As I was driving him to the airport this morning, a colleague of mine from the history department asked me what my day looked like. I told him that (per department agreement about the disgusting status of the computers) I’d be scrubbing some grody computer stations, working on a proceedings paper, planning an instruction session for a graduate English class, working a 2-hour refdesk shift, and fitting in some odds and ends before I had to leave at 3 to take care of some personal business. And then, of course, after that, I spend my Friday evenings nowadays with my personal trainer and sweat buckets of icky goodness in my pursuit of an Angeline Jolie-like body, followed by a shower and limp-bodied exhaustion splayed on the couch with the dog at my feet.
Now, to me, other than the whole leaving-early thing, which isn’t usual, that sounds like a perfectly respectable Friday. I mean, I’ve got both research and bona fide librarian work at the refdesk listed! Plus teaching prep! That doesn’t happen all the time, particularly with various projects and meetings that can really sink their teeth into my day. Just saying the day-plan made me quite pleased.
So, I was a little surprised when my pal was utterly horrified at the thought of scrubbing computers. “Don’t you have cleaning staff?” Well, sort of. In the technical sense that there are some bodies who wear uniforms and carry cleaning supplies, but there’s very little evidence those supplies are ever used. “So instead of doing research, you’re going to go around bleaching?” Um. Well, I mean, research is also on my list for the day, but yes. One, the computer bank really, really needs it. As Toni, a librarian colleague pointed out, they’re utterly gross, and we’ve got the new students and their parents coming through in preparation for the Fall. Two, the cleaning folks don’t go near the computers. Apparently at some point in the distant dinosaur-y past, they did something they weren’t supposed to and messed up some of the machines, so now they get to avoid the whole area. (Thinking about this, it’s sort of like telling a child he’s not allowed to wash the dishes after he breaks a plate. Um, of course he’s going to continue breaking your dishes.)(Yes, I was raised without a dishwasher.)
Anyway, so the cleaning staff avoids the computers totally. A few of the librarians are neatfreaks (in a good way) and encourage us to pick up the slack. It gets brought up in a department meeting, we do it, and we go on about our merry way until it comes up again. Coming from Access Services like I did, this is not strange to me. You pick up whatever slack needs picking up, you drink a great big glass of suck-it-up-atine, and you move on. I’ll admit I’ll grumble about it as much as anyone, but it gets done.
On my way back from the airport alone, I thought about this. The guy I was with is very good at his job, but I can in no way see him ever agreeing to scrub, say, the history computer lab computers. (Not that they have a lab, I’m making that part up for demonstration’s sake.) He would likely point out (loudly) that the University pays cleaning staff to do that sort of thing. I could very much imagine him sending a snarky email or three to his superiors, commenting on the issue and pointing out that he is judged on his research, service, and teaching, and any custodial duties will have to come with a pay upgrade. And so on. And I can’t see any other “real” faculty member accepting this and moving on.
So it makes me wonder – as librarians, here we are 12-month faculty. We work 40+ hour weeks, but that time doesn’t really include research time, since we’re very much tied to various tasks. Publishing isn’t really emphasized to the exclusion of everything else here like it is in many other departments, but that may be one of the reasons library faculty are an afterthought to the university. And from the reaction I got this morning, it appears to others that we obviously don’t take ourselves seriously as scholars if our paid time is spent scrubbing, blowing, vacuuming and cleaning instead of, say, teaching. Or writing articles and books.
I’m in the middle on this one. As a public venue, we have a responsibility to make certain that we present the best possible appearance to our patrons. (No one may say anything about a nice clean library, but you can bet people will mention the “sticky keyboards.”) And if it needs to be done, well, then, if the people responsible for doing the job don’t do it, the librarians do. It simply comes with the territory of being a service-oriented profession. But I’ll totally admit that I gave the hairy eyeball to the maintenance crew this morning, because I damned well do not have to be pleased to do someone else’s job while they while away their time at the microfilm machine. Kudos to my colleagues for being full-on cheery as they scrubbed and vacuumed this morning, and my apologies for being so dour – my smile doesn’t appear until 9am at the very earliest, even on the best of days *grin*