or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk

Guidelines for Handling Weekend Emergencies at the Library

   January 23rd, 2013 Brian Herzog

Hello, I'm IN CHARGE badgeThis has been in my "to blog" folder for awhile, but better late than never, I suppose.

In the fall, my library was able to reopen for Sundays for the first time in like five years. This is great news for patrons, but since our seasonal Sunday hours are voluntary (with paid overtime), we sometimes have a shortage of staff willing to work them.

In my library, there needs to be a Department Head in the building at all times. Generally this isn't a problem, but if no Department Head volunteered to work a particular Sunday, other staff (with library degrees) can be acting Department Head.

Since these acting Department Heads would be in charge of the building, we created some "Sunday Department Head Guidelines" for them to refer to if something unusual happened - and also to make sure the library delivered the same level of service on Sundays as we do the rest of the week. The goal was to have all necessary information - procedure, contact information, passwords, etc. - in one place.

I really like lists like this*, so I thought I'd share. Obviously it is primarily applicable to my library, and even then primarily only on Sundays (as other times follow slightly different procedures in certain situations), but perhaps it might inspire other libraries to also document procedures like this. Feel free to download and use these however you like (names, phone numbers, and other vital information removed):

I know the staff here appreciated it, as it can be daunting to be in charge when something goes wrong.


*Some people say I have a love of rules, but that's not true - orderliness and answers are what I like. Take that, entropy.

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Who Empties Your Bookbox?

   January 25th, 2011 Brian Herzog

Library Return BoxesThere's a situation at my library that doesn't seem to have a good solution, and a recent conversation with a friend prompted me to just ask other librarians how you handle it: who empties your book drop box on long weekends?

I work in a busy library, and on regular days, we empty the book return box (the one in our parking lot) about twice three times a day. We aren't open on Sundays* but the book box we have is generally big enough to accommodate any materials that get dropped off. Monday morning there's a lot of stuff to check in, but the box isn't overflowing.

However, on long weekends when we're closed on Monday, someone needs to come in to empty the book box - otherwise, it would overflow and patrons would just have to leave items sitting in the parking lot.

And by someone, I mean me. I inherited this duty when a former Assistant Director left the library, because:

  • Historically, it's always been a guy that wheeled the box in. It's always full and heavy, and although we got a new book box that is much easier to roll, it still can be a lot of work. I know this sounds sexist, and I know some of my female coworkers do occasionally bring it in during their shifts, and I absolutely welcome them to do it
  • Of all the guys on our staff, I'm the only one that isn't one of the maintenance guys - which means I'm the only guy who can also check in all of the items in the box. If the items aren't checked in, then the Tuesday morning desk staff has a two-day mound of items to check in, plus the crush of patrons who haven't been able to get into the library for two days - plus, or course, all their normal work
  • As a department head, I have keys to the building to let myself in on the weekends
  • I live relatively close to the library, so it's not that big a deal for me to come in - except that I can never go anywhere on three-day weekends

I don't mean to sound like a martyr, and certainly don't want to be one - which is why I'm posting this. What do other libraries do on long weekends? Do you not make any special arrangements? Do you just let everything build up and deal with it on Tuesday?

This seems like a common problem for libraries, so I'm hoping the wisdom of the crowd can help free up my weekends. Thanks for any suggestions - please put them in the comments below.


*Not being open on Sundays is a whole separate issue for me, so don't even get me started.

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