Friday, May 10, 2019

The waning days of the job title: Clerk Typist 3

At my library we are currently feverishly caught up in a broad and bureaucratic process in which everyone has to fill out elaborate forms saying what their job responsibilities actually are. The point of it all is allegedly to determine whether all the job titles and descriptions throughout the County are accurate, whether compensation is appropriate to job classifications, and, er, I guess that's about it. A huge out-of-County consulting firm has been hired at great expense to conduct this review. Teams of high level County Managers are overseeing the project. 

Down in the library trenches this is getting us library clerks stirred up. The problem for us is that we are vestigial. Once upon a time we were a distinct library job. We alone were the front desk of the library, handling all the customer service interactions of registration, fines, problems, check out, check in, etc. There were Pages, but they all worked mostly behind the scenes doing processing, shelving, and bookrunning. And there were Shelvers, but they strictly shelved. There were also, of course, Librarians, and they did every single scrap of reference work. It was all very orderly, but not terribly flexible. Then, about eight years ago, intentionally and unintentionally, and coinciding with a new and larger library building, everything was fractured into pieces and sort of just mashed together. The Shelver position was basically eliminated. And the work of Pages and Clerks was integrated and broadened. Even varying chunks of Reference work, Building Management, and Supervision drifted over to circulation in all of this too. 

After that sea change fewer and fewer Clerks were hired, until now only a small group of us huddles together fretting about our job classification. Pages are the main population of our Circulation Department. I was working with a Page at the front desk last night and she said "I wonder what will happen since The Pages and The Clerks do the same job."

I felt a brief flash of piercing hatred for her.

Then it passed.

We don't do the same job!

We so don't do the same job!!!!

Well, and we do.

Let's say with her, individually, I do 75% the same job. With another Page it might be 50% or 80%. And then too let's point out that at any particular individual time I might be doing the exact same work as The Circulation Supervisor, a Librarian, a Library Associate, a Custodial Worker, a Volunteer, The Building Maintenance Man, The Automation Staff, or The Branch Manager. I might even be doing the same work as a Library Patron, which, of course, isn't work at all, but still constitutes a fair chunk of what I do at my job if I can manage it. Some of almost all of these matchups might be true for some pages and some clerks, and sometimes none of them are. 

And so after all of this you may ask: "What's your point?"


I'm not sure. It's complicated. Much too complicated for me to say. Which is why I've hired a large, international consulting firm to figure it out for you.

Look for their results in a year or so.


  1. Here's how they do it in Calgary:

    What positions are available at Calgary Public Library?, expanded
    We fill more than 300 positions every year in the following areas:

    Shelver – sorts and shelves library materials. Shelving is physically demanding and highly repetitive.

    Library Support – provides entry-level clerical duties as well as sorting, shelving and processing library materials. This work may be physically demanding and repetitive.

    Customer Service – works directly with library customers and completes a variety of duties such as assisting with library cards and accounts, borrowing and returning library material, and programming

    Information Services – answers customer questions using a variety of information and online sources; also assists in collection development, programs and community outreach. A bachelor's degree is required.

    Librarian – plans, delivers and evaluates library services. A master's degree from an accredited library school program is required.

    Specialist ­– works in areas such as Human Resources, Finance, Marketing, Facilities, and Information Technology

    Current opportunities are posted on our Careers at the Library page

  2. An interesting list, thank you. Of course it illustrates my ultimate problem- I don't want any of these. I want to be, officially:

    Totally Unsupervised Library Guy - wanders around being randomly helpful and/or entertaining roughly two-thirds of the time he's working.

  3. That would be a perfect job for you, I'm sure. And if RCL understood the world, that job would be created and offered to you. But alas, the mighty "if" --

    Perhaps some day, when you retire, you could create this job for yourself, unofficially of course. Or are you one of those folks, like a friend of mine, who will never set foot in the library again? [My friend will not go near the U, and prefers to not even be within sight of it.]

  4. Thank you for your understanding. When I tell my co-workers about the job I want they just scoff and say, sure, they'd like that job too.

    As if they could handle it!

    I sort of hope to make the issue moot when I retire by moving to another country. We'll see.


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