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Closing at Night – How Does Your Library Do It?

   December 10th, 2015

you don't have to go home but you can't stay here signLast week, in response to my recent Reference Question of the Week about the importance of providing good customer service right up until closing time, Emma posted this comment:

Brian, can I ask: Are your hourly people paid for some amount of time after 5:30 on your 5:30 closing days?

Something that drives me crazy at my library is that our closing time is the same as our clock out time for hourly staff. So most days we close at 9 p.m., but 9 is also when the clerks and assistants stop getting paid. Of COURSE they want to get lights turned off and money counted and everything by 9, since otherwise they are doing the closing tasks unpaid, on their own time, but it drives patrons crazy that we claim to be open until 9, but a lot of services are either worse or not available at all from about 8:45 onward. What does your library do to provide better service to last-minute patrons?

I responded with a typical, long-winded reply, below, but what I'm really curious about it what other libraries do. I know it will vary by library, because circumstances in libraries vary, but please leave your responses in the comments on how closing time is handed in your library - thanks a lot!

Brian Herzog Says:
December 5th, 2015 at 1:41 pm

@Emma: oh, wow, this comment is worth an entire management course of its own.

We’re the same as you, in that staff is scheduled until closing time at 9pm, and are only paid until then. But of course, since we’re open until 9pm, patrons have every right to be in the building right until then – so we experience the same clash of tides.

We’ve had various conflicts in the past, but right now things are pretty calm with an understanding staff that knows that good customer service might sometimes mean an extra minute or two past nine o’clock. We’ve talked in the past about scheduling and paying staff until 9:15, but 99% of the time that would mean the building would be closed and staff is just sitting around doing nothing. So instead of forcing people to stay later through scheduling and doing busywork most of the time, it has just worked itself out in an unspoken way in my library. Most of the time, that is, and we just deal with the incidents where that fails as they happen.

The only two actual policies we have regarding this are:

  • we do close the downstairs bathrooms 15 minutes before closing time. There are bathrooms right by the front door that are never closed, so people can use those on the way out, but the downstairs bathrooms are the only “library resources” that end before closing time
  • all the part-time staff scheduled to work until closing are all free to leave right when their shift ends. The full-time librarian who is the closing department head, and whichever maintenance man is working that night, are the two who will stay if something with a patron runs past closing. This happens occasionally, and some staff have no problem staying longer and some do, but the department heads always stay to take care of whatever it is even if all other desk staff has left. Once in awhile it’s some kind of horrendous checkout calamity, but more often than not it’s a kid waiting for a ride in winter, and we are not going to lock the doors and make them wait in the snow. So the department head and the maintenance guy (and sometimes other staff just hang around and chat too, and partly because people all like to walk to their cars together) all wait inside until the ride gets there.

I think we’re lucky in that good customer service is so ingrained into my library’s culture that staying over is just no big deal to us. It’s also good that the administration values good customer service, and would have no problem with someone coming in late the next day if they stayed late the night before to help a patron.

Our closing procedures aren’t too extensive, which also works in our favor – just turn computers off, really, and make sure everyone is out of the building. So there’s no routine duty that holds people up. One of my own hard-and-fast rules that I try to enforce whenever I close is to NEVER turn any lights off when there are still patrons in the building. Not only do I see this as incredibly rude, but it also seems like a lawsuit waiting to happen – staff rushing a patron out at closing when half the lights are off, and that patron trips or hurts themselves, and then it comes out during the hearing that staff had shut the lights off already. Sure there is probably still enough light to see by, but it certainly would make the entire library sound like a jackass.

We haven’t come to absolute solution for this, so it’s good that my library’s staff is just willing to make it work. I don’t know that any of this will help, but aside from scheduling people beyond closing time, I don’t really know what else can be done.

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28 Responses to “Closing at Night – How Does Your Library Do It?”

