Must Scheduling be Sisyphean?

I was planning to post last week about something interesting I’d read in the library or higher ed news and literature, but I haven’t kept up with my reading as much as usual recently. The task that’s been occupying my time? Scheduling our English Comp library instruction sessions. It’s not the most glamorous or fun part of my job, but it’s one of the most important. Every semester the scheduling process seems to drag on and on, and I find myself thinking that there has to be a better way. But once the schedule is set my grumpiness fades away, conveniently forgotten until the beginning of the next semester. I always intend to spend time between semesters researching scheduling alternatives, but there’s usually a project that’s so much more interesting that it elbows scheduling out of the way.

We use Google Calendar to keep track of the library’s schedule (not just instruction, but reference, meetings, etc.), and I’m reasonably satisfied with it. It’s the process of scheduling classes and librarian instructors that I think could use some tweaking. In the past I’ve waited until a few days into the semester to get the final list of classes from the English Department (sometimes sections are added or canceled at the last minute, depending on enrollment). Then I’ve taken the class list and our calendar and slotted all of the sections into our library classroom schedule. And then I’ve tentatively assigned instruction librarians to the schedule, trying to make sure that no one is responsible for too many early morning, evening or weekend sessions. Once the instruction librarians have approved their schedules, each of us has contacted the English instructors for the library sessions we’re teaching. Occasionally there’s a bit of horsetrading when an English instructor requests a date change, but usually not too much.

This semester we tried something a bit different and asked the English faculty when in the semester they’d like their library session to be scheduled, emphasizing that we’d like their students to come to the session with a research topic in hand that they can use to practice searching for library and internet resources. I got a preliminary list of classes from the English department and contacted faculty a few days before classes began, but there were still a handful that I wasn’t able to get in touch with until the second week of classes. About two-thirds of the instructors responded with their preferred dates, and I was able to give most of them their first choice (I’d asked for 3 possibilities). I put the remainder of classes in our schedule as before and contacted those instructors to let them know. We also decided we’d try asking the instruction librarians to pick the classes they’d like to teach, so each of us chose our sections once the schedule was set.

I do think that scheduling went a bit smoother this semester, but it’s hard to know exactly why. We have significantly fewer sections of English Comp this spring than we had in the fall (64 rather than 126), which definitely impacts scheduling. But in some ways I feel like the amount of time spent scheduling hasn’t changed, it’s just been spread out more evenly: I’m fielding emails from faculty and putting sessions into the calendar in dribs and drabs over the course of the two weeks rather than in a couple of big, multi-hour scheduling binges. We’ll see if this method can hold up in the fall.

How does your library schedule instruction sessions? Are there any tips or tricks for streamlining the process that you can share?

Author: Maura Smale

Maura Smale is Chief Librarian at The Graduate Center, City University of New York.

3 thoughts on “Must Scheduling be Sisyphean?”

  1. Actually, I do think scheduling must be Sisyphean. =) A few years ago we tried going to an automatic scheduling system and it was a disaster- we just have too many variables to consider. Once you resign yourself to the fact that scheduling is demanding, it’s best to just carve out the necessary time to do it right.

    Our system: faculty fill out an online request form. I check the request against our Outlook calendar and either approve it or suggest an alternate date. Once the date has been settled, I forward the form on to our amazing office assistant, who puts it into the calendar. Once a week, the instruction team meets and divides up the following week’s sessions. The office assistant then sends Outlook appointments to the assigned librarians, who then confirm details with the faculty of their sessions. We have 5 instruction librarians and teach approximately 400 sessions each academic year.

    The weeks right before and right after the start of each semester are crazy, but I know it will be that way and plan my schedule accordingly. My office assistant also knows to block out time to work on the calendar.

  2. I’m glad to see some discussion about this. I consider scheduling at my institution mostly Herculean and a little Sisyphean! 😉 We have 5 librarians teaching over 500 class sessions per year, about 75% of which are in the Core Curriculum.

    Prior to each semester, two of us plot out a draft schedule and the Core liaison distributes dates to faculty. Because of technology limitations necessitating classroom swaps, it works better for us to give Core faculty dates rather than take requests. We work one-shot requests around the Core.

    Librarians meet 3-4 times per semester to ‘claim’ Core sessions, and we work hard to keep the number and times as fair as possible. Each arranges & teaches one-shots with his/her own departments.

    This all works fairly well, but is very labor-intensive. If we had all the computer classrooms we needed it would go faster, but it’s still a lot of variables to arrange.

  3. Thanks for your comments, Candice and Anne Marie. It’s nice to hear that we’re all doing pretty much the same thing re: scheduling. I always think that there must be some way to use technology to ease the pain, but I agree that there are so many variables that it’s hard to envision a system that could take them all into account.

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