Announcement: Bay Area On-Call Listserv

This is not part of this project, but may be of interest to participants and other readers from the San Francisco Bay Area:


Is one of the following words in your job description?

  • Temporary part time
  • Hourly
  • On-call
  • Substitute
  • Pool
  • Adjunct
  • Casual

Do you work without a regular schedule and benefits?

Do you hire, manage, administer, schedule, train, or otherwise interact with such employees?

BayNet is pleased to announce the creation of a new listserv intended to facilitate discussion of the use of on-call library workers in the Bay Area. In the current economic climate, we anticipate an increase in this type of work, which brings particular headaches for both employers and employees. This listserv will create opportunities to solve logistical problems, solicit peer support, and find a larger pool of qualified on-call candidates.

For more information, please see the listserv guidelines, at

To subscribe to OnCallLib, go to If you have questions or problems with the subscribing process, please send an email to

Thanks, CLA!

Thank you to everyone who came to see us at CLA!

We really enjoyed meeting you!  We were also very impressed with the other poster presentations, and had a lot of fun talking to the vendors in the exhibition hall.

Our poster is below.  If you want to examine it in more detail, just click it!




Come See Us at CLA!

We will be doing a poster presentation at CLA on Saturday November 3, 2012 from noon to one PM.

We’ll tell you how Bay Area libraries are using on-call workers, and you tell us how your library compares. For example:

1. Have your on-call librarians had adequate training?

“After a short period of time, hourly librarians get training on specific skills associated with additional duties, identify skills or areas where they might need improvement, and potentially in charge training.”

“We don’t have a set policy or practice in this area because it is handled case-by-case.”

“Although we don’t usually have funds to pay for their time to do so, our on-call librarians can often attend trainings offered to our permanent staff.”

“We certainly make our opportunities available but our adjunct has full-time work elsewhere.”

“We will not extend that person’s day to attend a conference. They are paid if the time is part of their agreed upon working hours.”

2. Are they “in the loop”?

“They don’t know our systems and bring bad habits with them.”

“Unfortunately we have librarians who work one 4 hour shift a week and this can result in a lack of knowledge transfer due to many things happening throughout the month that this librarian is unaware of. We do our best to keep this librarian and our on-call librarians up to date via email.”

“somewhat unrealistic expectations that on-call librarians will keep up with a multitude of subject collections”

“Large group that has lower policy awareness that may effect quality of service across the board”

“If they are working too many different jobs, it’s easy for them to feel isolated and not really part of the faculty”

“subs often work when few regular employees are around (e.g. Sundays) making it more difficult for them to pick up knowledge from co-workers”

“ Hourly staff may not remember all the details of each place they work & don’t always receive information on a regular basis”

3. How are you scheduling your on-call workers?

“Most often is day to day, but occasionally it will be for several weeks or months.”

“Those who have other jobs need a fixed desk schedule — we have one librarian who regularly works Sunday and Monday and Tuesday evenings until 10, for example, and we abide by that as much as possible given her other obligations. If someone is working an 8 hour day, then their hours on the desk may vary from day to day depending on others’ absences or teaching schedules, etc.”

“Often grant funded positions are regularly scheduled for a time period”

“the union objects to giving on-call regular ongoing shifts as does the city management team. On-calls are classified as temporary seasonal employees.”

4. Are you doing regular performance evaluations?

“On-call staff are treated as “warm bodies” in our system. Wherever possible, we use shelvers and clerk-level staff instead to manage the daily tasks, cutting professional and paraprofessional presence to a bare minimum. Because the on-call staff are not mentored or offered training in any real way, they are not considered appropriate candidates for transfer to part-time or full-time positions, because they have not “done” programming, outreach and grantwriting”

“Only recently has Human Resources wanted evaluations for on-call employees. Previously we did them when we wanted the employee to have a raise.”

“An evaluation is done after they’ve worked 500 hours and 1,000, then after every 1,000 hours worked.”

