Working two jobs to make ends meet (or student loan payments) is not unheard of in the librarian profession. I have seen a lot of librarians, especially those new to the profession, do this. For the last fifteen months I have been one of these dual-library librarians. I graduated with my MLS in the summer of 2013 and, for a multitude of reasons, moving for a job was not an option. After spending six years working part-time at a municipal library, I accepted a part-time position at the busiest branch of an 11 branch library system. Since I have been doing both jobs for a while now, I have definitely experienced pros and cons of this “secret agent” life.
The biggest advantage of being at two separate libraries has been the variety of experiences I get. Since my libraries are not part of the same library system, they are very different. I work with two different ILS’s, service models, service populations, and two sets of goals and expectations. I do feel like I have been able to use the differences between libraries to enhance my level of service at the other. Working at both libraries has also given me the chance to work with multiple communities. My city library is very focused on the one community it serves, while the multi-branch system serves all of the other cities and counties around it. I have the opportunity to work on a variety of programs and initiatives, and I have learned a lot about each community’s individual needs. One of the really cool things about working at both libraries is it feels like I am getting twice the amount of experience. One full year doing both positions felt like two years of experience. I know that this is making me a better librarian.
Despite the positives, I have definitely experienced challenges. The biggest challenge has been maintaining or even achieving balance. It can be very difficult to give 100% to either library when you are only at each one 50% of the time. For me, it sometimes feels like working more, yet contributing less. This has been especially difficult and something that I continue to struggle with. And yes, there have been a couple of days where I have had to remind myself just which library I was working at that night. I am however proud to say that after 15 months, I’ve only answered the phone wrong twice. Scheduling is also difficult because each library has their individual staffing needs, and as the employee, I do my best to meet them. Both of my libraries require evening and weekend shifts, so I work late three nights a week, every Saturday, and every other Sunday. Maintaining this schedule has caused me to take a hard look at my priorities and how I spend my free time. I have learned to focus on what is important to me and choose what can be “back-burnered”, or even eliminated. Working both jobs has also forced me to be ridiculously organized (check out my giant, color-coded calendar), but this has actually been a good thing!
The one thing I did not expect was how my communication skills would be tested. I am lucky in that I have a good relationship with the management at both libraries, which makes communication easier. I have had to be open and very forthcoming if I was struggling. I have had to ask for help, which is not easy for anyone to do, but it has been essential in order to maintain a work/life balance of some kind.
Even with these challenges, I can say that I am enjoying my time as a dual-library librarian. The experiences I’m having and professional – and personal - relationships I’m building are well worth it. If you find yourself presented with the opportunity to take on two libraries, I would recommend that you don’t shy away from it. I would also recommend that you keep a few things in mind:
- Take time to decompress. Even allowing 15 minutes to mentally “leave” one library before going to the other can make a huge difference. Take time to decompress at home, too. Read a book, put your headphones on, or watch garbage TV. Do SOMETHING that doesn’t involve work.
- Be honest with your management and yourself. If you are struggling, reach out to them. I finally had to ask for a change in schedule because for a while I was working 14-16 days in a row with one day off. Neither of my managers knew I was struggling because I didn’t tell them. They were more than happy to change my schedule.
- It is also important to keep in mind that working at two separate libraries means you are going to have access to confidential information at each one. I have a rule that if you can walk into the building and see it, or find it on the website, then I will tell you about it. If it’s part of personal communication, or plans and services that haven’t been made public yet, I won’t tell you about it.
The best piece of advice I can give you if you’re looking to take on this double life is to embrace it. Embrace the experiences, learn from each institution and, most of all, learn from the communities. You will learn so much from the variety of people you serve. You will become a better librarian because of it. I know I have.
Brianna Hoffman splits her time between the Richland Public Library and the Mid-Columbia Library System in Southeastern Washington State. A little bit loud and a lot curious, she loves pop-culture and exploring new places when she’s not catching up on sleep. She tweets @.