I have been eligible to apply for a research leave for a little while, but I never saw the appeal. I’m the sort of person who prefers to be in the thick of it, dealing with problems and issues as they happen, and feeling like my daily work makes an impact on the people around me. The idea of stepping away from work I love ran counter to my recipe for a good work experience. I was a doctoral student before I went to library school, I know how I feel about scads of unstructured time. (In a word: nervous.) So research leave really wasn’t in the cards.
But then three things happened: I got taken along for a site visit to North Carolina State, I did a workshop for Mozilla in there Toronto offices, and then I went on vacation.
Visiting a cutting edge, thoughtfully-designed and managed library like NCSU was very inspiring to me. Looking at how other people constructed their spaces, and how their services and spaces interacted, made a million new ideas burst from me. I saw how we could do things better, even simple things, and that services that seemed impossible weren’t. It was one of the most valuable things I’ve ever done.
When I visited Mozilla’s workshop space in Toronto with my colleague Lauren Di Monte, we observed that the way they laid out their furniture had a direct impact on the way we felt sitting in their space. It changed how we interacted with technology, and made it easier for us to look at the same digital material with a group. I came back from Mozilla and reorganized my office to make a “display sharing” zone for faculty consultation. It’s been practically seamless for visitors, and 100% successful at letting us easily and simply consult with instructors over their course websites.
Then, on my first ever solo vacation to London, I looked at the world with new eyes once again: I looked at the decisions people made about services, space, and technology, I thought about what they meant in the context of an academic library, and I took lessons that I then applied to my work. It reminded me that the solutions to the problems I see every day exist out there in the world, sometimes hiding as signage policies or creative uses of furniture and projection.
While stepping away from the daily grind made me feel like I would be less useful, I realized that in fact the opposite could very well be true.
Thus my sabbatical plan was born.
At the end of December I shopped around a proposal based on these three experiences; to visit places, look at how they do things, and think hard about how they apply in our library. I was met with much encouragement and enthusiasm from all corners, so I submitted it officially in January. (Actual proposal attached below.) A couple of weeks ago I got word that it had cleared all the hurdles, and I am now officially going off for a research leave staring October 1, 2013.
I have an outrageous amount of planning to do.