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Author Topic: Excessive Reference Shifts?  (Read 36496 times)
boleyn
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« on: August 24, 2009, 3:06:24 AM »

At my institution (mid-size, academic library), we are asked to staff eight-hour, solo reference desk shifts on the weekends and on holidays.  Is this fairly typical at other libraries (academic or otherwise)?

Candid feedback is welcome, thanks.
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collegekidsmom
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« Reply #1 on: August 24, 2009, 7:17:29 PM »

I hope you get hour long dinner or lunch breaks. I have done this at two institutions, but in the distant past. Our reference hours have been getting cut back year after year due to declining in-person visits to our desks. Hopefully, you also take another day off completely when you get one of those shifts, and hopefully it is only once in a great while.
But, to answer your question, I have done 8 hour shifts-many years ago when libraries were completely different. I will be curious to see if anyone else is still doing that. Do your reference statistics warrant that kind of desk coverage? Are you totally short-staffed or something like that?
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hrvatski18
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« Reply #2 on: August 24, 2009, 8:34:35 PM »

Our weekend and holiday reference desk shifts are 8 hours.   The shifts are 4 hours during the work week, except for one 2 hour shift.

But we staff our reference desk for 14 hours a day, which I think is excessive given how few questions we get anymore.   Most of the time we sit at the desk answering questions via Instant Messenger.  I can do that from my office and put a student worker at the desk to point out the restrooms and assist people with the photocopiers.
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punchnpie
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« Reply #3 on: August 24, 2009, 8:49:01 PM »

I remember when I was a masters student and wanted to make some extra money by putting in more hours. I asked  if I couldn't do a straight 8 hours at the reference desk. I was told that 'nobody' could handle 8 straight hours of reference. Now, this was for a law library, but maybe this is the general opinion of practitioners - that 8 hrs is just too long to do reference, especially if you are by yourself.
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swtrixie
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« Reply #4 on: August 26, 2009, 11:33:57 PM »

Holy smokes, I couldn't imagine doing an eight hour reference desk shft. I can't imagine you would be much use to anyone after 4 or 5 hours.

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ranganathan
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« Reply #5 on: August 28, 2009, 3:43:41 PM »

I'm in the same setting you describe. We each work approximately one Saturday or Sunday a month, during which you are on the desk for 8 hours.  You get a 1-hour lunch or dinner hour. 

When it's busy, it's not bad. When it's dead quiet (like in the summer), it can be brutal.  But I always enjoy having the following Friday off as comp!
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hmaria1609
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« Reply #6 on: August 28, 2009, 5:21:06 PM »

This happen in public libraries too.  For me, the most I've done is 4 hours at a time, particularly on weekends, when there's only a library associate and myself in the division.  Plus a teen employee for our division.

Surely your student employees can handle things while you're on lunch. On a slow weekend, you can slip away from the desk for a few moments...
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bunnywatson
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« Reply #7 on: October 18, 2009, 10:54:44 AM »

Does anyone feel this is different for part-time librarians? I work between 21 and 27 hours a week at a private 4-year college library, and my job is almost entirely reference. I do 7.5 hours (until midnight) weekday nights, and 10 hours every other Saturday, half-hour break. It is true, I am brainless on Saturday nights.

Day time reference at our library is shifting to an on-call model for some shifts (generally two hours at a pop), but not night or weekend. 
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collegekidsmom
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« Reply #8 on: October 18, 2009, 8:04:48 PM »

In my case, it depends what type of reference shift(in person, chat, email) and how busy the place is. Back in the day when our in-person reference desk was constant lines all day and night(especially before computer searching), when each patron had to be taken to print materials and given in-depth assistance in paper materials all over the library, it was truly exhausting to do a long shift, even with another reference librarian working alongside. While you were helping someone, others would be waiting- and it was difficult to manage the people, the demand, or your own need for food or a break. If you tried to get your dinner or lunch break, you felt a little guilty leaving the other person there. Now, I find it all very manageable, sitting there showing people stuff on the computer or composing emails or whatever.  Although I feel any 8 hour day is too long, I would be able to handle it much better in these less crowded days at my reference desk.. In my case, it's not half as much fun as all of the old detective work in the indexes, reference books or in those frantic phone calls to other universities when the grant deadlines loomed and only the right piece of information could save the day. Depending upon how well you knew your stuff, even more people would come to the desk if you were there. So, now, our reference is not as busy-people can find a lot of their own information, so none of it is so stressful or tiring for me anymore. Most of the time I can even just sit there and help people while at the computer. The type of questions have changed as well as library users' expectations. Still, even with the changes, I think probably 4 hours of in person reference is enough. Chat reference has its own challenges, and I think that reference session there really does depend on demand.
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punchnpie
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« Reply #9 on: October 19, 2009, 7:52:50 PM »

I can't answer your question, bunnywatson, but I wanted to say hello and tell you I love your name and your namesake.
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libwitch
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« Reply #10 on: January 24, 2011, 7:17:12 PM »

We have done it (where I am now), but we started dividing the shift up - it was simply too long, and it was a bother because eventually, the desk would have to close to give that person a break.   

The smaller library that I worked at a few years ago did that as well, but the ref traffic was much lower, so the shift was (generally) less exhausting mentally and closing the desk for a bit was not a problem.  Plus, the reference desk there was in eye-line with the Circ desk, so if the librarian was really needed, Circ could easily notice and grab them.

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liberrygeek
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« Reply #11 on: January 27, 2011, 10:00:42 AM »

Our longest reference desk shifts are on weekends: a five-hour shift on Saturdays and a four-hour shift on Sundays.  We work two weekends a semester sometimes with a holiday shift thrown in here and there. 
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libprof
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« Reply #12 on: January 27, 2011, 11:02:18 AM »

I work a 5 hour reference shift each weekday and then an 8 hour shift on the Sunday I work (about 8 per academic year).
My compromise is since my office is situated right in the middle of the circ/reference area, I can work out of my office and just meet students at the reference desk. We seldom get but 5 true reference questions per week but the admin is stuck on the passive reference desk for now. We have IM, chat and email but none of these services are used much either. So I spend most of my time doing work relating to my other "librarian hats".
We do not have a set day for time off when working our extra 3 hour evening shift or Sunday shift but use an unofficial comptime which allows us some time off during breaks and when we need a breather.
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kzkzts
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« Reply #13 on: January 28, 2011, 1:06:47 PM »

I worked at an academic library that had 8-hour shifts on Saturdays and Sundays. Two people would be scheduled together though, and you did get to swap out a day during the week (usually either the Friday before or the Monday after). You had a weekend day, maybe 3 times a semester. At this library, Saturdays, in particular, were very slow. You'd be by yourself during the hour your partner went to work.
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