5. What do you expect from on-call librarians?

“Several former lecturers have applied, were interviewed, and have become tenure track library faculty. It often depends on the subject areas needed, and of course, their past performance as lecturers.”

“Sometimes on-calls become permanent employees,(like me) but they have to submit their application in an open recruitment. To my knowledge, we have never had an in house recruitment for a librarian.”

“a FT librarian may be better at collection weeding because they are more familiar with the collection, but generally the Pool librarians are eager to learn and contribute in meaningful ways.”

“On-calls are often more attentive to the patrons because they’re not multi-tasking on the reference desk. So their full attention is better for the patron.”

“They have a harder time getting up to speed and are not used to working in our environment, so they are slower. Most of them want a full-time job, so we have to use different people all the time, which means that they don’t use the knowledge they gained last time.”

“They are not used to our high levels of thoroughness and customer service.”

“All of our faculty, permanent and temporary, work incredibly hard and are very productive.”

5. How is your library using on-call librarians?

2.012 Presentation Slides and Script

If you’d like to watch the recording of this session, click here.

Emily: Hello.  I’m Emily Weak, and I work as an on-call librarian at three Bay Area public libraries.
Sarah: Hello, I’m Sarah Naumann. I currently work as a reference and instruction librarian at Mills College. I also teach information literacy at CSU East Bay on a part-time basis.

Emily: Thank you so much for coming to our presentation.  We will begin by introducing our research question, then talk a little about the literature, explain our research methods, describe some of our survey results, and finish with our conclusion and the opportunity for questions.  If you have a question as we are talking, there is no need to wait for the end.  You can either type it in to the chat window or raise your hand.  If for some reason we can’t get to you right away, then we will address it at the end of the presentation.  I would also like to encourage you to use the emoticons – that will help us know if we are explaining things clearly or if we are confusing you. So let me introduce you to this project.

Emily: Sarah and I are former SJSU SLIS classmates, she graduated in December 2010 and I graduated in May 2011.  As you may have noticed, the job market for new graduates is tough right now.  Although Sarah now works full time at Mills, we both have experienced the challenge of trying to cobble together a full time position from several part time jobs.

Working on-call for three different systems has given me a new perspective on library work.  While I miss the opportunity to build solid relationships, as full time librarians do with coworkers they see day after day.  However, I love being able to learn the unique ways different libraries operate.  I’m able to get a broader idea of the variation in library operations.

The differences in the way that I’m categorized and managed in each of my jobs really started me wondering about the norms for on-call work.  For example, although I’m filling the approximately the same role in each system, I’m called “substitute pool” in one, “hourly” in another, and “temporary part time” in the third.

Emily: Sarah and I embarked on this project in order to explore how libraries recruit, schedule, train, manage, and evaluate on-call workers. We developed six major questions.
•   Is there a good definition of this class of worker?
•   Who is using on-call librarians?
•   How are these librarians hired?
•   How are they trained, scheduled and managed?
•   What are their primary job duties?
•   What are the similarities and differences between on-call and full time workers?

The answers to these questions should benefit library managers, by fleshing out the norms for managing this class of worker, as well as illustrating some of the strengths and weaknesses in using this class.

This research should also benefit librarians who might be working or considering working on-call, giving them an idea of standards in this type of employment.

Ultimately, continuing research on this topic will develop a set of best practices for on-call library work.

Sarah will now describe some of the existing literature on on-call work, as well as our research methods.

Sarah: Most of the literature about on-call librarians, is old or informal or both.  Many pieces describe the point of view of the on-call librarian: discussing coping strategies and reasoning. There is little to no “current” literature from the library hiring managers perspective.


Some of the themes in the literature include:

An increase in number of on-call librarians: This statement is generally unsupported, or is supported by statistics from a more general population, for example in broader academics and studies of Americans, but not necessarily librarians.

Much of this literature is informal, which may be why these assumptions are not accompanied by supporting citations or statistics.  Moreover, much of the literature is a decade old or older!

While this may have been the case at the time, what is happening now?  Are assumptions that the poor economy is or should result in heavier use of on-call librarians as stated in the 2006 article by ‘Collins and Brungard’ correct?

