and their event is not at the top of my list right now.
[JR] We’re not all, we’re not all very good at it, prioritizing those things that really matter to us. In those moments of decision where it’s well, a little bit more money to help pay down all of those debts versus a weekend at home when I haven’t had a weekend at home in six weeks.
[MF] It took me a long time to come to that, that place and I finally decided like this summer I’m just not doing anything. I mean, I’ll have an article to write, but other than that I mean I’m not going to conferences, I’m not speaking at conferences, I’m not teaching for San Jose State and it felt really good to be able to tell people I’m not doing this and I’m not doing it because I need to find more work/life balance. And the responses from everyone were wow I wish I could do that too, I really, I admire you for saying that. It wasn’t like, “Oh my god, what a horrible person you are for saying no!”
It’s interesting that so many people feel like they can’t do that.
[KGS] I think initially when, when you start presenting and you, and I mean it was kind of a surprise to me, it wasn’t like I said I’m going to be a library presenter, people started inviting me to do, to do talks, I can’t even, can’t remember how it happened, but there is that sense of oh my gosh they won’t invite me, or I’ll be a has-been, or there was the year that I just assumed that I’d get invited, that my, that my presentation request would be accepted by this conference and it wasn’t, oh my gosh I’ll, I’ll and I have to tell you, I’ll just be honest and say that feeling gets worse with age. That you’re worried about being the old has-been librarian who doesn’t get invited to speak, so. It’s funny and yet it’s kind of scary too. And I feel that there’s been a couple of times when frankly being older actually did work against me for a couple of opportunities. So, there’s all that, but.
[JR] No, but you’re right though, in, in your statement a little bit ago that the most important job you do is about the people that you serve in the work that you’ve chosen, right? So, that’s, that’s part of the discussion I’ve had to help with, have with myself about yeah I want to go do this really cool shiny thing, how in the hell are you going to make that work? You can’t, you’re going to have to give up something that’s more important to you than the shiny thing. So that means your decision matrix is all wrong.
Well that, that sort of brings up, I mean I, in terms of library culture, we have this sort of conference machine that we’re feeding where it’s, you have to kind of constantly be coming up with new topics and new things and at a certain point it, are we, we’re sort of repeating ourselves a lot, first of all. I mean, I see that as I look through my own blog and also we are realizing like “Oh I blogged about this thing that Karen or Jessamyn or somebody else blogged about three years earlier, awesome.” Like, “Well done there, come up with new things to talk about!” But there is sort of this cycle of, of new shiny topic and new shiny people and then we’re, we sort of create this endless cycle of, of trying to stay relevant when, I mean how, how can we not, how are we, how can you be irrelevant when you’re, you’re running a library? You’re obviously running, you’re doing a good job and on top of things and learning new things and all of that, but we’ve created this culture where there’s this obligation to now come up with a new spin on, or a new topic about or whatever and then get out there and hit the conference circuit.
[MF] Yeah, I was, I went through like, I mean, I probably had postpartum depression after having Reed, but like I also just felt very like “Oh my god, my career is over, like I’m not going to, I’m a has-been now, I don’t have time to blog, no one’s ever going to invite me to speak again, like, I’m just over!” and that didn’t happen, but it kind of made me realize well so what, like I, I like blogging, I like speaking, I like doing all those things, but I’m so happy with the success I’ve had already, like it’s so much bigger than anything I ever thought I would achieve, that I’m actually at a… I’m kind of at a place where I’m like yeah, you know, it’s, I’m okay with being a has-been, there’s so many other great new librarians coming, coming down who are brilliant and I mean just at ACRL there were so many new people I saw presenting, where I’m just like wow, this profession is just so dynamic and exciting and I’m, I don’t know, I’m kind of at peace with it now and I, maybe I won’t feel that way in a few years when my son’s older and doesn’t want me any more, but [laughs]
[JR] I was at a, I was at I think ALA Midwinter a couple of years ago and again Jason Griffey and I were standing at a reception somewhere and a librarian who’s probably 35 years older than we are says something to the effect of “How are you guys going to feel when you’re not the young ones any more?” We both sort of looked around at all the, these amazing young librarians standing around us and went “We’re already old.” It’s, that’s them, they’re here. So there’s, that’s just another one of those standards that I don’t know, I don’t want to try to hold myself to. [laughs] It’s exhausting.
