Compiled by Heather Dalal and Theresa Mastrodonato, members of the DOLS Research and Publications Committee.
Along with other professionals, librarians have proven to be productive and effective working remotely during the Covid-19 pandemic. The five articles selected for this collection discuss remote work and flexible working arrangements in librarianship. We learned that remote work is not exactly new and how it increases both employee engagement and organizational productivity. The articles also include tips for continued success in remote work arrangements in meeting both patron and organizational needs.
Albro, M., & McElfresh, J. M. (2021). Job engagement and employee-organization relationship among academic librarians in a modified work environment. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 47(5), 102413. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.acalib.2021.102413
This article reports on the findings of a quantitative survey completed at two points during the time when an academic library was closed during COVID-19 to determine how job engagement and organizational commitment for faculty librarians changed over time. The authors define job engagement as “positive emotional associations to work” and organizational commitment as “both the individual employee’s commitment to their employer, and their perception of the organization’s commitment to them” (Albro & McElfresh, 2021, p. 1). Besides questions on job engagement and organizational commitment, the survey that was administered asked questions about information flow (how freely information flows within the library). The results showed that job engagement, organizational commitment, and information flow all dropped from the first to the second time the survey was administered. Further there was a statistical difference in information flow based on how long a faculty librarian had worked at the library, with those with longer tenure at the library having a more positive view of information flow. Additionally, the organizational commitment results showed that mid-career librarians had more commitment to the library than early/late career librarians.
- Librarians were more positive about job engagement and organizational commitment at the beginning of working from home.
- Workplace experiences such as information flow and organizational commitment are tied to the length a librarian has worked at the organization.
- Organizations need to be proactive about creating positive job engagement opportunities as well as increasing information flow in order to keep early/late career librarians.
Hosoi, M., Reiter, L., & Zabel, D. (2021). Reshaping perspectives on flexible work: The impact of COVID-19 on academic library management. portal: Libraries and the Academy, 21(4), 695-713. https://doi.org/10.1353/pla.2021.0038
This article reports on the findings from structured interviews conducted August/September 2020 with 31 associate deans, associate university librarians, and equivalent managers about the flexible work arrangements (FWA’s), mostly working remotely during the pandemic. Various benefits included increased productivity, effective use of technology, and more inclusive online meetings. Challenges included technology difficulties, Zoom fatigue, caregiving responsibilities, isolation/mental health, supervision, and some employees having responsibilities not suited to remote work. In order for FWA’s to be successful, it’s essential to have the right technology, clear communication, accountability/clear expectations, and policies. Participants believe the FWA’s will increase in the future which may improve library space, recruitment, and retention.
- Flexible Work Arrangements (FWA’s) benefit the organization’s productivity in addition to the adaptability and flexibility that employees need.
- Librarians should publicize their accomplishments since FWA’s may make them appear less visible.
- Technology fatigue can be reduced by having fewer online meetings and making use of collaboration tools (i.e. Google Docs, Microsoft Teams, intranet).
Irvin, D. R. (2021). Beyond the pandemic: Future prospects for libraries in the cloud. In Handbook of research on knowledge and organization systems in library and information science (pp. 196-212). IGI Global. https://www.igi-global.com/chapter/beyond-the-pandemic/285496
This chapter reviews the different ways academic libraries, during the COVID-19 pandemic, switched many of its services to utilize cloud-based services due to most libraries being closed and unable to complete these services in-person. Irwin argues that libraries will need to accept that the new normal will be more patrons expecting continued use of online services and that libraries will have to fundamentally change to meet both patron and staff needs. The author contends that this change to supporting patrons through cloud-based services, including the use of cloud-based collaborative platforms, allowed for the development of a more cohesive organization with less siloing and more interdepartmental cooperation. Irwin further maintains that academic libraries should strive to develop a more agile organizational structure where teams are empowered to make decisions through interdepartmental teams that work via cloud-based platforms in order to best support their patrons.
- Libraries should continue to provide services in innovative online ways and not go back to “the way it was always done,” even with most things adopting more pre-pandemic conditions.
- During the pandemic, libraries were able to meet critical needs by their constituents, even as they had to find ways to meet those needs when physical access wasn’t possible.
- Utilizing cloud services for developing interdepartmental teams within the library can assist with making sure services meet the needs of the library’s patrons.
Saka, M. (2021). From remote work to working from anywhere: Tracing temporary work modifications resulting in permanent organizational changes. Communications of the ACM, 64(4), 20–22. https://doi.org/10.1145/3451223
This trade journal article shows that remote work was not brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the author, between 2013-2017, approximately 41% of managerial, professional, and related (MPR) occupations worked only at their workplace. This means over 50% of MPR occupations worked remotely some time . Saka notes that improved technology has offered workers the ability to work remotely: Where once the office had the best internet and conferencing software, high speed internet and other software are now available almost everywhere. Saka also reports that the results of the 2020 State of Remote Work shows that 98% of people want to continue to have the option to work remotely for the rest of their lives. However, Saka observes that work culture is going to have to change in order for remote work to be the new normal. First, we have to normalize working from home and understand that social interactions will change with remote work as an option. Second, childcare needs to be reevaluated so that it does not fall disproportionately on women by making them more likely to only work from home and not provide the option for them to go to the workplace, if they so choose.
- Remote work was not new and did not begin when the pandemic started. It has been around for a while.
- Most workers want to continue with the ability to work remotely, with two days a week working remotely being the most sought option.
- Work culture needs to adapt to workers wanting to work remotely by: taking away the stigma of working remotely; offering options for those that would like to go into their workplace; and ensuring childcare is available for those that would like to go into their workplace (so it doesn’t fall solely on women).
Virello. M. (2022). Working remotely: Practical guide for librarians. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Press. https://books.google.com/books?id=HZ1kEAAAQBAJ&lpg=PA1&dq=remote%20librarians%20work&lr&pg=PA1#v=onepage&q=remote%20librarians%20work&f=false
A children’s librarian, inspired by the pandemic and the discovery of how librarians can work effectively during the pandemic, authored this comprehensive book that can be used to help decide if remote work is right for your library. It does so by defining remote work, listing pros and cons, and offering a case study. Virello discusses how to develop a remote work policy, emphasizing to include who is eligible while noting remote work should not inconvenience those who have to work on-site. She provides remote manager checklists, assessments, and remote schedule templates. She also sets everyone up for success with discussions on staff expectations, technological considerations, requirements, remote workspaces, workable routines and schedules, plus boundary setting for work life balance. In a chapter on establishing digital services and programs, the author provides options for staff work-at-home project ideas to reach out to the community, followed by marketing digital services and programs to ensure patrons learn about the library’s services. She concludes the book with tips for library leadership targeting building resistance and avoiding burnout as well as finally returning to on-site work.
- It is important to consider how remote work affects everyone in the library. There must be clear expectations and policies set.
- Remote staff can get frustrated or burnout, especially if they perceive a lack of occupational control or micromanaging. Self care is so important.
- If returning back to work, bring with you the positive remote work routines and boundaries.