  1. Susan H. Says:

    We have certain staff members scheduled to stay until 15 minutes after the published closing time. These staff members are also scheduled to come in at 15 minutes after the hour. For example, when we close at 8:00 pm, full time staff who are closing work from 11:15 am to 8:15 pm. A part-time staff member may be scheduled for something like 4:15pm to 8:15pm if they are closing. I am at a medium-sized suburban library in Texas.

  2. Mary Jo Says:

    Our closing staff (2-3 people) stay till 15 minutes past closing. We have a list of closing duties which include tidying up the library (picking up stray books, pushing in chairs, emptying trash that might contain food, making sure the restrooms have paper stock, etc), closing out the cash register, clearing the door counter, refilling displays, and making sure everything is ready for morning opening. We also have at least 2 staff come in 15 minutes early to get computers booted, restock printers, set up for early programs, clear the book drop, start the coffee machine, etc.

    (Also from a mid-sized library in Texas – Hi Susan!)

  3. Antigone10 Says:

    We also have the 15- minutes after closing time scheduled time. We are also here 15 minutes before the library opens. (The extra time goes to our lunches). The early 15 minutes is chopped down from 45 minutes- we used to open a half hour later but then our times got extended, and boy do I miss that extra half hour! It is just easier to get some tasks accomplished before we have patrons served. I would not get rid of that fifteen minutes afterwards for anything!

  4. The Librarian With No Name Says:

    Ours is sort of weird: we have digital time clocks, but all punches are rounded to the nearest fifteen minutes. So as long as we get out by 9:07, we get paid until 9. If we stay until 9:08, we get paid until 9:15.

    We rarely stay until 9:05. All library services are available until closing except the computers, which automatically log off at 8:55. We make closing announcements at 30, 15, and 5 minutes before closing time, and a final one just before we close the door. During the last hour, library aides straighten the shelves and pick up stray books. When closing time hits, we lock the doors, put the cash drawer in the safe, and hit the lights.

    All opening staff members start an hour before the library opens. That’s when we run our reserve lists and other shelving tasks and balance the cash drawer from the day before.

    Since the work day starts with no customers in the building, we can afford to be a little flexible on arrival times. Just like closing, if you clock in by 8:07 you’re on time. That helps to justify the few minutes it takes to get out of the building in the evenings.

  5. SunnyLibrarian Says:

    We close at 8:30 and stay until 9. I have worked at libraries where you leave right at close and that plan is awful.

    I actually like shutting the lights off because unlike a retail store, we don’t have music to turn off or any subtle hints that it’s closing time.

  6. Sunflower Says:

    My library works the same way as Librarian With No Name, except the opening staff comes in a half hour early not an hour.

    Honestly we usually don’t have many patrons that stick around after closing BUT that 15 minutes we are scheduled past closing is to clear the building, clean up messes left behind & restock displays. If a patron is still browsing the collection after 9 we inform them that the library is in fact closed & our Check Out desk is shut down. We do keep the lights on for our sake.

  7. Kelly Says:

    I work at a university library, and our closing shift is usually handled by student aides. They are only contracted for 6 hours a week, and their clock in/out system can only calculate in quarter-hour increments but calculates the amount of the student’s contract worked by the percentage of the hour (it’s bizarre). And if they go over their contract hours, they don’t get paid because it’s a finite financial aid award amount.

    Anyway, because of this and because we have some patrons who insist on staying until the second of the last minute we’re open, we close at ten-til. So 11:50 p.m. Sunday-Thursday and 4:50 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. That gives the closers time to get everything shut down, turned off, and to wait until the magic minute ticks over so they can clock out and not lose any of the pay they’ve worked for.

  8. Stephanie Says:

    We are supposed to walk out the door at closing time. This often does not happen and we are fine with that. There are usually three people working, often all three are part-time. At least two are part-time. If we consistently do not have the alarm set by closing, administration will question the branch supervisor as to the issue. However, this has never changed the policy. We recently changed administration, so this may be an issue that changes soon. Our closing duties have changed recently and are minimal. They include, locking up and setting the alarm. We usually count the money earlier in the day and our computers and lights are on timers. I am at a small library in North-Central Kentucky.

