You Try Something & Then You Learn From It


A few months ago our cleaning person at my library quit. We couldn’t get someone else in for the position immediately so we had a few weeks where we were in transition. That meant someone was going to have to clean up the library here and there. It wouldn’t be at the same level as when we had a cleaning person, but it would at least keep the library tidy looking day to day for the patrons that came in.

When a staff member quits or retires, there’s change in the air. Who is going to take over those tasks? Sometimes panic sets in that moment when folks worry about if there will be enough coverage or if the library can continue at a lower staffing level. I get this completely. As I have said time and time again, change is very difficult for every human being in the world. We would all like a life that is consistent day to day. When something changes in our work, it changes the way we do things and that leads to an unpleasant feeling.

Without a cleaning person I made the decision to move ahead for the few weeks in between with myself & the library staff having to clean the library every Monday thru Friday before the library opened. We rotated shifts based on the day. One person would vacuum the main floor and empty the trashcans. Another person would clean our two restrooms. All of this work had to be done before the library opened at 9am.

The few weeks where we did this work were very interesting. The work got done, but as the weeks went on I could tell not only in myself but with the other staff that these added duties were having a negative impact on all of the other work we were doing. There was part of me that thought “sure, we can all pitch in and clean the library together and maybe we can save money that way” but in the end what I learned was “you can’t do everything, and if you try to you end up hurting other things in the process.” The other thing that was hurt in this process was every other aspect of the library: our customer service, our materials processing, our events, and everything in between. You can’t do everything without something else getting hurt in the process. We ended up hiring a new cleaning person soon after, and the Benson Memorial Library was then able to get back to its normal pace and quality of work.

On a larger level, my head processes all of this information and relates it to funding and libraries overall. Decreases in our funding require us to cut back, thus causing us to have to do more with less. Flat funding also does this, but it is not something that you immediately see, but oh trust me flat funding is just as bad as a decrease in funding. Every which way you are then required to do more with less. This seems to be a common thread going through the world these days. We are faced with a world with limited resources and money, so we are all told that have to do more with less. There’s a time where we all can adjust to do more with less, but remember this mantra: You can’t do everything without something else getting hurt in the process. Over time, doing more will lead to something else getting cut, forgotten, or diminished in quality in the process. There’s a limit to this “let’s do more with less” idea that is sweeping the world, and we’re coming up on that limit in every aspect of life. It’s time to start thinking about how to create a better future. It’s time to start asking bigger questions and demanding bigger answers.

***The photo in this post comes from the University of Nebraska Library. Every post should have a good photo. This door was tiny. It was like a hobbit door in a library.***


  1. I hear you. I work at a library on an Air Force base, and we’ve been doing our own cleaning since Obama’s first term (with the exception of the bathrooms, thankfully). For years, we’ve been doing our own vacuuming, dusting, and taking out the trash. We’re not too happy with this setup, but we don’t have any choice. Now we’re without a shelver, so we’re all pitching in doing even that. And yes, it does have an effect on doing well with our own assigned tasks. You’re fortunate enough that your budget allows you to hire a cleaning person.

    • Hi Eileen, I’m hoping things change for you and so many others soon. There’s a limit we all reach, and I think a lot of libraries are getting to that limit. Thank you for reading and thank you for sharing your story. I think we all learn together when we share like this.

      • Very true. By the way, I enjoy reading your blog when I have a quiet moment at the reference desk. 🙂

    • Well Eileen thank you so much. I’m glad you enjoy it. I’ll keep on writing because that’s all I really know. I hope your Friday goes well and that this weekend is a great one for you.

      • You, too, Justin! Have a good weekend! Btw, I also keep a blog–

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