Sunday Reflections: “Don’t work from home”
“Don’t work from home. Don’t do any work at home,” she said to me as I filled out the new job paperwork.
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I laughed. I don’t mean I chuckled internally to myself. I mean I actually let out a guffaw and might have said something like, “Oh yeah, right. Like that’s gonna happen!” At which point she looked at me like I was a little off, and I clarified that my librarian brain is just always on.
I’m always working at home. Aside from our 100% unplugged camping vacations, I can’t think of a day I didn’t do anything I could reasonably consider librarian work outside of work hours in the past six months or so. On any given day, here are things I do or have done outside of the library building and off the clock:
- read Twitter, engage in conversations about new books, library topics, etc
- read YA fiction that I would not have chosen if I didn’t think I’d need to talk to a teen about it
- check and answer my work email
- check and answer my professional non-work email
- work on freelance projects that overlap with my skills and tasks at my library job
- participate on committee work for professional organizations
- attend webinars
- attend committee meetings, conferences, meetups, and other librarian work groups
- bookmark potential program ideas as I browse Pinterest
- dig into technology projects that I don’t have the focus to engage in at work, and need my techie husband’s advice and hand-holding to do
- think, think, think, think about work
Which of these should we be doing at home? The logical answer is, “the ones that you wouldn’t do at work.” But there’s no clear line there.
If a webinar I want to attend happens outside of my scheduled hours I’m not going to skip it. And sometimes, those webinars that happen during my work hours are going to happen on my desk shift, so I’ll watch them later at home. The professional engagement is something that I can do at work because I gain ideas and guidance for my job, but I also do it to help other people and to remain connected to my PLN, much of which I consider to be friends, so we check in with one another professionally outside of work time. Even when it comes to freelance work, it’s not cut and dry. At a previous job, I was specifically told that working on my book, Serving Teens Through Readers’ Advisory was an acceptable off desk task, on a limited basis. They considered it professional development time that was good for me, good for my department, and good for our community. And for things like reading YA fiction, many of us are not afforded time on the clock to do this, but it’s clearly expected. Where is the line?
The other complicating layer is that I do this job because I love this job.
Being a librarian is a huge part of my identity. It’s not a job I clock out of and leave at work, it’s part of the framework through which I interact with the world. I field RA request for friends, do database instruction for family, and am generally a full time library ambassador whenever I’m not in the building. So asking me not to work from home feels a little like being told to leave myself at work before I go home for the night. That dissonance is jarring.
As a part time librarian, I am constantly feeling pressure to fight against what could be perceived as a less professional position. In my unpaid time, I try hard to do more and learn more and extend myself further in more directions in order to maintain my relevance, stay up with trends, and race race race to keep the next big thing on the horizon. The irony of my situation is that I went part time in search of a better work-life balance, but now I never *really* leave work. There’s always another freelance opportunity to pursue, another book to read, another article to read, another Twitter conversation to follow.
Still, there are extremely good reasons for not doing what I so readily admit that I do!
If we are hired for twenty hours of work but give our employers forty, there will never be an impetus to change the job from a 20 to a 40 hour position. And that’s bad for librarianship. It sets the expectation for those who might follow us in our jobs to create a similar output, building in the tacit demand that we never can leave work at work. It deprives us of the time space we so desperately need to connect with the diverse interests that each of us has, which help make us interesting, well rounded people that our teens can connect with. It keeps us plugged in when we might be better served being unplugged, focusing on just being with the people we are actually with. It lets the librarian part of us supersede the partner, parent, sibling, friend parts.
Let’s have this conversation: where is your line? What does your employer expect? How do you feel about that policy, whether it’s stated or unstated? How do you plug in when you need to and unplug when you don’t? And finally, what does your ideal balance look like?
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About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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