Fighting Posttenure Fatigue

Reclaiming time and redefining leadership

January 2, 2024

Headshots of Nia Lam and Michelle McKinney

Achieving promotion or tenure is an accomplishment worth celebrating, usually followed with a sigh of relief.

However, in the days, months, and years afterward, tenured academic librarians may start to feel a lack of motivation, support, and career guidance.

Mentoring programs customarily focus on early-career librarians, and many people begin to wonder, “What next?” To answer that question, we’ve highlighted strategies for dealing with posttenure burnout.

Be intentional about your time. Day-to-day responsibilities and leadership expectations tend to increase the longer one stays in a position. Therefore, mid-career librarians need to learn when and how to say no to some opportunities and yes to others.

For a low-stakes request, try something simple like, “Unfortunately, I am unable to take that on right now.” Regularly reevaluate commitments to identify which can be discontinued instead of automatically renewed.

One of the best ways to be intentional about time is to do an audit of your workdays. Keep track of how you spend your time over the course of a week. Analyze your time by grouping similar activities into categories. Ask yourself what went well and changes you could make. Brainstorm how you would like to spend your time and identify activities to combat burnout.

Mentoring programs customarily focus on early-career librarians, and many people begin to wonder, “What next?”

Recognize leadership opportunities. Many internal leadership opportunities come in the form of committee work. As you collaborate with more people throughout your career, colleagues and mentors may begin to recommend you for projects based on your input and interests. These small-scale roles allow you to explore and define your leadership style, contemplate career goals, and determine the level of leadership you want to pursue. When deciding to lead, some factors to consider include the impact on work-life balance, the effect of shifting away from typical duties, and whether colleagues’ biases toward your gender or race could affect your ability to lead effectively.

Many librarian leadership trainings focus on earning positions with supervisory and management responsibilities. However, by the mid-career stage, you may consider other options because of limited opportunities for promotion, lack of interest in supervising, or restrictions that hinder advancement, like the inability to relocate. Examples of lateral leadership, the idea that a person can collaborate and help lead successful projects without authority over fellow colleagues, include chairing a committee, serving as the point person for a project subgroup, or working in a group that is leading a major project.

Embrace community. As librarians of color, we acknowledge that BIPOC library workers are often asked to serve on committees and initiatives related to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). Organizations that assume people from marginalized groups will lead these efforts place undue burdens on them, risk tokenization, and under­estimate the invisible and emotional labor required to do this work, especially while surrounded by white colleagues.

We have chosen to invest our time in the BIPOC library community through professional and affinity groups. This has been a healthy outlet and fulfills us in a way that serving on institutional DEI committees does not. Making connections with others in this community, especially early-career BIPOC librarians, reinvigorated both of us and helped prevent burnout. We encourage all mid-career librarians to identify and invest in a community or cause that is important to them. If a group or space does not exist, consider creating one.

We used the mid-career point to reflect on priorities and commitments, grow leadership skills, and build community for BIPOC colleagues. By taking time to understand ourselves and our work, it became easier to identify and choose leadership opportunities that aligned with our goals and values.

Adapted from Thriving as a Mid-Career Librarian: Identity, Advocacy, and Pathways, edited by Brandon K. West and Elizabeth Galoozis (ACRL, 2023).


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