Ask Library Lost & Found: Structuring Workdays

liblostfound —  September 23, 2015 — 1 Comment

Welcome to Ask Library Lost & Found, where we answer your library leadership questions. Send us your questions about library management, career paths, professional development, innovation – or anything in library land! As true librarians, if we don’t have an answer we’ll find someone who does.

A reader asked: Is an assignment schedule a positive change, or an attack on librarian work ethics?

I’m looking for help on a management situation at my library. I work in a small district library in a rural area. 

Two weeks ago, our director retired and I was named the interim director until the board can find a qualified candidate. I don’t have my MLIS, so I can’t be considered for the long run. The library I’ve temporarily inherited has a great staff of 18 full or time workers, but our former director(s) didn’t do much managing or leading.

Nearly all of the library staff are considered Librarian 2 (L2), which means they do everything from working the circulation desk to shelving, weeding, and processing new materials. Very few tasks are set aside for specific staff members. This staff, some of which have been here over 10 years, have been largely unsupervised, and have never really had a ‘boss’ telling them what to work on. There is no team of acting supervisors.

As a result, many staff members flock to the circulation desk rather than shelving, shifting, or other tasks they would normally do. That results in what can be a noisy work environment, and is not very effective in maintaining our library stacks. There was a time when we had library pages, but now that all staff are L2s, there’s no totem pole system. So, as I said: everyone is trying to do the same work.

In addition, the library board has asked me to curb this issue of what appears to them as over staffing. What I did is draft a Daily Assignments schedule, which details where all L2s will be working every hour of their shift, rotating throughout the day. My intention here was that (1) the library would no longer appear over staffed by board members and patrons alike, as there is now never more than two or three staff scheduled at our circulation terminals at one time; (2) no staff hours get cut and no one even needs to change their work schedule; (3) staff who have special tasks such as mending or buffing now have scheduled time to do these jobs and will not be pulled away to assist patrons; (4) it leaves our library in better shape now that there are many hours a day where staff are scheduled to be shelf reading, cleaning, or weeding.

So, my issue? Maybe you’ve already flagged this as a terrible idea and see where I’m going with it: many staff members have shared with me that it is very demeaning for them to be suddenly told what to do. They feel like it’s an attack on their work ethic, that there performance was so bad I needed to intervene and set them straight. I feel terrible – as this was never my intention. I just thought it would make things run smoother and keep the library in good shape.

Still, some staff like the change, as they feel there is more structure to their day and they benefit from the added organization.

What would you do? Do I need to drop it all together? Or am I on the right track, and the staff just need to catch on?


-New Leader

It sounds like you were trying to address dual issues with the assignment schedule: ineffective work distribution and perceived overstaffing. Setting a schedule is not a bad way to address these problems, and I don’t think you need to completely drop it.

Some tasks fall by the wayside unless they are intentionally divvied out. In my library, at least, shelf reading will absolutely not get done unless it is specifically assigned. Schedules are also essential for circulation and reference desk coverage. It is also 100% normal to need a sense of how your employees spend their time, especially as a new manager.

Change is always hard with some individuals. I’m wondering how the change was rolled out. Did you distribute the assignment with tasks already distributed, giving the impression that it is set in stone?

I would have tried to get employee buy-in before making the change. I would do this by sharing the problem (work not getting done, too many people at the circulation desk), and talking about possible solutions while gathering feedback. Even if they didn’t care for the ultimate solution, they would feel involved in the decision process and have an understanding of the challenge you’re facing.

At this point, I would suggest sharing (if you haven’t already) your reasons behind making the assignment board. They are solid reasons of real concern to the function of the library. Once you acknowledge their concerns with the schedule, you could also ask if they have suggestions for alternatives that ensure the work is getting done.

Since your employees had an emotional reaction to the schedule, perhaps you can explore ways to give back a measure of control. Could they set their own schedules week to week? You could see what was happening (and make sure the less popular tasks were getting done) but the librarians would be able to choose which hours of the day they spend on which tasks.

Once you’ve explained your reasons and explored alternatives, then heard protests and answered them, it’s fair to ask everyone to abide by the change without grumbling.

It sounds like you’re committed to good leadership at your library! We’re wishing you the best. Keep us posted on how it goes.

One response to Ask Library Lost & Found: Structuring Workdays


    I’d like to know how it goes too! Sounds like good advice.

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