Podcast: Work/life balance with librarian Hannah Olsen

Part of the Best of Both Worlds podcast mission is to share stories and strategies from of lots of different women. How do people from all walks of life make work and life fit together?

Sarah and I welcomed Hannah Olsen to the program this week. Olsen is a technical services librarian, a mom of two (7-year-old girl and a baby boy). Unlike Sarah and me, she’s a true Millennial (we’re in the “Oregon Trail” generation for lack of a better phrase!)

The discussion touched on a lot of topics, but here are a few highlights.

We all find our careers different ways. Olsen worked in the same library system as a college student. She hadn’t particularly been planning to do this professionally, but when a part-time job opened up, it seemed like a good thing to try. She decided she liked it, and wanted to get the education that could enable a career in library sciences. So she went back to school, taking online classes to get her masters degree in library science, and then moving into a full time library job.

Librarians don’t just get to read all day. Olsen says she reads on her lunch break! She uses this break during the day to recharge her batteries.

People ask librarians funny questions. Like there’s this book I want. It’s red. Olsen does what she can. She once solved a child’s book request — the child knew the book’s size — by figuring out that it was a book she had checked out in the past. The record provided the clues!

Extended family can make life work. Olsen is one of 10 children. Indeed, some of her siblings are close in age to her own daughter! Her mom watches her baby while she works. This turned out to be key to deal with another potential challenge…

Short maternity leaves are tough but women make it work. Olsen went back to work just a few weeks after her second child was born (by C-section). Knowing she was leaving her baby with her mother — who clearly has a lot of childcare experience! — made this more doable.

Different kids can lead to different choices. Olsen breastfed her first child for two years. After a difficult birth with the second, she decided to go the formula route. The upside is that he sleeps like a dream (a “unicorn baby” Olsen tells us).

Adopting opposite schedules isn’t necessarily a great strategy. Some couples aim to stagger their work hours to minimize the use of childcare. For Olsen and her husband, this was simply the reality of their work. She had traditional hours in her library, he worked in a restaurant, and consequently had a lot of evening hours. She reports that this was quite rough on their marriage. He now works in corporate food service, which means that he has normal office cafeteria hours. Much better!

Being a primary breadwinner can change some assumptions, but it’s also about the specific people. Olsen has generally been the primary breadwinner in their family, since her husband was working part-time up until recently. One might think that this, by itself, would change some of the traditional assumptions about who does what. However, some research has revealed this is not always the case. But Olsen’s husband is the kind of guy who believes in an equitable split. Also, as Olsen put it, “I asked.” Asking for what she needs has helped this young couple weather the two-career, two-kid lifestyle. She does the mornings because he reports to work early. He does the afternoon because he’s off at 2:30 p.m. He generally does the 7-year-old’s activities and cooks dinner.

Then the Q&A is about outsourcing and what it teaches children. Let me know what you think of Sarah and my answers!

18 thoughts on “Podcast: Work/life balance with librarian Hannah Olsen

  1. Re the Q&A, I totally agree that the person who wrote in should re-hire a person to clean her house! Sarah’s “we do this so Mommy and Daddy can go to work” rationale makes a lot of sense to me. We pay a house cleaner and I also totally agree with Laura’s observation that there are plenty of other chores to do, and to involve one’s children in. My kids are preschool/toddler age and I’ve noticed that they are endlessly enthusiastic about “helping.” I feel like my husband and I have plenty of opportunities to capitalize on their desire to help as their interests and capabilities grow and change, so I’m not really worried that they won’t know how to launder their clothes by the time they leave for college.

    I’m a librarian so this was a fun interview for me to hear! Hannah and I work in completely different kinds of libraries (I’m an academic librarian), in totally different roles (I’m tenured and in a teaching role), and I changed careers to become a librarian (from fundraising and development).

    Though I didn’t really identify with her experiences professionally or personally, I totally agree that there’s an assumption that we librarians “just read all day.” When I was in the hospital after my son was born, a nurse told me that many labor and delivery nurses fantasize about becoming librarians “because it just sounds so nice.” It’s true that there are few if any life threatening emergencies in librarianship, and many libraries offer unique flexibilities that can be pretty family-friendly, though it depends.

      1. LOL, yes–when I was in graduate school, one of my reference librarian mentors always reminded me that there was no such thing as a life or death reference question, even though we may strive to be proactive and responsive to the needs of researchers.

        In your own neck of the woods, and in other libraries, there is a movement for librarians to provide life saving assistance: http://www.philly.com/philly/columnists/mike_newall/opioid-crisis-Needle-Park-McPherson-narcan.html And following the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, some have suggested that school librarians should be armed: https://nyti.ms/2FVNrjM Having never fired a gun, I find this alarming. For some this might be an “other duties as assigned” type of thing. However, for many librarians, myself included, it’s scary to think about taking on roles for which we have no training/expertise…

    1. Hi Robin, I love hearing about other librarians’ roles too! Sounds like all we have in common is that sometimes we answer reference questions, and that’s part of the beauty of librarianship I think.

  2. Fellow (public children’s) librarian here! No reading at the desk for this gal! I often don’t sit for hours at a time in the busy after school hours.

