Sabbatical report

So my long-awaited research sabbatical finally came to an end last month. This was my first time going on sabbatical and it was…well, it was a lot different from what I envisioned when I first applied for leave in fall 2019. You know, back when the phrase “global pandemic” had yet to enter my lexicon. That’s not to say it was a bad experience and of course it’s an enormous privilege to be able to do something like this at any time, much less during a devastating economic and public health crisis. But the pandemic-related restrictions on travel and social interaction that have been in place to one degree or another since March 2020 meant that any goals I had for using my more flexible schedule to become more active in these areas had to be set aside. On the one hand, this meant I had no choice but to focus on my projects and be as productive as possible, which is not a bad thing. On the other, it made the experience of being on sabbatical much more isolating and burnout-inducing than it might have been otherwise.

I might do a future post on some of the challenges I faced and how I dealt with them but for now I wanted to focus on some of what I was able to accomplish during this time.

Literature review on creative writing pedagogy: When I applied for my sabbatical, the stated goal was to spend the time doing an in-depth literature review on creative writing pedagogy in order to build a foundation of knowledge that would help answer some questions I had about why the role of research in the creative process is so often left out of creative writing programs. I ended up reading 11 books and 25 articles on the topic, all between the start of my sabbatical in September and the end of January. This was a little short of the numbers I’d hoped to meet—I’m constantly finding more and more books I want to read—but by the start of February I decided to stop reading and start writing using what I have. I ended up with most of an article that I think is pretty strong, certainly much stronger than the draft I wrote before I did any of this in-depth work. My next goal with this is to use what I learned to interview some creative writing faculty from various programs to get a sense of whether research ever comes up as part of their teaching. I already have IRB approval to do this, so I’m hoping to get started with it soon.

Article on the role of research in fiction writing: I also used some of my time on sabbatical to wrap up a separate but related project investigating the content of writers’ self-reports in order to discover whether and how they talk about the role of research in the creative process (specifically, fiction writing). For this, I read almost 200 author interviews (from Writer’s Digest and Terrible Minds) and close to 30 writing-related books (both academic and popular) to see what I could find. I finished that around the end of December/beginning of January and since then have been working on an article detailing my findings. I think it’s a big improvement over the article I wrote a year or so ago which was only about the 10 books I read for my “10 books project,” but I’m a little nervous about what the reaction will be to the argument I’m trying to make, which echoes a lot of what Sandra Cowan had to say about how studies of creative information seeking tend to treat these populations as “problem users” whose behaviors we need to “fix.” I shared some of my thoughts on this with a colleague and their reaction was polite but also kind of tepid. I’m hoping to share my draft with a few people before submitting it for review, hopefully by the end of spring.

Completed draft for ALA book project: When I first applied for it, I had no idea that my sabbatical would coincide with my first-ever book project for ALA. After my proposal was accepted in April 2020, I raced to get as much done as I could over the summer, knowing once my sabbatical started that my focus would have to shift to my proposed literature review. Which is to say, the final manuscript is not due to the publisher until April 2022—I asked for extra time in my proposal because I knew I would be going on sabbatical—but the weirdness of the pandemic meant that I had more time than I might have otherwise to work on something like this, so I was able to get about half of the book drafted by the start of my sabbatical in September. The book was fully drafted by the end of January and then I spent the next month or so tweaking and polishing what I had. The book is about how to incorporate the contextual nature of research into information literacy instruction. I’m really excited about it  but also kind of terrified because even though I feel strongly about these ideas and enjoy writing about them, I have no idea if I’ve managed to convey them in a way that will resonate with a larger audience. I’m sure the feedback I receive on the remaining road to publication will help with this a lot. I’m also hoping to test the waters with my ACRL Conference presentation (“Annotated Bibliography as Artifact,” available on demand now for anyone registered for the conference!) that touches on a lot of the same themes as the book.

Blog project: Believe it or not, it’s been just over two years since I started this blog as a venue for talking about and sharing my research. I planned to put the blog on the back burner during my sabbatical, figuring I would have less to write about and also less time to write about it if my focus was on other things, but I ended up publishing more than ever, about 42 posts during those six months. Obviously, the readership here is not huge or active (though, based on the statistics that WordPress makes available, it’s bigger than it used to be) but writing these posts has been a great way to explore and sort out my thinking on the topics that I’ve been researching all this time. My writing for my article on the role of research in creative writing in particular went so much more smoothly than it might have if I hadn’t already worked out some of my thinking here and my posts on the “problems” I’m trying to solve with my research for both library and creative writer audiences particularly helped bring my thinking into focus. I know blogging is sort of old-fashioned and no longer viewed as a great way to build an author/public scholar platform, but it’s been a really valuable tool for me, one that I plan to keep using as my work continues to progress.

There were other things I accomplished on my sabbatical, including a redesign of the course that I’m currently teaching, but these were the areas where I had a lot of big research-related goals. I feel like I was able to do a lot and I’m proud of what I was able to get done, but like I said—there were definitely some challenges along the way, which I’ll be sharing more about in future posts.

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