Committing to Not Overcommitting: Building a Life & Career without Burning Out

Jazmin Idakaar, newly hired Boston area librarian, Phillybrarians Founder & Outreach Professional
previously published 3/29/13

Committing to Not Overcommitting: Building a Life & Career without Burning Out

JazminIThe library field is an exciting, busy place full of people and theories and (dare I say it) books, but it’s also an easy place to get burnt out. If you’re not a librarian yet, you might be a student with a job, classes, and an internship or two. If you’re already a librarian, you’ve probably been roped into at least one committee, work lots of hours with patrons, and try to squeeze in some professional development. Whatever your job status, you’re probably also adding networking and social media to that list. And then, of course, comes the rest of your life responsibilities, like laundry and eating breakfast and spending time with your significant other, which are often the things that get pushed to the wayside first. What’s a librarian to do?

Here are some tips to avoid, or recover from, burnout!phillylib

1.       If you’re already overcommitted, the first thing to do is figure out what your priorities are and what, if anything, can be put on hold or let go of. You don’t have to ditch everything, but try to scale back. If you’re on 4 committees, try to pare down to 2-3. If you’re interning at 2 places, think about cutting down to one or trimming down your hours.

2.       Fit in some “me time” every day. Even if your days are crammed full, give yourself a little chunk of quiet and/or alone time. Whether that means knitting a scarf, playing Portal 2, or going to the gym for 20 minutes, do something nice for yourself.  If you have to schedule it in your smartphone or recruit a friend to help make it happen, do it.

3.       Try to incorporate some non-library social time. Even if it’s only once or twice a month, don’t forget to have a social life. If you can’t spare lots of time or money, going out for dinner and movie might not be feasible, but takeout and Mega Shark vs. Crocosaurus with friends will still be fun and give you some time to unwind.

4.       Don’t forget to breathe. Take a deep breath, hold it for a moment, and then release it slowly. Do that a few times in a row and you’ll feel a little more human and a little less burnt.

5.       Don’t be afraid to say no. This is probably the hardest thing for most people. We don’t like to disappoint others, or we think that if we say yes to everything, something is bound to stick and get us that permanent position or title change. But if you’re taking on too many projects, it’s likely that the quality of your contributions will suffer with each new task you pile on. Do yourself and your coworkers a favor and only take on what you can reasonably handle.

Ultimately, overcommitment will leave you feeling overwhelmed and hinder your productivity. It’s good to be engaged and involved, but not when it’s at the expense of your well-being. Give yourself permission not to do 9,854 things every second and your brain, body, and patrons will thank you.

Naomi House

Naomi House, MLIS, is the founder and publisher of the popular webzine and jobs list (formerly I Need a Library Job) and former CMO (Chief Marketing Officer) of, a crowdfunding platform focused on African patrimony, heritage and cultural projects. INALJ was founded in October 2010 with the assistance of her fellow Rutgers classmate, Elizabeth Leonard. Its social media presence has grown to include Facebook (retired in 2016), Twitter and a LinkedIn group, in addition to the interviews, articles and jobs found on INALJ. INALJ has had over 21 Million page hits and helped many, many thousands of librarians find employment! Through grassroots marketing, word of mouth and a real focus on exploring unconventional resources for job leads, INALJ grew from a subscription base of 20 friends to a website with over 500,000 visits in one month. Naomi believes that well-sourced quantity is quality in this narrow job market and INALJ reflects this with many new jobs published daily. She has also written for the 2011, 2012 and 2013 LexisNexis Government Info Pro and many other publications in the past decade. She presents whenever she can, including serving on three panels at the American Library Association's Annual Conference in Las Vegas; as breakout presenter at OCLC EMEA in Cape Town, South Africa; as a keynote speaker at the Virginia Library Association annual meeting; at the National Press Club in Washington DC; McGill University in Montreal, Canada; the University of the Emirates, Dubai, MLIS program and the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Naomi was a Reference, Marketing and Acquisitions Librarian for a contractor at a federal library outside Washington, DC, and has been living and working in Budapest, Hungary and Western New York State. She spent years running her husband’s moving labor website, fixed and sold old houses and assisted her husband cooking delicious Pakistani food. She is preparing to re-enter the workforce and is job hunting. Her husband is now the co-editor of INALJ, a true support!  She has heard of spare time but hasn’t encountered it lately. She pronounces INALJ as eye-na-elle-jay.