There is a concern that excessive use of adjuncts could mean fewer opportunities for tenure or advancement  as stated in the 1988 article by Brustman and Via.

Response to a poor economy: In a 1996 article, Reinhold states “the most common reason people give for choosing part-time employment is to have more time for other pursuits” (p. 29). Times have changed! Rather than making room for other projects, many part-timers in our current economy need to work multiple jobs to survive. For example, Johnston, 2004, a new Library and Information Science grad was faced with few jobs in a highly competitive field along with a horrendous commute to these full time positions. Eventually she opted for part time library work. In a slightly different situation, Manusco, 2011, was laid off from his full time position and opted to take on multiple part time library jobs that would net the same or similar income that he previously enjoyed.

Being less respected than full time: Part timers have low status, low pay, and little to no benefits. According to Braudy and Tuckerman, (1986), Part-time “librarians are looked upon as second rate” even though they do same work as full timers.

Long term risks for hiring part-timers: According to Jacoby, in an article from (2006), Increase of part-time community college instructors equals lower graduation rates. Another article by Anderson, in 1995 identifies “Low morale” as a risk for part-timers.

Another theme in the current literature is Job Duties or Roles: According to Brustman and Via in their article from 1988, Over half of part-time academic librarians are scheduled for reference shifts (66.2%), second to reference are cataloging shifts.

Many of the articles address the need for appropriate training or orientations for on-call workers, for example, those written by (Pontau and Rothschild, in 1986); (Jones, in 2011); (Mettler, in 1988); (and Wilson, in 1986)

Sarah: I will now share our Methods with you:
Existing research is sparse and out of date, so the extent of this situation is not well known.  There is not a single definition for this class of worker.  In addition, the limits of our own resources precluded using probability sampling.

We decided to survey Bay Area libraries because:
The San Francisco Bay Area consists of a dense population with many different kinds of libraries,

There are shared regional characteristics, such as a shared labor culture and expectations in terms of rates of pay. In addition, many of the Bay Area libraries share patrons!!

We have shared pressure from budgetary woes of the state and government of California

The San Francisco Bay Area is our “home turf” : Emily and I both live and work here.

Sarah: We piloted the survey with out of area contacts who are hiring librarians from different types of institutions.

After incorporating the feedback, we then distributed the survey.

We found a number of regional groups that offered a range of different library types and sent the survey to them. **This slide lists all of the places we shared our survey.

We ended up getting respondents from the following library types:

Community college, 4 year university, public and private university, all boys k-12, public library single and multiple branch, independent high school, special libraries including, corporate, law, medical, publishing house, and others.

Emily will now share some of our results with you:

Emily: So on to our results!

We had 114 respondents, and 73 said their library used on-call librarians. We did not use probability sampling, so we cannot make generalizations about the larger population. However, we can look at the results as an exploration of the ways different types of Bay Area libraries use on-call librarians.

Our initial survey questions were meant to determine how this class of worker is defined.
We asked respondents what their library called this type of worker, and found 19 different names. As you can see, there was no majority term. The largest percentage, slightly over one quarter of respondents, used the term “temporary part time.” One of my favorite write-in terms was “extra help.”  Something we could all use I’m sure.


We also found:
A little over a third of on-call librarians have union status, a little under a third are in grant-funded positions, and a little under a third are contract positions.

The rest of the results should continue to help build a definition of this class of worker.

Emily: To answer the question “Who is using this type of worker?”, this chart presents the results of the question “Do you use on-call librarians?” cross tabulated with the question “what type of library do you work in?”  You can see that public libraries, in addition to being the majority respondent to the survey, were also the most likely to use on-call workers.  No respondents from school libraries reported using on-call workers, and about half of the respondents from four year academic libraries said they did not use on-call librarians.
The next two slides describe how these librarians are hired.

Emily: This slide reports how respondents publicize new job openings. Government websites, library jobsites, and listservs were the most common methods. Before going into the survey I suspected that the majority of on-call jobs might be recruited via word-of-mouth or contacts at other libraries.  The survey did find that  a significant portion advertized in this method.

