There’s already a lot written about the obstacles working parents, particularly working moms of young children, face: sleeplessness, divided attention, guilt, discrimination, stretched income, the list goes on. I won’t be talking about that, however; as a newish mom, I find it depressing, and I believe it’s already known. What I would like to know instead is this: Can being a parent of young children bring positive influences and skills to the job of an academic librarian?
Doing a bit of research, I discovered two different pieces published in 2015 that asked similar questions. One is an article by Alexandra Gallin-Parisi, “The Joy of Combining Librarianship and Motherhood,” in which she interviewed 21 academic librarians, asking them open-ended questions about how their roles as parents and librarians influenced each other (pp. 9-10). The other work is a book chapter by Samantha Hines, “More Than Just Story Time: How Librarianship Prepares You for Parenting, and Vice Versa.” Hines sent out a survey that focused more specifically on skills transfer between the roles of librarian and parent (p. 26).
The results of their studies point to a few concrete positive qualities that parenting young children brought to the subjects’ professional lives. The authors also recorded the influences and skills that moved in the other direction: i.e., what the job brought to parenting, and what negative influences went both ways. I’m only going to cite here the positive influences and skills they mention that parenting seems to bring to librarianship, but I encourage you to read both of their works in full for additional context.
Various soft skills were named in both authors’ investigations. Samantha Hines wrote that 11 of her survey respondents believed they had become more compassionate and understanding people. Patience was mentioned by five respondents (p. 27); Listening skills and acknowledgment of others’ feelings were also listed by one person each (p. 28). Gallin-Parisi wrote that “increased sensitivity to students” was a theme she discovered in her interviews with librarians (p. 14). All of these abilities would be relevant to educators, liaisons between departments, and anyone who works with faculty and students on a daily basis.
A number of respondents to Hines’s survey mentioned improving in the following connected areas: efficiency (3 respondents), prioritizing (1), juggling priorities (1), and becoming less perfectionist (2) (p. 27-8). Despite what people in our culture might think, needing to be perfect all the time is not a good thing. With universities and colleges cutting their budgets, plenty of librarians have to do more with less time, and the compulsion to get every detail perfect poses a problem. In all, these are desirable qualities.
Gallin-Parisi also discovered that a number of her interviewees had become better at avoiding burnout (p. 14), while Hines had six respondents write that they had become strong proponents of work/life balance (p. 27); another survey respondent said they had improved at setting limits (p. 28). Employees are often hesitant to set limits and push for work/life balance in their libraries out of fear of ruffling feathers or worse. Yet setting reasonable limits is one way parent-librarians can prevent themselves from burning out. It is true that non-parents often feel that the parents in their office ask for and sometimes receive special treatment (see posts by AskAManager and the Daily Mail UK.). But parents who push for greater work-life balance for everybody based on their own needs would help to alleviate the feelings of others who, at heart, probably need a break. This is not to say that parent-librarians are really getting much of a break due to these “perks.”
Some of Gallin-Parisi’s interviewees surprised her in saying they had a newfound pride in their identity as librarians after having children (p. 14). Passion and enthusiasm are always a boon in the workplace, and I speculate that librarianship, or work in general, with its possibilities for unambiguous accomplishments and tasks with clear beginnings and ends, brings a welcome respite from the often dismissed and hard-to-explain-unless-you’ve-done-it work of childcare.
Hopefully, more research will be published in the future on these questions. Now we’d like to hear from you. How do you think parenthood has made you a better librarian or library worker? Or, in your experience, do you think the qualities mentioned above are widespread or not? Please let us know in the comments!
Benson, E. (2003). The many faces of perfectionism. Monitor on Psychology, 34(10), 18. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/monitor/nov03/manyfaces.aspx
Gallin-Parisi, A. (2015). The Joy of Combining Librarianship and Motherhood. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 41(6), 839–846. Retrieved from https://digitalcommons.trinity.edu. http://doi.org/10.1016/J.ACALIB.2015.09.002
Green, A. & Anonymous (2018, November 21). parents in my office are sticking non-parents with all the holiday coverage. [Weblog entry]. Retrieved from https://www.askamanager.org
Hines, S. S. (2015). More than just story time: how librarianship prepares you for parenting, and vice versa. In Skills to Make a Librarian (pp. 21–33). Retrieved from https://books.google.com. http://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-08-100063-2.00003-X
Waterlow, L. (2013, August 2). Mummy wars: Nearly half of non-parents claim they work harder than colleagues who have children. DailyMail.com. Retrieved from https://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/