By Meredith Farkas | June 29, 2011
At my previous place of work, we had weekly “council meetings” which was basically all of the professional librarians meeting to discuss issues, make big decisions about the library and manage the budget. It was a great experience to be involved in high-level discussions straight out of library school and really nice to feel in-the-loop about what was in the works at our library. Because I was in-the-loop it took me a while to realize that many other people at the library were not in-the-loop. Like our entire non-professional staff. There were no minutes taken for these meetings and although our library was small, communication still often did not filter down after the Council meetings. And I don’t think anyone purposely didn’t include staff in these conversations; like me, it’s hard for people to see what it’s like to be out-of-the-loop when you’re in-the-loop.
While I have no problem with degreed librarians being in charge of things, I do take issue with a system where staff do not feel like they have a voice or are not communicated with about possible changes in advance. If someone is just told “this is how it’s going to be” instead of being asked “what do you think of this idea?” how can you expect their buy-in? Even if things don’t go the way they wanted them to go, at least they got to share their opinion before a decision was made.
Library staff are often extremely knowledgeable about the library. Our Evening Circulation Supervisor at my previous job saw patterns in student library use that we simply didn’t see during the day. The insights I got from him during my evening reference shifts were vitally useful. As I said, I have no problem with professional librarians or administrators making the final decisions on things, but I think that soliciting the input of staff is vitally important as they likely have insights into their areas that no one else does.
In May, our Interim University Librarian announced that she’d be taking a job at another institution at the end of June. In faculty meetings we discussed potential replacements, met with the Provost, and heard about meetings with a potential candidate for the position (who is starting next week as our IUL). It didn’t occur to me until our “all staff meeting,” on the day of our current IUL’s going away party that this was the first time the staff were hearing about any of this (I’m assuming that faculty talked with their staff before this informally, but this was the first formal communication). While it was a time of uncertainty for library faculty, I can only imagine what it was like for staff, some of whom may have heard nothing about potential replacements, the direction the Provost wanted to go, etc. And again, I don’t think anyone was purposely keeping staff in the dark; I’m sure if a decision had actually been made before that time, it would have been communicated to everyone at the library. But I can imagine if I had no idea what was going on that I’d be a lot more anxious than if I at least knew how things were progressing.
Are library staff less committed to our profession? Plenty of non-degreed library staff are deeply invested in their work. They might see this as much as a career or a calling as someone who got an MLS does. I was always blown away by the dedication of our ILL technician at my previous job to the students and to ensuring that they got what they needed (even if it meant bending the rules a bit). I’ve seen degreed librarians with less dedication than she had.
I don’t know what the answer to these divisions in our libraries is, really. I have no problem with “Council Meetings” or “Administrative Meetings” where the big decisions are made (at least here at PSU, minutes are taken at the administrative meetings so I still feel in-the-loop even though I’m not involved). I take no issue with the MLS being a requirement for certain things. But I think sometimes we degreed librarians, we faculty librarians, etc. do sometimes forget to communicate with and solicit feedback from our staff. And I’ve been guilty of it too in the past and I’ll probably unthinkingly do it again (which is ironic since I was once a non-degreed library staff member who felt like I didn’t have a voice). It seems almost endemic in our profession; we bemoan it, but we unconsciously perpetuate it. Are there libraries where this is not an issue? How do you structure discussions, decision-making and communication? I’m sure I’m not the only one who’d like to know.