Crooks: A Little Respect, Please

Access Services staff keep the doors to Baker-Berry Library open. With little input and less communication from those in charge, library staff just want to be heard.

by Loey Crooks | 3/9/21 2:45am

In recent weeks, Dean of Libraries Sue Mehrer and the Dartmouth library leadership team have come under fire due to their mishandling of the decision to close two campus libraries. Much has been said about the leadership team’s decision not to consult the affected faculty, staff and students before the announcement, most notably through a widely shared Google document with thoughts from William Cheng, chair of the music department. 

However, this is not the only decision made by Dartmouth library leadership in recent months that has had detrimental impacts on staff. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the Access Services staff have been underappreciated by library leadership. 

At Baker-Berry Library, the Access Services department keeps our doors open to the public. If you’d like a book, you can request it and staff in our department will retrieve it. If you have questions, call or email us and we’ll find the answer. If you need to check out materials, put books on reserve for class or come into the library, our department makes it all possible.

With over 20 staff, the Access Services team has been back on campus full time since August. Some of us never had the luxury of working from home, coming in daily from the beginning when everyone else was sent home. During that time, staff have repeatedly asked for support from library leadership — requests that remain unanswered. And though it is the responsibility of our department to enforce policies, provide access to materials and ensure the library is accessible to all Dartmouth community members, we are often the last to be informed of important decisions.

Last fall, The Dartmouth published an article about the new normal at Baker-Berry Library. In it, one student stated, “It’s kind of interesting because sometimes I’ll be sitting there, and there are librarians patrolling around." But librarians were not the ones “patrolling” the spaces. It was members of the Access Services team, who were directly instructed by library leadership to do so, and who were asked not to respond to the article when it was published.

As our department walked the library hourly, reminding patrons to follow our health and safety guidelines, librarians were staying safe at home. While Access Services staff monitored the Novack Cafe entrance checking masks and IDs and verifying reservations, librarians and many members of the leadership team at Baker-Berry were spared the daily stress of coming to work during a pandemic.

In case there was any doubt, rest assured that Access Services staff do not enjoy repeatedly asking our patrons to put on masks, social distance and stop eating in the library, even less so than our patrons enjoy being asked. On a daily basis, we face continued resistance and a blatant display of disrespect, not just from our patrons, but from those in charge.

The leadership has created a culture of fear and silence, in which dedicated employees whose working conditions are far less than optimal are afraid to speak out about their experiences. We remain the lowest paid staff in the library (Facilities Operations and Management staff earn more than we do), even though we are absolutely essential to the library’s continuing operations.

Mehrer and the library leadership team have given the impression that they do not care about Access Services staff, and why should they care about us? Our staff are not classified as librarians (whether or not we have degrees in librarianship). We don’t publish scholarly work, produce documentaries or have our names printed in national publications; we are not the ones who work closely with faculty to ensure new materials are obtained, furthering their research and aiding them in the writing of their books.

Still, ask any of the faculty members who access our resources, and they’ll tell you that their work has relied on the library remaining open and accessible. Our department ensures that all materials are scanned, books are retrieved and placed on the hold shelf and that inquiries are answered. We ensure that the public can call and speak with us. We even come into work after 20 inches of snow have fallen because library leadership won’t close the library to prioritize our safety.

Access Services is a team of people who genuinely wish to help. In normal times, we love our job and work for the library because it brings us joy. Every one of us has a favorite story of an interaction with a student, professor or community member, evidence of our passion for the work we do. However, this pandemic has required us to shift our focus and do anything and everything the library leadership team asks of us. We did not sign up to be police officers, babysitters or scapegoats.

Simply put, if the library is open to the public, it’s Access Services staff who make it possible. If our department doesn’t come to work, the library has to close.

For such an invaluable service, we should be treated with at least a dose of respect. 

Crooks is a student supervisor in the Access Services department of the Dartmouth library.

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