Monday, February 13, 2012

The Multi-Tasking Librarian

For those of you who don’t know me I have two master’s degrees. One, of course is my M.L.I.S. The other is in History. I feel compelled to mention this because it is an important factor to my library philosophy and to this post. I began working on my History MA before I went to Library School. My focus was Modern European History, but more specifically I focused on 19th Century French Antisemitism. I began my graduate education pursuing what was called the “Thesis Track.” I soon realized that if I stayed on that track that It would take me years (I would probably still be procrastinating) to finish. So, I switched to the “Exam Track.”

This, I believed, was a good move because not only would I finish grad school sooner but the change would also give me more breadth in knowledge thus making me more marketable. After I graduated I learned that my decision was a good one because the community colleges I applied to wanted me to be able to teach any of the history classes they offered.
This was a great learning experience for me because it led me to take a broad approach during my library school studies. Many told me that this was a mistake and that I should specialize as that was what potential library employers were looking for. Nevertheless I stuck with the approach I began with and was able to secure a position as a reference librarian.  

The broad approach I took paid off and I find myself utilizing a wide variety of skills in my daily routine.  As time went by I began noticing that multi-tasking was the norm.  The lines between librarian, library assistant, circulation assistant, and “shelver” became blurred. In addition to my wide range of “librarian duties,” I often work at the circulation and audio-visual desk and shelve books.
What is multi-tasking in the library world? For librarians it means having the ability to perform any task in the library. We check out books, collect fines, clear printer jams, address patron complaints, answer directional questions, plan programs, supervise and train volunteers, trouble shoot computer problems,  and the list goes on and on and on.

The point is that in today’s library climate, with ever shrinking budgets (California Governor plans to zero out the state library budget: ) and doing more with less, it is vital that librarians, indeed all library workers, be good at multi-tasking. It is critical, however, for library administrators to carefully consider which tasks should consume library workers’ time.  Service should be the priority. Programming should be reassessed with emphasis on children’s and young adult programs. Obviously, what works for one library may not work for another. This is why it is important to be in tune with your community’s needs and wants. A successful library is one that involves the community it serves.
So, how is your library multi-tasking?


Sandy said...

My local library does not seem to multitask. The positions are clearly outlined: a shelver is a shelver, a young-adult libn is a YA libn. Programming is for ages cradle to grave. Reference libns work on projects and are called out when the associate is unable to answer a question. Seems quite the opposite of your situation.

Another difference from your personal approach to checkout is self-checkout--they are close to 93% self-serve. This library would say it frees up staff to do other things.

Having come from your situation into this situation, I think the current library's staffing is artificially structured and unnaturally rigid. There seem to be enough, or more than enough, staff for all positions. As a patron, I feel well served. Granted, I don't need much service but the library seems responsive and caring to patrons and runs well.

Bottom line, I think this library is well funded and does not have to scramble or adapt to dire conditions. May that always be true.

Gail L said...

The great fallacy of multitasking is that more work and be done with less staff and done well. The rude fact of multitasking is that less gets done and often half-assed. I can't prepare a computer class while I'm shelving books or covering a public service desk. I can't do interlibrary loans while writing a report. Multitasking does not allow for an effective use of time, it only allows you to move tasks along incrementally in units requiring a minimum amount of attention. What administrators fail to realize is that backlog is exponential not linear. Consider the story of the lily pond, the lily pads double each day and if left unchecked will smother the pond in 30 days. That is what it feels like to multitask.

Sandy said...

Good answer, Gail.