Libraries are evolving beyond traditional limits. Several social/political/economic trends are at work. Here are just a few:
1. Libraries are being challenged to move beyond their walls to serve their public. Librarians are getting out into their communities more. Libraries are also now making websites into virtual library branches.
2. Librarians are joining the effort to cross political boundaries. The idea of librarians without borders, serving individuals from beyond their taxing districts is a more accepted idea.
3. Advanced communication technology is making telecommuting to work more practical. Work from home is more common. The distance between the workplace and the worker hardly matters any more.
This all leads to the current status of Aaron Schmidt at the Thomas Ford Memorial Library.
I am continuously asked by library clients and other librarians about Aaron and what he is doing. Many express surprise when I say that in addition to attending Portland State University he is working for us from Portland, Oregon. That's about 2100 miles away from Western Springs, Illinois, according to Google Maps. It is a long commute. When they ask what he does, I sum it up with "He works on our website," and then they ask whether he is biking or climbing mountains.
Aaron really does more for us than just work on our website. He is loading some content on the current website and generating ideas and designs for the website that we want to have. Working with Kristin Schar and me, we are trying to improve the website so it truly can be a branch of the library. Aaron serves as our consultant for a variety of technical issues. He also carries our library name to professional conferences and promotes us across the web. Our library now has friends throughout the library world that we would never have had if he was not representing us.
How do we in our small library benefit from the new reputation?
1. When we advertise a staff position, we get applicants who know what we have been doing and want to continue the work.
2. We get new ideas from our diverse contacts.
3. We have a reputation to maintain and have to continue to innovate.
How does having Aaron work remotely actually work?
I hear from Aaron almost everyday by email, instant message, or telephone. His cellphone is still a local call for us, so he is not hard to reach. There are times when he is off at a conference, at class, or on a mountain, but it was the same when he was living in Western Springs.
We still get mail for Aaron. Several times I have scanned the pages, attached them to email, and gotten these communications to him much faster than if we returned them to the post office. We are in touch.
How does the library benefit from this arrangement?
Often when a valued employee leaves there is a break in continuity. We have lessened that problem substantially with our current arrangement with Aaron. We are cross training other staff to do some of his web duties, but Aaron is still there to do some work that we are finding hard to schedule.
We also benefit somewhat from his moving away in that we added Kristin Schar with her new skills, fresh ideas, and passion for her work.
What is the downside of the arrangement?
We do not have Aaron here to work the reference desk or to participate in lunch meetings. He can not run out for our veggie burritos or brownies.
Aaron is missing his faithful clients and tons of cookies, coffeecakes, chocolate candies, snack mix, etc. that seems to arrive in the workroom, especially during the holidays.
What does the future hold?
We do not know how long our arrangement will last. Aaron will eventually finish school and be hired to a demanding position that may make the arrangement hard to maintain. In the meantime, Aaron and the library are benefitting. For now he is Thomas Ford West.
I feel proud that our small library has the flexibility and courage to try such an experiment. I expect to see more of this kind of work in the profession in the future. Some libraries may even hire librarians who will work from a distance. Consider it.