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Today a very sweet coworker told me that I have seemed “a little burned out,” lately, which was awfully generous: it would be more accurate to say that I appear to be trapped in an inescapable miasmic funk of epic proportions. All is not well. I am not well. My symptoms: I have an incredibly low tolerance for bullshit, all of a sudden. I am having trouble working on anything but the most mindless, unimportant tasks—which, while more sustainable than you’d think, in terms of keeping myself busy, is not a good long-term plan. I am exhausted and frustrated at the end of most work days, and I find I don’t even usually have the energy to do things I enjoy, things which might make me feel better. (Granted, some of those things, like exercise or crochet, are off the menu, anyway, due to injuries.)

I hasten to add: I try not to drag anyone down with me; I try to put on a positive face and go about my business without letting on … but I got far enough into a conversation to hear that observation, which means I was being more honest than I try to be, when I feel like this. And now I’m writing this blog post, albeit with deep reservations. Clearly, the veneer wears thin.

While someone generous might want to help me write off my bad attitude as the injuries—and, sure, clearly, those are decreasing my coping ability—I’m sure that’s not it. But I wasn’t sure what was wrong until today. Or, OK, I’m still not sure what’s wrong, but I at least have thoughts.

Again, in discussion with this coworker—and then run by my spouse for confirmation—I realized that I drag myself to every ALA conference feeling exhausted, frustrated, angry, and hopeless about our profession. (I left that last bit out of the first paragraph. That kind of talk upsets people. But I’m there, for sure.) I show up full of stress and bitterness, but I quickly revive, surrounded by friends from around the country whom I admire and who remind me of why I wanted to become a librarian. By the third day I’ve forgotten I was ever unhappy. By the time I go home I’m energized and ready to do great things.

But ALA was late this year. And I didn’t go.

So here I am, as bad as I’ve ever been before an ALA recharge, but without any conferences to look forward to until November. I’m not sure what I need to do, to right what is wrong in my head and heart. Is this some kind of nasty cicada of bitterness, destined to bury itself soon without a fight and wait until the next cycle to pop back up? Would a(nother) vacation do the trick? Do I need a series of pep talks, or some kind of kick in the pants? No idea.

More broadly, I know it’s pretty normal in our profession to use conferences to recharge, but I wonder: is it usually so dramatic? As I’m writing, I realize I shouldn’t imply that there’s nothing to admire in my coworkers, because that isn’t accurate. And anyone who has been to ALA knows there is plenty that’s deplorable there, from Exhibit Hall hoarders to the nerfing of potentially worthwhile Council resolutions. What is it that affixes my focus so clearly on the positive, at ALA, and why does the negative in my workplace wear on me so much? (Granted, it takes almost six months to really get me down, compared to ALA’s 5-6 days to pick me up; not a bad rate of exchange, when you look at it that way. But why the trend — conference up, workplace down?) Does this mean I’m in the wrong workplace, or is this just a thing that librarians all learn to deal with?

I don’t have any answers. Having even this tiny insight—that I always feel this way in June and January—is leaps and bounds further than I was a couple of days ago. But I wonder if this is an experience that others can relate to, or if it’s a sign that something is wrong with me (or maybe my situation). And I wonder if others know how to get past the miasma without the intervention of a conference.

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  1. Megan Hodge

    Have you read Stephen Abram’s Curb Your Librarian Frustration in 7 Steps post?

    It’s also worth thinking about what it is about conferences that buoys you. Is it interacting with colleagues outside your institution? Focusing on big-picture librarianship rather than quotidian struggles? Is there a way you could find–or create–these things back home?

    In any case, *hugs*

    • He’s got great advice, and some of it is probably applicable to me. (“Stop whining,” for instance.) But what’s getting his hypothetical librarian down is different from what’s getting me down.

      Thanks for your advice, too. I’ll reflect on those things and see what I come up with.

      And thanks for the hugs :)

  2. Kelly

    No insight here, just sharing that I experience the same phenomenon. And this was the first ALA I’ve come back from feeling like I only got a half-dose of my shot. Like it’s only going to carry me a week or two and then I’ll be back to wondering, is it just this position? Should I try to stir up some enthusiasm here, do something new that might bring me out of this? Sometimes I resolve to go to lunch more with people I don’t work with directly and learn from them, find out what motivates them, etc. but it’s tough to be social when you’re disgruntled.

    • I’m glad not to be alone, but sorry that anyone else goes through this, if that makes sense…

      I like both of your ideas! I hope we both pull through the disgruntlement and remember why we like our jobs.

  3. Wanna Skype sometime? it can be like a tiny mini conference…

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