Monday, February 25, 2008

Thoughts on Library Staffing

After a prolonged silence, I am returning to my blog with a few thoughts, appropriately enough, about library staffing.

While I tend to do much of my blogging in off hours, I have also relied on times when I have been able to do some blogging at my desk at work. Not only did I have a very busy fall season in my personal life (with shoulder surgery thrown into the mix), I have found my life at the library to be busier this academic year, too. We lost a part time staff position, bringing our library down to three full time staff members (including myself) plus a complement of part time student workers. This has been a busier year for everyone here.

This raises questions in a library director's mind like, "How much staffing is enough? How much staffing is not enough?" Like good looks and money, one can probably never be endowed with too much (competent!) staffing.

The difficulty is finding the right balance. I suspect that theological libraries are not alone in the struggle to achieve that delicate balance between:
  • materials (books, journals, e-resources),
  • operations (infrastructure, especially technology), and
  • personnel.
At least in Illinois, state library programs are continuing to see reductions in funding, and from what I read in the library bulletins, it sounds like levies are not getting any easier to pass for the public libraries.

In the theological libraries where I have worked, I have felt like there is a swinging budgetary compass that allows one to concentrate and move forward on one front--materials, operations, or personnel--but not on all three at once. Does one take a hit in the book budget to allow for the upgrading of computer equipment? Does one choose to invest in more materials to expand the collection, or to invest in personnel to catalog the collection?

Then there is that seductive siren of grant funding. At our library, we continue to be very grateful for a Chatlos Foundation grant in 2006 that allowed us to significantly upgrade library staff workstations. The difficulty, of course, is that in tight budget times, if you can't land a grant, you often can't make progress that year, either. There is also the danger of finding one's job description expanded a notch with the expectation that the library director become a de facto member of the advancement office, writing grants in order to make a living. And it is difficult to get grants that will support your personnel needs, at least on a permanent basis.

So I find myself comparing my departmental needs to those of other campus departments. Does it profit a library if it has staff members, but they all break their necks walking in to work because there is no one to salt the sidewalks? (A genuine concern this winter.) Can adding a cataloger contribute more to student recruitment than adding another person in enrollment? These, however, are false comparisons and cannot answer that fundamental question, "How much staffing is enough?" The answer to this question has to be guided by mission, both at a campus level and at the library level. Adequate library staffing has to grow out of the integration of library services with the overall campus mission.

Which means that this posting is not really about library staffing--it is about library assessment. Having just lived through our joint accreditation visit from ATS and HLC, I am acutely aware that assessing our library's performance requires much more than just counting books and borrowers. I am encouraged that ATLA is taking a look at updating the annual statistics form reported to both ATLA and ATS. We need to be collecting data that tells us how well we are doing at supporting our campus missions. Do we have sufficient library staff to get the job done and to do it well? While there are not any magical formulas to help answer that question, posing the question in these terms will hopefully move us closer to coming up with useful answers about library staffing.

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