[KGS] It is. It is. Yeah and it is, and having become more inward facing, I, it’s so satisfying. I still, I still want recognition for the stuff I do, but I don’t necessarily need it from a huge room of strangers.
Well and all of you have other sideline things that are either library tangential, or not, I mean, Karen, you get published all over the place in literary journals and, and now you’re starting a PhD program, I mean those are some pretty major undertakings that are, that have a lot of warm fuzzies and, and good work sort of feedback. I mean both, in the warm fuzzy sense but also in the intellectual challenging sense and all of that. I mean, you have a lot of, you have a lot of places to, to kind of get your, your ya yas out in that sense.
[KGS] Yeah, although as a director of the literary writing really took a nosedive.
[MF] I can imagine.
[KGS] And I, and then I have to say, I’ve been at jobs where I actually, I’m very proud of this, I successfully hid the fact from the entire world that I was taking a fairly major online writing course over summer and I just felt like they would, that there would be some association with oh she’s not paying attention to this blah we asked her to do, that her role is blah and I actually, and that comes from some, from a historical, from actual real life where I was in a, when I was working on my MFA and I mean I worked a very full day and then I went at night two nights a week to go study for this MFA. There was somebody in my chain of command above me, a government beauracrat who we made a few comments that made it sound like well I’m just, I’ve got nothing better to do, so I’m off working on this degree. So, but then, in fact I, I actually have several projects that I’d done that I’m taking great pride in the fact that nobody online knows about them. But, but the writing, the writing is, is the area of, a little bit of ambivalence there.
[MF] Yeah I just think it’s funny that anything that we do that’s vaguely academic or writing related, is always seen as like you’re less dedicated to your job because you’re doing it. How sad is that, when it’s maybe something we love to do as a hobby?
Well, yeah anytime you have anything, I mean I, I certainly, anything, I mean other major thing in your life happen, or something, or something noticeable, noticeable sideline and you’re right, if it is, I, if it is seen as I think too similar, I mean if, if you were a champion diver and swimmer, maybe they, they wouldn’t think that it was detracting from your, your job as much because it’s a physical endeavor, more than a, that writing is, the overlap between writing and librarianship is significant enough that a state bureaucrat might think they’re far too similar. But if you…
[JR] You only have so much brain to go around.
Right, exactly, that’s clearly, that’s clearly, you allocated far too many IQ points to this other thing [laughs]. But I, I think that that’s, that perception when you have other things going on and that’s, that’s certainly what we, what I was sort of alluding to earlier with my job, when people, when we worked from home we definitely have, we’ve had like our, some of our folks in our libraries are like well are you really working? And we’ve said yeah cause we’re, yeah we’re physically at home, but yeah we’re really working I promise. And I, I often pointed out when I’ve had some like what are you really doing. I say, well, when you go home and order books, like is that real work? Or, or.
[MF] One would hope.
How does that, how does that feel for you?
[JR] Right. Yeah and when my systems librarian says I’m gonna stay home today cause I have to wait for the water heater guy, but all I need to do today is update some Aleph tables and repackage the client, I say “Okay, cool.”
[JR] Because she doesn’t need to be here to do those tasks.
[KGS] I’ve suggested that for several tasks when the, when I could tell people were like, you know that with the constant stream of interruptions, it’s like hey, you know, do that at home. Although sometimes, and it’s being childless, this hadn’t really occurred to me, I’ve been told though, I actually, it’s not quieter at home.
[MF] Yeah, for some people that’s not a break at all.