Emily: Furthermore, the write-in “other” answers also indicated that personal contacts were an important method of dissemination, and in one case probably the only method of dissemination.  One respondent stated:

We have never announced the positions

Over 80% of respondents hired on an as-needed basis, and hired directly.

Emily: This slide reveals how our respondents trained on-call librarians.  Just over half told us that their libraries provided less than six hours of initial training.  And more than two thirds reported that there was no on-going training after this orientation.

50% of respondents did say that there was opportunity for on-call librarians to participate in professional development such as webinars, conferences, etc. However it is likely that this is unpaid.  When asked to provide more detail, respondents said things like:

Although we don’t usually have funds to pay for their time to do so, our on-call librarians can often attend trainings offered to our permanent staff

Emily: The next two slides present our results on scheduling.  The most frequent answers to how these librarians are scheduled was either “first come, first served” or with no particular strategy.  Write in answers revealed that seniority and best fit for the assignment were also considerations.  It may be that if we had offered these choices, more people would have selected them.

Emily: To look at scheduling from a different angle, we examined how part time these part time positions really were. The majority indicated that there were limitations placed on how many hours on-call librarians could work (although 15% reported no limit). The average hours limit was 1066 per year or 20.5 hours per week.

Emily: This slide looks at how on-call librarians are managed.  We found that the majority of libraries evaluated their on-call librarians less frequently than full time librarians, and that 38.6% did not evaluate these workers at all.

There was no majority consensus as to who supervised on-call librarians.  The largest portion, just under a quarter, were managed by the department or division that hired them.  14.9% were managed by some sort of “services” manager, most frequently this was adult services or reference.  Part of the problem with these results might be terminology.  For example, 4.3% reported that these librarians were managed by a senior librarian. In many systems, a branch manager is also a senior librarian, so these terms may be synonymous.
Now Sarah will continue to discuss our results, talking about  primary job duties as well as the similarities and differences between full time and on call librarians.

Hogue and Sisson’s chart based on their research in 1994 shows the break-down of job duties.
As you can see, Reference is the largest portion, with cataloging and classification and “other” as seconds.

If you take a look at this next slide, you’ll notice some similarities…

Sarah:  Our survey results show the largest area for on-call librarian use is in reference, with cataloging as a second. You’ll notice the red areas show where on-call librarians are least often used. For example, on-call librarians are rarely used in supervisory roles.
In their recent article, from 2012, Mayo and Whitehurst state: “…library administrators see several advantages for using temporary librarians, [but] the vast majority would not use them in managerial [or] administrative positions.” The reason behind this has to do with the uncertainty of the temporary librarian retaining the position.

I will now share some of the similarities and differences between on call and permanent librarians.

Sarah: In our survey, we asked this question:  In your opinion, are on-call librarians as committed to your organization as your permanent librarians?

Although there were more yesses than no’s, the comments were most revealing in answering this question.

Some of the respondents asked what “committed” means?
There were different interpretations of “committed” such as:

staying informed
having more hours
contributing to the organization.

Some respondents said that if on-call librarians have multiple jobs, they would not be as committed to the organization. There was a consensus that if the librarian were full time they would be committed.

The following quote demonstrates this idea:

Many of our librarians have other jobs that provide them with more hours. Because of this they are much more committed to the jobs that provide them with more stability.

Respondents also mentioned that if on-call librarians had more opportunities to contribute in a larger sense, such as participate in strategic planning, this would help them to “feel” more committed.

Some of the respondents said they were satisfied with their on-call librarians. The following quote is one example:

In our experience the part-time on-call librarians we’ve hired have been quite committed.

And here is another…

Most of them [are committed]. we hire good people and the work is demanding, so if there is no dedication it does not work out. however, we understand that we are frequently not the only employer, so we have to be flexible

Some respondents said being committed was a personal characteristic–and that it depends on the individual, no matter how frequently they work.

