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To serve or not to serve. Is that the question?

My view over the bay in Mackinaw City as I write this post.

Summer is winding down. My college hasn’t started classes yet. My college holds fast to the after Labor Day start. While public schools and other colleges around us may have returned to campuses this week, we are enjoying a rare moment of peace before a busy fall semester begins. At least, I hope it will be a busy semester with students in the library and all over campus. The past two years have been too quiet while we’ve persevered through the pandemic.

Personally, I’m using these last few days to prepare for upcoming committee work, both at my college and for the profession. As I drove up to Mackinaw City for my first visit to the Mackinac Island, I had time to think about why I volunteer. Of course, some work committees are required because of my position as a Library Director. But others are purely voluntary and what you might call passion work.

For example, I’ve been a member of our Civility Committee for a few years now. I’m happily anticipating the next year on this committee as we return to in person events and projects, even though our meetings will likely still remain virtual. We work on things that bring people around the campus together to discuss topics related to civility, such as the aptly named CiviliTeas.

On ACRL side, I am beginning my term with the ACRL Membership Committee this year. As the vice-chair for the committee, I’ll be learning as I prepare to take over as chair next year. I’ve avoided chair positions for many years because of the workload. If I do something, I prefer to be able to commit fully and until the pandemic forced me to slow down some, my life had lost balance. The past two years have allowed the opportunity to reevaluate things and set some new priorities. I’m very excited to take on a new challenge and I have a great chair to work with this year.

This post isn’t meant to encourage people one way or another to volunteer for committees, although there are many opportunities within CJCLS, ACRL, ALA, and your state organizations. I realize we all have different priorities and our lives may not allow for committee work. Some of us may be required to serve on professional committees to meet tenure requirements. (I’m grateful I have no such requirements.) It can be thankless and time-consuming at times.

But there are also benefits. I have met some very intelligent, creative, and kind people across libraries of all types. They have often inspired me to try new things and see different perspectives. We share our challenges and our triumphs. By being a committee member, I’ve found a community. It’s also given me a chance to feel that I’m doing something valuable beyond my day-to-day work. The benefits and rewards generally outweigh any downsides; at least for me.

I’d be interested to hear what you get out of volunteering for committees, either at work or in the profession at large.

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Thursday Thoughts

Is hybrid our future?

View from the Blue Water, Amtrak

I’m sitting on an Amtrak train writing this post and pondering the future of remote work at my college. While a global pandemic would never be my preferred way to have forced the world to allow workers to work remotely, I have certainly appreciated the opportunities it has opened up, particularly once restrictions on travel were eased. In the early days, I was grateful for the safety it provided by not exposing us unnecessarily to COVID-19. As the months progressed, I saw my mental health improve as I had more freedom to structure my work day to allow for things like a short afternoon nap, breaks to pet dogs or walk outside, and a 9 am-6 pm work day. I’ve heard the same thing from many colleagues around the country.

These days, I’m gradually spending more time on campus in my library office and while it is nice to see people in person, I’m also feeling some sadness about giving up the ability to work from anywhere. I fear that the balance I’ve developed between work and personal life is about to be disrupted again and I’m pondering how to keep that from happening…or at least how to keep work from taking over my entire life, as it had pre-pandemic. Many managers work under an unspoken, but all too real, rule that we must always be accessible and available to our employees and our workplaces. That’s exhausting!

My college hasn’t decided how it will handle hybrid work yet. Employees have had a chance to provide feedback and there is a higher percentage of those who would prefer a hybrid option going forward. I think we all realize that there are parts of our jobs that must happen on campus because many of our students are eager to return in person. We know that not all students learn well in online environments and when it comes to the library, many of our students need to use our services in person. They also need our spaces like the computer lab and our study rooms. We have to be there for that.

But not everything has to happen on campus either. I am more productive on projects that require more concentration when I can work at home. There are fewer interruptions and distractions. I also trust my employees to be productive when they work from home. Stuff still gets done how it should and when it should. I’d like to be able to continue to offer hybrid work as an option and a benefit if that’s what they choose for themselves.

Bottom line is, there are benefits and drawbacks to both being entirely back on campus and entirely remote. It seems the future for work in higher education is developing some sort of hybrid model that allows for the good in both.

For more reading on hybrid work:

Why your boss might fire people rather than allow remote work

The Future Of Work: How Much Flexibility Is Good For Employees?

How the Rest of the World Is Doing RTO

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Thursday Thoughts

Interesting developments in ebook access

I have been curiously following the news out of various states related to potential legislation to make digital book access more equitable to libraries. Although academic libraries have been slow to join platforms like Overdrive, we have long offered access to scholarly digital books provided by many publishers and on a variety of platforms. The difference in prices between a print book and its digital version are often shocking and has forced libraries to make difficult choices based on budgets that too often have not kept up with the increase in costs. My reference librarians are currently making decisions on digital book purchases for a grant and we have all exclaimed over what is sometimes a 100% markup for the electronic edition.

Publishers claim that this discrepancy in price is because of replacement costs. They say that a print book would only last so many checkouts before a library would need to purchase a new copy, but an electronic book is not subject to wear and tear. Bottom line, it is all about profits. Unfortunately, libraries lose out.

While public libraries are the intended beneficiary of proposed or potential legislation in Maryland, New York, Illinois, Missouri, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts, I believe that academic libraries may also benefit by limitations placed on publishers. Maryland was successful in passing their bill in 2021, only to have a Federal Judge approve a preliminary injunction in February 2022. It will be interesting to see what happens in the Maryland courts. Other states are still working on getting their bills passed.

You can read more about the activities on the ALA Issues & Advocacy page about ebooks.

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Thursday Thoughts

Thursday Thoughts

I am almost through the first month of Fall Semester and am already looking forward to our winter break. For some reason, the start of this academic year has felt busier than usual. Perhaps this is partly due to being back on campus and having our library fully open for the first time since mid-March 2020. We have been providing services and access to our building during most of the pandemic, but it has been appointment based and our doors remain locked. On Tuesday, September 7, we unlocked those doors, stopped requiring appointments, and welcomed our community college back in with a few restrictions. Masks are required. Cleaning and sanitizing protocols remain in effect. When possible, the six feet of physical distance is maintained. Some materials are still quarantined upon return. People entering the building are required to either show a wristband indicating they’ve went through a screening elsewhere on campus or use our station if they haven’t. Plexiglass protects staff at our service desks. And staff are mostly working hybrid schedules still, with at least two days on campus.

Yet, things feel more “normal” than not. Our student needs for support and assistance have never changed no matter if we are helping them in a virtual or physical space. Our Fall Rally took place on campus this year with students and employees seeing what each table had to offer, and enjoying some hotdogs and other treats. The library is a busy space again with students coming in to use computers, check out books, or find a quiet place to study.

If anything, these past eighteen months have demonstrated how much many of our students value what the library has to offer. No matter what else changes in our world, I don’t think that will.