15 Aug 2018


This post by Victoria Archer, Queens University Belfast Library was placed Joint First in the CONUL Training and Development Library Assistant Blog Award 2018. 

Accept what life offers you and try to drink from every cup. All wines should be tasted; some should only be sipped, but with others, drink the whole bottle. 
Paul Coelho, Brida – 1990

 Here, in my university library we go by a way of life entitled Task Rotation.

In theory it allows all of us to gain experience and knowledge in every area of the Borrower Services workload. Three times a year we learn how to manage a new sphere of library life and impart to the colleague stepping into our shoes all of the wisdom and expertise we have accumulated during our four-month reign. We curate and update our clipboards to make sure the most critical information and mystical secrets of our task are embodied within their sacred, silvery clasp. And then, when training is complete we hand them over, along with all of the highs, the lows, and the quirks of our old life.

There is much lively debate with regards to the pros and cons of task rotation within academic libraries. Overwhelmingly though, despite arguments it is time-consuming and lacks efficiency, it appears that there is much support for its benefits. In Job rotation at Cardiff University Library Service: A pilot study (2009) Sally Earney and Ana Martins concluded that:

 job rotation demonstrably improved the skills and motivation of the majority of the rotatees… job rotation fosters employee learning (Campion et al., 1994), improves motivation or reduces boredom and fatigue (Walker and Guest, 1952; Campion et al., 1994) and enables firm learning (Ortega, 2001; Ericksson and Ortega, 2006).

It is with a heavy heart then that I adjust my tortoiseshell glasses and begin to relay to you the story of my fall from grace

It has been one glorious year since I started to work for Queen’s University Library. Upon arrival my transition from working in the public libraries was an exhilarating and relentless barrage of learning and information. Gone were my days of issuing, discharging and tidying books for a small library attracting perhaps 100 people on a normal day.

The imposing fa├žade of the McClay Library – Winner of The Society of College, National and University Libraries (SCONUL) Award 2013

Here I was standing behind the Borrower Services Desk of an institution where the average daily footfall hits 10,000; being educated on how to navigate the intricacies of a library with over a million books.

Nine months in I had graduated to one of the most complicated tasks of all – Inter Library Loan Reporting. With each task rotation my role had become more challenging, complicated and involved and I loved it.

Organisation is key: some of my beloved stationary
I had a diary overflowing with reminders, tips and weekly updates. I had colour-coded lists of libraries and their lending time frames. I got to know Library Assistants on first name terms from all over the UK and Ireland, and the Top Tips section I created for my clipboard extended over 4 pages. Every day was adrenaline fuelled and essentially, I felt like the Wolf of Wall Street; only with more books and decidedly less money.

Teamwork makes the dream work: my wonderful colleagues at QUB Library
Perhaps you can see where this is going.

Time for task rotation came, and I was to be forcibly removed from my Inter Library Loan position; banished to the realms of in-house notifications. My colleagues consoled me and as the final day of my task approached I prepared to part with my high-flying role and cherished clipboard.

I won’t say it didn’t look suspicious when the two colleagues taking over my duties were both taken mysteriously ill in the first week of task rotation. There were whispers that my passion for my work had gone too far, and I will admit that extra week was enjoyed with a bittersweet abandon.

After two months of my new task I am inclined to agree with Earney and Martins. The variety of our rotation allows for a much more interesting and diverse career long term, where we are always learning and facing new challenges.

That said – here I am, patiently awaiting the day when the Inter Library Loans come back to me.
And what have I learned? Don’t poison two people at once, it looks incredibly dubious.

Earney, S., Martins, A. (2009) ‘Job rotation at Cardiff University Library Service: A pilot study’, Journal of Librarianship and Information Science, 41 (4), pp. 216-224. doi: https://doi.org/10.1177/0961000609345089
Photos: Author’s own


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