Taking Time for Research

by Kristin Hoffmann
Associate Librarian, University of Western Ontario

Usually I have to make time for research in my daily work life. This past year, I was fortunate to be able to take time for research by going on a sabbatical leave. I highly recommend a sabbatical for any librarian who has the opportunity to take one.

In a study conducted by Leona Jacobs of the University of Lethbridge and presented at the 2007 CLA conference, librarians who had taken sabbaticals said that their experience was “refreshing,” “fabulous,” and “energizing.” They also said that it was “hard work but … quite interesting.” My sabbatical experience was definitely all of those things!

Kristin Hoffman

Here are a few specific things that I realized about research from the process of doing my sabbatical:

A sabbatical is a good time to really delve into an area. I had done a research project related to the development of librarians’ professional identity, and I knew that I wanted to continue to focus on professional identity. As I was thinking about possible professional identity-related projects, I kept telling myself, “I’ll need to do more background reading before I can write my application.” Finally I realized that I could use the sabbatical to do the background reading. That was a good choice: I now have a much fuller sense of my research agenda, and I feel more like a ‘real’ researcher, knowing that I have such an intimate familiarity with my research areas.

A sabbatical is also a good time to try something new. I focused on research areas that weren’t new to me (librarians as practitioner-researchers, as well as professional identity), but my previous research had been with qualitative or quantitative approaches and during my sabbatical I wanted to try synthesizing my background reading with a critical/theoretical approach. It was a big stretch for me—my undergraduate education was in Engineering Physics—and it was frustrating and difficult at times, but I felt like I had really achieved something by breaking out of my research comfort zone.

Know your work style and make sure you can work that way on sabbatical. For me, this meant that I needed to have people with whom I could talk about my research, because I often develop my thoughts much better through conversation. Working with co-researchers was one way I did that, and I am fortunate to have a partner who is an academic, was also on sabbatical, and is interested in my research. I also attended conferences where there was a fit with my research interests, and had some great conversations with conference presenters and attendees.

Doing research is one of my favourite things about being an academic librarian, and the chance to focus on research during my sabbatical was wonderful. I learned a lot about myself as a researcher, and as a librarian.

If you have taken a sabbatical, how did it affect your research? If you are planning one, what are you hoping to achieve with your research?

This article gives the views of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.