Reflections on the Monthly Review Report after Sabbatical

Since June 2015, creating a monthly review report has been a grounding practice of my librarianship. Only once, in a particularly busy April-May 2016, did I fail to produce a report within the monthly time frame. That was the first and only time I had combined more than one month into a report—until now.

One of the privileges of my current librarian/faculty position is the opportunity to apply for a six-month sabbatical after three and a half years of service. The board of trustees at my institution granted me my first sabbatical to continue developing the Integrated Library Planning model and prepare it for publication. From July to December 2017, my primary focus was starting the manuscript. I suspended sabbatical and checked in with the staff at the library twice monthly and attended to administrative tasks that could not be left unattended for six months and were not easily delegated to another staff person. When I first planned how I would spend these days, I imagined that I would still have time for the monthly review cycle and at least drafting a monthly review report.

What actually happened was much different than the plan. Isn’t that always the case? I found that my time in the library was quickly eaten up with managing time-sensitive email, financial matters, answering questions the staff had accumulated in my absence, and putting out various and sundry “fires.” But this was only after I had gotten into the rhythm of being on sabbatical. The first month was spent in transition, with my attention more on finishing projects and last-minute preparations for the new academic year. Not only did I find I did not have time to produce a monthly review report for each month while I was on sabbatical, I was not able to compile the combination monthly review & fiscal year-end report for June 2017.

Making the choice to put off the reports was not an easy one. I was riddled by the feeling that I was leaving something very important undone. As I got deeper into my sabbatical, that feeling began to pass. I immersed myself in writing and worked through part of my outline. Each time I returned to the library for my bi-monthly check-ins, a reassurance emerged that I had made the right decision. I knew that when I returned, resuming the monthly review cycle and updating the integrated plan to the present moment would be a big job. But I also knew that the little time I was spending in the library was not sufficient to make the monthly review cycle meaningful.

When I returned from sabbatical at the start of 2018, I devoted most of my workday to planning. After eight workdays, I was finished with both a June 2017/fiscal year-end report and a July-December 2017 monthly review report. It was necessary time spent for me. This process, the monthly review cycle, is how I ground myself. It shows me where the library has been, how our patrons are engaging our collections and services, and helps me discern our future direction. Considering that I was covering seven months and reviewing the previous fiscal year, eight days could be considered a reasonable amount of time to spend in this review and planning mode. For me, it was an invaluable opportunity to become reacquainted with the library and our patrons.

The experience taught me some things about the monthly review cycle. The last time I had combined months into one report, I found it to be messy and the report was unwieldy with extra data. This report was similar. Its total length is over sixty pages, when a typical monthly review is only about thirty. At times, it was difficult to keep track of what had happened in each of our functional areas alongside all the revisions and additions being made to the integrated plan. I worried about information overload for my supervisor and the dean.

What I did not expect, however, was the deeper level of insight I was able to get into some areas of the library. The monthly review report includes several sets of data from across the library. In a typical month, I am seeing only one month of new data at a time and analyzing it with past data. For the July-December report, I was seeing six months of data for the first time. In a way, seeing that much data for the first time made patterns and emerging trends more noticeable. I gained a stronger vision for addressing these emerging trends and felt better able to adjust our goals and outcomes than I had in quite some time. What was lost, however, was the ability to act upon these trends in a more timely and responsive manner during my sabbatical.

I do not expect to change the monthly review cycle or adjust it to a longer review period. The monthly nature of the cycle is more in sync with my rhythms as a librarian, director, and leader. This experience has reaffirmed the flexibility and adaptability of Integrated Library Planning, however, for a variety of contexts. The monthly review cycle has the potential to be just as valuable if it were a bimonthly or quarterly review cycle. Biannual, however, might be a bit too long to wait for Integrated Library Planning to produce the same dynamic and responsive results.

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