Maintaining the Day Away

image of a digital weekly planner spread on an iPad

I’ve been back at work after Winter Break for 17 days now. The Spring semester started 10 days ago. I’ve scheduled classes, emailed instructors about their scheduled class details, assigned classes to librarian colleagues, and added those classes to calendars with relevant details about assignments. I’ve replied to questions over email, asked questions over email, made phone calls, and answered them. I’ve spoken at orientations and lead a workshop. I’ve written performance reviews and drafted annual goals. I’ve checked on classroom computers, projectors, markers, and erasers.

It’s not glamorous work. When my son asks what I do at work all day I usually say “I’m teaching,” but that’s not really true. It’s just easier to say than all of the above, which means nothing to an 8 year-old. Most of my time is spent on maintenance. It’s absolutely critical to my job, to our library’s instruction program, and to my own ability to get through the day.

It sometimes feels like a whole lot of nothing, but as Maura Smale has written time and time again, “much of the work that we as librarians do is…about maintenance.” It is work that is made invisible, because the innovative projects are shiny, and the work that goes into making things shine isn’t photogenic. No one is going to take a photo of me in my office with lukewarm coffee and a container of Oatmeal Squares cereal toggling between a spreadsheet, calendar, and email as I figure out how many people to schedule to teach each day while listening to ambient remixes of Legend of Zelda music. (Yes, that is a true scene from my work life.) But with this work, classes are taught, time and space is created to work on new initiatives, relationships are built, and innovation is given a foundation.

Let’s start sharing what library maintenance work looks like. What does maintaining the day away look like to you? What would stop happening if your maintenance work stopped? How can we highlight this as real work, rather than the stuff we have to get off of our plates before we start to do the real work? It may be dull. It may be tedious. But it is absolutely necessary.

One thought on “Maintaining the Day Away”

  1. I know exactly what you mean. Sometimes I feel like my entire life (even the stuff I do outside of work) is mostly maintenance. The house, my finances, relationships–even my body–require quite a bit of repetitive upkeep. I’m an academic librarian and I do everything you listed at work except schedule classes for others. I do have a lot of appointments, meetings, student worker schedules, and my own instruction sessions to schedule, though. I also maintain my libguides (those are pretty needy), post on the library blog and social media accounts (even more needy), write reports, order office supplies, and help students outside my office with printing 500 times a day. I try to automate and/or delegate as much as I can. Social media was taking up way too much time so I starting using Hootsuite to post to all the accounts at once (automate) and hired a student worker to create the actual posts (delegate). Now that work gets done, a communications major gets valuable work experience, and I can focus on new projects and updating my skills. Still, the maintenance (especially of collections) is a big part of the job, and someone has to fill out those spreadsheets. I try to make the decisions and train a student worker to do the data entry that goes into ordering or to remove items from the system when weeding. It may be trivial work to you but I find certain students value the work and will surprise you with quality work and fresh ideas. I also think you only see the true value of maintenance work when it is not being done. Then you get complaints from patrons who were using that collection and you realize, hey, that little bit (or massive amount) of upkeep actually did affect someone positively. It certainly isn’t glamorous–especially the teaching bit. I always leave feeling like I just told them a bunch of obvious stuff, but then when I meet with them one-on-one I remember they are young/inexperienced and these things are not obvious to them. They actually are learning. It is just hard to gauge that with the one-shot sessions we do. I have to remind myself that information literacy is important, and that the kid in the back row might go on to medical school and save lives with the research skills I taught them that day.

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