  9. Stephanie Says:

    I forgot to add: Our computers shut down at ten til close, automatically.

  10. Emma Says:

    I’m the author of the comment that sparked this post (which is pretty exciting!) and really appreciate seeing everyone’s replies. I should mention that I work at the big, downtown main branch of an urban library system. With multiple floors and a lot of people using the library for things other than checking out materials, it’s definitely a struggle to get people out the door by nine.

    I think what frustrates me is just how it’s presented. At the library where I work currently, we have to digitally punch a clock (which rounds to the nearest quarter-hour, as other people mentioned) to keep track of our time. Every closing shift, we clock out at 8:55 in order to put our laptops away, do sweeps of the building, etc., and then work an additional 10 minutes. I used to work at a library that was also fairly large and also didn’t pay staff past closing time. However there we self-reported our hours into a time sheet. We still worked more minutes than we were paid for, but somehow it didn’t annoy me nearly as much when I wasn’t in the daily situation of having to report that I was ending my shift when I’m really still working.

    I want to provide good service to patrons, but I think there is a tendency in libraries and in other service professions for administrations to take financial advantage of staff’s dedication to the mission of the institution. Maybe if hourly staff were paid higher wages, I wouldn’t be uncomfortable with putting in some ‘volunteer’ time, but considering they are paid at most libraries, I think it’s kind of a crummy practice to expect them to stay later.

    I like Brian’s library’s practice of always having a salaried person on the closing shift who can stay later, and take a little time off elsewhere if it ends up being significant. I imagine that someone who is salaried is probably high up enough that they aren’t always on the desk both the first and the last hours of their shifts, so they can come in a little late or leave a little early on a different day. It would be nice to implement that at our library. Do your salaried people know enough about circ to do all the closing circ tasks, though, if that’s what ends up pushing things past closing time? I think our problem would be that no one but the clerks (and their department head) knows how to close out the cash register.

  11. Matthew Says:

    Since I’m reading this during my once-a-week night shift, I find the thread more than a little interesting.

    Seems the norm in the academic library world is to have students work past typical work hours. I’m at a community college in a university town. At the ‘big house’ it’s all students/ library grad students past 8pm. We stay open till 9pm, M-R, and like the ‘some patrons have to be there for the last 30 seconds we are open’ above, we are often reminding students to ‘pack up’, flashing lights, voicing announcements, and shutting off printers before actual closing time. Fortunately, most students are good about getting up and out.

    In years past, I’ve had some conflicts with students around closing. In terms of pay, like I said, we rarely need to keep students past 9pm. I generally send them home if there is a delay. We librarians used to be hourly, too, until recently. For me, I used to be a little put out by the expectation that we would get there before opening, before we were officially on the clock, but I learned that that objection was going nowhere. Anyway, 8 years later…

    Generally, this attitude of ‘let’s steal a few minutes here and there’ from employees bugs the shizzle out of me. Very encouraged that several of you have developed creative work-arounds. Happy Holidays! Love the BLOG!

  12. Matthew Says:

    I forgot to say that I’M one of the lucky ones who gets to work till closing one night a week.

  13. Elisia Says:

    In my system we’re scheduled until our closing hours, and as an Assistant, I’m not required to stay past in cases where we aren’t able to close right away. Generally, we leave the building around 5-10 minutes after we close.

    Our computers shut down 10 minutes before we close, automatically, and we close the register 5 minutes before. We’ll still create accounts and allow checkouts until the closing time, when we lock doors (and open them to allow people to leave, of course). For the most part, we don’t get too many complaints, and those are usually from people wanting to print a few minutes before we close.

  14. Jennifer T Says:

    When I was the director at a small public library, I changed the working hours to cover 15 minutes before opening as well as 15 minutes past closing, like Mary Jo posted above.

