All work and no play..??

This blog has been neglected. There is no other way to put it. I have published more on my Norwegian academic blog, and I have kept some other, more personal blogs, updated, but for some reason this blog has been pushed aside whenever I have had the need for some written reflections. Partly, I guess it is because it is easier to just write in Norwegian, and partly because I have blogged less overall these past few months. I usually blog more when I have read something interesting or found something new to test, and it is a sign of the times that more time has been spent on meetings and administrative tasks than before, and therefore leaving less time for professional development. The pandemic is partly to blame, as I now have daily meetings online with the rest of the staff at the library where I work as well as more meetings and e-mails and chat messages with other staff at the other libraries at my university. I have had just as many planned lectures etc. as before, but of course, the impromptu counselling that comes with being physically at campus are no more. Still – I get a lot of e-mails, and I have tried to take on some other responsibilities to help take a little pressure off some others, who have to staff the circulation desks etc. at the various campuses. When my closest colleagues and I were planning 2021, we realised that we were spending a lot more time in meetings and other administrative tasks than before. Some have more administrative work concerning inter-library loans etc. than before because our students and staff are working from home and need their documents sent to their home addresses (which in turn requires finding home addresses, packing everything manually etc). Some are staffing the virtual library desks, and that takes a lot of time and effort, and some have been involved in more collaborative groups (which usually is a good thing, but I mean.. I think we have to ask ourselves: What is the goal of this project? How can this benefit our patrons? What are we willing to give up in order to make it happen? How much time do we have to spend in meetings? etc. before we just jump into another project). To make matters worse, the University Library have to save money, as this conservative, current government has decided to cut budgets for higher education (yeah! THAT makes sense these days!) in order to give tax cuts to the wealthiest people in this country. (As you can probably tell by this rant, I am not a fan of the conservative party, though I am not often as explicit on this blog.) This means that, even though nobody is being laid off, library staff that retire are not necessarily replaced. We were already understaffed, and while we are always looking for things to do more efficiently, we cannot innovate our way out of this. At my section, we are six librarians serving 4000 students and approx. 350 staff, and that is considered an indulgence?

My point of this rant is.. what happens when a library is understaffed and underfunded? We focus on day to day operations. Answering e-mails and phone calls, getting the inter-library loans sent and received, teaching the planned sessions, helping researchers getting their papers registered, taking the meetings you are required to be in.. these things have a way of forcing their way to the front of whatever other things you were hoping to do. I am worried about the long term effects of never having time to reading the new research in your field of interest, never developing a new idea (unless it is directly involving efficiency measures), never just sitting quietly to reflect and think about something. I am worried that we’ll become a University Library that not only never evolves, but simply forgets how to do it or that we at one time had ambitions beyond the day to day routines to just give the patrons what they want in the moment. We know that students are very happy with the library services, and that is nice, of course, but it doesn’t mean much. When you have no expectations, it is easy to be pleasantly surprised. We cannot expect the patrons to ask for services they have no idea that we can give them. It is our job to dream up the best library we can think of and then strive to fulfil that vision. If we are just running around in our carefully crafted hamster wheel – how can we expect that to happen?

I consider myself extremely lucky. I have close colleagues that I respect and admire. We are doing the best we can every day, and the fact that we each have a field of expertise has done wonders for us. I am just worried that if we have all work and no play, that even this will eventually fade.

As a local initiative to help us staying current and working with projects, my manager started having a project week once a semester. We are still just testing this idea, but I love it. For one week, we push meetings that can be pushed, we avoid booking teaching sessions as much as possible, we focus on just the bare necessities of day to day operations, and then we either decide on a joint project or set aside time for reading articles etc. Last week was such a week. The overall theme for the week was to get better acquainted with the APA 7th style. We have never supported APA at my library, because all students were required to use either the Harvard style or the Vancouver style. Now, two study programmes have transitioned to APA 7th. That means that we’ll get lots of questions this spring, and we needed to be prepared. We chose different approaches to this, but we all read the Norwegian APA manual, and I chose to read some research articles that I have had in my “To be read” pile for months, and then writing them up in an annoted bibliography. We also had a few other projects going in the physical library as well as reading some internal papers on a reorganising of the library services.

Having a “professional development week” or a project week, as we chose to call it, really makes some difference. To have some time to think and reflect on how we can do things differently, or to imagine another kind of library, to discuss something about the future or state of things with colleagues that are not just about the details.. that is such an important break from everyday operations. I think it did us all some good. I know that some have a hard time letting go of the day to day stuff, and it is not my notion that we should just ignore everything for a week, but I really think that we need to practice saying: “Hi – and thank you for your message/e-mail/phone call. We are working on new services and developing new ideas this week, but we’ll get back to you as soon as we can.” I really do think that patrons would not have a big problem with that. I still believe that good librarians are crucial to the institutions we serve, but it is not like we are working in the ER. Sometimes, people can wait – and nobody will think less of us for trying to create something better long term.

graphic art of a tree cut like a human head, and leaves blowing away from it.
Illustration: colourbox.com

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