When I read Michele’s last post about time management tools, I started thinking about why we want to manage our time. It is amazing how many things get between reference and teaching librarians and what we want to do – teach and help with research and reference. There are the obvious interruptions- phone calls, emails, texts. I had a situation where a faculty member and I were deciding what to call a presentation to students. He said “Can we not title it a refresher?” I read that with a head tilt and a slight upward tone, as in, “can’t we call it a refresher?” But what he meant was literally “I don’t want to call it a refresher.” Two or three emails later, the Research Training was scheduled and appropriately titled. But it was 15-20 minutes of reading, writing, and smacking myself in the head that could have been used to improve the actual presentation.
Another example, we use sign up software to schedule workshops in our library. Scheduling is necessary: we cannot have the rampaging hoards just arriving and marauding in the stacks. The scheduling, though, takes several days worth of librarian time that is not actually spent teaching or giving research and reference assistance.
Those are but a few examples, but there are more: professional development (including drafting lengthy blog posts), answering directional or technical questions (yes, you do have to be connected to the wireless network to print), and even filling out time cards or approving time off.
So, what should we do?
Time management is one of the things we should work on. Have a schedule. Don’t spend more than a set percentage of the week doing administrative tasks or professional reading. There is always more to do, and like a practicing attorney, you can always find more work. Don’t do it. Keep a list of the things that you do that don’t directly impact students or faculty research or learning. Look for a scheduling method that works for you (make sure to look at Michele’s post!), and leave room for what may be called discretionary time. Leaving some of that will let you drop other things when you get an actual request for help. Need to finish grading a quiz for your class but have a nervous student who needs help with the index ? Go show him the index. Take time to walk and smell the books (or databases) – schedule a walk around twice a day if you don’t have scheduled roving times. Be where the students are doing research (well, publicly doing research, no home visits!) to offer your expertise and assistance. Try it for a couple of weeks, and see if those students and faculty don’t then come to you for help.
Communication is the other component. Emails, texts, and chat are great. They can expedite simple questions-sometimes. But be prepared to communicate differently if necessary. It may seem like a waste of time to get up and walk to human resources or the professor’s office. But if the twenty minutes replaces ten emails: the time to type them, read them and then refocus on other work, it is time well spent. Consider picking up the phone or seeing someone in person. This often stops the head smacking I did after misunderstanding the email from the professor. Keep in mind that everyone communicates differently. Spend a little time up front to get to know your regulars (patrons, faculty, attorneys and staff), and it may give you more time to help them with research and teach them.
I understand that I will never get to work on the reference desk for 15 hours a week, research in my office for another 15, and teach the other 10, but a librarian can dream can’t she?