Friday, April 29, 2016

What You Can Do to Combat Librarian Burnout

Here's the scenario: You're a super-intelligent, well-educated librarian, dedicated to public service and readers' advisory, and you really and truly care about your job. The problem is, sometimes it feels like nobody notices all the good you do. Or maybe you've just heard, "it must be nice to sit and read books all day!" one too many times. Perhaps you've spent hours of time preparing for an epic library program, and didn't get any attendance at all. We all have bad days, but if you find this mood lingering past that one day, you might have Burnout.

Whatever the problem, if you're in burnout mode, the best way to fix that is to take a few minutes for yourself and regroup. (If it's really bad, you may need to take a few days off, but let's hope we can fix it before it gets to that point.) I am very lucky in my current job, but I've had situations in the past where I've just been so burned out, I felt like I never wanted to set foot in a library again - and that is completely unlike me, and it needed to be fixed. I hope my tips and tricks help you, too.

What it is

Before we get to the fun stuff, I wanted to talk a little about burnout. The Mayo Clinic has a great overview of what burnout is and what you can do. For example, if you're feeling more than one of these symptoms, you might have an issue: 
  • Have you become cynical or critical at work?
  • Do you drag yourself to work and have trouble getting started once you arrive?
  • Have you become irritable or impatient with co-workers, customers or clients?
Check their website for the full list of symptoms - there are many, and you may not even realize that you're dealing with a real thing, but burnout can be a serious issue, leading to depression, anxiety, heart disease, a compromised immune system, fatigue, insomnia... It's like stress, but moreso, and it's caused by work. Now, if things have gotten really bad, these tips might not help, but for those of us who just have an off day every once in a while, try...

Get Some Instant Relief


For moments when you wish you could get away but you really can't, buy yourself a stress ball, or pick one up for free at a conference. Other fidget toys are also helpful, like the Tangle, which looks like a big, twisty teething ring that you turn around in your hands. They can help with anxiety, or just distract you for a few minutes. I also like the Bubble Hourglass, where you flip it over and the colored liquid goes from top to bottom. It can be really relaxing to focus on something for a minute. I also have a large purple bunny (her name is Princess Bun-Bun) that a former coworker gave me; she's there for me to hold if I need a hug. Silly, perhaps - but helpful. A friend of mine keeps a jar of bubble stuff on her desk; another friend has play-doh. Whatever helps you.

Spend Five Minutes Or Less On...

Actual screenshot I took when I was stressing one day.

When things are stressful but you can take a few minutes to unwind, I recommend taking advantage of some of what the internet has to offer. Personally, I love watching the live animal cams from various zoos and aquariums. It's especially nice because I can leave it on in the background of the computer and keep doing my work, and then you look up and - awww! Panda bears!

  • The San Diego Zoo has polar bears, apes, elephants, and pandas.
  • The Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington, D.C., has elephants, lions, and pandas.
  • The New England Aquarium has a webcam that looks down into the giant ocean tank, and you'll see everything from sharks to sea turtles floating past.
  • The Monterey Bay Aquarium has eight different animal cams, from jellyfish to birds to sharks to sea otters. (I find the jellyfish to be particularly relaxing.)

If you Have a Bit More Time...

Totally coveting these right now.
Which you would only ever do on your own time, right? Of course right. But maybe take a look at getting yourself a new cardigan, funky socks, or a new pair of amazing librarian glasses. For inspiration, check out @LibWardrobe on Twitter and see how everyone else is styling these days. (As for me, I get much of my best stuff from Out of Print Clothing.) It's amazing how a little treat can perk you up sometimes.

If you have more time (seriously, it's addictive), take a look at the Unshelved comic series by Gene Ambaum and Bill Barnes, and read about the adventures of the staff in the Mallville Public Library. If you need a good laugh, Awful Library Books is pretty much the most hilarious thing there is, and I'm also a big fan of Better Book Titles - which totally counts as research for readers' advisory, right? And of course, to wake up those brain cells, Mental Floss is your best friend.

Take a Twitter break:

Of course, once you've set up your Twitter account, you can easily take a quick break and see what's new and exciting. Some of our favorite Twitter accounts (in addition to the one for our blog), include:

Showing off some of the books that are circulating.

(Caution - Paperback Paradise is not always safe for work!)

Not always fun facts, but always interesting. And, of course....

And Lastly...

There are a few things that you can do to help keep yourself in good mental shape, so you don't need to go looking for cat photos online in the first place (I mean, you will anyway, but still). Sometimes all you need to do is go take a nice walk on your lunch break; the combination of fresh air and exercise will perk up your endorphin hormones, and you might find that you come back to work with a spring in your step. (Or at least, not as downtrodden.)

"Mindfulness" is a big buzzword lately, but it really works. I use the Headspace app on my iPhone to walk me through short (10-15 minute) sessions, but if you prefer to stay low-tech, the primary goal is to focus on your body, your breathing, your contact points (your legs on the chair, your hands in your lap, etc.), any noises you hear, and smells you smell, etc. You don't judge the world around you - you just pay attention to it. I was surprised at how much this helps me; instead of getting annoyed at little things, they pass me by. I usually do it in my car on my lunch break. There are tons of great books and audio books out there on mindfulness, if you're interested in getting started.

Also: take some time to remind yourself that you really do love your job, and you're doing it for a reason. I Freaking Love Libraries is a great place to start. There's also I Love Libraries, which is an initiative of the American Library Association, and you can reach out to other librarians on Twitter, to vent and listen to their stories. (I usually use the hashtag #librarylife.) We're all here, we're all going through the same things, and we are all librarians at heart. If we didn't care, we wouldn't be so stressed out in the first place.

Let us know if there's anything else you can think of that might help you, and we'll be sure to add it to the article!


  1. I recommend those walks above all. Getting away from the screen and getting away from the demands for attention is probably the best thing you can do during the day.

  2. Kat thank you... I never.knew I was burnt out... I could answer all of the questions you asked

    1. I know the feeling! One day I just realized I was super snippy and cynical, and I knew it wasn't really me. There are more symptoms and advice in the Mayo Clinic link above. :) Hope I could help!

  3. There's also and those sites, for when your customers/patrons gets on your nerves. Always someone with a terrible experience in the line of customer service that's really bad. And really funny 😂

  4. I love this whole website. Especially this latest post.

    But I also have a question to your whole team: I would love to start a similar blog in Sweden (and Swedish), and would like to "borrow" texts from your site (of course credited in that case). Would that be OK?

    1. Ting, thank you for asking! We don't mind you taking highlights or a small portion from our posts (1/3 of what was posted) and then redirecting your readers back to the original article for more info.

  5. Thank you so much for this! I opened all the links you provided and can't wait to get started on them!

    1. We're glad you found this post helpful. :)

  6. These are a good start! I would love to see more suggestions not involving looking at screens (which is a large portion of many library jobs). Also crucial to acknowledge mental health care--talk to your employer about your options through employee assistance programs & health insurance.

    1. Yes, if your burnout isn't cured by taking fun breaks and distractions, definitely talk to your employer for other options. (If you haven't taken a week vacation, do that first!) As for suggestions that don't require a computer, MsFrisby (who commented below) has a great one! :)

  7. I keep a folder in my drawer labeled "sweets" for my burnout days. In it, I keep the drawings from happy kids, photos from parents, positive patron notes and thank you letters. I go though then and I feel so much better and like I am making a difference.

  8. The ALA Think Tank on Facebook is a great place to vent, get ideas, chat, and have a laugh too.