Friday, August 21, 2009

Perplexed Librarian - Part Four

Five years ago I wrote a series of short articles submitted to Publib asking a series of questions trying to gain a better understanding of the state and direction of the Library world. Some of the logistical and system information is dated. My email address has changed. TELIS has been moved, and the workload realigned. However, my questions are still valid and I'm still seeking answers to these questions.

This is the fourth article in the series. GFW

August 5, 2004

For those of you who have been reading my perplexing questions, and responding, thank you. I have one more situation to describe, and then I will sum up what I am seeing.

The evidence suggests that our management wish to turn the Library into a system of retail outlets with Library workers instead of Librarians and Library assistants. In part one I described the move toward a centralized buying system similar to that used in a retail store. In part two I suggested that the system was examining moving toward outsourcing the Collection and Technical Services of the Library. Part three examined the removal of Librarians from a multilevel main library to a single floor, and reassigning professional work to para-professionals. In this part I will present the redefinition of the Librarians job description. I will examine one area of work done by every Librarian at the main library.

The large public library serving the community of Sacramento, California, has centralized its telephone reference services. Instead of each of the 26 branches answering the phones a cadre of Librarians take turns responding to telephone inquiries. This service is available seven days a week, mostly during hours when any branch is open, and even after all but the main library is closed. Telephone reference is available to the public 67 hours a week, which is far more hours than any branch or the main library. There are a few times during the day when the lines are not busy. Most of the time there are three Librarians answering between 20 and 60 calls, not questions, per hour. Each patron receives at least five minutes of time. If the question cannot be answered within five minutes then we will call the person back within 24 hours with a more detailed answer. Those patrons needing to speak with a branch are transferred. Every imaginable question is fielded in the telephone reference department. The phone traffic can be very heavy.

It has been suggested that management hire a receptionist to triage telephone inquiries. There are many times when all the patron wants to know is the hours of their local branch. A Receptionist would take calls and send them to the appropriate extension. Instead, Management has decided to experiment with the converse. Librarians answering the phones are now, during certain times, answering and directing callers to the management team. The job done by the Librarian now includes clerical and receptionist duties. We are being redefined as "library workers."

Please note that many of my colleagues have at least one and many have two graduate degrees and lots of library experience. Do I need to change my expectations about the duties of the Librarian in the public library world?

Gerald F. Ward

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