An Overlooked Benefit Of Academic Librarianship

Aside from being passionate about academic librarianship, higher education and all the associated activities (reference, instruction, collaborating with faculty, working with students, paperwork (not)), the other reason I’d always want to work in higher education is the access to exercise facilities. Where you have students, you have sports teams, and where you have teams you have athletic facilities. Typically these facilities have an array of exercise and recreational facilities, including workout centers, indoor tracks, pools, basketball and tennis courts, dance studios and more. Even without the presence of teams, in the competition to attract potential students, any higher education institution without a good workout center is at a real disadvantage. I consider having access to my campus recreational and exercise facilities one of my top benefits. With so many academic librarians having easy access to exercise facilities, how many of them actually take advantage of the benefit to stay in shape? As you’d expect, it’s hardly the majority. How do I know?

ALA recently released the results of its 2007 Library Workplace Wellness online survey which established a link between availability of and employee participation in workplace wellness initiatives. According to the analysis of the results, the greater the number of programs an employer offers, the greater the number of programs in which employees participate. I was particularly interested in knowing how academic librarians are doing when it comes to using employer-provided fitness benefits to stay in shape. I’m not saying we’re in terrible physical shape, but we all could make a greater effort to improve our physical well being. Yes, exercising at work takes time and we are all so busy. And it’s a hassle to get changed, take a shower, etc. But there’s no denying the benefits of exercise, and let’s face it, people who don’t work at higher education institutions rarely have on-site exercise options. So in this respect, we’ve got it good.

Of the 2,524 respondents, 976 work in academic libraries, 1,316 work in public, 79 work in special libraries and 148 work in other. Here’s what the academic librarians reported:

On-site Exercise Classes
Offered by 275 Employers
87 Respondents Participated (32% participation rate)
On-site Exercise Facilities
Offered by 392 Employers
123 Respondents Participated (32% participation rate)
Gym Membership Discounts
Offered by 237 Employers
73 Responsdents Participated (31% participation rate)

Those are pretty good numbers. I don’t have national participation rates to compare with, but if 30% of academic librarians are exercising regulary courtesy of their institutions, that’s great news. Could it be better? Of course. Now of surprise to me is the low number of employers offering these benefits. I would think that most academic institutions would offer some sort of gym or exercise facility for faculty, students and staff. So while classes and discounts my be less common, employer-provided exercise facilities should be much higher – more like 800 than 392. Still, other types of libraries don’t even come close. Of the public library respondents, only 22 employers offer an on-site exercise facility, although many more (265) offer gym discounts. If staying fit and exercising regularly are important to your lifestyle, it pays to be an academic librarian. If this is one of the benefits you have as an academic librarian, give some thought to putting it to good use.

Note to all you working parents with young children. This ALA report also contains data on the frequency of employer-provided benefits for on-site child care and child care subsidies.