Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Night Librarianing is Good for Your Soul

I had an experience last week that is something all directors of small libraries dread: I had a night person quit with no notice. We are fairly much a skeleton crew as it is, and then to lose someone with no hint ahead of time...? Not the worst thing that can happen to a small library like mine, but it's up there on the list. Since we're also lightly staffed with student workers – I opted for quality over quantity, and don't regret it – that was going to leave me with only one person on a couple of shifts, including a night shift. 

The neighborhood where we're located isn't horrible, but we are in a small city and campus is only a couple of blocks away from the little bit of a bad area we do have, so even if I weren't concerned about leaving someone alone for logistical reasons, it's just not safe to walk out alone that late at night. With nobody else available, what did I do? I stayed and closed the library. There really wasn't anybody else who could do it at such short notice, and my staff's safety and comfort is crucial to me.

I've worked nights here before, but never until close. I don't work nights regularly because as short staffed as we are at night, things are even tighter during the day, but I need to figure out a way to stay late at least once per month. Sure, I paid for it for a couple of days: I'm not a kid anymore. However, I saw much at night that I miss during the day, and learned lots about the way our students use the building late at night  learned first hand things I had guessed at previously.

Things I saw:
  • The library is quieter at night, so much so that I never had to police noise levels – students were self-policing. (We share the building with an academic department that has a couple of classrooms, so less noise at night because nobody is tromping through going to or from class. That's not all of it, though. It seems students come to the library at night to get work done.)
  • Quieter, that is, with the exception of the group study space in our basement. That's louder. A lot louder. But not so much that we can hear them on the first floor, so it's all fine.
  • There are just as many, if not more, students in the library at night than during the day.
  • Security guards are more noticeable at night and circulate more. (Our security department is made up of some great people, but I especially appreciate the evening shift.)
  • This was a Wednesday night, but we were pretty full. It's one thing to see hash marks on a tally sheet indicating how many people were in the building, it's something else to see the students jockeying for the comfy chairs and study carrels.
As I was leaving, a little muzzyheaded from being up way past my bedtime, I couldn't help thinking of that scene from Dead Poets Society I posted above. Looking back at that movie now, it seems a little corny and obvious, but when I first saw that movie I was 17 years old and it made a big impression. That idea of looking at things from a different perspective – sometimes literally, other times metaphorically – to better understand it is important, and I sometimes forget that. I need to not forget it, so I'm glad in a way that I had to work until close one night last week. It forced me to do something I should be doing on my own, and I learned a lot.

How about you? How do you keep things in perspective? Look at things from different angles?


  1. I'm working tonight till close, which now I only do a few times a month when there's a meeting or a program, but our closing time is 8 p.m., so it doesn't keep me up past my bedtime! I'm still fairly new in the library I work at now, so my perspective is still somewhat fresh, but it doesn't take long for everything to seem like it's been that way forever.

  2. I work two nights (until 10) and one weekend per month, and it's interesting to see how differently our space is used those times versus during an average weekday. One thing I couldn't see since I don't stay any later than that (we're open 24/5 in part of the building): a student just brought to our attention that computers were rebooting at midnight. Midnight?! That's when they're actually writing papers and getting stuff done! Needless to say we're working with IT to get it changed asap. We still wouldn't know about the issue had we not been invited to attend a student government association meeting. Luckily this is one of the eye opening things the senators shared. Now we're hoping to go back every semester!