Thursday, September 24, 2009

Off Desk Time

Mary Kelly, my former co-worker at SSLDL, has been whining about how much extra work she has now that I am gone. Poor thing - I actually feel bad for her. SSLDL hired a fantastic new librarian to take my place, so hopefully it's just a matter of time and training before Mary can relax and spread the work around.

Here's the thing about Mary, though. She's like me in a lot of ways. (Wow, I'm committing that to text for the world to read!) You might say we're "library generalists." You might also say were "library obsessionists." We both like almost everything about library science. We like to dabble in every possible area we can stick our little hands in: collection quality, technology, youth services, computer instruction...pretty much everything. Here's what I'm getting at: Mary, you need to focus.

Mary's recent post has some great advice about learning new tasks and fitting training into a schedule where regular off-desk time is just impossible. It made me think about off-desk time and really sympathize with Mary's situation.

At my new job, everyone gets approximately half of their time off-desk. When I first started working here it seemed like such a huge amount of time! What on earth do people DO off-desk for four hours a day? I was used to being on-desk 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. Sure, we got away for lunch and a few minutes here and there to go through donations or deliveries, but Mary is trying to wrap her head around some tasks that I know first hand require a lot of mental focus.

I now understand what off-desk time does for people. It is such a luxury - I know this - to be able to just THINK without the phone ringing constantly and having to be "on" for patrons. The staff at my new job seem so stress-free. They show up for their desk shifts, an hour or two at a time throughout the day, and are perfectly happy and ready to turn "on" for the public. I've been here for a month now, and when I show up for my desk shifts it is absolutely a pleasure. It's fun! I have plenty of time to get my daily work done, time to think through things, and time to talk to my co-workers without interruption.

Yes, I still have piles of things that are incomplete at the end of the day. I still have piles of things to read and a to-do list. I've got a lot to learn about my new job, and I'm working on it. I get a LOT done every day, though! I am keeping up with the work because I have uninterrupted time every day to focus. It's the mental value of off-desk time that makes it so worthwhile.

Hang in there, Mary. SSLDL is as awesome as it is because people like you make it happen.


  1. I am still whining, but a little bit of creative scheduling has helped wrestle my paperwork and budgets into submission!

  2. While in grad school for my MLA in 2008 we had a long discussion about on/off desk. The professor's point was that when you're on the desk you need to be totally available for the patron, and that many patrons feel they are bothering you if you're doing other work. I concur. So having off desk time to get the rest of our work done is important. That way we can be totally "on" when we're at the desk, making us more approachable.