Diversity & Outreach Columns ALA's Office for Diversity, Literacy and Outreach Services


Telecommuting for a Prison Library (part 2)

By Barbara Lipsky, Telecommuting Librarian, MSDE Correctional Education Libraries.

I first began telecommuting when I worked as a Reference/Bibliographic Instruction Librarian at a community college. I worked 20 hours a week, partly as the library's Web Developer. I realized that I could do most of the web work from home, began researching telecommuting, and developed a proposal to explain its value. The proposal was accepted and I began working as a telecommuting librarian four hours per week. My decision to try full- time telecommuting was made when my youngest child was around 3, and I realized I could perform many technical library duties with a computer from the quiet of my own home. Not having the commute and craziness of driving to work with a 3-year-old was a bonus.

When I contacted Ms. Shirley about a job at the Maryland State Department of Education Correctional Education Libraries, I inquired about telecommuting, explaining my past experience. Ms. Shirley asked questions, considered the options, and was interested in having a webpage for the Correctional Education Libraries. She was willing to give this a try, and I believe this has been a benefit to both of us. I was excited about working for Correctional Education Libraries and the challenge of developing and designing a whole new website (http://ce.msde.state.md.us/library/libraries.htm).

I usually work between 8 and 12 hours a week, depending upon work assignments. I have busy times like the beginning of the year when the Required Reference List is due, and slower times when I can concentrate on updating our webpage. I am available to Ms. Shirley, through emails, phone calls, and faxes. I try to make it into Headquarters at least once a month to collect work, and to meet with Ms. Shirley and other staff members.

Some of the jobs I accomplish from home (besides developing our webpage) are ordering reference items for the Required Reference List,(http://ce.msde.state.md.us/library/reflist04rev.htm) setting up an online system to track orders, calling publishers for item information, and setting up a system to order items monthly. I also put an online National Librarians Directory on the web(http://ce.msde.state.md.us/library/Directory04/directory04.htm). I do budgeting, answer in-depth reference questions for the prison librarians, and any other special projects.

Some advantages that I see for the Correctional Education Libraries is that I pay for my own electric, cable, phone, computer and other technical equipment. There is no need to find office space for me. There is no calling in sick; I can usually work around sick days. When I work, I am at work so there is no talking around the water cooler.

Some advantages for me are that I can set my own hours. As long as I get my work done, I can get up early or work late into the night. I also make sure that I am available to Ms. Shirley and colleagues during normal working hours. I find I get quality work done in less time because I do not have office distractions. Also the commute is great!

Telecommuting is not for everyone. You need to be organized and set a limit on the time you work. Although an advantage of working from home is that you are at home, you need to know when to quit for the day. The work never leaves you. You also need to be able to work alone and be able to troubleshoot technical difficulties. Sometime it can get lonely and you need to make an effort to keep in touch with your supervisor and colleagues.

I think this has been a bonus for Ms. Shirley and for me because we were both willing to try new things. We set limits from the beginning like how many hours a week I would work, how I would be available through email, phone, and fax. I suggested that I would keep a record of the work accomplished. We also agreed that I would go to staff development functions, and come into Headquarters.

I enjoy my job as a telecommuting librarian. It has been both rewarding and fulfilling, and these past 5 years have flown by. I am so glad that Ms. Shirley and I were both willing to try something new.