Stamina and resilience for teaching librarians

[Preface: I have been thinking about this subject for a while, and I really want to dive into it, but I am struggling to find the right angle. I decided to just note down some random thoughts here on my blog and see if that helps. Apologies therefore, if this seems a little unorganized at the moment. ]

I think it is safe to say that the pandemic has given much food for thought and a steep learning curve, both professionally and personally. I count my blessings every day, and I am more grateful than ever to have a lovely family, a roof over my head, a job I love (that can be done from home) and that I live in a country that, for the most part, has been relatively safe and prosperous. There have been hardships for most people the last year, including myself, but still.. I have had many privileges, and I really do acknowledge that.

I read a blog post a while back (but unfortunately, I am having trouble finding it again) about a professor at a high profile university that had flung himself off the roof after experiencing new demands and reprimands from his manager about not meeting the deadline of feedback to students. This was the second suicide due to workload at the same university. The post detailed the extreme workload they had, how many hours they worked and the totally unreasonable expectations they met from management. I have been thinking a lot about this after I read it.

While I do not think that librarians and faculty members in Norway face the amount of pressure that a lot of people in prestigious universities abroad suffer under, there is absolutely cause for concern here, too. We are seeing record high numbers of people applying for college and universities in Norway while at the same time the government are cutting budgets for the institutions. Less people to teach and support more students than ever. Of course corners will be cut. Of course we’ll see more burnout and dropouts. It is just a matter of how much and how many. Educating more people for less WILL lead to less overall satisfaction and quality, and many will be caught between a rock and a hard place. I don’t like this path.

I have been working on an online course in pedagogy for librarians this past year, and I have an amazing team of contributors with me, but it has been hard to schedule meetings and to push everyone to deliver by deadline because I know how much they have to deal with. Some of the contributors had to take over duties from one or two other staff members at their libraries while these were on sick leave or in quarantine, others have had to deal with extreme workloads and huge portfolios while developing new lesson plans, delivering lectures online and dealing with children who had to stay at home due to a runny nose etc etc. How could I “pester” these contributors to deliver content on time – when I knew the situation? The long and short of it is – I couldn’t. The course was therefore delayed 6 months (but I am working on the finishing touches these days!).

I think I may have cited this essay by Julia Glassman before, but it is truly excellent. Glassman says that the Slow Movement (Slow food, Slow Education, Slow Reading.. ) has been on the rise, and that the overall goal has been to emphasise reflection, quality and sustainability. It could easily be “translated” to a library setting.

As a teaching librarian, I have seen a lot of students over the years. They are, of course, individuals with individual needs and as diverse as the rest of the population. Catering to their needs and supporting their efforts is hard at the best of times, and during a pandemic it is close to impossible.

The Cambridge Dictionary defines stamina as “the physical and/or mental strength to do something that might be difficult and will take a long time” and resilience as “the ability to be happy, successful etc. again after something difficult or bad has happened”. I think that a lot of teaching librarians around the world has shown good stamina this past year and a willingness to make the best of things. I am, however, concerned about the long term resilience. I fear that, not just due to the pandemic, but the years of underfunding libraries and the ever increasing size of portfolios and number of students, we will not be able to just bounce back this time. I fear that, as we approach a more “normal” situation, and more students and librarians are returning to campus, we’ll simply snap under the pressure, and not be able to get back on our feet. Or will we be able, yet again, to pull ourselves back up again? I wonder..