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

Snow Day

   February 15th, 2007

Chelmsford Library after snowstormYesterday, the big storm sweeping across the nation finally made it to Eastern Massachusetts. Although Chelmsford didn't get as much snow as areas further north, what we did get was a mixture of snow and ice.

School closings were announced the day before, in anticipation of the storm. The library, though, was told we would be open as normal. Being a town department, until Town Hall closes at 5pm, it's the Town Manager who makes the call to close early.

This year we have a new Town Manager, and this was his first storm. The weather was bad enough by about 11am that it was dangerous to be on the roads, and even though the storm was getting worse, he chose to keep the library open.

His logic, which he conveyed when the library's Assistant Director called to ask if the library could close, was that the Town has to pay library staff in case of a storm closing, so he would rather pay them for working than for a day off.

Since I work the late shift on Wednesdays, I drove in through the worst of the storm to get here by 1pm, as did a few other late shift people. When I arrived, there were ten library staff - and three patrons. I spent the next few hours alternating between shoveling the library's walkways (because, although we're a Town department, no Public Works employees are assigned to shovel at the library) and explaining to staff why they couldn't go home.

Ultimately, the Assistant Director (the Director is on vacation this week), the Chair of the Trustees, and the library's union representative all asked the Town Manager to close the library. At about 3pm, the Town Manager called to say the library could close at 4pm. At which time, we all dug our cars out of the parking lot and drove home in the storm. The Town Manager dropped substantially in the opinions of library staff that day.

I don't know if this was a case of him wanting to show everyone who was in charge (since he is new), or him just having so much going on that he wasn't able to fully realize conditions here. I know libraries are essential to their communities, but they are not essential in terms of the "essential services" need to run a town during a storm emergency.

Morale issues aside, closing a library due to snow should not be a difficult decision to make - and it certainly shouldn't be a matter of getting the Town's money's worth out of the staff.

complaining, libraries, library, public libraries, public library, snow day, snow days, storm, storm closing, storms, whining

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4 Responses to “Snow Day”

  1. Kate Says:

    Wow, that is absolutely insane. He should have closed the library immediately! It’s not like many people will brave the storm to go to the library!

    We got snow and ice, and the college closed for a day and a half. 🙂

  2. herzogbr Says:

    No, not many people at all; but some. The thing that surprised me most in this situation was that, even though the Town made us stay open, they would not keep our sidewalks clear. I was worried that a patron would fall on the ice. Maybe the college closed because it is much harder to keep an entire campus clear and safe than just the walks around one building.

  3. Melanie Says:

    I know a lot of systems believe that the library should remain open to provide a place for people to go to. (As has some of the systems I’ve worked for)

    If schools are closed you think people would want to stay in, but some people have to work and they see the library as the place that they can leave their children.

    It may not be the reasoning we would all like to see, but it the reality in many cases.

  4. herzogbr Says:

    Yes – we actually try to discourage the “unlicensed daycare” role of libraries, but it is certainly a reality. Perhaps the Town could hire some of the kids to shovel the parking lot, thus keeping us safely open and giving the kids something to do.