As this July closes, I will be finishing up my third semester of library school. During this time, I’ve managed to juggle a part-time library specialist position, a part-time graduate assistantship, an unpaid virtual internship with the U.S. Department of State; and successfully completed nine out of the twelve courses that I need to graduate. The hustle is real, and I am excited to see the sun setting on my time in library school. Thus, as this semester closes, I have been reflecting on my time in remote library positions; and I want to share these thoughts with library professionals and upcoming library professionals to better inform their ideas about remote work.
First, remote work is valuable. As a remote intern and graduate assistant, my tasks have included projects, library trend exploration, and other various tasks similar to traditional positions. I have met weekly with my supervisors, who continue to be absolutely essential in any and all of my successes. These weekly Zoom meetings have been key as a remote worker. They have provided a space for me to learn about office politics, get feedback, and ask questions about my tasks. These spaces were especially important in combating ambiguity in my positions. Chat spaces, such as Slack and Teams, can be great for quick questions or sharing articles; but there is no substitute for one-on-one discussions with supervisors who are honest with you. Whether you work in a public library, academic library, or are a student, I encourage you to find a regular time and space to meet with someone you can trust. I have also been able to observe workshops for students by librarians, attend regular library group meetings, contribute to departmental projects, collaborate with my team, and more; which has increased my knowledge of academic and federal libraries more than ten-fold.
Remote work can also lead to greater job satisfaction. As a graduate assistant, my remote schedule has made it easier to be flexible with my other work schedules, attend meetings, and work when I am most productive. While I cannot say that I have been more productive otherwise, I do know that I have been able to explore more topics in academic librarianship than I otherwise would. It is also unavoidable to discuss that this graduate assistantship has made my education affordable for me. Without it, I would have over $50,000 in combined student debt between a bachelor’s and master’s degree. Or, we would have had to sell our house and leave both of our jobs and still had more student loans. Librarianship has a serious problem with affordability of degrees and making more of these positions remote can help change who gets these positions to eliminate barriers to entering the field. So, this has meant so much to me and my family as it has given us a better starting chance in this world.
Finally, I have gained an immense amount of opportunity from these positions. Barely a year ago, Zoom sounded like something complex, but now I use it every day. I have used Google Suite to collaborate with colleagues and can do so expertly now. By the end of this week, I will have also given my first conference presentation remotely. By the end of this year, I will have attended our state’s annual conference with a scholarship as well, possibly remotely. All library school students deserve these opportunities. With COVID-19, many in my library have been pushed to see how we can do work remotely and more opportunities have surfaced, such as leading a literature review project with other student workers. Thus, thinking innovatively about our support positions in libraries is a tool that we can use to transform our workplaces and ourselves.
Remote work is not perfect. Workers can still be stressed; and it can sometimes feel socially isolating. There are also lots of workers’ rights issues to consider. However, traditional early-career library positions can also cause all of those issues. Increasing remote work opportunities can reach more applicants and allow for library school students to have a better graduate school experience. So, hiring managers, early career librarians, and the like — please consider how you can offer more remote, paid opportunities for students to take advantage of.
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Courtney Evans is a third semester MSI student at Florida State University with an interest in public library and academic library partnerships, information literacy, and open science. You can connect with her on LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/courtney-evans-2018/) and on Twitter (@cevans_lib).