Prior to the COVID pandemic, there was little published information to guide technical services operations on how to deal with crises and emergencies. Viewed as a backroom operation by administration, little thought historically has been given to how these employees might protect equipment and resources and continue to provide services that seamlessly support the rest of the library.
Virtual Technical Services: A Handbook is the first to address emergency and crisis planning specifically for technical services. The authors address how to create an emergency plan and how to prepare for an uncertain future that will undoubtedly include other threats to our health and safety. We discuss how the pivot to remote work can revolutionize technical services librarianship and allow us to better serve the needs of a 21st Century library.
As the WFH period extended longer than anticipated, libraries and other organizations realized both the challenges and benefits of working remotely. WFH is about more than just doing one’s job, and we focus on employees as individuals with needs that include work/life balance, self-care, and the flexibility to meet life circumstances including childcare, eldercare, and appointments. A unique feature of our book is the focus on employee well-being, including burnout and self-care. Prior to COVID-19, employee well-being was typically not emphasized as part of personnel management. The risks to our health and safety and being removed from the physical workplace provided the opportunity to re-examine priorities and reframe them to forge a stronger and more collaborative relationship between employers and employees. Technical services personnel, in particular, are subject to burnout as their operations are frequently understaffed and they face competing demands of serving both libraries’ physical needs and supporting electronic and digital resources.
Management in a remote work environment has challenges that are not present in an on-site operation. Communication, setting expectations, and documentation and training take on added significance when WFH, as does accountability. Our book addresses these aspects of management through a WFH lens.
The book also covers the return to work after a shift to remote, whether it is completely on-site, hybrid, or some combination. Normalization, determining staffing levels, employee accommodations, and an adjustment period are discussed. Since most technical services personnel have not previously had to pivot to remote on short notice and for an extended period, the book addresses these issues for libraries as they make decisions about repopulating their workplaces.
Mary Beth Weber has worked in library technical services in academic libraries for over 30 years. She has held various technical services positions, and is an expert on cataloging nonprint materials, acquisitions workflows, and non-MARC metadata for digital collections. She also has extensive managerial experience.
Weber has authored numerous books, including Describing Electronic, Digital and Other Media Using AACR2 and RDA, and Rethinking Library Technical Services: Redefining our Profession for the Future. She has given presentations on cataloging, mentoring, and publishing for various organizations. She is a member of Rutgers University Libraries Faculty Mentoring Program Committee and participated in ALCTS’ inaugural mentoring program.
Weber is an active member of the Association for Library Collections and Technical Services (ALCTS), an ALA division (soon to be CORE). She served two terms as the editor of ALCTS’ online newsletter, and is currently editor-in-chief of Library Resources and Technical Services (LRTS), ALCTS’ official scholarly peer-reviewed journal. Weber was awarded the ALCTS Presidential Citation in 2011 for her service as the ALCTS Newsletter Editor. She received the ALCTS Honors award in 2015 for her contributions as LRTS Editor.
Weber is currently the head of Central Technical Services at Rutgers University Libraries and oversees a staff that includes both faculty librarians and support staff. In this capacity, she has dealt with crises such as the aftermath of 9/11 and Hurricane Sandy, and has successfully resolved other challenging management issues. She earned her Bachelor of Arts in Art History and English (double major), and holds a Masters of Library Science degree from Clarion University of Pennsylvania.
Melissa De Fino has been a technical services librarian for sixteen years. She is the metadata librarian for special collections and audiovisual materials at Rutgers University Libraries. Her research focuses on the ever-changing landscape of technical services librarianship.
Chapter 1: Creating a Plan
Chapter 2: Remote Work
Chapter 3: Well-Being
Chapter 4: Management of Remote Technical Services Operations: Resources for Managing Employees
Chapter 5: Resumption of Operations: Planning the Return to the Workplace
Chapter 6: Future Considerations
About the Authors
Can people work from home? Should they work from home? Rutgers University librarians Weber and De Fino present evidence that people can and should, arguing that remote and hybrid work schedules are better for employees, libraries, and the environment….Though many recent studies have documented the improved productivity of employees who have chosen to work remotely, libraries were thrown into this largely unexplored realm, most with little or no time to plan as a result of the pandemic. Even were it not for pandemics, unforeseen electrical outages, floods, weather emergencies, earthquakes, terrorism, active shooters, and other unfortunate events require that libraries create emergency plans, taking into account the possibility of short- and long-term closures. Applicable to both public and technical services, this work is required reading for librarians and administrators of all types of libraries.
In Virtual Technical Services: A Handbook, Mary Beth Weber and Melissa De Fino have crafted a thought provoking, sometimes idealistic, sometimes practical tome on performing technical services work remotely. The book addresses remote work both as a temporary measure in response to a calamitous event, such as the recent COVID-19 pandemic, as well as a permanent working arrangement. This book was an intriguing and rewarding read. The authors' anecdotes about their own experiences of facilitating remote work during not only their COVID-19 pandemic response, but through their experience with 9/11 and several hurricanes bring authenticity to the topics addressed. Its detailing of many factors to consider when initiating remote technical service work is helpful whether one is looking to respond to an emergency or to move to some form of hybrid or full remote work operation.
One of the most enduring impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic may be the way it changed how we think about work, and this is no less true for libraries and their technical services employees. Authors Mary Beth Weber and Melissa De Fino capture this paradigm shift in their very timely publication, Virtual Technical Services: A Handbook. While the book was inspired by the recent pandemic, it is more ambitious than simply a handbook for how to manage during a crisis; rather, it is designed to show the way toward considering full- or part-time telecommuting options for all technical services staff on a permanent basis.... While most librarians have lived through this recent pandemic, this deeply researched book will prove highly useful to technical services librarians as they navigate future crises or simply move to implement a permanent telecommuting option for their staff. This book includes an index and a robust bibliography, and would be appropriate for professional collection in all libraries.