Should We Be Doing Less?

By Sabrina Sondhi

Like many law librarians, especially those of us who spent time as practicing lawyers, I’m a bit of an overachiever. For many years I’ve set high standards, volunteered for extra tasks, and taken pride in being busy. But the pandemic has affected this, too; I’m tired more often, I sometimes have difficulty focusing, I miss deadlines.  

I saw a twitter post last week which suggested that the solution to burnout was ‘quiet quitting,’ namely fulfilling the duties enumerated in your job description but turning down additional work and refusing to answer emails outside of work hours. It sounded ridiculous to me at first — isn’t that just a sign that you should quit your job for real? Isn’t that a lack of dedication or commitment to the career that we do because we love it? But as I reflected on it, I realized that was my own stuck mindset speaking. Why should we all be trying so hard to surpass the requirements and duties of the jobs we’ve been hired for?  Apparently the eye-opening webinar I’d watched on ‘slow librarianship’ last December hadn’t actually been internalized in the slightest.  

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Meredith Farkas revived the concept of ‘slow librarianship’ in 2021 via a few blog posts and lectures.  She’s not the first to coin the term, and she won’t be the last to reinvent the concept and run with it.  (For example, Greg McKeown’s book Essentialism: The disciplined pursuit of less.) Slow librarianship embraces many ideals, but can be summarized as a values-driven practice that prioritizes relationship building and supports employees as whole people. It’s hard work because it requires mindfulness and self-awareness, as well as prioritization and big picture thinking. And yes, it results in producing less, but only while ensuring that what we do accomplish is potentially more meaningful. It is the antithesis of today’s influencer culture where we chase external validation and strive to hit external markers of success.  

Sadly, as was true for me, the concept of ‘slow librarianship’ doesn’t seem to be having much impact on the academic law librarianship community. The presentation Meredith gave that I watched last year was organized by the WestPac Education Committee and one of Meredith’s posts on the subject was picked up by KnowItAALL, but there’s been no chatter about the idea that I’ve seen in the eight months since.  And that’s odd. Many academic libraries are dealing with unfilled positions or burnt-out staff and the typical conversation revolves around how can we do more. Can we hire part-time librarians, can we tempt people with fully remote work, can we combine positions and give current employees more responsibilities?  

But maybe the answer is that we should do less. Particularly now when so many libraries are short-staffed — but even after our libraries are fully staffed — what tasks and relationships should we be prioritizing? How can we support our staff to accomplish meaningful work, not just measurable productivity? From a strategic planning standpoint, it’s something we should all at least consider.  


Notes Between Us (NBU) is a blog about conversations and topics of interest to the writers. The writers are expressing their personal opinions solely. The essays represent their personal beliefs and not that of their workplaces or any organization they are associated with.