    I am always interested to hear different perspectives in the field. In my particular system and library work there is little to no flexibility, as the shifts and hours are tightly scheduled to ensure floor coverage. The library is also open 7 days a week and 12 hours a day Monday-Thursday, so full-time works is two evenings a week, every other Saturday, and rotating Sundays. This can be tricky with childcare without a spouse with a regular “business hours” schedule. The work does not come home with our (or is not supposed to, in our unionized library) so the ability to leave it at work at work is a benefit.

    1. @Lisa – it’s an interesting tension on the hours. Because yes, the library needs to be open at times the public can come (weekends, evenings, etc.) but that can be hard on the librarians themselves in terms of scheduling!

    2. Hi! I just got home from my evening shift and I felt like I barely sat down all night so I sympathize! ha!

      My schedule is more flexible now than it used to be — I used to work Saturdays but one staff person has taken them all so I get full weekends right now which is lovely. We aren’t open nearly as many hours as you are, either.

  3. I have to admit I understand your answers to the q&a but disagree. My mom was a SAHM when I was a kid. Yet we all still helped clean on Saturdays. The idea encompasses more than teaching them how to clean. It shows teamwork and sharing duties in the family – my dad had jobs too. It also gives kids a sense of responsibility for their surroundings. If she can afford it and prefers the house cleaner, definitely hire back. But maybe only every other week. Or have the cleaner come once a week. But you could still have family cleaning hour on Saturday. I see your point that they can maybe learn this from other chores too. But I don’t think it is wrong to have “cleaning” chores in there. I know my mom said her sons developed better aim at the toilet after cleaning the bathroom a few times.

  4. I have a toddler (a son) also and you guys have inspired me to finally get a cleaning person. I want to make sure to teach him about cleanliness, but there is so much to do around the house I am not worried about the lack of responsibility. Ha

  5. First I would just like to say that I appreciate that you and Sarah have not yet added commercials to your podcast.

    Second, as a librarian this was interesting to listen to however I wanted to comment on library schedules. I specifically went to grad school to be a librarian thinking it would provide me with a flexible career when/if I had a family. Libraries are open anywhere from 50-70 hours per week. I also knew as a professional (at least in Illinois) I could earn a good wage as a part time professional with my MLS. This has held true as when my daughter was in preschool I was able to adjust my schedule to work two nights so I can participate in preschool pick up /drop off and field trips. I was also able to work from home. So if you ever want to interview another librarian I’d love to be a guest!
    Finally, regarding the cleaning lady etc. Don’t most SAHM clean while their kids are in school so it’s still an invisible job. I’m finding the ongoing cleaner conversation interesting. People ask me how I can read so much. I say that I don’t clean. I also don’t have a cleaning person. My husband is a stay at home dad and he does some cleaning. We don’t have family cleaning day. I’m ok with dirt. However, I’ve realized it’s a life skill I never really learned (same with cooking) or had much interest in. I’ve been thinking about this in relation to my two daughters and what approach to take. I’m more into less clutter and picking up than in to vacuuming, dusting, cleaning the bathroom etc. Thanks for giving me something to think about.

    1. I’m intrigued about working at home as a librarian. Can you provide more information? Very true about night working provide mornings with young kids! Usually an upside to each downside!

      1. When I worked at home I was the Head of Adult Services – I would do collection development, write grants, write my monthly article for the newspaper, plan programs and work on other projects. I found I was more productive because I wasn’t constantly interrupted.

  6. Another public librarian here! From reading these comments and also from speaking with other librarians, I will say I think the schedules for a full-time librarian vary widely–I work one evening a week and every fourth Saturday. My library is also open 7 days a week and 11.5 hours a day Monday-Thursday. It really depends on your library, the open hours, the number of full-time and part-time staff, etc. Town rules for us also state that employees can’t work from home, so that is another aspect that depends on where you work. That being said, I do love that generally the work does not come home with us as Lisa mentioned above. (although I do often have ideas about programs or things to try while at home–I just jot them down to follow up on at work). I’m also realizing that my schedule is more flexible in some ways than it might look at first glance, and if one works at the same library for long enough, that could be true for others as well. I’ve been at the same library for almost ten years and have accrued enough vacation and sick time to make things much easier than they were when I started–the capital I’ve cultivated by demonstrating my worth, dependability, and willingness to fill in for other staff members also plays into this. Depending on my staff coverage and other things going on in my day, I have the ability to leave for a few hours and work later (since we are open late most evenings) or just take vacation time. When I work a Saturday, I get to take comp time during the week. I even like working an evening because I get that morning off. It is really nice to have free time in the middle of a work day. Some of this does depend on the library, the town benefits and library/town policies, and the luck of ending up in a library you’d like to be in for a long time. I just think it’s interesting that places that seem like they have a rigid schedule can be more flexible than they appear.

    I also found the outsourcing conversation fascinating–I like Kim’s suggestion of having a cleaner come every other week. I think another option is to have a cleaner come while your kids are younger and much less helpful and then make your teenagers help much more. A combination of having a cleaner but beginning to teach kids ages 6-11 here and there, and then having teenagers contribute more because they have the ability to do more. My mom used to pay me to clean the house when I was a teenager, which is another option (there were other unpaid tasks I was required to do as a member of the household).

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