Do remote work arrangements have a place in libraries?
By Cari Dubiel
Remote work, which was status quo during the early phases of the pandemic, has now become a challenge for many public libraries. In this blog series, we’ll explore some of the factors surrounding remote work and how your organization can decide what’s right for you.
Most public libraries pivoted to remote work during the lockdown. It was important to continue serving the public even when staff were not permitted to work in physical buildings. A study through the Public Library Association noted that early in the pandemic, 72% of public libraries had allowed remote work, while the others had denied it or had not yet decided. Libraries created online story times, promoted digital books through social media, and hosted virtual programs.
As 2020 continued, many libraries remained closed even when permitted to re-open. Not only did libraries have to decide how to pay staff for these closings, they had to consider the possibility of future remote work, especially when employees requested to work from home during COVID quarantines or isolation periods. As reported by PLA, by February 2021, 34% of libraries surveyed were still supporting telework. Additionally, some libraries did not have policies and continued to struggle with defining the concept.
Analyzing the nature of remote work
The past three years have provided a history of different approaches to remote work. Additionally, the concept is not new; some libraries permitted working from home long before the pandemic. Administrators should consider these variable conditions when fine-tuning their approach to policy and guidelines. Some questions to ask employees and managers:
- In what situations would staff working remotely benefit or impede the library?
- Potentially provide more focus for employees creating deliverables such as flyers, websites, etc.
- Allow staff to work if able during illnesses or quarantines
- Allow staff to work if able during trips away or emergencies
- May detract from availability of public-facing staff
- In what situations would remote work benefit or impede the staff member’s work-life balance?
- Provide guidelines on what types of remote work are allowed and when
- What provisions are required by a union, if applicable?
- Can the policy be applied equitably to all staff?
- Specifically regarding public-facing or building staff
- How will work and productivity be measured?
- Hourly log or report
- Progress towards deliverables
In a future article, we’ll explore how to write or revisit a telework policy for public libraries and how to ensure the policy is being followed.
Cari Dubiel is a public library expert with 20-plus years of experience. Having worked from the ground up as a Shelver to her current management position with the Twinsburg Public Library, Cari understands the operational aspects of public libraries from both a staff and administrative perspective. Cari has managed projects such as technical services workflow development, software evaluation and implementation, collection development analysis, employee onboarding and training, and website usability. She holds a bachelors’ degree from Hiram College and a Master’s in Library and Information Science from Kent State University. She is also an adjunct faculty member at KSU in the iSchool program. She presents frequently for PCI Webinars and has also presented for NEO-RLS, OLC, and public library staff development days. A former Library Liaison to the National board of Sisters in Crime, Cari is very active in the publishing industry. She is represented by Lynnette Novak of the Seymour Agency and is the lead editor for Writing Bloc Books.