Working for a Living

Well this has been the strangest and most stressful start to a semester I’ve experienced in the last year.

Earlier, this month, I had interviewed and hired a new student assistant. I was perhaps a week or two late in doing this, so by the time the paperwork was ready she wouldn’t be able to start until the second week of classes (this week). I made a M, W, F schedule for her with an option of Sundays in the future. Tuesday and Thursday were to be covered by two other students.

First, my Tuesday student got a second job tending bar at Red Lobster (they have a bar?) which made her library schedule harder to commit to. This is less a problem for me as the work I require can basically be done at any time, but she also worked the service desk which is more concrete. She is still intending to be my Tuesday student, but already this week she couldn’t make her shift with me due to training at RL.

Then, on the same day last week, our ILL Lender called and said that her husband had just had a heart-attack (!). So, she was going to be out for a few days. Only to be followed by another phone call from my Thursday student saying, literally, “I don’t think I’m going to make it in for my shift, today. I just saw my father pass away.

Well, no, I don’t think you will make it.

This is the first week of the semester, mind you.

Friday, I take the day off for a few doctor’s appointments and to go camping with my wife. Monday, I come back to work with the expectation of beginning to train my new student worker on her tasks, only to be met with an email from her sent the Friday before saying that “for personal reasons” she couldn’t accept the job. What?

So, the new girl has bailed, and my two established assistants are both going through major transitions. Oh, and another colleague is having her own personal challenge that will require a lot of support from the department. And it’s only the second week of the new semester.

How am I reacting to all of this? For my colleague and assistant who have suffered personal tragedies, I am expressing sympathy and accommodating their needs, up to and including taking over their duties, as needed.

For the rest, I’m getting to test a hypothesis that I’ve been considering for at least a year: I don’t really need any student assistants. In the past, I’ve maintained that it takes about sixty hours a week to accomplish all of the Merlin-MOBIUS duties at UMSL, but more recently, I’ve come to feel that that number has fallen to not more than fifty.

What has happened is that with the reduction in monograph circulation at university libraries, there has simply been less need for my service. Not enough to threaten my job, or the type of service. The usage numbers are still very strong. But there is much less need for me to be flush with student workers.

So far, this week, especially, I’ve been doing it nearly all myself. With only the most limited help from other student assistants I am doing all the hands-on processing of the books, and still having time to perform the clerical duties that I would normally have done at my desk. The clerical duties are not necessarily getting done in as timely a fashion as before, but I’m still getting them done. I fully expect to be completely caught up with everything at the end of the day this Friday.

Is it stressful? Yes.

Am I exhausted at the end of the day? Yes.

But I feel like for the first time in years I’m doing my own damn job, and that feels pretty good. For years, the hardest part of my job has been the boredom that comes from too much down time.

My colleagues are looking at me like I’m crazy, though. They are also fretting about what will happen when I’m not there, both for sick or vacation days and when I inevitably get my new job. They are the ones who are insisting that I have not one, but two, fully trained student workers to perform the work. That way all contingencies are accommodated for. They have a point. However, this is the exact reason I have produced procedure manuals for not only my tasks as a supervisor, but also for the student tasks. It’s all written down so that there is not a complete loss of institutional knowledge. They don’t seem to find that comforting, though.

So, we’re advertising for more student assistants, not only for my open position, but for a few others, as well. I’m not likely to maintain this level of activity at my job, but I may tire of working this hard all the time, too. Part of me wishes that I didn’t have to hire anyone, and on one level I suppose I don’t. But then, having at least one to fill in when I’m not there really does make sense, and it would be worth it to alleviate the fretting of my colleagues.

I’m looking for a pithy conclusion to this post…

…Nope, can’t find one.

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