    It worked out well for our staff. Now, I work at an academic library and am salaried so just eat the time, when patrons keep me late. I work three nights a week. The other part-time staff that close are on the clock so they get paid for the time they stay past closing.

  15. Mary Ellen Says:

    My library makes one closing announcement 15 minutes before closing, and another 5 minutes before. The public computers automatically log off at about 5 minutes ’til closing (but we leave the Express computer and the printers on for a couple minutes longer so people can finish up). And I do a walk-through of the Reference/ computer area at around 5 minutes ’til closing, giving people who seem entrenched an extra heads-up that we are closing.

    It’s enormously frustrating when a patron wanders in at 2 minutes to closing and wants to print a bunch of color pictures, which takes forever, or wants to browse the movies, or whatever. And the book-group attendees who wait until we have made the final “The library is now closed!” announcement to use the restroom, browse the new books, etc. make me grind my teeth to nubs. I don’t even care so much that I don’t get paid for the extra 10 minutes or so, I care that I want to go HOME. Most of our closing-time lingerers are regulars, so the fact that we end up standing around waiting for them every single time feels like some pretty major lack of respect on their part.

  16. Kate Says:

    We have time clocks and we don’t expect staff to clock out until they’re done. They get paid for what they work. If a late patron or a problem with closing procedures holds them up, then they get paid. Time is recorded in tenths of an hour, so it rounds to the nearest 6 minutes. It seems odd to me to expect staff to work without getting paid for it.

    Since most of our lingerers are on the computers, we have them shut down automatically at closing time, so they have little incentive to hold us up too long. And we keep our closing procedures pretty simple.

  17. Fisher Says:

    My library (on the larger side of small) pays its hourly staff for 15 minutes past closing, usually 3 people (2 for circ, 1 for reference). We do still shut down our patron computers 15 minutes before the building closes to encourage those with last minute bathroom/movie/holds pickup/fine paying to take care of those things then and not at close. We also close the second floor (where the patron computers are) about 5 minutes earlier than the rest of the building to herd people downstairs, towards circulation and out.

    Staff are pretty good about making exceptions to help someone print a coupon or bus ticket even if the patron computers are on their way to shutting down or letting someone snag a book or magazine if they know what they want and aren’t browsing.

    The extra 15 minutes (which was added ~5 years ago) really helps our closing process. We can do a final sweep of the building & bathrooms & program room, finish up with the occasional lingering patron, reconcile the cash drawer, get ILL items into the delivery bins, returns all checked in, etc. It is definitely worth it.

  18. Clay Says:

    At my library we expect staff to be leaving the building at closing time. On weekdays we do have staff arrive an hour before opening (we open at 9), but this is paid time and gives full-time staff an 8-hour day after an hour lunch break is taken into consideration. This is when we do pull lists, have meetings, and do other preparation tasks. A small number of staff arrive 30 minutes early on weekends. We use an online time clock system that tracks in 15-minute intervals and rounds at the 7-minute mark but we try to stick to the scheduled times.

    For closing procedures, our main computer lab shuts down at 20 minutes till so that it can be cleared out and cleaned. Before we remodeled and expanded it, the time ran up until 5 till but that resulted in many people sticking around trying to print past close. We do keep the printer and some express stations open until 5 till still but these have been less of a problem. We make closing announcements on the intercom at 20 and 10, and usually dim the lights at 5. Circulation stops making new cards and closes out the cash register at 5 minutes, but people can check out right up until the last minute. We try to get people to stop browsing before then though, and we do close out several of the computers at 5 if there aren’t many people left. The restrooms are closed at 5 as well, if no one is in them, and we make sure to check before that to make sure no one is asleep in there. We also start partially locking the doors at 10 till because it is a complicated procedure, but they are not locked fully until we actually close. Meanwhile, staff are also cleaning up their areas and checking to make sure people have found what they are looking for and that no one is lurking in a distant corner out of sight of the person in charge of closing.