Yeah. I am, well, you’re hearing the noise in the background, I do get used to it, I have to say like working with him crawling around and what not, but, and I like to think he’s getting some sense of independence as he explores the room without me interfering, or helping him at all. This is good for him, but, yeah, I mean that is one thing I, I personally have seen just with the advent of, of parenthood is that the compartmentalization needs to be bigger for me than it is and than it needed to be in the past because certainly I used to be able to do all sorts of stuff from home that is more challenging now. But if there were daycare in an office, then that might be different. And what I actually found just last week we were two, a week and a half ago I started with, a nursing student in the area comes in twice a week and just hangs out with him for a few hours and boy, do I get a lot done. Just astonishing amounts because I, I’ve become very, very focused during those hours. But I really do get a lot done when I’m able to compartmentalize a little bit more. Which I think was not as true for me before, I was much better with the fluid back and forth and now that doesn’t work as well. Although, I presume at some point it will work again.
[MF] It will. The first year is, is just crazy, crazy, crazy.
Yeah, well that’s, that’s, yeah. Not to sideline this into a kid thing but one of the things that is astonishing to me with him is, is every few months everything I know and need to do and everything around him changes and it, it happens so regularly that it’s like okay I got this done, oh crap, now you’re crawling, oh. Okay, I’ve got this down, oh now you’re standing and dragging yourself around on things. Okay, I’ve got this down, and I know he’s going to walk like next week and, I just want to scream.
[MF] Yeah, well and it’s an identity shift for you as well and I think that that goes for anyone moving into a different position, having a family, whatever, any change in your life changes the way you have to balance things, so what balance will look like for you at that point in your life and I, I know I keep saying don’t measure yourself by anyone else’s yardstick, but that’s the one thing that was really hard for me in my first year after having a kid and has gotten a lot better, is that I know people who have kids who go to conferences and do tons of stuff and are so very active and great for them, that’s great. I know, for me, I have my own definition of balance, and it’s not that.
[JR] Right. And I have, I have conversations with myself, I talk to myself a lot about things like I’ll be leaving my office at 7:30 some evening because I’ve been holed up with nobody around trying to get something done and there are some days when I do that, that I think to myself I hope somebody sees me leaving because I, and then there are days when I think I hope nobody’s around because they don’t need to know that I was still here finishing that. And that’s not about anybody else, it’s about me. It’s not, that’s about me, and how I feel about my work, and how I feel about my balance. It’s not about anybody else, or what they’re perceiving.
Yeah, no I think that’s, that’s, I, that’s interesting cause I think you can sort of think about your reaction to what other people might be thinking as, as almost a tool to, to sort of plumb your inner thoughts on something. You’re doing what you’re really feeling about it.
[JR] It’s just all sort of too easy to use that as a crutch, or to think well they must be thinking this and then therefore you’ve justified something for yourself. When really you’re the only one thinking that you need to pay attention to is you.
Well and then that’s, it’s interesting thinking about, you’re talking about life changes and things like that and new jobs and new places. I’m interested in this idea of, I don’t know if it’s called the hedonic treadmill or the hedonistic treadmill, I feel like I’m going to look that up and then learn how to sound so I can go back and change it so I sound much smarter. But the, this idea that we, that we acquire, it’s usually done around a material comfort, so you acquire some kind of material comfort or an item, or luxury, or whatever and you’re happiness goes up for a little while, and then it goes back down to what it was before because you’re sort of have this regular level of happiness and so then you have to get something else and something else and something else, but I, what I’m interested in, and was thinking about a little bit, especially as, as two of you have just done pretty major moves in the past few years, you have that sort of spike of “Oh my gosh I did this major change and my life is so much better” and then, but then it, you recalibrate, at some point your recalibrate…
[MF] Always looking out for the next best thing.
Yeah, yeah. I mean I think that varies, I mean certainly and like I think I said earlier my parents just retired recently and they, they call me constantly and tell me about all the birds around them, they’re really into the birds in Florida.
[MF] Oh that’s awesome.
It’s really funny, like I’ve heard a lot about Santel cranes in the past few months, and they’re really happy about the weather and all that stuff, but I keep thinking what have they, how are they going to feel about this in, like, three years? Cause they won’t be as excited, they’ll be like yep Santel cranes, they won’t be like “Kate these birds are crazy, you’ve got to come see them!” like they, they won’t be as exciting or novel any more. And at the same time, I think they’ll still be really, really happy to be retired. I don’t think that will go back to some kind of set point, I think they’ll still be, they’ll still be really happy about that. So I, I mean as, as we make these sort of major changes and recalibrate, we keep recalibrating I guess is what we’re getting at.
