Thursday, April 30, 2015

Living the Double Life of a Dual-Library Librarian, by Brianna Hoffman

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 @Librarian_Bree.


  1. I had the same experience, where I took two part-time jobs to make ends meet and came out of it with a better grasp of how libraries work and how I function as a librarian. I have a full-time job in a different system now, but I am near those other systems and I know how they fill certain roles we can't. I see different library systems as complimentary, especially in an area where the next closest library is only 8-10 minutes away. I have no problem sending a patron to one of these other systems if they offer computer classes or color printing, for example, when we don't.

    1. Thank you for your comments! I completely agree with you about two systems being complimentary. I feel that way about my libraries now. I have also really enjoyed the opportunity to answer questions about the other library as well. I was able to clear up some misinformation that was floating around, and that's always a good thing!

  2. I'm currently at two different academic libraries (both the equivalent of what you would call a "community college") and I love it. I feel like I have more flexibility in creating a schedule that works for me, since both positions are part time (one is 20 hours and one is 15). I think too that a lot of the responsibilities that full time librarians have to deal with (managerial, administrative, etc) are left in their hands, and part timers might be given more grunt-work duties, but also have the ability to contribute to special tasks and projects. I offer a unique set of technology skills (i.e. none of the other librarians know how to use Photoshop) and that alone means that my time, even though limited in the literal sense, is very valuable and expansive in terms of what I can contribute.

    I love being in two communities, and while I would like to commit and be integrated into one community 100%, like you said in your post, I think that the benefits outweigh the issues. The major problem with part time work is that benefits don't exist, nor does tenure possibilities, which kind of sucks, but thanks to Obamacare it's not impossible living this way, especially since librarianship actually pays okay in academic institutions. This is an ideal way to start a profession I know I'll stick with for the rest of my life.

    Thanks for writing this post and giving me something to think about :)

    1. Thank you for your feedback and comments! I agree, the not having benefits does suck, and that is something I decided not to address in my post. You are correct that it's definitely not impossible to live this way. I also agree that this has been an ideal way to start in the profession. The experience I've gained has been invaluable!

  3. Great post. I don't know how much this happens in other professions, but I do know that it is fairly common in libraries. Actually, I think it always has been, but it may be even more common today.
    Like many situations, there are pros and cons, and I'm glad that you are able to see both.
    I am featuring this post in a blog post that I am working on today (and will probably publish tomorrow.)

    1. Thank you for your comments and for sharing the post! I also don't know how often this happens in other professions, but you are right, it's definitely common in librarianship! It can sometimes be a struggle to see both the pros and the cons. This summer is crazy since I am running the adult summer reading program at one library, and assisting with general programming at the other. This makes for a pretty horrific schedule (con), but the experience I'm getting, especially running my own program has been amazing (definite pro!) In the long run, all of the experience will make me a better librarian. Thank you again for your great comments and sharing! I would love a link to your blog!