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Career Strategies for Librarians
How to Enjoy Being an MLS: a Master of Library Stress
by Tim and Zahra M. Baird

By the very nature of our profession, librarianship predisposes us to be constantly engaged in a
precarious juggling act.  Balancing a multitude of tasks - including answering ringing telephones,
proliferating e-mails, and patron reference questions; planning, conducting and evaluating library
programs/services; and conducting bibliographic instruction - can be hectic, to say the least.  On top of
this, add reports, statistics, acquisitions, cataloging, collection development and fundraising …you can
easily find yourself feeling overcome by it all. Whatever your position in the library, whether you are
working full-time or part-time, whether your library is big or small, everyone has to deal with stress and
stressful situations.

ADDITIONAL STRESS FACTORS

At one time or another, we’ve all felt the pinch of staff shortages, the horror of being held responsible for
tasks for which we lack experience and training, the strain of having to work miracles with a small
budget, and the sting of having to surviving on a pittance of a salary.   There are also many librarians who
suffer from “technostress,” feeling the pressures of having to keep up with all of the new technology
associated with our profession . Stress abounds when we are called upon to help without possessing
the technological knowledge to perform the task.  These fears of letting the patron down and making our
library look bad increase our stress levels.

ANALYZE THIS

Never fear! If you are among the many who find yourself frazzled by stress, making a few life adjustments
will go a long way toward not only lessening stress but also managing it.  

First of all, you need to take stock of what is stressing you out. Are you a perfectionist?  Are you being
asked to do the job of three people?  Do you create your own stress? Does your work environment
promote stress?  When you are pushed too hard, any change can be a source of stress. Examine
patterns in your life and to see if you are prone to over-commitment.  Do you try to be everything to
everyone by taking on too many responsibilities in the areas of library association work, clubs, meetings,
and volunteering?

STEPPING STONES ON THE PATH OF RECOVERY: SUCCESSFUL COPING

Coping involves reconfiguring your life landscape.  Take the time to downsize. Rearrange your priorities,
tasks and activities.  Use any combination of the strategies described below to create more balance and
less stress in your life.

MENTORING

Making use of mentors is a giant step towards becoming a happy, stress-free librarian. Mentoring in the
library field can come in many forms.  Finding a mentor is easiest when your library already has a
mentoring system in place. Having a colleague as a mentor will help you find answers in a very low-key,
informal manner.  Look to your local, state, and national library associations as well; many of these
organizations have mentoring programs. Everyone can feel their stress dissipate when they find
solutions to their work-related problems.  

ASKING FOR ADVICE

If you work as a librarian long enough, chances are you will run across unfamiliar situations that you are
not sure how to handle.  Try posting your question on library-related listservs.  You can receive
responses from people of varying backgrounds and environments, which can give you more opinions
and options. The sharing of information and stories among colleagues is a great way to make a
stressed librarian feel like he or she is not alone.  There is help out there; you don’t need to recreate the
wheel to complete your task or tackle your source of stress.

CREATING A NETWORK

Learn when and how to delegate.  It’s important to recognize what you have to do yourself and what you
can allow others to do.  Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it.  Perhaps you can partner with
someone or form a team to accomplish some tasks.  Through sharing, your workload and stress load
can be lightened.         

PRIORITIZING AND BEING SELECTIVE

Being stressed will affect your job performance and your quality of life.  Learn the power of prioritizing
and being selective in your commitments. Learn to say NO and you will be one step ahead of the pack.  
No matter how much we love our work or want to stay on top of the growing paper piles on our desk, it is
not healthy to spend all of our free time doing work, thinking about work, or worrying about work.  

MAKING HEALTHY LIFESTYLE CHOICES

Engaging in healthy habits such as eating well, getting enough sleep, and exercising help form a solid
base upon which to build stress-busting habits.  Stress is dissipated when you do something that
stimulates the mind or the body in an activity that is completely separate from work.  By taking your mind
off of work, you will be able to relax, your body will be less tense, and come the next workday, you will find
yourself renewed, rested and ready once more to face the daily challenges of our profession.

CONCLUSION

All stress is not bad; the outcomes depend upon how you handle it.  Stress is the pressure that chisels
away at our feeling of well-being and, if left unchecked, at our health.  The key to successful stress-
busting is learning how to control our response to stressful situations and how to handle our jobs
without letting the pressure escalate and overwhelm us.  Information sharing and mentoring is a great
avenue for seeking help when we come across a stumbling block, big or small.  Limiting ones’
association and committee work to make sure that both our work time and free time will not be taken
over by these commitments can be difficult, especially for someone dedicated to their profession.  The
solution is to learn how to say NO when you already have a full plate.  Finally, remember to use some of
your free time to exercise and relax.  By dedicating time to rejuvenating your body and mind, recovery
from the rigors of work are possible.  If you do nothing else but follow these simple tips, you will attain
the mastery of library stress.  

RELATED RESOURCES

Caputo, Janette S.  Stress and Burnout in Library Service.  Phoenix, AZ: Oryz Press, 1991.

Harrison, Lucy.  “Stress Relief: Help for the Technophobic Patron from the Reference Desk”.  The
Reference Librarian, No. 69/70, 2000: 31-47.

Nawe, Julita.  “Work-related stress among the library and information workforce”.  Library Review, Vol. 4
44, Issue 6, 1995: 30-37.     

Reinhold, Barbara. Toxic Work: Overcoming Stress, Overload, and Burnout and Revitalizing Your Career
NY: Dutton, 1996.  

About the Authors:

The Librarians Baird lead an extremely active and fast-paced life, both in and out of librarianship.  Tim
Baird, an Adult Services Librarian at the White Plains Public Library, is involved with many New York
Library Association ventures, and enjoys playing bridge, tennis and golf.  Zahra M. Baird, a Children’s
Librarian at the Chappaqua Library, is heavily involved in the work of both the New York Library
Association and the Westchester Library Association, enjoys watching movies, weight training and
reading ravenously.  The Librarians Baird are working on a book about stress and librarianship which
will be published by Scarecrow Press.

Article published December 2004

Disclaimer: The ideas expressed in LIScareer articles are those of their respective authors and do not
necessarily represent the views of the LIScareer editors.