Another of our questions was:

Are their productivity differences between on- call librarians and permanent librarians?

As you can see from our chart, most of the respondents agreed there were no differences in productivity between on-call and permanent librarians.

This quote from a respondent sums it up well:

What do you mean by productive? Permanent librarians have a wider range of responsibilities, while temporary librarians can focus on their appointed tasks.

Another respondent commented:

That is a relative question. For instance, a FT librarian may be better at collection weeding because they are more familar with the collection, but generally the Pool librarians are eager to learn and contribute in meaningful ways.

And this quote:

For the tasks and time that they are permitted, on-call staff work as productively as permanent staff.

Many respondents also said it really depends on the individual.


Our last question in this section is: Are there work quality differences between on-call librarians and permanent librarians?

Similar to our previous chart, most of the respondents said there are not work quality differences between on-call librarians and permanent librarians.

Responses to this question are very similar to those from the question about productivity differences. One respondent used the term “productivity” to explain this, in their comment:

All of our faculty, permanent and temporary, work incredibly hard and are very productive.

Many of the respondents mentioned amount of time spent at the job or organization as the reason for higher or lower quality of work.

Some respondents mentioned amount of training as an issue:
Here is a quote that exemplifies this idea:

On-calls don’t have the opportunity for additional training, don’t have the advantage of learning a specific library’s collection in-depth and are only used for reference desk work and are hindered by not doing weeding, collection development, programming etc.

Similar to the other two sections, respondents said it depends on the individual: Here is one quote that shares this opinion:

Again, this depends more on the individual and their personal work ethic and less on the status of their position as full-time or on-call.

We will now share our conclusions of our research and some ideas for future research

Emily: One of our research questions was “is there a good definition of this class of worker?” Although the survey reveals a great deal of variation in the way libraries name, hire, use, and manage on-call workers, we can provide some generalities.

On-Call librarians are:

generally non-union, non-contract workers, employed on a temporary, part-time basis. They are usually limited to an average of 20 hours of work per week. They are often employed to cover the reference desk.  They generally receive limited training, and their performance is not frequently reviewed.  Limitations to productivity, quality of work, and commitment are perceived as a function of their part-time status.

Sarah: Library hiring managers agree their on-call librarians are qualified, work well, and if they had the opportunity, would prefer to work as permanent employees. Hiring managers understand the economy and what that means for many of their on-call librarians – often it means working multiple jobs. There is an overarching sense that the on-call librarians are appreciated and if anything, library managers would like to offer more training, hours, and projects.

Emily: Although there was this general sense that on-call librarians are “good” employees (or at least no worse as a class than permanent employees), on-call librarians are generally provided with six hours of training or less, followed by no on-going training, and infrequent performance evaluation.  Then they are let loose on the reference desk, providing front-line service to the public.

It is worth asking, is this the best thing a library can do for it’s patrons?

Sarah: We hope that the results of this survey have provided some insights as to how Bay Area libraries are using on-call workers.  This exploratory survey has provided a good jumping off point for future research.  With a larger, probability sample, we would be able to draw conclusions about libraries in general.
Additional questions, not fully explored in this survey include:

  • Is the poor economy generating an increase in the number of on-call librarians?
  • Who are on-call workers?  New librarians?  Retirees?
  • Do they want to be on-call, or are they in this capacity because of the scarcity of full time work?
  • What are the effects of this type of employment on a librarian’s skills and capabilities?
  • From a patron perspective, do on-call librarians provide the same level of service as permanent librarians?

Emily: Thank you for joining us today!  If there are any questions, or if you asked a question earlier that we missed, can you please raise your hand or type into the chat window?

Emily:  We’d like to leave you with the following.  If there is anything further you’d like to discuss,  here is our contact info.  You can also view these slides, as well as a link to the recording (when available) on our project webpage, librarians working on call dot wordpress dot com.  We are also doing a poster presentation at CLA, and will continue to work with our data.  New outcomes will be posted here.
Finally, our bibliography is available on Zotero.
Sarah:  Thank you again for joining us!  Good night!