my job situation

Hi. This is an update on my work situation. My boss at the high school where I work let me know that they will be discontinuing drop-in time [and the accompanying library support that went along with it] effective, well, now. I know a lot of people haven’t really understood what I did there in the first place, so let me spell it out, in past tense.

I worked super part-time [somewhere between 5-10 hours a week]. I staffed a drop-in lab two afternoons a week where people who needed extra computer assistance could come use a computer or just ask a question. I also did outreach to local libraries who had tech questions. Over the past three years, I worked with maybe nine tiny libraries; a few I worked with regularly. I also, as a separate job, taught evening adult ed technology classes. I may still do that.

Drop-in time was never super popular and on occasion it was empty. The last Summer we didn’t have a lot of attendance and so we were going to not do drop-in time this Summer. I was looking forward to some time off. Instead, the program got cut entirely. Funding is tight all over and even though my total salary there was less than 10K, it’s money that could be spent elsewhere. I’m sure there are some politics involved, but I’m lucky to not be involved with them. My (former) boss is a wonderful person. Her boss is stuck between a rock and a hard place, I suspect. His boss is the school district superintendent.

I’ve often said during my 2.0 talks that we count the wrong things in libraries. That we measure door count more than we look at website traffic. That we pay attention to phone reference more than IM reference. That we ignore certain aspects of outreach and preference “traditional” library services. I kept meticulous stats at this job. I did 105 service hours this semester. I helped 32 people, many of whom were adult ed students needing extra help. Some were high school teachers. Some were librarians. Most were active community members and I could watch their improved skillsets directly impacting the community — the garden club brochure, the choral group’s mailing list, the hospital chaplain’s holiday card list, the vocational training woman’s email address book — in positive ways. I helped older people be less isolated. I helped uncertain people feel more competent.

However, there’s no check box for “improved quality of life” on the reporting forms at the vocational high school. I’m of two minds about all of this. It feels weird to feel sort of fired. On the other hand, I know it’s not personal. I’ve also been ramping up my public speaking and spending more of my time and attention elsewhere and was, in fact, looking at cutting back hours so maybe this is a baby-bird-out-of-nest situation. I need to move on, maybe. This is not about the money, I’m set for money, incidentally. I have other jobs, they pay well.

I am welcome, I am pretty sure, to scare up grant money and continue to work there, they just can’t pay me and no one has enough free time to help me with that. I don’t want to just volunteer and I’m a little frustrated that at this point that’s the only way the program will continue. I do fill-in desk hours occasionally at the local library. One of the other local libraries would like to hire me to do ILL and automation work for them, but I’m waiting for a contract, something more than a “yeah we’d like that.” People still call me with questions and it feels really wrong to say “sorry I’m not on the clock anymore…” I like this small community and have felt useful here, much more than I did when I was a public librarian, much more than I did when I was in Seattle.

I’ve felt, without being too grandstandy here, that I’ve changed lives in exactly that way we say that librarians do that. I’d hate to think that I’m looking at a failure of marketing or “proving my value” but there’s always that nagging feeling when something like this happens. Now I have to find a way to keep “changng lives” that outside of what had become my normal routine. I talk about the digital divide a lot, and this is me and my program falling right into it. The chasm is deep and wide.

9 Responses to “my job situation”

  1. Rhonda Says:

    I’m really disappointed to hear that your outreach work will no longer be funded. It is incredibly frustrating but not surprising that once again valuable service is not given it’s true value mostly because of the difficulty in accounting for merit that can not be easily “quantified”. I know you have been very helpful to me and to my patrons and I am very grateful.

  2. Heather Says:

    I’m sorry to hear that this gig has been nixed. That is so frustrating because drop-in classes are such a great way to help people with computer questions/problems. People want help when they need help. They don’t want to register for multiple classes. Last year you posted a video showing two of your drop-in attendees learning e-mail. That really impressed me. It made me realize how much the library profession encourages reaching out to library patrons with Web 2.0 technologies, while not really addressing the huge numbers of our community members who are stuck on the wrong side of the digital divide tracks. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of attracting library users with technology, but there are so many people who need help opening an e-mail account so that they can apply for a job with an online application. Unfortunately, grants won’t keep programs like yours running; only library funding will. I’m sure your devoted drop-in attendees told their friends, who told their friends…This is one of the best methods of library marketing. I hope some of your students will write to library administrators and to their local town government offices and let them know how much the program meant to them. It really saddens me that your work with 9 local libraries will simply stop. I’m sure you changed a lot of lives. You will continue to change lives. You do so every time you post to this site.

  3. Matt Says:

    What a positive effect you’ve surely had on the 32 folks who mustered up the courage to make themselves vulnerable by asking you for help! If librarians can humanize information or technology that’s something that doesn’t end with the initial transaction. I bet those 32 folks have passed on what they’ve learned from you dozens of times to friends, family, co-workers, strangers, etc. If we’re measuring something, I wish it could be that.

  4. Kari Says:

    Crumb-buns~ wrote a big long thing that did not go thru. Anyway shorter and sweeter – The budgets all over are getting so tight. Everything down here in Windsor county is hurting. United Way had to merge with another to keep afloat. Everyone is dispirited. I heard that California is laying off 40000 in the schools: teachers, librarians, nurses. I can only hope for better days after the election. I think we are in for along rough time though.

  5. Carleen Says:

    I’m very sorry to hear this. Despite the few hours you worked that desk, I’m sure you made an incredible impact. Computer assistance is so crucial, especially in communities like this where the divide is so evident. We see it at my library too. We just started offering basic computer courses to the public a few months ago after we finally got the funds to purchase five laptops. The response from the community was amazing…the sign up sheet filled up so fast, we’re booked until January ’09 now.

    This was a wonderful service you were offering. I hope things start looking up in the future and they can offer this service again.

  6. sarah washburn Says:

    hi jessamyn,

    sorry to hear you’re in a frustrating spot. i admire the work you do, and i hate to see that stymied.

  7. Riven Homewood Says:

    I understand your reluctance to stop helping people who call – I do that too for people I’ve helped in the past. It doesn’t hurt to say something like, “I’m not doing that job anymore, but I’ll be happy to help you. I miss doing it – I’m really sorry the funding was cut.” (Unless you feel it’s not appropriate given your particular situation.) People who valued the service may just phone or write a letter and ask that it be reinstated – if nothing else, it will make them aware of the universal funding problems.

  8. Heather Says:

    Jessamyn,

    So sorry to hear of your current demise. I don’t even live there and you’ve never really met me, but you helped me just by keeping this blog going and posting YouTube stuff about Ubuntu. I hope you move onto greener pastures soon. Chin up, girl!

  9. Brad Says:

    Your spam filter ate my comment! And it was an AWESOME comment.

    Anyway, that’s disappointing, sorry to hear that Jessamyn.

    The point about counting the wrong things is a good one. I think you should become a freelance librarian. Or sexier: _vigilante librarian_. Outlaw style. Books not crooks.