Sabbatical Options for Academic Librarians in the U.S. Vary Widely

Heather Ganshorn


A Review of:
Flaspohler, M. R. (2009). Librarian sabbatical leaves: Do we need to get out more? Journal of Academic Librarianship, 35(2), 152-161.

Objectives – To gather data on what proportion of U.S. academic libraries provide sabbatical opportunities to librarians, and to explore library directors’ perceptions of the effectiveness of sabbaticals and barriers to sabbatical-taking among librarians at their institutions.
Design – Online questionnaire.

Setting – Academic libraries in the U.S..

Subjects – Directors of 403 academic libraries.

Methods – The author reviewed the literature on sabbatical leaves in the library profession. She then developed an online survey using the University of Washington’s Catalyst system (a tool similar to SurveyMonkey). The survey contained both closed and open-ended questions, in order to generate quantitative data as well as to gather more in-depth information on respondents’ views.

A sample of American academic library directors was generated by choosing every eighth entry on a list of 3037 academic libraries generated by lib-web-cats, an online directory of libraries ( The survey was sent to 403 academic library directors based on this selection method. The author received 101 successfully completed surveys for a response rate of 25%.

Main Results – The author found that just over half of respondents (53 libraries, or 52%) indicated their institutions offered sabbatical leaves to librarians. Thirty-six per cent indicated they did not, while 12% indicated “other” (many of these respondents commented with clarifications about what other leave programs were available to librarians). Of the 53 institutions that reported offering leave programs, only half (27 respondents) indicated that library staff members had taken a sabbatical leave.

Open-ended questions generated some insight into the barriers to sabbatical leaves at academic libraries. Differences between institutions in terms of availability of sabbatical leaves appear to be due to a combination of librarian status (whether or not librarians have full faculty status); funding issues (in some institutions, the library, and not the college administration, has to cover the costs of a sabbatical); and availability of other staff to cover the duties of the individual taking the leave.

Respondents also noted a discrepancy between the length and timing of librarian sabbaticals compared to other faculty (i.e., the professoriate), with librarians more often required to begin their leaves in the summer. Librarian sabbaticals were also sometimes shorter than those of other faculty; in some institutions a summer-length sabbatical was available, but not a six-month or year-long sabbatical, even though these options were available to other faculty.

In terms of impacts of sabbaticals, most respondents who had experienced a staff member taking sabbatical felt that the sabbatical benefited the staff member and the institution; positive results include improved morale, publications that raised the profile of the library, and learning that was applied in the workplace. Some respondents, however, had negative experiences to report, the most common being that the sabbatical had had no effect. Some respondents noted staff who had taken sabbaticals had failed to meet the goals that had been set for the sabbatical. When asked what could be done to enhance sabbatical programs, respondents at institutions with these programs had some interesting suggestions, such as aligning sabbatical programs more closely with institutional goals, or promoting the pursuit of more collaborative research while on sabbatical.

Conclusion – The author notes that while it’s dangerous to over-generalize from such a brief survey, many of the issues raised in the responses, such as faculty status, funding shortfalls, and staff shortages echo themes raised elsewhere in the library literature. These issues probably need to be addressed if we are to see any increase in the number of librarians taking sabbatical leaves.

The author’s other conclusion is that librarians must be more accountable for demonstrating how a sabbatical could add institutional value, and for meeting the goals set in their sabbatical plans. The author conducted this study while on sabbatical herself, and concludes it “provides one example of how a librarian might create a manageable, research-based project that more closely marries academic rigor to personal experience” (p. 160).


academic librarianship; sabbaticals; professional development

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