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Career Strategies for Librarians
Telecommuting for Librarians
by Andrea Delumeau

Librarians may consider alternative work arrangements for numerous reasons; raising children, caring
for aging parents or sick family members, or pursuing an education are just some of them. Flexible work
arrangements like part-time work, leaves of absence, flex time, job sharing, and telecommuting come to
mind. I had something similar to a stroke that affects my mobility and speech, so I found telecommuting
the ideal solution for my problem. In this article, I want to share some of my experiences.

What Kind Of Library Jobs Lend Themselves To Telecommuting?

Advances in communication technology have made telecommuting a much more viable option for many
librarians. In her article “The Untethered Librarian,“ American Libraries columnist Karen G. Schneider
offers the following challenge: “Could you telecommute? Try it: Fill your briefcase, and go home three
hours early this afternoon!”

While not everyone has the liberty to do this, some kinds of tasks or positions are more suitable for
telecommuting than others—generally tasks/positions that require little or no contact with the public, like
cataloging, indexing, working on websites or the library’s intranet, developing user aids, virtual reference,
and writing reports. However, even reference librarians might have time scheduled off the desk, which
could be used for telecommuting. I design flyers for events and do bibliographic research as part of my
telecommuting job. Some positions, like managerial ones, simply require a human presence; however,
managers could use a couple of hours of uninterrupted “quiet” time away from the office to finish a
report, for example, to better support this “presence.”

How To Set Things Up

As Susan Silver so wisely states in her article “Alternative Work Arrangements: Exploring Your Options
and Making It Work”: “Details, details, details. Have a clear, articulated plan for how you will get your work
done, and, if necessary, offer to be accountable at a higher level than if you were working on-site.” She
also recommends you offer to document the time you telecommute. You should also describe the set-up
of your home office.

In her article “French Rolls, Coffee and a Computer,” Mary T. Kalnin provides a detailed explanation of
how setting up telecommuting in her library department is handled. She also provides a link to her library’
s work schedule policy which might be helpful.

Here is an attempt at a list of tools you need to do the job:

Personal characteristics. The telecommuter needs to be self-motivated, organized, and focused in order
to be successful, so a careful, honest self-examination is needed beforehand.
Personal commitments. A family life that does not provide frequent interruptions of your work time is
crucial.
Technology. You must have adequate equipment for your home office. Will your employer provide a
computer, the software you need, and/or pay for internet access? If your library’s network is secured,
does its firewall allow remote access?
Professional attire. While one does not need to be power-dressed, I found that working in business
attire as opposed to in pajamas and slippers helps me to better concentrate and focus on the task at
hand.
Working environment. You don’t need to be a feng shui expert to know that your productivity is influenced
by your working environment. One of the advantages of telecommuting is that your work space can be
more easily organized and even decorated to suit your needs. I found that soft background music greatly
enhances my productivity!
Technical support. While you should have good computer skills in order to perform basic
troubleshooting, you also need to clarify with your employer who provides more advanced support
services when needed. You should also have some computer-savvy friends to help out, e.g., when you
are unable to open a tricky attachment.
Staying in touch. I found that one of the greatest pitfalls of telecommuting is being “out of the loop” on
many things. Staying in touch with co-workers and supervisors by phone or e-mail is of course vital, but
does not totally prevent a sense of isolation. It is also important to attend staff meetings via web
conferencing or conference calls to counterbalance this. Developing a strong online presence when
appropriate is another solution.
Staying connected. This, of course, is closely linked to staying in touch. For example, I network by e-mail
and participate in electronic discussion lists. Many committees of professional organizations allow
“virtual” volunteers, who are not required to be present at conferences or meetings. Since I live in France,
I did this even before I got sick, since traveling was sometimes impossible or too expensive.
Staying informed. When telecommuting, it is even more important to keep abreast of developments in
“library land.” For example, you can subscribe to professional journals or use RSS. Priscilla Shontz’s
article "A Librarian without a Library: Staying Professionally Active While Unemployed” also provides
many suggestions.
In Conclusion

In closing, here’s another quote from Karen G. Schneider: “Whether for a few hours a month, one day a
week, or as a way of life, librarians are taking advantage of Internet technologies to untie themselves
from traditional library settings and work wherever their modems take them. “ I would encourage those
interested in this option to explore the issues involved. There are many benefits for both the employer
and the employee, as Susanna Weaver notes in her article “Non-traditional Jobs for Special Librarians.”
For the employer: “increased productivity, increased recruitment and retention rates, increased customer
satisfaction, and consolidation/reallocation of space.” For the employee: “fewer distractions, less
downtime, no commute, flexibility, more personal time, and having the freedom to set up workspace
according to personal preference.”

Recommended Reading

Kalnin, Mary T. French Rolls, Coffee and a Computer. Associates (vol. 6, no. 3, March 2000)  
Schneider, Karen G. The Untethered Librarian. American Libraries, August 2000
Shontz, Priscilla. A Librarian without a Library: Staying Professionally Active While Unemployed,
LIScareer.com, June 2003
Silver Susan.  “Alternative Work Arrangements: Exploring Your Options and Making It Work.” Info Career
Trends, January 2004
Weaver, Susanna. Non-traditional Jobs for Special Librarians. Special Libraries Management
Handbook: the Basics, 2004
About the Author:

Andrea Delumeau was a reference librarian at the American Library in Paris when she had a brain
hemorrhage in 2001. She is now telecommuting a couple of hours a week as outreach services librarian
for her former employer.

Article published Nov 2006

Disclaimer: The ideas expressed in LIScareer articles are those of their respective authors and do not
necessarily represent the views of the LIScareer editors.