    We have a large number of circulation clerks, shelvers, so they start clocking out at about 5 till, which rounds up to a full hour. Our youth and reference staff clock out closer to closing since they have fewer people and individual desk stations to do it at. They all leave together while the professional librarian in charge of the building for the night ((either from youth or adult on a rotating basis) and the circulation supervisor finishes locking up, which involves setting the alarms, shutting off the lights, and so forth. Usually this goes quickly and we are out within a couple minutes of closing, but sometimes there are problems with the doors or people having checkout disasters, so if it goes over 7 minutes we get comp time later in the week. If there are unattended children left at the building who are unable to get home, we wait up to 15 minutes before calling for police assistance.

    We used to wait longer to shut down a lot of those services, but it resulted in people having to stay way too often. The computers and restrooms were the biggest culprits. We also expect anyone using the meeting rooms to be packing up at 30 till, and make that clear as part of their reservation slot, but often they end up staying later. We have gotten stricter about them absolutely being gone by 10 till. While it does mean a few services are not available at the last minute, I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect people to work when they’re not being paid, and even if they’re paid it’s not fair to ask them to stay late for something that’s not actually an emergency.

  19. Susan Says:

    We are paid until 15 minutes after the hour, but can leave when all of the closing tasks are done. I think that’s fair, since most of us arrive at work before our scheduled time. I am usually 20 minutes early and start work as soon as my coat and purse are put away, so I don’t feel the slightest bit guilty when we are sometimes able to walk out of the building at 8:01.

  20. Elinchgo Says:

    We are very strict that hourly staff must get paid for hours worked – it’s the law. Circ staff and the closing person-in-charge are scheduled to work15 minutes after closing to accommodate late patrons and to count the cash drawer. Everyone else stops working at closing, but aren’t released until the last patron leaves the building – in our case,usually a minute or two after closing most days.

  21. Brian Herzog Says:

    Wow, thanks everyone! This is great information, and I’m really surprised at how many libraries schedule staff after closing time. My library does it in the morning – many people start at 9am, although we don’t open to the public until 9:30 – and it makes complete sense to do that at the end of the day too.

    @Stephanie: we’ve talked about having computer shut down 5 minutes early automatically in the past, and I know a lot of libraries in my area do it too, but we’ve decided not to just to avoid that rare situation where someone is racing to finish or save a project before closing time, and the computer automatically shutting down causes them to lose their work. I don’t know how often that might happen – probably never more than once to the same patron – but it seemed like a tense and stressful situation we would like to avoid. Automatically shutting down computers not in use might help – hmm.

    @Emma: I agree, what your library does doesn’t sound complete fair to staff. Involving salaried people would seem to solve it, but for us, the department heads (who are the full-time librarians) are also hourly. We don’t use a time clock though, and self-report with paper timesheets, so it’s not too big a deal to make up those extra few minutes somewhere else (either coming in a little late one morning, or taking an extra few minutes on a break) without interfering with desk coverage. But yes, most of us department heads know enough of the desk procedures to deal with whatever comes up last-minute, or at least have the authority to say, “well, we’ll do [whatever best customer service that will also get people out of the building quickest] this one time, and I’ll talk with the Head of Circulation tomorrow for a final ruling on [whatever the problem is].”

    @Fisher: a few other people have mentioned it, but the more I think about it, the more I think I’d actually like to have that 15 minutes after we close to straighten things up. There’s a lot you can’t do in the closing rush that would easily be done after patrons have left.

    @Susan: I agree, having the flexibility is nice. We don’t have a time clock, and people routinely get to work a few minutes early to make sure they’re ready on the desk in time for their shift. Having a time clock seems like it could make this situation much more rigid, so it’s good you’ve find a way to make it work.

  22. Stephanie Says:

    Computers automatically shutting down has caused problems to patrons hurrying to finish, etc. But, we always try to make an announcement to let them know. Unfortunately, people are people-some listen, some do not. And you always have the issue of headphones, did they hear you?