[MF] I know, I tend to be a person who’s always looking for the next big thing in my life, the next thing to be excited about and I, I started to think about like when I was in my early 20s, like what, what could I picture as like my ideal life? I was like, other than the golden retriever I don’t have, I have my life, like I, I have it. And now I kind of just want to shore up those things rather than trying to get more, just trying to make the things I have better.
[JR] I sort of religiously buy and then halfway read self-help books. And part of that is just my lack of follow through on things, but part of that is also because I don’t really expect to find earth changing, world changing, “You’re going to be able to do 42% more things” advice there. But what I expect to find and hope to find is one paragraph somewhere that, that rings a bell, that makes me say “Okay wait, think about that.” Because all I really want is to, is to find the tools that can help me key into the things that make me a happy, successful person. I already have those things, I am already am those things, I just need to remind myself of it sometimes when I feel like I should probably work until 8:30 tonight because oh my god my to do list is horrifying. I shouldn’t work til 8:30 tonight because checking things off my to-do list isn’t going to make me a happier, more successful person. It’s going to make me a stress case who hasn’t seen her boyfriend for hours. So, it’s just helping myself make better choices. That’s what I really am always looking for, is the tools that will help me make a better choice.
[KGS] And I stop, and I’ve become less restless in that, since myself, like I don’t have to complete it all, I need to complete the stuff that’s really important and do that in a timely manner, do it as fast as possible and also it’s not that I don’t have explanations, but I, I feel myself slowing down and looking, and enjoying where I am. Take the time to actually be present for, for where I am now, and I see sometimes the restlessness out there with some of these people who are working the really bizarre hours, it’s like they do seem to be looking to two or three places ahead, like that’s the most important place to be. I feel like right now is, where I am is the most important place to be.
That’s, it’s interesting, that’s work/life balance by way, as, as a function of life satisfaction, basically.
[MF] Being present, yeah.
But it seems like we’re kind of coming at it, instead of saying well you achieve work/life balance by focusing on where you are and being happy with where you are, it seems like what you’re all saying is you work really hard to get to a place where you are really happy and you have the mechanisms and the, and the things in place that you, that you needed and wanted and then you got it in balance for you.
[JR] Yeah, in part it’s about finding your own internal resources and understanding how you want to allocate them. And acknowledging what those resources are. Part of it just, part of it is I only have so much planning to give to the world. My job insists that I give it a lot of planning energy because that’s the job. It’s the job I signed up for, it’s the job I’m good at. But also means that when I get home, I don’t, I don’t want to, I don’t want to be the one who decides if we’re going to Mike and Amy’s tonight, or if we’re getting Thai, or getting pizza, or getting my cooking. Just tell me, someone just tell me cause I’ve run out of planning, and I’ve learned that about myself and, and so learning about which resources I have an abundance of and which ones I have a small amount of and knowing where I have to dedicate them has made my world so much more solved.
[KGS] Yeah, I just accept the fact that Monday through Friday, well Monday through Thursday anyway I’m probably not present in the evening for what I’d like to be, it’s not, it’s not productive time, it’s not even particularly good family time, it’s, horrendous commute followed by a coming home, 20 minutes at the gym, treadmill, grill or microwave something, watch TV and sleep. So I try to be more there on the weekends, both for family and for projects, it’s just how it is. It’s being a director… and speaking of which I’ve got to get off this podcast now. Phone call for my 11:15 meeting.
[KGS] So, it was great.
[JR] Yeah this was fun.
Thank you guys so much, I know, I know everybody is super busy, that’s why you’re the people we talked to. So I really appreciate your time and I’m glad we could talk about this and I, I’m, I think the message to the, to anybody listening is that a lot of this seems to be about some kind of zen inner peace to some extent in addition to the actual outside physical trappings of a job with certain commute and things like that and, and hours and culture and all those things.
[JR] The world expects us to do the impossible, so we have to stop expecting it of ourselves.
[MF] Yes, exactly.
Well on that note, thank you everybody and I really appreciate it.