  23. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Stephanie: you’re right. Lots of commenters here are mentioning (or inspiring) neat timer software features – for the headphone people (and all people really), we need software that throws up a big “the library is closing in five minutes” screen requiring patrons click “I understand and I’m preparing to leave right now” button to continue working. I think there might be a market for this ideal timer software.

  24. Niamh Says:

    As it’s our long time library assistant that closes up, he usually sticks to our age old routine meaning that he informs patrons we’re closing in 15 minutes at 6.15. He then proceeds to turn the printer off closer the time, probably around 5.25. I’ve tried to stress to him that as our ours have been reduced a great deal it is important to hold off on turning the printer, locking the cashbox and turning off his own pc at 5 minutes or less to, but in some ways he’s very set in his ways so i’m not sure this is always followed.
    We recently moved to a much smaller library with less machinery etc to turn off so hopefully this helps with leaving it as close to the time as possible. For example, our computers are moved to another room in the building (which does not close til later in the evening) and we have automatic lights so there is no need to switch off lights. Now we only have the one printer and pc to shut off and close the windows.

  25. The Librarian With No Name Says:

    @Emma: Having hourly workers clock out and then return to work is very dangerous (as well as feeling kind of scuzzy.) That’s exactly the kind of thing that a Department of Labor audit looks for. If your library gets audited and that comes up, the library will be responsible for all those back wages at the very least, and probably the same amount again in damages. Ten minutes per closing employee per night adds up to hundreds of hours in a tearing hurry.

    If you’ve got the kind of relationship with someone in HR or administration that allows it, I’d at least place the germ of the idea in someone’s head. (Our library has been doing a training series with an HR lawyer, so this kind of stuff has been on my mind. Don’t mean to preach.)

  26. Mandi Says:

    I have worked the closing shift at two campuses of a mid-sized university in Canada. At both, we would announce closing 30, 15, and 5 minutes ahead of time, along with the notice that the circulation desk closes 15 minutes before the doors do. One person would do the sweep – alerting students, picking up in-house books, pushing in chairs, etc. – while the other did the cash after the desk closed. We did occasionally need to stay past closing to deal with a cash imbalance or a student with a last-minute checkout or return (especially if it was video or photography equipment), but it happened rarely. We didn’t have any sort of clock-out system, and our managers were always very understanding, so we didn’t sweat a few minutes here or there. It was always two full- or part-time circulation staff (we never used student assistants to help close or open the library) and while we were unionized, there was only one staff member who was very rigid about wanting to be out right at closing – so if I was working, I would deal with whatever the problem was and finish balancing the cash after we locked the doors so she could leave on time.

  27. Clay Says:

    Our computer management software (Pharos) does pop up a big black box five minutes before shutting down, regardless of whether it’s for closing or just because their regular session is ending. I think there’s also a smaller warning that pops in the corner at ten minutes. That way no one can say they were caught by surprise when their time runs out.

  28. Randy Robertshaw Says:

    I think for most libraries in Massachusetts that I have worked in the library closes and staff leave at the same time. In Wisconsin, the staff came early or stayed late. (As others suggested, there was 15 minute offset.) I prefer this from a customer service standpoint. Patrons are not rushed to leave and staff have the time to prepare for the opening and closing (i.e. shelving books, ILL, clearing tables, housekeeping, and clearing outstanding items.) Another important consideration is safety. If everyone has enough time to close off computers, etc., it would be expected staff would exit together. When staff leave immediately, it opens the opportunity for staff being isolated in the building or parking lost. It is a far better closing policy.

    The major issue that I faced was unions. Union members felt any change including staying late was a concession and therefore needed to bargained for. In addition in one library, staff were very well aware about closing and would begin closing portions of the facility 15 minutes prior through Pharos and staff sweeps. By closing time, the patrons were gone. Issues arose when patrons showed up at 3 minutes until and staff had already closed down or patrons had a time sensitive project and did not read the fine print in the hours reducing the closing time by 15 minutes for computers.